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THE OLD BASCOM PLACE.
I.

One Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1876, as Farmer Joe-Bob Grissom was on his way to Hillsborough for the purpose of hearing the news and having an evening’s chat with his town acquaintances,—as was his invariable custom at the close of the week,—he saw, as he passed the old Bascom Place, an old gentleman and a young lady walking slowly along the road. The old gentleman was tall and thin, and had silvery white hair. He wore a high-crowned, wide-brimmed felt hat, and his clothes, though neat, were too glossy to be new. The young lady was just developing into womanhood. She had a striking face and figure. Her eyes were large and brilliantly black; her hair, escaping from under her straw hat with its scarlet ribbons, fell in dusky masses to her waist.

[193]

The two walked slowly, and occasionally they paused while the old gentleman pointed in various directions with his cane, as though impressing on the mind of his companion the whereabouts of certain interesting landmarks. They were followed at a little distance by a negro, who carried across his arm a light wrap which seemed to be a part of the outfit of the young lady.

As Farmer Joe-Bob Grissom passed the two, he bowed and tipped his hat by way of salutation. The old gentleman raised his hat and bowed with great courtliness, and the young lady nodded her head and smiled pleasantly at him. Farmer Joe-Bob was old enough to be grizzly, but the smile stirred him. It seemed to be a direct challenge to his memory. Where had he seen the young lady before? Where had he met the old gentleman? He was puzzled to such an extent that he paid no attention to the negro man, who touched his hat and bowed politely as the farmer passed—a fact that made the negro wonder a little; for day in and out he had known Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom nearly forty years, and never before had that worthy citizen failed to respond with a cordial “Howdy” when the negro took off his hat.

[194]

Farmer Joe-Bob Grissom walked on towards town, which was not far, and the old gentleman and the young lady walked slowly along the hedge of Cherokee roses that ran around the old Bascom Place, while the negro followed at a respectful distance. Once they paused, and the old gentleman rubbed his eyes with a hand that trembled a little.

“Why, darling!” he exclaimed in a tone of mingled grief and astonishment, “they have cut it down.”

“Cut what down, father?”

“Why, the weeping-willow. Don’t you remember it, daughter? It stood in the middle of the field yonder. It was a noble tree. Well, well, well! What next, I wonder?”

“I do not remember it, father; I have so much to”—

“Yes, yes,” the old gentleman interrupted. “Of course you couldn’t remember. The place has been so changed that I seem to have forgotten it myself. It has been turned topsy-turvy; it has been ruined—ruined!”

He leaned on his cane, and with quivering lips and moist eyes looked through the green perspective of the park, and over the fertile fields and meadows.

[195]

“Ruined!” exclaimed the young lady. “How can you say so, father? I never saw a more beautiful place. It would make a lovely picture.”

“And they have ruined the house, too. The whole roof has been changed.” The old man pulled his hat down over his eyes, his hand trembling more than ever. “Let us turn back, Mildred,” he said after a while. “The sight of all this frets and worries me more than I thought it would.”

“They say,” said the daughter, “that the gentleman who owns the place has made a good deal of money.”

“Yes,” replied the father, “I suppose so—I suppose so. Yes, so I have heard. A great many people are making money now who never made it before—a great many.”

“I wish they would tell us the secret,” said the young lady, laughing a little.

“There is no secret about it,” said the old gentleman; “none whatever. To make money you must be mean and niggardly yourself, and then employ others to be mean and niggardly for you.”

“Oh, it is not always so, father,” the young girl exclaimed.

“It was not always so, my daughter.[196] There was a time when one could make money and remain a gentleman; but that was many years ago.”

The young lady was apparently not anxious to continue the argument, for she lightly turned the conversation into a more agreeable channel; and so the two, still followed by the negro, made their way through the shaded streets of the town.

That evening, when Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom, after making some little purchases about town, went to the hotel, which he persisted in calling a tavern, he found Major Jimmy Bass engaged in a hot political discussion with a crowd which included a number of the townspeople, as well as a sprinkling of commercial travelers. Major Jimmy was one of the ancient and venerable landmarks of that region. He had once been an active politician, and had been engaged in political discussion for forty years or more. Old and fat as he was, he knew how to talk, and nothing pleased him more than to get hold of a stranger when a crowd of sympathetic fellow-citizens, young and old, was present to applaud the points he made.

Whenever Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom appeared in the veranda of the hotel he made[197] it a point to shake hands with every person present, friend and stranger alike. His politeness was a trifle elaborate, but it was genuine.

“Why, howdy, Joe-Bob, howdy!” exclaimed Major Bass with effusion. “You seem to turn up at the right time, like the spangled man in the circus. I’m glad you’ve come, an’ ef I’d ’a’ had my way you’d ’a’ come sooner, bekaze you’re jest a little too late fer to see me slap the argyments onto some of these here travelin’ drummers. They are gone now,” the major continued, with a sweeping gesture of his right arm. “They are gone, but I wisht mightily you’d ’a’ been here. New things is mortal nice, I know; but when these new-issue chaps set up to out-talk men that’s old enough to be their grand-daddy, it does me a sight of good fer to see ’em took down a peg er two.”

As soon as he could get in a word edgewise, farmer Joe-Bob Grissom attempted to turn the conversation in a direction calculated to satisfy his curiosity.

“Major,” he said in his deliberate way, “what’s this I see out yonder at the old Bascom Place?”

[198]

“The Lord only knows, Joe-Bob. What might be the complexion, er yet the character, of it?”

“Well,” said Mr. Grissom, “as I was makin’ to’rds town a little while ago, I seen some folks that don’t look like they b’long ’roun’ here. One of ’em was a old man, an’ t’ other one was a young gal, an’ a nigger man was a-follerin’ of ’em up—an’, ef I make no mistakes, the nigger man was your old Jess. I didn’t look close at the nigger, but arter I’d passed him it come to me that it wa’n’t nobody on the topside of the roun’ worl’ but Jess.”

“Why, bless your life an’ soul!” exclaimed Major Bass, giving farmer Joe-Bob a neighborly nudge, “don’t you know who them folks was? Well, well! Where’s your mind? Why, that was old Briscoe Bascom an’ his daughter.”

“I say it!” exclaimed farmer Joe-Bob, hitching his chair closer to the major.

“Yes, sir,” said the major, “that’s who it was. Why, where on earth have you been? The old Judge drapped in on the town some weeks ago, an’ he’s been here ever sence. He’s been here long enough for the gal to make up a school. Lord,[199] Lord! What a big swing the world’s in! High on one side, high on t’ other, an’ the old cat a-dyin, in the middle! Why, bless your heart, Joe-Bob! I’ve seed the time when ef old Judge Briscoe Bascom jest so much as bowed to me I’d feel proud fer a week. An’ now look at ’im! Ef I knowed I’d be took off wi’ the dropsy the nex’ minute, I wouldn’t swap places wi’ the poor old creetur.”

“But what is old Jess a-doin’ doggin’ ’long arter ’em that a-way?” inquired Mr. Grissom, knitting his shaggy eyebrows.

“That’s what pesters me,” exclaimed the major. “Ef niggers was ree-sponsible fer what they done, it would be wuss than what it is. Now you take Jesse: you needn’t tell me that nigger ain’t got sense; yit what does he do? You seen ’im wi’ your own eyes. Why, sir,” continued the major, growing more emphatic, “I bought that nigger from Judge Bascom’s cousin when he wa’n’t nothin’ but a youngster, an’ I took him home an’ raised him up right in the house,—yes, sir, right in the house,—an’ he’s been a-hangin’ ’roun’ me off an’ on, gittin’ his vittles, his clozes, an’ his lodgin’. Yit, look at him now! I wisht I may die[200] dead ef that nigger didn’t hitch onto old Judge Bascom the minute he landed in town. Yes, sir! I’m a-tellin’ you no lie. It’s a clean, naked fact. That nigger quit me an’ went an’ took up wi’ the old judge.”

“Well,” said Mr. Grissom, stroking his unshorn face, “you know what the sayin’ is: Niggers ’ll be niggers even ef you whitewash ’em twice a week.”

“Yes,” remarked the major thoughtfully; “I hope to goodness they’ve got souls, but I misdoubt it. Lord, yes, I misdoubt it mightily.”
II.

As Major Jimmy Bass used to say, the years cut many queer capers as they go by. The major in his own proper person had not only witnessed, but had been the victim, of these queer capers. Hillsborough was a very small place indeed, and, for that very reason perhaps, it was more sensitive to changes in the way of progress and decay than many larger and more ambitious towns.

However this may have been, it is certain that the town, assisted by the major, had noted the queer capers the years had cut in[201] the neighborhood of the old Bascom Place. This attitude on the part of Hillsborough—including, of course, Major Jimmy Bass—may be accounted for partly by the fact that the old place had once been the pride and delight of the town, and partly by the fact that the provincial eye and mind are nervously alert to whatever happens within range of their observation.

Before and during the war the Bascom Place was part and parcel of a magnificent estate. The domain was so extensive and so well managed that it was noted far and wide. Its boundary lines inclosed more than four thousand acres of forests and cultivated fields. This immense body of land was known as the old Bascom Place.

Bolling Bascom, its first owner, went to Georgia not long after the close of the Revolution, with a large number of Virginians who proposed to establish a colony in what was then the far South. The colony settled in Wilkes County; but Bolling Bascom, more adventurous than the rest, pushed on into middle Georgia, crossed the Oconee, and built him a home, and such was his taste, his energy, and his thrift, that the results thereof may be seen and admired in Hillsborough to this day.

[202]

But the man, like so many of his fellow-citizens then and thereafter, was land-hungry. He bought and bought until he had acquired the immense domain, which, by some special interposition of fate or circumstance, is still intact. Meantime he had built him a house which was in keeping with the extent and richness of his landed possessions. It was planned in the old colonial style, but its massive proportions were relieved by the tall red chimneys and the long and gracefully fashioned colonnade that gave both strength and beauty to the spacious piazza which ran, and still runs, the whole length of the house.

When Bolling Bascom died, in 1830, aged seventy years, as the faded inscription on the storm-beaten tablet in the churchyard shows, he left his son, Briscoe Bascom, to own and manage the vast estate. This son was thirty years old, and it was said of him that he inherited the gentle qualities of his mother rather than the fiery energy and ambition of his father.

Bolling Bascom was neither vicious nor reckless, but he was a thorough man of the world. He was, in short, a typical Virginian gentleman, who for his own purposes had settled in Georgia.

[203]

Whatever the cause of his emigration, it is certain that Georgia gained a good citizen. It was said of him that he was a little too fond of a fiddle, but with all his faults—with all his love for horse-racing and fox-hunting—he found time to be kind to his neighbors, generous to his friends, and the active leader of every movement calculated to benefit the State or the people; and it may be remarked in passing, that he also found time to look after his own affairs.

Naturally, he was prominent in politics. He represented his county in the legislature, was at one time a candidate for governor, and was altogether a man who had the love and the confidence of his neighbors. He gave his son the benefit of the best education the country afforded, and made the tour of Europe with him, going over the ground that he himself had gone over in his young days.

But his European trip, undertaken when he was an old man, was too much for him. He was seized with an illness on his return voyage, and, although he lived long enough to reach home, he never recovered. In a few years his wife died; and his son, with little or no experience in such matters,—since[204] his time had been taken up by the schools and colleges,—was left to manage the estate as best he could.

It was the desire of Bolling Bascom that his son should study law and make that profession a stepping-stone to a political career. He had been ambitious himself, and he hoped his son would also be ambitious. Besides, was not politics the most respectable of all the professions? This was certainly the view in Bolling Bascom’s day and time, and much might be said to support it. Of all the professions, politics opened up the one career best calculated to tickle the fancy of the rich young men.

To govern, to control, to make laws, to look after the welfare of the people, to make great speeches, to become statesmen—these were the ideas that filled the minds of ambitious men in Bolling Bascom’s time, and for years thereafter. And why not? There were the examples of Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Randolph, Hamilton, Webster, Calhoun, and the Adamses of Massachusetts. What better could a young man do than to follow in the footsteps of these illustrious citizens?

