In Old Plantation Days
There was a warm flush of anger on Robert Curtis’ face as he ran down the steps of the old Stuart mansion. Every one said of this young man that he possessed in a marked degree the high temper for which his family was noted. And one looking at him that night would have said that this temper had been roused to the utmost.
This was not the first time Robert Curtis had ridden away from the Stuarts’ in anger. Emily Stuart was a high-strung girl, independent, and impatient of control, and their disagreements had been many. But they had never gone so far as this one, and they had somehow always blown over. This time the young lover had carried away in his pocket the ring with which they had plighted their troth, and had gone away vowing never to darken those doors again, and Emily had been exasperatingly polite and cool, though her eyes were flashing as she assured him how little she ever wanted to look upon his face again.
It may have been the strain of keeping this self-possession that made her break down so completely as soon as her lover was out of sight. That she did break down is beyond dispute, for when Dely came in with a very much disordered waistband she found her mistress in tears.
With the quick sympathy and easy familiarity of a favorite servant she ran to her mistress exclaiming, “La, Miss Em’ly, whut’s de mattah?”
Her Miss Emily waved her away silently, and drying her eyes stood up dramatically.
“Dely,” she said, “Mr. Curtis will not come here any more after to-day. Certain things have made it impossible. I know that you and Ike are interested in each other, and I do not want the changed relations between Mr. Curtis and me to make any difference to you and Ike.”
“La, Miss Em’ly,” said Dely, surreptitiously straightening her waistband, “I don’ keer nuffin’ ’bout Ike; he ain’t nuffin’ ‘tall to me.”
“Don’t fib, Dely,” said Emily impressively.
“‘Claih to goodness, Miss Em’ly, I ain’t fib-bin’ ; but even if Ike was anyt’ing to me you know I wa’n’t nevah ‘spectin’ to go ovah to the Cu’tis plantatin ‘ceptin’ wid you, w’en you an’ Mas’ Bob ”
“That will do, Dely.” Emliy caught up her handkerchief and hurried from the room.
“Po’ Miss Em’Iy,” soliloquized Dely; “she des natchully breakin’ huh hea’t now, but she ain’t gwine let on. Ike, indeed! I ain’t bothahed ’bout Ike,” and then she added, smiling softly, “That scamp’s des de same ez a b’ah; he mighty nigh ruined my ap’on at de wais’.”
Robert Curtis was crossing the footbridge which separated the Curtis and Stuart farther fields before Ike rode up abreast of him. The bay mare was covered with dust and foam, and a heavy scowl lay darkly on the young man’s face.
Finding his horse blown by her hard gallop, the white man drew rein, and they rode along more slowly, but in silence. Not a word was spoken until they alighted, and the master tossed the reins to his servant.
“Well,” he said bitterly, “when you go to the Stuarts’ again, Ike, you’ll have to go alone.”
“Then I won’t go,” said Ike promptly.
“Oh, yes, you will; you’re fool enough to be hanging around a woman’s skirts, too; you’ll go.”
“Whaih you don’ go, I don’ go.”
“Well, I don’t go to the Stuarts’ any more, that’s one thing certain.” Robert was very young.
“Then I don’ go,” returned Ike doggedly; “don’ you reckon I got some fambly feelin’s?”
The young man’s quick anger was melting in its own heat, and he laughed in spite of himself as he replied: “Neither family feelings nor anything else count for much when there’s a woman in the case.”
“Now, I des wonder,” said Ike, as he led the horses away and turned them over to a stable boy, “I des wonder how long this hyeah thing’s goin’ on? De las’ time they fell out fu’ evah hit was fou’ whole days befo’ he give in. I reckon this time it might run to be a week.”
He might have gone on deluding himself thus if he had not suddenly awakened to the fact that more than the week Be had set as the limit of the estrangement had passed and he had not yet been commanded to saddle a horse and ride over to the Stuarts’ with the note that invariably brought reconciliation and happiness.
He felt disturbed in his mind, and his trouble visibly increased when, on the next day, which was Sunday, Quin, who was his rival in everything, dressed himself with more than ordinary care and took his way toward the Stuarts’.
“Whut’s de mattah wid you, Ike?” asked one of the house boys next day; “you goin’ to let Quin cut you out? He was ovah to Stua’ts’ yistiddy, an’ he say he had a ta’in’ down time wid Miss Dely.”
“Oh, I don’ reckon anybody’s goin’ to cut me out.”
“Bettah not be so sho,” said the boy; “bettah look out.”
This was too much for Ike. He had been wavering; now his determination gave way, yet he tried to delude himself.
“Hit’s a shame,” he said. “I des know Mas’ Bob is bre’kin’ his hea’t to git back to Miss Em’ly, an’ hit do seem lak somep’n ‘oughter be done to gin him a chancet.”
It needed only the visit from his master that afternoon to decide him. He was out on the back veranda cleaning shoes, when his master came and stood in front of him, flicking his boots with his riding-whip.
“Ah, Ike, you haven’t been over to Mr. Stuart’s lately.”
“No, suh; co’se not; I ain’t been ovah.”
