It was “Gordon” now, always “Gordon”–though of course nobody called
him that but me. For he had made yet another little addition to his
visit–and he and I had improved the time. But his departure was near
And it does seem sad that what occurred had to happen just before he
left. For everything had gone so beautifully. Mother, it is true,
used to sigh sometimes, and once or twice expressed the hope that
Charlie hadn’t killed himself when he got the tidings and the ring. I
had no such fears; for the brief note that came back informed me that
he would say nothing till he came and saw me; which, he said, he would
do as soon as some very urgent business would permit. But mother
declared she knew this was only said to conceal the fact that he was
prostrate in his bed.
I believe Aunt Agnes and Uncle Henry were quite composed about the
whole affair–they thought so much of Gordon. And even mother was
getting fond of him; she couldn’t very well have helped it, he was so
strong and tender and dignified and true. And I can’t tell how happy
it made me to see mother warming up to him; a few days before he
intended to go away–and the very day of the explosion I am about to
describe–I saw mother pull his hair. Just a little tug, it’s true, a
little playful pinch of a few of the auburn strands–but it filled my
soul with joy, for I think it means more for certain kinds of women to
give the hair a little pull like that than if they took the whole man
into their arms. So I pretended not to see, lest my Gordon’s hair
should never be pulled again.
We were all pretty resigned, as I have said–especially Gordon and
myself. And if Gordon had only gotten away to his Canadian field
before that eventful night–or if every negro in the South had only
died or been deported the day before–the whole tenor of our after
lives might have been changed.
We were seated on the porch, uncle and Gordon and I. My mood, I fear,
was a rather plaintive one, for I didn’t know when my lover would be
coming back. Uncle, however, seemed in a very jovial frame of mind;
but the worst storms always come on the most placid evenings. He had
just been telling Gordon that he thought I would make a pretty fair
minister’s wife after all.
“You know, Mr. Laird,” he remarked in mock seriousness, “there’s one
feature of Helen’s record that makes me think she’s right religious
“Let us have the symptoms,” said Gordon, and he couldn’t have looked at
me more tenderly if he hadn’t had a drop of Scotch blood in his whole
“Well, it’s this,” drawled my uncle; “I’ve never known Helen to miss a
Sunday-school picnic since she was able to toddle–she’d go without her
lessons before she’d miss one. Now don’t you think that’s a good
sign?” and uncle indulged himself in the merriment his little joke
Gordon made some laughing response, I have forgotten what. And it was
then that uncle began the fatal strain. It really seemed as if it had
to be; for, ever since that other darkey outbreak, both men had been
careful to steer clear of the dangerous topic.
“You’ll have to look out,” uncle began, “that those folks up North
don’t tramp on your wife’s Southern corns.” Gordon gave me a funny
look–whether it referred to the sublime word, or the grotesque one, I
couldn’t tell. “For instance,” uncle went on, “the first thing you
know, some of them’ll be expressing their opinion about slavery and
airing their views on the whole question of the darkies. Now I want
you to protect her from that–don’t let them bring the subject up if
you can help it. And, just as like as not, they’ll be flaunting that
Uncle Tom’s Cabin nigger show under your noses. There was a company
brought it down here once–but we read the riot act to them. It was
‘Katy, bar the door’ for them. Some of them just got off with their
necks. And I want you to promise me, Helen, that you’ll never look at
their infernal show; they say it’s all whips, and handcuffs, and
bloodhounds, and all the rest of the lies that Harriet Beecher Stowe
concocted. You’ll promise me, won’t you, Helen?”
“Don’t trouble yourself about that, uncle,” I answered evasively, being
always a cautious maiden along certain lines; “most likely Mr. Laird
doesn’t know what you’re talking about. Do you, Gordon?” I enquired,
the change of name very sweet.
“Oh, yes,” he promptly replied. “Yes, I’ve read the book–read it on
the heathery hills, when I was quite a wee laddie.”
“Did you ever read such a parcel of lies, sir?” demanded my uncle,
fully expecting that there could be only one answer.
“I’m really not in a position to give an opinion,” Gordon replied
judiciously; “you see, I never saw slavery.”
“Well, I have,” uncle responded vigorously, “and the book’s a bunch of
lies. Of course, I suppose some brutes might mistreat their niggers.
But it wasn’t natural, sir–it wasn’t to their interest to do so–a man
wouldn’t do it with his horse. And the niggers were enough sight
happier then than they are now–they were perfectly contented, sir.”
“That’s the worst of it,” said Gordon tersely.
“What say, sir? I don’t know that I understand you.”
“That was the saddest feature of it–that they were contented,”
repeated Gordon calmly; “that’s what slavery did for them. But it
seems to me, Mr. Lundy,” he went on, warming a little to the argument,
“it seems to me the book in question doesn’t deny that most of the
negroes were well used.”
“It doesn’t?” uncle began in a rather fiery tone; “it doesn’t, doesn’t
it? It’s the most one-sided book that was ever written–has niggers
dying under the lash, and hunted with hounds, and all that sort of
thing. What’s that, if it isn’t one-sided, sir?”
“As far as I remember, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ impressed me as decidedly
fair, quite impartial,” Gordon ventured, his voice very calm.
“It’s a pack of Yankee lies, sir,” interrupted my uncle warmly.
Gordon flushed a little. “That’s hardly argument, Mr. Lundy,” he
replied slowly. “You remind me of what Burke said of Samuel
Johnson–he said Johnson’s style of argument reminded him of a
highwayman; if his pistol missed fire, he knocked you down with the
butt end of it.”
“What’s that got to do with niggers?” enquired my uncle blankly.
“Nothing–just with the argument,” answered Gordon. “I said I thought
‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ impressed me as impartial–and you retorted it was
Yankee lies. That’s like calling Euclid a liar because you dissent
from his proposition, as your great Lincoln said.”
“He wasn’t ours–and he isn’t great,” retorted uncle vigorously.
“Half of that may be true,” Gordon answered in the most amiable tone.
“But about the book–I’ll state my position. Mrs. Stowe portrays three
men, if I remember right, who had to do with slaves. Shelby, St.
Clair, Legree, were the names, I think. Well, one of them, Legree, is
depicted as a brute–but the other two were like fathers to their
slaves. Now, if that isn’t fair–two to one–I don’t know what is,”
concluded Gordon placidly, “especially as you’ve just admitted yourself
that the brutal type was always to be found, even if the exception.”
I was growing nervous by this time, and with abundant cause. It was
with a sense of hearty relief I heard Aunt Agnes hurrying towards the
porch; and before the argument could further go, she blew in upon the
scene with tidings of an invitation she had just received for me and
Gordon for that very evening. I wasn’t slow to make the most of the
digression, and soon the ship of domestic peace was clear of the
Yet I could see, all through the early evening, that the debate had
left its impress upon Gordon. It was really wonderful how a question
of this kind took hold of him; anything human, especially if connected
with sorrow or injustice, seemed to kindle him as nothing else could
do. More than once he harked back to it within the next hour or two
when he and I were alone. “It’s beyond my understanding,” he broke
out, “how any man–especially a Christian gentleman like your
uncle–can defend an institution that made one man a slave of another.”
“But they were good to them,” I defended.
“Yet they were in bondage,” was his terse reply; “and besides, Helen,
you know they often had to sell them–even when they didn’t want to.
I’ve talked to coloured women on the streets here, who told me their
children were sold away from them long years ago–and they’ve never
seen them since. And they cried,” he added, his voice taking what was
almost a shrill note, plaintive with sympathy. “And I don’t care if
they did keep their slaves in luxury—if they had clothed them in
purple and fine linen and fanned them all day long–any institution
that makes it possible for a child to be sold from his mother,
it’s–it’s damnable,” he declared passionately, “and neither God nor
man could convince me to the contrary.”
