In Old Plantation Days
On that particular night in June it pleased Miss Emily Stuart to be gracious to Nelson Spencer. Robert Curtis was away, attending court at the county seat, and really, when one is young and beautiful and a woman, it is absolutely necessary that there should be some person upon whom to try one’s charms. So the lady was gracious to her ardent, but oft-rejected lover. She was sitting on the step of the high veranda and he a little below her. Her tiny foot, shod in the daintiest of slippers, swung dangerously near him. She knew that he was looking admiringly at the glimpse of pointed toe which now and then he got from beneath her skirt, and it pleased her. She was rather proud of that pretty, aristocratic foot of hers, not so much because it was pretty and aristocratic as because it was hereditary in the family and belonged by right of birth to all the Stuarts.
It was a warm, soft night, a night just suited for love and dreams. The sky like a blue-black cup inverted, seemed pouring a shower of gems upon the earth, and the breeze was laden with the sweet smell of honeysuckle and the heavier odor of magnolia blossoms.
They were not talking much because it wasn’t worth while. After an extended period of silence he looked up at her and sighed, perhaps because he wanted to, maybe because he couldn’t help it.
“What are you sighing for?” she asked.
“Oh, just at the beauty of things.”
“Why, that should make you smile.”
“Not always. If there is sometimes a grief too deep for tears, there is at others a joy too great for smiles.”
“You ought to have been a poet, Nelson, you are so sentimen—”
“Spare me that.”
“No I shall not. You are sentimental to the last degree.”
“Oh, well, I may be; if it is sentimentality to be willing to grovel in the dirt for a lady’s slipper, then I am sentimental.” Emily Stuart laughed.
“You know you would look very ridiculous groveling in the dirt. Would you really do it for my slipper?”
“I’ll put you to the test, then; you shall have my slipper when I see you grovel.”
He hesitated. “What,” she laughed, “am I too literal?”
“No,” he said; “I mean what I say,” and he leaped from the porch to the road beyond and fell upon his knees in the dust of the carriageway.
The spectacle amused Emily, and disgusted her no little. A woman pretends that she wants a man to abase himself before her, but she never forgives him if he does. While he knelt there in the road she thought how differently Robert would have acted under the circumstances. Instead of groveling, he would probably have said, “I’ll be hanged if I do,” and she rather liked the thought of his saying that. She knew that so far as brains went, Robert could not compare with Nelson; she knew, too, that the wisest man has the greatest capacity for making a fool of himself.
After an interval, Nelson arose from his position and came back to the veranda.
“I claim my reward,” he said.
“Do you think you can rightly call that groveling?”
“Yes, without a doubt.”
“Then you shall not go unrewarded,” and, turning, she went into the house to return with a slipper, a dainty little beribboned thing, which she handed to him. She was quite used to his extravagant protestations, and only thought to put a light significance upon his words. She was unprepared, then, to see him put the slipper into his pocket as if he really meant to keep it.
The evening passed away, and though they talked much, no reference was made to the slipper until he rose to go. Then Emily said, “Has your desire for my slipper been sufficiently satisfied?”
“Oh, no,” he replied, “I shall keep this as the outward sign and the reward of my abasement.”
“You are really not going to keep it?”
“Oh, but I am. You gave it to me.”
“I did not mean it in that way.”
“The sight of me groveling there in the road I gave you to remember for all time, and the gift that I ask in return is a permanent one.”
“And it is of no use for me to argue with you?”
“Very well,” said Emily with a vain effort at calmness, “I wish you joy of your treasure. Good-night,” and she went into the house. But she watched him from behind the curtain until he was quite gone; then she came flying out again and made her way hastily toward the quarters whither she knew her maid Dely had gone to spend the evening. When she had brought her to the big house, she exclaimed breathlessly:
“Oh, Dely, Dely, I am in such trouble!”
“Do tell we what is de mattah now.”
“Oh, Nelson Spencer has been here and—”
“Miss Em’ly,” Dely broke in, “you been ca’in on wid dat man agin?”
“Why, Dely, how can you say such things? Carrying on, indeed! I was only trying to put him in his place by making him ridiculous, but I gave him my slipper, and he—he kept it.”
“He got yo’ slippah? Miss Em’ly, don’ tell me dat.”
“Oh, what shall I do, Dely, what shall I do? Suppose Robert should go there and see it on his bureau or somewhere—you know they are such friends—what would he say? He’d be bound to recognize it, you know. They’re the ones with the silver buckles and satin bows that he liked so well. One could never explain to Robert; he’s so impetuous. Dely, don’t stand there that way. You must help me.”
“What shell I do, Miss Em’ly? I reckon you’d bettah go an’ have yo’ pa frail dat slippah outen him.”
