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Title:      Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940)
Author:     Willa Cather
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eBook No.:  0200461.txt
Language:   English
Date first posted: July 2002
Date most recently updated: July 2002

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Author:     WILLA CATHER


Book I


Book II


Book III


Book IV


Book V


Book VI


Book VII




Book IX


(Epilogue--Twenty-five years later)




The Breakfast Table, 1856.

Henry Colbert, the miller, always breakfasted with his wife--beyond
that he appeared irregularly at the family table.  At noon, the
dinner hour, he was often detained down at the mill.  His place was
set for him; he might come, or he might send one of the mill-hands
to bring him a tray from the kitchen.  The Mistress was served
promptly.  She never questioned as to his whereabouts.

On this morning in March 1856, he walked into the dining-room at
eight o'clock,--came up from the mill, where he had been stirring
about for two hours or more.  He wished his wife good-morning,
expressed the hope that she had slept well, and took his seat in
the high-backed armchair opposite her.  His breakfast was brought
in by an old, white-haired coloured man in a striped cotton coat.
The Mistress drew the coffee from a silver coffee urn which stood
on four curved legs.  The china was of good quality (as were all
the Mistress's things); surprisingly good to find on the table of a
country miller in the Virginia backwoods.  Neither the miller nor
his wife was native here: they had come from a much richer county,
east of the Blue Ridge.  They were a strange couple to be found on
Back Creek, though they had lived here now for more than thirty

The miller was a solid, powerful figure of a man, in whom height
and weight agreed.  His thick black hair was still damp from the
washing he had given his face and head before he came up to the
house; it stood up straight and bushy because he had run his
fingers through it.  His face was full, square, and distinctly
florid; a heavy coat of tan made it a reddish brown, like an old
port.  He was clean-shaven,--unusual in a man of his age and
station.  His excuse was that a miller's beard got powdered with
flour-dust, and when the sweat ran down his face this flour got wet
and left him with a beard full of dough.  His countenance bespoke a
man of upright character, straightforward and determined.  It was
only his eyes that were puzzling; dark and grave, set far back
under a square, heavy brow.  Those eyes, reflective, almost dreamy,
seemed out of keeping with the simple vigour of his face.  The long
lashes would have been a charm in a woman.

Colbert drove his mill hard, gave it his life, indeed.  He was
noted for fair dealing, and was trusted in a community to which he
had come a stranger.  Trusted, but scarcely liked.  The people of
Back Creek and Timber Ridge and Hayfield never forgot that he was
not one of themselves.  He was silent and uncommunicative (a trait
they didn't like), and his lack of a Southern accent amounted
almost to a foreign accent.  His grandfather had come over from
Flanders.  Henry was born in Loudoun County and had grown up in a
neighbourhood of English settlers.  He spoke the language as they
did, spoke it clearly and decidedly.  This was not, on Back Creek,
a friendly way of talking.

His wife also spoke differently from the Back Creek people; but
they admitted that a woman and an heiress had a right to.  Her
mother had come out from England--a fact she never forgot.  How
these two came to be living at the Mill Farm is a long story--too
long for a breakfast-table story.

The miller drank his first cup of coffee in silence.  The old black
man stood behind the Mistress's chair.

"You may go, Washington," she said presently.  While she drew
another cup of coffee from the urn with her very plump white hands,
she addressed her husband:  "Major Grimwood stopped by yesterday,
on his way to Romney.  You should have come up to see him."

"I couldn't leave the mill just then.  I had customers who had come
a long way with their grain," he replied gravely.

"If you had a foreman, as everyone else has, you would have time to
be civil to important visitors."

"And neglect my business?  Yes, Sapphira, I know all about these
foremen.  That is how it is done back in Loudoun County.  The boss
tells the foreman, and the foreman tells the head nigger, and the
head nigger passes it on.  I am the first miller who has ever made
a living in these parts."

"A poor one at that, we must own," said his wife with an indulgent
chuckle.  "And speaking of niggers, Major Grimwood tells me his
wife is in need of a handy girl just now.  He knows my servants are
well trained, and he would like to have one of them."

"He must know you train your servants for your own use.  We don't
sell our people.  You might ring for some more bacon.  I seem to
feel hungry this morning."

She rang a little clapper bell.  Washington brought the bacon and
again took his place behind his mistress's large, cumbersome chair.
She had been sitting in a muse while he served.  Now, without
speaking to him, she put out her plump hand in the direction of the
door.  The old man scuttled off in his flapping slippers.

"Of course we don't sell our people," she agreed mildly.
"Certainly we would never OFFER any for sale.  But to oblige
friends is a different matter.  And you've often said you don't
want to stand in anybody's way.  To live in Winchester, in a
mansion like the Grimwoods'--any darky would jump at the chance."

"We have none to spare, except such as Major Grimwood wouldn't
want.  I will tell him so."

Mrs. Colbert went on in her bland, considerate voice:  "There is my
Nancy, now.  I could spare her quite well to oblige Mrs. Grimwood,
and she could hardly find a better place.  It would be a fine
opportunity for her."

The miller flushed a deep red up to the roots of his thick hair.
His eyes seemed to sink farther back under his heavy brow as he
looked directly at his wife.  His look seemed to say:  I see
through all this, see to the bottom.  She did not meet his glance.
She was gazing thoughtfully at the coffee urn.

Her husband pushed back his plate.  "Nancy least of all!  Her
mother is here, and old Jezebel.  Her people have been in your
family for four generations.  You haven't trained Nancy for Mrs.
Grimwood.  She stays here."

The icy quality, so effective with her servants, came into Mrs.
Colbert's voice as she answered him.

"It's nothing to get flustered about, Henry.  As you say, her
mother and grandmother and great-grandmother were all Dodderidge
niggers.  So it seems to me I ought to be allowed to arrange
Nancy's future.  Her mother would approve.  She knows that a proper
lady's maid can never be trained out here in this rough country."

The miller's frown darkened.  "You can't sell her without my name
to the deed of sale, and I will never put it there.  You never
seemed to understand how, when we first moved up here, your troop
of niggers was held against us.  This isn't a slave-owning
neighbourhood.  If you sold a good girl like Nancy off to
Winchester, people hereabouts would hold it against you.  They
would say hard things."

Mrs. Colbert's small mouth twisted.  She gave her husband an arch,
tolerant smile.  "They have talked before, and we've survived.
They surely talked when black Till bore a yellow child, after two
of your brothers had been hanging round here so much.  Some fixed
it on Jacob, and some on Guy.  Perhaps you have a kind of family
feeling about Nancy?"

"You know well enough, Sapphira, it was that painter from

"Perhaps.  We got the portraits out of him, anyway, and maybe we
got a smart yellow girl into the bargain."  Mrs. Colbert laughed
discreetly, as if the idea amused and rather pleased her.  "Till
was within her rights, seeing she had to live with old Jeff.  I
never hectored her about it."

The miller rose and walked toward the door.

"One moment, Henry."  As he turned, she beckoned him back.  "You
don't really mean you will not allow me to dispose of one of my own
servants?  You signed when Tom and Jake and Ginny and the others
went back."

"Yes, because they were going back among their own kin, and to the
country they were born in.  But I'll never sign for Nancy."

Mrs. Colbert's pale-blue eyes followed her husband as he went out
of the door.  Her small mouth twisted mockingly.  "Then we must
find some other way," she said softly to herself.

Presently she rang for old Washington.  When he came she said
nothing, being lost in thought, but put her hands on the arms of
the square, high-backed chair in which she sat.  The old man ran to
open two doors.  Then he drew his mistress's chair away from the
table, picked up a cushion on which her feet had been resting,
tucked it under his arm, and gravely wheeled the chair, which
proved to be on castors, out of the dining-room, down the long
hall, and into Mrs. Colbert's bedchamber.

The Mistress had dropsy and was unable to walk.  She could still
stand erect to receive visitors: her dresses touched the floor and
concealed the deformity of her feet and ankles.  She was four years
older than her husband--and hated it.  This dropsical affliction
was all the more cruel in that she had been a very active woman,
and had managed the farm as zealously as her husband managed his


At the hour when Sapphira Dodderidge Colbert was leaving the
breakfast table in her wheel-chair, a short, stalwart woman in a
sunbonnet, wearing a heavy shawl over her freshly ironed calico
dress, was crossing the meadows by a little path which led from
the highroad to the Mill House.  She was a woman of thirty-six
or -seven, though she looked older--looked so much like Henry
Colbert that it was not hard to guess she was his daughter.  The
same set of the head, enduring yet determined, the broad, highly
coloured face, the fleshy nose, anchored deeply at the nostrils.
She had the miller's grave dark eyes, too, set back under a broad

After crossing the stile at the Mill House, Mrs. Blake took the
path leading back to the negro cabins.  She must stop to see Aunt
Jezebel, the oldest of the Colbert negroes, who had been failing
for some time.  Mrs. Blake was always called where there was
illness.  She had skill and experience in nursing; was certainly a
better help to the sick than the country doctor, who had never been
away to any medical school, but treated his patients from Buchan's
Family Medicine book.

On being told that Aunt Jezebel was asleep, Mrs. Blake passed the
kitchen (separated from the dwelling by thirty feet or so), and
entered the house by the back door which the servants used when
they carried hot food from the kitchen to the dining-room in
covered metal dishes.  As she went down the long carpeted passage
toward Mrs. Colbert's bedchamber, she heard her mother's voice in
anger--anger with no heat, a cold, sneering contempt.

"Take it down this minute! You know how to do it right.  Take it
DOWN, I told you!  Hairpins do no good.  Now you've hurt me,

Then came a smacking sound, three times: the wooden back of a
hairbrush striking someone's cheek or arm.  Mrs. Blake's firm mouth
shut closer as she knocked.  The same voice asked forbiddingly:

"Who is there?"

"It's only Rachel."

As Mrs. Blake opened the door, her mother spoke coolly to a young
girl crouching beside her chair:  "You may go now.  And see that
you come back in a better humour."

The girl flitted by Mrs. Blake without a sound, her face averted
and her shoulders drawn together.

Mrs. Colbert in her wheel-chair was sitting at a dressing-table
before a gilt mirror, a white combing-cloth about her shoulders.
This she threw off as her daughter entered.

"Take a chair, Rachel.  You're early."  She spoke politely, but she
evidently meant "too early."

"Yes, I'm earlier than I calculated.  I stopped to see old Jezebel,
but she was asleep, so I came right on in."

Mrs. Colbert smiled.  She was always amused when people behaved in
character.  Sooner than disturb a sick negro woman, Rachel had come
in to disturb her at her dressing hour, when it was understood she
did not welcome visits from anyone.  How like Rachel!

For all Mrs. Blake could see, her mother's grey-and-chestnut hair
was in perfect order; combed up high from the neck and braided in a
flat oval on the crown, with wavy wings coming down on either side
of her forehead.

"You might get me a fresh cap out of the upper drawer, Rachel.  I
hate a frowsy head in the morning.  Thank you.  I can arrange it."
She pinned the small frill of ribbon and starched muslin over the
flat oval.  "Now," she said affably, "you might turn me a little,
so that I can see you."

Her chair was carved walnut, with a cane back and down-curved arms:
one of the dining-room chairs, made over for her use by Mr.
Whitford, the country carpenter and coffin-maker.  He had cushioned
it, and set it on a walnut platform with iron castors underneath.
Mrs. Blake turned it so that her mother sat in the sunlight and
faced the east windows instead of the looking-glass.

"Well, I suppose it is a good thing Jezebel can sleep so much?"

Mrs. Blake shook her head.  "Till can't get her to eat anything.
She's weaker every day.  She'll not last long."

Mrs. Colbert smiled archly at her daughter's solemn face.  "She has
managed to last a good while: something into ninety years.  I
shouldn't care to last that long, should you?"

"No," Mrs. Blake admitted.

"Then I don't think we need make long faces.  She has been well
taken care of in her old age and her last sickness.  I mean to go
out to see her; perhaps today.  Rachel, I have a letter here from
Sister Sarah I must read you."  Mrs. Colbert took out her glasses
from a reticule attached to the arm of her chair.  She read the
letter from Winchester chiefly to put an end to conversation.  She
knew her daughter must have heard her correcting Nancy, and
therefore would be glum and disapproving.  Never having owned any
servants herself, Rachel didn't at all know how to deal with them.
Rachel had always been difficult,--rebellious toward the fixed ways
which satisfied other folk.  Mrs. Colbert had been heartily glad to
get her married and out of the house at seventeen.

While the letter was being read, Mrs. Blake sat regarding her
mother and thought she looked very well for a woman who had been
dropsical nearly five years.  True, her malady had taken away her
colour; she was always pale now, and, in the morning, something
puffy under the eyes.  But the eyes themselves were clear; a lively
greenish blue, with no depth.  Her face was pleasant, very
attractive to people who were not irked by the slight shade of
placid self-esteem.  She bore her disablement with courage; seldom
referred to it, sat in her crude invalid's chair as if it were a
seat of privilege.  She could stand on her feet with a good air
when visitors came, could walk to the private closet behind her
bedroom on the arm of her maid.  Her speech, like her handwriting,
was more cultivated than was common in this back-country district.
Her daughter sometimes felt a kind of false pleasantness in the
voice.  Yet, she reflected as she listened to the letter, it was
scarcely false--it was the only kind of pleasantness her mother
had,--not very warm.

As Mrs. Colbert finished reading, Mrs. Blake said heartily:  "That
is surely a good letter.  Aunt Sarah always writes a good letter."

Mrs. Colbert took off her glasses, glancing at her daughter with a
mischievous smile.  "You are not put out because she makes fun of
your Baptists a little?"

"No.  She's a right to.  I'd never have joined with the Baptists if
I could have got to Winchester to our own Church.  But a body likes
to have some place to worship.  And the Baptists are good people."

"So your father thinks.  But then he never did mind to forgather
with common people.  I suppose that goes with a miller's business."

"Yes, the common folks hereabouts have got to have flour and meal,
and there's only one mill for them to come to."  Mrs. Blake's voice
was rather tart.  She wished it hadn't been, when her mother said
unexpectedly and quite graciously:

"Well, you've surely been a good friend to them, Rachel."

Mrs. Blake bade her mother good-bye and hurried down the passage.
At times she had to speak out for the faith that was in her; faith
in the Baptists not so much as a sect (she still read her English
Prayer Book every day), but as well-meaning men and women.

Leaving the house by the back way, she saw the laundry door open,
and Nancy inside at the ironing-board.  She turned from her path
and went into the laundry cabin.

"Well, Nancy, how are you getting on?"  She habitually spoke to
people of Nancy's world with a resolute cheerfulness which she did
not always feel.

The yellow girl flashed a delighted smile, showing all her white
teeth.  "Purty well, mam, purty well.  Oh, do set down, Miz'
Blake."  She pushed a chair with a broken back in front of her
ironing-board.  Her eyes brightened with eager affection, though
the lids were still red from crying.

"Go on with your ironing, child.  I won't hinder you.  Is that one
of Mother's caps?" pointing to a handful of damp lace which lay on
the white sheet.

"Yes'm.  This is one of her comp'ny ones.  I likes to have 'em
nice."  She shook out the ball of crumpled lace, blew on it, and
began to run a tiny iron about in the gathers.  "This is a lil'
child's iron.  I coaxed it of Miss Sadie Garrett.  She didn't use
it for nothin', an' it's mighty handy fur the caps."

"Yes, I see it is.  You're a good ironer, Nancy."

"Thank you, mam."

Mrs. Blake sat watching Nancy's slender, nimble hands, so flexible
that one would say there were no hard bones in them at all: they
seemed compressible, like a child's.  They were just a shade darker
than her face.  If her cheeks were pale gold, her hands were what
Mrs. Blake called "old gold."  She was considering Nancy's case as
she sat there (the red marks of the hairbrush were still on the
girl's right arm), wondering how much she grieved over the way
things were going.  Nancy had fallen out of favour with her
mistress.  Everyone knew it, and no one knew why.  Self-respecting
negroes never complained of harsh treatment.  They made a joke of
it, and laughed about it among themselves, as the rough mountain
boys did about the lickings they got at school.  Nancy had not been
trained to humility.  Until lately Mrs. Colbert had shown her
marked favouritism; gave her pretty clothes to set off her pretty
face, and liked to have her in attendance when she had guests or
drove abroad.

"Well, child, I must be going," Mrs. Blake said presently.  She
left the laundry and walked about the negro quarters to look at the
multitude of green jonquil spears thrusting up in the beds before
the cabins.  They would soon be in bloom.

"Easter flowers" was her name for them, but the darkies called
them "smoke pipes," because the yellow blossoms were attached to
the green stalk at exactly the angle which the bowl of their clay
pipes made with the stem.


The Mill House was of a style well known to all Virginians, since
it was built on very much the same pattern as Mount Vernon: two
storeys, with a steep-pitched roof and dormer windows.  It stood
long and thin, and a front porch, supported by square frame posts,
ran the length of the house.  From this porch the broad green lawn
sloped down a long way, to a white picket fence where the mill yard
began.  Its box-hedged walks were shaded by great sugar maples and
old locust trees.  All was orderly in front; flower-beds,
shrubbery, and a lilac arbour trimmed in an arch beneath which a
tall man could walk.  Behind the house lay another world; a helter-
skelter scattering, like a small village.

Some ten yards from the back door of the house was the kitchen,
entirely separate from it, according to the manner of that time.
The negro cabins were much farther away.  The cabins, the laundry,
and the big two-storey smokehouse were all draped with flowering
vines, now just coming into leaf-bud: Virginia creeper, trumpet
vine, Dutchman's pipe, morning-glories.  But the south side of
every cabin was planted with the useful gourd vine, which grew
faster than any other creeper and bore flowers and fruit at the
same time.  In summer the big yellow blossoms kept unfolding every
morning, even after the many little gourds had grown to such a size
one wondered how the vines could bear their weight.  The gourds
were left on the vine until after the first frost, then gathered
and put to dry.  When they were hard, they were cut into dippers
for drinking, and bowls for holding meal, butter, lard, gravy, or
any tidbit that might be spirited away from the big kitchen to one
of the cabins.  Whatever was carried away in a gourd was not
questioned.  The gourd vessels were invisible to good manners.

From Easter on there would be plenty of flowers growing about the
cabins, but no grass.  The "back yard" was hard-beaten clay earth,
yellow in the sun, orderly only on Sundays.  Throughout the working
week clothes-lines were strung about, flapping with red calico
dresses, men's shirts and blue overalls.  The ground underneath was
littered with old brooms, spades and hoes, and the rag dolls and
home-made toy wagons of the negro children.  Except in a downpour
of rain, the children were always playing there, in company with
kittens, puppies, chickens, ducks that waddled up from the
millpond, turkey gobblers which terrorized the little darkies and
sometimes bit their naked black legs.

When Sapphira Dodderidge Colbert first moved out to Back Creek
Valley with her score of slaves, she was not warmly received.  In
that out-of-the-way, thinly settled district between Winchester and
Romney, not a single family had ever owned more than four or five
negroes.  This was due partly to poverty--the people were very
poor.  Much of the land was still wild forest, and lumber was so
plentiful that it brought no price at all.  The settlers who had
come over from Pennsylvania did not believe in slavery, and they
owned no negroes.  Mrs. Colbert had gradually reduced her force of
slaves, selling them back into Loudoun County, whither they were
glad to return.  Her husband had needed ready money to improve the
old mill.  Here there were no large, rich farms for the blacks to
work, as there were in Loudoun County.  Many field-hands were not

Sapphira Dodderidge usually acted upon motives which she disclosed
to no one.  That was her nature.  Her friends in her own county
could never discover why she had married Henry Colbert.  They spoke
of her marriage as "a long step down."  The Colberts were termed
"immigrants,"--as were all settlers who did not come from the
British Isles.  Old Gabriel Colbert, the grandfather, came from
somewhere in Flanders.  Henry's own father was a plain man, a
miller, and he trained his eldest son to that occupation.  The
three younger sons were birds of a very different feather.  They
rode with a fast fox-hunting set.  Being shrewd judges of horses,
they were welcome in every man's stable.  They were even (with a
shade of contempt and only occasionally) received in good houses;--
not the best houses, to be sure.  Henry was a plain, hard-working,
little-speaking young man who stayed at home and helped his father.
With his father he regularly attended a dissenting church supported
by small farmers and artisans.  He was certainly no match for
Captain Dodderidge's daughter.

True, when Sapphira's two younger sisters were already married,
she, at the age of twenty-four, was still single.  She saved her
face, people said, by making it clear that she was bound down by
the care of her invalid father.  Captain Dodderidge had been
seriously hurt while out hunting; in taking a stone wall, his horse
had fallen on him.  He survived his injury for three years.  After
his death, when the property was divided, Sapphira announced her
engagement to Henry Colbert, who had never gone to her father's
house except on matters of business.  After the Captain was
crippled and ailing, he often sent for young Henry to advise him
about selling his grain, to write his business letters, and to keep
an eye on the nominal steward.  He had great confidence in Henry's

Sapphira was usually present at their business conferences, and
took some part in their discussions about the management of the
farm lands and stock.  It was she who rode over the estate to see
that the master's orders were carried out.  She went to the public
sales on market days and bought in cattle and horses, of which she
was a knowing judge.  When the increase of the flocks or the
stables was to be sold, she attended to it with Henry's aid.  When
the increase of the slave cabins was larger than needed for field
and house service, she sold off some of the younger negroes.
Captain Dodderidge never sold the servants who had been with his
family for a long while.  After they were past work, they lived on
in their old cabins, well provided for.

When Sapphira announced her engagement, the family friends were
more astonished than if she had declared her intention of marrying
the gardener.  They quizzed the negro servants, who declared that
Mr. Henry had never been so much as asked into the parlour.  They
had never "caught" him talking to Miss Sapphy outside her father's
room, much less courting her.  After all these years the
strangeness of this marriage still came up in conversation when old
friends got together.  Fat Lizzie, the cook, had whispered to the
neighbours on Back Creek:  "Folks back home says it seem like Missy
an' Mr. Henry wasn't scarcely acquainted befo' de weddin', nor very
close acquainted evah since.  Him bein' kep' so close at de mill,"
she would add suavely.

Since she did marry Henry, it was not hard to explain why Sapphira
had moved away from her native county, where his plain manners, his
calling, vague ancestry, even his Lutheran connections, would have
made her social position rather awkward.  Once removed several
days' journey from her old friends, she could go back to visit them
without embarrassment.  The miller's unbending, somewhat uncouth
figure need never appear upon the scene at all.

The bride chose Back Creek for her place of exile because she owned
a very considerable property there, willed to her by an uncle who
died when she was still a young girl.  On this Back Creek estate
there was a mill.  It had stood there for some generations, since
Revolutionary times.

This farm (and a great tract of forest land afterward sold off) had
been deeded by Thomas, Lord Fairfax, to a Nathaniel Dodderidge who
came out to Virginia with Fairfax in 1747.  Fairfax's actual
possessions in the colony were immense; something like five million
acres of forest and mountain which had never been surveyed, watered
by rivers, great and small, which had never been explored except by
the Indians and were nameless except for their unpronounceable
Indian names.  There was discontent in the Virginia Assembly that
so large a territory should be held in one grant.  When Fairfax
established his final residence in the Shenandoah Valley, he
quieted this dissatisfaction by deeding off portions of his estate
to desirable settlers, laying out towns, and in every way
encouraging immigration.

To Nathaniel Dodderidge he deeded a tract of land on Back Creek.
Neither Nathaniel nor any of his descendants had ever lived on this
land.  It was only after the capture of Quebec by young General
Wolfe in 1759 that the mountainous country between Winchester and
Romney was altogether safe for settlers.  Bands of Indians under
French captains had burned and slaughtered as near Back Creek as
the Capon River.

When the danger of Indian raids was over, someone (his name was
lost) built a water mill where Henry Colbert's mill now stood.  All
through the Revolutionary War and ever since, a mill on that site
had served the needs of the scattered settlers.  The Dodderidges
had let the Mill Farm to tenants for successive generations.
Sapphira's father had never seen the place.  But before his death
Sapphira herself, attended by a groom, rode up a four days' journey
on horseback to look over her inheritance.  One morning she arrived
at the Back Creek post office, where a spare room was kept for
travellers.  Sapphira unpacked her saddle-bags and settled herself
for a stay of several days.  She rode all over the Mill Farm and
the timber land; had a friendly interview with the resident miller
and told him she could not renew his lease, which had barely a year
to run.

Before Sapphira's marriage to Henry Colbert, carpenters were sent
out from Winchester to pull down the old mill house (it was
scarcely more than a cabin), and to build the comfortable dwelling
which now stood there.  When the new house was completed,
Sapphira's household goods were carted up from Chestnut Hill and
settled in it.  She and Henry Colbert were married at Christ
Church, in Winchester, and drove directly to the new Mill House on
Back Creek, omitting the elaborate festivities which customarily
followed a wedding.

Though it was often said that Miss Dodderidge had broken away from
her rightful station, she by no means dropped out of the lives of
her family or lost touch with her friends.  Until her illness came
upon her, she made every year a long visit to the sister who lived
at Chestnut Hill, the old estate in Loudoun County.  Even now she
was always driven to Winchester in March, to stay with her sister
Sarah until after Easter.  There she attended all the services at
Christ Church, where Lord Fairfax, the first patron of the Virginia
Dodderidges, was buried beneath the chancel.  With the help of her
brother-in-law and a cane she limped to the family pew, though she
was obliged to remain seated throughout the service.

She was a comely figure in the congregation, clad in black silk and
white fichu.  From lack of exercise she had grown somewhat stout,
but she wore stays of the severest make and carried her shoulders
high.  Her serene face and lively, shallow blue eyes smiled at old
friends from under a black velvet bonnet, renewed or "freshened"
yearly by the town milliner.  She had not at all the air of a
countrywoman come to town.  No Dodderidge who ever sat in that pew
showed her blood to better advantage.  The miller, of course, did
not accompany her.  Although he had been married in Christ Church,
by an English rector, he had no love for the Church of England.


Mrs. Colbert, in her morning jacket and cap, sat before her desk,
writing a letter.  She wrote with pauses for deliberation, which
was unusual.  She was not unhandy with the pen.  When writing to
her sisters she filled pages with small, neat script, having
trained herself to "write small."  Postage was accounted dear, and
when she sent long letters to relatives in England it was an
economy to put a great deal upon a sheet.  This morning she was
composing a letter to a nephew--a letter of invitation.  It was
meant to be cordial, but not too cordial.  When she felt satisfied
with it, she folded the sheet and sealed it with a dab of red wax.
Envelopes were little in use.  She rang the loud-voiced copper
bell, always kept in the side pocket of her chair.

Old Washington appeared.  "Yes, Missy?"

"I am minded to drive out, Washington.  I have ordered the carriage,
and Uncle Jeff must have it at the door presently.  Find Till and
tell her to come and get me ready."

"Yes, mam."

Mrs. Colbert turned her letter face-down upon her desk.  Till could
read, and the Mistress did not wish her to see to whom the letter
was addressed.  When the neat black woman came to the door Mrs.
Colbert said cheerfully:

"Now, Till, you must dress me to drive abroad."

"Yes, Missy.  The black cashmere, I reckon?  It's a wonderful nice
day outside, Miss Sapphy.  It'll do you good."

Till, Nancy's mother, was a black woman of about forty, straight
and spare.  Her carriage and deportment and speech were those of a
well-trained housekeeper.  She knew how to stand when receiving
orders, how to meet visitors at the front door, how to make them
comfortable in the parlour and see to their wants.  She had been
trained as parlour maid by the English housekeeper whom Sapphira's
mother had brought with her from Devon when she came out to
Virginia to marry her American cousin.  The housekeeper had seen in
Till a "likely" girl who could be taught.  Since Mrs. Colbert had
lost the use of her feet, Till had charge of everything in the
house except the kitchen and fat Lizzie, the cook, whom no one but
Mrs. Colbert could control.

Till set about dressing her mistress; took off the morning jacket
and slipped a starched white petticoat and a cashmere dress over
Mrs. Colbert's head.  "Don't raise yourself up, Miss Sapphy.  I'll
pull everything down when you has to rise."

"Now the feet, I suppose," said Mrs. Colbert with a shrug.  She
seldom permitted herself to sigh.  "Not the silk stockings.  I
shan't be getting out anywhere.  But you can put on the new kid-
leather shoes.  They hurt me, but I must be getting used to them."

"Now just you wear the cloth slippers and be easy, Miss Sapphy.
Let me wear the kid shoes round the house a few days more an' break
'em in for you."

"Hush, Till.  You mustn't baby me," her mistress joked, looking
wishfully at the cloth slippers which Till was flapping on her two
hands like mittens.  "Well, put them on me, but this is the last
time.  You can't do much at breaking in the new pair, for you have
small feet.  Almost as small as mine used to be."  She regarded her
feet and ankles with droll contempt while Till drew on the
stockings and tied a ribbon garter below each of her wax-white,
swollen knees.

"There's Jeff now," Till exclaimed, as she tied the strings of her
mistress's second-best bonnet.  She helped her to rise for a moment
and pulled down the full skirts.  Washington came at call and
pushed Mrs. Colbert's chair through the long hall to the front
door.  Outside stood the coach, freshly washed; it looked very much
like the "four-wheeler" public cab of later days.  On the box sat a
shrivelled-up old negro in a black coat much too big for him, and
all that was left of a coachman's hat.  A little black boy came
running up to hold the horses, while Jeff descended to help his

Leaning between Jeff and Washington, Mrs. Colbert crossed the porch
and stepped down into the carriage.  She settled herself on the
leather cushions, and Jefferson was about to close the door when
she said quite carelessly:

"Jefferson, what have you got on your feet?"

Jeff crouched.  He had nothing at all on his feet.  They were as
bare as on the day he was born.  "Ah thought nobody'd see mah
fe-e-t on de box, Missy."

"You did?  Take me out driving like some mountain trash, would you?
Now you get out of my sight and put on that pair of Mr. Henry's
boots I gave you.  Step!"

Jefferson scuttled off like an old rat.  Washington went to help
the boy hold the impatient horses.  Till was leaning in at the
carriage door, putting a cushion under her mistress's slippers and
a rug over her knees.

"Till," said Mrs. Colbert confidentially, "I wish you would tell me
why it's so hard to keep leather on a nigger's feet."

"I jest don't know, Miss Sapphy.  The last thing I done was to
caution that nigger about his boots.  When I seen him wrigglin' his
old crooked toes yonder in the gravel, I was that shamed!"  Till
spoke indignantly.  She was ashamed.  Jeff was her husband, had
been these many years, though it was by no will of hers.

Jeff came back, his pants stuffed into a pair of old boots which
needed blacking, and hurriedly climbed on to the box.

"Jeff, you drive careful, now!" Till called.  Washington and the
black boy stepped back from the horses, and the coach rolled down
the driveway.  The drive led past the mill, and Sampson, the head
mill-hand, came out to wave and call:  "Pleasant drive to you, Miss

To the household it was an occasion when the Mistress drove out.
In this backwoods country there were few families Mrs. Colbert
cared to call upon, and she had no special liking for rough
mountain roads.  When the wild laurel was in bloom, or the wild
honeysuckle (Rhododendron nudiflorum), then she often drove up the
winding road to Timber Ridge.  She knew she looked to advantage
when she stopped to pass the time of day with her neighbours
through the lowered window of her coach.  Very few people, even in
Loudoun County, had glass windows in their carriages.  Moreover, on
the coach door there was a small patch of colour, the Dodderidge
crest: her "coat of arms," the Back Creek people called it.  The
children along the road used to stare wonderingly at that
mysterious stamp of superiority.

This morning when Jefferson came to the place where the mill road
turned into the highroad, he asked in his cracked treble:

"Which-a-way, Missy?"

She told him to the post office, so he turned west.  When he had
gone a mile, he slowed his horses to a walk.  There was Mrs.
Blake's house, standing under four great maple trees, in a neat
yard with a white paling fence.  Two little girls ran out, calling:
"Good morning, Gran'-ma!"

Jefferson stopped the carriage, and Mrs. Colbert asked after their

"Ma ain't at home," said the older child.  "She's gone over to
Peughtown.  Mrs. Thatcher's dreadful sick.  They came for Ma in the
night, and brought a horse for her."

"So you are all by yourselves?  Suppose you get in and take a ride
to the post office?"

The children shot quick glances at each other.  The younger one,
who was only eight, said timidly:  "We've got just our old dresses
on, Gran'ma."

Her grandmother laughed.  "Oh, never mind, this time!  Jump in, the
horses don't like to stand.  Molly's curls are nice, anyhow."

The children climbed into the carriage, delighted at their good
luck.  Sometimes, when their grandmother was driving of a Sunday
morning, she stopped and took them and their mother as far as the
Baptist church; but very seldom had they driven out with her by
themselves.  This was Saturday, and Molly wished that all her
schoolmates could be loitering along the road to see them go by.
Her real name was Mary, but since she promised to be a pretty girl,
her grandmother had taken a fancy to her and called her Molly.  It
was understood that this name was Mrs. Colbert's special privilege;
her mother and her schoolmates called her Mary.  Her little sister
was the only one who dared to use Grandmother's name for her.

Uncle Jeff drew his horses up before the long, low, white-painted
house where the postmistress lived and performed her official
duties.  The postmistress herself threw an apron over her head and
came out to the carriage.  She and Mrs. Colbert greeted each other
with marked civility.  They held very different opinions on one
important subject.

Mrs. Colbert drew from her reticule the letter she had written a
few hours ago.  "I brought this letter up to you myself, Mrs.
Bywaters, because it is important, and I hope you will put it into
the mailbag yourself."

"Certainly, Mrs. Colbert.  Nobody but me ever handles the mail
here.  The bag goes from my hands into the stage-driver's.  I see
you've got your little granddaughters along today."

"Yes, Mrs. Bywaters, this is a pleasant day for a drive.  I'd heard
you had your house new painted.  How nice it looks!"