I was almost frightened at Gordon’s vehemence–and I was powerless
before his argument. A kind of chill foreboding had me in its grip, I
knew not why, that his strange intensity on this so fiery theme was yet
to work us ill. For, like other strangers, he had no conception of how
deep, almost desperately deep, were the convictions of Southern men on
the subject that seemed so thoroughly to engross him. He harboured the
romantic notion that all men were created equal, as the framers of our
Constitution solemnly decreed, their slaves cringing at their feet the
while. He held the quixotic view, too, that it was wrong to cheat the
darkies out of their votes–I always thought he was astray on this
point, and I think so yet. Gordon contended, also, that they had the
same kind of feelings as white folks–but I suppose that will be a
debated point while time shall last. Gordon did not know, however, how
necessary it was that the darkies should be kept in their proper place;
nor did he know the long purgatory our Southland had gone through in
the days of reconstruction, and carpetbaggers, and negro rule, and all
that sort of thing. He had no idea of the fiery zeal with which white
men had to guard their supremacy, enforcing the social distinction,
keeping the negro where he belonged, piously preserving the curse of
Ham upon him. In a word, Gordon hadn’t grasped this fundamental
truth–which the world may just as well accept first as last–that, no
matter how the negro race may predominate in numbers, or grow in
wealth, or develop in intelligence, the white man never will be ruled
by the black man. And the only way to prevent his being on top is to
keep him at the bottom. So I have heard ten thousand times–and so I
I think Gordon and I were discussing this very matter that night as we
were walking home from the little gathering of which I have made
mention already. Coming along the street that skirts the river, my
attention was suddenly attracted by the sound of voices from near the
water’s edge, negro voices evidently, and marked by tokens of
excitement. I at once stopped and called Gordon’s attention to it.
“They’re darkies,” I whispered; “what can they be doing there at this
hour of the night?” For it was midnight. “And that’s uncle’s
property,” which was true enough, he being the possessor of a shed and
warehouse there that stood on the river’s bank.
“What indeed?” Gordon echoed. “You don’t suspect anything wrong, do
I made some incoherent reply, muttering something about fire, I think.
For that is a constant form of dread to the Southern mind.
“I’ll go over and see,” said Gordon. “You come part of the way–wait
there, I won’t let you out of my sight,” as he moved on towards the
shadowy figures that could be seen moving in the darkness. A low
mysterious wail broke from them at frequent intervals.
“What are you doing here?” I heard Gordon’s stern Scotch voice ring out
a moment after he had left me. A sharp cry of fear broke from the two
crouching forms as they turned their dusky faces up to his through the
night. They were two negro women and their rolling eyes shone white in
the darkness. They stood before him trembling.
“Come, speak; what are you doing here?” Gordon’s voice came sterner
“Please, sah, we’s lookin’ fo’ our chil’uns,” one liquid voice wailed
I was Southern born and Southern bred–and I had been taught, as
carefully as any, the non-humanity of the black. Yet I do not know
that I ever felt such a gush of inward tears as rushed upon my heart
that moment. The scene is before me yet; the stalwart frame in
clerical attire, towering above the cowed and obeisant figures of the
stooping women who seemed to crave, rather than expect, some word of
human sympathy, some hand of human help. Poor, despised, ignorant,
their cry yet echoed with the great note of love, the throb of primal
passion pulsing through it; the age-old cry of the mother calling for
her child. And I felt a wave of pity surging over me, such as I had
never felt before. I rushed forward to where they stood; for the time,
at least, we belonged to the self-same race–mine, too, was a woman’s
Their story was soon told, for it was brief. The two children, a son
of each, had been out playing together in the early evening. The last
they could learn of them was to the effect that a negro man, named
Simkins, had been seen talking to them. Simkins was a drunken loafer.
The unhappy women had themselves discovered that a little skiff, in
which Simkins had a part interest, was missing from its place–and the
tracks of boyish feet in the sand could be seen where the bow of the
boat had been. Doubtless Simkins had beguiled them with the prospect
of a cruise–and what then?
In a moment Gordon was questioning them with eager interest,
interpreting their replies with difficulty; for their dialect,
unfamiliar to him at the best, was now more unintelligible by reason of
their grief. While he spoke with them the women instinctively drew
closer, as if confident of a friend.
“Where do you suppose he rowed them to?” he asked quickly.
The women didn’t know.
“Where does this man Simkins live?” he asked, after some further
“‘Way down by Pickett’s Landin’–by de long wauf,” one of the women
said. “But he done started from heah, sah.”
“The long wharf,” repeated Gordon, turning to me, “where is that wharf?
For that’s where he’d try to land, likely enough–and if anything’s
happened, that’s where it likely occurred.”
“I know the place,” I answered, “but it’s about a mile away.”
“We’ll search this place first,” he said decisively, “and if we find no
sign we’ll look there. Have you any idea where we could get a lantern?”
I thought there might possibly be one in uncle’s warehouse. A minute
later Gordon was inside, having found an unlocked window. Two or three
matches flared and spluttered; then a steady light, and in a moment he
had reappeared with the lantern.
Up and down he strode, examining all the locality, the moaning women
following at his heels.
“There isn’t a sign of anything here,” he announced as he jumped down
from a little landing from which he had been flashing his lantern on
the water. “I’ve got a feeling, somehow, that this man Simkins would
try to land at the wharf nearest his home. Come away–we’ll go there.”
“But you’ll have to take me home first,” I interposed.
“Is it on the way?” Gordon paused long enough to ask.
“No, it’s the opposite direction.”
“Then it can’t be done,” he answered, in a tone no Southern woman is
accustomed to hear; “you’ll have to come with us,” and with a word or
two more which I have forgotten, but whose tone of mastery I remember
well, he asked the women which road to take. If his manner had been
less noble and self-forgetful I would have said he was lacking in the
chivalric deference I was accustomed to receive at the hands of
gentlemen. But this never seemed to enter Gordon’s mind, surrendered
as it was to the business in hand. Before I knew it he was off, and I
had no option but to follow.
A strange procession we must have made as we wound our way through the
silent streets. In front marched Gordon, the lantern swinging to his
stride, pausing now and then to enquire about a turn in the way; behind
him shuffled the crooning women, gratitude and woe mingling in their
constant moan; last of all came I, keeping up as best I could.
As we moved out on the rickety wharf, to which we came at last, I heard
Gordon utter an exclamation of some sort and rush forward. Then he
stopped, holding the lantern low; its beams revealed the face of a
negro man, lying in drunken oblivion on the wharf. With shrill
intonation, rudely shaking him, the women demanded of the unconscious
Simkins the whereabouts of their children. But Simkins’ only response
was a temporarily half-opened eye, immediately reclosed, and a groan of
drunken content as he sank deeper into his bestial slumber. An empty
bottle lay beside him.
Gordon turned from him with a murmur of contempt, bidding the women
cease from their pitiful pleading with the unconscious man. Swinging
the lantern high, its farthest beams just disclosed a little skiff
floating idly near the shore. “He’s upset it climbing out, as sure as
death,” I heard him mutter–“it has shot out from under him.” Then
like a flash he made his way over the side, creeping stealthily down
the unsteady timbers till he was at the water’s edge, the lantern still
in his hand.
A cry of horror broke from his lips, echoed in unreasoning woe from the
women above him. He was peering down into the water.
“They’re there–in each others’ arms,” broke from him a moment later in
a tone of ineffable sadness. “Come down and hold the lantern, Helen.”
He reached up his hand to me without a word; and, to the accompaniment
of sounds of anguish strangely and suddenly subdued, I clambered down
till I stood on the broad beam beside him. Still the strange, low
chant went on above us, still the silent stars looked down. Slowly,
resolutely, still gazing into the placid depths, Gordon removed his
coat and vest while I held the lantern as he directed. But I kept my
eyes upward to the stars. A swift plunge, a half minute’s silence, and
he reappeared, one of the hapless playmates in his hand. A second
pilgrimage into the depths, and both were side by side upon the beam on
which we stood. One by one, he bore them, climbing, and laid them
together on the wharf. With loud outcry of anguish the women flung
themselves upon their unresponsive dead.
