Chapter VIII. Never Forget; Never Forgive
 

While Ann' Sheba finished her dinner Mara began to open and put in their places the slender materials which she had purchased as her first step toward self-support. The generous meal, and especially the coffee combining with the strong incentive of her purpose, gave elasticity to her step and flushed her face slightly with color. The old aunty watched her curiously and sympathetically as she thought, "Bress her heart how purty she am, bendin' heah an' dar like a willow an' lookin' de lady ebery inch while she doin' kitchen work! Quar pahner fer sech an ole woman as me ter hab, but I dun declar dat her han's, ef dey am little, seem po'ful smart. Dey takes hole on tings jes' as if dey'd coax 'em right along whar she wants dem!" Then she broke out, "Wot a fool dat Owen Clancy am!"

Mara started and was suddenly busy in a distant part of the room. "I reckon you are the only one that thinks so, Aun' Sheba," she remarked quietly.

"Ef he could see you now he'd tink so hisself."

"Very likely," and there was a little bitterness in Mara's accent.

"De mo' fool he be den," said Aun' Sheba with an indignant toss of her head. "Whar ud his eyes be ef he could see you and not go down on his marrow-bones, I'd like to know? Habn't I seen all de quality ob dis town? and dat fer de new quality," with a snap of her fingers, "an you take de shine off'n dem all eben in de kitchen. Law sakes, what kin' ob blood dat man Clancy hab to lebe you kase you po'? Pears ter me de ole cun'l, his fader, ud be orful figety in his coffin."

"Mr. Clancy has not left me because I am poor, Aun' Sheba," said Mara gravely. "You do him great injustice. We are not so good friends as we were simply because we cannot agree on certain subjects. But I would rather you would not talk about him to me or to any one else. Come now, you must give me some lessons in your mystery of making cakes that melt in one's mouth. Otherwise people will say you are growing old and losing your high art."

"Dey better not tell me no sech lies. Law, Missy, you is gwine ter beat me all holler wen onst you gits de hang ob de work. You little white han's gib fancy teches dat ain't in my big black han'. Arter all, tain't de han's; it's de min'. Dere's my darter Mis Watson. Neber could larn her much mo'n plain cookin'. Dere's a knack at dese tings dat's bawn in one. It's wot you granpa used ter call genus, an' you allus hab it, eben when you was a chile an' want ter muss in de kitchen."

Thus full of reminiscence and philosophy eminently satisfactory to her own mind, Aun' Sheba taught her apt and eager pupil the secrets of her craft. Mara was up with the dawn on the following day, and achieved fair success. Other lessons followed, and it was not very long before the girl passed beyond the imitative stage and began to reason upon the principles involved in her work and then to experiment.

One day an old customer said to Aun' Sheba: "There's a new hand at the bellows."

"Dunno not'n 'bout bellus. Ain't de cakes right?"

"Well, then, you've got some new receipts."

"Like a'nuff I hab," said the vender warily. "De pint am, howsumeber, isn't de cakes good?"

"Yes, they seem better every day, but they are not the same every day. I reckon some one's coaching you."

"Law sakes, Massa, wo't you mean by coachin' me?"

"Do you make the cakes?" was asked pointblank.

"Now, Massa, you's gittin' too cur'us. Wot de Scripter say? Ask no questions fer conscience' sake."

"Come, come, Aun' Sheba; if you begin to wrest Scripture, I'll take pains to find you out."

She shuffled away in some trepidation and shook her head over the problem of keeping her relations with Mara secret. "Missy puttin' her min' in de cakes an' I didn't hab much min' to put in an' folks know de dif'ence," she soliloquized. Later on she was down among the cotton warehouses, and finding herself weary and warm, stopped to rest in the shade of a building. Suddenly Owen Clancy turned the corner. His brow was contracted as if in deep and not agreeable thought.

Aun' Sheba's lowered at him, for he seemed about to pass her without noticing her. The moment he became aware of her presence, however, he stopped and fixed upon her his penetrating gray eyes. His gaze was so persistent and stern that she was disconcerted, but she spoke with her accustomed assurance: "You ain't gwine ter call de perlice, is you, Mars' Clancy?" and she placed her arms akimbo on her hips.