"Thank you.  I had trouble enough getting it done, but it's over at
last.  I had to tear down all my honeysuckle vines and lay them on
the ground.  I'm hoping they're not much hurt."

"I hope not, indeed.  They were a great ornament to your house,
especially the coral honeysuckle.  Now, Jefferson, we will stop at
the store for a minute.  Good day to you, Mrs. Bywaters."

The country store stood across the road from the post office.  The
storekeeper saw the carriage stop, and came out.  Mrs. Colbert
asked him to bring her a pound of stick candy, half wintergreen and
half peppermint.  Both little girls tried to look unconscious, but
while their grandmother was talking to the storekeeper, Betty
pinched Mary softly to express her feelings.  The candy was brought
out in a brown paper parcel, but it was not given to them until
their grandmother let them out at their own gate.  They thanked her
very prettily for the candy and the drive.

"Jefferson, you may take me down the turnpike, and out to Mrs.
Cowper's on the Peughtown road.  I want to ask after my carpets."

As she drove along, Mrs. Colbert was thinking it was fortunate that
for once her daughter had been called to nurse in a prosperous
family like the Thatchers, who would see that she was well repaid;
if not in money, in hams or bacon or a bolt of good cloth.  Usually
she was called out to some bare mountain cabin where she got
nothing but thanks, and likely as not had to take along milk and
eggs and her own sheets for the poor creature who was sick.  Rachel
was poor, and it was not much use to give her things.  Whatever she
had she took where it was needed most; and Mrs. Colbert certainly
didn't intend to keep the whole mountain.

After a few miles of jolting over a rough byroad, she stopped for a
call on Mrs. Cowper, the carpet-weaver.  At the Mill House all
worn-out garments, discarded table linen, and old sheets were cut
into narrow strips, sewn together, and wound into fat balls.  This
was the darkies' regular evening work in winter.  When a great many
balls of these "carpet-rags" had accumulated, they were sent, with
hanks of cotton chain, to Mrs. Cowper, who dyed them with logwood,
copperas, or cochineal, then wove them into stout carpets, striped
or plain.


As soon as the Mistress had left the house, Till and her daughter
Nancy fell to and began to give her bedroom a thorough cleaning;
pushed the bed out from the wall, and washed the closet floors.
All the windows were opened, and the rugs before the wash-basin
stand and the dressing-table were carried into the back yard and

After Nancy had pinned a clean antimacassar on the back of the
wheel-chair and put the Mistress's slippers ready at the foot of
it, her mother said they might as well "give the parlour a lick"
before the carriage got back.

The two women, their heads tied up in red cotton handkerchiefs,
went into the parlour and rolled up the green paper shades, painted
with garden scenes and fountains.  The sunlight streamed into the
room.  The parlour was long in shape, not square, with a low
ceiling, the brick fireplace in the middle, under a wide mantel
shelf.  Horsehair chairs and sofas sat about with tidies on their
backs and arms.  Captain Dodderidge's old mahogany desk filled one
corner.  Every inch of the floor was covered by a heavy Wilton
carpet, figured with pink roses and green leaves.  It was somewhat
worn, as it had been "brought over" by Sapphira's mother when she
first came out to Virginia.  Upon this carpet the two brooms went
swiftly to work.

The room had an air of settled comfort and stability; visitors
sensed that at once.  The deep-set windows made one feel the
thickness of the walls.  A child could climb up into one of those
windows and make a playhouse.  Every afternoon Mrs. Colbert was
brought into the parlour and sat here for several hours before
supper.  Here she could watch the light of the sinking sun burn on
the great cedars that grew along the farther side of the creek,
across from the mill.  In winter weather, when the snow was falling
over the flower garden and the hedges, that long room, with its six
windows and its warm hearth, was a pleasant place to be.

With Nancy at one end and Till at the other, the parlour was soon
swept.  Till never dawdled over her work.  The housekeeper at
Chestnut Hill had taught her that the shuffling foot was the mark
of an inferior race.  After the sweeping came the dusting.

"Now, Nancy, run and fetch me a kitchen chair and a clean soft rag.
I want to git at the po'traits, which I didn't have time to do last
week."  Any other servant on the place would have stepped coolly on
one of the fat horsehair chair-bottoms,--if, indeed, she had
thought it worth while to dust the pictures at all, now that the
Mistress could no longer reach up and run her fingers along the

When the wooden chair was brought, Till mounted and wiped, first
the canvases, then their heavy gilt frames.  Her daughter stood
gazing up at them: Master and Mistress twenty years ago.  Mistress
in a garnet velvet gown and real lace, wearing her long earrings
and a garnet necklace: a vigorous young woman with chestnut hair
and a high colour in her cheeks.  The Master in a stock and
broadcloth coat, his bushy black hair standing up as it often did
now, his face broad and ruddy; he had changed very little.  Nancy
thought these pictures wonderful.  She hoped the painter was really
her father, as some folks said.  Old Jezebel, her great-grandmother,
had whispered to her that was why she had straight black hair with
no kink in it.

Anyway, Nancy knew Uncle Jeff wasn't her father, though she always
called him "Pappy" and treated him with respect.  Her mother had no
children by Uncle Jeff, and fat Lizzie, the cook, had left Nancy in
no doubt as to the reason.  When Nancy was a little girl, Lizzie
had coaxed her off into the bushes one Sunday to help her pick
gooseberries.  There she told her how Miss Sapphy had married Till
off to Jeff because he was a "capon man."  The child was puzzled,
and thought this meant that Jeff had come from somewhere up on the
Capon River.  But Lizzie made the facts quite clear.  Miss Sapphy
didn't want a lady's maid to be "havin' chillun all over de place,--
always a-carryin' or a-nussin' 'em."  So she married Till off to
Jeff and "made it wuth her while, the niggers reckoned."  Till got
the light end of the work and the best of everything.  And Lizzie
didn't believe that talk about the painter man; she told Nancy that
one of Mr. Henry's brothers was her real father.  From that day
Nancy had felt a horror of Lizzie.  She tried not to show it, but
Lizzie knew, and she got back at the stuck-up piece whenever she
had a chance.  She set her own daughter, Bluebell, to spy on Till's

Nancy had never asked Till who her father was.  She admired her
mother and took pride in what she called her mother's "nice ways."
The girl had a natural delicacy of feeling.  Ugly sights and ugly
words sickened her.  She had Till's good manners--with something
warmer and more alive.  But she was not courageous.  When the
servants were gossiping at their midday dinner in the big kitchen,
if she sensed a dirty joke coming, she slipped away from the table
and ran off into the garden.  If she felt a reprimand coming, she
sometimes lied: lied before she had time to think, or to tell
herself that she would be found out in the end.  She caught at any
pretext to keep off blame or punishment for an hour, a minute.  She
didn't tell falsehoods deliberately, to get something she wanted;
it was always to escape from something.

Nancy was startled out of her reflections about her mysterious
father by her mother's voice.

"Now, honey, if I was you, I'd make a nice egg-nog when you hear
the carriage comin', an' I'd carry it in to the Mistress when she's
got out of the coach an' into her room.  I'd take it to her on the
small silvah salvah, with a white napkin and some cold biscuit."

Nancy caught her breath, and looked downcast.  "Lizzie, she don't
like to have me meddlin' round the kitchen to do anything."

"I'll be out around the kitchen, an' Lizzie dassent say anything to
ME.  An' if I was you, I wouldn't carry a tray to Missus with no
haing-dawg look.  I'd smile, an' look happy to serve her, an'
she'll smile back."

Nancy shook her head.  Her slender hands dropped limp at her side.
"No she won't, Mudder," very low.

"Yes she will, if you smile right, an' don't go shiverin' like a
drownded kitten.  In all Loudoun County Miss Sapphy was knowed for
her good mannahs, an' that she knowed how to treat all folks in
their degree."

The daughter hesitated, but did not answer.  For nearly a year now
she had seemed to have no degree, and her mistress had treated her
like an untrustworthy stranger.  Before that, ever since she could
remember, Miss Sapphy had been very kind to her, had liked her and
had shown it.  As they were leaving the parlour, Nancy murmured,
more to herself than to her mother:

"I knows that fat Lizzie's at the bottom of it, somehow.  She's
always got a pick on me."


The mill stood on the west bank of Back Creek: the big water-wheel
hung almost over the stream itself.  The creek ran noisily along
over a rough stone bottom which here and there churned the dark
water into foam.  For the most part it was wide and shallow, though
there were deep holes between the ledges.  The dam, lying in the
green meadows above the mill, was fed by springs, and a race
conveyed the water to the big wooden wheel.

In the second storey of the mill flour and un-ground grain were
stored; there it was safe in times of high water.  The "miller's
room," on the first floor, was a recognized feature of every mill
in those days; the man in charge slept there and kept an eye on the
property, even when no grinding was going on at night.  Henry
Colbert had no foreman.  He himself occupied the room, using it
both as sleeping-chamber and office.  Years ago he spent the night
at the mill only in times of night grinding or high water.  But
latterly the mill room had become more and more the place where he
actually lived.

The mill room was all that was left of the original building which
stood there in Revolutionary times.  The old chimney was still
sound, and the miller used the slate-paved fireplace in cold
weather.  The floor was bare; old boards, very wide, ax-hewn from
great trees before the day of sawmills.  There was no ceiling but
the floor of the storeroom above, with its heavy, ax-dressed
crossbeams.  This wooden ceiling, its beams, and the wooden walls
of the room were freshly whitewashed every spring.  The miller's
furniture was whitewashed, so to speak, day by day, by the flour-
dust which sifted down from overhead, and through every crack and
crevice in the doors and walls.  Each morning Till's Nancy swept
and dusted the flour away.

Here the miller had arranged everything to his own liking.  The
square windows were furnished with paper blinds, to keep out the
four-o'clock summer dawn if he had been up late the night before.
His narrow bed had been made of chestnut wood by Mr. Whitford, the
neighbourhood carpenter and cabinet-maker, and it was a good piece
of work.  Bed-cords, hitched about neat knobs, took the place of
springs.  On the tightly drawn cords lay the mattress; a feather
"tick" in winter, a corn-shuck one in summer.  His "secretary" was
also of chestnut.  (Whitford liked to work in that wood.)  It was
both writing-desk and bookcase.  Above the desk four shelves held
ledgers and account books,--and a curious assortment of other books
as well.  The high chest of drawers at which the miller shaved
stood between the two west windows, looking toward the house, and
his small wood-framed looking-glass hung from a nail driven in the
plank wall behind.  At seven o'clock every morning little Zach ran
down from the house with the master's shaving water in a steaming
iron teakettle.

When Henry Colbert first took over the mill, his silent unconvivial
nature was against him.  A miller was expected to be jovial; to
produce whisky, or at least applejack, when a man made a small
payment on a long account.  In time his neighbours found that
though the new miller was stingy of speech, he was not tight with
his purse-strings.

One rainy March day at about four o'clock in the afternoon (in
Virginia one said four o'clock in the "evening") the miller was
sitting at his secretary, going through his ledger.  His purpose
was to check off the names of debtors to whom he would not, under
any circumstance, extend further credit.  He found so many of these
names already checked once, and even twice, that after frowning
over his accounts for a long while, he leaned back in his chair and
rubbed his chin.  When people were so poor, what was a Christian
man to do?  They were poor because they were lazy and shiftless,--
or, at best, bad managers.  Well, he couldn't make folks over, he
guessed.  And they had to eat.  While he sat thinking, Sampson, his
head mill-hand, appeared at the door, which was often left ajar in
the daytime.

"Mr. Henry, little Zach jist run down from de house sayin' de
Mistress would like you to come up, if you ain't too busy."

The miller closed his ledger, glad to escape.  "Anything amiss,

"No, sah, I don't reckon so.  Zach, he said she was waitin' in de

Colbert changed his old leather jacket for a black coat, brushed
the flour-dust off his broad hat, and walked up through the cold
spring drizzle which was making the grass green.

He found his wife dressed for the afternoon, with a lace cap on her
head and her rings on her fingers, having her tea by the fire.
(When she heard him open the front door she poured his cup,
smuggling in a good tot of Jamaica rum, since he didn't take
cream.)  Before he sat down, he took up a plate of toasted biscuit
from the hearth and offered it to his wife.  He drank his tea in a
few swallows, though it was very hot.

"Thank you, Sapphy.  That takes the chill out of a body's bones.
It does get damp down there at the mill.  Could you spare me
another cup?"

Munching his biscuit, he watched her pour the tea.  When she
reached down for a small red cruet, well concealed on the lower
deck of the table, he laughed and rubbed his hands together.
"That's why it tastes so good!  I must try to get up here oftener
when you're having your tea.  But it's just about this time of day
the farmers come in.  The good ones are at work all morning, and
the poor sticks never get around to anything at all till the day's
'most gone."

"I'm sure the Master would always be very welcome company in the
evenings," replied Mrs. Colbert, lifting her eyebrows, whether
archly or ironically it would be hard to say.

"Don't you put on with me, Sapphy."  He reached down to the hearth
for another biscuit.  "You're the master here, and I'm the miller.
And that's how I like it to be."

His wife looked at him with an indulgent smile, and shook her head.
She stirred her tea gently for a few moments in silence.  A log
fell apart in the fire and shot up tall flames; the miller put the
ends together with the tongs.  "Henry," she said suddenly," do you
realize it's getting on towards Easter?"

"And you haven't set out yet," he added.  "Have you given up going
for this year?"

"No, I wouldn't disappoint Sister Sarah.  But Jezebel's been so
low.  I shouldn't like to be away from home when it happened.  I
thought she would have gone before this."

Colbert glanced up in surprise.  "Well, you needn't put yourself
out on Jezebel's account.  She may hang on till harvest.  It seems
like life won't let go of her."

"If you feel that way, what's to hinder my going this Friday?  Then
I would have all Holy Week with Sarah, and if I get no bad news
from home I might stay a week longer.  Sarah always entertains
after Easter, you know, and I would meet my old friends."

"I can see no objection.  The roads ought to be good, if this
drizzle don't set into a hard rain.  While you're in town you might
have the carriage painted.  It needs it."

"That's a good idea.  And this year I think I shall take Nancy
along instead of Till.  It would smarten her up, to see how people
do things in town."

He considered a moment.  "Very well, if you leave Till to look
after my place down there.  Don't try any more Bluebell on me!"

His wife replied with her most ladylike laugh, a flash of fun in
it.  "Poor Bluebell!  Is she never to have a chance to learn?  Why
are you so set against her?"

"I can't abide her, or anything about her.  If there is one nigger
on the place I could thrash with my own hands, it's that Bluebell!"

The Mistress threw up her hands; this time she laughed so heartily
that the rings on her fingers glittered.  It was a treat to hear
her husband break out like this.

"Well, Henry," as she wiped her eyes with a tiny handkerchief, "I
will own to you that if it wasn't for Lizzie's feelings, I'd send
that lazy girl off the place tomorrow.  I'd give her away!  But
we've got the only good cook west of Winchester, and so we have to
have Bluebell.  Lizzie would always be in the sulks, and when a
cook is out of temper she can spoil every dish, just by a turn of
the hand.  We would never sit down to a good dinner again.
Besides, your Baptists would miss Lizzie and Bluebell in the hymns.
And they are always being sent for to sing at funerals.  I like to
hear them myself, of a summer night."

The miller rose, put another log on the fire, and, by way of an
attention, righted the clumsy wheel-chair a little.  He took his
wife's plump hand and patted it.  "Thank you for having me up,
Sapphy.  It's done me good.  The mill room gets very damp between
seasons, and I forget to have Tap make a fire.  You might send for
me a little oftener."  He turned up his coat-collar and reached for
his hat, but his wife interfered.

"Go and get your shawl out of the hall press.  Don't go back to the
mill and sit in a damp coat.  It's folly to expose yourself.  You
ought to have a fire every day this weather."

He went into the hall and returned with a great shawl of fine
Scotch wool.  It had once been dark green, but time and weather had
put a dull gold cast into it.  He folded it three-cornered, so that
it covered his coat, and went out into the drizzle.  Military men
and prosperous townsmen wore overcoats, but farmers and countrymen
wore heavy shawls, fastened with a large shawl-pin.

Sapphira sat looking out at the dripping trees and the thick
amethyst clouds which hung low over the mill and blurred the tall
cedars across the creek.  She smiled faintly; it occurred to her
that when they were talking about Bluebell, both she and Henry had
been thinking all the while about Nancy.  How much, she wondered,
did each wish to conceal from the other?

Such speculations were mildly amusing for a woman who did not read
a great deal, and who had to sit in a chair all day.

She had given little time to reflection in the years when she was
having her children and bringing them up.  Even after they were
married and gone, the management of the place had kept her busy.
Every year there was the gardening and planting, butchering time
and meat-curing.  Summer meant preserving and jelly-making, the
drying of cherries and currants and sweet corn and sliced apples
for winter.  In those days she often rode her mare to Winchester of
a Saturday to be there for the Sunday service.  It was because she
had been so energetic, and such a good manager, that even from an
invalid's chair she was still able to keep her servants well in




On Thursday morning two leather coach trunks were brought down from
the garret, and Nancy was allowed, for the first time, to pack
them, under Till's direction.  Besides the trunks, there was a
handy Whitford-made wooden box for shoes, as the poor Mistress had
to carry so many pairs.  The bandboxes were to go inside the

By eleven o'clock on Friday morning Mrs. Colbert was dressed and
bonneted.  All the household gathered round the carriage to see her
off.  Fat Lizzie brought the lunch-box, for light refreshment on
the road to Winchester.  The miller came up from the mill to lift
his wife into the carriage.  Nancy, in her Sunday bonnet and shawl,
stood by, expecting to sit on the box with Uncle Jeff, but Mrs.
Colbert told her she was to ride inside.  The servants called good
wishes as Jeff drove off, and Henry walked beside the coach as far
as the mill.  Nancy had cast an appealing glance at her mother when
she learned she was to sit beside the Mistress.  But Till knew the
Dodderidge manners; if the girl was taken as a companion, she would
be treated as such.

After Till had closed the Mistress's room, she went down to the
mill to "straighten up" for Mr. Henry.  She had her own sense of
the appropriate, and she thought the miller's room right for him,
in the same way that Captain Dodderidge's saddle room had always
been right.  She approved of the polished chestnut bedstead, and
the counterpane in large blue and white squares, woven by the same
Mrs. Cowper who made carpets.  The four brass candlesticks, by
which the miller read after dark, were clean and shining; only a
little tallow from last night had dripped down the stems.  The deep
chair beside the reading-table was made of bent hickory withes,
very strong and well fitted to the back.  Till had wanted to make
cushions for this chair, but the Master told her cushions were for
women.  She was glad to see that Nancy had kept Mr. Henry's copper
pieces bright: she knew he set great store by these.

Between the whitewashed uprights that held the board walls
together, the miller had fitted wooden shelves.  On these he kept
sharp and delicate tools, which the mill-hands were on no account
allowed to touch, and a row of copper bowls and tankards which had
been his grandfather's.

Nancy had been keeping the mill room in order ever since she was
twelve years old.  There was nothing down there that could be
damaged or broken, the Mistress had remarked to Till; yet the work
would be training of a sort.

This morning Till examined everything critically; the bed-cords,
the sheets and blankets, the hand wash-basin, the drawer with soap
and towels for the miller's private use.  She couldn't have kept
the room better herself, she thought.  On her way back to the house
Till fell to wondering for the hundredth time why Nancy had fallen
out of favour with the Mistress.  To be sure, until lately Miss
Sapphy had pampered the girl too much; but it wasn't a Dodderidge
trait to turn on anybody they had once taken a fancy to.  Nancy
herself, Till knew, suspected fat Lizzie as the troublemaker, but
she had never said why.

Old Washington could have given Till some hint as to how this
change in the Mistress had come about; but Washington was close-
mouthed.  Long service had taught him that tattling was sure to get
a house-man into trouble.

Nearly a year ago, in the month of May, an unfortunate incident had
occurred.  The Mistress, sitting at the table after her husband had
finished his breakfast and gone to the mill, heard loud voices from
the kitchen.  The windows and doors were open to let the fresh
spring air blow through the house.  She recognized fat Lizzie's
rolling tones and suspected she was bullying one of the other
servants.  Washington was standing behind the Mistress's chair.
She beckoned him to help her rise, took his arm, and limped
painfully to the back door.

This was what she heard (not Lizzie's voice, now, but Nancy's):
"You dasn't talk to me that way, Lizzie.  I won't bear it!  I'll go
to the Master."

Then Lizzie, with a big laugh:  "Co'se you'll go to Master!  Ain't
dat jest what I been tellin' you?  You think you mighty nigh owns
dat mill.  Runnin' down all times a-day and night, carryin' bokays
to him.  Oh, I seen you many a time! pickin' vi'lets an' bleedin'-
hearts an' hidin' 'em under your apron.  Yiste'day you took him
down de chicken livers fur his lunch I fried for Missus!  You're
sure runnin' de mill room wid a high han', Miss Yaller Gal, an'
you'se always down yonder when you'se wanted."

"'Tain't so!  I always hurries.  I jest stays long enough to dust
de flour away dat gits over everything, an' to make his bed
cumfa'ble fur him."

"Lawdy, Lawdy!  An' you makes his bed cumfa'ble fur him?  Ain't dat
nice!  I speck!  Look out you don't do it once too many.  Den it
ain't so fine, when somethin' begin to show on you, Miss Yaller

Through Lizzie's lewd laughter broke the frantic voice of a young
thing bursting into tears.

"I won't stay here to listen to your nasty tongue!  An' him de good
kind man to every nigger on de place.  Shame on you, you bad
woman!"  Nancy rushed out of the kitchen sobbing, her face buried
in her hands.  She did not see her mistress standing in the

That very night Nancy was ordered to bring her straw tick up from
Till's cabin and sleep on the floor outside Mrs. Colbert's bedroom
door.  She had been sleeping there ever since.

Through the summer, lying outside the Mistress's door was not a
hardship,--the girl had always slept on the floor.  But when the
winter came on, drafts blew through the long hall up at the big
house, and even when she went to bed with her yarn stockings on and
had heavy quilts over her, the cold kept her awake in the long
hours before daybreak.

On nights when the miller did not go down to the mill, but slept in
the Mistress's room, and she was not supposed to need a servant
ready at call, Nancy was sent running across the back yard to
Till's cabin, with her tick in her arms and a glad smile on her
face.  She loved that cabin, and all her mother's ways.  Till and
old Jeff slept in the "good room" where there was a bedstead.
Nancy spread her mattress on the kitchen floor, where she could
watch the firelight flicker on the whitewashed walls as the logs
burnt down.  There she felt snug, like when she was a little girl.
And toward morning she could hear all the homelike noises close at
hand: Uncle Jeff snoring, the roosters crowing, the barn dogs
barking.  Her mammy would maybe come and put an extra quilt over
her, and then she would drift off to sleep again.

A few days after Nancy had begun to make her bed outside her
mistress's door, the miller came to his breakfast one morning with
a grim face.  He greeted his wife soberly, sat down, and began to
eat his ham and eggs in silence.  When his second cup of coffee had
been put at his place, he said quietly:

"You may go, Washington, until your mistress rings for you."

As soon as they were alone he lifted his eyes and looked across the
table at his wife.

"Sapphira, do you know who has been coming down to clean the mill
room lately?"

She looked up artlessly from her plate.  "I think it was Bluebell.
Don't tell me she meddled with your things!"

"Bluebell; the laziest, trashiest wench on the place!"

"She'll learn, Henry.  If she doesn't take hold, I'll send Till
down to make her step lively."

"She'll do no stepping at all in the mill.  If I see her there
again, I'll put her out.  Nancy is to look after the mill room, as
she always has done."

"But Nancy is old enough now to be trained for a parlour maid.  If
you won't have Bluebell, try one of Martha's girls.  Till has all
the housekeeping to do now, since I can't get about.  She needs
Nancy here."

The miller was silent for a moment.  His first flush of anger had
passed.  When he looked up again, he spoke quietly.

"Of course the blacks on this place belong to you, and I have never
interfered with your management of them.  But I warn you, Sapphira,
that I will not have any of the wenches coming down to the mill.
I don't mean to break in another girl.  Nancy is quiet and quick.
She knows how I want things, and she puts them that way.  I must
ask you to spare her to me for a little while every morning."

Mrs. Colbert laughed lightly.  "Oh, certainly, if you feel that way
about it.  Why take a small matter so seriously?  It's of no
importance to me who makes my bed," she added with just a shade of

"Yes, it is.  You wouldn't have anybody but Till fix your room.
It's not my bed I care about.  It's the girl's quiet ways and
respectful manner, and that she never stops to gossip with my mill-

He said no more, but went out into the hall and took up his wide-
brimmed hat--this morning white with two days' flour-dust.

When Nancy first began to take care of the mill room, she usually
went down while the Master was at breakfast.  Sometimes she had to
go earlier, to take his freshly ironed shirts and underwear and put
them in his chest of drawers before he locked it for the day.
After a while she fell into the habit of going early, because she
got a smile, along with his "Good morning, child."  After her
mother and Mrs. Blake, there was no one in the world she loved so
much as the Master.  She had never had a harsh word from him--not
many words at any time, to be sure.  But his kindly greeting made
her happy; that, and the feeling she was of some use to him.

Once, on a spring morning when the yellow Easter flowers (jonquils)
were just bursting into bloom, she had gathered a handful on her
way to the mill and put them in one of the copper tankards on the
shelf.  She thought the yellow flowers looked pretty in the copper.
The miller had already gone to breakfast.  She didn't know whether
she ought to leave them there or not; he might not like her taking
such a liberty.

The next morning the flowers were still in the tankard.  The miller
was stropping his razor.  He turned round as she came in.

"Good morning, child.  I wonder who brought me some smoke-pipes
down here?"

Nancy's yellow cheeks blushed pink.  "I just happened to see 'em as
I was runnin' down, Mr. Henry.  I put 'em in water to keep 'em
fresh.  An' I reckon I forgot 'em."

"Just leave them there.  I like to see flowers in that stein.  My
father used to drink his malt out of it."

After that, when she could do so unobserved, Nancy often stopped to
pick a bunch of whatever flowers were coming on, and took them down
to the mill under her apron.

The miller was a little disappointed when Nancy did not tap at his
door before he started for the house, but he never suggested that
she come earlier, or delayed his departure by one minute.  His
silver watch was always beside him while he shaved, and when the
hand reached five minutes to eight he put on his hat.  The Colbert
men had a bad reputation where women were concerned.  That was why,
in spite of her resemblance to the portrait painter from Cuba,
Nancy was often counted as one of the Colbert bastards.  Some
people said Guy Colbert was her father, others put it on Jacob.
Although Henry was a true Colbert in nature, he had not behaved
like one, and he had never been charged with a bastard.

The miller lived a rather lonely life, indeed.  After supper he
usually sat for an hour in the parlour with his wife, then went
back to the mill and read.  The pages of his Bible were worn thin,
and the margins sprinkled with cross-references.  When he had lit
the four candles on his table and settled himself in his hickory
chair, he read with his mind as well as his eyes.  And he
questioned.  He met with contradictions, and they troubled him.
He found a comforter in John Bunyan, who also had been troubled.
Sometimes he had a bad night, and was awake and dressed a long
while before little Zach ran down from the house with his kettle of
shaving water.  Then he used to watch to see the yellow girl come
winding along the garden path: so happy she was--free from care,
like the flowers and the birds.  He had never realized, until
Bluebell took her place for two days, how much love and delicate
feeling Nancy put into making his bare room as he liked it.  Even
when she was scarcely more than a child, he had felt her eagerness
to please him.  As she grew older he came to identify her with
Mercy, Christiana's sweet companion.  When he read in the second
part of his book, he saw Nancy's face and figure plain in Mercy.


On the evening after Mrs. Colbert's departure for town, Till felt
lonely and downcast.  All day she had been busy and resolutely
cheerful.  Now, as the sun was going down behind the hills, she sat
on the doorstep of her cabin watching the long twilight come on.

This was the first year she had ever missed the Easter trip to
Winchester with her mistress.  She was glad Nancy had been chosen,
because it seemed to mean that Miss Sapphy's unaccountable
harshness toward the girl was melting.  But deep in her heart Till
felt slighted and left behind.  It was always a great treat for her
to stay in Judge Halstead's town house, and to help serve at the
dinner parties which Mrs. Halstead gave after Easter.  The third
sister, Mrs. Bushwell, who now owned Chestnut Hill, came to
Winchester at that time, bringing her maid and coachman, and from
them Till could hear about everything that had happened at home
since last Easter; "home" being always Chestnut Hill.

This mill farm on Back Creek had never been home to Till.  She
liked, as she said to herself, to live among "folks," not among
poor farmers and backwoods people.  The finer accomplishments she
had learned from Mrs. Matchem, those of which she was most proud,
had little chance here.  Before the Mistress became an invalid,
things were better.  Then friends from Winchester often came to
stay overnight or to spend a week; there was some satisfaction in
keeping the brass and silver bright, the stores of bed linen and
table linen bleached.  In those days Miss Sapphy used to go back to
Chestnut Hill almost every summer for a long visit with her sister,
and Till went with her.

Sitting there on her doorstep and remembering happier times, Till
found herself shivering.  She got up and went into the cabin.  When
she came back, she had a wool-stuffed bed-quilt about her shoulders.
On a still twilight in spring and summer, clouds of fleecy mist
curled over the low meadow down where the mill dam was. All Till's
secret discontent with the Mill Farm she expressed by the quiet
statement that it was "damp."  Even on a sunny wash-day the sheets
were longer drying than they should be.  In the fall the hoar frost
was heavier here than over at Mrs. Blake's place on the big road.
When Till and the Mistress came back from their Easter fortnight in
town, and no fires had been lighted in the parlour, they found damp
spots on the English wall-paper.

"They've had moisture up here," Miss Sapphy would remark cheerfully.
"All the better for the early roses."  She would never admit that
it was damper here than elsewhere.

But to Till the heavy atmosphere brought a heaviness of heart.  She
was not, under any circumstances, a gay darky.  In early childhood,
at Chestnut Hill, she had suffered a frightful shock.  One night,
lying in her trundle bed, she was watching her mother dress for the
servants' New Year's party.  She saw her mother's finery catch fire
from a candle; saw her, in flames, run screaming out into the
winter wind.  The poor woman was fatally burned before the men
could overtake her and beat out the fire.  As for the child, the
negroes declared she had been struck dumb and would never speak
again.  She said not a word when they tried to comfort her, but
looked at them with terrified eyes.  Mrs. Matchem, the housekeeper,
took Till up to the big house and put her into a cot in her own
room.  There, away from the emotional darkies, she began to sleep
naturally again, and was soon a quick-witted, observant little
girl,--but a grave and serious one.  So was Mrs. Matchem serious.
Till was devoted to her; strove to imitate her in speech and
manner.  Matchem impressed it upon her that there was all the
difference in the world between doing things exactly right and
doing them somehow-or-other.  The little black girl would stand
looking up at the tall Devonshire woman, taking these precepts
devoutly to heart.  To the sly whispers of the under servants that
an easier way was just as good, she steeled herself as if the Bad
Man himself were whispering in her ear.

After Captain Dodderidge died, and Miss Sapphy married and went out
to Back Creek, her sister, Mrs. Bushwell, bought in Chestnut Hill.
All Mrs. Bushwell's interest was in the stables; she left the
management of the house entirely to Matchem.  Till stayed on,
working under Matchem until she was fifteen.  Then Sapphira Colbert
made a trade for her.

One summer, when she drove down to Chestnut Hill for her yearly
visit, Mrs. Colbert took with her a young negro who had a great
knack with horses.  For two winters she had hired him out to the
new blacksmith on Back Creek.  This smith had come over from
Pennsylvania, and his skill was a wonder to that sleepy community.
He could not only shoe and doctor horses; he built good carts and
wagons.  Mrs. Colbert easily convinced her sister that a boy
trained under such a smith would be very useful in her stables.
She was willing to part with him in exchange for the girl Till, and
a hundred dollars to boot.  Mrs. Bushwell, surprised by this
liberal offer, closed the deal at once.  But Matchem looked down
her long nose and compressed her lips.

Till was not unhappy at the prospect of travel and new scenes.  She
set off in the coach, eager and journey-proud.  But from the first
night of her arrival at the Mill Farm she had felt buried in the
deep woods.  For years to come she was homesick for Mrs. Matchem
and the open, breezy, well-planted country she had left behind her.

When Sapphira married her off to Jefferson, who was so much older,
and whose incapacities were well known among the darkies, Till
accepted this arrangement with perfect dignity.  How much it hurt
her pride no one ever knew; perhaps she did not know herself.
Perhaps the strongest desire of her life was to be "respectable and
well-placed."  Mrs. Matchem had taught her to value position.  It
was the right thing for a parlour maid and lady's maid to be always
presentable and trim of figure.  None of the heavy work of a big
country house was put upon Till.  She always wore a black dress and
white apron, neat shoes and stockings.  Some years after she had
moved her belongings from her attic chamber in the big house over
to Jeff's cabin, the Cuban painter came along to do the portraits.
He was a long while doing them.

Sitting on the doorstep huddled in her quilt, Till heard a mournful
sound come from the deep woods across the creek: the first
whippoorwill.  She sighed.  How she hated the call of that bird!
Every spring she had to listen to it, coming out of this resigned,
unstirring back-country.  Another spring, and here she still was,
by the mill-pond and the damp meadows.

Up yonder, at the end of a long road winding through the woods, the
level line of Timber Ridge rose like a blue wall.  When you had
crossed the ridge and gone on a ways, you came to the Capon River.
Till had been that far, when the Mistress stayed at Capon Springs
to take the baths.  On beyond that was Romney, where people of some
account lived, she had heard.  In front of her, across the creek,
she could see the wavering slopes of the North Mountain; no roads
up there, just a few wheel-tracks through woods that never ended.
Cabins, miles apart; corn patches and potato patches; pumpkins,
maybe.  Till believed the poor white trash up there lived mostly on
the squirrels they shot, and the pig or two they fed on acorns.
Down here in the valley, along the big road that led to Winchester,
there were some sightly farmhouses, certainly, where well-to-do
families lived.  When you got as far as Hayfield church, the woods
began to open up, and the country looked more human.