They lay together, those little offshoots of an unhappy race, their own
life tragedy past and done. Dripping they lay, the peace of death upon
their faces, as though the relentless wave had given them kindly
welcome. About eight or nine years of age, poor, ragged, despised,
they had yet been seeking some scant share of pleasure–out to
play–when death claimed them for his own. It was the birthday of one
of them–so his mother said, while each wailed above her own–and that
was why they had been permitted to play late. Each had her simple tale
of love, of admiration; each told, with alternating gusts of grief, of
the goodness of her own. Each spoke of the brothers and sisters at
home; each wondered what life would be without the one who was gone.
I stood, helpless. But I saw, and for the first time, that God had
called Gordon to be a pastor. For he knelt beside them–I think
sometimes his dripping white-clad arm rested gently on the shoulder of
one or the other–and he tried to comfort them. He spoke, so low and
tenderly that sometimes I could scarcely hear his voice, of many
things; most of which I have forgotten. But I do remember that he said
God didn’t love them any less than they; and I recall yet how
wonderfully he spoke of Everlasting Life. Those very words, and he
couldn’t have said them more grandly if it had been a Cathedral
service. And I think he helped them a little, for they sometimes
lifted their heads and looked at him in a dumb, grateful way. But
their hearts were broken. It came over me strangely that this was the
first time I had ever stood so close to death, and to sorrow–and these
mourners were of the dusky race.
There was little more that we could do. Of course, Gordon roused
somebody and sent for the proper persons. But finally we had to leave
them alone, the women and their dead. Silently, as if he were
revolving some thought in which I had no share, Gordon walked home
beside me. Only one thing I can remember that he said. I think he
stood still and looked at me through the dark as he said it:
“Helen, the Bible says that God made of one blood all the nations of
the earth, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” I agreed, wondering what was coming.
“They don’t believe it down here, do they?–the white folks, I mean?”
“Maybe not,” I answered hesitatingly; “at least, I reckon they don’t
think it’s meant to be taken literally.”
“Perhaps not,” and his eyes glowed like fire and his voice cut like
steel; “perhaps not–but He’s made of one blood all the mothers of the
earth, by God,” the words coming out aflame with passion as if his soul
were rent with bitter protest. Which indeed it was.
“What’s that?” I suddenly cried, pointing in the direction of our
house, from which we were not far distant now. “Oh, Gordon, quick,
what’s that?” as the dread sound fell upon my ear again.
For a dread sound it was indeed. I do not know that I had ever heard
it before–certainly not more than once, and then when but a child–but
it had the awful note that can be best described as the baying of
furious and avenging men. The Southern heart, I fancy, would recognize
it anywhere, just as a huntsman’s child would know the far-off voice of
hounds. I have heard many sounds since then, sounds that might well
strike terror to the stoutest heart, but none so fraught with the
savage omen of death and doom as the voice of strong and noble men when
they are maddened with revengeful hate and aflame with thirst for blood.
Gordon was already hurrying. “Good heavens,” I heard him murmur as we
turned a sudden jog in the road, “what a furious scene! They’re mad,
Helen, they’re mad,” he cried as we hurried closer; “what on earth
means this?–look, they’ve got a halter round the wretch’s neck.”
“Take me home,” I said faintly, pointing towards the house, now but a
few yards from us.
“What does it mean, I say?” he repeated huskily, pressing on as though
he did not hear.
“It means death,” I faltered; “they’re going to kill him—- Oh! take
me home,” as I clutched his arm and staggered half fainting towards the
Needless to say the household was astir. For our house had a fatal
location–at least, so it proved that night–standing as it did in a
quiet part of the town close to the long bridge that spanned the river.
And the crowd was making for the bridge; this was to serve as a
Uncle was not at home. He had gone forth about midnight, as my aunt
told me. A few minutes later he returned, but only for a moment, to
explain the cause of his absence, and to tell them not to expect him
till they saw him. His eyes were bloodshot, my mother said, and his
lips were dry. Yet uncle was the most peaceable of men–but this one
thing seems to make savages out of the mildest of Southern gentlemen.
It was the old story; this wretched negro had assaulted a woman on the
street, a poor ignorant white girl who had been sitting up with a sick
friend, and who thought she could slip unattended across the couple of
blocks that separated her from her home. He had dragged her into an
alley–but God sent somebody.
None of these infuriated men–and they comprised the flower of our
population, many of them men of wealth and culture–had ever heard of
the woman upon whom the black had attempted violence. But this
mattered not–had she been the beauty of the city, or the belle of the
South itself, their fury could not have been greater. She was white;
he was black–that was enough, esteemed by them as a warrant from God
Himself. For no thought of the right or wrong of their deadly zeal
ever took possession of their minds. No knight of the middle ages was
ever more sincere in the ardour that gave the Crusades their glory. If
ever men believed they were doing God service, they were these
hot-hearted men who hurried their trembling sacrifice onward to the
My aunt had put out the lights; whether to render the house less
conspicuous, or to help us see the better, I do not know. For few
words passed as the three white faces peered out at the wild scene
before us. The moon had risen now, and we could see the faces of some
of the men, though many were in masks. A peculiar quietness seemed to
come over the throng as they came closer to the bridge, once so tense
that we could catch distinctly the pleading wail of the central figure,
tugging desperately at the rope around his neck. Poor creature, he
knew not the ways of Southern men; or perhaps he did–and yet one
drowning in mid-ocean would still swim towards the shore.
We saw them drag the miserable culprit on to the bridge–then we turned
away. I suppose every Southern woman would cry out in horror at the
thought of following them thus far–and every one would have done the
same as we. Yet now we turned, faint, from the window–that last dread
scene was for other eyes than ours.
But suddenly we heard a mighty shout, marvelling what it might portend.
A kind of gleeful cry it was, as if something had been discovered, or
some better plan devised; which proved to be the case. For I looked
again, and lo! they were bearing the wretch back from the bridge. A
swift vision of mercy quickened my heart, for I took this to be a
reprieve. Yet the doomed man seemed reluctant to be moved, clinging
desperately to the railing of the bridge–for his hands were free. The
rope about his neck tightened as they dragged him back, and when it
relaxed I could hear his piteous appeals, breaking now into loud wails
of anguish. They dragged him on.
In a moment all was clear. A large post, or pole, stood close beside
the bridge; towards this they hauled him, new zeal seeming to animate
the breast of every executioner. I saw two or three of the younger men
running towards the pole. They had something in their arms. It was
wood–and a hot flush came over me from head to foot.
“Oh, God,” I moaned to myself, “they’re going to burn him,” and even as
I spoke they were tying the struggling man tight to the post, others
piling the wood up about him.
In an instant all was ready–and I caught the gleam of a lighted match.
I stood, transfixed with horror. Then I felt my aunt and my mother
tugging faintly at my dress, clutching at my arm, their faces averted
“Come away; for God’s sake, come away,” they pleaded, faint and sick at
I was just obeying and had already turned from the window, when I heard
a shout, full of savage wrath and protest–whereat I turned and looked
And my eyes fell on a scene that even yet, after all the intervening
years, I cannot recall without a bounding heart. For suddenly from out
the crowd there had rushed one man, tall, powerful, clothed in black,
his face as savage as the others, though it was savagery of a different
sort. He has told me since–though we have only spoken of it once or
twice through all the years–that his own life was as nothing to him
that night. He saw nothing but hundreds of bloodthirsty men, and one
guilty wretch, and the first lick of flame about his feet. Out from
the crowd had Gordon rushed with sudden impulse, and, when my eyes fell
on him, the sticks and faggots were going this way and that, some by
his feet, some by his hands outflung. Then, before the wonder-stricken
men who were closest to him could interfere, he had trampled on the two
or three already lighted brands, trampled them in fury deep into the
Then he stood before them; he was close beside the black, whose
quivering face was upturned to his in an agony of pleading. There he
stood, a mighty figure of a man; at least, so he appeared to me as I
gazed, petrified, at the awesome scene. And his pose was the very
incarnation of defiance as he towered above them, his face aflame with
indignation and courage and contempt.