This reference was shrewd, for it reminded him that his grievance was purely personal and one that he could not resent in her case, yet his heart was so sore with the suspicion that Mara was looking to this negress for help instead of to himself, that for the time being he detested the woman. Love is not a judicial quality, and rarely has patience with those who interfere with its success. He had hoped that eventually the pressure of poverty would turn Mara's thoughts to him, especially as he had revealed so emphatically his wish to help her disinterestedly as a friend even; but if his present fears were well grounded, he would have to admit that her heart had grown utterly cold toward him.

"Why should you think of the police, Aun' Sheba, unless you have something on your mind?" he asked, coolly removing the cover of the basket and helping himself. "You didn't make these cakes. Did you steal them?"

"Marse Clancy, what you take me fer?"

"That depends on how honest your answers are."'

"I ain't 'bliged ter answer 'tall."

"Oh, you're afraid then."

"No, I ain't afeerd. Ef dey is stolen, you'se a 'ceivin ob stolen goods, fum de way dem cakes dis'pearin'."

"You're pert, Aun'Sheba."

"Oh co'se I'se peart. Hab to be spry to arn a libin' in dese yer times, but I can do it fum dem dat's fren'ly and not fum dem dat glower at me."

"Will you tell me if Miss Wallingford--"

"Marse Clancy, hab Miss Wallingford sent you word dat she want you to know 'bout her 'fairs?"

"I understand," he said almost savagely, and throwing a quarter into the basket he passed on.

There had been a tacit understanding at first that Mara's part in Aun' Sheba's traffic should not be revealed. The girl had not wholly shaken off the influence of her aunt's opposition, and she shrank with almost morbid dread from being the subject of remark even among those of her own class. The chief and controlling motive for secrecy, however, had been distrust, the fear that the undertaking would not be successful. As the days had passed this fear had been removed. Aun' Sheba did not come to make her returns until after she had taken her supper in the evening, and at about ten in the morning she reached Mara's home by an unfrequented side street. There were those, however, who had begun to notice the regularity of her visits and among them was Owen Clancy. We have also seen that the daintiness of the viands had caused surmises.

Mara had become preoccupied with her success and with plans for increasing it. At first Aun' Sheba had supplemented her attempts, and her plan had been entered on so quietly and carried forward so smoothly that even Mrs. Hunter was becoming reconciled to the scheme although she tried to conceal the fact. It would be hard to find two women more ignorant of the world, or more averse to being known by it, yet from it the unsophisticated girl now hoped to divert a little sustaining rill of currency without a ripple of general comment until the hour should come when she could reveal the truth to Clancy as a rebuke to his course and as a suggestion that a man might do more and yet not compromise himself. Full of these thoughts and hopes, her life, if not happy, had at least ceased to stagnate and was growing in zest and interest.

The day on which occurred the events just narrated was destined to prove a fateful one. When Aun' Sheba came in the evening it was soon evident that she had something on her mind. She paid little heed to the accounts while Mara was writing them down and explaining the margin of profit, as the girl was always careful to do, for it satisfied her conscience that her over-loyal partner was prospering now as truly as before. After everything had been attended to and the programme arranged for the morning, Aun' Sheba still sat and fidgeted in her chair. Mara leaned back in hers and looking across the kitchen table said: "Be honest now. There's something you want to say."

"Don't want ter say it, but s'pose I ought."

"I reckon you had, Aun' Sheba."

The woman's native shrewdness had been sharpened by the varied experience of her calling, and she had become convinced that the policy of secrecy would be a failure. What would be Mara's course when compelled to face the truth, was the question that troubled her. The kind soul hoped that it would make no difference, and proposed to use all her tact to induce the girl to continue her enterprise openly, believing that this course would be best for several reasons. She had the wit to know that Mara would yield far more out of consideration for her than for any thought of self, so she said as a masterpiece of strategy, "Marse Clancy ax me to-day if I stole de cakes."

"What," cried Mara, flushing hotly.

"Jes dat--ef I stole de cakes; an' anoder man say I was gittin' new reseets or dat somebody was coachin' me, whateber dat is. Den he put it right straight, 'Did you make 'em?'"