But it wasn't until she caught sight of the red brick springhouse
over the Town Spring, a little this way out of Winchester, that
Till felt she was back in the world again.

How she loved the first glimpse of cobble-paved streets, with no
mud on them!  You drove into town by Water Street, lined on either
side with neat mansard houses built of pale gray limestone; gray,
but almost blue, and not dressed so smooth as to take all the life
out of the rugged stone.  Such genteel houses they were, opening
directly on the street, with green window shutters, and brass
knockers; a little walled garden and a hydrant behind each house.
Water Street seemed to welcome you to town.

After you drove on and passed Christ Church, then you came to where
the quality lived; where Judge Halstead lived; where Miss Sapphy
and Nancy were this very night.  There the houses had porticos with
tall columns, and were set in lawns shaded by flowering trees.  How
often, when Judge Halstead's "mansion" was lit up for a party, Till
had stood at the foot of the stairway in the big hall, waiting to
show the ladies to the upper chambers and help them take off their
wraps.  Whenever the manservant heard the crunch of wheels on the
driveway and threw open the front door. . . .

Just then Till heard a very different sound, close at hand.  Old
Jeff came shuffling along in the dusk.  He stopped and stood
uneasily before the seated figure.

"It's a-gittin' right late, deery," he said in his squeaky voice.


As his wife was always in Winchester for Holy Week, the miller
customarily took his Easter dinner with his daughter and
granddaughters.  This year Easter Sunday fell early (the twenty-
third of March), but it was a bright, sunshiny morning, and warm
for the season.  He walked across the meadow to accompany Mrs.
Blake and her little girls to church.  The children told him
joyfully that Mr. Fairhead, the preacher (who was also their
schoolmaster), was coming to dinner.  It would be like a party; for
Mr. Fairhead was not old and dismal like most preachers, and did
not say a long grace while the chicken was getting cold.

The church was a forlorn weather-boarded building with neither
spire nor bell, standing on a naked hillside where the rains had
washed winding gutters in the gravelly slope.  It had once been
painted red, but the boards were now curling from lack of paint.
It looked like an abandoned factory left to the mercy of the
weather.  In the basement underneath, the country day school was

The miller and his daughter went up four warped plank steps and
entered the church.  Once within, they separated.  All the men and
boys sat on one side of the aisle, the girls and women on the
other.  The pews were long benches, with backs but no cushions.
There was no floor covering of any kind, there were no blinds at
the dusty windows.  The peaked shingle roof was supported by
whitewashed rafters.  Up under this roof, over the front door, was
the gallery where the coloured people sat.  It was a rule among the
farmers who owned slaves to send them to church on Sunday.

While Mrs. Blake knelt for a few moments in silent prayer, Mary and
Betty sat restlessly trying to peep over the hats and sunbonnets in
front of them to catch sight of their dear Mr. Fairhead, who was in
the splint-bottom chair behind the pulpit, waiting for his
congregation to assemble.

When the scuffling tramp of heavy shoes on the bare floor had
ceased, Mr. Fairhead rose and said:  "Let us pray."  He closed his
eyes and began his invocation.  In the untempered light which
poured through the bare windows he looked a very young man indeed,
with rosy cheeks and yellow hair.  He had been sent out into the
backwoods to teach the country school and to "fill the pulpit,"
though he had not yet been ordained.  During the long summer
vacations he lived in Winchester and read divinity with old Doctor
Sellers, coming out to Back Creek on horseback every Saturday to
conduct the Sunday service.

After the prayer he gave out the hymn, read it aloud slowly and
distinctly, since many of his congregation could not read.  When he
closed his hymnbook, the congregation rose.  Old Andrew Shand, a
Scotchman with wiry red hair and chin whiskers, officially led the
singing.  He struck his tuning-fork on the back of a bench and
began:  "There is a Land of Pure Delight," at a weary, drawling
pace.  But the Colbert negroes, and the miller himself, immediately
broke away from Shand and carried the tune along.  Mr. Fairhead
joined in, looking up at the gallery.  For him the singing was the
living worship of the Sunday services; the negroes in the loft sang
those bright promises and dark warnings with such fervent
conviction.  Fat Lizzie and her daughter, Bluebell, could be heard
above them all.  Bluebell had a pretty soprano voice, but Lizzie
sang high and low with equal ease.  The congregation downstairs
knew what a "limb" she was, but no one, except Andy Shand, ever
complained because she took a high hand with the hymns.  The old
people who couldn't read could "hear the words" when Lizzie sang.
Neither could Lizzie read, but she knew the hymns by heart.  Mr.
Fairhead often wondered how it was that she sounded the letter "r"
clearly when she sang, though she didn't when she talked.

     Could we but stand where Moses stood
        And view the landscape o'er
     Not Jordan's stream nor death's cold flood
        Would fright us from that shore.

When Lizzie rolled out the last verse and sat down, the young
preacher looked up at the gallery, not with a smile, exactly, but
with appreciation.  He often felt like thanking her.

As for Andy Shand, he hated Lizzie and all the Colbert negroes.
His animosity extended to the Colberts themselves; even about Mrs.
Blake he was "none so sure."

After the congregation was dismissed, Mr. Fairhead and the miller
walked down the road together, deep in conversation.  Mrs. Blake
and her girls followed behind.  She knew her father enjoyed the
company of an educated man like Fairhead; that was why she had
asked the preacher to dinner.  Their talk, as she listened to it,
was plain farmer talk, to be sure; about the early season, and the
prospects for wheat and hay.  Presently the miller began to ask
about the country school and Mr. Fairhead's pupils.  There were
bright boys among them, the young man insisted, some who rode over
to school from as far as Peughtown.  There were even boys from the
mountain who would do fairly well if they had half a chance.  There
was Casper Flight--Here Colbert held up his hand.

"Never say Flight to me, Mr. Fairhead.  I've ground that man's
miserable bit of corn and buckwheat ten years for nothing, and on
top of that he hangs around the mill and steals honest men's grist.
My Sampson has caught him time and again crawling down from the
storeroom at night with a bag in his hand."

"I know all about him, Mr. Colbert.  But if you could see how that
corn and buckwheat was raised, you wouldn't grudge grinding it for
nothing.  They've got no horse, and this boy Casper breaks up the
ground in their corn patch and buckwheat field himself.  He pulls
the plough, and his mother follows at the plough handles and holds
the share in the earth.  Last spring I got Mr. Giffen up on the
ridge to lend Casper a horse, to put in his buckwheat.  His father
came home unexpectedly, knocked the boy down, took the horse out of
the plough, and rode up to Capon River to go fishing."

"I'm glad you told me, sir.  If there's any good can come out of
the Flights, God knows I'd like to help it along.  I could give
this boy work around the place in busy times, but you know none of
those mountain boys will work along with coloured hands."

"Yes, I know."  Mr. Fairhead sighed.  "It's the one thing they've
got to feel important about--that they're white.  It's pitiful."

Whenever Colbert had a talk with David Fairhead, he wished he could
see more of him.  He had several times asked the young man to
supper at the Mill House, but he observed that Fairhead was not at
ease in Sapphira's company.  He was shy and on his guard, and
Sapphira had seemed possessed to puzzle him with light ironies.
Since he was from Pennsylvania, she considered him an inferior.
Yet her manner with inferiors (with the cobbler, the butcher, the
weaver, the storekeeper) was irreproachable.  When the old broom-
pedlar or the wandering tinsmith happened along, they were always
given a place at the dinner table, and she knew just how to talk to
them.  But with Fairhead she took on a mocking condescension, as if
she were all the while ridiculing his simplicity.  Therefore, Henry
figured it out, she did not really regard him as an inferior, but
as an equal--of the wrong kind.  Fairhead boarded with Mrs.
Bywaters, at the post office, and Sapphira knew that he was
"Northern" at heart.  She laughed and told Henry she could "smell
it on him."

Oh, yes, she admitted, he was not an ignoramus, like the country
schoolteachers who had been there before him.  She was glad Mary
and Betty had a teacher who did not chew tobacco in the schoolroom
or speak like the mountain people.  He had doubtless been raised a
gentleman--of the Pennsylvania kind.  But he was a mealy-mouth, say
what you would; and if she made him uncomfortable, it was because
he hadn't the wit to come back at her.  "How can I talk to a man
who blushes every time I poke fun at him, or at anybody else?
You'd better give it up, Henry."  So the schoolmaster was not
invited to the Mill House again.




On the first day after her return from town Mrs. Colbert summoned
Till and told her she meant to go out to see Aunt Jezebel this
morning.  "I will have a look around the yard first.  Send Nancy in
to dress me, and tell Tap to have the boys here in about an hour."

The "boys" were young negroes whom Tap called in from the barn or
the fields to help him carry the Mistress.  On each side of her
chair were two iron rings; into these the boys thrust dressed
hickory saplings and bore Mrs. Colbert about the place.  Tap was
one of the mill-hands, but he loved to wait on ladies.  He was a
handsome boy, and he knew the Mistress thought so.  He used to make
his assistants clean up on these occasions.  "Take off dat sweaty
ole rag an' put on a clean shirt fo' de Missus."

This morning the sunshine was so bright that the Mistress carried a
tiny parasol with a jointed handle.  Her bearers took her along the
brick walks bordered by clipped boxwood hedges,--which were dark as
yew except for the yellow-green tips of new growth.  Mrs. Colbert
visited all the flower-beds.  The lilac arbour was now in bud, the
yellow roses would soon be opening.  The Mistress sent Tap for her
shears and cut off sprays from the mock-orange bushes, which were
filling the air with fragrance.  With these in her lap she moved
on, until she was carried into old Jezebel's cabin and her chair
put down beside the bed.

"You know who it is, don't you, Aunt Jezebel?"

"Co'se I does, Miss Sapphy!  Ain't I knowed you since de day you
was bawn?"  The old woman turned on her side to see her mistress

She had wasted since Sapphira saw her last.  As she lay curled up
in bed, she looked very like a lean old grey monkey.  (She had been
a tall, strapping woman.)  Her grizzled wool was twisted up in bits
of rag.  She was toothless, and her black skin had taken on a
greyish cast.  Jezebel thought she was about ninety-five.  She knew
she was eighteen when she was captured and sold to a British
slaver, but she was not sure how many years passed before she
learned English and began to keep account of time.

Mrs. Colbert put the sprays of syringa down on the pillow, close to
the old woman's face.  "The mock-oranges are out, I thought you'd
like to smell them.  There's not a man on the place can tend the
shrubs like you did."

"Thank 'ee, mam.  I hepped you set out most all de shrubs on dis
place, didn' I?  Wasn't nothin' when we first come here but dat ole
white lilack tree."

"Those were good times, Auntie.  I've been house-bound for a long
while now, like you."

"Oh, Missy, cain't dem doctors in Winchester do nothin' fur you?
What's dey good fur, anyways?"  She broke off with a wheeze.

"There now, you mustn't talk, it catches your breath.  We must take
what comes to us and be resigned."

"Yes'm, I'se resigned," the old woman whispered.

Mrs. Colbert went on soothingly:  "When I sit out on the porch on a
day like this, and look around, I often think how we used to get up
early and rake over the new flower-beds and transplant before it
got hot.  And you used to run down to the creek and break off alder
branches, and we'd stick them all around the plants we'd set out,
to keep the sun off.  I expect you remember those things, too."

The old negress looked up at her and nodded.

"Now I'm going to read you a Psalm that will hearten us both."
Mrs. Colbert took from her reticule her glasses-case and a Prayer
Book, but she opened neither as she repeated:  "The Lord is my

Jezebel watched her intently, her eyes shining bright under eyelids
thin as paper.

When the Mistress finished the Psalm, she called for Nancy, who was
waiting in the cabin kitchen in case she might be needed.

"Are the boys outside?"

Then she turned again to the bed.  "Have you quilts enough,
Jezebel?  Do they keep you warm?"

"Yes, Missy, the niggahs is mighty good to me.  Dey keeps a
flatiron to my feet, an' a bag a hot salt undah my knees.  Lizzie,
she sends Bluebell down to set wid me a lot.  Dat he'ps to pass de
time.  Her an' Bluebell comes and sings to me, too."

"But Till tells me you don't eat anything.  You must eat to keep
'up your strength."

"Don't want nothin', Missy."

"Can't you think of anything that would taste good to you?  Now
think a minute, and tell me.  Isn't there something?"

The old woman gave a sly chuckle; one paper eyelid winked, and her
eyes gave out a flash of grim humour.  "No'm, I cain't think of
nothin' I could relish, lessen maybe it was a li'l pickaninny's

Nancy, crouching in a corner, broke out with a startled cry and ran
to the foot of the bed.  "Oh, she's a-wanderin' agin!  She wanders
turrible now.  Don't stay, Missy!  She's out of her haid!"

Mrs. Colbert raised her eyes and gave the girl a cold, steady look.
"No need for you to be speaking up.  I know your granny through and
through.  She is no more out of her head than I am."  She turned
back again to the bed, took up Jezebel's cold grey claw, and patted
it.  "Good-bye till another time, Auntie.  Now you must turn over
and have a nap."

She beckoned to the four hands standing outside, and they came with
their hickory poles and carried her away.


Jezebel was the only one of the Colbert negroes who had come from
Africa.  All the others were, as they proudly said, Virginians;
born and raised on the Dodderidge place or on the estates of their
Loudoun County neighbours.  But Jezebel was brought over from
Guinea, that gold coast of the slave-traders, in the seventeen-
eighties--about twenty years before the importation of slaves
became illegal.  She was sold to her first master on the deck of a
British slaver in the port of Baltimore.

Her native village in Africa lay well inland, some four days'
journey from the sea.  It was raided and destroyed by a coast tribe
which early in the history of the traffic had become slave-hunters
for the slavers.  That night of fire and slaughter, when she saw
her father brained and her four brothers cut down as they fought,
old Jezebel now remembered but dimly.  It was all over in a few
hours; of the village nothing was left but smoking ashes and
mutilated bodies.  By morning she and her fellow captives were in
leg chains and on their march to the sea.

When they reached the coast they were kept in the stockade only
long enough to be stripped, shaved all over the body, and drenched
with sea water.  An English vessel, the Albert Horn, lay at anchor
out in the gulf, with nearly a full cargo of negroes stowed on
board.  The wind was good, and the skipper was waiting impatiently
for the booty of this last raid.

Jezebel and the other captives were rowed out in small boats and
put on board in leg chains; they came from a fierce cannibal
people, and had not been broken in by weeks of discipline in the

When the Albert Horn was under sail, and the blue lines of the
inland mountains began to grow dim, the fetters were taken off the
female captives.  They were not likely to make trouble.

The Albert Horn, built for the slave trade, had two decks.  The
negroes were stowed between the upper and lower decks, on a
platform as long and as wide as the vessel; but there was only
three feet ten inches between the shelf on which they lay and the
upper deck which roofed them over.  The slaves made the long voyage
of from two to three months in a sitting or recumbent position, on
a plank floor, with very little space, if any, between their bare
bodies.  The males were stowed forward of the main hatch, the women
aft.  All were kept naked throughout the voyage, and their heads
and bodies were shaved every fortnight.  As there was no drainage
of any sort, the slaves' quarters, and the creatures in them, got
very foul overnight.  Every morning the "'tween decks" and its
inmates were cleaned off with streams of sea water from the hose.
The Captain of the Albert Horn was not a brutal man, and his vessel
was a model slaver.  Except in rough weather, the males, ironed two
and two, were allowed out on the lower deck for a few hours while
their platform was being scrubbed and fumigated.  At the same time,
the women were turned out on the lower after deck without chains.

On the first night after the Albert Horn got under way, the sailors
gave Jezebel the name she had borne ever since.  When the two hands
detailed to watch the after 'tween decks had seen that all the
females were lying in the spaces assigned to them, they put out
their lanterns and went on deck to take the air.  A little later
the second mate, hearing shrieks and screams from the women's
quarters, ran down from his cabin to find the guards flogging a
girl they had dragged out from a heap of rolling, howling blacks.

"It's this here Jezebel made all the row, sir," one of the men

The mate made a dash and drove at her throat to throttle her, but
she was too quick for him.  She snapped like a mastiff and bit
through the ball of his thumb.

Next morning the mate felt an ominous throbbing in his hand.  He
reported the fracas to the Captain, saying he didn't see anything
for it but to throw the female gorilla overboard.  She could never
be tamed.

The skipper feared his mate might be in for a bad infection; but he
had a third interest in the cargo, and he wasn't anxious to throw
any of it overboard.  He thought he would like to see a girl who
could stand up against two men and the cat.

"Clean her off and put a bridle on her, and bring her up," he told
the mate.  Himself, he never went near the slave deck; he couldn't
stand the smell.

Jezebel was brought up in heavy irons for his inspection.  Her
naked back was seamed with welts and bloody cuts, but she carried
herself with proud indifference, and there was no plea for mercy in
her eyes.  The skipper told the seamen in charge to loosen the
noose round her neck.  As he walked up and down, smoking his pipe,
he looked her well over.  He judged this girl was worth any three
of the women,--as much as the best of the men.  Anatomically she
was remarkable, for an African negress: tall, straight, muscular,
long in the legs.  The skipper had a kind of respect for a well-
shaped creature; horse, cow, or woman.  And he respected anybody
who could take a flogging like that without buckling.

He gave orders that Jezebel was not to go back between decks.  She
was to be kept on the upper deck in all weathers, fastened with a
light chain to the deck rail.  She was to be given a sailor's
jacket to cover her wounds, and at night she was to be provided
with a tarpaulin.

After she was thus isolated, the girl gave no more trouble,--though
she always laughed aloud when the second mate passed with his arm
in a sling.  The voyage was long and rough.  Jezebel was knocked
about and drenched by heavy seas, and was sometimes seasick, but
she made no complaint.  When the seamen hosed out the scupper, she
took off her jacket and invited the stream of salt water over her
body.  Except for a few long scars on her back and thighs, there
was nothing now to show what had happened the first night she came
on board.

When the Albert Horn at last reached Baltimore, her skipper kept
her out at anchor until buyers from Maryland and Virginia could be
notified and arrive.  Jezebel, he noticed, regarded the water line
of the city with lively curiosity, quite different from the
hopeless indifference on the faces of her fellow captives.

"She'll make the best sale of the lot," he told the mate.

In the first boat-load of purchasers who came out to inspect the
skipper's cargo, there was a Dutch dairy farmer.  He brought with
him the country doctor of his neighbourhood.  The dairyman and his
friend, the doctor, were in no hurry.  They looked over a great
number of negroes.  To Jezebel they gave a searching physical
examination, talking together in the low Dutch vernacular, and
asking no questions of the skipper.  The dairyman called attention
to the whip scars on her body, and beckoned the second mate.

"Disposition?" he asked.

"The niggers who captured her did that.  She put up a fight.
Strong as an ox."

The Dutchman himself looked very like an ox, but the doctor looked
kind and shrewd.  He fumbled in his pocket and brought out a
deerskin pouch, from which he took two squares of maple sugar.
One he put in his own mouth, and smacked his lips.  The other he
offered to Jezebel with a questioning smile.  She opened her jaws.
At this the second mate, standing by, looked the other way.  The
doctor put the sugar on Jezebel's tongue.  She crunched it,
grinned, and stuck out her tongue for more.  The doctor gave his
friend the deciding nod.  The Dutchman paid the skipper's price,
took Jezebel into Baltimore, and stowed her in the heavy wagon in
which he had come to town.

When he reached home, he set about breaking in his new wench.  On
the journey from Baltimore he had discovered that her personal
manners were too strong for even a Dutch farmer's household, so he
lodged her in the haymow over the cow barn.  She learned to milk
the cows and to do all the stable work, but she was kept in the
barn and was never allowed to touch the butter.  The dairy farmer
died in an outbreak of smallpox; his widow promptly sold Jezebel.
She had been owned by several masters and had learned some English
before the Dodderidge farm steward bought her.  She went to the
Dodderidges the year that Sapphira was born, and had been in the
family ever since.

Until Jezebel was eighty years old, Sapphira had entrusted her to
oversee the gardens at the Mill Farm.  As late as last spring she
still got out to sit in the sun and watch the boys who did the
shrubbery and shaped the hedges.  In wintertime she stayed in her
cabin, sewed carpet-rags, and patched the farm-hands' shirts and
breeches.  She meted out justice by giving a slack boy a rough seat
in his breeches, and a likely boy a smooth seat.  When Manuel,
since dead, had come to her whining that "his pants wasn't
comf'able," she gave him a scornful look and said:

"You ain't no call to be comf'able, you settin' down de minute a
body's back's turned.  I wisht I could put dock burs in yo' pants!"


One morning in April Mrs. Blake arrived at the Mill House very
early; she had been sent for soon after daybreak.  She found her
mother in the dining-room, awaiting her.

"Well, Rachel, it's come at last.  They tell me she went very
quietly.  I want you to go through the linen-press and take what is
needed.  Open the green chest in the garret and find one of the
embroidered nightgowns I used to wear when I was a girl.  They'll
be big enough for poor Jezebel now.  If they're yellow with lying
so long, Nancy can bleach one with alum and hang it in the sun.
Will Saturday be soon enough for the funeral?  The weather's not
too warm?"

Her daughter agreed it was not.  Mrs. Colbert motioned to the old
man standing behind her chair.  "Washington, tell Lizzie to come

In a few moments Lizzie appeared, having slipped on a clean apron
and rubbed her face vigorously with the Master's rumpled breakfast
napkin.  She was barefoot, as usual, and was struggling to swallow
a last mouthful of batter-cake.  No matter at what hour she was
sent for, she was sure to be swallowing a last mouthful of

"Yes, Miss Sapphy?"  Her hands were meekly crossed over her clean

"Lizzie, I expect you to do me credit this time.  I won't have any
skimping for the watchers, as there was when Manuel died."

Lizzie stared with astonishment and broke out fervently.

"Lawd-a'mighty, Miss Sapphy!  Jest as if I'd think of bein' savin'
fo' ole Aunt Jezebel!  It never would cross my thought!  Why, dat
Manuel was jist a no-'count young boy, Missy."

"Boy or no boy, you put disgrace on me, and it was talked about all
up and down the Creek.  Cold batter-cakes and ponhos (1) for the
watchers; who ever heard of such stinginess!  Now remember, there
will be two nights to cook for.  You are to boil a ham and fry up
plenty of middling meat.  Mrs. Blake will tell you how many loaves
of light bread (2) to bake, and there must be plenty of corn bread,
and sugar-cakes and ginger-cakes.  Master is going to invite all
Mr. Lockheart's niggers to come over and sit up, and likely some of
Jezebel's grandchildren will come out from Winchester."

(1) Scrapple.

(2) "Light" bread meant bread of wheat flour, in distinction from
corn bread.

"Yes MAM!"  Lizzie rolled her eyes that shone like black-and-white
china marbles.  "Yes mam!  I sho'ly will put my bes' foot for'ard
fo' ole Aunt Jezebel an' all de yeahs she carry.  But dat triflin'
li'l Manuel wa'nt no 'count nohow, an' his pappy not much bettah--"

Mrs. Colbert held up her plump hand.  "That will do, Lizzie.
Remember this; if you don't do me credit at Jezebel's wake, I will
send Bluebell back to Loudoun County for good, as sure as I sit

Lizzie put her two hands over her great bosom as if she were taking
an oath.  Sending Bluebell over to Loudoun County meant selling her
there, and Lizzie knew it.

A few moments later Mrs. Blake, passing the kitchen on her way to
Jezebel's cabin, heard Lizzie's malicious giggle.  She stopped and
looked in at the door.  Lizzie was whispering to Bluebell, who sat
drooping over the kitchen table, her elbows spread wide apart, as
she sat day in and day out, supposedly helping her mother.

The Colberts, like all well-to-do families, had their own private
burying-ground.  It lay in a green field, and was enclosed by a
wall,--flat slabs of brown stone laid one upon another, with a gate
of wrought iron.  A wide gravelled path divided the square plot in
two halves.  On one side were the family graves, with marble
headstones.  On the other side was the slaves' graveyard, with
slate headstones bearing single names:  "Dolly," "Thomas,"
"Manuel," and so on.

The mounds of masters and servants alike were covered with thick
mats of myrtle.  At this season innumerable sprays of new green
shoots and star-like pale-blue blossoms shot out from the dark
creeping vines which clung so close to the earth.

On Saturday afternoon the procession formed to carry Jezebel to the
end of all her journeyings.  Everyone was in black; the family, the
neighbours from up and down the Creek, the Colbert negroes, and the
slaves from down in the Hayfield country.  Mrs. Blake's little
girls had few dresses of any kind, so they were draped in black
shawls lent by their grandmother.  Mrs. Colbert herself wore the
black crepe she reserved for funerals.  She was carried in her
chair, and the miller, in his Sunday coat, walked beside her.  They
followed immediately behind the coffin, which was borne by four of
Jezebel's great-grandsons, come out from Winchester.

While they stood about the grave, Mr. Fairhead made a short
address.  He recalled Jezebel's long wanderings; how she had come
from a heathen land where people worshipped idols and lived in
bloody warfare, to become a devout Christian and an heir to all the
Promises.  Perhaps her long old age had been granted her that she
might fill out in years the full measure of a Christian life.
After his last prayer, Lizzie and Bluebell sang "In the Sweet By
and By," and the company dispersed.  Jefferson and Washington, as
the oldest servants, stayed behind with the great-grandsons to fill
up the grave.

That night there was a big supper in the kitchen for the Colbert
negroes and all the visitors; a first and second sitting at table.
The darkies were always gay after a funeral, and this funeral had
pleased everyone.  "Miss Sapphy sho'ly give Jezebel a beautiful
laying away," they all agreed.

Washington, serving his master and mistress in the big house,
noticed that they, too, were more animated than usual, expressing
their satisfaction that things had gone so well and that Jezebel's
young kinsmen had been able to come and carry her.  The Master sat
long at table; had two helpings of pudding and drank four cups of
tea.  When at last he rose, his wife said persuasively:

"Surely you don't mean to go back to the mill tonight, Henry, with
your good clothes on."

"Yes, I think I must.  I have been away all day.  I want to speak
to those boys from town and give them a little money.  They will be
starting back late tonight.  Good night, Sapphira.  I expect you
are tired, and I hope you sleep well."

"The same to you," she said with a placid smile, which changed to
an expression of annoyance while her eyes followed him to the door.
As she sat there alone, her face grew hard and bitter.  A few hours
ago, when she was being carried out of the graveyard after the
burial, she had seen something which greatly disturbed her.  Behind
the dark cedars just outside the stone wall, her husband and Nancy
stood in deep conversation.  The girl was in an attitude of
dejection, her head hanging down, her hands clasped together, and
the Master, whatever he was saying, was speaking very earnestly,
with affectionate solicitude.  Sapphira had put her handkerchief to
her eyes, afraid that her face might show her indignation.  Never
before had she seen him expose himself like that.  Whatever he was
pressing upon that girl, he was not speaking as master to servant;
there was nothing to suggest that special sort of kindliness
permissible under such circumstances.  He was not uttering
condolences.  It was personal.  He had forgotten himself.  Now, as
she sat at the table, opposite his empty chair, she felt her anger
rising.  She rang her bell for the old butler.

"Washington, you may take me to my room.  Send Till to me."

Till got Mrs. Colbert into her ruffled nightgown, and stood
brushing out her heavy hair.  She felt there was something wrong.
She began to talk soothingly about the old days at Chestnut Hill.
The Mistress scarcely heard her.  As she walked toward her bed on
Till's arm, she paused at the window, drew aside the long chintz
curtains, and looked out toward the mill.  There was a red patch in
the darkness down there; the lights in the miller's room were
burning.  She let the curtain fall and continued her way to the
wide four-post bed.  Till said good-night, blew out the candles,
and went away.

Left alone, the Mistress could not go to sleep.  Her training and
her own good sense had schooled her to know that there are very few
situations in life worth getting wrought up about.  But tonight she
was angry.  She was hurt--and remorseful.  Because she was hurt,
her mind kept going back to Chestnut Hill and her father.  She
wished she had been kinder to him in the years when he was crippled
and often in pain.  She wished she had shown him a little
tenderness.  His eyes used to ask for it sometimes, she remembered.
She had been solicitous and resolutely cheerful; kept him up to the
mark, saw that his body servant neglected nothing.  But she knew
there was something he wanted more than he wanted clean linen every
morning, or to have his tea just as he liked it.  She had never
given in to him, never humoured his weakness.  In those days she
had not known the meaning of illness.  To be crippled and
incapacitated, not to come and go at will, to be left out of things
as if one were in one's dotage--she had no realization of what that
felt like, none at all.  Invalids were to be kept clean and
comfortable, greeted cheerily; that was their life.

The longer she lay awake thinking of those things in the far past,
the more lonely and wretched and injured she felt herself to be
tonight.  Her usual fortitude seemed to break up altogether.  She
reached for it, but it was not there.  Strange alarms and
suspicions began to race through her mind.  How far could she be
deceived and mocked by her own servants in her own house?  What was
the meaning of that intimate conversation which had gone on under
her very eyes this afternoon?

Unable to lie still any longer, she got cautiously out of bed,
reaching for her cane and her armchair.  Pushing the chair along
beside her, she got to the window and again held back the curtain.
The ruddy square of light still burned in the dark mill.  She sat
down in the chair and reflected.  Hours ago she had heard Nancy put
her straw tick outside the door.  But was she there now?  Perhaps
she did not always sleep there.  A substitute?--There were four
young coloured girls, not counting Bluebell, who might easily take
Nancy's place on that pallet.  Very likely they did take her place,
and everyone knew it.  Could Till, even, be trusted?  Besides, Till
went early to her cabin--she would be the last to know.

The Mistress sat still, scarcely breathing, overcome by dread.  The
thought of being befooled, hoodwinked in any way, was unendurable
to her.  There were candles on her dressing-table, but she had no
way to light them.  Her throat was dry and seemed closed up.  She
felt afraid to call aloud, afraid to take a full breath.  A
faintness was coming over her.  She put out her hand and resolutely
rang her clapper bell.

The chamber door opened, and someone staggered in.

"Yes mam, yes mam!  Whassa matter, Missy?"

Nancy's sleepy, startled voice.  Mrs. Colbert dropped back in her
chair and drew a long, slow breath.  It was over.  Her shattered,
treacherous house stood safe about her again.  She was in her own
room, wakened out of a dream of disaster.--But she must see it
through, what she had begun.

"Nancy, I'm taken bad.  Run out to the kitchen and blow up the
coals and put the kettle on.  Then go for your mother.  I must get
my feet into hot water."

Nancy scurried down the long hall and out to the kitchen.  She was
wide awake now, and alarmed.  She wasn't a girl to hold a grudge.

Till came, sooner than her mistress would have thought possible.
Nancy brought the foot-tub and the big iron teakettle.  Till sat on
the floor rhythmically stroking her mistress's swollen ankles and
knees, murmuring:  "It's all right, Missy.  They is no worse than
common.  It's just a chill you caught, waitin' out there by the

When the Mistress was again put to bed, Till begged to stay with
her.  But Mrs. Colbert, comforted by the promptness and sympathy of
her servants, thanked them both, said the pain was gone now, and
she would sleep better alone.  As they helped her from her chair
she had looked once more from her window: the miller's lights were
still burning in the west room of the mill.  Was the man worrying
over some lawsuit he had never told her about, she wondered?  Or
was he, perhaps, reading his religious books?  She knew he pondered
at times upon how we are saved or lost.  That was the disadvantage
of having been raised a Lutheran.  In her Church all those things
had been decided long ago by heads much wiser than Henry's.  She
had married the only Colbert who had a conscience, and she
sometimes wished he hadn't quite so much.

Behind the square of candlelight down there, the miller, in his
mill clothes, was sitting with his Bible open on the table before
him, but he was no longer reading.  Jezebel's life, as Mr. Fairhead
had summed it up, seemed a strange instance of predestination.  For
her, certainly, her capture had been a deliverance.  Yet he hated
the whole system of slavery.  His father had never owned a slave.
The Quakers who came down from Pennsylvania believed that slavery
would one day be abolished.  In the North there were many people
who called themselves abolishers.

Henry Colbert knew he had a legal right to manumit any of his
wife's negroes; but that would be an outrage to her feelings, and
an injustice to the slaves themselves.  Where would they go?  How
would they live?  They had never learned to take care of themselves
or to provide for tomorrow.  They were a part of the Dodderidge
property and the Dodderidge household.  Of all the negro men on the
place, Sampson, his head mill-hand, was the only one who might be
able to get work and make a living out in the world.  He was a
tall, straight mulatto with a good countenance, thoughtful,
intelligent.  His head was full behind the ears, shaped more like a
melon lying down than a peanut standing on end.  Colbert trusted
Sampson's judgment, and believed he could get a place for him among
the Quaker mills in Philadelphia.  He had considered buying Sampson
from Sapphira and sending him to Pennsylvania a free man.

Three years ago he had called Sampson into his room one night, and
proposed this plan to him.  Sampson did not interrupt; he stood in
his manly, responsible way, listening intently to his master.  But
when it was his turn to speak, he broke down.  This was his home.
Here he knew everybody.  He didn't want to go out among strangers.
Besides, Belle, his wife, was a slack worker, and his children were
little.  He could never keep them in a city as well off as they
were here.  What ever had put such a notion in Mister Henry's head?
Wasn't he real smart about his work?  Belle, he knew, wasn't much
account to help down at the house, but she was good to the chillun,
an' she didn't do no harm.  Anyhow, he'd a'most sooner leave the
chillun than leave the mill, when they'd got everything fixed up so
nice and could bolt finer white flour than you could buy in town.

