In the failing light of the midsummer evening, two women sat upon the broad veranda that ran round three sides of the old Virginia mansion. One was young and slender with the slightness of delicate girlhood. The other was old, black and ample,–a typical mammy of the old south. The girl was talking in low, subdued tones touched with a note of sadness that was strange in one of her apparent youth, but which seemed as if somehow in consonance with her sombre garments.
“No, no, Peggy,” she was saying, “we have done the best we could, as well as even papa could have expected of us if he had been here. It was of no use to keep struggling and straining along, trying to keep the old place from going, out of a sentiment, which, however honest it might have been, was neither common sense nor practical. Poor people, and we are poor, in spite of the little we got for the place, cannot afford to have feelings. Of course I hate to see strangers take possession of the homestead, and–and–papa’s and mamma’s and brother Phil’s graves are out there on the hillside. It is hard,–hard, but what was I to do? I couldn’t plant and hoe and plow, and you couldn’t, so I am beaten, beaten.” The girl threw out her hands with a despairing gesture and burst into tears.
Mammy Peggy took the brown head in her lap and let her big hands wander softly over the girl’s pale face. “Sh,–sh,” she said as if she were soothing a baby, “don’t go on lak dat. W’y whut’s de mattah wid you, Miss Mime? ‘Pears lak you done los’ all yo’ spe’it. Whut you reckon yo’ pappy ‘u’d t’ink ef he could see you ca’in’ on dis away? Didn’ he put his han’ on yo’ haid an’ call you his own brave little gal, jes’ befo’, jes’ befo’–he went?”
The girl raised her head for a moment and looked at the old woman.
“Oh, mammy, mammy,” she cried, “I have tried so hard to be brave–to be really my father’s daughter, but I can’t, I can’t. Everything I turn my hand to fails. I’ve tried sewing, but here every one sews for herself now. I’ve even tried writing,” and here a crimson glow burned in her cheeks, “but oh, the awful regularity with which everything came back to me. Why, I even put you in a story, Mammy Peggy, you dear old, good, unselfish thing, and the hard-hearted editor had the temerity to decline you with thanks.”
“I wouldn’t’a’ nevah lef’ you nohow, honey.”
Mima laughed through her tears. The strength of her first grief had passed, and she was viewing her situation with a whimsical enjoyment of its humorous points.
“I don’t know,” she went on, “it seems to me that it’s only in stories themselves that destitute young Southern girls get on and make fame and fortune with their pens. I’m sure I couldn’t.”
“Of course you couldn’t. Whut else do you ‘spect? Whut you know ’bout mekin’ a fortune? Ain’t you a Ha’ison? De Ha’isons nevah was no buyin’ an’ sellin’, mekin’ an’ tradin’ fambly. Dey was gent’men an’ ladies f’om de ve’y fus’ beginnin’.”
“Oh what a pity one cannot sell one’s quality for daily bread, or trade off one’s blue blood for black coffee.”
“Miss Mime, is you out o’ yo’ haid?” asked Mammy Peggy in disgust and horror.
“No, I’m not, Mammy Peggy, but I do wish that I could traffic in some of my too numerous and too genteel ancestors instead of being compelled to dispose of my ancestral home and be turned out into the street like a pauper.”
“Heish, honey, heish, I can’ stan’ to hyeah you talk dat-away. I’s so’y to see dee ol’ place go, but you got to go out of it wid yo’ haid up, jes’ ez ef you was gwine away fo’ a visit an’ could come back w’en evah you wanted to.”