It may be supposed, therefore, that Bolling[205] Bascom had mapped out a tremendous career for his son and heir. No doubt, as he sat dozing on his piazza in the long summer afternoons near the close of his life, he fancied he could hear the voice of his boy in the halls of legislation, or hear the wild shouts of the multitudes that greeted his efforts on the stump in the heat and fury of a campaign. But it was not to be. The stormy politics of that period had no charms for Briscoe Bascom. He was a student, and he preferred his book to the companionship of the crowd.

He possessed both courage and sociability in the highest degree, but he was naturally indolent, and he was proud—too indolent to find pleasure in the whirling confusion of active politics, and too proud to go about his county or his State in the attitude of soliciting the suffrages of his fellow-citizens. That he would have made his mark in politics is certain, for he made it at the bar, where success is much more dearly bought. He finally became judge of the superior court, at a time when the judges of the circuit courts met annually and formed a court of appeals. His decisions in this appellate court attracted attention all over the country,[206] and are still referred to in the legal literature of to-day as models of their kind.

And yet all that Briscoe Bascom accomplished at the bar and on the bench was the result of intuition rather than of industry. Indolence sat enthroned in his nature, patient but vigilant. When he retired from the bench, he gave up the law altogether. He might have reclaimed his large practice, but he preferred the ease and quiet of his home.

He was an old man before he married—old enough, that is to say, to marry a woman many years his junior. His wife had been reared in an atmosphere of extravagance; and although she was a young woman of gentle breeding and of the best intentions, it is certain that she did not go to the Bascom Place as its mistress for the purpose of stinting or economizing. She simply gave no thought to the future. But she was so bright and beautiful, so gentle and unaffected in speech and manner, so gracious and so winsome in all directions, that it seemed nothing more than natural and right that her every whim and wish should be gratified.

Judge Bascom was indulgent and more[207] than indulgent. He applauded his wife’s extravagance and followed her example. Before many years he began to reap some of the fruits thereof, and they were exceeding bitter to the taste. The longest purse that ever was made has a bottom to it, unless, indeed, it be lined with Franklin’s maxims.

The Judge was forty-eight years old when he married, and even before the beginning of the war he found his financial affairs in an uncomfortable condition. The Bascom Place was intact, but the pocket-book of its master was in a state bordering on collapse.

The slow but sure approach to the inevitable need not be described here. It is familiar to all people in all lands and times. In the case of Judge Bascom, however, the war was in the nature of a breathing-spell. It brought with it an era of extravagance that overshadowed everything that had been dreamed of theretofore. During the first two years there was money enough for everybody and to spare. It was manufactured in Richmond in great stacks. General Robert Toombs, who was an interested observer, has aptly described the facility with which the Confederacy supplied itself with money. “A dozen negroes,” said he, “printed[208] money on the hand-presses all day to supply the government, and then they worked until nine o’clock at night printing money enough to pay themselves off.”

Under these circumstances, Judge Bascom and his charming wife could be as extravagant or as economical as they pleased without attracting the attention of their neighbors or their creditors. Nobody had time to think or care about such small matters. The war-fever was at its height, and nothing else occupied the attention of the people. The situation was so favorable, indeed, that Judge Bascom began to redeem his fortune—in Confederate money. He had land enough and negroes a plenty, and so he saved his money by storing it away; and he was so successful in this business that it is said that when the war closed he had a wagon-load of Confederate notes and shin-plaster packed in trunks and chests.

The crash came when General Sherman went marching through Hillsborough. The Bascom Place, being the largest and the richest plantation in that neighborhood, suffered the worst. Every horse, every mule, every living thing with hide and hoof, was driven off by the Federals; and a majority[209] of the negroes went along with the army. It was often said of Judge Bascom that “he had so many negroes he didn’t know them when he met them in the big road;” and this was probably true. His negroes knew him, and knew that he was a kind master in many respects, but they had no personal affection for him. They were such strangers to the Judge that they never felt justified in complaining to him even when the overseers ill-treated them. Consequently, when Sherman went marching along, the great majority of them bundled up their little effects and followed after the army. They had nothing to bind them to the old place. The house-servants, and a few negroes in whom the Judge took a personal interest, remained, but all the rest went away.

Then, in a few months, came the news of the surrender, bringing with it a species of paralysis or stupefaction from which the people were long in recovering—so long, indeed, that some of them died in despair, while others lingered on the stage, watching, with dim eyes and trembling limbs, half-hopefully and half-fretfully, the representatives of a new generation trying to build up the waste places. There was nothing left[210] for Judge Bascom to do but to take his place among the spectators. He would have returned to his law-practice, but the people had well-nigh forgotten that he had ever been a lawyer; moreover, the sheriffs were busier in those days than the lawyers. He had the incentive,—for the poverty of those days was pinching,—but he lacked the energy and the strength necessary to begin life anew. He and hundreds like him were practically helpless. Ordinarily experience is easily learned when necessity is the teacher, but it was too late for necessity to teach Judge Bascom anything. During all his life he had never known what want was. He had never had occasion to acquire tact, business judgment, or economy. Inheriting a vast estate, he had no need to practice thrift or become familiar with the shifty methods whereby business men fight their way through the world. Of all such matters he was entirely ignorant.

To add to his anxiety, a girl had been born to him late in life, his first and only child. In his confusion and perplexity he was prepared to regard the little stranger as merely a new and dreadful responsibility, but it was not long before his daughter was[211] a source of great comfort to him. Yet, as the negroes said, she was not a “luck-child;” and bad as the Judge’s financial condition was, it grew steadily worse.

Briefly, the world had drifted past him and his contemporaries and left them stranded. Under the circumstances, what was he to do? It is true he had a magnificent plantation, but this merely added to his poverty. Negro labor was demoralized, and the overseer class had practically disappeared. He would have sold a part of his landed estate; indeed, so pressing were his needs that he would have sold everything except the house which his father had built, and where he himself was born,—that he would not have parted with for all the riches in the world,—but there was nobody to buy. The Judge’s neighbors and his friends, with the exception of those who had accustomed themselves to seizing all contingencies by the throat and wresting tribute from them, were in as severe a strait as he was; and to make matters worse, the political affairs of the State were in the most appalling condition. It was the period of reconstruction—a scheme that paralyzed all whom it failed to corrupt.

[212]

Finally the Judge’s wife took matters into her own hand. She had relatives in Atlanta, and she prevailed on him to go to that lively and picturesque town. He closed his house, being unable to rent it, and became a citizen of the thrifty city. He found himself in a new atmosphere. The north Georgia crackers, the east Tennesseeans,—having dropped their “you-uns” and “we-uns,”—and the Yankees had joined hands in building up and pushing Atlanta forward. Business was more important than politics; and the rush and whirl of men and things were enough to make a mere spectator dizzy. Judge Bascom found himself more helpless than ever; but through the influence of his wife’s brother he was appointed to a small clerkship in one of the State departments, and—“Humiliation of humiliations!” his friends exclaimed—he promptly accepted it, and became a part of what was known as the “carpet-bag” government. The appointment was in the nature of a godsend, but the Judge found himself ostracized. His friends and acquaintances refused to return his salutation as he met them on the street. To a proud and sensitive man this was the bitterness of death, but Judge Bascom[213] stuck to his desk and made no complaint.

By some means or other, no doubt through the influence of Mrs. Bascom, the Judge’s brother-in-law, a thrifty and not over-scrupulous man, obtained a power of attorney, and sold the Bascom Place, house and all, to a gentleman from western New York who was anxious to settle in middle Georgia. Just how much of the purchase-money went into the Judge’s hands it is impossible to say, but it is known that he fell into a terrible rage when he was told that the house had been sold along with the place. He denounced the sale as a swindle, and declared that as he had been born in the house he would die there, and not all the powers of earth could prevent him.

But the money that he received was a substantial thing as far as it went. Gradually he found himself surrounded by various comforts that he had sadly missed, and in time he became somewhat reconciled to the sale, though he never gave up the idea that he would buy the old place back and live there again. The idea haunted him day and night.

After the downfall of the carpet-bag[214] administration a better feeling took possession of the people and politicians, and it was not long before Judge Bascom found congenial work in codifying the laws of the State, which had been in a somewhat confused and tangled condition since the war. Meanwhile his daughter Mildred was growing up, developing remarkable beauty as well as strength of mind. At a very early age she began to “take the responsibility,” as the Judge put it, of managing the household affairs, and she continued to manage them even while going to school. At school she won the hearts of teachers and pupils, not less by her aptitude in her books than by her beauty and engaging manners.

But in spite of the young girl’s management—in spite of the example she set by her economy—the Judge and his wife continued to grow poorer and poorer. Neither of them knew the value of a dollar, and the money that had been received from the sale of the Bascom Place was finally exhausted. About this time Mrs. Bascom died, and the Judge was so prostrated by his bereavement that it was months before he recovered. When he did recover he had lost all interest in his work of codification,[215] but it was so nearly completed and was so admirably done that the legislature voted him extra pay. This modest sum the daughter took charge of, and when her father was well enough she proposed that they return to Hillsborough, where they could take a small house, and where she could give music lessons and teach a primary school. It need not be said that the Judge gave an eager assent to the proposition.
III.

As Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom passed the Bascom Place on his way home, after gathering from Major Jimmy Bass all the news and gossip of the town, he heard Mr. Francis Underwood, the owner of the Place, walking up and down the piazza, singing. Mr. Underwood appeared to be in a cheerful mood, and he had a right to be. He was young,—not more than thirty,—full of life, and the world was going on very well with him. Mr. Grissom paused a moment and listened; then he made up his mind to go in and have a chat with the young man. He opened the gate and went up the avenue under the cedars and Lombardy poplars. A little[216] distance from the house he was stopped by a large mastiff. The great dog made no attempt to attack him, but majestically barred the way.

“Squire,” yelled Joe-Bob, “ef you’ll call off your dog, I’ll turn right ’roun’ an’ go home an’ never bother you no more.”

“Is that you, Joe-Bob?” exclaimed Mr. Underwood. “Well, come right on. The dog won’t trouble you.”

The dog thereupon turned around and went up the avenue to the house and into the porch, where he stretched himself out at full length, Joe-Bob following along at a discreet distance.

“Come in,” said Underwood heartily; “I’m glad to see you. Take this large rocking-chair; you will find it more comfortable than the smaller one.”

Mr. Grissom sat down and looked cautiously around to see where the dog was.

“I did come, Squire,” he said, “to see you on some kinder business, but that dratted dog has done skeered it clean out ’n me.”

“Prince is a faithful watcher,” said Underwood, “but he never troubles any one who is coming straight to the house. Do you, old fellow?” The dog rapped an answer on the floor with his tail.

[217]

“Well,” said Joe-Bob, “I’d as lief be tore up into giblets, mighty nigh, as to have my sev’m senses skeered out’n me. What I’m afeared of now,” he went on, “is that that dog will jump over the fence some day an’ ketch old Judge Bascome whilst he’s a-pirootin’ ’roun’ here a-lookin’ at the old Place. An’ ef he don’t ketch the Judge, it’s more’n likely he’ll ketch the Judge’s gal. I seen both of ’em this very evenin’ whilst I was a-goin’ down town.”

“Was that the Judge?” exclaimed young Mr. Underwood, with some show of interest; “and was the lady his daughter? I heard they had returned.”

“That was jest percisely who it was,” said Joe-Bob with emphasis. “It wa’n’t nobody else under the shinin’ sun.”

“Well,” said Mr. Underwood, “I have seen them walking by several times. It is natural they should be interested in the Place. The old gentleman was born here?”

“Yes,” said Joe-Bob, “an’ the gal too. They tell me,” he went on, “that the old Judge an’ his gal have seed a many ups an’ downs. I reckon they er boun’ fer to feel lonesome when they come by an’ look at the prop’ty that use’ to be theirn. I hear tell[218] that the old Judge is gwine to try an’ see ef he can’t git it back.”

Francis Underwood said nothing, but sat gazing out into the moonlight as if in deep thought.

“I thinks, says I,” continued Joe-Bob, “that the old Judge’ll have to be lots pearter ’n he looks to be ef he gits ahead of Squire Underwood.”