"I guess I'd miss you more than you'd miss the mill, Sampson.
We'll say no more about it, if that's how you feel," said the
miller, rising and putting his hand on Sampson's shoulder.  There
it ended.  Sampson never afterward referred to this proposal, nor
did his master.

On this night after Jezebel's burial, Henry Colbert had been
reading over certain marked passages in the Book he accepted as a
complete guide to human life.  He had turned to all the verses
marked with a large S.  Joseph, Daniel, and the prophets had been
slaves in foreign lands, and had brought good out of their
captivity.  Nowhere in his Bible had he ever been able to find a
clear condemnation of slavery.  There were injunctions of kindness
to slaves, mercy and tolerance.  _Remember them in bonds as bound
with them._  Yes, but nowhere did his Bible say that there should
be no one in bonds, no one at all.--And Henry had often asked
himself, were we not all in bonds?  If Lizzie, the cook, was in
bonds to Sapphira, was she not almost equally in bonds to Lizzie?

The miller knew the hour must be getting late.  His big silver
watch he had left up at the house, on his wife's dressing-table.
But he and the negroes could tell time by the stars.  At this
season of the year, if the Big Dipper had set under the dark
spruce-clad hills behind Rachel's house, it would be past midnight.
He opened his north window and looked out.  Yes, the Dipper had
gone down.  The air of the soft, still, spring night came in at the
window.  There was no sound but the creek, pouring steadily over
its rocky bottom.  As he stood there, he repeated to himself some
verses of a favourite hymn:

     God moves in a mysterious way
        His wonders to perform.
     *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
     Deep in unfathomable mines
        Of never failing skill,
     He treasures up His bright designs
        And works His sovereign will.

We must rest, he told himself, on our confidence in His design.
Design was clear enough in the stars, the seasons, in the woods and
fields.  But in human affairs--?  Perhaps our bewilderment came
from a fault in our perceptions; we could never see what was behind
the next turn of the road.  Whenever he went to Winchester, he
called upon a wise old Quaker.  This man, though now seventy,
firmly believed that in his own lifetime he would see one of those
great designs accomplished; that the Lord had already chosen His
heralds and His captains, and a morning would break when all the
black slaves would be free.




One breezy afternoon Mrs. Blake was footing it round the last loop
of the "Double S," on her way to Timber Ridge.  At the end of the
steep grade she sat down on a mossy stump, took off her sunbonnet,
and gave herself up to enjoyment of the spring day.

In the deep ravine below the road a mountain stream rushed coffee
brown, throwing up crystal rainbows where it gurgled over rock
ledges.  On the steep hillside across the creek the tall forest
trees were still bare,--the oak leaves no bigger than a squirrel's
ear.  From out the naked grey wood the dogwood thrust its crooked
forks starred with white blossoms--the flowers set in their own
wild way along the rampant zigzag branches.  Their unexpectedness,
their singular whiteness, never loses its wonder, even to the
dullest dweller in those hills.  In all the rich flowering and
blushing and blooming of a Virginia spring, the scentless dogwood
is the wildest thing and yet the most austere, the most unearthly.

Mrs. Blake was thinking this out to herself as she sat on the
stump.  She gave scarcely a glance at the wild honeysuckle all
about her, growing low out of the gravelly soil, pink and rose
colour, with long, trembling stamens which made each blossom look
like a brilliant insect caught in flight.  When at last she took
her basket and travelled upward, she left the turnpike and followed
a by-road along the crest of the Ridge.  Up here the soil was
better; planted fields and little green meadows lay along her path.
May apples grew in the damp spots; their blossoms, like tiny pond
lilies, gave out a heavy, almost sickening sweetness.  Here and
there stood a well-built farmhouse, with carefully tended yard and
garden.  Along the rail fences the locust trees were in bloom.  The
breeze caught their perfume and wafted it down the road.  Every
Virginian remembers those locusts which grow along the highways:
their cloud-shaped masses of blue-green foliage and heavy drooping
clusters of cream-white flowers like pea blossoms.  Excepting the
very old trees, the giants, the locusts look yielding and languid,
like the mountain boy lounging against the counter when he goes to
the country store.  Yet, from the time they are big enough to cut,
they make the toughest fence posts a farmer can find, and in the
timber trade the yellow locust is valued for its resistance to

From the Ridge road Mrs. Blake could look down over hills and
valleys, as if she were at the top of the world.  She liked to go
up there at any time of the year, and she liked to go on foot and
alone.  Even in her best days, before her husband died, when she
lived in Washington and never came home to Back Creek for a visit,
she used sometimes to be homesick for these mountains and the high
places.  This afternoon she was on the Ridge in answer to a sick
call, but it was not a serious one, and she meant to enjoy herself.

Last evening a pale little girl, barefoot, in a carefully mended
dress, had slipped silently into Mrs. Blake's kitchen without
knocking.  For all that her hair was braided and her face was
washed, she was a distressful little creature, with dark circles
about her eyes.  There was something at once furtive and innocent
in her face.  She told Mrs. Blake how Granny let the flatiron fall
on her foot t'other day, an' now her toe was festerin'.  Would Miz
Blake maybe come up an' see if they ought to send for Doctor Brush?
And now Mrs. Blake was on her way to see.  She had bandages and
turpentine ointment and arnica in her basket; but she had also a
fruit jar full of fresh-ground coffee, half a baking of sugar
cakes, and a loaf of "light" bread.  The poor folks on the Ridge
esteemed coffee and wheat bread great delicacies.  This visit was
not to be entirely wasted on a sore foot.  Indeed, Mrs. Blake
suspected that the foot was maybe not very bad, and that old Mrs.
Ringer had sent for her because she had not seen her for a long
time and wanted a visit with her.

Mrs. Blake herself looked forward to this visit.  Mrs. Ringer was
better company than many people who were more fortunate; who came
of better blood, and had farms and raised sheep and pigs for
market.  There were some families on the Ridge who were comfortably
off, owned a few negroes to do the work, and held themselves very
high.  If you called at the Pembertons', for instance, you were
kept waiting half an hour in the parlour while the ladies dressed
and powdered their faces.  When at last they appeared, with their
mourning-bordered handkerchiefs and jet earrings, they minded their
manners so carefully that the talk was very dull.

Now, Mandy Ringer had lived a hard life, goodness knew, but
misfortune and drudgery had never broken her spirit.  She was as
thin as a grasshopper, and as lively as one.  She had probably
never spent a dull day.  When she woke in the morning, she got into
her calico dress in a flash and ran out to see what her garden had
done overnight.  Then she took a bucket and went to milk Sukey in
the shed.  Her son, though he was a cripple, would have done it for
her, but in that country it was the custom for the women to do the
milking.  Mrs. Ringer wouldn't have trusted either of her two
daughters to take care of Sukey.  That little white-faced cow kept
the log house going when everything else failed, and her calves
brought in the only actual money the old woman ever saw.

Mrs. Ringer was born interested.  She got a great deal of
entertainment out of the weather and the behaviour of the moon.
Any chance bit of gossip that came her way was a godsend.  The rare
sight of a strange face was a treat: a pedlar with a pack on his
back, or a medicine-vendor come from across the Alleghenies with
his little cart.  Mrs. Ringer couldn't read or write, as she was
frank to tell you, but the truth was she could read everything most
important: the signs of the seasons, the meaning of the way the
wood creatures behaved, and human faces.  She once said to Mrs.
Blake when they were talking things over:  "If the Lord'll jist let
me stay alive, mam, an' not put me down into a dirty hole, I kin
bear anything."

She had borne a good deal, certainly.  Her son was a poor cripple,
and both her daughters had been "fooled."  That seldom occurred
twice, even in the most shiftless households.  Disgrace to the
womenfolk brought any family very low in that country.  But Mandy
Ringer couldn't stay crushed for long.  She came up like a cork,--
probably with no better excuse than that the sun came up.  Her
spirits bubbled into the light like a spring and spread among the

Rachel Blake had always been drawn toward expansive, warm-hearted
people.  And she had known many such folks in her time, when she
lived in Washington City before her husband died.

As she turned in at a low log house with a big outside rock
chimney, Mrs. Ringer, her foot done up in rags, hopped lightly to
the door to greet her.  "Now ain't you most a angel to come all the
way up the hills to see us!  I declare I had a'most give you up,
but Lawndis he tole me not to despair.  An' he would go so fur as
to shave fur you."

At this a brown-skinned man with a crooked back and a clubfoot came
forward.  "Yes, Miz, Blake, when the wind turned an' blowed the
clouds away, I reckoned you'd be along to see Mother."  His voice
was mellow and grave, and there was true courtesy in the way he
looked at the visitor, placed a chair for her, and relieved her of
her basket.

Mrs. Blake examined the sore foot and declared there was nothing
worse than a bad bruise.  She applied her ointment and a clean
bandage, and took from her basket a pair of old carpet slippers.
"You'll be easy in these, Mrs. Ringer.  Put them on and keep them
on.  Don't on any account go about barefoot.  Now I'm a little
weary after my walk, and if Lawndis will kindle a fire I'm going to
make some coffee for us."

After the son had a fire going, he took up his hat.  "If you'll
excuse me, Miz Blake, I'll go out in the garden an' do some
weedin'.  You and Mother'll feel freer to talk by yourselves.  She
ain't seen much comp'ny lately."  He limped out of the house,
careful not to put on his hat until he was well outside the door.

Mrs. Ringer spread a white cloth on the kitchen table and got out
her blue chiney cups and plates.  Before the water was boiling
Lawndis came back with a stone crock in his hands.  "Here, Mother.
I seem to remember Miz Blake don't like her coffee without cream.
If you'll skim some off, I'll take the crock back to the spring-
house.  We got a real cold springhouse, mam, better'n most folks up
here.  It's quite a piece away, but that's where the spring is."

"Your son surely has nice manners, Mrs. Ringer," remarked Mrs.
Blake, as she watched him limping across the garden with the milk.

"Yes'm, Lawndis is a good boy, if I do say it.  An' he gits a power
a' work done, fur a lame man.  Ain't it a pity I didn't have no
luck with my gals?"

This was a delicate subject.  Mrs. Blake did not wish to discuss
it.  "Where are the girls today?" she asked politely, as if there
were nothing queer about them.

"Ginnie, she's got work up at Capon Springs, helpin' clean the
hotel fur summer visitors.  Up there they ain't heered about her
trouble, maybe.  I don't know where Marge is this minute, but she's
likely off in the woods some'ers, 'shamed to have you see her.  It
would all a-been different, Miz Blake, if my Lawndis was a strong
man.  Then he could a-tracked down the fellers an' fit with 'em,
an' made 'em marry his sisters.  But them raskels knowed my pore
gals hadn't nobody to stand up fur 'em.  Fellers is skeered to make
free with a gal that's got able men folks to see she gits her

Mrs. Blake still sought to avoid discussing these misfortunes,
since there was nothing she could do to remedy them.  She said
blandly:  "Well, whatever happened, I know Lawndis would never be
hard on his sisters.  Now do tell me, Mrs. Ringer, who did you name
your boy after?  I've often wondered, and never thought to ask

"Lawndis?  Why, after the preacher.  Can't you remember, when you
was a little girl there come a preacher a-holdin' revivals through
these parts?  He held meetin's every night fur a week an' more at
Bethel Church, an' I never missed a sermon.  I ain't never heered
sich sermons before nor since.  When the next baby come, I called
him after that preacher."

Yes, Mrs. Blake remembered the preacher; he wore a long-tailed
coat, even on horseback, and his name was Leonidas Bright.  The
hill people could do queer things with unfamiliar names.

At this moment the pale little girl who had come to Mrs. Blake's
yesterday stole down the ladder from the loft over the kitchen and
shyly approached the table.  In her hand was a little wooden box
full of quartz crystals she had picked up on the stony hillsides.

"Is these di'monds, Miz Blake, mam?  Kin I sell 'em fur money?"

"No, child, I'm afraid they're not diamonds.  They're just as
pretty, though."

"Now, Becky, what need you come troublin' Miz Blake fur?  I tole
you they ain't di'monds.  You run back upstairs an' mind the baby,
an' here's a cake fur you Miz Blake fetched me.  Is he asleep?"


Mrs. Blake slipped the child a second cake, and she went
noiselessly up the ladder.

The grandmother gave a cackling little laugh.  "That's the fashion
up here now.  Since the Bethel robbery everybody thinks they kin
make a fortin sellin' somethin'.  It's come down even to pore

"What robbery are you talkin' about, Mrs. Ringer?"

Mrs. Ringer put down the cup halfway to her lips.  "You ain't
meanin' you never heered of the Bethel communion service bein'

"I surely never heard a word about it."

Mrs. Ringer's face glowed.  "Well, I'm su'prised, mam!  It's a
disgrace to us all up here, an' we can't hardly talk of nothin'
else.  Last Sunday night, after preachin', the whole communion
service, the silver plate an' the silver goblet an' the little
pitchers, was taken.  An' now his triflin' relations is tryin' to
put it off on Casper Flight, as good a boy as ever lived, because
he has the door key so he kin sweep out the church an' keep it
clean.  Now we all know a winder was broke out the night the deed
was done, so what has Casper's key got to do with it, I'd like to
know?  Would he break a winder, when he had a key?"

Mrs. Blake was thoroughly interested.  "You mean the Flight boy
that comes to Mr. Fairhead's school?  Why, his teacher can't say
enough good of him."

"That's him I mean.  He's bein' persecuted by them louts of cousins
of his'n, them ugly Keyser boys that runs a still.  Who's they to
act up for the church, when they was never inside one?  Unless"--
here Mrs. Ringer paused and shook her finger at Mrs. Blake as she
added impressively--"unless they was inside Bethel Church last
Sunday night, after meetin'."

"But why are the Keysers trying to put it on Casper?  You say
they're cousins."

"Now, Miz Blake, who kin hate worse'n cousins?  We all know that.
They hates him jist on account of his bein' a good boy, and tryin'
to make somethin' of hisself, walkin' all the way down to Back
Creek to learn to read an' write.  Nobody in their fam'ly could
ever read 'n' write, an' damned if anybody ever will.  It's pure
spite, an' I tell Lawndis I know Buck Keyser broke that winder an'
clomb in an' robbed the Lord, as well as if I'd seen him do it.
He's got them things hid away some'ers, an' one day he'll tromp
over the Alleghenies where he ain't knowed, an' sell 'em."

Mrs. Blake sniffed audibly.  "Well, he won't get much for 'em.
That Bethel communion set ain't silver at all.  It's plated stuff,
and poor plate at that, I can tell you."

Mrs. Ringer started in her chair.  "Is that so, Miz Blake!  Now,
nobody but you would a-knowed.  Lordy me, I wisht I could a-had
your chance, mam.  It's city life that learns you, an' I'd a-loved
it!  So with all their deviltry they ain't got no fortin hid away,
an' fur all the talk they've raised, it don't amount to much more'n
pore Becky's di'monds!  There is a kind-a justice in this world
after all, now ain't there?"

Their talk turned naturally to the classic example of belated
justice: the murder of the pedlar at the red brick house on the
Ridge Road, and its exposure after twenty years.  While Mrs. Ringer
was telling all she remembered of the two wretched women who had
killed the pedlar for his pack, Lawndis appeared at the door,
sweaty and panting.

"Maw, I'm afeered them Keysers is got Casper.  I heered trouble
over in the woods, an' Buck's big haw-haw.  He's got the meanest
laff ever was, when he's out fur devilment.  I'm a-goin' over."

Mrs. Ringer sprang up.  "Then I'm a-goin' with ye."

"No you ain't, Maw.  You're lamed with your foot."

"I reckon I'm no lamer'n you air.  Come along, Miz Blake, we'll all
go.  They ain't no business in our woods."

Mrs. Blake picked up her basket.  "Take one of Lawndis' canes,
Mandy, and spare your foot all you can."  She set out with the two
cripples, down the garden, past the springhouse, and over toward
the wood where they heard ugly, taunting voices.

They had not gone far when they came upon the three Keysers and
their captive.  A young boy, perhaps fifteen or sixteen, was
stripped naked to the waist and bound tight to a chestnut sapling.
Three men were lounging about the tree making fun of him.  The
brother called Buck had his sleeves rolled up and his shirt open,
showing a thick fleece of red hair on his chest and forearms.  He
was laughing and cracking a lash of plaited cowhide thongs.  The
boy tied to the tree said not a word in answer to Buck's taunting
questions.  He made no sound at all, did not even look up when Mrs.
Blake came swishing through the bushes.  For all he had set his
teeth tight together, she could see his lower jaw trembling.

Mrs. Ringer spoke first.  "Now what air you Keysers up to?"

Big Buck had a very smooth way with him when he took the trouble.
He had certainly not expected to see Mrs. Blake from Back Creek,
and her appearance put a different light on things.  He pulled off
his hat and spoke easy.

"Nothin' but a fam'ly matter, folks.  This young feller's been
charged with takin' the communion set.  His maw's a Keyser, an'
it's fur us to settle with him.  You know yourselves his paw's no
account, an' that Baptist preacher he goes to school to don't seem
to a-learned him to keep his hands off things.  Time fur the fam'ly
to learn him a little.  He's got to tell where them things is hid."

Mrs. Blake had kept a steady eye on Buck, and now she spoke.

"Then you'd better go and get 'em, Buck Keyser, and put 'em back
where they belong, for they're poor plated stuff, and you'll get
nothing for them but trouble."

Buck's face didn't change, but his two brothers looked at each

"That's what I'm after doin', Miz Blake, onct I git 'em out-a him."
With that he swung his lash and gave Casper a cut on the bare
shoulder.  The boy made no sound, but poor Lawndis was so worked
upon that he burst out crying and threw his arms round the prisoner
to shield him with his own back.  "Don't you dast hit him agin!  I
can't fight ye, I'm jist a pore mock of a man, but you'll have to
finish me afore you tech him."

Mrs. Blake knew Lawndis would be sick for a week after such an
outbreak.  "Shame on you, Buck Keyser!" she said, going up to him
and putting her hand on his hairy arm.  "It's Lawndis will get the
most punishment out of this, and you know it.  What did you come on
their place for, to act your foolishness?  What have you got
against Lawndis?"

"We ain't got nothing agin Lawndis.  This whimperin' boy come
hidin' in the Ringer woods, 'cause he's a coward an' can't take a
lickin'.  We was after him, an' come on him here, that's how.
Don't act the fool, Lawndis.  I'll take care of my kin some'ers
out-a your woods.  He'll git his ticklin' when there's no ladies
around.  Come on, boys.  Good day to you, Miz Blake."

Mrs. Blake told Lawndis to go back to the house and drink the
coffee that was left.  While the two women untied the Flight boy
and hunted for his shirt, Mrs. Ringer whispered:  "Like as not they
brought him into our woods a purpose.  They was feelin' devilish,
an' what's the good a-actin' devilish if nobody sees you?  They
knows Lawndis is soft that-a-way, an' can't see a sparrer fall.
It's a mercy you was here, Miz Blake.  I reckon they don't want to
git in too bad with your Paw."

On her way down the "Double S" and the "holler" road, Mrs. Blake
told herself she must have a talk with David Fairhead about Casper.
Perhaps it wasn't wise to encourage him.  "I don't know whether
that boy's strong enough to master what's around him," she said to
herself."  A man's got to be stronger'n a bull to get out of the
place he was born in.  I just hope I won't dream tonight the way
Casper stood against that tree, with his lower jaw tremblin'."


To see Mrs. Blake working about her house and garden, a stranger
would scarcely guess that she had lived the happiest years of her
life in Washington, and had known a wider experience of the world
than her more worldly mother.

Rachel was sixteen years old when Michael Blake rode through
Frederick County soliciting votes.  He was already a member of the
Virginia State Legislature, and was a nominee for the United States
Congress.  He spent some days at the Mill Farm, where he was warmly
welcomed.  Henry Colbert approved of Blake's record and his
principles, and the Mistress was charmed by his good manners, his
handsome face and blue eyes.  When he said good-bye and rode up
into the Capon River country, she missed him.

In two weeks he came back to the Mill Farm.  He had made up his
mind.  He had made it up, indeed, on his first visit, but he had
disclosed his intentions to no one, not even to Rachel.  When, on
this second visit, he asked the miller and Sapphira for their
daughter's hand, they were speechless from astonishment.  After the
interview in which they gave their consent, Mrs. Colbert retired to
her room and bolted the door for an hour to regain her composure.

She had never hoped for anything so good for Rachel.  She had often
doubted whether she would succeed in getting her married at all.
Two older daughters she had married very well.  But she could see
nothing in this girl likely to be attractive to young men.  Rachel
was well-enough looking, in her father's masterful way, but no one
could call her pretty.  She was reserved to a degree which her
mother called sullenness, and she had decided opinions on matters
which did not concern women at all.  She was her father's
favourite; that was natural, since she was just like him.  But this
happy, fair-complexioned young Blake, with his warm laugh and
mellow voice--  Well, Mrs. Colbert reflected, there is no
accounting for tastes.  Blake was Irish, and the Irish often leap
before they look.

When she had recovered herself, Mrs. Colbert sat down to write the
amazing news to her sisters.

While she was at her desk, the young man was with Rachel.  He had
found her in the flower garden, separating tufts of clove pinks.
He wiped her hands on his handkerchief and led her into the lilac
arbour.  Seated beside her on the rustic bench, he told her his
story in the manner of the period.

On the first night of his first visit, he said, when he sat
opposite her at the supper table, it all happened.  He had watched
her face in the candlelight and found it hard to reply to her
mother's friendly questions, or to keep his mind on the conversation.
He had stayed on at the house until he was afraid he might wear out
his welcome.  After he rode away, he could think of nothing but
Rachel whenever he was alone.  He was thirty years old, and had
never before met a girl whom he wished to marry.  Indeed, he
admitted, he "liked his liberty."  Now everything was different.
Her father and mother had given their consent.  But he must have
her own, spoken from the heart.

"Do you think you could come to love me, really love me, Rachel?"
His voice was wistful, almost sad.

She looked up and met his blue eyes fearlessly, something intense
flashed into her own.  "I do already, Michael."

"My sweetheart!  May I have one kiss?"

She put her hands on his shoulders, holding him back, and with that
almost fierce devotion still shining in her eyes said pleadingly:
"Please, Michael, please!  Not until the words have been said."

No reply could have made him happier.  He caught her two hands and
buried his face in them.

This was in the eighteen-thirties, when loose manners were very
loose, and the proprieties correspondingly strict.  Young bachelors
who were free in their morals were very exacting that the girl they
chose for a wife should be virginal in mind as well as in body.
The worst that could be said of an unmarried girl was that "she
knew too much."

Immediately after Michael's election as Representative for the --th
District, the young couple were married and went to Washington to
live in a small rented house.  The devotion Michael read in
Rachel's eyes when she refused him the betrothal kiss soon became
her whole life: there was nothing of her left outside it.  In every
sense he was her first love.  More than that, he had taken her from
a home where she had never been happy.  She felt for him all that
was due to a rescuer and a saviour.  Until he came, her heart was
cold and frozen.

When Rachel was twelve years old, she had chanced to overhear a
conversation which coloured her thoughts and feelings ever
afterward.  In those days she used often to walk to the post office
to get the mail, although she knew this annoyed her mother.  Rachel
was deeply attached to the postmistress, then a young woman who had
lately been left a widow with three little boys.  One morning she
was sitting on Mrs. Bywaters's shady front porch, behind the
blooming honeysuckle vines, when she saw a handsome old gentleman
ride up to the hitch-post, dismount, and tie his horse.  That was
Mr. Cartmell, Mrs. Bywaters's father.  As he walked up the gravel
path to the porch steps, his daughter saw him and came out to greet
him.  They went into the house together, leaving the door open
behind them.  Rachel liked to listen to Mr. Cartmell; his talk had
a flavour of old-fashioned courtesy.

"I came with something on my mind today, daughter," he began.
"Your mother and I think you have it too hard up here, since Jonah
went.  What with looking after the mail, and attending to your
children and the housework, there is too much for one woman to do.
Our old neighbour, Mr. Longfield, tells me he is willing to part
with one of Abigail's daughters.  But he would never sell her off
to strangers.  In busy seasons your mother often hires her from the
Longfields, and finds her capable and willing.  I would like to buy
Mandy for you, and bring her up here myself.  You would have a
smart girl to help you, and she would have a good home."

There was a pause.  Then Mrs. Bywaters said:

"Could we hire Mandy from the Longfields for a couple years,

"I made such a proposal to Mr. Longfield, but he needs a
considerable sum of money at once.  He is forced to sell Mose, his
body servant, into Winchester.  You will remember our neighbour was
somewhat inclined to extravagance.  He has got behind."

Another pause.  "You have never owned any slaves yourself, Father,"
she said thoughtfully, as if considering.

"You know my feeling on that matter, Caroline.  But down with us,
in the Round Hill neighbourhood, it is always easy to hire help
from farmers who have too many negroes.  Up here there are few
slave-owners, and a raw white girl from the mountains would be of
little help to you."

This time there was no pause.  Mrs. Bywaters spoke quietly but
firmly.  "It's kindly thought of you, Father, and kindly spoken.
But neither you nor I have ever owned flesh and blood, and I will
not begin it.  I am young and strong, and I'll make shift to
manage.  Peace of mind is what I value most."

Little Rachel Colbert, sitting breathless on the porch, heard Mr.
Cartmell rise from his squeaky splint-bottom chair and say:  "You
are my own daughter, Caroline.  We will manage."  The deep emotion
in his voice, and the hush which followed, made Rachel realize that
she had been eavesdropping, listening to talk that was private and
personal.  She fled swiftly through the yard and out to the road.
Her feet must have found the way home, for she gave no heed to
where she was going.  A feeling long smothered had blazed up in
her--had become a conviction.  She had never heard the thing said
before, never put into words.  It was the OWNING that was wrong,
the relation itself, no matter how convenient or agreeable it might
be for master or servant.  She had always known it was wrong.  It
was the thing that made her unhappy at home, and came between her
and her mother.  How she hated her mother's voice in sarcastic
reprimand to the servants!  And she hated it in contemptuous
indulgence.  Till and Aunt Jezebel were the only blacks to whom her
mother never spoke with that scornful leniency.

After that morning on Mrs. Bywaters's porch, Rachel was more than
ever reserved and shut within herself.  Her two aunts disapproved
of her; she dreaded the yearly visit to them.  At home, she knew
that all the servants were fond of her mother, in good or ill
humour, and that they were not fond of her.  She was not at all
what the darkies thought a young lady should be.  Till's good
manners were barely sufficient to conceal her disappointment in
Miss Sapphy's youngest daughter.

Michael Blake had dropped from the clouds, as it were, to deliver
Rachel from her loneliness, from life in a home where she had not a
single confidant.  She often wondered how she had borne that life
at all.  Once settled in the narrow rented house on R Street, she
no longer brooded upon real or imagined injustices.  Her mind and
energy, and she was endowed with both, were wholly given to making
for Michael the kind of home he wanted, and doing it on very little

Representative Blake was, he admitted, "fond of the pleasures of
the table."  Rachel became expert in cookery.  Everything he liked,
done as he liked, appeared in season on his dinner table.  He
lunched at an oyster bar near the Capitol, and dined at eight in
the evening.  His wife had the whole day to prepare his favourite
dishes.  She put herself under the instruction of a free mulatto
woman from New Orleans, whose master had manumitted her when he was
dying in Washington.  Sarah now made her living by cooking for
dinner parties.

Every morning, on his way to the Capitol, Michael stopped at the
big market and sent home the choicest food of the season.  In those
days the Washington markets were second to none in the world for
fish and game: wild ducks, partridges, pheasants, wild turkeys . . .
the woods were full of wildfowl.  The uncontaminated bays and
rivers swarmed with fish: Potomac shad, Baltimore oysters, shrimps,
scallops, lobsters, and terrapin.  In the spring the Dutch truck
gardeners brought in the first salads and asparagus and

A group of Louisiana planters who came to Washington every winter
kept Michael's cellar supplied with good wines.  These Southerners
often dined at the Blakes', grateful for an escape from the
bleakness of Washington hotels.  They usually brought with them a
young French officer who had some humble post at the French
Legation.  Too poor to marry, Chenier lived wretchedly in a
boarding-house.  His devotion to Mrs. Blake and her good dinners
became a positive embarrassment, the subject of many a jest at
Michael's breakfast table.

The planters came up to Washington unaccompanied by their families.
At the round dinner table in the Blakes' narrow dining-room would
be seated five or six men, never more than seven, in broadcloth and
shining linen.  The Louisianians wore frilled shirts with diamond
studs, the officer his shabby dress uniform.  There was no place
set for a woman, not even for the hostess.  The hostess was below
stairs in the brick-floored basement kitchen.  Her companions were
the glowing coal range, a sink with a hydrant pump, shelves of
copper cooking vessels, and an adjacent "cold pantry" full of food
and drink.  There she achieved a dinner for epicures, with no help
but Sarah, the mulatto, who also served in the dining-room.

At the end of the dinner, when the dessert had been carried up by
the stately mulatto, then there was a call for the hostess.
Slipping off her long white apron and dashing a little powder over
her face, Rachel went upstairs to drink a glass of champagne with
the guests.  If she did not appear soon after the dessert, the
young Frenchman ran down to the kitchen and brought her up on his
arm.  Her husband and his friends rose to toast her.  Hot and
flushed as she was, their faces by this time were quite as rosy,
and, to their slightly contracted pupils, the young woman who had
given them such a dinner was beautiful.

Rachel enjoyed the iced wine and the warm praise,--and she enjoyed
the gaiety.  For after she joined the party, it became distinctly
gayer, however lively it had been before.  She sat in Michael's
chair, and he stood behind her, filled her glass, and coaxed her to
eat his dessert, beaming with his pride in her.

After the first glass she did not feel tired.  Her responsibilities
over, she relaxed and leaned back in Michael's big chair, laughing
at the funny stories,--her father's deep laugh.  She begged them to
sing for her, "Little Brown Jug" and "Auld Lang Syne."  Like many
persons of a serious temper, she loved being with people who were
easily and carelessly merry.

In due time the children came along; first a son, Robert, the well-
beloved.  A second boy died in infancy.  Then came the two girls,
Mary and Betty.  During those happy years Rachel had but one
anxiety: her husband's extravagant tastes and his carelessness
about keeping the tradesmen paid up.  Michael reassured her as to
the future.  He carried what he termed "a heavy life insurance,"
used to show her the premium cheques before he sent them off.  In
the months before a new baby came, there was no entertaining, and
Rachel was able to cut the household expenses,--though Michael
largely defeated her thrift by bringing her presents.

Even in those years there was something of the devotee in Rachel.
The will to self-abnegation which showed itself later was in her
then, though it took the form of untiring service to a man's
pleasure and of almost idolatrous love for her first-born.  Perhaps
she was conscious of a certain chill in her own nature and was
afraid of being insufficient to her pleasure-loving husband.  His
rich enjoyment of life had an irresistible charm for her.

Rachel had been married thirteen years when Michael thought he
could afford to accept the long-pressed invitation of his Southern
friends to visit them in New Orleans.  He persuaded his wife to let
him take the boy along with him.  Robert was then eleven, handsome
and gay like his father.  Rachel knew the trip would be a fine
experience for him; she ought not to hold him back.  She went to
Baltimore to see them sail.  When the last whistle blew, and the
steamboat began to move out into the bay, she could see Michael
standing in the stern, and beside him the boy, waving his new
Scotch cap with ribands.

Letters came often; those from Robbie were especially cherished.
The date of their return was fixed, but they did not come by the
boat on which Rachel expected them.  There was something in the
newspapers about an epidemic down there, but it was immediately
denied.  After Mrs. Blake had waited through an anxious fortnight,
a visitor knocked at her door,--one of the old New Orleans friends
who had come up to Washington to tell her what he could not write.
Only the day before Michael was to start for home, the boy fell
ill.  His father, who never left him for a moment, would not
believe it was yellow fever, until the child began to vomit black
blood.  Forty-eight hours afterward Michael Blake himself died of
the contagion.  They were both buried in the Protestant cemetery in
New Orleans.

Henry Colbert first learned of his son-in-law's death from a
paragraph in the Baltimore Sun,--the paper was already a week old.
He went at once to Winchester and took the train for Washington.
He found Rachel in her bed, the daylight shut out, her door locked.
She had refused to admit her doctor and Michael's lawyer.  Sarah,
the mulatto woman, had come to stay in the house and was taking
care of the two children.

The miller put his shoulder under the wheel.  Michael's life-
insurance policy had lapsed; the last two premiums had not been
paid.  There was little left for the widow but her furniture and a
few debts.  Blake's friends made up a generous purse for her.
Henry Colbert paid off the creditors and brought Rachel and her
children home to Back Creek.  They stayed at the Mill Farm while
Mr. Whitford built the house by the road in which Mrs. Blake had
lived ever since.

During the months when the house was a-building the miller and his
wife grew very fond of Mary and Betty.  Mrs. Colbert's relations
with her daughter were pleasanter than they had ever been before.
To be sure, there were things in the past which she could not
forget.  Gravest of them was that Rachel had not once invited her
mother, then not an invalid but a very active woman, to come to
Washington to visit her.  Among Virginians such a slight could
never be forgiven.  That Mrs. Blake's city house was small and
cramped was no excuse.  Your near kin were expected to entertain
you, even though they had to sleep on cots in the hall and give you
their sleeping-chamber.  To be in Washington, visitors would
cheerfully put up with any discomfort.  That your own daughter
lived there, and you did not visit her, required explanation to
your relatives and friends.

When Rachel came back to the Mill Farm, widowed and poor, her
mother found it easier to overlook past differences than she would
have done a few years before.  Mrs. Colbert's illness had not yet
come upon her, but she had had warnings.  Already she had given
over horseback riding, though women of that time often kept to the
saddle when they were well in their seventies.