“What? Papa? Why, I wouldn’t have him to know anything about it for the world.”
“Why, it ain’t yo’ fault, Miss Em’ly; you in de rights of de thing.”
“Oh, yes, yes, I know, but a thing like that is so hard to explain. Dely, you must get that slipper.”
“How I’m goin’ to?”
“I don’t know; you’ll have to find some way. You’ll find some way to get it before Robert comes. You will, won’t you, Dely?”
“When do Mas’ Robert come?”
“He’ll surely be home in a couple of days.”
“An he’s mighty cu’ious, ain’t he?”
“If he should happen to come across that slipper in Nelson Spencer’s room, all would be over between us. Oh, Dely, you must find some way.”
“Mas’ Nelson Spencah is right sma’t boas’ful, ain’t he?”
“You don’t reckon he’d show it to Mas’ Robert, do you?”
“Dely, you’re saying everything to frighten me; don’t talk that way.”
“Miss Em’ly, de truth is de light; but nevah min’, I’ll try an’ git dat slippah fu’ you.”
“Oh, Dely, and you shall have that blue sprigged muslin dress of mine you liked so much.”
Dely’s eyes gleamed but she answered, “Nevah you min’ about de dress, Miss Em’ly. What we wants is de slippah,” and the maid departed to think.
For a long while she thought of everything she knew, and canvassed every resource within her power. Of course, she might make love to Harry, Spencer’s valet, and have him get the prize for her, but then she knew that Ike would be sure to find that out and get angry with her. She might appeal to Carrie, one of the Spencer household, but she knew that Carrie hated her and would do anything rather than gratify her slightest wish, for Carrie herself had an eye on Ike. Then might she not steal it herself? But how to effect an entrance to the room of her mistress’ enemy?
“Lawd bless me,” she exclaimed suddenly, her eyes brightening, “I done fu’git young Mas’ Roger. I spec he’ll be snoopin’ roun’ some place to-morrer.”
Now Dely knew that Nelson Spencer had a brother, a reckless, disobedient boy, who had just arrived at the unspeakable age. Something in this knowledge or rather in the sudden recollection, sent her flying to the kitchen, where for something over two hours she braved Aunt Hester’s maledictions while she baked heap upon heap of crisp sweet cakes.
When, hot and tired, she had finished and placed them in a cloth-covered jar, she chuckled to herself with the remark, “Now, ef dat don’t fetch dat slippah, I reckon Miss Em’ly bettah look out fu’ anothah gallant; but I know dat boy.”
On the following morning, the maid, carrying a bulging bag, wandered out in the direction of the Spencer place, hoping to meet young Roger somewhere in the open air, on his pony or nosing about the woods on foot. She had said that she knew the boy, and she did. Roger was a boy with a precocious appetite. He might be backward in everything else, but his ability to consume food was large beyond his years. He lived to eat. He went into the house to browse, and came out of it to forage. He was insatiable. When kitchen and orchard had done their part in vain, he had recourse to roots of the field and strange, unaccountable plants which would have proved his death but for the intervention of that Providence which is popularly supposed to take care of three certain irresponsible classes of humanity.
Dely was not mistaken in thinking he would be “snooping about” somewhere, for it was not long before she saw him walking along the road munching an apple and looking for more food. She hastened to catch up with him, and, like a sensible girl, approached him from the windward side.
“Howdy, Roger?” said Dely invitingly.
“Whaih you goin’?”
“I don’ know; where are you goin’?” eyeing the bag. Dely must have put ginger into those sweet cakes and Roger’s scent was keen.
“Oh, I’m jest walkin’ erroun’.”
“What you got in your bag?”
“Now jest listen at dat chile,” exclaimed Dely with a well-feigned surprise and admiration. “Now who’d a thought you’d tek notice o’ dis hyeah ol’ bag. Nev’ you min’ what I got in dis bag.”
“Seems like I smell somethin’ good.”
“Don’ bothah me, Roger; I ain’t got no time to fool wid you. Seems to me lak you always want to be eatin’ some’p’n.”
“Then it is eatin’, Dely?”
“Who said so? Dat’s what I want to know; who said so?”
“Why, you did, you did, that’s who,” Roger cried gleefully.
“Did I? Well, la sakes! Who’d ‘a’ evah thought o’ me givin’ myself away dat away? I mus’ be gittin’ right rattle-brained. I don’ b’lieve I said it.”
“Oh, yes, you did. Let’s see, Dely. Do let’s see.”
“Oh, I dassent,” said the dissembler. “Hit’s some’p’n fine.”
Roger fairly danced with excitement. “Do, do,” he pleaded; “just one little peep.”
“I’m feared you’ll want to eat some.”
“Oh, no, I won’t. Please let me look?”