The “Squire” continued to gaze reflectively down the dim perspective of cedars and Lombardy poplars. Finally he said:—

“Have a cigar, old man. These are good ones.”

Joe-Bob took the cigar and lighted it, handling it very gingerly.

“I ain’t a denyin’ but what they are good, Squire, but somehow er nuther me an’ these here fine seegyars don’t gee,” said Joe-Bob, as he puffed away. “They’re purty toler’ble nice, but jest about the time I git in the notion of smokin’ they’re done burnted up, an’ then ef you ain’t got sev’m or eight more, it makes you feel mighty lonesome. Now I’ll smoke this’n’, an’ it’ll sorter put my teeth on edge fer my pipe, an’ when I git home I’ll set up an’ have a right nice time.”

[219]

“And so you think,” said Underwood, speaking as if he had not heard Joe-Bob’s remarks about the cigar—“and so you think Judge Bascom has come to buy the old Place.”

“No, no!” said Joe-Bob, with a quick deprecatory gesture. “Oh, no, Squire! not by no means! No, no! I never said them words. What I did say was that it’s been talked up an’ down that the old Judge is a-gwine to try to git his prop’ty back. That’s what old Major Jimmy Bass said he heard, an’ I thinks, says I, he’ll have to be monst’us peart ef he gits ahead of Squire Underwood. That’s what I said to myself, an’ then I ast old Major Jimmy, says I, what the Judge would do wi’ the prop’ty arter he got it, an’ Major Jimmy, he ups an’ says, says he, that the old Judge would sell it back to Frank Underwood, says he.”

The young man threw back his head and laughed heartily, not less at the comical earnestness of Joe-Bob Grissom than at the gossip of Major Jimmy Bass.

“It seems, then, that we are going to have lively times around here,” said Underwood, by way of comment.

“Yes, siree,” exclaimed Joe-Bob; “that’s[220] what Major Jimmy Bass allowed. Do you reckon, Squire,” he continued, lowering his voice as though the matter was one to be approached cautiously, “do you reckon, Squire, they could slip in on you an’ trip you up wi’ one of ’em writs of arousement or one of ’em bills of injectment?”

“Not unless they catch me asleep,” replied Underwood, still laughing. “We get up very early in the morning on this Place.”

“Well,” said Joe-Bob Grissom, “I ain’t much of a lawyer myself, an’ so I thought I’d jest drap in an’ tell you the kind of talk what they’ve been a-rumorin’ ’roun’. But I’ll tell you what you kin do, Squire. Ef the wust comes to the wust, you kin make the old Judge an’ the gal take you along wi’ the Place. Now them would be my politics.”

With that Joe-Bob gave young Underwood a nudge in the short ribs, and chuckled to such an extent that he nearly strangled himself with cigar smoke.

“I think I would have the best of the bargain,” said the young man.

“Now you would! you reely would!” exclaimed Joe-Bob in all seriousness. “I can’t tell you the time when I ever seed a[221] likelier gal than that one wi’ the Judge this evenin’. As we say down here in Georgia, she’s the top of the pot an’ the pot a-b’ilin’. I tell you that right pine-blank.”

After a little, Mr. Grissom rose to go. When Mr. Underwood urged him to sit longer, he pointed to the sword and belt of Orion hanging low in the southwest.

“The ell an’ yard are a-makin’ the’r disappearance,” he said; “an’ ef I stay out much longer, my old ’oman’ll think I’ve been a-settin’ up by a jug somewheres. Now ef you’ll jest hold your dog, Squire, I’ll go out as peaceful as a lamb.”

“Why, I was just going to propose to send him down to the big gate with you,” said young Underwood. “He’ll see you safely out.”

“No, no, Squire!” exclaimed Joe-Bob, holding up both hands. “Now don’t do the like of that. I don’t like too much perliteness in folks, an’ I know right well I couldn’t abide it in a dog. No, Squire; jest hold on to the creetur’ wi’ both hands, an’ I’ll find my way out. Jest ketch him by the forefoot. I’ve heard tell before now that ef you’ll hold a dog by his forefoot he can’t git loose, an’ nuther kin he bite you.”

[222]

Long after Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom had gone home young Francis Underwood sat in his piazza smoking and thinking. He had a good deal to think about, too, for he was perhaps the busiest and the thriftiest person that Hillsborough had ever seen. He had a dairy farm stocked with the choicest strains of Jersey cattle, and he shipped hundreds of pounds of golden butter all over the country every week in the year; he bred Percheron horses for farm-work and trotting-horses for the road; he had a flourishing farm on which he raised, in addition to his own supplies, a hundred or more bales of cotton every year; he had a steam saw-mill and cotton-gin; he was a contractor and builder; and he was also an active partner in the largest store in Hillsborough. Moreover he took a lively interest in the affairs of the town. His energy and his progressive ideas seemed to be contagious, for in a few years the sleepy old town had made tremendous strides, and everything appeared to move forward with an air of business—such is the force of a genial and robust example.

There is no doubt that young Underwood was somewhat coolly received when he first[223] made his appearance in Hillsborough. He was a New Yorker and therefore a Yankee; and some of the older people, who were still grieving over the dire results of the war, as old people have a right to do, made no concealment of their prejudices. Their grief was too bitter to be lightly disposed of. Perhaps the young man appreciated this fact, for his sympathies were wonderfully quick and true. At any rate, he carried himself as buoyantly and as genially in the face of prejudice as he did afterwards in the face of friendship.

The truth is, prejudice could not stand before him. He had that magnetic personality which is a more precious possession than fame or fortune. There was something attractive even in his restless energy; he had that heartiness of manner and graciousness of disposition that are so rare among men; and, withal, a spirit of independence that charmed the sturdy-minded people with whom he cast his lot. It was not long before the younger generation began to seek Mr. Underwood out, and after this the social ice, so to speak, thawed quickly.

In short, young Underwood, by reason of a strong and an attractive individuality, became[224] a very prominent citizen of Hillsborough. He found time, in the midst of his own business enterprises, to look after the interests of the town and the county. One of his first movements was to organize an agricultural society which held its meeting four times a year in different parts of the county. It was purely a local and native suggestion, however, that made it incumbent on the people of the neighborhood where the Society met to grace the occasion with a feast in the shape of a barbecue. The first result of the agricultural society—which still exists, and which has had a wonderful influence on the farmers of middle Georgia—was a county fair, of which Mr. Underwood was the leading spirit. It may be said, indeed, that his energy and his money made the fair possible. And it was a success. Young Underwood had not only canvassed the county, but he had “worked it up in the newspapers,” as the phrase goes, and it tickled the older citizens immensely to see the dailies in the big cities of Atlanta, Macon, and Savannah going into rhetorical raptures over their fair.

As a matter of fact, Francis Underwood, charged with the fiery energy of a modern[225] American, found it a much easier matter to establish himself in the good graces of the people of Hillsborough and the surrounding country than did Judge Bascom when he returned to his old home with his lovely daughter. Politically speaking, he had committed the unpardonable sin when he accepted office under what was known as the carpet-bag government. It was an easy matter—thus the argument ran—to forgive and respect an enemy, but it was hardly possible to forgive a man who had proved false to his people and all their traditions—who had, in fact, “sold his birthright for a mess of pottage,” to quote the luminous language employed by Colonel Bolivar Blasingame in discussing the return of Judge Bascom. It is due to Colonel Blasingame to say that he did not allude to the sale of the Bascom Place, but to the fact that Judge Bascom had drawn a salary from the State treasury while the Republicans were in power in Georgia.

This was pretty much the temper of the older people of Hillsborough even in 1876. They had no bitter prejudices against the old Judge; they were even tolerant and kindly; but they made it plain to him that[226] he was regarded in a new light, and from a new standpoint. He was made to feel that his old place among them must remain vacant; that the old intimacies were not to be renewed. But this was the price that Judge Bascom was willing to pay for the privilege of spending his last days within sight of the old homestead. He made no complaints, nor did he signify by word or sign, even to his daughter, that everything was not as it used to be.

As for the daughter, she was in blissful ignorance of the situation. She was a stranger among strangers, and so was not affected by the lack of sociability on the part of the townspeople—if, indeed, there was any lack so far as she was concerned. The privations she endured in common with her father were not only sufficient to correct all notions of vanity or self-conceit, but they had given her a large experience of life; they had broadened her views and enlarged her sympathies, so that with no sacrifice of the qualities of womanly modesty and gentleness she had grown to be self-reliant. She attracted all who came within range of her sweet influence, and it was not long before she had broken down all the barriers[227] that prejudice against her father might have placed in her way. She established a primary school, and what with her duties there and with her music-class she soon had as much as she could do, and her income from these sources was sufficient to support herself and her father in a modest way; but it was not sufficient to carry out her father’s plans, and this fact distressed her no little.

Sometimes Judge Bascom, sitting in the narrow veranda of the little house they occupied, would suddenly arouse himself, as if from a doze, and exclaim:—

“We must save money, daughter; we must save money and buy the old Place back. It is ours. We must have it; we must save money.” And sometimes, in the middle of the night, he would go to his daughter’s bedside, stroke her hair, and say in a whisper:—

“We are not saving enough money, daughter; we must save more. We must buy the old Place back. We must save it from ruin.”
IV.

There was one individual in Hillsborough who did not give the cold shoulder to[228] Judge Bascom on his return, and that was the negro Jesse, who had been bought by Major Jimmy Bass some years before the war from Merriwether Bascom, a cousin of the Judge. Jesse made no outward demonstration of welcome; he was more practical than that. He merely went to his old master with whom he had been living since he became free, and told him that he was going to find employment elsewhere.

“Why, what in the nation!” exclaimed Major Bass. “Why, what’s the matter, Jess?”

The very idea was preposterous. In the Bass household the negro was almost indispensable. He was in the nature of a piece of furniture that holds its own against all fashions and fills a place that nothing else can fill.

“Dey ain’t nothin’ ’t all de matter, Marse Maje. I des took it in my min’, like, dat I’d go off some’r’s roun’ town en set up fer myse’f,” said Jesse, scratching his head in a dubious way. He felt very uncomfortable.

“Has anybody hurt your feelin’s, Jess?”

“No, suh! Lord, no, suh, dat dey ain’t!” exclaimed Jesse, with the emphasis of astonishment. “Nobody ain’t pester me.”

[229]

“Ain’t your Miss Sarah been rushin’ you roun’ too lively fer to suit your notions?”

“No, suh.”

“Ain’t she been a-quarrelin’ after you about your work?”

“No, Marse Maje; she ain’t say a word.”

“Well, then, Jess, what in the name of common sense are you gwine off fer?” The major wanted to argue the matter.

“I got it in my min’, Marse Maje, but I dunno ez I kin git it out straight.” Jesse leaned his cane against the house, and placed his hat on the steps, as if preparing for a lengthy and elaborate explanation. “Now den, hit look dis way ter me, des like I’m gwine ter tell you. I ain’t nothin’ but a nigger, I know dat mighty well, en nobody don’t hafter tell me. I’m a nigger, en you a white man. You’re a-settin’ up dar in de peazzer, en I’m a-stan’in’ down yer on de groun’. I been wid you a long time; you treat me well, you gimme plenty vittles, en you pay me up when you got de money, en I hustle roun’ en do de bes’ I kin in de house en in de gyarden. Dat de way it been gwine on; bofe un us feel like it all sati’factual. Bimeby it come over me dat maybe I kin do mo’ work dan what I been a-doin’ en[230] git mo’ money. Hit work roun’ in my min’ dat I better be layin’ up somepin’ n’er fer de ole ’oman en de chillun.”

“Well!” exclaimed Major Bass with a snort. It was all he could say.

“En den ag’in,” Jesse went on, “one er de ole fambly done come back ’long wid his daughter. Marse Briscoe Bascom en Miss Mildred dey done come back, en dey ain’t got nobody fer ter he’p um out no way; en my ole ’oman she say dat ef I got any fambly feelin’ I better go dar whar Marse Briscoe is.”

For some time Major Jimmy Bass sat silent. He was shocked and stunned. Finally Jesse picked up his hat and cane and started to go. As he brushed his hat with his coat-sleeve his old master saw that he was rigged out in his Sunday clothes. As he moved away the major called him:—

“Oh, Jess!”