During the six years that had gone by since Mrs. Blake's return,
the Back Creek people had grown used to seeing her come and go
along the roads and mountain paths, on her way to some house where
misfortune had preceded her.  If a neighbour, unable to restrain
curiosity, asked any question about how people lived in Washington,
she replied simply:

"I hardly remember.  All that is gone.  I'd take it kindly of you
not to bring it back to me.  This is my home now, and I want to
live here like I had never gone away."

The postmistress, whom she had so loved as a child, was the only
neighbour with whom she ever talked freely.  They were drawn
together by deep convictions they had in common.

Mrs. Bywaters, though she was poor, subscribed for the New York
Tribune.  Since she was in Government employ, this was an
indiscreet thing to do.  Even her father, Mr. Cartmell, thought it
unwise.  The papers came to her heavily wrapped and addressed in
ink.  She kept them locked in her upper bureau drawer and often
gave Mrs. Blake interesting numbers to carry home in her basket.
They were handy to start a fire with, she said.




On the first day of June the Romney stage, more than an hour late,
crossed Back Creek and stopped before the tollgate.  A girl with a
broad, flat, good-natured face came out to lift the rickety gate
and collect the toll.  The driver leaned down from his high seat to
pass the time of day with her.  This courtesy he never omitted, no
matter how much he was behind in his schedule.  While the driver
was chatting, one of his five passengers jumped out at the rear end
of the stage: a young man, well dressed and good-looking.  He
walked forward and interrupted.

"I say, driver, isn't that turn-off the road to the mill?"

"Shorely is, sir."

"Then I'll walk over from here.  Take my trunk on to the post
office, please, and leave it.  My uncle will send for it."

"Your uncle?"

"Yes; Mr. Colbert, at the mill."

"So that's how it is; you're a Colbert."  The driver shifted his
tobacco to the other cheek.  "Which on 'em is your paw?"

"Jacob.  I'm Martin Colbert."

"Is that so!"  He looked the young man over with interest.  "Ever
been out here before?"

"Yes, when I was a youngster.  Good day, driver.  Don't forget to
put my trunk off."  The young man saw no reason for tarrying; there
was no one in sight but the toll-girl, noticeable only for her flat
red face.  Martin lifted his hat to her, however, and set off down
the stony by-road before the stage started.  The driver leaned over
to say to the girl:  "The miller won't be none too tickled to see
him, I reckon!  Feller must 'a' got into some scrape agin, or he
wouldn't be comin' out here, with a trunk, too!  He's a turrible
wild one."

The stage rattled on toward the post office, where it was to change
horses.  The flat-faced girl turned and went slowly down the mill
road after the stranger, peering to right and left; but he was
already hidden from sight by the tall sassafras bushes which grew
thick all along the rail fence.

Young Colbert walked along carelessly, finding exercise agreeable
after the jolting of the stage.  Sometimes he hummed a tune,
sometimes he chuckled and ducked his shoulders.  He was amused to
find himself actually on his way to the Mill House, one of the
dreariest spots in all Virginia, he reckoned.  "The joke's on me,"
his giggle seemed to say.

Just now he was lucky to have any place to go where he would be
comfortable and well fed, and rid of his creditors.  He was a tall,
well-enough built fellow, but there was something soft about the
lines of his body.  He carried himself loosely at the shoulders and
thighs.  His clothes were town clothes, but strolling along
unobserved he behaved like a country boy.  When he laughed at his
present predicament, he hitched up his trousers by his gallowses
where his waistcoat hung open.  He was easily diverted; no fixed
purpose lurked behind his chuckle, though there was sometimes a
flash of slyness in his whisky-coloured eyes.  He stopped to watch
a mud-turtle waddle across the road, and rolled the old fellow over
on his back to see him kick--then relented and turned him right
side up.  When he got near the mill, Martin buttoned his waistcoat,
wiped the dust from his face, and straightened his shoulders.  He
did not stop at the mill, but went directly on to the house.  Till
met him at the front door with genuine cordiality, restrained by

"The Mistress is waiting for you in the parlour, Mr. Martin.  We
expected you before this."

"Sorry, Till.  The stage was late starting; had to wait for
passengers from Martinsburg.  All the folks well here?"

"They're all as usual, sir."  She opened the door into the parlour,
where Mrs. Colbert was sitting near the fireplace, now closed by a
painted fire-board.  She smiled graciously and held out her hand.
Martin hurried across the room, and gallantly kissed her on the

She shook her finger at him.  "You've kept me waiting for you a
long while, Martin.  You were certainly in no hurry to make me a
visit.  I first wrote you before Easter, and here we are coming
into June."

"It's been a right busy time on the place, Aunt Sapphy."  He was
still standing beside her chair.  She reached out and felt his
palm.  "I don't find any calluses'."

He laughed gaily.  "Oh, we have plenty of field-hands--too many!"

Washington came in with the tea-tray and put it on the table beside
the Mistress.  The visitor drew up a chair and sat down opposite
his aunt, crossing his legs and falling into an attitude of easy
indolence which diverted her.  She liked a dash of impudence in
young men whom she considered attractive; and Martin, she was
thinking, was the best favoured of the younger Colberts.  Just then
she happened to notice that his boots were very dusty.

"Why, Martin, didn't you ride your mare out?"

"No, ma'am.  I came on the stage and walked over from the

"The stage?  You must have been very uncomfortable.  Why didn't you
ride Merrylegs, and send your box by the stage?  It's a pleasant

"I sold Merrylegs this spring.  Had a good offer and needed the

While he helped himself to sandwiches she studied his face.

"Are you sure you sold her, Mart?" she asked shrewdly.

He had not expected this question.  He gave her a quick glance, and
ducked his head with a grin which seemed to say:  "You've caught me

"Well, anyhow, I parted with her, Aunt Sapphy."

"Cards, I'll be bound!"

"No, honour bright.  It was a racing bet.  I'm not much of a card
man.  But I lose my head at the races."  He looked at her frankly,
holding out his teacup with an "If you please."  Easy, confidential,
a trifle free in manner, as if she were not an old woman and an
invalid.  That was how she liked it.  She told herself that Martin's
visit would be very refreshing.  She almost believed she had urged
him to come solely because she liked to have young people about.

"No matter.  We can let you have a mount.  Henry keeps a good
riding horse to go in to Winchester on business.  He doesn't like
to be bothered with the carriage.  I always preferred to go on
horseback when I went to town for Sunday service."

"You pretty nearly lived on horseback, didn't you?  Oh, down with
us they still tell about how you used to take the fences."

"Yes, I liked riding, but I never gave myself over body and soul to
horses, as the Bushwells appear to do."

"That's right.  They just live for the stables.  The house and
grounds would shock you now.  People say they used to keep the
place up as long as you went to visit there.  But Chestnut Hill has
never been the same since old Matchem died."

Till appeared at the door and said that Martin's box had come.

Mrs. Colbert beckoned her.  "Call Nancy to take Mr. Martin up to
his room and unpack his things for him.  She keeps your uncle's
room at the mill, Martin, and she will do yours, and look after
your laundry.  Young men are none too orderly, I seem to remember.
Now I will rest for an hour before supper."

Martin went up the wide staircase leading from the long hall.
Upstairs he saw an open door, and a young mulatto girl standing at
attention outside.

"And are you Nancy?  Good evening, Nancy.  I hear you are going to
take care of me."  He stood still and looked hard at her.

A wave of pink went over her gold-coloured cheeks, and her eyes
fell.  "If I can please you, sir," she said quietly, waiting for
him to enter the chamber.

"Oh, you do please me!" he laughed.

Going into the room, Martin glanced about: large, airy, not too
much furniture, canopy bed with fresh muslin curtains.  He opened
one of the front windows and looked out over the yard, the mill,
the woods across the creek.  Beyond the woods the blue, wavy slopes
of the North Mountain lay against the sky.  The upper porch ran
along outside the room; he put one leg out through the open window.
"Am I allowed to go on the veranda, girl?  Very strict rules in
this house, I've heard tell."

"Certainly, sir.  There's a door in the hall goes out to the upper
porch," she said quickly, correcting an implied reproach on the

Martin drew in his foot.  "That will be more convenient.  And now
you can unpack my trunk."

"It's locked, sir."

"Lordy, I forgot!"  His sole-leather trunk had been placed on a
chair.  He unlocked it and threw back the lid.  "There.  Now you
put my clothes where you think they ought to go, and I'll watch
you, so I'll know where to find them."  He pulled off his coat and
waistcoat, threw them on the bed, and sat down in the usual guest-
chamber rocking-chair.  Nancy took the discarded upper garments and
hung them in the clothes-press.  She opened the bureau drawers and
stood timidly hesitating before the trunk.

"Would you like your collars an' neckcloths kept in the upper
drawer, sir?"

He was just lighting a cigar.  "Follow your own notion.  We have a
slut of a housekeeper at home.  I never know where to find

She went noiselessly to work, moving back and forth between the
bureau and the press.  Young Colbert sat with his feet on the low
window sill, enjoying his cigar.

"Does my aunt object to smoking?" he asked presently.

"Oh, no, sir!  She likes to have the gen'lemen smoke."

After putting away the shirts and nightshirts, Nancy lifted the top
tray and stood perplexed by the confusion she found below.

"If you don't mind, sir, I'll take the coats an' pants downstairs
direc'ly, an' press 'em."

"That's a good idea."

The shoes and boots she found stuffed full of dirty socks and
soiled underwear.  She made a bundle of the rumpled linen and put
it outside the door.  She was embarrassed because the guest watched
her so closely.

"Anybody ever tell you you're a damned pretty girl, Nancy?" she
heard as she stooped over the trunk.

"No, sir."

Martin would have done better to change his tone.  But he did not
see her face, and went on teasingly:

"You tryin' to make me believe none of these country jakes around
here been makin' up to you?  You can't fool me!"

"There's good, kind folks on Back Creek, Mr. Martin."

"You don't say, honey!" Martin laughed, stretching his loose

Nancy didn't like his laugh, not at all!  She took up an armful of
coats and trousers, snatched the pile of soiled linen outside the
door, and vanished so quickly that when the young man turned from
throwing his cigar end out of the window, he was amazed to find her


Mrs. Colbert had Zack sent down to the mill to ask her husband to
come up early before supper-time.  When his wife told him that his
nephew had come to visit them, he showed neither pleasure nor
annoyance.  Hospitality, in those days, was one of the decencies of
life.  Whoever came, friend or stranger, was made welcome and cared
for according to his place in the world.  Henry saw that his wife
was wearing her velvet gown, so he unquestioningly changed his
shirt and put on his black suit.  When Martin came downstairs, his
uncle met him in the spacious hall, gave him a hearty handshake,
and told him he was glad to see him.

Washington announced supper and wheeled the Mistress to her place
at table.  The miller noticed that a bottle of his best Madeira was
on the sideboard.  As soon as the two men were seated, Washington
filled the wineglasses.  Martin lifted his, saying:

"To the lady of the house, Uncle Henry," bowing to his aunt, who
smiled graciously.  His uncle also smiled.

Supper was served at seven o'clock in summer, and throughout the
hour Sampson's twelve-year-old Katie, barefoot, in a stiffly
starched red calico dress, walked round and round the table waving
a long flybrush made of a peacock's tail.  Even in town houses the
flybrush was part of the table service.

Katie had seldom heard such animated conversation at supper.  Mrs.
Colbert had reserved all her inquiries about Loudoun County
families until her husband should be present.  She wished Martin to
make a good impression.  He was full of gossip and told a story
well.  He complimented his uncle on his wine, and drank it
liberally.  The abstemious miller drank two glasses and left the
third standing full.  His wife, who always had a little wine with
her supper, signalled Washington to bring on another bottle.

Martin's stories were never quite indecent, and always
characteristic of old Loudoun County neighbours.  When he was
talking about Captain Bushwell's fine horses, he happened to say:
"Fact is, his trainers say nowadays Bushwell sleeps in the
stables."  Suddenly remembering that the miller was said to sleep
at the mill, he caught himself up with a giggle, blushed, and
ducked his shoulders.

Sapphira promptly covered his blush by asking him about Hal
Gogarty, a dare-devil young Irishman whose stables rivalled

"Gogarty?  'Course you know about his runaway last summer?"

"Runaway?  I didn't know he ever had one.  It's funny Sister
Bushwell didn't tell me about it when I saw her in town at Easter."

Gogarty, she knew, delighted in driving a coach-and-four over the
roughest roads in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  People down there took
more interest in horses than in anything else.

Martin said Gogarty had a party of visitors up from the Tidewater
country.  (Loudoun County people were thought to be a little
jealous of the older and richer families in Tidewater Virginia.)
Gogarty had wanted to give his guests a little excitement, since
they made it plain that in staying with him they were tasting
frontier life.  He arranged to take them on a coaching party, and
asked Martin to go along and sit on the box with him, whispering
that he meant to make it a pretty rough trip.  They set out with
six passengers.

"That drive," Martin went on, "took in some of the worst roads in
the mountains, Uncle Henry, and you know the best are none too
good.  Nobody can handle four horses better than Gogarty.  We went
like the wind.  Up hill and down dale.  The women laughed and
screamed, but Hal never let on he heard them.  He'd have come out
all right, too, except for a funny thing.  Just as we were coming
down a long hill at a pretty good pace, a young deer jumped out of
the bushes right in front of the horses.  Of course they reared and
shied.  Hal kept his head, nothing got tangled.  But the right
front wheel smashed on a big rock beside the road.  He couldn't
stop the horses on the minute, so we bumped along on a dished wheel
till the spokes flew out and we turned over.  Then the horses went
plumb crazy.  Hal held on to the lines and sawed the bits, while I
got forward and cut the traces.  I thought I'd be kicked to death,
and I did get a bad shin plaster.  Our passengers were pretty well
bumped up, but nobody was much hurt.  One girl got her nose broken;
she was a pretty girl, too.  I was mighty sorry; so was Hal.  It
was that damn-fool deer made all the mischief.  Who ever heard of a
deer acting so?"  Martin looked from his uncle to his aunt.

"Certainly, no one," his aunt replied with a twinkle.  "It must
have been got up on Hal's account.  Those folks from the Tidewater
do hold their heads high, though I've never seen just why they feel
called upon."

The miller had laughed at the story, but he looked at his wife, not
his nephew.  Martin's laugh showed an upper front tooth of a bluish
cast; it was set on a wooden pivot and did not fit his gum snugly.
There was a story about this tooth, and the miller did not like to
be reminded of it.

Martin, on his way to and from the hunts over in Clarke County, had
found a pretty, homespun girl in the Blue Ridge.  She used to meet
him in the woods, and, as the mountain folk put it, "he fooled
her."  Her two brothers lay for him in the thickets along the road
to give him a horsewhipping.  When they jumped out from cover and
caught his mare by the bit, he saw he was in for it.

"You're in the right, boys," he said amiably, "but no whip.  Come
at me with your fists, an' I'll do the best I can, one against two.
That's fair enough."

They took him at his word, and did him in completely.  They put
their mark on him by knocking out one of his white teeth.  (White
teeth were not common in that tobacco-chewing country.)  The
brothers left him unconscious beside the road, but they let his
horse go home to give the alarm.

Everyone in the Blue Ridge country and in Winchester knew the story
of Martin's blue tooth.  Many of them agreed with Sapphira: that
Martin deserved what he got, but that spirited young men were wild
and always would be.

Sampson's Katie, walking round and round the supper table with her
flybrush, wondered what had come over her folks.  "Jist a-laffin'
an' a-laffin'."  She was so delighted, so distracted, that more
than once she let her peacock feathers dip on Miss Sapphy's high
headdress.  Even the Master laughed at the stories about his old
neighbours; a deep laugh from the belly up, it did a body good to
hear it.  The Mistress's laugh was always pleasant (when she was
not laughing scornfully, as a form of reprimand): tinkling,
ladylike, but with something cordially appreciative, like the
occasional flash in her eyes.

Martin's laugh was just on the edge of being vulgar--rather loose,
caught-in-the-act as it were.  Old Washington, standing behind his
mistress's chair, reflected that this was a pretty figger of a
young man, but he wasn't a full-growed gen'leman yet.

Katie, excited as she was by the talk, had even keener joys in
anticipation.  Her eyes gloated over the good things Mr. Washington
carried in to the table.  She knew she would get a taste of them,
though Bluebell always had the best of what went back to the
kitchen.  Lizzie had promised to make ice cream enough for
everybody.  Tap had brought squares and chunks of ice in a
wheelbarrow up from the icehouse,--a dark, sawdust filled cave
under one wing of the mill.  Since six o'clock old Jeff had been
seated behind the laundry cabin, turning the big freezer.  In
winter, whenever there was a snowfall, Lizzie made "snow-cream" for
the Mistress--beating the fresh, clean snow into a bowl of thick
cream well flavoured with sugar and brandy.  But she made ice cream
only on special occasions.

The family sat so long at table that the after-supper visit in the
parlour was brief that night.  The Mistress admitted that she was

"I seldom spend such a lively day, Martin.  I had a long wait for
my guest, and a very pleasant tea and supper after he got here.  I
like having young people with me," she added, patting his hand.
She rang for Washington and told him to send Nancy upstairs to turn
down Mr. Martin's bed and see that he had everything to make him

When Martin went to his room, Nancy had already taken off the
starched pillow shams and was folding up the counterpane.

"Do you like the bolster left on, sir, or jest the pillows?"

"Just the pillows.  Never leave the bolster on.  Take it away with
you, can't you?"

"Yes indeed, sir.  Is two candles enough for you?  Good night, Mr.

As she was going toward the door, with the long bolster upright in
her arms, Martin caught her round the shoulders and kissed her on
the mouth.  She let the heavy roll of feathers slide to the floor
and pushed against his chest with both hands.

"Oh, please, sir, please!"

Though the candlelight was dim, he saw she was really frightened.

"Now, my girl, what's there to make a fuss about?  That's the way
we say good-night down where I live.  You ask my aunt."  She was
already at the door.  "Wait a minute."  He pointed to the bolster
lying on the carpet.  "You take that thing with you, and waken me
half an hour before breakfast.  Don't forget."


One morning when Mrs. Blake was just about to put her bread in the
oven, Nancy, with a basket on her arm, appeared at the kitchen
door.  Bidden to come in, she did so, rather hesitatingly.

"I jist stopped for a minute, Miz' Blake.  I'm a-goin' up to the
Double S.  Miss Sapphy's sent me to pick some laurel for her."  She
spoke wanderingly and rather mournfully, Mrs. Blake noted.

"Is Mother not feeling well?  She always likes to drive up the road
and see the laurel herself."

"Yes, mam.  Maybe she don't feel right well.  You're jist puttin'
your bread in, ain't you."  There was no question in her voice, but
sorrowful comment.

"The oven's not hot yet, but it soon will be."  Mrs. Blake lifted
the stove lid to put in another stick.

Nancy gasped and put out her hand beseechingly.  "Oh, Miz' Blake,
wait a minute, please mam do!  I don't hardly know what to say, but
I'm afraid to go up the holler road this mornin'."

"Afraid?  What of?  Blacksnakes?"

"No'm, I ain't afraid of no snakes."

Mrs. Blake dropped the stick back into the wood-box.  The girl was
afraid of something, sure enough.  One could see it in her face,
and in the shivering, irresolute way she stood there.

After covering her loaves with a white cloth, Mrs. Blake took her
seat by the kitchen table.  "Now sit down, Nancy, and tell me
what's ailing you.  Don't stand there cowerin', but sit down and
speak out."

"Yes'm," meekly.  "It ain't I minds goin' up there; it's jist a
nice walk.  Only Miss Sapphy told me to go right before Mr.

"Well, what's that got to do with it?"

"She knowed he was goin' ridin' this mornin'.  He had his leggin's

She stopped, and Mrs. Blake waited.  In a moment Nancy burst out:
"Oh, Miz' Blake, he'll shorely ride up there an' overtake me in the
woods!"  She hid her face in her hands and began to cry.  "You
don't know how it is, mam.  He's always a-pesterin' me, 'deed he
is.  I has to do his room for him, an' he's always after me.  I'm
'shamed to tell you.  He'll be shore to overtake me up in the
woods.  I lost heart when I seen you was about to bake.  I thought
maybe you'd walk along up with me."

"The baking can wait.  I'll just check the damper and go along with
you.  I'd like to see that laurel myself.  Now you quit crying.
I'll go upstairs and slip on another dress."

Once in her own chamber, Mrs. Blake sat down to think.  Her face
was flushed, and her eyes blazed with indignation.  She could not
remember when Mrs. Colbert had not driven daily up the Hollow road
to the "Double S" while the laurel was in bloom.  Of course she
would take her usual drive up there tomorrow, as she had done
yesterday.  But today she was sending Nancy.  Why?

Mrs. Colbert had turned on Nancy; that was well known.  Now she had
the worst rake in the country staying in her house, and she was
sending the girl up into the woods alone, after giving him fair
warning.  Did her mother really want to ruin Nancy?  Could her
spite go so far as that?

Rachel Blake closed her eyes and leaned her head and arms forward
on her dresser top.  She had known her mother to show great
kindness to her servants, and, sometimes, cold cruelty.  But she
had never known her to do anything quite so ugly as this, if
Nancy's tale were true.  But there was no time to puzzle it out
now.  She must meet the present occasion.  She quickly changed her
dress and came downstairs with a basket on her arm.

"Now step along, Nancy, and brighten up.  We'll go flower-picking
to please ourselves."

It was still early morning; a little too warm in the sun, but
wonderfully soft and pleasant in the shade.  The winding country
road which climbed from the post office to Timber Ridge was then,
and for sixty years afterward, the most beautiful stretch in the
northwestern turnpike.  It was cut against gravelly hillsides
bright with mica and thinly overgrown with spikes of pennyroyal,
patches of rue, and small shrubs.  But on the left side of the
road, going west, the hillsides fell abruptly down to a mountain
stream flowing clear at the bottom of a winding ravine.  The
country people called this the Hollow, or "Holler," road.  On the
far side of the creek the hills were shaded by forest trees, tall
and not too thickly set: hickory and chestnut and white oak, here
and there hemlocks of great height.  The ground beneath them was
covered with bright green moss and flat mats of wintergreen full of
red berries.  Out of the damp moss between the exposed tree roots,
where the shade was deep, the maidenhair fern grew delicately.

The road followed the ravine, climbing all the way, until at the
"Double S" it swung out in four great loops round hills of solid
rock; rock which the destroying armament of modern road-building
has not yet succeeded in blasting away.  The four loops are now
denuded and ugly, but motorists, however unwillingly, must swing
round them if they go on that road at all.

In the old times, when Nancy and Mrs. Blake were alive, and for
sixty years afterward, those now-naked hills were rich in verdure,
the winding ravine was deep and green, the stream at the bottom
flowed bright and soothingly vocal.  A tramp pedlar from town, or a
poor farmer, coming down on foot from his stony acres to sell a
coonskin, stopped to rest here, or walked lingeringly.  When the
countrymen mentioned the place in speech, if it were but to say:
"I'd jist got as fur as the Double e-S-S," their voices took on
something slow and dreamy, as if recalling the place itself; the
shade, the unstained loveliness, the pleasant feeling one had

Mrs. Blake and Nancy reached the curve of the first "S," and sat
down on a log to rest, looking across the creek at the forest
trees, which seemed even taller than they were, rising one above
another on the steep hillside.  There was no underbrush, except
such as was prized in kings' gardens: the laurel itself.  Even in
those days of slow and comfortless travel, people came across the
Atlantic to see the Kalmia in bloom; the wayward wild laurel which
in June covered the wooded slopes of our mountains with drifts of
rose and peach and flesh colour.  And in winter, when the tall
trees above were grey and leafless, the laurel thickets beneath
them spread green and brilliant through the frosty woods.

"Well, Nancy," said Mrs. Blake after they had been sitting silent
for a while, "we can't do better than this.  The creek's narrow
here, and we can easy get across on the stones."

They had not been long among the flowering bushes when Mrs. Blake
heard the sharp click of horseshoes on the higher loops of the
"Double S."  She held up a warning finger.  The hoofbeats came
closer, and finally stopped.  Presently there was a scraping sound
of gravel and pebbles falling; the rider had found a gully where he
could tie his horse.

The laurel-gatherers went on steadily about their work, bending
down high branches and letting them fly back again.  In a few
moments young Martin crossed the creek.  He must have seen two
sunbonnets over there in the dark green bushes, but he doubtless
thought Nancy had brought one of the coloured girls along with her.

Mrs. Blake pushed back her bonnet and confronted him with that
square brow so like the miller's.  Martin met the surprise
admirably.  His face brightened; he seemed delighted.  Dropping his
riding whip, he snatched off his cap.

"Why, Cousin Rachel!  Have I caught you at last!  Here I've been at
the mill nearly two weeks, and you've never once sent word you'd
like to see me.  Is that the way to treat kin-folks?"

She gave him her hand, which he held longer than she liked.

"You do come to the Mill House, don't you?" he asked.

"Yes, I do.  But I've been occupied.  At this time of year I'm
canning cherries."

"You'll let me come over and see you some night after supper?  I
have messages for you.  I had to go to Alexandria some time back"
(she knew why), "and I went on to Washington.  The House was in
session, and I met some of Cousin Michael's old friends.  They
hadn't enough good to say of him, really."

"You'd hear naught else of him," said Mrs. Blake dryly.

"Certainly not.  But a man may be a fine fellow, and still not
leave friends who will ask nothing better than to sit and talk
about him six years after his death.  Not many of us will leave
friends who'll be missing us after six or seven years."

"Not many," assented Mrs. Blake.  "And how did the gentlemen come
to know you were related to Mr. Blake by marriage?"

"I looked up his friends, naturally.  You see, they were all so
glad to have any news of you and how you were doing.  They asked
after you every time I saw them, and sent you a great many

"Thank you.  Nancy and me have got our baskets full now, and your
horse is pawing on the rocks over there.  We'd better be going."

"Can't I carry you home behind me?  You can ride without a

"No, thank you.  I partly came for the walk."

"Miss Nancy, maybe, would like to get home before her flowers
wilt?"  He had the brass to make this suggestion as he stooped to
pick up his riding whip.  "No?  Then let me carry the basket to
Aunt Sapphy while the flowers are fresh."

Nancy reluctantly handed him the basket.  Mrs. Blake frowned,
wondering why she gave in to him.

"That's a good girl!"  Martin smiled at her, ran down the ravine,
and crossed the creek with the basket in his hand.  In a few
moments they heard his horse trotting down the road.

During the homeward walk Mrs. Blake said little, but her face was
flushed and grim.  You could put nothing past a Colbert, she told
herself bitterly.  The effrontery of this scapegrace, to go to
Washington and use Michael's name to introduce himself!  Been to
Alexandria lately!  Of course he had, and everyone knew why!  It
was to get that blue tooth put in, to replace the one the girl's
brothers had knocked out of his head on the Blue Ridge road.  A
doctor in Alexandria was known the country round for successful
pivot work.  With this ignominious brand showing every time he
opened his mouth, Mart Colbert had gone to Washington and nosed
about the Capitol until he found some of Michael's friends and
claimed kinship.  She had half a mind to tell Nancy the whole
story, as a warning.  But the girl was already frightened; and when
she was distracted and fidgety she was likely to break things,
forget orders, and exasperate her mistress.

As they parted at her gate, Mrs. Blake did say this much:

"Nancy girl, if I was you I wouldn't go into the woods or any
lonesome place while Mr. Martin is here.  If you have to go off
somewhere, come by, and I'll go along.  If I happen to be away,
take Mary and Betty with you.  I'll give them leave."

"Yes mam, Miz' Blake.  I won't.  Thank you, mam."  Nancy drew her
slender shoulders together as if she were cold.  Some dark
apprehension in her voice told more than she could say in words.


While he was dressing next morning Martin wondered whether his ride
had been spoiled by accident or by conspiracy.  Had his Cousin
Rachel, whom he always found a bore, gone into the woods on her own
account, or had the girl entreated her company?  Well, no matter.
He was a match for the two of them.  The only person he didn't want
to offend was his Aunt Sapphy, who had urged him to visit her, and
who seemed almost to be playing into his hand.  As he shaved his
ruddy cheeks he forgot everything except that he wanted his ham and

Mrs. Colbert was awaiting him in the dining-room.  Now that Martin
was here, she rose early in order to be dressed and coiffed before
she joined him at breakfast.  After breakfast Martin wheeled his
aunt out on the porch to take the air, excused himself, and went
upstairs to his room, where he expected to find Nancy making his
bed.  But she was not there, and the bed was still as he had left

Nancy was playing truant: that morning, when she came up from the
miller's room, she had caught up a basket and run away to the old
cherry trees behind the smokehouse.  Finding no ladder handy, she
went into the smokehouse to get Pappy Jeff's wooden chair.  Jeff
was there himself, tending the fire in a big iron kettle set deep
in the earth floor.  All day long, through spring and summer, the
smoke from hickory chunks went up to cure and season the rows of
hams and bacon hanging from the rafters of the roof.

"Pappy, kin I have your cheer to climb up a cherry tree?"

Jeff rose from his squatting position.  "Sho'ly, sho'ly, honey.
I don't espect no comp'ny."

But at that very moment Sampson's tall figure darkened the doorway.
"See, now," Jeff chuckled, "I ain't done said no comp'ny, an' here
come Sampson!  Run along, chile, him an' me's got a little bizness
to fix.  He don't need no cheer.  He kin squat on the flo', like

Sampson carried the chair out for her and planted it under a tree.
Nancy scrambled nimbly up to the first big limb, where she could
sit comfortably; could reach the cherries shining all about her and
bend down the branches over her head.  The morning air was still so
fresh that the sunlight on her bare feet and legs was grateful.
She was light-hearted this morning.  She loved to pick cherries,
and she loved being up in a tree.  Someway no troubles followed a
body up there; nothing but the foolish, dreamy, nigger side of her
nature climbed the tree with her.  She knew she had left half her
work undone, but here nobody would find her out to scold her.  The
leaves over her head laughed softly in the wind; maybe they knew
she had run away.

She was in no hurry to pick the cherries.  She ate the ripest ones
and dropped the hard ones into her basket.  Presently she heard
someone singing.  She sat very still and gently released the branch
she was holding down.  He was coming from the stables, she thought.

     Down by de cane-brake, close by de mill,
     Dar lived a yaller gal, her name was Nancy Till.

Should she scramble down?  Likely as not he would go along the path
through the garden, and then he could not see her for the
smokehouse.  He wouldn't come prowling around back here among the
weeds.  But he did.  He came through the wet grass straight toward
the cherry trees, his straw hat in his hand, singing that old darky

Martin had gone to the kitchen to complain that Nancy had not done
his room, and Bluebell told him Nancy was out picking cherries.
There never was a finer morning for picking cherries or anything
else, he was thinking, as he went out to the kitchen garden and
round the stables.  He didn't really intend to frighten the girl,
though he owed her one for the trick she played him yesterday.

"Good morning, Nancy," he called up to her as he stood at the foot
of the tree.  "Cherries are ripe, eh?  Do you know that song?  Can
you sing, like Bluebell?"

"No, sir.  I can't sing.  I got no singin' voice."

"Neither have I, but I sing anyhow.  Can't help it on a morning
like this.  Come now, you're going to give me something, Nancy."

His tone was coaxing, but careless.  She somehow didn't feel scared
of him as he stood down there, with his head thrown back.  His eyes
were clear this morning, and jolly.  He didn't look wicked.  Maybe
he only meant to tease her anyhow, and she just didn't know how
young men behaved over in the racing counties.

"Aren't you going to give me something on such a pretty day?  Let's
be friends."  He held up his hand as if to help her down.

She didn't move, but she laughed a soft darky laugh and dropped a
bunch of cherries down to him.

"I don't want cherries.  They're sour, and I want something sweet."

"No, Mr. Martin.  The sour cherries is all gone.  These is

"Stop talking about cherries.  You look awful pretty, sitting up

Nancy giggled nervously.  Martin was smiling all the time.  Maybe
he was just young and foolish like, not bad.

"Who's your beau, anyhow, Nancy Till?"

"Ain't got none."

"You goin' to be a sour old maid?"

"I reckon I is."

"Now who in the world is that scarecrow, comin' on us?"

Nancy followed his eyes and looked back over her shoulder.  The
instant her head was turned Martin stepped lightly on the chair,
caught her bare ankles, and drew her two legs about his cheeks like
a frame.  Nancy dropped her basket and almost fell out of the tree
herself.  She caught at the branch above her and clung to it.

"Oh, please get down, Mr. Martin!  Do, please!  Somebody'll come
along, an' you'll git me into trouble."

Martin laughed.  "Get you into trouble?  Just this?  This is
nothin' but to cure toothache."

The girl had gone pale.  She was frightened now, but she couldn't
move, couldn't pull herself up with him holding her so hard.
Everything had changed in a flash.  He had changed, and she
couldn't collect her wits.

"Please, Mr. Martin, please let me git down."

Martin framed his face closer and shut his eyes.  "Pretty soon.--
This is just nice.--Something smells sweet--like May apples."  He
seemed murmuring to himself, not to her, but all the time his face
came closer.  Her throat felt tight shut, but she knew she must
scream, and she did.

"Pappy!  Oh, Pappy!  Come quick!"

The moment she screamed, Martin stepped down from the chair.  Old
Jeff came running round the end of the smokehouse, up to the foot
of the tree where Nancy sat, still holding on to the limb above
her.  "Whassa matter, chile?  Whassa matter?"

Sampson followed more deliberately, looking about him,--looking at
Martin Colbert, which it was not his place to do.

Nancy said she was "took giddy like" in the tree, and was afraid
she would faint and fall.  Sampson got on the chair and lifted her
down, but before he did so he took it in that there were already
wet boot tracks on the seat.  Martin, standing by, remarked that if
the girl had had any sense, he would have helped her get out of the

"Co'se you would, Mr. Martin," Jeff jabbered.  "Young gals has dese
sick spells come on 'em, an' den dey ain't got no haid.  Come
along, honey, you kin walk, Pappy'll he'p you."