Then I saw a movement in the crowd–or felt it rather–that chilled my
heart with terror. I knew what would happen now, knew it, with
unerring instinct–and I trembled as a fawn quivers when it hears the
first low cry of distant dogs. And swiftly, silently, scorning both
aunt and mother, I flew through the door on to the porch, down the
steps, gliding like a shadow till I found shelter behind an ancient elm
on the outskirts of the swaying crowd. I was as safe there, and as
unobserved, as though I had been a hundred miles away.
It only took a minute, but Gordon had begun to speak before I got
there, his quivering voice ringing like a bell through the night. The
men before me were just beginning to recover from the first shock of
“Who is that —- fool?” I heard one enquire, not more than four feet
ahead of me.
“I know him,” a voice answered. I recognized the informant at once–he
had been to our house for supper only a few nights before. “He’s a
parson that’s visiting the Lundys. A —- Scotchman,” he went on
contemptuously; “his father’s a collie dog over there–takes care of
sheep on the hills, he told me.”
I knew how helpless I was, but my blood was boiling. I shook my fist
at the horrid creature from where I stood–I could have lynched _him_,
right then and there.
“If you must kill him before he’s proved guilty,” came Gordon’s voice,
“kill him like white men, not like Indians.”
A mighty roar went up at this, and the crowd swayed nearer to the
central figures. A loud howl of terror came from the negro. But the
immediate peril was not for him–the storm was raging now about another
head than his. I think a moment later would have seen Gordon in the
clutches of the mob, had it not been temporarily restrained by one of
the oldest and most honoured of our citizens. I saw him lift his hand
as a signal for silence; in a moment he and Gordon seemed to be
carrying on an animated argument. I couldn’t hear Colonel Mitford, for
such was his name; but I could catch Gordon’s voice.
“I’ve heard plenty about your Southern chivalry–would you lynch a
white man if he offered the same indignity to a black woman as this
wretch has done?”
The Colonel seemed to pause for a season. And really, it’s not much
wonder that he should–I am as Southern as any one who ever lived, but
that question makes me pause even yet. Soon the Colonel broke out
again, this time into quite a prolonged speech.
“It’s all your rightful heritage,” came back Gordon’s voice, ringing
high; “it’s the legacy slavery has left you. You’re only reaping what
At this the clamour was renewed, the crowd pressing in again–and I
half started from my hiding-place. But again the Colonel persuaded
them to silence, and again he directed his remarks to Gordon He was
evidently saying something about the relation of the races.
Then came Gordon’s thunderbolt: “It seems to me,” he cried hotly,
recklessly, “it seems to me you couldn’t have much more fusion than you
have already–this negro’s half white himself;” which proved more, as I
knew it would, than any Southern man would stand.
“Then you can take what you deserve, curse you for a nigger-lover,” I
heard the Colonel retort madly, his voice lost in the roar of hate, the
wild outcry for vengeance that burst from the infuriated crowd. All
resistance was now swept away, and a few ringleaders at the front
fairly clutched at Gordon. One had him by the throat, the others
pressing in upon him with wolfish fury gleaming in their eyes.
But before their purpose–what it was I know not, nor probably did
they–before it could be carried out, another rushed to the grim
theatre. It was my Uncle Henry, his hat gone, lost somewhere in the
crowd. He leaped to where Gordon stood, and at his presence the men
“You shan’t injure this man,” he shouted hoarsely. “Not that I contend
he doesn’t deserve it–but he’s my guest,” the word echoing clear.
“He’s my guest,” uncle repeated, for he knew the magic of the word;
“he’s a stranger amongst us–and an ignorant stranger at that. I’ll
take the fool home,” he went on, casting at Gordon one of the most
contemptuous glances I ever saw from human eyes, “and I’ll deal with
him myself. I’ll promise you to deal with him–he’s my guest. And you
shall do as you please with the nigger.”
I think the storm abated for a moment. Perhaps it would have subsided
altogether, for stranger is a sacred name to Southern ears. But
suddenly Colonel Mitford, still ashy pale with wrath, shouted to the
“He said they couldn’t have more white blood in them than they’ve
got–he said we’re blended now,” the words ending in a half snarl, half
cry; for if there is anything under God’s sky that makes Southern men
drunk with fury it is just such a statement as Gordon had been rash
enough to make.
Some one else shouted a confirmation of the Colonel’s words, another
added something Gordon had never said; and slowly, relentlessly, the
crowd surged in again upon him. My uncle was rudely flung aside–I
could hear his voice in protest through the storm. Then, exactly what
I feared, some of the assassins, more maddened than the rest, jerked
the rope from the negro’s neck and flung it with a loud cry over
Gordon’s head. This was to the crowd what the taste of blood is to the
tiger, and a fiendish yell broke from a hundred throats. It is not
likely they really meant to kill him–but no one could forecast the
limit of their violence.
I wouldn’t have cared if there had been a million men and every man a
Nero. I didn’t will to do it, I didn’t know I was doing it, didn’t
calculate what it meant at all. But I just felt I was stronger than
them all, and that it was now or never. So, without word or cry, I
sprang from behind that ancient elm and leaped to where Gordon stood.
I could never remember that I pushed or elbowed through the crowd; I
don’t believe I did. There seemed to be an open path for me, and in
far less time than it takes to tell I was at his side. I remember how
close I was–so close that I caught the gleam of that awful negro’s
eyes and felt his breath upon my cheek as he panted in prospect of his
doom. And in a flash I had torn that rope from Gordon’s neck, flung it
on the ground, stamped on it, as I turned and hurled defiance at the
crowd in one long look that I felt myself was all of fire. Then I took
Gordon’s hand in mine, pointing silently towards the house. He
followed me, and uncle walked behind.
I don’t think the slightest resistance was offered us. The only
protest was from Gordon himself. He would have lingered, had he had
his way. But some word of mine–I know not what–settled that mad
purpose in his mind; and he walked beside me, towering still, his head
more erect, his bearing more kingly, than that of any of the throng who
turned scornful eyes upon him as we went.
We were almost through the crowd when something happened that almost
brought the mist of unconsciousness before my eyes, my head reeling, my
heart spinning like a top. A voice, instantly familiar, spoke Gordon’s
name, hurling an epithet of contempt and hate so malignant that he
turned a moment, as if he would seek and punish his assailant. Then he
smiled disdainfully, took my arm tighter in his own, and walked calmly
I too turned–and the face I saw was the face of Charlie Giddens. His
gaze met mine, and he sought to smile; but I could see his enmity to
Gordon gleaming through it all, and I hope my eyes bore themselves as
my heart would wish.
When we gained our home aunt and mother received us with weeping joy.
But uncle uttered never a word. Instead, he went silently about the
house, drawing tight the shutters on every window that looked upon the
scene we had just deserted. For he knew what was transpiring now. As
he came down the stairs, I met him in the hall and flung my arms about
his neck. Not a word of chiding escaped his lips–he stroked my hair,
and his tenderness was the tenderness of farewell.
I told him, with trembling voice, that I had seen Mr. Giddens in the
throng. This did not surprise him. “I know it,” he said; “he came in
on the eleven o’clock train–he heard the noise, of course, and came
up. Listen,” he suddenly cried, as we heard a footfall on the porch,
succeeded by a gentle knock at the door, “what’s that? That’ll be
him–go inside, child,” as he walked to the door to open it.
Gordon was sitting in the corner of the room, offering speech to
nobody, when Mr. Giddens came in. The latter bowed with courtly grace
to my mother and my aunt, casting on me a glance that showed he still
hoped–perhaps more now than ever. Then he walked straight over till
he stood in front of Gordon.
“Laird,” he said, before any one could speak, “you’ve tried to ruin my
happiness–and I’ve got to settle with you yet for that.” Gordon
sprang to his feet. “And you’ve outraged the sentiment of this
city–and you’ve disgraced this home,” the words coming out like
pistol-shots, “and I want to know what you’ve got to say for yourself.”
“Nothing–to you,” said Gordon, his face looking a little terrible, his
voice overflowing with contempt.
Mr. Giddens turned livid–and he made a motion backward with his hand,
a motion familiar to all Southern men; it was towards his pocket. “If
it weren’t my respect for the house we’re in,” he hissed through his
teeth, “I’d shoot you like a dog.”
