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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Deliverance: A Romance Of The Virginia Tobacco Fields - Book IV - The Awakening - Chapter VII. In which Carraway Speaks the Truth to Maria
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The Deliverance: A Romance Of The Virginia Tobacco Fields - Book IV - The Awakening - Chapter VII. In which Carraway Speaks the Truth to Maria Post by :FMedeiros Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :April 2011 Read :3083

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The Deliverance: A Romance Of The Virginia Tobacco Fields - Book IV - The Awakening - Chapter VII. In which Carraway Speaks the Truth to Maria

During the first week in April Carraway appeared at the Hall in
answer to an urgent request from Fletcher that he should, without
delay, put the new will into proper form.

On the morning after his arrival, Carraway had a long
conversation with the old man in his sitting-room, and when it
was over he came out with an anxious frown upon his brow and went
upstairs to the library which Maria had fitted up in the spare
room next her chamber. It was the pleasantest spot in the house,
he had concluded last evening, and the impression returned to him
as he entered now and saw the light from the wood fire falling on
the shining floor, which reflected the stately old furniture, and
the cushions, and the window curtains of faded green. Books were
everywhere, and he noticed at once that they were not the kind
read by the women whom he knew--big leather volumes on
philosophy, yellow-covered French novels, and curled edges of
what he took to be the classic poets. It was almost with relief
that he noticed a dainty feminine touch here and there--a work-
bag of flowered silk upon the sofa, a bowl of crocuses among the
papers on the old mahogany desk, and clinging to each bit of
well-worn drapery in the room a faint and delicate fragrance.

Maria was lying drowsily in a low chair before the fire, and as
he entered she looked up with a smile and motioned to a
comfortable seat across the hearth. A book was on her knees, but
she had not been reading, for her fingers were playing carelessly
with the uncut leaves. Against her soft black dress the whiteness
of her face and hands showed almost too intense a contrast, and
yet there was no hint of fragility in her appearance. From head
to foot she was abounding with energy, throbbing with life, and
though Carraway would still, perhaps, have hesitated to call her
beautiful, his eyes dwelt with pleasure on the noble lines of her
relaxed figure. Better than beauty, he admitted the moment
afterward, was the charm that shone for him in her wonderfully
expressive face--a face over which the experiences of many lives
seemed to ripple faintly in what was hardly more than the shadow
of a smile. She had loved and suffered, he thought, with his gaze
upon her, and from both love and suffering she had gained that
fulness of nature which is the greatest good that either has to
yield.

"So it is serious," she said anxiously, as he sat down.

"I fear so--at least, where your brother is concerned. I can't
say just what the terms of the will are, of course, but he made
no secret at breakfast of his determination to leave half of his
property--which the result of recent investments has made very
large--to the cause of foreign missions."

"Yes, he has told me about it."

"Then there's nothing more to be said, unless you can persuade
him for your brother's sake to destroy the will when his anger
has blown over. I used every argument I could think of, but he
simply wouldn't listen to me--swept my advice aside as if it was
so much wasted breath--"

He paused as Maria bent her ear attentively.

"He is coming upstairs now!" she exclaimed, amazed.

There was a heavy tread on the staircase, and a little later
Fletcher came in and turned to close the door carefully behind
him. He had recovered for a moment his air of bluff good-humour,
and his face crinkled into a ruddy smile.

"So you're hatching schemes between you, I reckon," he observed,
and, crossing to the hearth, pushed back a log with the toe of
his heavy boot.

"It looks that way, certainly," replied Carraway, with his
pleasant laugh. "But I must confess that I was doing nothing more
interesting than admiring Mrs. Wyndham's taste in books."

Fletcher glanced round indifferently.

"Well, I haven't any secrets," he pursued, still under the
pressure of the thought which had urged him upstairs, "and as far
as that goes, I can tear up that piece of paper and have it done
with any day I please."

"So I had the honour to advise," remarked Carraway.

"That's neither here nor thar, I reckon--it's made now, and so
it's likely to stand until I die, though I don't doubt you'll
twist and split it then as much as you can. However, I reckon the
foreign missions will look arter the part that goes to them, and
if Maria's got the sense I credit her with she'll look arter
hers."

"After mine?" exclaimed Maria, lifting her head to return his
gaze. "Why, I thought you gave me my share when I married."

"So I did--so I did, and you let it slip like water through your
fingers; but you've grown up, I reckon, sence you were such a
fool as to have your head turned by Wyndham, and if you don't
hold on to this tighter than you did to the last you deserve to
lose it, that's all. You're a good woman--I ain't lived a month
in the house with you and not found that out--but if you hadn't
had something more than goodness inside your head you wouldn't
have got so much as a cent out of me again. Saidie's a good woman
and a blamed fool, too, but you're different; you've got a
backbone in your body, and I'll be hanged if that ain't why I'm
leaving the Hall to you."

"The Hall?" echoed Maria, rising impulsively from her chair and
facing him upon the hearthrug.