“Suh?”

“I allers knowed you was a durned fool, Jess, but I never did know before that you was the durndest fool in the universal world.”

Jesse made no reply, and the major went into the house. When he told his wife[231] about Jesse’s departure, that active-minded and sharp-tongued lady was very angry.

“Indeed, and I’m glad of it,” she exclaimed as she poured out the major’s coffee; “I’m truly glad of it. For twenty-five years that nigger has been laying around here doing nothing, and we a-paying him. But for pity’s sake I’d ’a’ drove him off the lot long ago. You mayn’t believe it, but that nigger is ready and willing to eat his own weight in vittles every week the Lord sends. I ain’t sorry he’s gone, but I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to give him a piece of my mind. Now, don’t you go to blabbing it around, like you do everything else, that Jesse has gone and left us to go with old Briscoe Bascom.”

Major Bass said he wouldn’t, and he didn’t, and that is the reason he expressed surprise when Joe-Bob Grissom informed him that Jesse was waiting on the old Judge and his daughter. Major Jimmy was talkative and fond of gossip, but he had too much respect for his wife’s judgment and discretion to refuse to toe the mark, even when it was an imaginary one.

The Bascom family had no claim whatever on Jesse, but he had often heard his[232] mother and other negroes boasting over that they had once belonged to the Bascoms, and fondness for the family was the result of both tradition and instinct. He had that undefined and undefinable respect for people of quality that is one of the virtues, or possibly one of the failings, of human nature. The nearest approach to people of quality, so far as his experience went, was to be found in the Bascom family, and he had never forgotten that he had belonged to an important branch of it. He held it as a sort of distinction. Feeling thus, it is no wonder that he was ready to leave a comfortable home at Major Jimmy Bass’s for the privilege of attaching himself and his fortunes to those of the Judge and his daughter. Jesse made up his mind to take this step as soon as the Bascoms returned to Hillsborough, and he made no delay in carrying out his intentions.

Early one morning, not long after Judge Bascom and his daughter had settled themselves in the modest little house which they had selected because the rent was low, Mildred heard some one cutting wood in the yard. Opening her window blinds a little, she saw that the axe was wielded by a stalwart[233] negro a little past middle age. Her father was walking up and down the sidewalk on the outside with his hands behind him, and seemed to be talking to himself.

A little while afterwards Mildred went into the kitchen. She found a fire burning in the stove, and everything in noticeably good order, but the girl she had employed to help her about the house was nowhere to be seen. Whereupon the young lady called her—

“Elvira!”

At this the negro dropped his axe and went into the kitchen.

“Howdy, Mistiss?”

“Have you seen Elvira?” Mildred asked.

“Yes’m, she wuz hangin’ roun’ yer when I come roun’ dis mornin’. I went in dar, ma’m, en I see how de kitchen wuz all messed up, en den I sont her off. She de mos’ no ’countest nigger gal what I ever laid my two eyes on. I’m name’ Jesse, ma’m, en I use’ ter b’long ter de Bascom fambly when I wuz a boy. Is you ready fer breakfus, Mistiss?”

“Has my father—has Judge Bascom employed you?” Mildred asked. Jesse laughed as though enjoying a good joke.

[234]

“No ’m, dat he ain’t! I des come my own se’f, kaze I know’d in reason you wuz gwine ter be in needance er somebody. Lord, no ’m, none er de Bascoms don’t hafter hire me, ma’m.”

“And who told you to send Elvira away?” Mildred inquired, half vexed and half amused.

“Nobody ain’t tell me, ma’m,” Jesse replied. “When I come she wuz des settin’ in dar by de stove noddin’, en de whole kitchen look like it been tored up by a harrycane. I des shuck her up, I did, en tell her dat if dat de way she gwine do, she better go ’long back en stay wid her mammy.”

“Well, you are very meddlesome,” said Mildred. “I don’t understand you at all. Who is going to cook breakfast?”

“Mistiss, I done tell you dat breakfus is all ready en a-waitin’,” exclaimed Jesse in an injured tone. “I made dat gal set de table, en dey ain’t nothin’ ter do but put de vittles on it.”

It turned out to be a very good breakfast, too, such as it was. Jesse thought while he was preparing it that it was a very small allowance for two hearty persons. But the[235] secret of its scantiness cropped out while the Judge and his daughter were eating.

“These biscuits are very well cooked. But there are too many of them. My daughter, we must pinch and save; it will only be for a little while. We must have the old Place back; we must rake and scrape, and save money and buy it back. And this coffee is very good, too,” he went on; “it has quite the old flavor. I thought the girl was too young, but she’s a good cook—a very good cook indeed.”

Jesse, who had taken his stand behind the Judge’s chair, arrayed in a snow-white apron, moved his body uneasily from one foot to the other. Mildred, glad to change the conversation, told her father about Jesse.

“Ah, yes,” said Judge Bascom, in his kindly, patronizing way; “I saw him in the yard. And he used to belong to the Bascoms? Well, well, it must have been a long time ago. This is Jesse behind me? Stand out there, Jesse, and let me look at you. Ah, yes, a likely negro; a very likely negro indeed. And what Bascom did you belong to, Jesse? Merriwether Bascom! Why, to be sure; why, certainly!”[236] the Judge continued with as much animation as his feebleness would admit of. “Why, of course, Merriwether Bascom. Well, well, I remember him distinctly. A rough-and-tumble sort of man he was, fighting, gambling, horse-racing, always on the wing. A good man at bottom, but wild. And so you belonged to Merriwether Bascom? Well, boy, once a Bascom always a Bascom. We’ll have the old Place back, Jesse, we’ll have it back: but we must pinch ourselves; we must save.”

Thus the old Judge rambled on in his talk. But no matter what the subject, no matter how far his memory and his experiences carried him away from the present, he was sure to return to the old Place at last. He must have it back. Every thought, every idea, was subordinate to this. He brooded over it and talked of it waking, and he dreamed of it sleeping. It was the one thought that dominated every other. Money must be saved, the old Place must be bought, and to that end everything must tend. The more his daughter economized the more he urged her to economize. His earnestness and enthusiasm impressed and influenced the young girl in a larger measure[237] than she would have been willing to acknowledge, and unconsciously she found herself looking forward to the day when her father and herself would be able to call the Bascom Place their own. In the Judge the thought was the delusion of old age, in the maiden it was the dream of youth; and pardonable, perhaps, in both.

Their hopes and desires running thus in one channel, they loved to wander of an evening in the neighborhood of the old Place—it was just in the outskirts of the town—and long for the time when they should take possession of their home. On these occasions Mildred, by way of interesting her father, would suggest changes to be made.

“The barn is painted red,” she would say. “I think olive green would be prettier.”

“No,” the Judge would reply; “we will have the barn removed. It was not there in my time. It is an innovation. We will have it removed a mile away from the house. We will make many changes. There are hundreds of acres in the meadow yonder that ought to be in cotton. In my time we tried to kill grass, but this man is doing his best to propagate it. Look at that field of Bermuda[238] there. Two years of hard work will be required to get the grass out.”

Once while the Judge and his daughter were passing by the old Place they met Prince, the mastiff, in the road. The great dog looked at the young lady with kindly eyes, and expressed his approval by wagging his tail. Then he approached and allowed her to fondle his lionlike head, and walked by her side, responding to her talk in a dumb but eloquent way. Prince evidently thought that the young lady and her father were going in the avenue gate and to the house, for when they got nearly opposite, the dog trotted on ahead, looking back occasionally, as if by that means to extend them an invitation and to assure them that they were welcome. At the gate he stopped and turned around, and seeing that the fair lady and the old gentleman were going by, he dropped his bulky body on the ground in a disconsolate way and watched them as they passed down the street.

The next afternoon Prince made it a point to watch for the young lady; and when she and her father appeared in sight he ran to meet them and cut up such unusual capers, barking and running around, that his master[239] went down the avenue to see what the trouble was. Mr. Underwood took off his hat as Judge Bascom and his daughter drew near.

“This is Judge Bascom, I presume,” he said. “My name is Underwood. I am glad to meet you.”

“This is my daughter, Mr. Underwood,” said the Judge, bowing with great dignity.

“My dog has paid you a great compliment, Miss Bascom,” said Francis Underwood. “He makes few friends, and I have never before seen him sacrifice his dignity to his enthusiasm.”

“I feel highly flattered by his attentions,” said Mildred, laughing. “I have read somewhere, or heard it said, that the instincts of a little child and a dog are unerring.”

“I imagine,” said the Judge, in his dignified way, “that instinct has little to do with the matter. I prefer to believe”—He paused a moment, looked at Underwood, and laid his hand on the young man’s stalwart shoulder. “Did you know, sir,” he went on, “that this place, all these lands, once belonged to me?” His dignity had vanished, his whole attitude changed. The pathos in his voice, which was suggested[240] rather than expressed, swept away whatever astonishment Francis Underwood might have felt. The young man looked at the Judge’s daughter and their eyes met. In that one glance, transitory though it was, he found his cue; in her lustrous eyes, proud yet appealing, he read a history of trouble and sacrifice.

“Yes,” Underwood replied, in a matter-of-fact way. “I knew the place once belonged to you, and I have been somewhat proud of the fact. We still call it the Bascom Place, you know.”

“I should think so!” exclaimed the Judge, bridling up a little; “I should think so! Pray what else could it be called?”

“Well, it might have been called Grasslands, you know, or The Poplars, but somehow the old name seemed to suit it best. I like to think of it as the Bascom Place.”

“You are right, sir,” said the Judge with emphasis; “you are right, sir. It is the Bascom Place. All the powers of earth cannot strip us of our name.”

Again Underwood looked at the young girl, and again he read in her shining but apprehensive eyes the answer he should make.

[241]

“I have been compelled to add some conveniences—I will not call them improvements—and I have made some repairs, but I have tried to preserve the main and familiar features of the Place.”

“But the barn there; that is not where it should be. It should be a mile away—on the creek.”

“That would improve appearances, no doubt; but if you were to get out at four or five o’clock in the morning and see to the milking of twelve or fifteen cows, I dare say you would wish the barn even nearer than it is.”

“Yes, yes, I suppose so,” responded the Judge; “yes, no doubt. But it was not there in my time—not in my time.”

“I have some very fine cows,” Underwood went on. “Won’t you go in and look at them? I think they would interest Miss Bascom, and my sister would be glad to meet her. Won’t you go in, sir, and look at the old house?”

The Judge turned his pale and wrinkled face towards his old home.

“No,” he said, “not now. I thank you very much. I—somehow—no, sir, I cannot go now.”

[242]

His hand shook as he raised it to his face, and his lips trembled as he spoke.

“Let us go home, daughter,” he said after a while. “We have walked far enough.” He bowed to young Underwood, and Mildred bade him good-bye with a troubled smile.

Prince went with them a little way down the street. He walked by the side of the lady, and her pretty hand rested lightly on the dog’s massive head. It was a beautiful picture, Underwood thought, as he stood watching them pass out of sight.

“You are a lucky dog,” he said to Prince when the latter came back, “but you don’t appreciate your privileges. If you did you would have gone home with that lovely woman.” Prince wagged his tail, but it is doubtful if he fully understood the remark.
V.

One Sunday morning, as Major Jimmy Bass was shaving himself, he heard a knock at the back door. The major had his coat and waistcoat off and his suspenders were hanging around his hips. He was applying the lather for the last time, and the knocking was so sudden and unexpected that he[243] rubbed the shaving-brush in one of his eyes. He began to make some remarks which, however appropriate they may have been to the occasion, could not be reported here with propriety. But in the midst of his indignant monologue he remembered that the knocking might have proceeded from some of Mrs. Bass’s lady friends, who frequently made a descent on the premises in that direction for the purpose of borrowing a cupful of sugar or coffee in a social way. These considerations acted as powerful brakes on the conversation that Major Bass was carrying on with some imaginary foe. Holding a towel to his smarting eye, he peeped from his room door and looked down the hall. The back door was open, but he could see no one.

“Who was that knocking?” he cried. “I’ll go one eye on you anyways.”