Sampson picked up the chair and carried it back to the smokehouse.
Martin strolled down the path, muttering to himself.  "God, I'd
rather it had been any other nigger on the place!  That mill-hand
don't know where he belongs.  If ever he looks me in the face like
that again, I'll break his head for him.  The niggers here don't
know their place, not one of 'em."

That afternoon Martin went for a ride.  He was a trifle uncomfortable
in mind.  He knew he had made a blunder.  He hadn't meant to do more
than tease her.  But after he caught her and felt against his cheeks
the shiver that went over her warm flesh, he lost his head for an
instant.  He knew she must be pursued carelessly and taken at the
right moment, off her guard.  He was vexed that he had let a
pleasant contact, an intoxicating fragrance, run away with him.
Never mind; he would keep at a distance for a while, as if he had
forgotten the cherry tree.

Riding home by the road from the post office, he spied Bluebell
over yonder in the big vegetable garden.  Immediately he dismounted
and led his horse across the field toward her.

"Hello, Bluebell, what are you up to?"

"I'se a-pickin' lettuce fo' yo' supper, Mr. Martin."  The slim
black girl straightened up and stood with her bare feet wide apart
between rows of lettuce.

"You don't get outdoors much, do you?  I always see you in the

"Yes, sir.  I'se mos'ly heppin' Mammy."  This was spoken
plaintively, as if she had a hard life.

Martin laughed.  He knew she was useless, except as a companion to

"You find time to sing, though.  Aunt Sapphy's going to have you
and Lizzie come into the parlour and sing for me some night.  I
like to hear you.  Maybe I could teach you some new songs.  I'm not
just crazy about these hymn tunes."

Bluebell grinned.  "Oh, we sings 'Home, Sweet Home,' an' 'The
Gipsy's Warming.'"

Martin chuckled.  "It's 'warning,' not 'warming,' my girl."

"Yes, sir.  Seems jist alike when you sings it."

"Look-a-here, Bluebell, why don't they send you up to fix my room
and make my bed for me?  That yaller gal's no account, and solemn
as a funeral.  I don't like solemn girls around me."

Bluebell giggled.  "Dey says how I ain't so handy wid de bedrooms.
Marster, he won't let me come a-nigh his room at de mill.  He
PREFER Nancy."  She gave a sly suggestiveness to "prefer," lifted
her eyebrows and twisted her shoulders languidly.

"He does?  I can't understand that.  She don't suit me."  Martin
patted his restive horse to quiet him.  "You say she always takes
care of the mill room for Uncle Henry?"

"'Deed she do.  He won't have nobody else roun' him.  Oh Lawdy no!
I dassen' set foot in de place.  Yes sir, Nancy do all de
housekeepin' at de mill.  Why, ev'ybody know dat.  She carry down
his washin' an' shine his brass mugs, an' take him bowkays.  Laws,
ah don' know what all she don' do at de mil-l-l."

"Damn this horse!  Give me some of that green stuff to keep him
still, will you?"  Martin was interested.

But Bluebell took a twist of brown paper from a pocket in her very
full skirt and produced a lump of crumbly brown sugar.

"Dis'll quiet him.  I mos'ly carries a little to keep on han'."

Martin winked.  "Comes in handy to be round the kitchen, don't it?
But tell me, don't that make the other girls jealous, her going to
the mill so much?  Are you and Nancy good friends?"

"We gits along," languidly.  "We's mos'ly friendly.  Mammy don'
have no patience wid her, 'cause she's stuck up, havin' white
blood.  When de Missus use' to favour her terribul, dat set all de
culled folks agin her.  But it ain't so now no mo'.  Miss Sapphy
turned on Nancy some while back."

"Why, what had Nancy done?"

Bluebell shrugged indifferently.

"Ah don' know.  Ah don' foller nobody's doin's.  Some folks
s'picions de Marster favour her now, an' de Missus don' relish her
goin' down to de mill so much.  Ah don' know.  Ah never listens to
no talk."

"That's a good rule.  And you're a smart girl, Belle.  Don't
anybody round here call you Belle?"

"No, sah.  Dey always calls me Bluebell.  Dey's anoder Belle on de
place; Sampson's wife, what is de haid mill-han'."

"Then I'll call you Bluebell.  I certainly wouldn't call you by the
name of anything belongin' to that Sampson.  Now I'm going to ask
Aunt Sapphy to let you fix my room for me.  The yaller gal puts on
too many airs."

Martin turned and led his horse toward the hitch-post.  He walked
rapidly, and there was more energy in his step than common.  When
little Zach ran up to take his bridle, he threw him the reins
without a glance, but he looked very angry, and he was talking out
loud to himself.  Zach caught a few words:

"By God, if I thought that old sinner had been there before me--"

The little nigger boy stared after the young man, wondering what
had put him out.




Though Martin's visit proved to be a long one, his uncle saw very
little of him.  He never asked the young man to come down to the
mill; indeed, he put his nephew out of his mind as much as
possible.  He realized that it meant a great deal to Sapphira to
have this foolish, lively young fellow about the place.  Certainly,
Martin was very attentive to her; chatted with her on the porch in
the morning, had tea with her in the afternoon, played cribbage
with her after supper.

One night when the miller was sitting at his reading-table, he
heard a knock at his door.  In answer to his "Come in," Sampson

"Yes, Sampson.  What is it?"

The tall mulatto stood uneasily before him.  "Master Henry, I'd
like to speak to you about something I got on my mind, but I don't
rightly know if it's my place to."

"Speak out, Sampson."

"Mr. Henry, I'm 'fraid Mr. Martin worries Nancy a right smart."

The miller looked up and frowned.  "Worries her?  What do you mean?
How worries her?"

"Well, sir, you know how them young fellers is.  They likes to fool
round a pretty girl, even if she's coloured.  I don't say he means
no harm, but she ain't used to them ways, an' she seems kind-a
scared-like all the time.  I know you wouldn't want to see harm
befall her."

"Shut the door there behind you, Sampson.  Now tell me: have you
seen anything amiss?"

"Not rightly speaking, sir.  But awhile back Nancy was pickin'
cherries in one of them big trees behind the smokehouse.  Me an'
Jeff was in the smokehouse, an' we heard her holler like she was
hurt or somethin'.  We both run out an' seen Mr. Martin standin' at
the foot of the tree.  Before we come, he'd been standin' on the
cheer Nancy took to climb up with.  I seen the mud off his boots on
the cheer-bottom.  The gal was scared fo' sho', Mr. Henry.  She was
tremblin' like a leaf an' taken sick like.  I took her down, an'
Jeff hepped her to the cabin.  I may be wrong, but I didn't like

The miller's face had taken on a dark flush.  "I'll keep an eye on
my nephew, Sampson.  Sometimes a girl will make a fuss over
nothing, you know."

"Yes, sir.  I never seen Nancy do nothin' free nor unbecomin' when
she comes an' goes."

"Nor have I.  She's a good girl, and I'll look after her."

"Thank you, sir.  Good night, Mr. Henry."  Sampson withdrew, but
his face told that he was not reassured.

The miller closed his book and began to move slowly about the room.
In a flash he realized that from the first he had distrusted his
nephew, though he had never thought of him in connection with
Nancy.  To him Nancy was scarcely more than a child.  It was his
habit to refer to her in that way.  In reality, of course, she was
a young woman.  His three daughters had married when they were
younger than Nancy was now.  Wrath flamed up in him as he paced the
floor; against his nephew and the father who begot him, against all
his brothers and the Colbert blood.  His own father he could hold
in reverence; he was an honest man, and the woman who shared his
laborious and thrifty life was a good woman.  But there must have
been bad blood in the Colberts back on the other side of the water,
and it had come to light in his three brothers and their sons.  He
knew the family inheritance well enough.  He had his share of it.
But since his marriage he had never let it get the better of him.
He had kept his marriage vows as he would keep any other contract.

The miller got very little sleep that night.  When the first blush
of the early summer dawn showed above the mountain, he rose, put on
his long white cotton milling coat, and went to bathe in the
shallow pool that always lay under the big mill-wheel.  This was
his custom, after the hot, close nights which often made sleep
unrefreshing in summer.  The chill of the water, and the rays of
gold which soon touched the distant hills before the sun appeared,
restored his feeling of physical vigour.  He came back to his room,
leaving wet footprints on the floury floor behind him.  Having
dressed and shaved, he put on his hat and walked down along the
mill-race toward the dam.  He did not know why, but he felt
strongly disinclined to see Nancy this morning.  He did not wish to
be there when she came to the mill; it would not be the same as
yesterday.  Something disturbing had come between them since then.

For years, ever since she was a child, Nancy had seemed to him more
like an influence than a person.  She came in and out of the mill
like a soft spring breeze; a shy, devoted creature who touched
everything so lightly.  Never before had anyone divined all his
little whims and preferences, and been eager to gratify them.  And
it was for love, from dutiful affection.  She had nothing to gain
beyond the pleasure of seeing him pleased.

Now that he must see her as a woman, enticing to men, he shrank
from seeing her at all.  Something was lost out of that sweet
companionship; for companionship it had been, though it was but a
smile and a glance, a greeting in the fresh morning hours.


It was a little past midnight, and Sapphira had been asleep for an
hour or more, when she was rudely awakened.  Nancy had burst in at
her door and was calling out, like someone startled.

"Yes, Miss Sapphy, here I is.  Whassa matter, mam?"

"Nothing at all is the matter.  Have you gone crazy, Nancy, waking
me up out of my sleep like this?"

"Oh, you called out, Missy.  You sho'ly did.  An' I was havin' bad
dreams about you."

"Be more careful what you eat, and don't come to me with your bad
dreams.  You know if I'm once wakened it's hard for me to get to
sleep again."

"I'm dreadful sorry, Missy.  I was sure I heard you callin', an' I
feared you was taken bad, maybe.  No, mam, I won't come in
thoughtless agin.  Maybe I better run down to Ma's cabin tonight,
if I'm a-goin' to be res'less an' disturb you?"

"You go right back to your own bed, and control yourself properly.
I won't have such crazy behaviour."

"Yes, mam."  Nancy went out and closed the door softly behind her.
She sat down on her pallet and wrapped a quilt about her shoulders.
She did not lie down; she would wait until it was time to roll up
her bed and put it in the back closet.  Her rushing in upon her
mistress had been a ruse.  She had heard no call, but she had heard
something--a cautious, barefoot step on the wide stairway which led
from the upper chambers down into the open hall where she lay on
her pallet before the Mistress's door.  The stair treads always
creaked a little; the dampness of the air kept the wood from drying

When the Mistress sent her back to bed, Nancy told herself that if
she heard that stealthy step again, she would run down the hall and
out the back door, over to her mammy's cabin.  She believed someone
upstairs was listening as intently as she.  It was a horrible
feeling.  If she had the start of him, she knew she could outrun
him.  But then there was the curved oak banister of the stairway,
smooth as glass; anybody could slide down it without making a
sound.  Once he was in the hall, she wouldn't have the start of
him.  He would be there.

At last the first grey daylight came through the wide windows at
the foot of the stairs.  It gave her a feeling of safety so sweet
that she cuddled her head in her pillow and dozed a little.  For
hours the object of her terror had been fast asleep in his upstairs
chamber.  When he heard the sound of voices in his aunt's room, he
had shrugged his shoulders and gone back to bed.

As the grey light grew stronger, Nancy rose very softly and
dressed,--a simple process, since in summer she went barefoot and
slept in her sleeveless "shimmy" (chemise).  She had only to tie
her petticoat round her waist and slip her calico dress over her
head.  She tiptoed down the long hall and ran out into the flower
garden.  The sun was just coming up over the mountain.  Fleecy pink
clouds were scattered about the sky, and the distant hills had
turned gold.  A curling mist hung over the low meadows down by the
mill dam.  The dew from the shrubbery was dripping in splashes upon
the brick walks, and on the boxwood hedges the silvery spiderwebs
trembled with glistening waterdrops.  The tea roses and bleeding-
hearts hung heavy, as if they would never rise again.  Nobody was
stirring in the negro cabins; their overgrowth of trumpet vines and
gourd vines was so wet that by running into them you could take a
shower bath.  It made your skin pretty, washing your face and arms
in the dew.

Oh, this was a beautiful place!  Nancy didn't believe there was a
lovelier spot in the world than this right here.  She felt so
joyful that her heart beat as hard as it did last night when she
was scared.  She loved everybody in those vine-covered cabins,
everybody.  This morning she would be glad to see even fat Lizzie
and Bluebell.  After all, they were home folks.  And down yonder
was the mill, "and the Master so kind and so true."  That was in
a song Miss Sapphy used to sing before she got sick, and to Nancy
those words had always meant Mister Henry.  Was it possible that
she might have lost all this happiness last night, the night just
gone?  But it was still hers: the home folks and the home place and
the precious feeling of belonging here.  Maybe that fright back
there in the dark hall had been just a bad dream.  Out here it
didn't seem true.

Look-a-there! the smoke was coming out of Sampson's chimley
a'ready.  He was up, getting breakfast for his children, and his
wife, who managed to be sick most of the time.  All the niggers
knew that Sampson not only got the breakfast: in the small hours of
the night he baked all the bread for his family.  What patience the
man had!  And he never raised his low, kind voice against anybody.

One morning, soon after the above incident, the miller found his
wife sitting alone at breakfast, and learned that his nephew had
ridden off to Winchester for the day.

"I hope he won't use my horse too hard," he remarked.  "When is he
coming back?"

"Tomorrow, I think."

The miller was silent for a moment, then said with a shade of
impatience, "How long is Mart going to hang around here, anyway?"

"We can't very well ask our kin how long they intend to stay with
us, can we?"

"Maybe not, but he's been here about six weeks, and that's a long

Sapphira smiled.  "I remember my father used to tell how Benjamin
Franklin said:  'Hospitality, like fish, stinks after three
days.'  That may be true in the North, but we don't feel that way
in Virginia, I hope."

"Sapphira, I've had about enough of Martin's company.  I never
liked his father's ways, and I don't like his.  What does he want
here, anyway?"

"Maybe the boy wants a refuge,--from creditors."

"Or from the men of families where he's brought disgrace," her
husband muttered.

She shook her finger at him.  "Now, don't be too hard on him,
Henry.  Your brothers were all like that, you know.  And Martin has
a gentlemanly side which they had not.  I am certainly not very
lively company for a young blade to spend his evenings with, but if
he is dull here he never shows it.  Certainly I shall miss him when
he is gone."

"Well, if you take pleasure in his company, I shan't say anything.
But he will demoralize the servants.  His way with the young
darkies is too free.  He goes into the woods across the creek to
hunt mushrooms with that trifling Bluebell."

"If the servants go wrong from any visitor in the house, it's their
own fault.  I think they know their place better.  Bluebell is a
lazy, lying nigger as ever was, but I've found her smart enough to
look out for herself.  I doubt whether Martin would so demean
himself, but it's no affair of mine."  Sapphira laughed softly.  It
was almost as good as a play, she was thinking; the way whenever
she and her husband were thinking of Nancy, they invariably talked
about Bluebell.


Haying time was coming on, and now the miller turned farmer.  He
left the mill to Sampson and spent the mornings about the barns and
stables; looking after the condition of the horses, mending the
racks, seeing that Taylor cleared the haylofts of old straw and
aired them for the new crop.  Every year, in haying time and
harvest, he gave his mill-wheels a rest.  He believed the work in
the open air was good for his health.

As he left the barn one morning, and was going through the negro
quarters, he passed by the laundry cabin where Nancy did fine
laundering for the Mistress.  Hearing voices within, the girl's
voice and his nephew's, he stopped short by the rain-barrel and

Martin was speaking in a drawling, bantering way.  "How about my
fine shirts you were going to wash and iron for me, Miss Nancy

"Yes, sir.  The Mistress told me to.  If you'll please put 'em out
in the hall for me, I'll do 'em up today."

"Now look-a-here, my girl, you just hunt in the press and find them
for yourself.  I don't keep account of my shirts.  If you take care
of my room, you look out for my washing.  I ain't my own

The miller stepped forward and glanced in at the open door.  Nancy
was at the ironing-board, her eyes fixed on her work.  Martin, in
his riding breeches, was lounging on an old broken chair, his back
against the wall and his legs stretched out in front of him.  His
face was turned away, but his lordly, lazy attitude and the rough
familiarity of his voice were not lost upon his uncle.  Colbert set
his teeth and hurried through the yard down to the mill.

"Sampson," he called, "this fine weather won't last much longer,
maybe.  I told Taylor we would begin on the long meadow tomorrow,
and you and me will go out with the men.  It'll likely be a hot
day, and we must get to work early, before the grass is dry.  The
women can turn it afterward.  You'll have to go and hunt up the
scythes.  It's Taylor's business, but he hasn't done it.  I could
only find six, and there'll be eight of us in the field."

Sampson smiled reassuringly.  "I 'specs I can find 'em, sir.  The
boys sneaks 'em away fur one thing an' another.  But I'll find

Early the next morning Mrs. Blake's little girls were awakened by
the ringing sound of whetstones on scythe blades.  The long meadow
between their house and the mill was always the first field to be
cut.  The mowers had assembled down by the rail fence, where the
sassafras bushes screened the field from Back Creek.  The miller
went round the group and felt the edge of every blade.  "Now, boys,
I reckon we're ready to begin.  Look out and keep the line

The darkies scattered to their places, spat into their palms, and
gripped the hand-holds.  Colbert and Sampson were in the centre,
and after the Master had cut the first swath the men threw
themselves into the easy position of practised mowers, and the long
grass began to fall.  They advanced from east to west, steadily,
like a good team at the plough.  Colbert allowed only the seasoned
mowers to work with him; the young fellows he hired out in hay-time
to learn under his neighbours.  As the darkies swung their scythes,
they made a deep sound from the chest, the "Huh-huh" they made when
they chopped wood; but they never paused except to spit into their

The sun had been up several hours when the line of mowers got as
far as the little iron spring which seeped up in the meadow, with a
patch of tiger lilies growing round it.  Here the Master beckoned
the hands to come and take a drink.  The water was cold and
strongly flavoured with iron.  The darkies passed the gourd around
more than once, and stood easy; straightening their backs, and
wiping their sweaty faces on shirt-sleeves already wringing wet.
Every man of them kept an old hat of some sort on his head.  After
they had rested a few minutes, they pulled up their breeches at the
waist and went back to their places.  When the line moved on, the
black-spotted orange lilies stood straight and tall above the
fallen grass.

By and by the men began to look up anxiously at the sun: only a
little spell now.  They kept in line, but they certainly advanced
more slowly.  A cheering "Halloo" rang out across the field.  The
men stopped and straightened up with a grateful sigh, looking
toward the Mill House stile.  Yonder came young Martin, carrying in
each hand a gallon jug, and behind him came Nancy and Bluebell and
Nelly and Trudy and little Zach, all with baskets.

It was the custom for the mowers to have their dinner in the field.
The scythes were left beside the swath last cut, and the hands
gathered in the shade under a wide-spreading maple tree.  In every
hayfield one big tree was left for that purpose.  It was always
called "the mowers' tree."

After they had spread a red tablecloth on the grass and laid out
the provisions, the women went away.  The jugs Martin had brought
were full of cold tea.  The Master poured himself a full gourd, but
the men drank from the jug,--it went round from mouth to mouth.

As they fell to their dinner, a pitiful figure of a negro came
toward the group, not approaching directly, but circling to right
and left and looking down in the grass as if he were hunting for
some lost object.  The darkies grinned and nudged one another.
"Dar's Tansy Dave.  'Bout time he was drappin' 'long."

The Master spoke to Sampson.  "Call him up, poor fellow."

In a voice that was quiet and yet carried far, the yellow man
called:  "Master says hurry up, Dave, or there won't be nothin'

The scarecrow man, bare-legged, his pants torn away to the knee,
his shirt a dirty rag, approached slowly, his head hanging down.
He muttered something about "been havin' a sort-a spell lately, an'
didn't know as he ought-a eat nothin'."

The Master spoke up:  "This is a good dinner, Dave.  Set down an'
eat all you want.  We've got plenty."

Dave's mournful face brightened as he looked hungrily at what was
spread on the red cloth.  He took the chunks of corn bread and
fried middling meat Sampson handed him, and drew apart from the
others; just on the edge of the shade line he sat down and ate his

After dinner the hands lay under the tree and slept for an hour;
lay on their backs, with their old hats over their faces.  The
miller sat leaning against the trunk and watched the ragged visitor
steal across the mown field and hide himself in the sassafras
bushes along the rail fence.  He was thinking it was a dreary
business to be responsible for other folks' lives.  Time was when
poor Dave, that half-witted ghost of a man, was one of the happiest
boys on the place.  He and Tap were the ringleaders in all the farm
festivals.  Dave was very clever with his mouth-organ, and he used
to play for the darkies to dance on the hard-packed earth in the
back yard.  It was six years now since he began to go to pieces.

Six years ago a lady from Baltimore, Mrs. Morrison, had come to
board with a relative three miles down the creek.  She brought with
her her coloured maid, Susanna, who used to come over to dance with
the Colbert darkies.  She was a taking wench, with big soft eyes
and an irresistible giggle--light on her feet, and a pretty dancer.
Colbert and Sapphira sometimes went out to watch her dance, while
Dave played his mouth-organ, and the other darkies "patted" with
their hands.  Dave always escorted her home.  Lizzie told the
Mistress that every night after supper Dave changed his shirt and
went down the creek to court Susanna, and before he started he
rolled over and over in the tansy bed, "to make hisself smell
sweet."  The nickname "Tansy Dave" had stuck to him long after he
ceased to go a-courting, and after he no longer tried to make
hisself smell sweet.

When Mrs. Morrison was packing to go back to the city, Dave came to
Sapphira and begged her to buy Susanna, so that he could marry her.
They were "promised," he said, and Susanna wanted to stay.  At
first his mistress laughed at him.  But he cried like a little boy;
threw himself on the floor and declared he "would run away and
foller her if she was took off on the cars."  Mrs. Colbert was
melted by the boy's desperation; she told him to get up and behave
himself, and she would think it over.  She did think it over, and
talked about it to Henry that night.  Both agreed it would be
foolish to buy another girl, when they had too many already.  But
early next morning Sapphira wakened her husband to tell him she had
decided to buy Susanna if the woman would take a reasonable price
for her.  The girl was a good seamstress, and she could do all the
fine sewing about the house.

Sapphira ordered the carriage and drove away soon after breakfast.
The miller doubted her success, but he said nothing.  Susanna's
mistress had once come to the Baptist church, and he did not like
her arrogant manner, or the look of her.  She had a small, hard
face, white as flour.

When Sapphira returned, she sent down to the mill for her husband.
She was greatly put out.  The woman had told her at once that she
thoroughly disapproved of slave-owning.  When her late husband's
shipping interests took him from Bath, Maine, to Baltimore, she had
found it necessary to purchase two negroes for house service.  In
Baltimore there was no other way to get good servants.  She would
not sell Susanna at any price.  The girl was trained for work in a
town house.  And after she got back to Baltimore she would never
think of this crazy nigger again.

Susanna and her mistress left the neighbourhood, and Dave ran away
as he had threatened.  He walked to Winchester and got on the
"cars."  When he reached Harpers Ferry and was told he must wait
there for the big train that went on to Washington, he lost heart.
After a few days he came wandering home, but he was never the same
boy again.  He went from bad to worse; spent days, often weeks, in
the mountains, wherever there was a still and moonshine whisky.
Nowadays he lived in the mountains the summer through.  In the fall
he came down to the mill to borrow Sampson's gun and go hunting.
Dave could perfectly imitate the call of the wild turkey, and he
brought those wary birds home for the table; the Mistress was very
fond of them.  Colbert often wondered at Sapphira's forbearance
with Dave.  When he traded his clothes for whisky and slunk home
without a shirt to his back, she would make him go wash himself in
the creek, burn his rags, and put on a whole pair of pants and a
new "hickory" shirt.  Soon he would disappear again and not come
back till winter.  Taylor was pretty sure to find him in the barn
some morning after the first hard freeze, buried deep in the hay.
Sapphira saw that he was clothed and fed through the winter.  Even
Lizzie had pity on him, but she would not let him come into the
kitchen to eat with the other hands.  She filled a little bucket
with victuals and handed it out to him.

The men finished cutting the long meadow before sundown.  That
night the miller excused himself early from the supper table,
admitting that he was tired.  He would "limber up" in a few days,
he told his wife, but tonight his arms and back ached from
unaccustomed exercise.

Once in his room at the mill, he threw himself upon his bed and lay
still, watching the lingering twilight die.  He looked forward to
the next two weeks, which would take the soreness out of his back
and mind.  It was good for him to be out in the fields; to feel his
strength drunk up by the earth and sun, and to set the pace for
younger men at cutting grass and wheat.

This was a troubled time for Henry Colbert when he was alone with
his thoughts.  He was too often preoccupied with what Sampson had
told him.  Now and then the actual realization of Martin's designs
would flash into his mind.  The poison in the young scamp's blood
seemed to stir something in his own.  The Colbert in him threatened
to raise its head after long hibernation.  Not that he was afraid
of himself.  For nothing on earth, even by a glance, would he
trouble that sweet confidence and affection which had been a
comfort to him for so long.  But it was not now the comforting
thing it had been.  Now he tried to avoid Nancy.  Her light step on
the old ax-dressed boards of the mill floor, her morning smile, did
not bring the lift of spirit they used to bring.

He told himself that in trying to keep a close watch on Martin, he
had begun to see through Martin's eyes.  Sometimes in his sleep
that preoccupation with Martin, the sense of almost being Martin,
came over him like a black spell.

How was he to get rid of the fellow?  In those days, and in that
country, a man could not put his nephew out of the house unless he
had flagrantly outraged hospitality.  The miller had thought
seriously of trying to buy Martin off.  That seemed the likeliest
possibility, though the approach would be awkward: offering a near
kinsman money to clear out of the neighbourhood.  Nevertheless he
had gone to Winchester the week before the hay was ripe, and had
drawn from the bank a larger sum of money than he customarily kept
on hand.  It was now locked in his secretary drawer.  He liked to
feel that it was there, ready.

Before he undressed for the night Colbert took from the shelf a
book he often read, John Bunyan's Holy War,--a copy printed in
Glasgow in 1763.  He opened the book at a passage relating to the
state of the town of Mansoul after Diabolus had entered her gates
and taken up his rule there:

"Also things began to grow scarce in Mansoul: now the things that
her soul lusted after were departing from her.  Upon all her
pleasant things there was a blast, and a burning instead of a
beauty.  Wrinkles now, and some shews of the shadow of death, were
upon the inhabitants of Mansoul.  And now, O how glad would Mansoul
have been to enjoyed quietness and satisfaction of mind, though
joined with the meanest condition in the world."

Next he turned to the pages describing the state of Mansoul after
she had been retaken and reclaimed by Prince Emmanuel, the Son of

"When the town of Mansoul had thus far rid themselves of their
enemies, and of the troublers of their peace, a strict commandment
was given out, that yet my Lord Willbewill, should search for, and
do his best, to apprehend what Diabolonians were yet alive in
Mansoul. . . .  He also apprehended Carnal-sense, and put him in
hold; but how it came about I cannot tell, but he brake prison and
made his escape; yea, and the bold villain will not yet quit the
town, but lurks in the Diabolonian Dens at days, and haunts like a
Ghost, honest men's houses at nights."

In this book he found consolation.  An honest man, who had suffered
much, was speaking to him of things about which he could not
unbosom himself to anyone.




The wheat harvest was nearly over.  Nancy and her companions had
been carrying dinner to the mowers, in the big wheat field on the
other side of Back Creek.  On her way home Nancy slipped from the
company and ran through Mrs. Blake's yard to her kitchen door.
Mary and Betty had finished washing the dishes, and their mother
was preparing to roast coffee beans in the oven.  After one look at
Nancy's face, she told the children they could go down the road and
watch Grandfather cutting his wheat.  When they were gone, she
turned to the yellow girl.

"What's the matter now, child?  Has that scamp been pestering you
again?  Set down and tell me."

Nancy dropped into a chair.  "Oh, I'm most drove out-a my mind, I
cain't bear it no longer, 'deed I cain't!  I gets no rest night nor
day.  I'm goin' to throw myself into the millpawnd, I am!"  She
bowed her head on her arms and broke into sobs.

"Hush, hush!  Don't talk so, Nancy, it's wicked.  Stop your crying,
and tell me about it."  She stood over the girl, stroking her
quivering shoulders until the sobs grew more throaty and, as it
were, dried up.  Nancy lifted her face.

"Miz' Blake, you's the only one I got to talk to.  He's just after
me night an' day, till I wisht I'd never been bawn."

"I guess a good many of us wish that, sometimes.  But we come right
again, and bear our lot.  Have you said anything to my father?"

"How could I, Miz' Blake?  I'd die a' shame to speak it before that
good ole man.  I got nobody I kin come to but you."

"Then you must try to make it plain to me, Nancy.  Can't you keep
out of his way?"

"It's worst at night, Miz' Blake.  You know I sleeps outside Miss
Sapphy's door, an' he's right over me, at the top of the stairs.
One night I heard him comin' down the stairs in his bare feet, an'
I jumped up an' run into the Mistress's room, makin' out I thought
I heered her callin' me.  She was right cross 'cause I'd waked her
up, and sent me back to my bed, an' I layed there awake till
mornin'.  If I was to sleep sound, he could slip in to me any time.
If I hollered, the Mistress would put it all on me; she'd say I
done somethin' to make him think I was a bad girl.  Another time I
heard him slippin' down at night, an' I jumped an' run to old Mr.
Washington.  You know he sleeps on a cot in the wine closet.  He
give me his bed, an' he set up all night in the hall.  So I cain't
run in to the Mistress agin, an' I hates to go to Mr. Washington.
He needs his rest.  Why, Miz' Blake, there ain't no stoppin' Mr.
Martin.  He kin jist slip into my bed any night if I happens to
fall asleep.  I got nobody to call to.  I cain't do nothin'!"

Here Nancy sprang from her chair and stood with her hands pressed
against her forehead and her blue-black hair.

"I tell you, I'd druther drown myself before he got at me than
after!  Only I want SOMEBODY as'll speak up for me to the Master,
an' tell him I didn't do it from wickedness.  Please, mam, tell him
how I was drove to it."

When she spoke of the Master, she began to cry again, and could not
go on.

Presently Mrs. Blake said quietly but resolutely:  "I'm a-going to
get you away from all this, Nancy.  Mind you, no more talk about
the mill dam.  You're young and have life before you.  I've seen
how things were going, and I've been figuring on how to get you
away from the mill.  You've not been real happy over there for a
good while back."

"No'm, not since she turned on me."  Nancy spoke absently, as if
talking to herself.  "It ain't nothing she DOES to me.  I don' know
what it is, but she never looks at me no more.  She's jist turned
on me."

Mrs. Blake took her by the shoulders, as if to rouse her.  "Now you
must listen to me, Nancy.  Would you be brave enough to go away
from here to a better place, where you'd be safe?  I can't run Mart
Colbert out of the neighbourhood, but I think I can get you away.
Would you go?"

"I'd go anywheres to git away from him.  I'd sooner go down to
Georgia an' pick cotton, 'deed I would."

"It won't come to that, Nancy.  Just you hold out a little longer,
and I'll get you out of these troubles.  Have you said anything to

Nancy looked up at her with wondering, startled eyes.  "To Maw?
How could I, mam?"

Mrs. Blake turned away and began to put slow wood in her stove to
get on with her roasting.  "Here come my girls up the road.  You
better let them go along home with you.  Maybe Mother's missed you,
but if they're with you, nothing will be said."

After Nancy and the children were gone, Mrs. Blake sat down to
watch over the pans of browning coffee.  She understood why Nancy
did not go to Till for advice and protection.  Till had been a
Dodderidge before ever she was Nancy's mother.  In Till's mind, her
first duty was to her mistress.  Ever since Mrs. Colbert had become
an invalid, Till's position in the house was all-important; and
position was dear to her.  Long ago Matchem had taught her to
"value her place," and that became her rule of life.  Anything that
made trouble between her and the Mistress would wreck the order of
the household.

Nancy had come into the world by accident; the other relation, that
with the Dodderidges, Till regarded as one of the fixed conditions
you were born into.  Beginning with Jezebel, her kin had lived
under the roof and protection of that family for four generations.
It was their natural place in the world.

Yes, Mrs. Blake knew why Till shut her eyes to what was going on
over at the Mill House.  And she realized once more that she
herself was by nature incapable of understanding her mother.  Ever
since she could remember, she had seen her mother show shades of
kindness and cruelty which seemed to her purely whimsical.  At this
moment Mrs. Blake could not for the life of her say whether Mrs.
Colbert had invited this scapegrace to her house with the
deliberate purpose of bringing harm to Nancy, or whether she had
asked him merely for the sake of his company, and was now ready to
tolerate anything that might amuse him and thus prolong his stay.
This was quite possible, since Mrs. Colbert, though often generous,
was entirely self-centred and thought of other people only in their
relation to herself.  She was born that way, and had been brought
up that way.

Yet one must admit inconsistencies.  There was her singular
indulgence with Tansy Dave, her real affection for Till and old
Jezebel, her patience with Sampson's lazy wife.  Even now, from her
chair, she took some part in all the celebrations that darkies
love.  She liked to see them happy.  On Christmas morning she sat
in the long hall and had all the men on the place come in to get
their presents and their Christmas drink.  She served each man a
strong toddy in one of the big glass tumblers that had been her
father's.  When Tap, the mill boy, smacked his lips and said:
"Miss Sapphy, if my mammy's titty had a-tasted like that, I never
would a-got weaned," she laughed as if she had never heard the old
joke before.

When the darkies were sick, she doctored them, sent linen for the
new babies and had them brought for her to see as soon as the
mother was up and about.  Recalling these things and trying to be
fair to her mother, Mrs. Blake suddenly rose from her chair and
said aloud:

"No, it ain't put on; she believes in it, and they believe in it.
But it ain't right."