"The Hall and Saidie and the whole lot," returned Fletcher,
chuckling, "and I may as well tell you now, that, for all your
spendthrift notions about wages, you're the only woman I ever saw
who was fit to own a foot of land. But I like the quiet way you
manage things, somehow, and, bless my soul, if you were a man I'd
leave you the whole business and let the missions hang."

"There's time yet," observed Carraway beneath his breath.

"No, no; it's settled now," returned Fletcher, "and she'll have
more than she can handle as it is. Most likely she'll marry
again, being a woman, and a man will be master here, arter all.
If you do," he added, turning angrily upon his granddaughter,
"for heaven's sakes, don't let it be another precious scamp like
your first!"

With a shiver Maria caught her breath and bent toward him with an
appealing gesture of her arms.

"But you must not do it, grandfather; it isn't right. The place
was never meant to belong to me."

"Well, it belongs to me, I reckon, and confound your silly
puritanical fancies, I'll leave it where I please," retorted
Fletcher, and strode from the room.

Throwing herself back into her chair, Maria lay for a time
looking thoughtfully at the hickory log, which crumbled and threw
out a shower of red sparks. Her face was grave, but there was no
hint of indecision upon it, and it struck Carraway very forcibly
at the instant that she knew her own mind quite clearly and
distinctly upon this as upon most other matters.

"It may surprise you," she said presently, speaking with sudden
passion, "but by right the Hall ought not to be mine, and I do
not want it. I have never loved it because it has never for a
moment seemed home to me, and our people have always appeared
strangers upon the land. How we came here I do not know, but it
has not suited us, and we have only disfigured a beauty into
which we did not fit. Its very age is a reproach to us, for it
shows off our newness--our lack of any past that we may call our
own. Will might feel himself master here, but I cannot."

Carraway took off his glasses and rubbed patiently at the ridge
they had drawn across his nose.

"And yet, why not?" he asked. "The place has been in your
grandfather's possession now for more than twenty years."

"For more than twenty years," repeated Maria scornfully, "and
before that the Blakes lived here--how long?"

He met her question squarely. "For more than two hundred."

Without shifting her steady gaze which she turned upon his face,
she leaned forward, clasping her hands loosely upon the knees.

"There are things that I want to know, Mr. Carraway," she said,
"many things, and I believe that you can tell me. Most of all, I
want to know why we ever came to Blake Hall? Why the Blakes ever
left it? And, above all, why they have hated us so heartily and
so long?"

She paused and sat motionless, while she hung with suspended
breath upon his reply.

For a moment the lawyer hesitated, nervously twirling his glasses
between his thumb and forefinger; then he slowly shook his head
and looked from her to the fire.

"Twenty years are not as a day, despite your scorn, my dear young
lady, and many facts become overlaid with fiction in a shorter
time."

"But you know something--and you believe still more."

"God forbid that I should convert you to any belief of mine."

She put out a protesting hand, her eyes still gravely insistent.
"Tell me all--I demand it. It is my right; you must see that."

"A right to demolish sand houses--to scatter old dust."

"A right to hear the truth. Surely you will not withhold it from
me?"

"I don't know the truth, so I can't enlighten you. I know only
the stories of both sides, and they resemble each other merely in
that they both center about the same point of interest."

"Then you will tell them to me--you must," she said earnestly.
"Tell me first, word for word, all that the Blakes believe of
us."

With a laugh, he put on his glasses that he might bring her
troubled face the more clearly before him.

"A high spirit of impartiality, I admit," he observed.

"That I should want to hear the other side?"

"That, being a woman, you should take for granted the existence
of the other side."

She shook her head impatiently. "You can't evade me by airing
camphor-scented views of my sex," she returned. "What I wish to
know--and I still stick to my point, you see--is the very thing
you are so carefully holding back."

"I am holding back nothing, on my honour," he assured her. "If
you want the impression which still exists in the county--only an
impression--I must make plain to you at the start (for the events
happened when the State was in the throes of reconstruction, when
each man was busy rebuilding his own fortunes, and when tragedies
occurred without notice and were hushed up without remark)--if
you want merely an impression, I repeat, then you may have it, my
dear lady, straight from the shoulder."

"Well?" her voice rose inquiringly, for he had paused.

"There is really nothing definite known of the affair," he
resumed after a moment, "even the papers which would have thrown
light into the darkness were destroyed--burned, it is said, in an
old office which the Federal soldiers fired. It is all mystery--
grim mystery and surmise; and when there is no chance of either
proving or disproving a case I dare say one man's word answers
quite as well as another's. At all events, we have your
grandfather's testimony as chief actor and eye-witness against
the inherited convictions of our somewhat Homeric young
neighbour. For eighteen years before the war Mr. Fletcher was
sole agent--a queer selection, certainly--for old Mr. Blake, who
was known to have grown very careless in the confidence he
placed. When the crash came, about three years after the war, the
old gentleman's mind was much enfeebled, and it was generally
rumoured that his children were kept in ignorance that the place
was passing from them until it was auctioned off over their heads
and Mr. Fletcher became the purchaser. How this was, of course, I
do not pretend to say, but when the Hall finally went for the
absurd sum of seven thousand dollars life was at best a hard
struggle in the State, and I imagine there was less surprise at
the sacrifice of the place than at the fact that your grandfather
should have been able to put down the ready money. The making of
a fortune is always, I suppose, more inexplicable than the losing
of one. The Blakes had always been accounted people of great
wealth and wastefulness, but within five years from the close of
the war they had sunk to the position in which you find them now
--a change, I dare say, from which it is natural much lingering
bitterness should result. The old man died almost penniless, and
his children were left to struggle on from day to day as best
they could. It is a sad tale, and I do not wonder that it moves
you," he finished slowly, and looked down to wipe his glasses.