“’T ain’t nobody but me, Marse Maje,” came the response from the door.

“Is that you, Jess?” exclaimed the major. “Well, pleg-take your hide to the pleg-taked nation! A little more an’ you’d ’a’ made me cut my th’oat from year to year; an’ as it is, I’ve jest about got enough soap in my eye fer to do a day’s washin’.”

[244]

“Is you shavin’ yourse’f, Marse Maje?” asked Jesse, diplomatically.

“That I am,” replied the major with emphasis. “I allers was independent of white folks, an’ sence you pulled up your stakes an’ took up wi’ the quality I’m about independent of the niggers. An’ it’s mighty quare to me,” the major went on, “that you’d leave your high an’ mighty people long enough fer to come a-bangin’ an’ makin’ me put out my eyes. Why, ef I’d ’a’ had my razor out, I’ll be boun’ you’d made me cut my th’oat, an’ much good may it ’a’ done you.”

“Name er goodness, Marse Maje,” protested Jesse, “what make you go on dat a-way? Ef I’d ’a’ knowed you wuz busy in dar I’d ’a’ set out in de sun en waited twel you got thoo.”

“Yes,” said the major in a sarcastic but somewhat mollified tone, “you’d ’a’ sot out there an’ got to noddin’, an’ then bimeby your Miss Sarah would ’a’ come along an’ ketched you there, an’ I’ll be boun’ she’d ’a’ lammed you wi’ a chunk of wood; bekaze she don’t ’low no loafin’ in the back yard sence you been gone. I don’t know what you come fer,” the major continued, still[245] wiping the lather out of his eye, “an’ nuther do I keer; but sence you are here you kin come in an’ finish shavin’ me, fer to pay fer the damage you’ve done.”

Jesse was apparently overjoyed to find that he could be of some service. He bustled around in the liveliest manner, and was soon mowing the major’s fat face with the light but firm touch for which he was noted. As he shaved he talked.

“Marse Maje,” he said, “does you know what I come fer dis mornin’?”

“I’ve been tryin’ to think,” replied the major; “but I couldn’t tell you ef I was a-gwine to be hung fer it. You are up to some devilment, I know mighty well, but I wish’t I may die ef I’ve got any idee what it is.”

“Now, Marse Maje, what make you talk dat’a’way?”

“Oh, I know you, Jess, an’ I’ve been a-knowin’ you a mighty long time. Your Miss Sarah mayn’t know you, Jess, but I know you from the groun’ all the way up.”

Jesse laughed. He was well aware that the major’s wife was the knowing one of that family. He had waited until that excellent lady had issued from the house on[246] her way to church, and it was not until she was out of sight that he thought it safe to call on the major. Even now, after he had found the major alone, the negro was somewhat doubtful as to the propriety of explaining the nature of his business; but the old man was inquisitive.

“Oh, yes, Jess!” the major went on, after pausing long enough to have the corner of his mouth shaved—“oh, yes! I know you, an’ I know you’ve got somethin’ on your min’ right now. Spit it out.”

“Well, I’ll tell you de trufe, Marse Maje,” said Jesse, after hesitating for some time; “I tell you de Lord’s trufe, I come yer atter somepin’ ter eat.”

Major Bass caught the negro by the arm, pushed the razor carefully out of the way, and sat bolt upright in the chair.

“Do you mean to stan’ up there, you triflin’ rascal,” the major exclaimed, “an’ tell me, right before my face an’ eyes, that you’ve come a-sneaking back here atter vittles? Whyn’t you stay where the vittles was?” Major Bass was really indignant.

“Wait, Marse Maje; des gimme time,” said Jesse, nervously strapping the razor on the palm of his hand. “Des gimme time,[247] Marse Maje. You fly up so, suh, dat you git me all mixed up wid myse’f. I come atter vittles, dat’s de Lord’s trufe; but I ain’t come atter ’em fer myse’f. Nigger like me don’t stay hongry long roun’ whar folks know um like dey does me.”

“Well, who in the name of reason sent you, then?” asked the major.

“Nobody ain’t sont me, suh,” said Jesse.

“Well, who do you want em’ fer?” insisted the major.

“Marse Judge Bascom en Miss Mildred,” replied Jesse solemnly.

Major Jimmy Bass fell back in his chair in a state of collapse, overcome by his astonishment.

“Well!” he exclaimed, as soon as he could catch his breath. “Ef this don’t beat the Jews an’ the Gentiles, the Scribes an’ the Pharisees, then I ain’t a-settin’ here. Did they tell you to come to this house fer vittles?”

“No, suh; dat dey ain’t—dat dey ain’t! Ef Miss Mildred wuz ter know I went anywhar on dis kin’ er errun’ she’d mighty nigh have a fit.”

“Well, well, WELL!” snorted the major.

“I des come my own se’f,” Jesse went[248] on. He would have begun shaving again, but the major waved him away. “Look like I ’bleege’ ter come. You’d ’a’ come yo’se’f, Marse Maje, druther dan see dem folks pe’sh deyse’f ter deff. Dey got money, but Marse Judge Bascom got de idee dat dey hafter save it all fer ter buy back de ole Place. Dey pinch deyse’f day in en day out, en yistiddy when Miss Mildred say she gwine buy somepin’ fer Sunday, Marse Judge Bascom he say no; he ’low dat dey mus’ save en pinch en buy back de ole home. I done year him say dat twel it make me plum sick. An’ dar dey is naturally starvin’ deyse’f.

“Miss Mildred,” continued Jesse, “got idee dat her pa know what he talkin’ ’bout; but twix’ you en me, Marse Maje, dat ole man done about lose his min’. He ain’t so mighty much older dan what you is, but he mighty feeble in his limbs, en he mighty flighty in his head. He talk funny, now, en he don’t talk ’bout nothin’ skacely but buyin’ back the ole Place.”

“Jess,” said Major Bass in the smooth, insinuating tone that the negro knew so well, and that he had learned to fear, “ain’t I allers treated you right? Ain’t I allers done the clean thing by you?”

[249]

“Yes, Marse Maje, you is,” said the negro with emphasis.

“Well, then, Jess, what in the name of Moses do you want to come roun’ me wi’ such a tale as this? Don’t you know I know you clean through? Whyn’t you come right out an’ say you want the vittles fer yourself? What is the use whippin’ the devil ’roun’ the stump?”

“Marse Maje,” said Jesse, solemnly, “I’m a-tellin’ you de Lord’s trufe.” By this time he had begun to shave the major again.

“Well,” said Major Bass, after a pause, during which he seemed to be thinking, “suppos’n’ I was to let myself be took in by your tale, an’ suppos’n’ I was to give you some vittles, what have you got to put ’em in?”

“I got a basket out dar, Marse Maje,” said Jesse, cheerfully. “I brung it a purpose.”

“Why, tooby shore, tooby shore!” exclaimed the major, sarcastically. “Ef you was as forehanded as you is fore-thoughted you wouldn’t be a-runnin’ roun’ beggin’ vittles from han’ to mouth. But sence you are here you’d better make haste; bekaze ef your[250] Miss Sarah comes back from church and ketches you here, she’ll kick up a purty rippit.”

The major was correct. As he and Jesse went into the pantry Mrs. Bass entered the front door. Flinging her bonnet and mantilla on a bed, she went to the back porch for a drink of water. The major heard her coming through the hallway, and, by a swift gesture of his hand, cautioned Jesse to be quiet.

“I’ll vow if the place ain’t left to take care of itself,” Mrs. Bass was saying. “Doors all open, chickens in the dining-room, cat licking the churn-dasher, and I’ll bet my existence that not a drop of fresh water has been put in the house-bucket since I left this morning. Everything gone to rack and ruin. I can’t say my prayers in peace at home, and if I go to church one Sunday in a month there ain’t no satisfaction in the sermon, because I know everything’s at loose ends on this whole blessed place. And if you’d go up the street right now, you’d find Mr. Bass a-setting up there at the tavern with the other loafers, a-giggling and a-snickering and a-dribbling at the mouth like one possessed.”

[251]

The major, in the pantry, winced visibly at this picture drawn true to life, and as he attempted to change his position he knocked a tin vessel from one of the shelves. He caught at it, and it fell to the floor with a loud crash.

“The Lord have mercy!” exclaimed Mrs. Bass. “Is Satan and all his imps in the pantry, a-tearing down and a-smashing up things?” Not being a timid woman, she hastened to investigate. The sight she saw in the pantry struck her speechless. In one corner stood the major, holding up one foot, as if he was afraid of breaking something, and vainly trying to smile. In another corner stood Jesse, so badly frightened that very little could be seen of his face except the whites of his eyes. The tableau was a comical one. Mrs. Bass did not long remain speechless.

“Mr. Bass!” she exclaimed, “what under the shining sun are you doing colloguing with niggers in my pantry? If you want to collogue with niggers, why, in the name of common sense, don’t you take ’em out to the barn? What are you doing in there, anyhow? For mercy’s sake! have you gone stark-natural crazy? And if you[252] ain’t, what brand-new caper are you trying to cut up?”

“Don’t talk so loud, Sarah,” said the major, wiping the cold perspiration from his face. “All the neighbors’ll hear you.”

“And why shouldn’t they hear me?” exclaimed Mrs. Bass. “What could be worse than for me to come home from church in broad daylight and find you penned up in my pantry, arm-in-arm with a nigger? What business have you got with niggers that you have to take ’em into my pantry to collogue with ’em? I’d a heap rather you’d ’a’ taken ’em in the parlor—a heap rather.”

Then Mrs. Bass’s eyes fell on the basket Jesse had in his hand, and this added to her indignation.

“I believe in my soul,” she went on, “that you are stealing the meat and bread out of your own mouth to feed that nigger. If you ain’t, what is the basket for?”

“Tut, tut, Sarah, don’t you go on so; you’ll make yourself the laughin’-stock of the town,” said the major in a conciliatory tone.

“And what’ll you be?” continued Mrs. Bass, relentlessly; “what’ll you be—a[253] honeyin’ up with buck niggers in my pantry in the broad open daytime? Maybe you’ll have the manners to introduce me to your pardner. Who is he, anyhow?” Then Mrs. Bass turned her attention to the negro.

“Come out of my pantry, you nasty, trifling rascal! Who are you?”

“’T ain’t nobody but me, Miss Sa’ah,” said Jesse as he issued forth.

“You!” she exclaimed. “You are the nigger that was too biggity to stay with ’em that raised you up and took care of you, and now you come back and try to steal their bread and meat! Well! I know the end of the world ain’t so mighty far off.”

Mrs. Bass sank into a chair, exhausted by her indignation. Then the major took the floor, so to say, and showed that if he could be frightened by his wife, he could also, at the proper time, show that he had a will of his own. He explained the situation at some length, and with an emphasis that carried conviction with it. He made no mention of Jesse in his highly colored narrative, but left his wife to infer that while she was at church praying for peace of mind and not having her prayers answered to any great extent, he was at home engaged in works of[254] practical charity. Nothing could have been finer than the major’s air of injured innocence, unless it was Jesse’s attitude of helpless and abandoned humiliation. The result of it was that Mrs. Bass filled the basket with the best she had in the house, and Jesse went home happy.
VI.

As for the Bascoms, they seemed to be getting along comfortably in spite of the harrowing story that Jesse had told to Major Jimmy Bass and to others. As a matter of fact, the shrewd negro had purposely exaggerated the condition of affairs in the Bascom household. He had an idea that the fare they lived on was too common and cheap for the representatives of such a grand family, forgetting, or not knowing, the privations they had passed through. The Judge insisted on the most rigid economy, and Mildred was at one with him in this. She was familiar with the necessity for it, but she could see that her father was anxious to push it to unmeasurable lengths. It never occurred to her, however, that her father’s morbid anxiety to repossess the[255] Bascom Place was rapidly taking the shape of mania. This desire on the part of Judge Bascom was a part of his daughter’s life. She had heard it expressed in various ways ever since she could remember, and it was a part, not merely of her experience, but of her growth and development. She had heard the matter discussed so many times that it seemed to her nothing but natural that her father should one day realize the dream of his later years and reoccupy the old Place as proprietor.