"Oh, Aun' Sheba, I've thoughtlessly been causing trouble. I should have continued to make the cakes just as you did, and it was only to divert my mind that I tried other ways. I won't do so any more."

"Dunno 'bout dat, honey."

"Indeed I will not when I promise you."

"I doesn't want any sech a promise. De folks like de new-fangle' cakes betteh, an' gwine back to de ole way wouldn't do no good. It's all boun'ter come out dat I'se sellin' fer you as well as fer me. Marse Clancy axed ef you wasn't, leastways he 'gan to ax when I shut him up."

"How did you shut him up?" said Mara, breathing quickly.

"By axin' him anoder question. Yah, yah, I'se Yankee 'nuff fer dat. I say, 'Hab Miss Wallingford sen' you word dat she want you to know 'bout her 'fairs'?"

"Didn't he say anything after that?"

"Yes, he say 'I understand,' an' I'spect he do, fer he drap a quarter in my basket an' look as if he was po'ful mad as he walk away. He better min' his own business."

Mara understood Clancy and Aun' Sheba did not. The young girl was troubled and perplexed, for she could not but see in her lover's mind the effect of her step. She felt that it was natural he should be hurt and even angered to learn that, after all he had offered to do for her, she should avail herself of Aun' Sheba's services instead of his. What she feared most was that he would take it as final evidence that she was hostile to him personally and not merely estranged because he would not conform his views and life to her own. Her secret and dearest purpose, that of teaching him that he could live without compromise as she could, might be defeated. What if the very act should lead to the belief that she no longer wished to have any part in his life? A girl cannot feel that same toward a man who has told her openly of his love, for such words break down the barriers of maidenly reserve even in her own self-communings. Since he had spoken so plainly she could think more plainly. She knew well how mistaken Aun' Sheba was in her judgment, but could not explain that Clancy felt he was not only rejected as a lover but had been ignored even as a helpful friend; and her own love taught her to gauge the bitterness of this apparent truth.

She soon became conscious that Aun' Sheba was watching her troubled face, and to hide her deeper thoughts she said, "Yes, I suppose it is all bound to come out. Well, let it. You shall not be misjudged." "Law sake, Missy, wot does I keer! De ting dat trouble me is dat you'se gwine to keer too much. I doan want you to gib up and I doan want you to be flustered ef you fin' it's known. De pa'hnership, as you call 'im, been doin' you a heap o' good. You'se min' been gettin' int'usted an' you fo'gits you'se troubles. Dat's wot pleases me. Now to my po' sense, folks is a heap betteh off, takin' keer ob dem selves, dan wen dey worry 'bout wat dis one say an' dat one do. Dere is lots ob folks dat'll talk 'bout you a month dat won't lif' dere finger for you a minit. An' wat can dey say, honey, dat'll harm you? You prouder'n all ob dem, but you got dis kin' ob pride. Ef de rent fall due you fight again eben you'se ole nuss payin' it. Talk's only breff, but an empty pocket mean an orful lot ob trouble to folks who ain't willin' to take out ob dere pocket wat dey didn't put dere."

"Yes, Aun' Sheba, I think it would be the worst kind of trouble."

"I know it ud be fer you, but dar's Unc. He'd like his pocket filled ebery day an' he wouldn't keer who filled it ef he could spend. He'd say de Lawd pervided. Unc.'d rather trust de Lawd dan work any day."

"I am afraid you are not very religious," said Mara, smiling.

"Well, I of'n wonder wedder I'se 'ligious or no," resumed Aun' Sheba, introspectively. "Some sarmons and prars seem like bread made out ob bran, de bigger de loaf de wuss it is. Unc. says I'se very cole an backsliden, but I'd be a heap colder ef I didn't keep up de wood-pile.

"And you help others keep up their wood-piles."

"Well, I reckon I does, but dere ain't much 'ligion in dat. Dat's kin' ob human natur which de preacher say am bad, bery bad stuff. De Lawd knows I say my prars sho't so as to be up an' doin'. Anyhow I doan belebe he likes ter be hollered at so, as dey do in our meetin' an' Unc. says dat sech talk am 'phemous. But dat ain't heah nor dar. We'se gwine right along, honey, ain't we? We'se gwine ter min' our own business jes' as if we'se the bigges' pahners in de town?"