By the next morning's stage Mrs. Bywaters sent an important letter
to David Fairhead, asking him to come out to Back Creek as soon as
possible.  He rode up to her gate next evening on his old grey
horse.  That night Mrs. Blake and Mr. Whitford, the carpenter, met
at the post office to confer with him.  When they were seated in
the postmistress's private parlour, where they would not be
disturbed, Mrs. Blake revealed her bold purpose.  Mrs. Bywaters sat
by to encourage her.

To the two women the plan seemed a desperate undertaking.  No negro
slave had ever run away from Back Creek, or from Hayfield, or Round
Hill, or even from Winchester.  But Mr. Fairhead was reassuring.
He told them the underground railroad was now busier than ever
before.  The severe Fugitive Slave Law, passed six years ago, had
by no means prevented slaves from running away.  Its very injustice
had created new sympathizers for fugitives, and opened new avenues
of escape.  From as far away as Louisiana, negroes were now
reaching Canada; the railroads and the lake steamboats helped them.
If a negro once got into Pennsylvania or Ohio, he seldom failed to
go through.

Fairhead explained to Mrs. Blake how simple it would be to get
Nancy from Winchester to Martinsburg, and from there into
Pennsylvania.  While she sat by, he wrote a letter to his cousin in
Martinsburg, who would be very glad to assist her.  This letter
would go off by the stage tomorrow morning.

Mr. Whitford said he could manage for Mrs. Blake as far as
Winchester.  He had a light canvas-covered spring-wagon in which he
carried coffins to distant burying-grounds.  Chairs for two women
could be put inside under the canvas, and they could make the drive
to town unseen by anyone.  Travelling late at night, they would
reach Winchester in good time to take the morning stage for

Mrs. Blake went home greatly reassured.  But the hardest thing to
arrange, the interview she most dreaded, was still before her.

The following night she set out for the mill by the creek road,
where she would scarcely be likely to meet any of the house
servants.  Once at the mill, she went to the north window of her
father's room.  He was within, sitting at his table; not reading,
but gazing moodily at the floor.

"Can I come in, Father?" she asked quietly.

"Is that you, Rachel?  Wait a minute."  He came out to the platform
where the wagons were unloaded, took her hand, and led her through
the dark passage to his room.  When he closed the door he shot the

Mrs. Blake sat down and drew a long breath.  "Well, Father, I've
come over to have a talk with you.  I blame myself I didn't come
before this.  I reckon you know what it's about."

She looked to him for recognition, but he sat frowning at the
floor.  It tried her that he gave her no encouragement, when he
certainly must know what was on her mind.  She was tired, and the
road round by the creek had seemed long.

"Father," she broke out indignantly, "are you going to stand by and
see a good girl brought to ruin without lifting a finger?"

The miller crossed the room and shut down the open window.  His
face had flushed red, and so had Mrs. Blake's.  She went on with
some heat.

"You surely know that rake Mart Colbert is after Nancy day and
night.  He'll have her, in the end.  She's a good girl, but the
Colbert men never let anything get away.  He'll catch her
somewhere, and force her."

Her father clenched his two powerful fists.  "No he won't!  It's
only by the mercy of God I haven't strangled the life out of him
before now."

"Then why don't you do something to save her?"

He made no reply.  His daughter sat watching him in astonishment.
His darkly flushed face, his clenched hands gave her no clue to
what was going on in his mind; struggle of some sort, certainly.
She had always known him quick to act, had never seen him like this

"I may be overstepping my duty," she said at last, "but I couldn't
sit with my hands folded and see what's going on here.  She's come
to me for help, and I couldn't hold back.  I'm a-going to get Nancy
away from here and on the road to freedom."

He looked up now, and met her eyes with a flash in his own.  "If
only it were possible, Rachel--"

"Well, it is possible.  Mr. Fairhead's offered to help me.  It
ain't so hard as it seems to us out here.  Slaves are running away
in plenty now.  He's got Quaker friends that will get the girl into
Pennsylvania.  About five miles out of Martinsburg there's a ferry
will take me and Nancy across the Potomac.  When we get across, a
conveyance will meet us and carry her on from house to house.  In a
day and a night I can get her into safe hands."

"And then what's to become of her?"

"The Quakers will get her somehow over into New York State an' put
her on the cars.  There's a railroad runs right up through Vermont
into Canada, out-a reach of slave-catchers.  He says the railroad
men are glad to help.  It's a-going on all the time now.  They hide
runaway slaves in the baggage cars an' take 'em clear through to

"Montreal?  Now what would a young girl like her do in a big
strange city?  An' they talk nothing but French up there, I've
heard.  You must be gone crazy, Rachel.  There she'd come to harm,
for certain.  A pretty girl like her, she'd be enticed into one of
them houses, like as not."  The miller wiped his forehead with his
big handkerchief.  The closed room was getting very hot.

"Father, I can tell you there's many folks in big cities that are a
sight kinder than some folks on this farm.  You know Mother bears a
hard hand on Nancy, and has for a good while back.  How the girl's
stood it, I don't know.  God forgive me, but it looks to me like
she'd brought that scamp here a-purpose, an' she's tried right
along to throw the girl in his way.  She knows Nancy lays
unprotected out in the open hall every night, where he can sneak
down to her.  He's tried it more'n once, an' the pore thing had to
run in to old Washington in the wine closet, an' he let her have
his cot.  Another time,--"

The miller sprang to his feet, knocking over the chair behind him.
"Hush, Rachel, not another word!  You and me can't talk about such
things.  It ain't right.  What do you come telling this to me for,
if you've fixed it up with Mr. Fairhead and Whitford?  I can't be a
party to make away with your mother's property."

"I come to you because we need money, a hundred dollars, to get her
safe through into Canada.  An' I ain't got it.  If I had, I'd turn
to nobody."

Henry Colbert walked slowly about the room, his eyes downcast.  He
was ashamed to show such irresolution before his daughter.  She
would think he grudged the money, maybe.  The money was there, in
his secretary.  It made her plan possible, made it almost an
accomplished fact; a loss that could never be made up to him.  He
had been humouring himself with the hope that, once Martin was out
of the way, things might be as they used to be.  But every word his
daughter said made him know Nancy could never be the same again,
could never be happy here.  He must face it.

"Rachel," he said presently in his natural voice, "nothing must
pass between you and me on this matter; neither words nor aught
else.  Tomorrow night I will go to bed early, and I will leave my
coat hanging on a chair by the open window here--" he raised the
north window and propped it up on its stick.  "Now I will walk home
with you."

"No, Father, thank you.  We might meet somebody.  I'd sooner we
weren't seen together tonight."

The following night Mrs. Blake came again to the mill by the creek
road.  Her father's room was dark, but the window was open.  She
put in her hand, took out the coat that hung on the chair-back, and
felt through the pockets.  From the inside pocket she took a flat
package of bank-notes.

The miller, in his bed, heard her come and go.  He lay still and
prayed earnestly, for his daughter and for Nancy.  Not a sparrow
falleth to the ground without Thy knowledge.  He would never again
hear that light footstep outside his door.  She would go up out of
Egypt to a better land.  Maybe she would be like the morning star,
this child; the last star of night. . . .  She was to go out from
the dark lethargy of the cared-for and irresponsible; to make her
own way in this world where nobody is altogether free, and the best
that can happen to you is to walk your own way and be responsible
to God only.  Sapphira's darkies were better cared for, better fed
and better clothed, than the poor whites in the mountains.  Yet
what ragged, shag-haired, squirrel-shooting mountain man would
change places with Sampson, his trusted head miller?


Mr. Whitford was to be at Mrs. Blake's house at one o'clock in the
morning.  Starting at that hour, he would be unlikely to meet
travellers on the road, and he would get into Winchester well
before daylight.  He and his passengers were to have an early
breakfast with the old Quaker who was a friend of the miller and of
Mr. Fairhead.  From the Quaker's house they would take the stage
for Martinsburg.  If Mrs. Blake chanced to meet an acquaintance on
the street or in the stage, it was quite natural that she should be
going to Martinsburg on a visit, attended by her mother's maid.

Nancy was to come over to Mrs. Blake's about midnight.  When all
was still at the Mill House, she got up from her pallet, dressed in
the dark, and slipped out of the back door, carrying her shoes and
stockings in one hand, and in the other an old pillowcase stuffed
with her spare clothes and her few belongings.

When she got to the stile, she sat down behind it and put on her
shoes.  It was the dark of the moon, and anyone crossing the meadow
could not easily be recognized.  But if she met anyone, the fact
that she was wearing her winter shawl and a hat would arouse
curiosity.  To travel as Mrs. Blake's lady's maid, she must be
dressed for town.  Her hat was an old black turban of Mrs.
Colbert's.  Till had put a red feather on it when Nancy accompanied
her mistress to Winchester at Easter.

Mrs. Blake was sitting on her doorstep, waiting, and her house was
dark.  She drew a sigh of relief when she saw a figure come out of
the meadow and cross the road.  She met Nancy at the gate, took her
into the parlour, pulled down the blinds, and lighted a candle.

"Now, Nancy, here's my old carpet sack.  I'm going to give it to
you for your own, and you can pack away in it whatever you've got
in your bundle there.  From now on we must look spruce, like we was
going visiting.  I'm glad you've got a feather in your hat.  It's
real becoming to you, and it was a good hat in the first place,
when Mother got it.  I see you've brought along one of the old
reticules.  That will be handy to carry the letters I've written
out for you to show to the Quaker folks, and maybe to the railroad
men, telling how you're a deserving girl and I stand behind you.
But when I give you your money, in Martinsburg, you must put it in
your stockings.  Never let it off your body."

"Oh, Miz' Blake, the reticule ain't mine!  Miss Sapphy give it to
me yisterday, with three pairs a-her good silk stockings for me to
darn.  I did mean to darn 'em today, but some way I jist couldn't
git down to it.  I been kind-a flighty in the haid like.  I'll mend
'em as soon as I git there, an' send 'em back by stage, or
somehow."  Nancy was nervously packing the carpetbag as she spoke.

Mrs. Blake glanced up, and then stepped quickly into the kitchen to
get command of herself.  She thought how vague, even to her, was
this "there" that Nancy spoke of--THERE was Canada, wasn't it?
Mrs. Blake herself had never been farther north than Baltimore.
She had always thought of Boston as very, very far north.  And
Montreal was away, away longer off than Boston.  And Nancy spoke of
sending things back by stage!  For a moment she felt her courage

When she returned to the parlour, she set about straightening the
tidies on the chairs, speaking over her shoulder in a matter-of-
fact tone.  "You better leave your darning right here.  I'll mend
'em up neatly and send 'em over.  Things often get lost on the
stage.  Listen!  There's Mr. Whitford for sure.  He's stopped his
horses at our gate.  I'll get my things on."

A few minutes later Mrs. Blake walked out of her door in her Sunday
best, even to black gloves, and Nancy walked behind her, carrying
the carpet sack.  Mr. Whitford helped them into the back of his
wagon and then untied his horses.  Very soon the team splashed
through Back Creek.  Mrs. Blake had a moment of apprehension and
glanced at Nancy.  But the girl seemed worn out and dulled by the
day's excitement; her head drooped forward on her knees as if she
were dozing.  It was not until they were passing the old Elliot
place, and a jolt over a limestone ledge threw her chair to one
side, that she wakened up.

The houses along the road were all dark.  The first lighted windows
were in the disreputable tavern near Hoag Creek, a place where bad
men got together: moonshiners and sheep-stealers and fist-fighters
who wore brass knuckles in a fight, drank bad whisky, and threw
dice and told dirty stories about decent folk until daybreak.  The
sound of horses' hoofs on the road at this late hour brought the
revellers reeling and shouting out into the road.

"Hold on, stranger, give us a ride up the Gap!  Who be ye?  Issa
damned Gov'ment officer!  Pull him in an' fill him up, fellers.
He's after moonshiners, an' we'll show him some."

"We'll give him a whole bellyful-a moonshine!"

Bill Hooker, who had only one eye and bragged he had never cut his
hair, caught the horses by the bits, but they kicked at him, and he
fell in the road.

"Drag him out," Whitford called, "and go back where you came from.
I'm Whitford, of Back Creek, and I'm carrying a coffin home."

The rowdies let out a spiritless yell or two, and stumbled back
toward the tavern.

"Hope you wasn't scared, Mrs. Blake," said Whitford.  "It's funny;
those fellows don't blink an eye at murder, but they don't like to
interfere with a corpse."


In Martinsburg Mr. Taverner, Mr. Fairhead's cousin, met the stage
and took Mrs. Blake and her companion to his house, where his wife
made them very comfortable.

After dark he drove the two women out to the ferry in his buggy.
He had warned the ferryman that he would be sending two friends
across tonight, so the ferryman asked no questions.  He said "Good
evening, mam," to Mrs. Blake, and held out his hand to help her
into the boat.  Nancy followed.  She had never been in a boat
before, never seen any stream wider than Back Creek.

The Potomac ran strong here, leaped over ledges and boulders with a
roaring sound like a waterfall.  It was cold out on the river, and
the churned water threw up a light spray.  Nancy's winter shawl was
not heavy enough to keep out the chill; Mrs. Blake could feel her
shivering as they sat on the narrow seat.  The boat swayed and
swung on its wire, however carefully the ferryman used his oars to
right it.  Once Mrs. Blake thought they certainly had broken loose.
When they reached shallow water, the ferryman tied up his boat and
helped the two women to climb up the rocks to level ground.  He
called:  "Hello," but there was no answer.

"We got a little cabin here, where passengers waits.  Their folks
is sometimes late comin'.  You better come in an' set down on the
bench till your folks come.  Don't be skeered of nothin'; I'll be
around.  Mr. Taverner told me one of the passengers was to go back.
I'll be right around where you kin call me."

Mrs. Blake and Nancy sat huddled together in the damp little hut
which smelled of tobacco smoke and rotting wood.  A cricket was
chirping sharply inside, and outside was the perpetual, agitating
rush of the river,--a beautiful sound when you are not frightened,
but Nancy was.  And Mrs. Blake was disappointed.  So far, the
journey had been swift and pleasant, but this halt was a little
disturbing.  She could feel the courage oozing out of the girl
beside her.  It might be best to say something, something
practical, to divert Nancy's thoughts.  She asked her to feel
whether her garters were tied tight, and her money safe in her
stockings.  In a flash she knew she had said the wrong thing.  The
girl wilted altogether.

"Oh, Miz' Blake, please mam, take me home!  I can't go off amongst
strangers.  It's too hard.  Let me go back an' try to do better.  I
don't mind Miss Sapphy scoldin'.  Why, she brought me up, an' now
she's sick an' sufferin'.  Look at her pore feet.  I ought-a borne
it better.  Miz' Blake, please mam, I want to go home to the mill
an' my own folks."

"Now don't talk foolish.  What about Martin?"

"I kin keep out-a his way, Miz' Blake.  He won't be there always.
I can't bear it to belong nowheres!"

"You've been a brave girl right along, an' you mustn't fail me now.
I took a big risk to get you this far.  If we went back, Mother
would never forgive you--nor me.  It would be worse than before.
These Quaker folks will be kind to you, an' you'll be bright an'
happy, like you used to be.  If you ain't happy when you get to
your journey's end, I'll fetch you back somehow.  Don't give way,
after all Mr. Fairhead and Mr. Whitford have done for you.
Remember, you were ready to throw yourself in the mill dam."

"Yes'm," the girl breathed.  But Mrs. Blake didn't believe she had
heard her at all.  She couldn't take anything in; her mind was
frozen with homesickness and dread.  After that they sat in

The nerve-racking suspense did not go on much longer.  Through the
rushing of the river Mrs. Blake thought she heard the rattle of
wheels and hoofs over a stony road.

"Listen, I believe they're coming now.  Listen!"  She hurried out
of the cabin, dragging Nancy after her.

An old chaise emerged from the dark wood, and the driver got out.
He was a coloured man, she knew at once from his voice; a negro
preacher, as it proved, and a freed man.  In greeting Mrs. Blake he
took off an old beaver hat, which he wore as the sign of his

"Is this Miz' Blake?  I'm 'fraid I kep' you waitin', mam.  I had
some trouble on de way.  De road, from Williamsport on, is very
bad, an' they's been heavy rains.  De folks sent me along to drive,
'cause Reverend Fairhead wrote how de gal was young an' easy
skeered.  I am a minister of de gospel, well known hereabouts, an'
dey figgered she wouldn't feel so strange wid me."

"I'm glad you came, Uncle.  The girl's lost heart a little.  She's
never been away from home before, an' she's afraid with strangers."

The tall black man turned to Nancy and put a hand on her shoulder.
"Dey ain't strangers, where you're goin', honey.  Dey calls
theyselves Friends, an' dey is friends to all God's people.  You'll
be treated like dey had raised you up from a chile, an' you'll be
passed along on yo' way from one kind fambly to de next.  Dey got a
letter all 'bout you from de Reverend Fairhead, an' dey all feels
'quainted.  We must be goin' now, chile.  We want to git over the
line into Pennsylvany as early tomorrer as we kin."  There was
something solemn yet comforting in his voice, like the voice of
prophecy.  When he gave Nancy his hand, she climbed into the
chaise.  He put her bag in after her, then turned to Mrs. Blake,
still holding his hat over his chest.

"An' you, lady, the Lawd will sho'ly bless you, fo' He said
Hisself:  Blessed is the merciful."

He untied his team and waited a moment, but Nancy never said a
word; not to him, not to Mrs. Blake.  She had stood dumb all the
while the old man spoke to her, as if she were drugged; indeed she
was, by the bitterest of all drugs.  The preacher clucked to his
horses, seeing that the girl had no word of farewell to say.  But
as they started off, Mrs. Blake called out to her:

"Good-bye, Nancy!  We shall meet again."




Mrs. Bywaters's youngest son walked into Mrs. Blake's yard one
morning with a letter.  She was sitting in her parlour by an open
window, sewing.  He took off his cap and went to speak to her
through the window:

"Good day, Mrs. Blake.  I brought a letter for you.  Mother said it
must have been slipped into the letter-box late last night, for she
didn't find it till she was stamping the mail for the stage this
morning.  She thought it might be important, so she sent me down
with it."

"Thank you, Jonathan.  That was real thoughtful of your mother."

After Jonathan went away, Mrs. Blake sat contemplating the envelope
he had brought.  It was addressed in her mother's neat handwriting.
She had heard nothing from the Mill Farm since her return from
Winchester by stage three days ago--except from Bluebell.  That
spineless darky girl (doubtless sent by Lizzie) had come across the
meadow after dark and guilelessly asked Mrs. Blake if she had seen
nothin' of Nancy lately.  Nobody at home had seen her, an' they was
a-gittin' right worried.  Taylor he thought they ought to drag the
mill dam, but Trudy said maybe she was a-stayin' over to Miz
Blake's, or was some'ers Miz Blake knowed about.

No, Mrs. Blake knew nothing of Nancy's whereabouts, and Bluebell
had better run along home, as Mrs. Blake was going to a prayer
meeting at the church.

"Yes'm.  I's a-goin'.  We cain't find out nothin' at home, 'cause
Miss Sapphy ain't once spoke Nancy's name since we foun' her bed
empty one mawnin'.  An' Till ain't spoke her name, nuther.  When
Maw axed her where was Nancy, she jist tole her to mind her
business.  But we 'speck Till had some talk wid de Missus, 'cause
right from the fust day Till's been doin' Master's room an' Mr.
Martin's.  Seem like Till don't miss her gal much.  Las' night when
Taylor axed her mus' he drag de mill dam, she tole him he could do
what he pleased, an' not to come pesterin' her."

Mrs. Blake resolutely put on her bonnet and pointed to the kitchen
door.  When Bluebell went out, she shut it behind her and drew the
bolt.  This was the only word she had had from the mill people.

The letter Jonathan had brought was doubtless something final,
since it bore a stamp and came through the post office.  People on
Back Creek did not send letters to their neighbours through the
post.  A note to be sent up or down the road was not even put into
an envelope.  It was folded, turned down at one corner, and carried
to the addressee by one of the boys or girls about the place.
Government stamps were considered an extravagance.  At last Mrs.
Blake opened the letter and read:

Mistress Blake is kindly requested to make no further visits at the
Mill House.

Sapphira Dodderidge Colbert

Well, that was best, Mrs. Blake agreed, as she folded up the paper.
Her mother would meet this situation with dignity, as she had met
other misfortunes.  She would not set the slave-catchers on to
track Nancy.  She would not question anyone.  She knew, of course,
that the girl could never have got away without help, and this
letter told that she understood who had contrived her escape.  The
Colbert darkies must know that Mrs. Blake's house had been closed
for two days, and that Mary and Betty stayed with Mrs. Bywaters
while their mother was away.  She was sorriest for the hurt this
would be to her mother's pride.  Nancy's disappearance would be the
talk of the neighbourhood.  Every time Mrs. Colbert drove out she
would meet inquiring faces.  The whisperings and surmises among her
own servants would be a trial to her.  Mrs. Blake knew how her
mother hated to be overreached or outwitted, and she was sorry to
have brought another humiliation to one who had already lost so
much: her activity on horse and foot, her fine figure and rosy

The property loss Mrs. Colbert would bear lightly.  Tansy Dave was
certainly a property loss, and she had never complained or tried to
punish him.  But if he had actually run away and stayed in
Baltimore, his mistress would likely enough have had him seized and
brought back.

A girl like Nancy, refined and very pretty, skilful with her needle
and in chamber work, would easily fetch a thousand dollars, maybe
more.  But Mrs. Blake did her mother the justice to believe that
this money out was not the thing that cut to the quick.  She
unfolded the letter again, and as she looked at it, tears rose
slowly to her eyes.

"It's hard for a body to know what to do, sometimes," she murmured
to herself.  "I hate to mortify her.  Maybe I ought to a-thought
about how much she suffers, and her poor feet, like Nancy said to
me that night in the dark cabin by that roaring river.  Maybe I
ought to have thought and waited."

All through the month of August Mrs. Blake was busy sewing for her
girls, to get them ready for school.  She saw no one from the Mill
House except her father, who walked home with her from church every
Sunday.  Nancy's name was never mentioned between them.

One Sunday morning fat Lizzie caught Mrs. Blake outside the church
door and came at her.  "Howdy, Miz Blake.  Now maybe you knows when
Nancy is comin' home?  I axed Miss Sapphy only yiste'day, an' she
says to me she s'posed Nancy'd come back from Ches'nut Hill when
she was sent fur.  Now Tap come up wid a nigger from Ches'nut Hill
in Winchester, an' he tells Tap dey ain't never seen sight a' Nancy
down dar.  It begins to look like Taylor's right, an' she drownded
herse'f in de dam.  He says dat's all a pack a' lies 'bout dem
risin' to de top in fo' days.  She might easy a-ketched on a big
root an' be down dar still."

By this time a dozen eager listeners had gathered round, and Mrs.
Blake gave Lizzie a dark look.  "Here comes your master.  You had
better ask him."

Lizzie turned and saw the miller coming up the path.  With a "God
a'mighty!" she hurried into the church and up the narrow stairs to
the gallery as fast as a woman of her figure could go.

After the first October frosts, when everyone went into the woods
to gather chestnuts and hickory nuts, Mrs. Blake and her two little
girls happened to come upon a nutting party from the Mill House.
Till was among them.  She met Mrs. Blake with such warmth as she
seldom betrayed and called her by her given name.

"It's surely nice to lay eyes on you agin, Miss Rachel.  It does me
good to see you lookin' fine and hearty."

Mrs. Blake asked after her mother's health.

"I'm right worried about her, Miss Rachel.  Doctor Clavenger comes
out from Winchester every week to see her.  Sometimes he draws the
water off, an' then she's easier.  She don't git up for breakfast
no more.  She stays in bed all day till I dresses her an' takes her
into the parlour for tea."

Their talk was suddenly interrupted by shouts and scrambling.  Tap,
the nimblest of the mill boys, had climbed a tall chestnut tree and
was thrashing the branches with a pole.  The little darkies shouted
as the nuts showered down, and all the women fell on their knees
and began scratching among the dried leaves and stuffing the nuts
into their bags and baskets.  Till and Mrs. Blake picked side by
side, and once when they were bending over close together, Till
asked in a low, cautious murmur:  "You ain't heard nothin', Miss

"Not yet.  When I do hear, I'll let you know.  I saw her into good
hands, Till.  I don't doubt she's in Canada by this time, amongst
English people."

"Thank you, mam, Miss Rachel.  I can't say no more.  I don't want
them niggers to see me cryin'.  If she's up there with the English
folks, she'll have some chance."


No one on Back Creek could remember a finer autumn; frosts before
sunrise, summer heat at noon, chill nights.  All morning the
mountain lay in a soft blue haze, and in the afternoon broad fans
of heavy golden sunlight warmed its back and flanks.  The colour on
the hillsides, in the low meadows, and along the streams had never
been more brilliant.  Little rain fell in October, and the trees
held their leaves.  The great maples in Mrs. Blake's yard were like
blazing torches; scarlet leaves fluttered softly down to the green
turf, leaving the boughs above still densely covered.

With November the weather changed.  Heavy rains set in.  There was
scarcely a clear day.  The earth was soon soaked, the meadows
became boggy, and all the streams rose.  Back Creek overflowed its
low banks and rushed yellow and foaming into the mill road.  The
schoolroom under the Baptist Church, set deep in the hillside,
became very damp.  Suddenly David Fairhead's school was closed;
nearly half his pupils were in bed with ulcerated throats or

It was a rare winter when there was not an outbreak of diphtheria
in Hayfield or Back Creek or Timber Ridge.  This year it came
before winter began.  Doctor Brush rode with his saddle-bags all
day long from house to house, never bothering to wash his hands
when he came or went.  His treatment was to scour throats with a
mixture of sulphur and molasses, and to forbid his patients both
food and water.  If he found "white spots," he declared the case
diphtheria, and the patient was starved until the spots were gone.
Few children survived his treatment.

Late one evening in the week after the school had been closed, Mr.
Whitford was driving his covered spring-wagon along the big road,
carrying two coffins up to Timber Ridge.  As he passed Mrs. Blake's
house he saw that her front door stood wide open, and a flickering
light came from the parlour windows.  This was a signal to passers-
by that help of some sort was needed within.  As he slowed his
team, Mrs. Blake herself ran out into the road to hail him.

"We're in trouble here, Mr. Whitford.  Both my girls are sick, and
I want you to carry word to the post office.  Yes sir, they've been
ailing with colds since yesterday, but tonight, just after supper,
they were taken very bad.  Maybe Mrs. Bywaters can come down to
help me.  And maybe she can send one of her boys along with you to
hunt for the doctor.  He's likely somewhere on the ridge.  I
daren't leave the house, and not a soul has come along the road
till you."

"I'll get somebody here in no time, Mrs. Blake.  Don't you worry,
mam."  Mr. Whitford whipped up his horses.

At the post office there was a brief consultation between Mrs.
Bywaters and David Fairhead.  Most people, though not all, believed
that diphtheria was "catching."  Clearly the postmistress, who had
to be on duty and see people every day, should not go where there
was a contagious disease.  Fairhead said he would go: Whitford
could carry him back to Mrs. Blake's, then drive up to Timber
Ridge, deliver his coffins, and trail Doctor Brush until he found

When Fairhead reached Mrs. Blake's house, he found her in an
upstairs bedroom, holding the wash-basin for Betty, who was
nauseated.  After she laid the child back on her pillow, she rose
and said:  "Oh, I'm glad it's you, David."  She fronted him with a
strange, dark look which frightened him.  He was very fond of these
children.  He stood still and tried to think.  Mrs. Blake had got
the girls into their nightgowns, braided their hair, and put them
into two cots in the room they shared together.  Fairhead told her
he felt sure they ought not to be in the same room.

"There's the spare room, across the hall, David.  The bed's made
up.  You can carry Mary over and put her in it."

Toward morning Mr. Whitford brought word that Doctor Brush would
stop at Mrs. Blake's about sun-up, if she would have a good
breakfast and plenty of coffee ready for him.  The doctor came,
looked down the girls' throats, found his "white spots," and seated
himself in the dining-room to enjoy his breakfast.  Immediately
David Fairhead started for the mill.

The miller was standing before his little looking-glass, in the act
of shaving, when Fairhead called to him through the open window.

"Mr. Colbert, I've come from Mrs. Blake's house.  Both her little
girls are sick with bad throats.  Doctor Brush is over there now.
I thought you might like to talk to him before he leaves."

The miller put down his razor, caught up his coat, and set off with
David across the meadow.  When he came home an hour later, he went
directly to his wife's room and sat down beside her.

"Sapphira, I was called over to Rachel's.  The trouble has reached
her house.  Both the girls are down with it."

She rose on her pillows and gave him a searching look.  "You mean
it's diphtheria?"

"That's what Brush says."

"Brush!  Why, the man's a complete ignoramus!  It may be measles,
for all he knows.  Have you sent to town for my doctor?"

"No.  I've only just got back from Rachel's.  I thought I'd better
consult you.  It's come so sudden I've hardly had time to realize

"But why haven't you sent for Clavenger?"  She reached under her
pillow for the bell and rang it vigorously.  Old Washington

"Washington, send somebody down to the mill for Tap.  This minute,
as fast as you can get him here.  Now, Henry, you must start Tap
off for Winchester on your own horse.  Who has Rachel got over
there to help her?"

"David Fairhead left Mrs. Bywaters's in the middle of the night and
went down.  He is going to stay with them.  He's a better nurse
than any of the women around here."

His wife scarcely heard him.  "There comes Tap.  Call him in here.
I want to talk to him, and you see to saddling Victor."

Tap came to the chamber door, which the Master had left ajar, and
called softly through the crack:  "You wants to see me, Miss

"Yes, I do.  Come in."

The boy came in, holding a rag of a hat in his two hands.  The
darky men never went about the place without some sort of hat on
their heads.

"Now, Tap, listen to me," she began sternly.  Tap stood rigid; he
opened his eyes, prepared for a scolding.  "I'm sending you to town
to get Doctor Clavenger.  My two granddaughters are very sick."

The black boy stared at her, his shoulders went slack.  "Not Miz
Blake's li'l gals, mam?" he asked wistfully.

"Yes, Mary and Betty have diphtheria, and you must go and get
Doctor Clavenger here as quick as you can.  You can ride faster
than Mr. Henry or Sampson, because you are lighter.  I can't write
to Doctor Clavenger, my hand is too bad" (she held it up), "so you
must explain to the doctor that children are dying around here
every day, and I will never forgive him if he don't get out to us
before night.  You understand this is serious, Tap?"

Tap squeezed his crumpled hat tighter to his chest.  "You kin
depen' on me, Miss Sapphy.  I'll git de doctah, I'll fetch 'im
back.  You kin depen' on me."  His naturally lively voice had sunk
to something deep and shadowy.  He slipped out of the room, and
only a few minutes later his mistress saw him flash down the
driveway on Victor, the fast trotter.

Word of why Tap was going to town had got through the house, and
Till came unbidden to Mrs. Colbert.  She stood at the foot of the
bed in her usual correct attitude, her hands under her white apron.

"Kin I do anything, Miss Sapphy?"

"Yes, Till, you can.  I want you to go over to Mrs. Blake's and see
how things are.  Mr. Henry has been over, but men don't notice very
close.  And you take one of the boys along, to carry a bundle of
clean sheets and pillowcases.  Rachel can't have many ahead,
because she's always giving them away.  While you're there, look
around sharp for what's needed.  Don't ask Rachel, but just see for
yourself.  And if you're not afraid, slip in and peep at the
children, and tell me how they look."

"It ain't likely I'd be afraid, Missy.  Who must I tell to wait in,
if you rings your bell?"

Mrs. Colbert gave a dry, sad little laugh:  "Well, there isn't
anybody BUT you, now, Till.  You might ask Washington and Trudy to
sit outside in the hall."


Tap came back from Winchester, but he came alone.  Doctor Clavenger
had been called to Berryville to do a critical operation which the
local doctor dared not undertake.  Mrs. Clavenger, his wife, sent a
letter to Mrs. Colbert, promising that as soon as her husband got
home he would mount a fresh horse and start for Back Creek.  She
thought, indeed she felt sure, that he would be there by midday
tomorrow.  To the miller and Fairhead, who were awaiting him at
Mrs. Blake's, tomorrow seemed a long way off.

It was heart-breaking to see the children suffer, and to hear them
beg for water.  Their grandfather could not bear it.  He went home,
and digging down into the sawdust of the icehouse under his mill,
he found some lumps of last year's ice.  It was going soft, maybe a
little wormy, but he brought it over and let the girls hold bits of
it in their mouths.  He was not afraid of Doctor Brush, and he had
authority as the head of his family.  The ice helped them through
the long afternoon.

Fairhead insisted on sitting up with the patients that night.  Mrs.
Blake would relieve him at four o'clock in the morning.  The two
had an early supper together in the kitchen.  As Mrs. Blake went up
the back stairs, she called down:  "I've made a chicken broth for
you, David, and left it there on the table to cool.  Put some
hickory sticks in the stove to hold the fire, and you can warm it
up any time in the night you feel the need of it."

Fairhead went out into the yard to get the cool air into his lungs.
Sick-rooms were kept tightly closed in those days.  The blue
evening was dying into dusk, and silvery stars were coming out
faintly over the pines on the hill.  Fairhead was deeply
discouraged.  He believed Doctor Clavenger would know just what to
do; but tomorrow might be too late.

Clavenger was everything that poor old Brush was not: intelligent,
devoted to his profession--and a gentleman.  He had come to
practise in Frederick County by accident.  While he was on the
staff of a hospital in Baltimore, he fell in love with a Winchester
girl who was visiting in the city.  After he found that she would
never consent to live anywhere but in her native town, he gave up
the promise of a fine city practice and settled in Winchester.  A
foolish thing to do, but Clavenger was like that.