Judge Bascom had no other thought than this. As he grew older and feebler, the desire became more ardent and overpowering. While his daughter was teaching her school, with which she had made quite a success, the Judge would be planning improvements to be added to his old home when he should own it again. Not a day passed—unless, indeed, the weather was stormy—that he did not walk in the neighborhood of the old Place. Sometimes he would go with his daughter, sometimes he would go alone, but it was observed by those who came to be interested in his comings and goings that he invariably refused to accept the invitation of Mr. Underwood to enter the house or to[256] inspect the improvements that had been made. He persisted in remaining on the outside of the domain, content to wait for the day when he could enter as proprietor. He was willing to accept the position of spectator, but he was not willing to be a guest.

The culmination came one fine day in the fall, and it was so sudden and so peculiar that it took Hillsborough completely by surprise, and gave the people food for gossip for a long time afterwards. The season was hesitating as to whether summer should return or winter should be introduced. There was a hint of winter in the crisp morning breezes, but the world seemed to float summerwards in the glimmering haze that wrapped the hills in the afternoons. On one of these fine mornings Judge Bascom rose and dressed himself. His daughter heard him humming a tune as he walked about the room, and she observed also, with inward satisfaction, that his movements were brisker than usual. Listening a little attentively, she heard him talking to himself, and presently she heard him laugh. This was such an unusual occurrence that she was moved to knock at his door. He responded[257] with a cheery “Come in!” Mildred found him shaved and dressed, and she saw that there was a great change in his appearance. His cheeks, usually so wan and white, were flushed a little and his eyes were bright. He smiled as Mildred entered, and exclaimed in a tone that she had not heard for years:—

“Good-morning, my daughter! And how do you find yourself this morning?”

It was the old manner she used to admire so when she was a slip of a girl—a manner that was a charming combination of dignity and affection.

“Why, father!” she exclaimed, “you must be feeling better. You have positively grown younger in a night.”

The Judge laughed until his eyes sparkled. “Yes, my dear, I am feeling very well indeed. I never felt better. I am happy, quite happy. Everything has been made clear to me. I am going to-day to transact some business that has been troubling me a long time. I shall arrange it all to-day—yes, to-day.”

The change that had come over her father was such a relief to Mildred that she asked him no questions. Now, as always, she[258] trusted to his judgment and his experience. Jesse, however, was more critical. He watched the Judge furtively and shook his head.

“Mistiss,” he said to Mildred when he found an opportunity, “did you shave master?”

“Why, what a ridiculous question!” she exclaimed. “How could I shave him? It makes me shiver merely to touch the razors.”

“Well, Mistiss,” Jesse insisted, “ef I ain’t shave him, en you ain’t shave him, den who de name er goodness is done gone en done it?”

“He shaved himself, of course,” Mildred said. “He is very much better this morning. I noticed it the moment I saw him. I should think you could see it yourself.”

“I seed somepin’ nuther wuz de matter,” said Jesse. “Somepin’ ’bleege’ ter be de matter when I put him ter bed las’ night des like he wuz a baby, ma’m, en now yer he is gwine roun’ des ez spry ez de nex’ one. Yessum, somepin’ ’bleege’ ter be de matter. Yistiddy his han’s wuz shakin’ same like he got de polzy, ma’m, en now yer he is shavin’ hisse’f; dat what rack my min’.”

[259]

“Well, I hope you are glad he is so well, Jesse,” said Mildred in an injured tone.

“Oh, yessum,” said Jesse, scratching his head. “Lor’, yessum. Dey ain’t nobody no gladder dan what I is; but it come on me so sudden, ma’m, dat it sorter skeer me.”

“Well, it doesn’t frighten me,” said Mildred. “It makes me very happy.”

“Yessum,” replied Jesse deferentially. He made no further comment; but after Mildred had gone to attend to her school duties he made it his business to keep an eye on the Judge, and the closer the negro watched, the more forcibly was he struck by the great change that a night had made in the old man.

“I hear talk ’bout folks bein’ conjured inter sickness,” Jesse said to himself, “but I ain’t never hear talk ’bout dey bein’ conjured so dey git well.”

Certainly a great change had come over Judge Bascom. He stood firmly on his feet once more. He held his head erect, as in the old days, and when he talked to Jesse his tone was patronizing and commanding, instead of querulous and complaining. He seemed to be very fastidious about his appearance. After Mildred had gone to her[260] school, Jesse was called in to brush the Judge’s hat and coat and to polish his shoes. The Judge watched this process with great interest, and talked to the negro in his blandest manner. This was not so surprising to Jesse as the fact that the Judge persisted in calling him Wesley; Wesley was the Judge’s old body-servant who had been dead for twenty years. It was Wesley this and Wesley that so long as Jesse was in the room, and once the Judge asked how long before the carriage would be ready. The negro parried this question, but he remembered it. He was sorely puzzled an hour afterwards, however, when Judge Bascom called him and said:—

“Wesley, tell Jordan he need not bring the carriage around for me. I will walk. Jordan can bring your mistress when she is ready.”

“Well,” exclaimed Jesse, when the Judge disappeared in the house, “dis bangs me! What de name er goodness put de ole man Jerd’n in his min’, which he died endurance er de war? It’s all away beyant me. Miss Mildred oughter be yer wid her pa right now, yit, ef I go atter her, dey ain’t no tellin’ what he gwine do.”

[261]

Jess cut an armful of wood, and then made a pretense of washing dishes, going from the kitchen to the dining-room several times. More than once he stopped to listen, but he could hear nothing. After a while he made bold to peep into the sitting-room. There was nobody there. He went into the Judge’s bedroom; it was empty. Then he called—“Marster! oh, Marster!” but there was no reply. Jess was in a quandary. He was not alarmed, but he was uneasy.

“Ef I run en tell Miss Mildred dat Marster done gone som’ers,” he said to himself, “she’ll des laugh en say I ain’t got no sense; en I don’t speck I is, but it make my flesh crawl fer ter hear folks callin’ on dead niggers ter do dis en do dat.”

Meanwhile the Judge had sallied forth from the house, and was proceeding in the direction of the Bascom Place. His step was firm and elastic, his bearing dignified. The acquaintances whom he met on his way stopped and looked after him when they had returned his Chesterfieldian salutation. He walked rapidly, and there was an air of decision in his movements that had long been lacking. At the great gate opening into the avenue of the Bascom Place the Judge was[262] met by Prince the mastiff, who gave him a hospitable welcome, and gravely preceded him to the house. Miss Sophie, Mr. Underwood’s maiden sister, who was sitting in the piazza, engaged on some kind of feminine embroidery, saw the Judge coming, too late to beat a retreat, so she merely whipped behind one of the large pillars, gave her dress a little shake at the sides and behind, ran her hands over her hair, and appeared before the caller cool, calm, and collected.

“Good-morning, madam,” said the Judge in his grand way, taking off his hat.

“Good-morning, sir,” said Miss Sophie. “Have this chair?”

“No, no,” said the Judge, smiling blandly, and waving his hand. “I prefer my own chair—the large rocker with the cushion, you know. It is more comfortable.”

Somewhat puzzled, Miss Sophie fetched a rocker. It had no cushion, but the Judge seemed not to miss it.

“Why, where are the servants?” he asked, his brows contracting a little. “I could have brought the chair.”

“Mercy!” exclaimed Miss Sophie, “if I were to sit down and expect the negroes to wait on me, I’d have a good many disappointments during the day.”

[263]

“Yes,” said the Judge, “that is very true; very true. Where is Wesley?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” Miss Sophie replied. “Is he a white man or a negro?”

“Wesley?” exclaimed the Judge. “Why, he’s a nigger; he’s my body-servant.”

“Isn’t this Judge Bascom?” Miss Sophie inquired, regarding him curiously.

“Yes, certainly, madam,” responded the Judge.

“Well, I’ve seen a negro named Jesse following you and your daughter about,” said Miss Sophie. “Perhaps you are speaking of Jesse.”

“No, no,” said the Judge. “I mean Wesley—or maybe you are only a visitor here. Your face is familiar, but I have forgotten your name.”

“I am Francis Underwood’s sister,” said Miss Sophie, with some degree of pride.

“Ah, yes!” the Judge sighed—“Francis Underwood. He is the gentleman who has had charge of the place these several years. A very clever man, I have no doubt. He has done very well, very well indeed; better than most men would have done. Do you know where he will go next year?”

“Now, I couldn’t tell you, really,” Miss[264] Sophie replied, looking at the Judge through her gold-rimmed eye-glasses. “He did intend to go North this fall, but he’s always too busy to carry out his intentions.”

“Yes,” said Judge Bascom; “I have no doubt he is a very busy man. He has managed everything very cleverly here, and I wish him well wherever he goes.”

Miss Sophie was very glad when she heard her brother’s step in the hall; not that she was nervous or easily frightened, but there was something in Judge Bascom’s actions, something in the tone of his voice, some suggestion in his words, that gave her uneasiness, and she breathed a sigh of relief when her stalwart brother made his appearance.

Francis Underwood greeted his guest cordially—more cordially, Miss Sophie thought, than circumstances warranted; but the beautiful face of Mildred Bascom was not stamped on Miss Sophie’s mind as it was on her brother’s.

“I am sorry to put you to any inconvenience,” said the Judge, after they had talked for some time on commonplace topics—“very sorry. I have put the matter off until at last I felt it to be a solemn duty I[265] owed my family to come here. Believe me, sir,” he continued, turning to the young man with some emotion—“believe me, sir, it grieves me to trouble you in the matter, but I could no longer postpone coming here. I think I understand and appreciate your attachment”—

“Why, my dear sir,” cried Francis Underwood in his heartiest manner, “it is no trouble at all. No one could be more welcome here. I have often wondered why you have never called before. Don’t talk about trouble and inconvenience.”

“I think I understand and appreciate your attachment for the Place,” the Judge went on as though he had not been interrupted, “and it embarrasses me, I assure you, to be compelled to trouble you now.”

“Well,” said Francis Underwood, with a hospitable laugh, “if it is no trouble to you, it certainly is none to me. As my neighbors around here say, when I call on them, ‘just make yourself at home.’”

Judge Bascom rose from his chair trembling. He seemed suddenly to be laboring under the most intense excitement.

“My home?” he almost shrieked—“make myself at home! In God’s name,[266] man, what can you mean? It is my home! It has always been my home! Everything here is mine—every foot of land, every tree, every brick and stone and piece of timber in this house. It is all mine, and I will have it! I have come here to assert my rights!”

He panted with passion and excitement as he looked from Francis Underwood to Miss Sophie. He paused, as if daring them to dispute his claims. Miss Sophie, who had a temper of her own, would have given the Judge a piece of her mind, but she saw her brother regarding the old man with a puzzled, pitying expression. Then the truth flashed on her, and for an instant she felt like crying. Francis Underwood approached the Judge and led him gently back to his chair.

“Now that you are at home, Judge Bascom,” he said, “you need not worry yourself.”

“I tell you it is mine!” the Judge went on, beating the arm of his chair with his clenched fist; “it is mine. It has always been mine, and it will always be mine.”

Francis Underwood stood before the old man, active, alert, smiling. His sister said[267] afterwards that she was surprised at the prompt gentleness with which her brother disposed of what promised to be a very disagreeable scene.

“Judge Bascom,” said the young man, swinging himself around on his boot-heels, “as your guest here, allow me to suggest that you ought to show me over the place. I have been told you have some very fine cows here.”

Immediately Judge Bascom was himself again. His old air of dignity returned, and he became in a moment the affable host.

“As my guests here,” he said, smiling with pleasure, “you and the lady are very welcome. We keep open house at the Bascom Place, and we are glad to have our friends with us. What we have is yours. I suppose,” he went on, still smiling, “some of our neighbors have been joking about our cows. We have a good many of them, but they don’t amount to much. They have been driven to the pasture by this time, and that is on the creek a mile and a half from here. I wonder where Wesley is! I think he is growing more worthless every year. He ought to be here with my daughter. The carriage was sent for her some time ago.”

[268]

“I will see if he is in the yard,” said Underwood, and his sister followed him through the hall.