Gordon’s face was now altogether terrible. He stepped closer to the
Southerner, his eyes fastened on him like balls of flame. “I’ve heard
other cowards talk like that,” he said.
Then Mr. Giddens’ hand flew forward, unarmed; and he struck Gordon full
in the face. We were too late–we might as well have raced with
lightning. Before we could speak or move, Gordon’s mighty grip was on
his throat, and he wrenched him back, back, till his head struck with a
thud against the corner wall. There is something marvellous about
these Scotchmen when madness seizes them. So reserved, so silent, so
inscrutable, there is no race on earth so calm and none so deadly. And
strength–such fearful strength! Still gripping him with grasp of
iron, Gordon drew back his hand, every muscle in neck and wrist
standing out like whip-cords as he gathered force for the blow.
Then suddenly his hand fell to his side; he seemed to shake himself
free from his passion, as a man wakens himself from sleep; the mighty
struggle showed in the quivering voice.
“I could kill you,” he said with fearful quietness; “I could kill you
now–go,” as he released his antagonist, already purple.
Holding his hand to his throat, the hot blood cooled by now, Mr.
Giddens staggered over towards my uncle. “Mr. Lundy,” he began
thickly, “we expect you to deal with this cur–as you said you would.
He’s brought disgrace on you–and he’s insulted every lady in the South
by what he did to-night–and we look to you to treat him as he
There was a queer smile about my uncle’s mouth. For nearly a minute he
did not speak, did not even look towards the man who had addressed him.
Then he turned slowly round.
“Mr. Giddens,” he began, in a voice that sounded strange from him,
“I’ll deal with him. Yes, sir, I reckon I’ll deal with him.”
“I knew you would, Mr. Lundy,” the other returned eagerly; “I knew no
“But I’ll deal with you _first_, sir,” my uncle interrupted stormily;
“you knew–you knew, did you? Perhaps you didn’t know that no
gentleman allows another man to insult his guest. And that’s what
you’ve done, sir–that’s what you’ve done–you struck a visitor in my
house, struck him in the face, sir. There’s the door, sir–the
street’s the place for you,–go,” his voice rolling like thunder now.
Mr. Giddens ventured an amiable smile, stepping a little nearer to my
uncle. I think he partly held out his hand. “Mr. Lundy,” he began in
a conciliatory tone, “I meant no disrespect to you. This really isn’t
necessary, Mr. Lundy. You and I were friends before we knew this–this
Scotchman–was on the earth. And it seems a pity—-”
“Go,” thundered my uncle, pointing to the door. Then suddenly his
voice grew white with ungovernable wrath, and he whipped a shining
pistol from his pocket. “Go, by heavens,” he cried huskily; “I had
this ready for the nigger–but you’ll get it if you speak another word.
Go out that door–or you’ll be carried out, by God,” as he advanced
nearer to the already retreating man.
When we were alone and all was still again, uncle silently motioned me
to follow him. Gordon had already departed in silence to his room.
Uncle took me into his own apartment and shut the door behind him.
“Helen,” he began gravely, “I shall speak no word to–to your friend.
Not a word. You must tell him.”
“Tell him what?” I asked, who had no need to ask.
“I reckon you know,” my uncle answered quietly. “He can stay here no
longer, of course.”
“No,” I assented, my voice choking.
“But he needn’t leave to-night–tell him he can stay the night. But
to-morrow,” he concluded significantly. I nodded.
“Will you go to him–some day, I mean?” he asked after a long pause.
“Yes,” I faltered, with downcast head; “yes, some day.”
“And leave me, Helen?”
“And your mother–and Aunt Agnes?”
“Yes,” I murmured low, the hot tears dropping from my eyes.
“I suppose you know he can never come back here any more?” he began
after a little, the words coming slowly and sadly.
“Yes,” I answered; “yes, never any more.”
“You’re foolish, Helen,” and his own voice was choking as he came over
and put his arm around me. “When you remember he’s a stranger; and
then, your mother and I and—-”
“Is that all?” I interrupted, sobbing.
“Yes,” he said slowly, “yes, that’s all.”
“Then I’ll tell him,” I said brokenly; “I’ll tell him now.”
I stole up-stairs to the attic and knocked at Gordon’s door. He opened
it; then asked me if I would come in. I looked around; he had begun
his simple packing. But he did not speak. Then I held out my
arms–and I heard him murmur “Thank God” while he held me tight, so
tight, as though he would never let me go.
I faltered out that uncle didn’t want him to go until the morning.
“It’s morning now,” he said firmly, “and I’m just ready to go,” from
which resolve I was powerless to dissuade him. “I’ll stay at the hotel
till to-morrow evening,” he added.
“But there’s a morning train,” I interrupted, looking up at him.
“I know–but I’m not going till the evening,” he said quietly. I knew
what he meant.
Suddenly he disengaged my arms and held me out in front of him. “Helen
Randall,” he said solemnly, “will you come to me?”
I buried my face again where it had been before; my tightening arms
gave him answer. Then he kissed me, kissed me–only twice, I
think–but he kissed me as maiden never was kissed before. And he bade
me go; which I did after I had clung to him once more. And I remember
how his poor face was bruised, where he had been struck the cruel blow.
I went to my room. Soon I heard him going down the stairs. I knew,
from the sound of his steps, that he was carrying his valise. He saw
Aunt Agnes in the hall, I believe, the only one who was there–and to
her he said his last farewell. I heard the door close gently; I could
catch the dying footfalls echoing through the night.
I opened my door before I went to bed. Something was resting against
it. Picking it up eagerly, I scanned it beneath the light. It was the
old Scotch psalm-book from which Gordon had sometimes sung. And the
page was turned over to mark one of the psalms–the forty-sixth–which
he had indicated with heavy strokes. My eyes swam as I read the great
lines over and over again. They seemed just meant for us:
“God is our refuge and our strength,
In straits a present aid;
Therefore although the earth remove,
We will not be afraid.”
It refreshed me like a breath of mountain air to read the words; I was
still murmuring them when I crept into bed. I resolved to try and
learn the tune that was set to the noble psalm–Stroudwater it was
called–and I wondered when I would sing it to Gordon in our own little
All of this, I remember, made me think that perhaps I wouldn’t make
such a bad minister’s wife after all. I really loved the psalms. Yet
I must confess, before this chapter finds its close, that a girl’s
heart takes a long time to change. I fear I was very weak and
frivolous after all; I know I thought far more of Gordon, and of his
love, than I did of religion or of the life-work that awaited me.
Because, just as sleep was coming down about me, I found that my
willful heart was chanting far other lines–and they seemed sweet and
“Still must you call me tender names,
Still gently stroke my tresses;
Still shall my happy answering heart
Keep time to your caresses.”
It was to their music I fell asleep, and I slept like a little child.
But I have come to think long since that the song and the psalm were
not such distant relatives after all.
The year that followed Gordon’s departure for the North was my growing
year. It was the sweetest, dreariest, love-brightest, loneliest year
of all my life–and it was, as I have said, my progress year. I mean,
by that, it was the year which led me farthest in to the real secret of
living and the real springs of life. Of course, it was a desolate
twelvemonth; I never saw Gordon’s face from its beginning to its close;
and this was a new side of life to me, to discover that I could miss
any one face so much. Nothing pleased me more than the sadness that
used to settle down on me every now and then, especially in the
twilight hour, when the dear absent one filled all my thought. There
was a kind of royal state about my widowhood–if that sombre word can
be applied to such a hopeful year–that made me feel I was set apart
from all other girls, especially from those who had their happiness on
tap right at their hands. Mine seemed to be fed from far-off
fountains, farther up the hill; and I felt a kind of envious pity for
those whose unromantic luxury it was to see their sweethearts every
night. I walked by faith; but they by sight, I thought, paraphrasing a
text of Scripture–which, it occurred to me, was the proper thing for a
girl with such ministerial prospects as my own. But I suppose they
pitied me in turn; which only goes to show what a self-rectifying world
Besides, so far as my own household was concerned, I was deliciously
alone. I learned, in this connection, something of the martyr’s
mysterious joy. If there was one thing beyond another that made me
love Gordon more and more wildly every day, it was that my family
hardly ever spoke his name. Excepting mother, of course; she was still
my mother, if a disappointed and saddened one–and sometimes great
freshets of tenderness and sympathy flowed from her heart over into
mine. But uncle was so stern about it all, so consistently silent. If
he had been a rejected lover himself he couldn’t have handed me
Gordon’s daily letter more solemnly than he used to do when he came in
with the mail.