"And grandfather?" asked the girl quietly. Her gaze had not
wavered from his face, but her eyes shone luminous through the
tears which filled them.

"He became rich as suddenly as the Blakes became poor. Where his
money came from no one asked, and no one cared except the Blakes,
who were helpless. They made some small attempts at law suits, I
believe, but Christopher was only a child then, and there was
nobody with the spirit to push the case. Then money was needed,
and they were quite impoverished."

Maria threw out her hands with a gesture of revolt.

"Oh, it is a terrible story," she said, "a terrible story."

"It is an old one, and belongs to terrible times. You have drawn
it from me for your own purpose, and be that as it may, I have
always believed in giving a straight answer to a straight
question. Now such things would be impossible," he added
cheerfully; "then, I fear, they were but too probable."

"In your heart you believe that it is true?" He did not flinch
from his response. "In my heart I believe that there is more in
it than a lie."

Rising from her chair, she turned from him and walked rapidly up
and down the room, through the firelight which shimmered over the
polished floor. Once she stopped by the window, and, drawing the
curtains aside, looked out upon the April sunshine and upon the
young green leaves which tinted the distant woods. Then coming
back to the hearthrug, she stood gazing down upon him with a
serene and resolute expression.

"I am glad now that the Hall will be mine," she said, "glad even
that it wasn't left to Will, for who knows how he would have
looked at it. There is but one thing to be done: you must see
that yourself. At grandfather's death the place must go back to
its rightful owners."

"To its rightful owners!" he repeated in amazement, and rose to
his feet.

"To the Blakes. Oh, don't you see it--can't you see that there is
nothing else to do in common honesty?"

He shook his head, smiling.

"It is very beautiful, my child, but is it reasonable, after
all?" he asked.

"Reasonable?" The fine scorn he had heard before in her voice
thrilled her from head to foot. "Shall I stop to ask what is
reasonable before doing what is right?"

Without looking at her, he drew a handkerchief from his pocket
and shook it slowly out from its folds.

"Well, I'm not sure that you shouldn't," he rejoined.

"Then I shan't be reasonable. I'll be wise," she said; "for
surely, if there is any wisdom upon earth, it is simply to do
right. It may be many years off, and I may be an old woman, but
when the Hall comes to me at grandfather's death I shall return
it to the Blakes."

In the silence which followed he found himself looking into her
ardent face with a wonder not unmixed with awe. To his rather
cynical view of the Fletchers such an outburst came as little
less than a veritable thunderclap, and for the first time in his
life he felt a need to modify his conservative theories as to the
necessity of blue blood to nourish high ideals. Maria, indeed,
seemed to him as she stood there, drawn fine and strong against
the curtains of faded green, to hold about her something better
than that aroma of the past which he had felt to be the intimate
charm of all exquisite things, and it was at the moment the very
light and promise of the future which he saw in the broad
intelligence of her brow. Was it possible, after all, he
questioned, that out of the tragic wreck of old claims and old
customs which he had witnessed there should spring creatures of
even finer fiber than those who had gone before?

"So this is your last word?" he inquired helplessly.

"My last word to you--yes. In a moment I am going out to see the
Blakes--to make them understand."

He put out his hand as if to detain her by a feeble pull at her
skirt. "At least, you will sleep a night upon your resolution?"

"How can my sleeping alter things? My waking may."

"And you will sweep the claims of twenty years aside in an hour?"

"They are swept aside by the claims of two hundred."

With a courteous gesture he bent over her hand and raised it
gravely to his lips.

"My dear young friend, you are very lovely and very
unreasonable," he said.

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A little later, Maria, with a white scarf thrown over her head,came out of the Hall and passed swiftly along the road under theyoung green leaves which were putting out on the trees. When shereached the whitewashed gate before the Blake cottage she sawChristopher ploughing in the field on the left of the house, andturning into the little path which trailed through the tall weedsbeside the "worm" fence, she crossed the yard and stoodhesitating at the beginning of the open furrow he had left behindhim. His gaze was bent upon the horses, and for a moment shewatched him in attentive silence,
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By the end of the week a long rain had set in, and while itlasted Christopher took down the tobacco hanging in the roof ofthe log barn and laid it in smooth piles, pressed down by boardson the ground. The tobacco was still soft from the moist seasonwhen Jim Weatherby, who had sold his earlier in the year, cameover to help pack the large casks for market, bringing at thesame time a piece of news concerning Bill Fletcher."It seems Will met the old man somewhere on the road and theycame to downright blows," he said. "Fletcher broke a hickorystick over the
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