“Mercy!” Miss Sophie exclaimed when they were out of hearing; “does the old Judge purpose to swarm and settle down on us?” She had an economical turn of mind. “What in the world is the matter with him?”

“I pity him from the bottom of my heart,” said Francis Underwood, “but I am sorrier for his daughter. Everything seems to be blotted out of his mind except the notion that he is the owner of this Place. We must humor him, sister, and we must be tender with the daughter. You know how to do that much better than I do.”

Miss Sophie frowned a little. The situation was a new and trying one, but she had been confronted with emergencies before, and her experience and her strong common sense stood her in good stead now. With a woman’s promptness she decided on a line of action at once sympathetic and effectual. The buggy was ordered out and young Underwood went for a physician.

Then, when he had returned, Miss Sophie said he must go for the daughter, and she[269] cautioned him, with some severity of manner, as to what he should say and how he should deport himself. But at this Francis Underwood rebelled. Ordinarily he was a very agreeable and accommodating young fellow, but when his sister informed him that he must fetch Mildred Bascom to her father, he pulled off his hat and scratched his blond head in perplexity.

“What could I say, sister?” he protested. “How could I explain the situation? No; it is a woman’s work, and you must go. It would be a pretty come-off for me to go after this poor girl and in a fit of awkwardness frighten her to death. It is bad enough as it is. There is no hurry. You shall have the carriage. It would never do for me to go; no one but a woman knows how to be sympathetic in a matter of this kind.”

“I never knew before that you were so bashful,” said Miss Sophie, regarding him keenly. “It is a recent development.”

“It is not bashfulness, sister,” said Underwood, coloring a little. “It is consideration. How could I explain matters to this poor girl? How could I prevail on her to come here without giving her an inkling of[270] the situation, and thus frighten her, perhaps unnecessarily?”

“Perhaps you are right,” said Miss Sophie, who, as an experienced spinster, was not always ready to make concessions of this kind. “At any rate I’ll go for Miss Bascom, and I think I can manage it without alarming her; but the matter troubles me. I hope the poor old Judge will not be a dangerous guest.”

“There is not the slightest fear of that,” said Francis Underwood. “He is too feeble for that. When I placed my hand on his shoulder just now he was all of a tremble. He is no stronger than a little child, and no more dangerous. Besides, the doctor is with him.”

“Well,” said Miss Sophie with a sigh, “I’ll go. Women are compelled to do most of the odd jobs that men are afraid to take up; but I shiver to think of it. I shall surely break down when I see that poor child.”

“No,” said her brother, “you will not. I know you too well for that. We must humor this old man, and that will be for me to do; his daughter must be left to you.”

[271]
VII.

All this was no less the result of Francis Underwood’s desire than of the doctor’s commands. The old practitioner was noted for his skill throughout the region, and after he had talked with Judge Bascom he gave it as his opinion that the only physic necessary in the case was perfect rest and quiet, and that these could be secured only by allowing the old man to remain undisturbed in the belief that he was once more the owner of the Bascom Place.

“He’ll not trouble you for long,” said Dr. Bynum, wiping his spectacles, “and I’ve no doubt that whatever expense may be incurred will be settled by his old friends. Oh, Bascom still has friends here,” exclaimed the doctor, misunderstanding Underwood’s gesture of protest. “He went wrong, badly wrong; but he is a Southerner, sir, to the very core, and in the South we are in the habit of looking after our own. We may differ, sir, but when the pinch comes you’ll find us together.”

The doctor’s lofty air was wholly lost on his companion.

[272]

“My dear sir,” said Underwood, laying his hand somewhat heavily on the doctor’s shoulder, “what do you take me for? Do you suppose that I intend to set up a hospital here?”

“Oh, by no means, by no means,” said Dr. Bynum, soothingly. “Not at all; in fact, quite the contrary. As I say, you shall be reimbursed for all”—

“Dr. Bynum,” said Underwood, with some degree of emphasis, “permit me to remind you that Judge Bascom is my guest. There is no question of money except so far as your bill is concerned, and that”—

“Now, now, my dear boy,” exclaimed the old doctor, holding up both hands in a gesture of expostulation, “don’t, don’t fly up! What is the use? I was only explaining matters; I was only trying to let you know how we Southerners feel. You must have noticed that the poor old Judge hasn’t been treated very well since his return here. His best friends have avoided him. I was only trying to tell you that they hold him in high esteem, and that they are willing to do all they can for him.”

“As a Southerner?” inquired Underwood, “or as a man?”

[273]

“Tut, tut!” exclaimed Dr. Bynum. “Don’t come running at me with your head down and your horns up. We’ve no time to fall into a dispute. You look after the Judge as a Northerner, and I’ll look after him as a Southerner. His daughter must come here. He is very feeble. He has but one irrational idea, and that is that he owns the old Place. In every other particular his mind is sound, and he will give you no trouble. His idea must be humored, and even then the collapse will come too soon for that poor girl, his daughter—as lovely a creature, sir, as you ever saw.”

This statement was neither information nor news so far as Underwood was concerned. “If I see her,” the old doctor went on, with a somewhat patronizing air, “I’ll try to explain matters; but it is a very delicate undertaking, sir—very delicate.”

“No,” said Underwood; “there will be no need for explanations. My sister will go for Miss Bascom, and whatever explanations may be necessary she will make at the proper time.”

“An admirable arrangement,” said Dr. Bynum with a grunt of satisfaction—“an[274] admirable arrangement indeed. Well, my boy, you must do the best you can, and I know that will be all that is necessary. I am sorry for Bascom, very sorry, and I’m sorrier for his daughter. I’ll call again tonight.”

As Dr. Bynum drove down the avenue, Underwood was much gratified to see Jesse coming through the gate. The negro appeared to be much perplexed. He took off his hat as he approached Underwood, and made a display of politeness somewhat unusual, although he was always polite.

“Is you seed Marse Judge Bascom?” he inquired.

“Yes,” said Underwood. “He is in the house yonder, resting himself. You seem frightened; what is the trouble?”

“Well, suh, I ain’t had no such worriment sence de Sherman army come ’long. I dunner what got inter Marse Judge Bascom. He been gwine on des like yuther folks, settin’ ’roun’ en talkin’ ’long wid hisse’f, en den all of er sudden he break out en shave en dress hisse’f, en go visitin’ whar he ain’t never been visitin’ befo’. I done year ’im say p’intedly dat he ain’t never gwine come yer les’n de Place b’long ter ’im. Do he look downhearted, suh?”

[275]

“No,” said Underwood, “I can’t say that he does. He seems to be very well satisfied. He has called several times for Wesley. I have heard you called Jesse, but perhaps the Judge knows you as Wesley. There are several negroes around here who answer to different names.”

“No, suh,” said Jesse, scratching his head. “I ain’t never been call Wesley sence I been bornded inter de worl’. Dey was er nigger name Wesley what use ter go ’long wid Marse Judge Bascom en wait on ’im when I wuz er little boy, but Wesley done been dead too long ago ter talk about. I dunner what make folks’s min’ drop back dat ’a’way. Look like dey er sorter fumblin’ ’roun’ tryin’ fer ter ketch holt er sump’n ne’r what done been pulled up out’n reach.”

“Well,” said Underwood, “the Judge is in the house. See if he wants anything; and if he asks about his daughter, tell him she will be here directly.”

When Jesse went into the house he found the Judge lying on a lounge in the hall. His eyes were closed, and he seemed to be dozing; but Jesse’s movements aroused him.

“Ah! is that you, Wesley? Where is your Miss Mildred?”

[276]

“She comin’, suh; she comin’ right now.”

“Very well, very well. You must make yourself at home here,” he said to Francis Underwood, who had followed Jesse. “I am somewhat dilapidated myself, but my daughter will entertain you. Wesley, I believe I will go to my room. Lend me your arm.”

“Allow me to assist you,” said Underwood; and so between the two the old man was carried to the room that had been his own when the house was his. It happened to be Underwood’s room, but that made no difference. It belonged once more to the Judge in his disordered fancy, and thither he went.

After a while Miss Sophie came, bringing Mildred. Just how she had explained matters to the poor girl no one ever knew, but it must have been in some specially sympathetic way, for when Francis Underwood assisted the ladies from the carriage Miss Bascom appeared to be the less agitated of the two.

“The Judge is as comfortable as possible,” Underwood said cheerily. “Jesse is with him, and I think he is asleep. His nervousness has passed away.”

[277]

“Oh, do you think he is seriously ill?” exclaimed Mildred, clasping her hands together.

“Certainly not, just now,” said Francis Underwood. “The doctor has been here, and he has gone away apparently satisfied. Sister, do you take charge of Miss Bascom, and show her how to be at home here.”

And so Judge Bascom and his beautiful daughter were installed at the old Place. Mildred, under the circumstances, would rather have been elsewhere, but she was practically under orders. It was necessary to the well-being of her father, so the doctor said, that he should remain where he was; it was necessary that he should be humored in the belief that he was the owner of the old Place. It is only fair to say that Miss Sophie Underwood and her brother were more willing and anxious to enter into this scheme than Mildred appeared to be. She failed to comprehend the situation until after she had talked with her father, and then she was in despair. Judge Bascom was the representative of everything substantial and enduring in his daughter’s experience, and when she realized that his mind had been seized by a vagary she received[278] a tremendous shock. But the rough edges of the situation, so to speak, were smoothed and turned by Miss Sophie, who assumed motherly charge of the young girl. Miss Sophie’s methods were so sympathetic and so womanly, and she gave to the situation such a matter-of-fact interpretation, that the grief and dismay of the young girl were not as overwhelming as they otherwise would have been.
VIII.

Naturally all the facts that have just been set down here were soon known to the inhabitants of Hillsborough. Naturally, too, something more than the facts was also known and talked about. There was the good old doctor ready to shake his head and look mysterious, and there were the negroes ready to give out an exaggerated version of the occurrences that followed Judge Bascom’s visit to his old home.

“Well,” said Major Jimmy Bass to his wife, with something like a snort, “ef the old Judge is gone there an’ took holt of things, like they say, it’s bekaze he’s out’n his mind. I wonder what in the round world could ’a’ possessed him?”

[279]

“I ’spec’ he’s done drapt back into his doltage,” said Farmer Joe-Bob Grissom, who had gone to the major’s for the purpose of discussing the matter. “An’ yit, they do say that he’s got a clean title to every bit of the prop’ty, ef you take into account all that talk about his wife’s brother, an’ sech like.”

“Well,” remarked the major grimly, “Sarah there ain’t got no brother, an’ I reckon I’m sorter pretected from them kind of gwines-on.”

“Why, tooby shore you are,” said his wife, who was the Sarah referred to; “but I ain’t so mighty certain that I wouldn’t be better off if I had a brother to follow you around where the wimmen folks can’t go. You’ve flung away many a bright dollar that he might have picked up.”

“Who, Sarah?” inquired the major, wincing a little.

“My brother,” returned Mrs. Bass.

“Why, you haven’t got a brother, Sarah,” said Major Bass.

“More’s the pity,” exclaimed the major’s wife. “I ought to have had one, a great big double-j’inted chap. But you needn’t tell me about the old Judge,” she went on.[280] “He tried to out-Yankee the Yankees up yonder in Atlanty, an’ now he’s a-trying to out-Yankee them down here. Lord! You needn’t tell me a thing about old Judge Bascom. Show me a man that’s been wrapped up with the Radicals, and I’ll show you a man that ain’t got no better sense than to try to chousel somebody. I’d just as lief see Underwood have the Bascom Place as the old Judge, every bit and grain.”

“Well, I hadn’t,” said the major emphatically.

“No, ner me nuther,” said Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom. “Hit may be right, but hit don’t look right. Pap used to say he’d never be happy ontel the Bascoms come back inter the’r prop’ty.”

“Well, he’s dead, ain’t he?” inquired Mrs. Bass in a tone that showed she had the best of the argument.

“Yessum,” said Mr. Grissom, shifting about in his chair and crossing his legs, as if anxious to dispose of an unpleasant subject, “yessum, pap’s done dead.” To this statement, after a somewhat embarrassing silence, he added: “Pap took an’ died a long time ago.”