Dely carefully opened the mouth of the bag and slowly inclined it toward the eager boy. Even before the brown beauty of the cakes broke on the boy’s sight the fragrant odor of them had reached his nostrils. Then he saw them. Just one flash of russet and gold and the maid closed the bag with a jerk, but not before she was aware that she had a willing slave at her feet.
“Oh, Dely!” the boy gasped.
“Well, I mus’ be gittin’ ‘long now.”
“Dely, just one. Oh, Dely!”
“Now what’d I tell you? Didn’t I say you’d be wantin’ one? I cain’t stop to bothah wid you. Dese is luck cakes.”
“Luck cakes?” Roger’s curiosity for the moment almost overcame his hunger. “What’s luck cakes?”
Miss Emily’s diplomat took one of them from the bag.
“You see dis hyeah cake,” she said, holding it dangerously near Roger’s nose, while his hands twitched, “you see dis hyeah cake. Well, ef you go out of a mornin’ wid a bag of dese an’ ef anybody can bring you a unmatched slippah befo’ dey’s all et up, you has luck fu’ de rest o’ yo’ life, an’ de pusson what brings de slippah gits de rest o’ de cakes.”
“Gets them all, Dely?” asked Roger faintly.
“All dat’s lef’.”
“Ain’t you eatin’ yourself, Dely?”
“No, I ain’t ‘lowed to eat’ em. It’ll spile de chawm.”
Just then Dely let the golden cake drop in his hand. When the last crumb had disappeared he asked, “Dely, what’s an unmatched slipper?”
“Why, it’s one dat ain’t got no mate, of cou’se. Jest a one-footed slippah.”
“Oh, I can get you one.”
“You! De ve’y ideeh!”
“Yes, I can, too; mamma has lots of odd ones.”
“No, no,” said Dely hastily, “you musn’t git yo’ mammy’s. No ‘ndeedy. Dat ‘u’d spile de chawm.”
“Charms are funny things, ain’t they?” said the boy.
“Mighty funny, mighty funny. You nevah know whaih dey goin’ to break out. But bout dis chawm,” and she handed him another cake, “you musn’t git de slippah of no lady what belongs to you, ner of no man, ner you musn’t let nobody know dat you teken’ it, fu’ dat ‘u’d break de chawm, too. De bes’ way is to go in yo brothah Nelson’s room an’ look erroun’ right sha’p, an’ mebbe you might fin’ a little weenchy slippah wid ribbons er some’p’n on it, an’ dat’ll be de luck slippah.”
“Oh,” exclaimed Roger, “I know there couldn’t be such a slipper in brother Nelson’s room.”
Dely paused dramatically and closed her bag. “Well, I got to be goin’,”; she said. “I mus’ fin’ somebody else to bring me de luck slippah.”
“I’ll go, Dely, I’ll go,” cried Roger, starting; “but Dely, promise you won’t let anybody else eat those cakes. It might spoil the charm.”
“Well, I’ll give you anothah one, jes’ fu’ strengf,” and she laughed a laugh of triumph as the boy sped away.
“I ‘low ef dey’s any slippah thaih he’ll fin’ it, ‘long ez he smell dese hyeah cakes in his min’.”
Dely had not long to wait for her courier. Pretty soon he came bounding toward her waving something in his hand. He was radiant.
“I found it, Dely, I found it, just as you said. It was on the bureau. Now I may have the cakes, mayn’t I?”
“It’s de luck slippah, thank goodness,” said Dely solemnly as she eagerly clutched the missing piece of foot-wear.
“Now I may have the cakes, mayn’t I?” Roger was dancing again.
“Yes, ef you’ll promise you’ll never, never tell,” said Dely, “so’s ‘t’ll not break de chawm.”
“Hope m’ die, Dely.”
Then she poured the cakes on the ground beside him, and, leaving him to his joy, went home laughing to her mistress.
“How did you get it, Dely?” asked her mistress, clasping her accusing shoe.
“Oh, I wo’ked my chawms,” Dely replied.
Miss Emily was walking along the road that evening with thoughtful eyes cast on the ground. She knew that Nelson Spencer was behind her.
“What are you looking for?” he asked as he overtook her.
“A flower,” she said.
“A flower! What particular one?”
“Aren’t you a little far south for it?” His house was to the north.
“I think I have found it,” she said, facing him and planting both feet firmly within sight.
Spencer looked down, and, bowing low, passed on, but she could see the flush that started in his brow, spreading from cheek to neck, and she laughed cheerily.
Nelson Spencer went home to say unrepeatable things to his valet, the butler, the housekeeper and Carrie the maid, in fact, to everybody except Roger, who was, at the time, suffering the pangs of precocious indigestion.