These I always read alone in secret, putting them away afterwards with
reverent hands–and I kept the key myself this time. And such letters
as they were! I could be famous over all the world, if I chose to
publish the love-letters of Gordon Laird–they were a combination of
poetry and fire. Yet I had always read, and heard, that Scotchmen,
even when in love, were as reserved and cold as their native mountains.
Perhaps they are–but my Scotchman must have been a Vesuvius, with
Eolian harp accompaniment, as the world would concede if they could
once get their eyes upon his letters.
I valiantly renounced everything I thought questionable for a girl
whose promised husband was a minister of the Gospel. I gave up cards,
of course, though not without a pang. Sometimes I still went to card
parties, but I never did anything worse than punch the score cards,
which I could do quite dexterously. I never cared for the business
though; if there’s a mean occupation on earth, it’s punching score
cards while everybody else is having all the fun. I fancy I felt a
good deal like those famous pugilists that drop down at last to holding
a sponge, or something of that sort. I began, too, to take a faint
interest in temperance; forswore claret punch forever; thought
seriously, for several weeks, of giving up syllabubs; even went so far
at table as to ask Aunt Agnes if she thought brandy sauce was quite the
thing. Aunt said I didn’t raise the question till after I had had two
helpings. With regard to “the light fantastic,” I never danced
anything stronger than Sir Roger; used to play, sometimes, while the
others waltzed–but that’s deadly dry, like punching score cards, or
holding a sponge when your fighting days are done.
About the brandy sauce, mother told me after that I needn’t worry. Did
I know how expensive brandy was, she said. And I had already told her
how much salary Gordon was getting in his mission field in Canada.
There is no need to mention it here–but it was mighty little. He had
a country station, somewhere in the rural districts; of which, to my
mind at least, Canada seemed to be almost entirely composed. For all I
knew of that Dominion was from the geography we learned at school; it
gave only a few paragraphs to our nearest neighbour nation–and these
were clustered round a picture that would chill you to behold, the
picture of a man without coat or vest, knee-deep in snow, lifting up
his axe upon the trees of the forest.
Gordon’s letters, of course, were full of his work and his people. And
they didn’t contain much that would likely attract a girl brought up as
I had been. Little gatherings of people, mostly in country
schoolhouses, deadly singing–which must have been hard on Gordon–rude
companionship, humble lodgings and humbler fare, long rides and walks,
scant results for all his toil. But he seemed to love his work and his
people, and never complained. Once or twice he said they were woefully
conservative in their theology, and that they were sternly set against
all the views of modern scholarship, even though they didn’t know what
they were. To tell the truth, I didn’t know myself, but I felt uneasy
at the term; far from religious though I was, I yet always felt that
there were no doctrines worth the name except the old ones–the older
the better, thought I. And when I asked Mr. Furvell about it he said
he hoped Gordon wasn’t a disciple of Robertson Smith, and added
something darkly about a “higher critic.” I didn’t know exactly what
this last might be–the adjective might apply to Gordon all right, I
reckoned, but I didn’t like the noun.
Anyhow, we were going to be married; that was the principal thing to
me, and I went bravely on making preparations for the greatest event of
all my life. I hadn’t much to bring Gordon as a dower–practically
nothing, indeed–for my mother’s modest income left no margin for that,
and was so bequeathed that it could not survive her. But I wanted to
bring him a good true heart and a sound body–with a few lovely things
to clothe it. Every girl wants that, or ought to, at least.
Of course, it was a sad feature of the case that we were not to be
married at our own home. I suppose we might have been. In fact,
mother told me as much, and I knew she had it straight from uncle. But
I knew right well that it couldn’t be a happy wedding there, with
matters as they were; and, besides, it would have raked into fire the
smouldering embers of that awful blaze that I have told about already.
And the whole town would have been agog–not in the way, either, that
every girl likes a town to be when she gets married. So it was
arranged that our wedding was to take place quietly in Baltimore, at
the house of a girl friend of mine whose marriage had taken her there
to live. Gordon was to meet me there–though I really believe he would
have preferred to beard the lions in their den–and mother was to go
North and see me launched on this unknown sea.
The first time I was ever angry with Gordon was about six weeks before
our wedding day. He wrote me a long letter, full of details about the
humbleness of his position, and the slimness of his prospects–and the
scarcity of his cash. He wanted to go ahead, of course, he said; but
he thought it only fair to tell me, accustomed as I had been to a life
of comparative luxury, of the great sacrifice I was making, and to give
me a chance even yet, should I shrink from it, to etc., etc. I wrote
him that very night and I told him I’d marry him if we had only the
north side of a corn-cob to live on, which I inwardly thought was a
pretty vigorous stroke and worthy of a nimbler pen than mine. Gordon
always kept that letter, he told me long after, lest the corn crop
should ever fail.
It was a lovely wedding, though there were only four people besides
ourselves to see it. Gordon held my hand so tight in his; and what I
felt the most, and gloried in, was this–that he was so much stronger
than I. My gown looked beautiful, they all said; and I cried a
little–two things that are necessary, it seems to me, to any really
successful wedding. I remember how Gordon cautioned me to be careful
about packing my lovely dress, because, he explained, he wanted his
people to see me at my best. This struck me as rather odd, considering
the class of people I was to live among–I fancied a linsey-woolsey
would please them as well as anything else. And I wondered when I
would ever get a chance to wear the beautiful creation. But I had no
idea of the surprise that was in store for me.
Mother went home by train. My husband and I started on our way by
boat. It was a sweet and delicate suggestion on Gordon’s part that we
should go southward again for a day or two, to begin our married life
under the dear familiar skies I loved so well. Wherefore we set sail
that evening, exactly at seven o’clock, on the Old Bay Line, our
destination to be Old Point Comfort, which we would reach the following
It is really a pathetic thought that the bridal joy comes only once
into a maiden’s life, so quickly past and gone. It leads, no doubt–or
ought to lead–into a deeper peace and a more steadfast love; but it
leads, too, away from the tranquil care-free days of youth, on in to
the storm and stress of life’s long battle. I remember yet, with a
thrill that never seems to die, the rapture of that hour as we steamed
slowly out from Baltimore. There were not many passengers–none that
we had ever seen before. We were alone–together. And by and by we
found a place on a deserted corner of the deck, our chairs close
together, our hands sometimes passionately clasping as we looked out
over the darkening bay and thought in silence of the waiting years
through which we were to be parted never more. By and by the rising
moon clothed the bay in a robe of glory; and thus, with love and light
about us, as happy as though no storm could ever disturb our lifelong
way, we started on the long, long journey we were to take together.
“I’ve got some news for you, dear,” Gordon suddenly startled me by
“Do tell me quick, Gordon,” said I. Only Gordon wasn’t the name I used.
“Try and guess.”
I thought a moment. “They’ve papered that old house,” I said, “without
waiting till I came,” for Gordon had told me that the natives of his
country parish had designs on the old stone manse against my arrival.
“Oh, no,” he said, laughing. “No, it’s good news–at least, I hope it
may turn out to be.”
“Oh,” I exclaimed, drawing a long breath, “I’m so glad–the paper
they’d choose would give me the jimjams, I know. Well, tell me.”
“We’re not going to the old stone manse at all,” he said, turning and
looking radiantly at me in the moonlight. “We’re not going to
Rocanville–I’ve got a call, Helen.”
“Where?” I gasped, leaning forward with my elbows on his knees, caring
not who saw. “And why didn’t you tell me—- Oh, Gordon, did you feel
you couldn’t trust me?” my voice trembling a little as the first pang
of conjugal sorrow smote my bosom.