“Well, I don’t believe I’d do that, Ike. Don’t let my affair keep you away; you go on and see her. You don’t know; she might be sick or something, and want to see you. Here’s fifty cents; take her something nice.” And with the very erroneous idea that he had fooled both Ike and himself, Robert Curtis went down the steps whistling.
“What’d I tell you?” said Ike, addressing the shoe which sat upon his hand, and he began to hurry.
Dely was sitting on the doorstep of her mother’s cabin as Ike came up. She pretended not to see him, but she was dressed as if she expected his coming.
“Howdy, Dely; how you this evenin’?” said Ike.
“La, Mistah Ike,” said Dely, affecting to be startled, “I come mighty nigh not seein’ you. Won’t you walk in?”
“No, I des tek a seat on de do’step hyeah ‘longside you.”
She tossed her head, but made room for him on the step.
“I ain’t seen you fu’ sev’al days.”
“You wasn’ blin’ ner lame.”
“No, but you know,” answered Ike rather doggedly.
“I don’ know nuffin’,” Dely returned.
“I wasn’ ‘spected to come alone.”
“Was you skeered?”
“Did you want me to come alone?”
Dely did not deign to answer.
“I wonder how long this is goin’ on?” pursued Ike; “I’m gittin’ mighty tiahed of it.”
“They ain’t no tellin’. Miss Em’ly she mighty high-strung.”
“Well, hit’s a shame, fu’ them two loves one another, an’ they ought to be brought togethah.”
“Co’se they ought; but how anybody goin’ to do it?”
“You an’ me could try ef you was willin’.”
“I’d do anything fu’ my Miss Em’ly.”
“An’ I’d do anything fu’ Mas’ Bob. Come an’ le’s walk down by de big gate an’ talk about k.”
Dely rose, and together they walked down by the big gate, where they stood in long and earnest conversation. Maybe it was all about their master’s and mistress’ love affair. But a soft breeze was blowing, and the moon was shining in the way which tempts young people to consider their own hearts, however much they may be interested in the hearts of others.
It was some such interest which ostensibly prompted Robert Curtis to sit up for Ike that night. Ike came into the yard whistling. His master was sitting on the porch.
“Ike, you are happy; you must have had a good time.”
Instantly Ike’s whistle was cut short, and the late moonlight shone upon a very lugubrious countenance as he answered:
“Sometimes people whistles to drown dey sorrers.”
“Why, what sorrows have you got? Wasn’t Dely in a pleasant mood?”
“Dely’s mighty ‘sturbed ’bout huh Miss Em’Iy.”
“About her Miss Emily I” exclaimed the young master in sudden excitement; “what’s the matter with Miss Emily?”
“Oh, Dely says she des seems to he a-pinin’ ’bout somep’n’. She don’ eat an’ she don’ sleep.”
“Poor litt—” began Curtis, then he checked himself. “Hum,” he said. “Well, goodnight, Ike.”
When Ike had gone in, his master went to his room and paced the floor for a long while. Then he went out again and walked up and down the lawn. “Maybe I’m not treating her just right,” he murmured; “poor little thing, but—” and he clenched his fist and kept up his walking.
“Ike was here to-night?” said Miss Emily to Dely as the maid was brushing her hair that night.
“Yes’m, he was hyeah.”
“Yes, I saw him come up the walk early, and I didn’t call you because I knew you’d want to talk to him,” she sighed.
“Yes’m, he wanted to talk mighty bad. He feelin’ mighty ‘sturbed ’bout his Mas’ Bob.”
The long, brown braid was quickly snatched out of her hand as her young mistress whirled swiftly round.
“What’s the matter with his master?”
“Oh, Ike say he des seem to pine. He don’ seem to eat, an’ he don’ sleep.”
Miss Emily had a sudden fit of dreaming from which she awoke to say, “That will do, Dely; I won’t need you any more to-night.” Then she put out her light and leaned out of her window, looking with misty eyes at the stars. And something she saw up there in the bright heavens made her smile and sigh again.
It was on the morrow that Dely told her mistress about some wonderful wild flowers that were growing in the west woods in a certain nook, and Dely was so much in earnest about it that her mistress finally consented to follow her thither.
Strange to say, that same morning Ike accosted his young master with, “Look hyeah, Mas’ Bob, de birds is sholy thick ovah yondah in that stretch o’ beechwoods. I’ve polished up the guns fu’ you, ef you want to tek a shot.”
“Well, I don’t mind, Ike. We’ll go for a while.”
It was in this way—quite by accident, of course, one looking for strange flowers, and the other for birds—that Emily and Robert, with their faithful attendants, set out for the same stretch of woods.
Miss Emily was quite despairing of ever finding the wonderful flowers, and Ike was just protesting that he himself had “seen them birds,” when all of a sudden Dely exclaimed: “Well, la I Ef thaih ain’t Mas’ Cu’tis.”
Miss Emily turned pale and red by turns as Robert, blushing like a girl, approached her, hat in hand.
Then they both turned to look (or their attendants. Ike and Dely were walking up a side path together. They both broke into a laugh that would not be checked.
“It would be a shame to disturb them,” Robert went on when he could control himself. “Emily, I’ve been a—”
“Let us take the good that the gods provide.”
“And they,” said Emily, looking after the blacks, “stand for the gods.”