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by [?]


It was nearly midnight of Christmas Eve on Oakland Plantation. In the library of the great house a dim lamp burned, and here, in a big arm-chair before a waning fire, Evelyn Bruce, a fair young girl, sat earnestly talking to a withered old black woman, who sat on the rug at her feet.

“An’ yer say de plantatiom done sol’, baby, an’ we boun’ ter move?”

“Yes, mammy, the old place must go.”

“An’ is de ‘Onerble Mr. Citified buyed it, baby? I know he an’ ole marster sot up all endurin’ las’ night a-talkin’ and a-figgurin’.”

“Yes. Mr. Jacobs has closed the mortgage, and owns the place now.”

“An’ when is we gwine, baby?”

“The sooner the better. I wish the going were over.”

“An’ whar’bouts is we gwine, honey?”

“We will go to the city, mammy–to New Orleans. Something tells me that father will never be able to attend to business again, and I am going to work–to make money.”

Mammy fell backward. “W-w-w-work! Y-y-you w-w-work! Wh-wh-why, baby, what sort o’ funny, cuyus way is you a-talkin’, anyhow?”

“Many refined women are earning their living in the city, mammy.”

“Is you a-talkin’ sense, baby, ur is yer des a-bluffin’? Is yer axed yo’ pa yit?”

“I don’t think father is well, mammy. He says that whatever I suggest we will do, and I am sure it is best. We will take a cheap little house, father and I–“

“Y-y-you an’ yo’ pa! An’ wh-wh-what ’bout me, baby?” Mammy would stammer when she was excited.

“And you, mammy, of course.”

“Umh! umh! umh! An’ so we gwine ter trabble! An’ de’ Onerble Mr. Citified done closed de morgans on us! Ef-ef I’d ‘a’ knowed it dis mornin’ when he was a-quizzifyin’ me so sergacious, I b’lieve I’d o’ upped an’ sassed ‘im, I des couldn’t ‘a’ helt in. I ‘lowed he was teckin’ a mighty frien’ly intruss, axin’ me do we-all’s puck on-trees bear big puck ons, an’–an’ ef de well keep cool all summer, an’–an’ he ax me–he ax me–“

“What else did he ask you, mammy?”

“Scuze me namin’ it ter yer, baby, but he ax me who was buried in we’s graves–he did fur a fac’. Yer reckon dee gwine claim de graves in de morgans, baby?”

Mammy had crouched again at Evelyn’s feet, and her eager brown face was now almost against her knee.

“All the land is mortgaged, mammy.”

“Don’t yer reck’n he mought des nachelly scuze de graves out’n de morgans, baby, ef yer ax ‘im mannerly?”

“I’m afraid not, mammy, but after a while we may have them moved.”

The old bronze clock on the mantel struck twelve.

“Des listen. De ole clock a-strikin’ Chris’mas-gif now. Come ‘long, go ter bed, honey. You needs a res’, but I ain’ gwine sleep none, ‘caze all dis heah news what you been a-tellin’ me, hit’s gwine ter run roun’ in my head all night, same as a buzz-saw.”

And so they passed out, mammy to her pallet in Evelyn’s room, while the sleepless girl stepped to her father’s chamber.

Entering on tiptoe, she stood and looked upon his face. He slept as peacefully as a babe. The anxious look of care which he had worn for years had passed away, and the flickering fire revealed the ghost of a smile upon his placid face. In this it was that Evelyn read the truth. The crisis of effort for him was past. He might follow, but he would lead no more.

Since the beginning of the war Colonel Brace’s history had been the oft-told tale of loss and disaster, and at the opening of each year since there had been a flaring up of hope and expenditure, then a long summer of wavering promise, followed by an inevitable winter of disappointment.

The old colonel was, both by inheritance and the habit of many successful years, a man of great affairs, and when the crash came he was too old to change. When he bought, he bought heavily. He planted for large results. There was nothing petty about him, not even his debts. And now the end had come.