The Deliverance; a Romance of the Virginia Tobacco Fields

Contents:
Author: Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow

Chapter III. Will’s Ruin

Blinded by tears, she went swiftly back along the road into the shadows which thickened beyond the first short bend. Will must be saved at any cost, by any sacrifice, she told herself with passionate insistence. He must be saved though she gave up her whole life to the work of his redemption, though she must stand daily and hourly guard against his weakness. He must be saved, not for his own sake alone, but because it was the one way in which she might work out Christopher’s salvation. As she went on, scheme after scheme beckoned and repelled her; plan after plan was caught at only to be rejected, and it was at last with a sinking heart, though still full of high resolves, that she turned from the lane into a strip of "corduroy road," and so came quickly to the barren little farm adjoining Sol Peterkin’s.

Will was sitting idly on an overturned wheelbarrow beside the woodpile, and as she approached him she assumed with an effort a face of cheerful courage.

"Oh, Will, I thought you’d gone to work. You promised me!"

"Well, I haven’t, and there’s an end of it," he returned irritably, chewing hard on a chip he had picked up from the ground; "and what’s more, I shan’t go till I see the use. It’s killing me by inches. I tell you I’m not strong enough to stand a life like this. Drudge, drudge, drudge; there’s nothing else except the little spirit I get from drink."

"And that ruins you. Oh, don’t, don’t. I’ll go on my knees to you; I’ll work for you like a servant day and night; I’ll sell my very clothes to help you, if you’ll only promise me never to drink again."

"You a servant!" said Will, and laughed shortly while he looked her over with raised eyebrows. "Why, your stockings would keep me in cigarettes for a week."

A flush crossed Maria’s face, and she glanced down guiltily, letting her black skirt fall above the lace upon her petticoat. "I have bought nothing since coming home," she responded presently with quiet dignity; "these belong, with my old luxuries, to a past life. There were a great many of them, and it will fortunately take me a long time to wear them out."

"Oh, I don’t begrudge them," returned Will; a little ashamed of his show of temper; "fine clothes suit you, and I hope you will squeeze them out of grandpa all you can. It’s as good a way for him to spend his money as any other, and it doesn’t hurt me so long as he’ll never let me see the colour of a cent."

"But your promise, dear? Will you promise me?"

He lifted his sullen face toward her kind eyes, then turning away, kicked listlessly at the rotting chips.

"What’s the use in promising? I wouldn’t keep it," he replied. "Why, there are times when but for whisky I’d go mad. It’s the life, I tell you, that’s killing me, not drink. If things were different I shouldn’t crave it—I shouldn’t miss it, even. Why, for three months after I married Molly I didn’t touch a single drop, and I’d have kept it up, too, except for grandpa’s devilment. It’s his fault; he drove me back to it as clear as day."

His weak mouth quivered, and he sucked in his breath in the way he had inherited from Fletcher. The deep flush across his face faded slowly, and dropping his restless, bloodshot eyes, he dug his foot into the mould with spasmodic twitches of his body. His clothes appeared to have been flung upon him, and his cravat and loosened collar betrayed the lack of neatness which had always repelled Maria so strongly in her grandfather. As she watched him she wondered with a pang that she had never noticed until to-day the resemblance he bore to the old man at the Hall.

"But one must be patient, Will," she said helplessly after a moment’s thought; "there’s always hope of a mending—and as far as that goes, grandfather may relent tomorrow."

"Relent? Pshaw! I’d like to see him do it this side of hell. Let him die; that’s all I ask of him. His room is a long sight better than his company, and you may tell him I said so."

"What good would come of that?"

"I don’t want any good to come of it. Why should I? He’s brought me to this pass with his own hand."

"But surely it was partly your fault. He loved you once."

"Nonsense. He wanted a dog to badger, that was all. Christopher Blake said so."

"Christopher Blake! Oh, Will, Will, if you could only understand!"

She turned hopelessly away from him and looked with despairing eyes over the ploughed fields which blushed faintly in the sunshine.

"So your spring ploughing is all done," she said at last, desisting from her attempt to soften his sullen obduracy, "and you have been working harder than I knew."