While Fairhead was walking up and down the yard, he kept an eye on
the windows of Mrs. Blake's upstairs bedroom.  As soon as the
candlelight shone there, it would be time for him to go to his
patients.  He circled the house, picked up some sticks from the
wood-pile, and was about to go into the kitchen when he saw through
the window something which startled him.  A white figure emerged
from the stairway and drifted across the indoor duskiness of the
room.  It was Mary, barefoot, in her nightgown, as if she were
walking in her sleep.  She reached the table, sank down on a wooden
chair, and lifted the bowl of broth in her two hands.  (She must
have smelled the hot soup up in her bedroom; the stair door had
been left open.)  She drank slowly, resting her elbows on the
table.  Streaks of firelight from the stove flickered over her and
over the whitewashed walls and ceiling.  Fairhead knew he ought to
go in and take the soup from her.  But he was unable to move or to
make a sound.  There was something solemn in what he saw through
the window, like a Communion service.

After the girl had vanished up the stairway, he still stood
outside, looking into the empty room, wondering at himself.  He
remembered how sometimes in dreams a trivial thing took on a
mysterious significance one could not explain.  He might have
thought he had been dreaming now, except that, when at last he went
inside, he found his soup bowl empty.

Fairhead climbed the stairs slowly and went to Betty's room.  After
he had washed out her throat with a clumsy thing called a swab, he
got the last morsel of ice (wrapped in sacking on the window sill)
and put it in her mouth.  She looked up at him gratefully and tried
to smile.  He whispered that he would soon come back to her, took
the candle, and crossed the hall to Mary's room.  He did not know
what he might find there.  He listened at the crack of the door;
dead silence.  Shading the light with his hand, he went in softly
and approached the bed.  Mary was lying on her side, fast asleep.
Last night she had not slept at all, but tossed and begged for
water.  Her mother, who had sat up with her, said she was delirious
and had to be held down in bed.  Fairhead leaned over her; yes, the
evil smell was on her breath, but anyhow he was not going to waken
her to wash her throat.  He went back to Betty, who liked to have
him turn her pillow and sit near her.

Mary slept all night.  When Mrs. Blake came in at four in the
morning and held her candle before the girl's face, she knew that
she was better.

Doctor Clavenger rode up to the hitch-block about noon.  He had
dismounted and tied his horse before Fairhead could cross the yard
to greet him.  The doctor looked as fresh as if he had not been
without sleep for more than thirty hours.  He said the ride out had
rested him, adding:  "It's beautiful country."  There was even a
flush of colour in his swarthy cheeks, and as he shook hands he
gave David a warm, friendly look from his hazel eyes, which in some
lights were frankly green.

"I am glad to find you here, David.  You will be a great help to
me, as you were when Doctor Sellers had pleurisy.  Now, in the
first place, can you get word to the mill and ask Mr. Colbert to
send over a fresh horse for me?  I am hoping he can take my mare to
his stable and rest her overnight.  I will ride her back to town

"Yes, sir.  Till is in the kitchen.  She will carry the message."

"Good."  He took the young man's arm and walked slowly toward the
house.  At the front door he stopped, turned round, and stood
looking back at the blue slopes of the North Mountain.  "How much
better the line of the mountain is from here than from Mrs.
Colbert's yard!"  He traced the long backbone of the ridge in the
air with his finger.  After taking a deep breath, he went inside.

When he greeted Mrs. Blake in the hallway, he asked very
courteously for a pitcher of fresh water and two glasses; his ride,
he said, had made him thirsty.  David dropped the saddle-bags he
was carrying and ran out to the springhouse for cold water.  Doctor
Clavenger thanked him and drank with evident gratification.  Then
he delicately waved Mrs. Blake to the stairway and followed her,
carrying the pitcher and the two glasses, which she supposed were
to be used for medicines.  But the first thing he did was to lift
Mary on his arm and hold a glass one-third full to her lips.  She
swallowed it eagerly and easily.  He laid her down, crossed the
hall, and did the same for Betty.  When she choked and gurgled, he
said soothingly:  "That's very good.  Some of it went down; enough
for this time."

Mrs. Blake and Fairhead both stood by while he examined his
patients, but he asked few questions of them.  He was deliberate
and at ease.  He looked at the children, even at their throats,
very much as he had looked at the mountain--sympathetically, almost
admiringly, David thought.  If Mrs. Blake spoke up to give him
information about the course of their illness, he raised his hand
in gentle rebuke.  He talked to the children, however, while he was
working over them, talked soothingly, as if he had come to make
things pleasant for them.  Even when they saw the swabs coming,
they felt no dread.  His swabs were very different from Dr.
Brush's, and he did not use sulphur and molasses.  He stayed with
them nearly two hours, and as he left he blew a kiss to each with:
"Be good girls for me, until I come tomorrow."

When he went downstairs, he gave Mrs. Blake and Fairhead clear and
positive instructions, saying in conclusion:

"Leave the windows open as I put them, Mrs. Blake.  This is a fine
day at last,--let the air and sunlight into their rooms.  They will
not take cold, but if you are afraid of that, put more blankets
over them.  And tell your father he must try to find more bits of
ice in that cave of his, for the little girls."

Fairhead went with the doctor to the hitch-post, where the miller's
horse stood in readiness.  "Doctor Clavenger, could you spare me a
moment?  There's something I think I ought to tell you."

The doctor sat down on the lower step of the hitch-block, leaned
back against the second step, and relaxed into a position of ease,
as if he meant to spend the afternoon there looking at the
mountain.  When David began to tell him what he had seen in the
kitchen last night, he listened attentively, with his peculiar
expression of thinking directly behind his eyes.  He did not once
interrupt, but when David ended with:  "and I can't believe she is
any the worse for it," the doctor gave him a quizzical smile.

"We'd best keep this a secret between ourselves, here on Back
Creek.  The child was hungry.  Your warm broth satisfied that
craving, and she went to sleep.  Her system began to take up what
it needed.  That's very simple.  What surprises me is that you were
struck dumb outside the window and did not go blundering in and
take the child's chance away from her."  The doctor stepped up on
the block (he was a short man) and swung his leg over the saddle.

Late the next afternoon Mrs. Colbert was sitting by the parlour
fire, her chair turned so that she could look out of the north
windows.  Since midsummer she had, without comment, changed her
habit of life.  Now she did not leave her bed until tea-time.  She
was watching the meadow path, anxiously awaiting her husband's
return.  He had been over at Rachel's since morning, and Doctor
Clavenger, she knew, had come out soon after midday.  She could not
understand why some word of how he found the children had not been
sent her.

At last she saw the miller coming across the meadow.  She shook her
head and sighed.  His slow gait, the slackness of his shoulders,
told her that he brought no good news.  As he came through the yard
he did not look up or glance toward the windows.  She heard him
open and close the front door, but he did not come in to her at
once.  When he came he did not speak, but stood by her chair,
stooping down to warm his hands at the fire.

"Poor Rachel," he brought out at last, "little Betty has gone."

"Oh, Henry!  Couldn't Clavenger do anything?"

"I reckon not.  It was so sudden.  It happened while he was there.
I was in Mary's room, and all at once he came to the door and
lifted his finger, looking at me sharp.  I went back with him, and
in a minute she was gone; just slipped away without a struggle,
like she was dropping asleep.  At first we couldn't believe it."

"And Mary?"

"She is better.  Clavenger says she will get well.  We must be
thankful.  But Betty was my little dear."

Mrs. Colbert reached out and caught his hand.  "I know, Henry.  I
know.  But these things are beyond us.  One shall be left and the
other taken.  It's beyond us."  She was silent for a moment.
Suddenly she gripped his cold fingers and broke out with something
of her old masterfulness:  "And, Henry, Mary will get SO MUCH MORE
out of life!"

"More for herself, maybe," the miller sighed.  "But I doubt if she
will be as much comfort to others.  The gentle spirit has left us."

"Sit down, dear.  Get my old hassock yonder and sit low, close to
the fire.  Your hands are like ice.  This is a time when we must
both think."  She reached under the tea-table for the red flask and
poured the rum into her empty teacup.  He drank it obediently.  She
knew he was too tired to talk, so they sat in silence.  When
Washington came in for the tray, she put her finger to her lips and
pointed to the hot-water jug.  He understood that meant fresh tea
for the Master.  In a few moments he brought it, and left without
making a sound.  Supper was ready, but he saw this was no time to
speak of it.

All this while the Mistress was thinking, turning things over in
her mind.  She had not seen Rachel since Nancy's disappearance,
months ago.  She was wondering how far she could count upon
herself.  At last, when she had quite made up her mind, she put her
hand on her husband's drooping shoulder.

"Henry, it will be hard for Rachel and Mary over in that house now.
Everything will remind them.  Why not ask them to come here and
spend the winter with us?  I would like to have them, on my own
account.  I'm not as able as I was last year.  Rachel is very
proud, but I expect if you told her I have failed, and we ought to
have someone here, she would come.  Mary would be nice company for
me.  I miss the child when I don't see her.  And if anything was to
happen to me, the place wouldn't run down and be so lonesome like
for you.  Till is a good housekeeper, but the other darkies
wouldn't mind her one week if there wasn't a woman of the family to
stand behind her.  You'd soon have bedlam here.  Rachel and Till
together would keep things up as they ought to be."

Colbert felt a chill run through him.  Sapphira had never before
spoken to him of the possibility that something might happen to her
this winter.  Though now she mentioned this very casually, it
struck terror to his heart.  He seemed in a moment to feel sharply
so many things he had grown used to and taken for granted: her long
illness, with all its discomforts, and the intrepid courage with
which she had faced the inevitable.  He reached out for her two
hands and buried his face in her palms.  She felt his tears wet on
her skin.  For a long while he crouched thus, leaning against her
chair, his head on her knee.

He had never understood his wife very well, but he had always
been proud of her.  When she was young, she was fearless and
independent, she held her head high and made this Mill House a
place where town folks liked to come.  After she was old and ill,
she never lowered her flag; not even now, when she knew the end was
not far off.  He had seen strong men quail and whimper at the
approach of death.  He, himself, dreaded it.  But as he leaned
against her chair with his face hidden, he knew how it would be
with her; she would make her death easy for everyone, because she
would meet it with that composure which he had sometimes called
heartlessness, but which now seemed to him strength.  As long as
she was conscious, she would be mistress of the situation and of

After this long silence, in which he seemed to know that she
followed his thoughts, he lifted his head, still holding fast to
her hands, and spoke falteringly.  "Yes, dear wife, do let us have
Rachel here.  You are a kind woman to think of it.  You are good to
a great many folks, Sapphy."

"Not so good as Rachel, with her basket!"  She turned it off
lightly, tweaking his ear.

"There are different ways of being good to folks," the miller held
out stubbornly, as if this idea had just come to him and he was not
to be teased into letting go of it.  "Sometimes keeping people in
their place is being good to them."

"Perhaps.  We would all do better if we had our lives to live over
again."  She was silent for a moment, then added thoughtfully:
"Take it all in all, though, we have had many happy years here, and
we both love the place.  Neither of us would be easy anywhere



(Epilogue--Twenty-five years later)


Twenty-five years had passed since Mrs. Blake took her mother's
slave girl across the Potomac.  The Civil War, which came on so
soon after Nancy ran away, was long gone by when Back Creek folks
saw the yellow girl again.

In all that time the country between Romney and Winchester had
changed very little.  The same families were living on their old
places.  There were new people at the Colbert mill, of course, and
several new brick houses with ambitious porticos now stood on the
turnpike between Winchester and Timber Ridge.  But the wooden foot-
bridge over Back Creek hung just as it did in the Colberts' time, a
curious "suspension" bridge, without piles, swung from the far-
reaching white limb of a great sycamore that grew on the bank and
leaned over the stream.  Mrs. Bywaters, though now an old woman,
was still the postmistress.  She had not been removed in the
"carpetbag" period, when so many questionable Government
appointments were made.  During the war years, when Federal troops
were marching up and down the valley, her well-known Northern
sympathies stood the Confederate soldiers in good stead.  When they
were home on leave, they could always hide from search parties in
her rambling garrets.  Her house was exempt from search.

The war made few enmities in the country neighbourhoods.  When
Willie Gordon, a Rebel boy from Hayfield, was wounded in the Battle
of Bull Run, it was Mr. Cartmell, Mrs. Bywaters's father, who went
after him in his hay-wagon, got through the Federal lines, and
brought him home.  While the boy lay dying from gangrene in a
shattered leg (Doctor Brush never attempted an amputation, and
Doctor Clavenger was far away on Lee's staff), the Hayfield people,
regardless of political differences, came in relays, night and day,
and did the only thing that relieved his pain a little: they
carried cold water from the springhouse and with a tin cup poured
it steadily over his leg for hours at a time.

Mr. Whitford's son enlisted in the Northern army, as his father's
son might be expected to do.  His nearest neighbour, Mr. Jeffers,
had a son in Ashby's cavalry.  The fathers remained friends, worked
their bordering fields, and talked to each other across the rail
fence as they had always done.  Both men admired young Turner Ashby
of Fauquier County, who held the Confederate line from Berkeley
Springs to Harpers Ferry,--so near home that word of his brilliant
cavalry exploits came out to Back Creek with the stage-driver.  The
war news from distant places came slowly, sometimes long after the
event, but Stonewall Jackson and Ashby, both operating in Frederick
County, gave people plenty to talk about.

Ashby fell in the second year of the war, shot through the heart
after his horse had been killed under him, leading a victorious
charge near Harrisonburg, on the sixth day of June.  Even today, if
you should be motoring through Winchester on the sixth of June, and
should stop to see the Confederate cemetery, you would probably
find fresh flowers on Ashby's grave.  He was all that the old-time
Virginians admired:  Like Paris handsome and like Hector brave.
And he died young.  "Shortlived and glorious," the old Virginians
used to say.

After Lee's surrender, the country boys from Back Creek and Timber
Ridge came home to their farms and set to work to reclaim their
neglected fields.  The land was still there, but few horses were
left to work it with.  In the movement of troops to and fro between
Romney and Winchester, all the livestock had been carried away.
Even the cocks and hens had been snapped up by the foragers.

The Rebel soldiers who came back were tired, discouraged, but not
humiliated or embittered by failure.  The country people accepted
the defeat of the Confederacy with dignity, as they accepted death
when it came to their families.  Defeat was not new to those men.
Almost every season brought defeat of some kind to the farming
people.  Their cornfields, planted by hand and cultivated with the
hoe, were beaten down by hail, or the wheat was burned up by
drouth, or cholera broke out among the pigs.  The soil was none too
fertile, and the methods of farming were not very good.

The Back Creek boys were glad to be at home again; to see the sun
come up over one familiar hill and go down over another.  Now they
could mend the barn roof where it leaked, help the old woman with
her garden, and keep the wood-pile high.  They had gone out to
fight for their home State, had done their best, and now it was
over.  They still wore their army overcoats in winter, because they
had no others, and they worked the fields in whatever rags were
left of their uniforms.  The day of Confederate reunions and
veterans' dinners was then far distant.

When Nancy came back after so many years, though the outward scene
was little changed, she came back to a different world.  The young
men of 1856 were beginning to grow grey, and the children who went
to David Fairhead's basement school were now married and had
children of their own.

This new generation was gayer and more carefree than their
forbears, perhaps because they had fewer traditions to live up to.
The war had done away with many of the old distinctions.  The young
couples were poor and extravagant and jolly.  They were much given
to picnics and camp-meetings in summer, sleighing parties and
dancing parties in the winter.  Every ambitious young farmer kept a
smart buggy and a double carriage, but these were used for Sunday
church-going and trips to Winchester and Capon Springs.  The
saddle-horse was still the usual means of getting about the
neighbourhood.  The women made social calls, went to the post
office and the dressmaker, on horseback.  A handsome woman (or a
pretty girl) on a fine horse was a charming figure to meet on the
road; the close-fitting riding-habit with long skirt, the little
hat with the long plume.  Cavalry veterans rose in the stirrup to
salute her as she flashed by.


It was a brilliant, windy March day; all the bare hills were still
pale fawn colour, and high above them puffy white clouds went
racing like lambs let out to pasture in the spring.  I was
something over five years old, and was kept in bed on that
memorable day because I had a cold.  I was in my mother's bedroom,
in the third storey of a big old brick house entered by a white
portico with fluted columns.  Propped on high pillows, I could see
the clouds drive across the bright, cold blue sky, throwing rapid
shadows on the steep hillsides.  The slats of the green window
shutters rattled, the limp cordage of the great willow trees in the
yard was whipped and tossed furiously by the wind.  It was the last
day I would have chosen to stay indoors.

I had been put into my mother's bed so that I could watch the
turnpike, then a macadam road with a blue limestone facing.  It ran
very near us, between the little creek at the foot of our long
front yard and the base of the high hills which shut the winter sun
from us early.

It was a weary wait for the stage that morning.  Usually we could
hear the rattle of the iron-tired wheels and the click of the four
shod horses before they came round the curve where the flint
milestone with deep-cut letters said:  ROMNEY--35 MILES.  But today
there was a high wind from the west.  Maybe we could not hear the
stage coming, Mrs. Blake remarked to Aunt Till.

For I was not alone in the room.  Two others were there to keep me
company.  Mrs. Blake sat with her hands lying at rest in her lap.
She looked almost as if she were in church.  Aunt Till was sitting
beside her; a spare, neat little old darky, bent at the shoulders
but still holding herself straight from the hips.  The two
conversed very little; they were waiting and watching, just as I
was.  Occasionally my mother came in, going with her quick,
energetic step to the window and peering out.  She was young, and
she had not the patience of the two old women.

"Don't get excited," she would say to me.  "It may be a long while
before the stage comes."

Even my father was awaiting the stage.  He had not gone out to cut
timber with the men today, but had sent them into the woods with
Moses, son of the Colberts' old Taylor, as the boss.  Father was
down in his basement tool-room under the portico steps, tinkering
at something.  Probably he was making yellow leather shoes for the
front paws of his favourite shepherd dog--she wore out so many,
racing up and down the stony hillsides in performing her duties.

There was as much restlessness inside the house as there was
outside in the wind and clouds and trees, for today Nancy was
coming home from Montreal, and she would ride out from Winchester
on the stage.  She had been gone now for twenty-five years.

Ever since I could remember anything, I had heard about Nancy.
My mother used to sing me to sleep with:

     Down by de cane-brake, close by de mill,
     Dar lived a yaller gal, her name was Nancy Till.

I never doubted the song was made about our Nancy.  I knew she had
long been housekeeper for a rich family away up in Canada, where it
was so cold, Till said, if you threw a tin-cupful of water into the
air, it came down ice.  Nancy sometimes wrote to her mother, and
always sent her fifty dollars at Christmas.

Suddenly my mother hurried into the room.  Without a word she
wrapped me in a blanket, carried me to the curved lounge by the
window, and put me down on the high head-rest, where I could look
out.  There it came, the stage, with a trunk on top, and the
sixteen hoofs trotting briskly round the curve where the milestone

Mrs. Blake and Aunt Till had followed my mother and now stood
behind us.  We saw my father running down the front yard.  The
stage stopped at the rustic bridge which crossed our little creek.
The steps at the back were let down, my father reached up to hand
someone out.  A woman in a long black coat and black turban
alighted.  She carried a hand-satchel; her trunk was to go to
Till's cabin on the old mill place.  They crossed the bridge and
came up the brick walk between the boxwood hedges.  Then I was put
back into bed, and Mrs. Blake and Till returned to their chairs.
The actual scene of the meeting had been arranged for my benefit.
When I cried because I was not allowed to go downstairs and see
Nancy enter the house, Aunt Till had said:  "Never mind, honey.
You stay right here, and I'll stay right here.  Nancy'll come up,
and you'll see her as soon as I do."  Mrs. Blake stayed with us.
My mother went down to give Nancy the hand of welcome.

I heard them talking on the stairs and in the hall; my parents'
voices excited and cordial, and another voice, low and pleasant,
but not exactly "hearty," it seemed to me,--not enough so for the

Till had already risen; when the stranger followed my mother into
the room, she took a few uncertain steps forward.  She fell meekly
into the arms of a tall, gold-skinned woman, who drew the little
old darky to her breast and held her there, bending her face down
over the head scantily covered with grey wool.  Neither spoke a
word.  There was something Scriptural in that meeting, like the
pictures in our old Bible.

After those few moments of tender silence, the visitor released
Aunt Till with a gentle stroke over her bent shoulders, and turned
to Mrs. Blake.  Tears were shining in the deep creases on either
side of Mrs. Blake's nose.  "Well, Nancy, child, you've made us
right proud of you," she said.  Then, for the first time, I saw
Nancy's lovely smile.  "I never forget who it was took me across
the river that night, Mrs. Blake."

When Nancy laid aside her long black coat, I saw with astonishment
that it was lined with grey fur, from top to toe!  We had no coats
like that on Back Creek.  She took off her turban and brushed back
a strand of her shiny, blue-black hair.  She wore a black silk
dress.  A gold watch-chain was looped about her neck and came down
to her belt, where the watch was tucked away in a little pocket.

"Now we must sit down and talk," said my mother.  That was what one
always said to visitors.  While they talked, I looked and listened.
Nancy had always been described to me as young, gold-coloured, and
"lissome"--that was my father's word.

"Down by de cane-brake, close by de mill, Dar lived a yaller gal--"
That was the picture I had carried in my mind.  The stranger who
came to realize that image was forty-four years old.  But though
she was no longer lissome, she was other things.  She had, I
vaguely felt, presence.  And there was a charm about her voice,
though her speech was different from ours on Back Creek.  Her words
seemed to me too precise, rather cutting in their unfailing
distinctness.  Whereas Mrs. Blake used to ask me if she should read
to me from my "hist'ry book" (Peter Parley's Universal), Nancy
spoke of the his-to-ry of Canada.  I didn't like that pronunciation.
Even my father said "hist'ry."  Wasn't that the right and easy way
to say it?  Nancy put into many words syllables I had never heard
sounded in them before.  That repelled me.  It didn't seem a
friendly way to talk.

Her speech I counted against her.  But I liked the way she sat in
her chair, the shade of deference in her voice when she addressed
my mother, and I liked to see her move about,--there was something
so smooth and measured in her movements.  I noticed it when she
went to get her handbag, and opened it on the foot of my bed, to
show us the pictures of her husband and three children.  She spoke
of her mistress as Madam, and her master as Colonel Kenwood.  The
family were in England for the spring, and that was why Nancy was
able to come home and visit her mother.  She could stay exactly six
weeks; then she must go back to Montreal to get the house ready for
the return of the family.  Her husband was the Kenwoods' gardener.
He was half Scotch and half Indian.

Nancy was to be at our house for the midday dinner.  Then she would
walk home with her mother, to stay with her in the old cabin of her
childhood.  The "new miller," as he was still called, though he had
now been running the mill for some seventeen years, was a kind man
from over the Blue Ridge.  He let Till stay on in her cabin behind
the Mill House, work her own garden patch, and even keep a pig or

When my mother and father and Mrs. Blake went down to dinner, Nancy
and Till sat where they were, hand in hand, and went on talking as
if I were not there at all.  Nancy was telling her mother about her
husband and children, how they had a cottage to themselves at the
end of the park, and how the work was divided between the men and
the maids.

Suddenly Till interrupted her, looking up into her face with
idolatrous pride.

"Nancy, darlin', you talks just like Mrs. Matchem, down at Chestnut
Hill!  I loves to hear you."

Presently they were called downstairs to the second table, to eat
the same dinner as the family, served by the same maid (black
Moses' Sally).  My mother gave me an egg-nog to quiet me and pulled
down the blinds.  I was tired out with excitement and went to

During her stay on Back Creek Nancy came often with her mother to
our house.  She used to bring a small carpetbag, with her sewing
and a fresh apron, and insisted upon helping Mrs. Blake and Moses'
Sally in whatever housework was under way.  She begged to be
allowed to roast the coffee.  "The smell of it is sweeter than
roses to me, Mrs. Blake," she said laughing.  "Up there the coffee
is always poor, so I've learned to drink tea.  As soon as it's
browned, I'll grind a little and make us all a cup, by your leave."

Our kitchen was almost as large as a modern music-room, and to me
it was the pleasantest room in the house,--the most interesting.
The parlour was a bit stiff when it was not full of company, but
here everything was easy.  Besides the eight-hole range, there was
a great fireplace with a crane.  In winter a roaring fire was kept
up in it at night, after the range fire went out.  All the indoor
and outdoor servants sat round the kitchen fireplace and cracked
nuts and told stories until they went to bed.

We had three kitchen tables: one for kneading bread, another for
making cakes and pastry, and a third with a zinc top, for
dismembering fowls and rabbits and stuffing turkeys.  The tall
cupboards stored sugar and spices and groceries; our farm wagons
brought supplies out from Winchester in large quantities.  Behind
the doors of a very special corner cupboard stood all the jars of
brandied fruit, and glass jars of ginger and orange peel soaking in
whisky.  Canned vegetables, and the preserved fruits not put down
in alcohol, were kept in a very cold cellar: a stream ran through
it, actually!

Till and Nancy usually came for dinner, and after the dishes were
washed they sat down with Mrs. Blake in the wooden rocking-chairs
by the west window where the sunlight poured in.  They took out
their sewing or knitting from the carpetbag, and while the pound
cake or the marble cake was baking in a slow oven, they talked
about old times.  I was allowed to sit with them and sew patchwork.
Sometimes their talk was puzzling, but I soon learned that it was
best never to interrupt with questions,--it seemed to break the
spell.  Nancy wanted to know what had happened during the war, and
what had become of everybody,--and so did I.

While she sat drawing her crochet hook in and out, she would say:
"And what ever did become of Lizzie and Bluebell after Miss Sapphy

Then Till would speak up:  "Why, ain't I told you how Mr. Henry
freed 'em right after Missy died, when he freed all the niggers?
But it was hard to git rid of free niggers befo' the war.  He
surely had a sight a' trouble gittin' shet of them two!  Even after
he'd got Lizzie a good place at the Taylor House hotel in
Winchester, they kep' makin' excuse to stay on, hangin' 'round the
kitchen.  In the end he had to drive 'em into town himself an' put
'em down at the hotel, an' tole 'em fur the las' time they wasn't
needed at the mill place no more.  You know he never did like them
two niggers.  He took a wonderful lot a' trouble gittin' good
places fur his people.  You remembers Sampson, honey?"

"Why, of course I do, Mother.  He was Master's steadiest man."  At
this moment Till would likely be on her feet in a twinkle with:
"Before I begin on Sampson, I'll just turn the bread fur you, Mrs.
Blake.  I seem to smell it's about ready."

When all the pans had been changed about, Till would sit down and

"Well, Mr. Henry got Sampson a wonderful good place up in
Pennsylvany, in some new kind of mill they calls roller mills.
He's done well, has Sampson, an' his childern has turned out well,
they say.  Soon as the war was over, Sampson come back here, just
to see the old place.  The new miller treated him real clever, and
let him sleep in old Master's mill room--he don't use it only like
a kind of office, to see folks.  Sampson come to my cabin every day
he was here, to eat my light bread.  'Don't never trouble yourself
to cook me no fancy victuals, Till,' he'd say.  'Just give me
greens an' a little fat pork, an' plenty of your light bread.  I
ain't had no real bread since I went away.'  He told me how in the
big mill where he works the grindin' is all done by steam, and the
machines runs so fast an' gits so hot, an' burns all the taste out-
a the flour.  'They is no real bread but what's made out-a water-
ground flour,' he says to me."

"And Tap, whatever became of him, Mrs. Blake?"

Then followed a sad story.  I knew it well.  Many a time I had
heard about Tap, the jolly mill boy with shining eyes and shining
teeth, whom everybody liked.  "Poor Tap" he was always called now.
People said he hadn't been able to stand his freedom.  He went to
town ("town" always meaning Winchester), where every day was like
circus day to a country-bred boy, and picked up various jobs until
the war was over.  Early in the Reconstruction time a low German
from Pennsylvania opened a saloon and pool hall in Winchester, a
dive where negroes were allowed to play, and gambling went on.  One
night after Tap had been drinking too much, he struck another darky
on the head with a billiard cue and killed him.  The Back Creek
farmers who remembered Tap as a boy went to his trial and testified
to his good character.  But he was hanged, all the same.  Mrs.
Blake and Till always said it was a Yankee jury that hanged him; a
Southern jury would have known there was no real bad in Tap.

Once Nancy looked at Mrs. Blake with a smile and asked her what had
become of Martin Colbert.  I had never heard of him.  Mrs. Blake
glanced at her in a way that meant it was a forbidden subject.  "He
was killed in the war," she said briefly.  "He'd got to be a
captain in the cavalry, and the Colberts made a great to-do about
him after he was dead, and put up a monument.  But I reckon the
neighbourhood was relieved."

More than anything else, Nancy wanted to know about the last days
of her old master and mistress.  That story I could almost have
told her myself, I had heard about them so often.  Henry Colbert
survived his wife for five years.  He saw the beginning of the
Civil War, and confidently expected to see the end of it.  But he
met his death in the haying season of 1863, when he was working in
the fields with the few negroes who begged to stay on at the Mill
Farm after the miller had freed all his wife's slaves.  The Master
was on top of the hayrack, catching the hay as Taylor forked it up
to him.  He stepped backward too near the edge of the load and fell
to the ground, striking his head on a limestone ledge.  He was
unconscious when the field-hands carried him into the house, and he
died a few hours later.

When my parents went for a long horseback ride, they sometimes took
me as far as Till's cabin, and picked me up again on their way
home.  It was there I heard the old stories and saw Till's
keepsakes and treasures.  They were stowed away in a pinewood chest
with a sloping top.  She had some of the miller's books, the woolly
green shawl he had worn as an overcoat, some of Miss Sapphy's lace
caps and fichus, and odd bits of finery such as velvet slippers
with buckles.  Her chief treasure was a brooch, set in pale gold,
and under the crystal was a lock of Mr. Henry's black hair and Miss
Sapphy's brown hair, at the time of their marriage.  The miller
himself had given it to her, she said.

In summer Till used to take me across the meadow to the Colbert
graveyard, to put flowers on the graves.  Each time she talked to
me about the people buried there, she was sure to remember
something she had not happened to tell me before.  Her stories
about the Master and Mistress were never mere repetitions, but grew
more and more into a complete picture of those two persons.  She
loved to talk of Mrs. Colbert's last days; of the reconciliation
between the Mistress and Mrs. Blake that winter after Betty died,
when Mrs. Blake and Mary stayed at the Mill House.  The Mistress
knew she had not long to live.  The tappings had become more
frequent; Doctor Clavenger came out from Winchester twice a week
now.  He told Till he had never known anyone with that kind of
dropsy to live so long as Mrs. Colbert; he said it was because her
heart was so strong.  But the day would come when the pressure of
the fluid would be too heavy, and then her heart would stop.

"She kept her bed most all day that last winter," Till would go
over it, "an' she liked to stay by herself, but she didn't complain
none.  When I'd come into her room in the mornin' early, she'd
always say:  'Good mornin', Till,' jest as bright as could be.
Right after she'd had her breakfast, she liked Miss Mary to run in
an' talk to her for a while.  After that, she liked to be by
herself.  Around three o'clock in the evenin' I went in to dress
her.  It was hard on her, and took her breath dreadful, but she
wouldn't give in, an' she never got out of temper.  When I'd got
her dressed, Mr. Henry an' Sampson used to come up from the mill to
lift her into her chair an' wheel her into the parlour.  Mrs. Blake
an' Mary would come in to have tea with her, an' right often Mr.
Henry stayed for a cup.  Missy was always in good spirits for tea,
an' it seemed like her an' Mrs. Blake got more comfort out-a one
another than ever before, talkin' about old times and the home
folks in Loudoun County.  An' Miss Mary was real fond of her
grandma.  If she'd knowed there'd been hard words ever, she'd
forgot it.  She had the right way with Miss Sapphy, an' it meant a
heap, havin' her in the house that last winter; she was so full of

From the way Till spoke of Mrs. Blake's long visit, hints that she
dropped unconsciously, one understood that there was always a
certain formality between Mrs. Colbert and her daughter--a reserve
on both sides.  After tea, for the hour before supper, the Mistress
preferred to be alone in the parlour.  There were many snow-falls
that winter, on into March.  Mrs. Colbert liked to sit and watch
the evening light fade over the white fields and the spruce trees
across the creek.  When Till came in with the lights, she would let
her leave only four candles, and they must be set on the tea-table
so placed that the candle-flames inside were repeated by flames out
in the snow-covered lilac arbour.  It looked like candles shining
in a little playhouse, Till said, and there was the tea-table out
there too, all set like for company.  When Till peeped in at the
door, she would find the Mistress looking out at this little scene;
often she was smiling.  Till really believed Miss Sapphy saw
spirits out there, spirits of the young folks who used to come to
Chestnut Hill.

And the Mistress died there, upright in her chair.  When the miller
came at supper-time and went into the parlour, he found her.  The
strong heart had been overcome at last.  Though her bell was beside
her, she had not rung it.  There must have been some moments of
pain or struggle, but she had preferred to be alone.  Till thought
it likely the "fine folks" were waiting outside for her in the
arbour, and she went away with them.

"She oughtn't never to a' come out here," Till often said to me.
"She wasn't raised that way.  Mrs. Matchem, down at the old place,
never got over it that Miss Sapphy didn't buy in Chestnut Hill an'
live like a lady, 'stead a' leavin' it to run down under the
Bushwells, an' herself comin' out here where nobody was anybody


In this story I have called several of the characters by Frederick
County surnames, but in no case have I used the name of a person
whom I ever knew or saw.  My father and mother, when they came home
from Winchester or Capon Springs, often talked about acquaintances
whom they had met.  The names of those unknown persons sometimes
had a lively fascination for me, merely as names:  Mr. Haymaker,
Mr. Bywaters, Mr. Householder, Mr. Tidball, Miss Snap.  For some
reason I found the name of Mr. Pertleball especially delightful,
though I never saw the man who bore it, and to this day I don't
know how to spell it.

Willa Cather


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