He laughed; then stooped and kissed me, having previously cast a swift
Scotch glance about the deck. “I’d trust you with my life, my
darling,” he murmured–which comforted me a good deal. “But I wasn’t
exactly sure till two or three days ago–and I wanted to surprise
you–and I wanted always to think that when my Helen gave herself to
me, she thought she was going into the wilds for love’s sweet sake. So
it will always be just as precious to me as if you had actually gone.”
“But where are we going?” I pressed eagerly, not lingering on the
sweetness; “don’t keep me waiting, Gordon.”
“To Old Point Comfort,” he said with the most provoking deliberation.
“Don’t tease me, dearest,” I protested. Wonderful, isn’t it, how
brides always employ the tenderest names when they are just a little
And then he told me where it was we were to begin our married life.
The church that had called us was named St. Andrew’s; and it was the
leading church, Gordon said, in Hertford, a Canadian city that shall so
be named. “At least,” he hastened to add, “it’s the richest church,
has the richest class of people in it–whether that makes it the
leading church or not.”
“Oh, I’m so glad,” I exclaimed breathlessly, my face aglow. “So that’s
why you wanted me to be so careful of my wedding dress? Isn’t it all
like a lovely fairy tale? And are we going there right away?”
“Yes–after we leave Point Comfort. I’m to be installed there a week
from to-day–and there’s to be a reception to us in the evening.”
“Oh, lovely!” I cried; “I didn’t think I’d get a chance to wear my
finery at all. Do tell me all about it, Gordon,” as I snuggled closer
in the moonlight. The deck was gloriously deserted now.
“There isn’t much to tell,” he said, and I wondered why he wasn’t more
jubilant about it all. “They invited me to preach before them a few
weeks ago. I went–never dreamed they would call me, though. But they
did. And the church isn’t such a very large one–but it’s very
fashionable; too fashionable, I fear. A minister isn’t always happiest
in a church like that, you know,” and again I caught the note in his
voice which showed he didn’t regard the prospect with unmixed
“But I know we’ll be happy, dear,” I reassured him, quite frank in my
exultation; “that class of people will suit you so much better.
They’ll appreciate you–you’d have been wasted on those common people
at that other outlandish place.”
“Not wasted, dear,” he answered quietly; “a man’s never wasted where he
does his best. But I’m glad for your sake,” he went on more brightly;
“I don’t think I’d have gone, only I thought you’d be happier there.”
“I’d be happy anywhere with you,” I replied in bridal bliss. “I’d have
come to you just the same if you’d been assistant minister of an Indian
church at the North Pole. But I’m glad,” my happy words went on, “I’m
so glad we’re going to be among congenial people. And I’m sure we’ll
have a lovely time–we’ll have a lovely social life, I mean.”
“I hate social life–society life, at least,” Gordon suddenly broke out
in a voice that quite startled me; “and if they think I’m going to be a
gossipy tea-drinking parson, they’ll soon find their mistake.”
“But, Gordon,” I remonstrated seriously, “you shouldn’t look at it that
way. Consider the influence you can have over them–that is, through
their social life. I think the minister of rich people has the
greatest chance in the world–to do them good, I mean. And I’ll help
you–I’ll help you, dearest.”
“How?” my husband enquired after a little pause.
“Well,” I answered slowly; “oh, well, I like that sort of thing. I’m
not much good, you know, at–at–religious work, prayer-meetings and
things,” I floundered on; “but I can–I can do that part, because I
like it. I’ll try and help you, Gordon–in that department, you know,”
I concluded, realizing, I fear, that it wasn’t a very heroic field.
“I want my little wife to help me in all the departments,” he answered,
smiling. “And you will, won’t you, dearest–you’ll love my work for
its own sake, won’t you?”
Which I promised swiftly. “But I think I’ll love it more in that kind
of a church,” I added frankly, “than I would at Rocanville. And of
course I won’t play cards with them, or dance–or anything like that,”
I affirmed piously, looking to Gordon for an approving smile; “but I
suppose it won’t be any harm for me to go to those things, will it,
“I hadn’t thought of that,” he said, looking out over the shining bay;
“but I want my wife to find her life-work in mine–and to help me be a
truer and better minister, no matter where our field of work may be.”
All of which I promised, with the gladdest, happiest heart. And I told
Gordon I wanted him to write me out a little prayer, a kind of
missionary prayer, for opening meetings with, and all that sort of
thing. Gordon said I was a ritualist.
Then we arose to go inside, for the night was growing chill.
“Is there any danger, Gordon,” I asked as we walked through the saloon,
“any danger, do you think, that my trunks won’t get to Hertford the
same day we do? They have the reception that night, you said.”
“Oh, no,” he said; “the trunks have gone on ahead already.”
“I’m so glad,” I answered; “it would be too bad to begin our work there
with–with any handicap like that, you know.”
It was evident there were plenty of rich people in St. Andrew’s, as
Gordon had told me. I hadn’t been half an hour in the parlours of the
church that evening of our reception before I was sure of that. My
trunks had come to hand all right, and my wedding splendour was making
what show it could, but it soon found its level among the costly gowns
that were worn by many a fair dame that night. If I had wanted
abundant evidence that Gordon was to be minister of a fashionable
church, I had every reason to be satisfied. I had never seen so much
rich religion in any one organization. Although, of course, the
evening wasn’t very much on the religious order. There was an opening
prayer, I think, and the good brother who offered it prayed that they
might all go out into the highways and byways and compel them to come
in. I remember thinking most of them would have to change their
clothes before they did any highway duty of that kind–and I felt sorry
for the wanderers that might be introduced.
The people were very kind and cordial in their welcome. But I could
see they expected me to realize what a superior sort of people they
were, and what a fortunate sort of individual I was. They nearly all
shook hands in the high pump-handle fashion that was almost unknown in
the South; and they managed, in divers little ways, to let me know they
were a very elaborate aggregation of Christian folks. I rather thought
one or two of the best groomed of them looked at me as if I had no
right to be so decently clothed myself.
The evening was far spent when, as my husband was talking to a lady, a
very important looking man came up and shook her solemnly by the hand.
“We’re glad to welcome you, Mrs. Laird,” he said; “I have already met
your husband–and I hope you’ll feel at home amongst us.” Whereat
Gordon got quite excited. “Oh,” he broke in, “this is not my
wife–here,” as he beckoned to me, “this is Mrs. Laird”–and I hurried
forward. I cast a swift glance at the woman he had taken for me, and
my cheeks burned with indignation. She was very religious, as I
learned afterwards–but she was forty if she was a day, and dressed as
if she had just come out of the ark, and wore a bonnet that might have
been an heirloom in the family. However, I forgave her, being secretly
thankful that it was not I. She was a stranger, I learned, from
In a few minutes Mr. Ashton–for such proved to be the gentleman’s
name–was deep in conversation with me and Gordon.
“Yes,” he went on, after some casual remarks, “your husband has fell on
his feet all right.” I started a little at the grammar; for Mr. Ashton
was bedecked in the best of clothes, and had one or two diamonds about
his person into the bargain. “We had forty-three applications when our
pulpit became vacant–and it was quite a strain, picking out the man.
You see, this is a very remarkable congregation,” he went on in quite a
wealthy tone, “and it’s not every man could just suit us. But I think
you’ll give us exactly what we want, Mr. Laird,” he added, turning to
Gordon; “your style suits me exactly,” and he smiled very amiably at my
“I haven’t anything but the Gospel, Mr. Ashton,” Gordon replied, a
little distantly I thought, “and I suppose that’s what any of the
forty-three would have given you.”
“Yes, yes,” replied Mr. Ashton, toying with a ponderous seal that
dangled from a very elaborate chain, “the Gospel’s the thing. Give me
the Gospel–and the old Gospel too–none of your new-fangled ideas for
me. No man could have got St. Andrew’s pulpit if I’d thought he
believed there was two Isaiahs. You don’t believe in those new-fangled
notions, of course, do you, Mr. Laird?”