"Oh, it’s not I," returned Will promptly, his face clearing for the first time. "It’s all Christopher’s work; he ploughed that field just before he went away. Do you see that new cover over the well? He knocked that up the last morning he was here, and made those steps before the front door at the same time. Now, he’s the kind of friend worth having, and no mistake. But for him I’d have landed in the poorhouse long ago."

Maria’s gaze left the field and returned to Will’s face, where it lingered wistfully.

"Have you ever heard what it was all about, Will?" she asked, "the old trouble between him and grandfather?"

"Some silly property right, I believe; I can’t remember. Did you ever see anybody yet with whom grandpa was on decent terms?"

"He used to be with you, Will."

"Only so long as I wore short breeches and he could whack me over the head whenever he had a mind to. I tell you I’d rather try to get along with Beelzebub himself."

"Have you ever tried peace-making in earnest, I wonder?"

Twirling a chip between his thumb and forefinger, he flirted it angrily at a solitary hen scratching in the mould.

"Why, shortly after my marriage I went over there and positively wiped up the floor with myself. I offered him everything under heaven in the shape of good behaviour, and, by Jove! I meant it, too. I’d have stopped drinking then; I’d even have given up Christopher Blake—"

"Did you tell him that?"

"Did I ever tell a thunderstorm I’d run indoors? It was enough to get away with a whole skin—he left me little more. And the day afterward, by the way, he sent me the deeds to this rotten farm, and warned me that he’d shoot me down if I ever set foot at the Hall."

"And there has been no softening—no wavering since?"

Will shook his head with a brutal laugh. "Oh, you heard of our meeting in the road and what came of it. I told him I was starving: he answered that he wasn’t responsible for all the worthless paupers in the county. Then I cursed him, and he broke his stick on my shoulders. I say, Maria," he wound up desperately, "do you think he’ll live forever?"

She kept her eyes upon him without answering, fearing to tell him that by the terms of the new will he could never come into his share of Fletcher’s wealth.

"Has he ever seen Molly?" she asked suddenly, while an unreasonable hope shot through her heart. "Does he know about the child?"

"He may have seen her—I don’t know; but she’s not so much to look at now: she’s gone all to pieces under this awful worry. It isn’t my fault, God knows, but she expected different things when she married me. She thought we’d live somewhere in the city and that she’d have pretty clothes to wear."

"I was thinking that when the child came he might forgive you," broke in Maria almost cheerfully.

"And in the meantime we’re to die like rats. Oh, there’s no use talking, it’s got to end one way or another. There’s not a cent in the house nor a decent scrap of food, and Molly is having to see the doctor every day. I declare, it’s enough to drive me clean to desperation!"

"And what good would that do Molly or yourself? Be a man, Will, and don’t let a woman hear you whine. Now I’m going in to see her, and I’ll stay to help her about supper."

She nodded brightly, and, opening the little door of the house, passed into the single lower room which served as kitchen and dining-room in one. Beyond the disorderly table, from which the remains of dinner had not yet been cleared away, Molly was lying on a hard wooden lounge covered with strips of faded calico. Her abundant flaxen hair hung in lusterless masses upon her shoulders, and the soiled cotton wrapper she wore was torn open at the throat as if she had clutched it in a passion of childish petulance. At Maria’s entrance she started and looked up angrily from her dejected attitude.

"I can’t see any visitors—I’m not fit!" she cried.

Marie drew forward a broken split—bottomed chair and sat down beside the lounge.

"I’m not a visitor, Molly," she answered; "and I’ve come to see if I can’t make you a little easier. Won’t you let me fix you comfortably? Why, you poor child, your hands are as hot as fire!"

"I’m hot all over," returned Molly peevishly; "and I’m sick—I’m as sick as I can be. Will won’t believe it, but the doctor says so."

"Will does believe it, and it worries him terribly. Here, sit up and let me bathe your face and hands in cold water. Doesn’t that feel better?"

"A little," admitted Molly, when Maria had found a towel and dried her hands.

"And now I’m going to comb the tangles out of your hair. What lovely hair! It is the colour of ripe corn."

A pleased flush brightened Molly’s face, and she resigned herself easily to Maria’s willing services. "There’s a comb over there on that shelf under the mirror," she said. "Will broke half the teeth out of it the other day, and it pulls my hair out when I use it."