"Yes, Aun' Sheba, you can say what you please hereafter, and I want you to come and go openly. I should have taken the stand before and saved you from coming out evenings. It has been far more on Aunty's account than on my own."

"Well, honey, now my min's at res' an' I belebe we do po'ful lot ob trade. Dat orful human natur gwine to come in now an' I belebe dat folks who know you an' all 'bout you'se family will help you, 'stid ob talkin' agin you. You see. You knows I doan' mean no disrespec' to ole Missus, but she'd jes sit down an' starbe, tinkin' ob de good dinners she orter hab, an' did hab in de ole times. All you'se folks in hebin is a smilin' on you, honey. Dey is, fer I feels it in my bones. You'se got de co'age ob you pa an' granpa an' dey know, jes' as we knows, dat ole Missus take a heap mo' comfort grumblin' dan in bein' hungry."

"Oh, Aun' Sheba, do you truly think they know about my present life?" the girl asked, with wet eyes.

"Dat's a bery deep question, honey, but it kin' a seem reason'ble ter me dat wen you gettin' on well an' wen you doin' good to some po' soul de Lawd'll sen' an angel to tell 'em. Wen dey ain't hearin' notin' I spects dey's got to tink as we does dat no news is good news."

The girl was deeply moved, for the vernacular of her old nurse had been familiar from childhood and did not detract from the sacred themes suggested. "Oh, that I could have seen my father," she sighed. "Portraits are so unsatisfying. Tell me again just how he looked."

"He'd be proud ob you, honey, an' you kin be proud ob him. You hab his eyes, only you'se is bigger and of'n look as if you'se sorrowin' way down in you soul. Sometimes, eben wen you was a baby, you'd look so long an' fixed wid you big sad eyes as if you seed it all an' know'd it all dat I used to boo-hoo right out. Nuder times I'd be skeered, fer you'd reach out you'se little arms as ef you seed you'se moder an' wanted to go to her. De Lawd know bes' why he let such folks die. She was like a passion vine creepin' up de oak--all tender and clingin' an' lubin', wid tears in her blue eyes ebin wen he pettin' her, an' he was tall an' straight an' strong wid eyes dat laffed or flashed jes as de 'casion was. I kin see him now come marchin' down Meetin' Street at de head ob his men, all raised hisself. He walk straight as an arrow wid his sword flashin' in de sunshine an' a hundred men step tromp, tromp, arter him as ef dey proud to follow. Missy Mary stood on de balc'ny lookin' wid all her vi'let eyes an' wabin' her hank'chief. Oh, how purty she look! de roses in her cheek, her bref comin' quick, bosom risin' an' fallin', an' she a-tremblin' an' alibe all ober wid excitement an' pride an' lub. Wen he right afore de balc'ny his voice rung out like a trumpet, 'Right 'bout, face. 'Sent arms.' I dun declar dat 'fore we could wink dey was all in line frontin' us wid dere guns held out. Den he s'lute her wid his sword an' she take a red rose fum her bosom an' trow it to him an' he pick it up an' put it to his lips; den it was 'Right 'bout! March!' an' away dey went tromp, tromp, towa'ds de Bat'ry. I kin see it all. I kin see it all. O Lawd, Lawd, dey's all dead," and she rocked back and forth, wiping her eyes with her apron.

Mara sprang up, her streaming tears dried by the hotness of her indignation as she cried, "And I too can see him, with his little band, dashing against almost an army and then trodden in the soil he died to defend. No, no, Owen Clancy, never!"

"Ah," said a low stern voice, "that's the true spirit. Now, Mara, you are your father's child. Never forget; never forgive," and they saw that Mrs. Hunter stood with them in the dim kitchen.

"Dunno 'bout dat, Missus. Reckon de wah am ober, an' what we gwine ter do wid de Lawd's prar? Dar, dar, honey, 'pose you'se nerves. 'Taint bes' to tink too much ob de ole times, an' I mustn't talk to you so no mo'."