Gordon flushed slightly. “I don’t concern myself much with whether a
truth is old or new,” he answered presently, “so long as I believe it’s
the truth. Even if it comes from the critics, I welcome truth from
them as quickly as from any other source.”
“Certainly, certainly,” said Mr. Ashton loftily, knitting his brows the
while, “to a certain extent, that is. But the old doctrines are good
enough for me. And–as I was saying, Mrs. Laird–we’ve got a very rich
congregation; very rich,” he repeated, drawing in his breath, “and, I
hope, not without a sense of its responsibility too. Last year we had
a surplus of eight hundred dollars–no regular salary to pay, you
see–and on my own motion, on my own motion, we voted seventy-five of
it to foreign missions. None of us felt the poorer for it, I’m
sure–and I hope we’ll be kept faithful to the end,” he went on
piously, “faithful to the end, Mr. Laird,” as he turned again and
smiled at Gordon.
“I’d have gone in for giving the whole thing to missions,” Gordon
“Very good, Mr. Laird; very good indeed, to a certain extent. But we
never expect our minister to bother with the finances,” he said
patronizingly. “Our last minister got into trouble that way–was
always preaching about the poor; talked a great deal about giving, and
that sort of thing–used to preach some very worldly sermons. And our
people didn’t take to it, didn’t take to it at all, Mrs. Laird. To be
quite frank, our people want the Gospel and nothing but the Gospel–I’m
that way myself; none of your financial or political sermons for me,”
he concluded quite significantly. “If our minister looks after his
pulpit and gets up the kind of sermons we expect him to give,
we’ll–we’ll run the finances all right, Mr. Laird.” Then he dangled
his glittering fob again and smiled up at Gordon; for Gordon was half a
head higher than he.
“I’m afraid we’re keeping you too much to ourselves, Mr. Ashton,”
Gordon suddenly broke in, offering me his arm and starting to move
away; “the others will want to speak to you,” as he smilingly withdrew,
a light in his eyes that I could interpret quite well, lost though it
was on our prosperous parishioner. Before we left, Gordon enquired
quietly about Mr. Ashton, and we learned that he owned a huge factory
and was quite the richest man in the church. One or two declared he
ran the whole institution, and that whatever he said was law. I don’t
think this cheered Gordon very much.
The two years that followed were trying ones for me. It seemed as if I
were on exhibition on every hand, and I felt nearly all the time as if
I were at some kind of a public meeting. The church had no end of
societies, especially women’s societies, and they all expected me to be
present on every occasion. I did my best but it was pretty hard. I
memorized the little prayer Gordon had written out for me–and broke
down in the middle of it the first time I tried to deliver it. It was
like being lost at sea. And one of the ladies afterwards, whose
husband was very rich–he made it out of lard–told me not to be
discouraged; she said their previous minister’s wife made a living show
of herself, time and time again, before she got to be able to pray
properly. So I stopped right there, without further exhibition.
I bravely attempted teaching a class in the Sunday-school. Things
didn’t go so badly for the first three Sundays, although the boys asked
some questions that dreadfully embarrassed me; I told them they must
think these things out for themselves. But the fourth Sunday two of
them fell to fighting–over a big glass alley–and they had a quite
disgraceful time. There was bloodshed. It really quite unnerved me,
as I didn’t know the minute they might break out again; so in about six
weeks I gave that up.
Another thing discouraged me a good deal–and that was that we were
comparatively poor. Although the congregation was composed so largely
of rich people, they seemed to think–and Mr. Ashton openly
avowed–that nothing injured a minister’s spiritual life like having
too much money. So we were kept pretty safe that way. But there was
one lovely thing about the salary–and that was, the manse; within
which Gordon and I made our home as soon as we came to Hertford. It
seemed a little small to me in comparison with uncle’s big house at
home; but we fixed it up till it was as sweet and cozy as any little
home could be, and Gordon’s delight was something to behold. He said
it was like a palace to him, and I was its lovely queen. This was very
melodious to me, for when Gordon said pretty things he meant them.
However, it was rather trying, after all, to be so much harder up than
many of our people. Some of these seemed to love to ask me why we
didn’t keep horses; and whether or not we were going to Europe this
summer; and how many servants we employed. They knew right well all
the time that we had enough to do to keep ourselves, and that we were
about as likely to go to Mars as to Europe–it comforted me a little to
know I could have gone if I hadn’t fallen in love with Gordon–and as
for servants, we had only our red-headed Harriet; but she was first
cousin to the wife of one of the richest men in the church. Their
fathers were brothers, Harriet told me exultantly; but Harriet’s had
remained a mechanic, while Mrs. Newcroft’s had become a manufacturer.
Harriet generally got one afternoon in the week off; Mrs. Newcroft soon
found this out, and always chose that day to call, lest Harriet should
greet her as Mary Ann–which, in my opinion, she had a perfect right to
It was a funny aristocracy we had in Hertford–about as cheerful, and
hopeful, and mushroomy an aggregation as you could find anywhere. So
different from the South, it was; wealth didn’t cut much of a figure
with our old Southern families. But the patricians of Hertford, for
the most part, had bought their way to the seats of the mighty; and
nearly all the blue blood was financially blue. Some of the grand
dames had been servants themselves in their early days; which was no
disgrace to them, I’m sure, only it was amusing to see how they looked
down on servants now. In fact, I often felt how discouraging must have
been their arduous efforts to build up an aristocracy at all; things
would have gone pretty well, had it not been for some mean old
outsiders who would insist on remembering back thirty or forty years.
Those within the sacred circle generously forgot–each for the other.
They let bygones be bygones, to their mutual advantage. But outsiders
had cruel memories. Wherefore, just when they were getting their
aristocracy nicely established, some of these inconsiderate old-timers
would go rummaging in the past; and, the first thing we knew, they
would stumble on an anvil, or unearth a plough, or a hod, or something
of that kind–whereat the blue-blooded had to begin all over again.
For the descendants of hod, or plough, or anvil, had somehow developed
the greatest scorn for these honest trade-marks of other days.
Gordon never said much to me–I heard him use the term “Shanghai
nobility” once, with a smile–but I knew how he despised it all. I
could see his eye flash sometimes when some of them were getting off
their little speeches, trying to let us know in what lofty society they
moved and what superior folks they were. Indeed, it became more and
more clear to me that Gordon was never meant to be the minister of a
rich congregation at all. His father was a shepherd–it used to
mortify the grandees of St. Andrew’s dreadfully to hear him say so–and
Gordon was full of the simple sincerity and manly independence that I
felt sure must have marked his ancestors. And I don’t think Gordon
ever preached a sermon without unconsciously making them feel that he
was independent of them, if ever a man was, which was the simple truth,
for my husband had his warrant from far higher hands than theirs, and I
don’t think he knew what it was to feel the fear of man.
Wherefore it came about, and it is not to be wondered at, that Gordon
found a great deal of his work among the poor. Little by little, to
the dismay of many of the aristocrats, he added to the number of the
lowly that made their church home in St. Andrew’s. And he founded, and
cherished, a mission chapel in Swan Hollow, one of the most degraded
parts of the city. I really believe the rich were jealous of the poor,
for Gordon seemed to love them best and to be happiest when he was
among them. But the poor people worshipped him for it–and I believe I
Oh, how I envied him! For he seemed to have a source of happiness of
which I knew nothing. I can remember, when my days were full of teas,
and at-homes, and all sorts of social functions, how much more full and
satisfying his life seemed to be than mine. Sometimes I would get
Harriet to make a little jelly, or some delicacy of that sort, for the
poor sick folks he used to tell me about; but Gordon gave them his
heart, his life, his love–and that made all his work a perpetual joy
to him. This was the deep spring from which he drank–and I had no
part in it at all. I used to punch the score cards at evening parties,
and sometimes I played for the dancers as before–thus did my poor
hungry heart nibble at the phantom crumbs that fell from the rich man’s
table. But both my heart and I were starving.
It strikes me as wonderful, now that I sit and look back upon it all,
how inevitably, and by what different paths, and under what varying
influences I came closer to Gordon’s side.