"Then I’ll bring you one of mine. You must be careful of these curls. They’re too pretty to treat roughly. Do I hurt you?"

As she spoke, a bright strand of the girl’s hair twisted about one of her rings, and after hesitating an instant she drew the circle from her finger and laid it in Molly’s lap.

"There. I haven’t any money, so that’s to buy you medicine and food," she said. "It cost a good deal once, I fancy."

"Diamonds!" gasped Molly, with a cry of rapture.

Her hand closed over the ring with a frantic clutch; then slipping it on, she lay watching the stone sparkle in the last sunbeams. A colour had bloomed suddenly in her face, and her eyes shone with a light as brilliant as that of the jewel at which she gazed.

"And you had—others?" she asked in a kind of sacred awe.

"A great many once—a necklace, and rings, and brooches, and a silly tiara that made me look a fright. I never cared for them after the novelty of owning them wore off. They are evil things, it seems to me, and should never be the gifts of love, for each one of those foolish stones stands for greed, and pride, and selfishness, and maybe crime. That was my way of looking at them, of course, and whenever I wore my necklace I used to feel like asking pardon of every beggar that I passed. ’One link in this chain might make a man of you,’ was what I wanted to say—but I never did. Well, they are almost all gone now; some I sold and some I gave away. This one will buy you medicine, I hope, and then it will give me more happiness than it has ever done before."

"Oh, it is beautiful, beautiful," sighed Molly beneath her breath, and then went to the little cracked mirror in the corner and held the diamond first to her ear and then against her hair. "They suit me," she said at last, opening the bosom of her wrapper and trying it on her pretty throat; "they would make me look so splendid. Oh, if I’d only had a lover who could give me things like this!"

Maria, watching her, felt her heart contract suddenly with a pang of remembrance. Jewels had been the one thing which Jack Wyndham had given her, for of the finer gifts of the spirit he had been beggared long before she knew him. In the first months of his infatuation he had showered her with diamonds, and she had grown presently to see a winking mockery in each bauble that he tossed her. Before the first year was ended she had felt her pride broken by the oppressiveness of the jewels that bedecked her body, like the mystic princess who was killed at last by the material weight of the golden crown upon her brow.

"They could never make you happy, Molly. How could they? Come back and lie down, and let me put the ring away. Perhaps I’d better take it to town myself." But Molly would not open her closed hand on which the diamond shone; and long after Maria had cooked supper and gone back to the Hall the girl lay motionless, holding the ring against the light. When Will came in from milking she showed it to him with a burst of joy.

"Look! Oh, look! Isn’t it like the sun?"

He eyed it critically.

"By Jove! It must have cost cool hundreds! I’ll take it to town to-morrow and bring back the things you need. It will get the baby clothes, too, so you won’t have to bother about the sewing."

"You shan’t! You shan’t!" cried Molly in a passion of sobs. "It’s mine. She gave it to me, and you shan’t take it away. I don’t want the medicine: it never does me any good; and I can make the baby clothes out of my old things. I’ll never, never give it up!"

For an instant Will stared at her as if she had lost her senses.

"Well, she was a fool to let you get it," he said, as he flung himself out of the room.

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Chicago: Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow, "Chapter III. Will’s Ruin," The Deliverance; a Romance of the Virginia Tobacco Fields, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in The Deliverance; a Romance of the Virginia Tobacco Fields (New York: George E. Wood, 1904), Original Sources, accessed January 17, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SGWVJA2S3QN8HL.

MLA: Glasgow, Ellen Anderson Gholson. "Chapter III. Will’s Ruin." The Deliverance; a Romance of the Virginia Tobacco Fields, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in The Deliverance; a Romance of the Virginia Tobacco Fields, Vol. 22, New York, George E. Wood, 1904, Original Sources. 17 Jan. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SGWVJA2S3QN8HL.

Harvard: Glasgow, EA, 'Chapter III. Will’s Ruin' in The Deliverance; a Romance of the Virginia Tobacco Fields, ed. . cited in 1904, The Deliverance; a Romance of the Virginia Tobacco Fields, George E. Wood, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 17 January 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4SGWVJA2S3QN8HL.