[281]

“Yes,” said Mrs. Bass in a gentler tone, “and I’ll warrant you that when he died he wasn’t pestered ’bout whether the Bascoms owned the Place or not. Did he make any complaints?”

“No’m,” replied Mr. Grissom in a reminiscent way, “I can’t say that he did. He jest didn’t bother about ’em. Hit looked like they jest natchally slipped outer his mind.”

“Why, certainly,” said Mrs. Bass, with a little shake of her head; “they slipped outer your pa’s mind, and now they say the old Judge has slipped out of his own mind.”

“Well, we needn’t boast of it, Sarah,” remarked the major, with a feeble attempt at severity. “Nobody knows the day when some of us may be twisted around. We’ve no room to brag.”

“No, we ain’t,” said his wife, bridling up. “I’ve trembled for you a many a day when you thought I was thinking about something else,—a many a day.”

“Now you know mighty well, Sarah, that no good-natured man like me ain’t a-gwine to up an’ lose their mind, jest dry so,” said the major earnestly. “They’ve got to have some mighty big trouble.”

[282]

“Yes,” said Mrs. Bass, grimly, “and they have to have mind too, I reckon. Nobody that never had a horse ever lost one.”

The major nodded his head at Joe-Bob Grissom, as much as to say that it was only a very able man who could afford to have such a sprightly wife. The mute suggestion, however, was lost on Grissom, who was accustomed to taking life seriously.

“I hear a mighty heap of talk,” he said, “but I ain’t never been so mighty certain an’ shore that the old Judge is lost his mind. There’d be lots of fun ef it should happen to be that he had the papers all made out in his pocket, an’ I’ve hearn some hints that-a-way.”

“Well,” said the more practical Mrs. Bass, “he ain’t got no papers. The minute I laid eyes on him after he came back here, I says to Mr. Bass there, ‘Mr. Bass,’ says I, ‘the old Judge has gone wrong in his upper story.’ Ah, you can’t fool me. I know a thing when I see it, more especially if I look at it close. I’ve seen folks that had to rub the silver off a thrip to tell whether it was passable or not. I might be fooled about the silver in a thrip, but you can’t fool me about a grown man.”

[283]

“Nobody ain’t tryin’ to fool you, Sarah,” said the major, with some show of spirit.

“Well, I reckon not,” exclaimed Mrs. Bass, somewhat contemptuously. “I’d like to see anybody try to fool me right here in my own house and right before my face.”

“There ain’t no tellin’,” said Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom, in his matter-of-fact way, ignoring everything that had been said,—“there ain’t no tellin’ whether the old Judge is got the papers or not. ’T would be hard on Frank Underwood an’ his sister, an’ they ain’t no better folks than them. They don’t make no fuss about it, an’ they don’t hang out no signs, but when you come to a narrer place in the road where you can’t go forrerd nor back’ards, an’ nuther can you turn ’roun’, you may jest count on them Underwoods. They’ll git you out ef you can be got out, an’ before you can say thanky-do, they’ll be away off yonder helpin’ some yuther poor creetur.”

“Well,” said Major Bass, with an air of independence, “I’m at the fust of it. It may be jest as you say, Joe-Bob; but ef so, I’ve never knowed it.”

“Hit’s jest like I tell you,” said Joe-Bob, emphatically.

[284]

“Well, the Lord love us!” exclaimed Mrs. Bass, “I hope it’s so, I do from the bottom of my heart. It would be a mighty queer world if it didn’t have some tender spots in it, but you needn’t be afraid that they’ll ever get as thick as the measles. I reckon you must be renting land on the old Bascom Place,” she went on, eyeing Mr. Grissom somewhat sharply.

“Yessum,” said Joe-Bob, moving about uneasily in his chair. “Yessum, I do.”

Whereupon Mrs. Bass smiled, and her smile was more significant than anything she could have said. It was disconcerting indeed, and it was not long before Mr. Joe-Bob Grissom made some excuse for depriving Major Jimmy and Mrs. Sarah Bass of his company.

As he was passing the Bascom Place on his way home he saw lights in the house and heard voices on the piazza.

“Ef it warn’t for that blamed dog,” he thought, “I’d go up there an’ see what they er talkin’ about so mighty peart.”

[285]
IX.

But Mr. Grissom’s curiosity would not have been satisfied. Judge Bascom was sitting in a large rocking-chair, enjoying the pleasant evening air, and the others were sitting near, talking on the most ordinary topics. This situation was one of the doctor’s prescriptions, as Miss Sophie said. Those around were to wear a cheerful air, and the Judge was to be humored in the belief that he was once more the proprietor of the Bascom Place. He seemed to respond to this treatment in the most natural way. The old instinct of hospitality rose in him and had its way. He grew garrulous indeed, and sat on the piazza, or walked up and down and talked by the hour. He was full of plans and projects, and some of them were so suggestive that Francis Underwood made a note of them for further consideration. The Judge was the genial host, and while his daughter was full of grief and humiliation at the position in which she was placed, he appeared to draw new life and inspiration from his surroundings. He took a great fancy to Miss Sophie: her observations,[286] which were practical in the extreme, and often unflattering, were highly relished by him. The Judge himself was a good talker, and he gave Miss Sophie an opportunity to vent some of her pet opinions, the most of which were very pronounced.

As for Mildred, in spite of her grief and anxiety, she found her surroundings vastly more pleasant than she had at first imagined they could be. Some instinct or prepossession made her feel at home in the old house, and as she grew more cheerful and more contented she grew more beautiful and more engaging. At least, this was the opinion of Francis Underwood.

“Brother,” said Miss Sophie one day when they were together, “you are in love.”

“I don’t know whether to say yes or no,” he replied. “What is it to be in love?”

“How should I know?” exclaimed Miss Sophie, reddening a little. “I see you mooning around, and moping. Something has come over you, and if it isn’t love, what is it?”

He held up his hands, white and muscular, and looked at them. Then he took off his hat and tousled his hair in an effort to smooth it with his fingers.

[287]

“It is something,” he said after a while “but I don’t know what. Is love such an everyday affair that it can be called by name as soon as it arrives?”

“Don’t be absurd, brother,” said Miss Sophie, with a gesture of protest. “You talk as if you were trying to take a census of the affair.”

“No,” said he; “I am trying to get a special report. I saw Dr. Bynum looking at you over his spectacles yesterday.”

Miss Sophie tried to show that this suggestion was an irritating one, but she failed, and then fell to laughing.

“I never knew I was so full of humor before,” said Francis Underwood, by way of comment.

“And I never knew you could be so foolish—to me,” said Miss Sophie, still laughing. “What is Dr. Bynum to me?”

“Not having his spectacles to look over, how do I know?”

“But,” persisted Miss Sophie, “you need no spectacles to look at Mildred. I have seen you looking at her through your fingers.”

“And what was she doing?” inquired Underwood, coloring in the most surprising way.

[288]

“Oh,” said Miss Sophie, “she was pretending not to notice it; but I can sit with my back to you both and tell by the tone of her voice when this and that thing is going on.”

“This, then, is courtship,” said Underwood.

“Why, brother, how provoking you are!” exclaimed Miss Sophie. “It is nothing of the sort. It is child’s play; it is the way the youngsters do at school. I feel as if I never knew you before; you are full of surprises.”

“I surprise myself,” he said, with something like a sigh, “and that is the trouble; I don’t want to be too surprising.”

“But in war,” said his sister, “the successful general cannot be too full of surprises.”

“In war!” he cried. “Why, I was in hopes the war was over.”

“I was thinking about the old saying,” she explained—“the old saying that all is fair in love and war.”

“Well,” said Francis Underwood, “it would be hard to say whether you and Dr. Bynum are engaged in war or not. You are both very sly, but I have seen a good[289] deal of skirmishing going on. Will it end in a serious engagement, with casualties on both sides? The doctor is something of a surgeon, and he can attend to his own wounds, but who is going to look after yours?”

“How can you go on so!” cried Miss Sophie, laughing. “Are we to have an epidemic of delusions?”

“Yes, and illusions too,” said her brother. “The atmosphere seems to be full of them. Everything is in a tangle.”

And yet it was not long after this conversation that Miss Sophie observed her brother and Mildred Bascom sauntering together under the great cedars, and she concluded that he was trying to untangle the tangle.

There were many such walks, and the old Judge, sitting on the piazza in bright weather, would watch the handsome pair, apparently with a contented air. There was something about this busy and practical young man that filled Mildred’s imagination. His individuality was prominent enough to be tantalizing. It was of the dominant variety. In him the instinct of control and command, so pleasing to the feminine mind, was thoroughly developed, and he disposed of his affairs with a promptness and decisiveness that left nothing to be desired.[290] Everything seemed to be arranged in his mind beforehand.

Everything, that is to say, except his relations with Mildred Bascom. There was not the slightest detail of his various enterprises, from the simplest to the most complicated, with which he was not thoroughly familiar, but this young girl, simple and unaffected as she was, puzzled him sorely. She presented to Francis Underwood’s mind the old problem that is always new, and that has as many phases as there are stars in the sky. Here, before his eyes, was a combination for which there was no warrant in his experience—the wit and tenderness of Rosalind, blended with the self-sacrificing devotion of Cordelia. Here was a combination—a complication—of a nature to attract the young man’s attention. Problem, puzzle, what you will, it was a very attractive one for him, and he lost no favorable opportunity of studying it.

So the pleasant days came and went. If there were any love-passages between the young people, only the stately cedars or the restless poplars were in the secret, and these told it only to the vagrant west winds that crept over the hills when the silence of night fell over all things.

[291]
X.

Those were pleasant days and nights at the old Bascom Place, in spite of the malady with which the Judge was afflicted. They were particularly pleasant when he seemed to be brighter and stronger. But one day, when he seemed to be at his best, the beginning of the end came. He was sitting on the piazza, talking with his daughter and with Francis Underwood. Some reference was made to the Place, when the old Judge suddenly rose from his chair, and, shaking his thin white hand at the young man, cried out:

“I tell you it is mine! The Place always has been mine and it always will be mine.”

He tottered forward and would have fallen, but Underwood caught him and placed him in his chair. The old man’s nerves had lost their tension, his eyes their brightness. He could only murmur indistinctly, “Mine, mine, mine.” He seemed suddenly to have shrunk and shriveled away. His head fell to one side, his face was deadly pale, his lips were blue, and his thin hands clutched convulsively at his clothes and at the chair. Mildred was at his side instantly, but he seemed[292] to be beyond the reach of her voice and beyond the limits of her grief, which was distressful to behold. He tried indeed to stroke the beautiful hair that fell loosely over him as his daughter seized him in her despairing arms, but it was in a vague and wandering way.

Judge Bascom’s condition was so alarming that Francis Underwood lifted him in his arms and placed him on the nearest bed, where he lay gazing at the ceiling, sometimes smiling and at other times frowning and crying, “Mine, mine, mine!”

He sank slowly but surely. At the last he smiled and whispered “Home,” and so passed away.

He was indeed at home. He had come to the end of his long and tiresome journey. He smiled as he lay sleeping, and his rest was pleasant; for there was that in his dead face, white and pinched as it was, that bore witness to the infinite gentleness and mercy of Christ, who is the Lord.

It was an event that touched the hearts of his old neighbors and their children, and they spoke to one another freely and feelingly about the virtues of the old Judge, the beautiful life he had lived, the distinction he[293] had won, and the mark he had made on his generation. Some, who were old enough to remember, told of his charities in the days when prosperity sat at his board; and in discussing these things the people gradually came to realize the fact that Judge Bascom, in spite of his misfortunes, had shed lustre on his State and on the village in which he was born, and that his renown was based on a character so perfect, and on results so just and beneficent, that all could share in it.

His old neighbors, watching by him as he lay smiling in his dreamless sleep, shortened the long hours of the night with pleasant reminiscences of the dead. Those who sat near the door could see, in an adjoining room, Mildred Bascom sitting at Miss Sophie Underwood’s feet, her arms around the older woman’s waist. It was a brief and fleeting panorama, as indeed life itself is, but the two, brought together by grief and sympathy, often sat thus in the years that followed. For Mildred Bascom became the mistress of the Bascom Place; and although she has changed her name, the old name still clings to Underwood’s domain.

The End


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