The Deliverance; a Romance of the Virginia Tobacco Fields

Contents:
Author: Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow

Chapter VI. Shows Fletcher in a New Light

Responding to a much-distracted telegram from Fletcher, Carraway arrived at the Hall early on the morning of Maria’s marriage, to arrange for the transfer to the girl of her smaller share in her grandfather’s wealth. In the reaction following the hysterical excitement over the accident, Fletcher had grown doubly solicitous about the future of the boy—feeling, apparently, that the value of his heir was increased by his having so nearly lost him. When Carraway found him he was bustling noisily about the sick-room, walking on tiptoe with a tramp that shook the floor, while Will lay gazing wearily at the sunlight which filtered through the bright green shutters. Somewhere in the house a canary was trilling joyously, and the cheerful sound lent a pleasant animation to the otherwise depressing atmosphere. On his way upstairs Carraway had met Maria running from the boy’s room, with her hair loose upon her shoulders, and she had stopped long enough to show a smiling face on the subject of her marriage. There were to be only Fletcher, Miss Saidie and himself as witnesses, he gathered, Wyndham’s parents having held somewhat aloof from the connection—and within three hours at the most it would be over and the bridal pair beginning their long journey. Looking down from the next landing, he had further assurance of the sincerity of Maria’s smile when he saw the lovers meet and embrace within the shadow of the staircase; and the sight stirred within his heart something of that wistful pity with which those who have learned how little emotion counts in life watch the first exuberance of young passion. A bright beginning whatever be the ending, he thought a little sadly, as he turned the handle of the sick-room door.

The boy’s fever had risen and he tossed his arms restlessly upon the counterpane. "Stand out of my sunshine, grandpa," he said fretfully, as the lawyer sat down by his bedside.

Fletcher shuffled hastily from before the window, and it struck Carraway almost ludicrously that in all the surroundings in which he had ever seen him the man had never appeared so hopelessly out of place—not even when he had watched him at prayer one Sunday in the little country church.

"There, you’re in it again," complained the boy in his peevish tones.

Fletcher lifted a cup from the table and brought it over to the bed.

"Maybe you’d like a sip of this beef tea now," he suggested persuasively. "It’s most time for your medicine, you know, so jest a little taste of this beforehand."

"I don’t like it, grandpa; it’s too salt."

"Thar, now, that’s jest like Saidie," blurted Fletcher angrily. "Saidie, you’ve gone and made his beef tea too salt."

Miss Saidie appeared instantly at the door of the adjoining room, and without seeking to diminish the importance of her offense, mildly offered to prepare a fresh bowl of the broth.

"I’m packing Maria’s clothes now," she said, "but I’ll be through in a jiffy, and then I’ll make the soup. I’ve jest fixed up the parlour for the marriage. Maria insists on having a footstool to kneel on—she ain’t satisfied with jest standing with jined hands before the preacher, like her pa and ma did before she was born."

"Well, drat Maria’s whims," retorted Fletcher impatiently; "they can wait, I reckon, and Will’s got to have his tea, so you’d better fetch it."

"But I don’t want it, grandpa," protested the boy, flushed and troubled. "You worry me so, that’s all. Please stop fooling with those curtains. I like the sunshine."

"A nap is what he needs, I suspect," observed Carraway, touched, in spite of himself, by the lumbering misery of the man.

"Ah, that’s it," agreed Fletcher, catching readily at the

suggestion. "You jest turn right over and take yo’ nap, and when you wake up well, I’ll give you anything you want. Here, swallow this stuff down quick and you’ll sleep easy."

He brought the medicine glass to the bedside, and, slipping his great hairy hand under the pillow, gently raised the boy’s head.

"I reckon you’d like a brand new saddle when you git up," he remarked in a coaxing voice.

"I’d rather have a squirrel gun, grandpa; I want to go hunting." Fletcher’s face clouded.

"I’m afraid you’d git shot, sonny."

With his lips to the glass, Will paused to haggle over the price of his obedience.

"But I want it," he insisted; "and I want a pack of hounds, too, to chase rabbits."

"Bless my boots! You ain’t going to bring any driveling beasts on the place, air you?"

"Yes, I am, grandpa. I won’t swallow this unless you say I may."

"Oh, you hurry up and git well, and then we’ll see—we’ll see," was Fletcher’s answer. "Gulp this stuff right down now and turn over."

The boy still hesitated.

"Then I may have the hounds," he said; "that new litter of puppies Tom Spade has, and I’ll get Christopher Blake to train ’em for me."

The pillow shook under his head, and as he opened his mouth to drink, a few drops of the liquid spilled upon the bedclothes.

"I reckon Zebbadee’s a better man for hounds," suggested Fletcher, setting down the glass.

"Oh, Zebbadee’s aren’t worth a cent—they can’t tell a rabbit from a watering-pot. I want Christopher Blake to train ’em, and I want to see him about it to-day. Tell him to come, grandpa."

"I can’t, sonny—I can’t; you git your hounds and we’ll find a better man. Why, thar’s Jim Weatherby; he’ll do first rate."

"His dogs are setters," fretted Will. "I don’t want him; I want Christopher Blake—he saved my life, you know."

"So he did, so he did," admitted Fletcher; "and he shan’t be a loser by that, suh," he added, turning to Carraway. "When you go over thar, you can carry my check along for five hundred dollars."

The lawyer smiled. "Oh, I’ll take it," he answered, "and I’ll very likely bring it back."

The boy looked at Carraway. "You tell him to come, sir," he pleaded. His eyes were so like Fletcher’s—small, sparkling, changing from blue to brown—that the lawyer’s glance lingered upon the other’s features, seeking some resemblance in them, also. To his surprise he found absolutely none, the high, blue-veined forehead beneath the chestnut hair, the straight, delicate nose; the sensitive, almost effeminate curve of the mouth, must have descended from the "worthless drab" whom he had beheld in the severe white light of Fletcher’s scorn. For the first time it occurred to Carraway that the illumination had been too intense.

"I’ll tell him, certainly," he said quietly after a moment; "but I don’t promise that he’ll come, you understand."

"Oh, I won’t thank him," cried the boy eagerly. "It isn’t for that I want him—tell him so. Maria says he hates a fuss."

"I’ll deliver your message word for word," responded the lawyer. "Not only that, I’ll add my own persuasion to it, though I fear I have little influence with your neighbour."

"Tell him I beg him to come," insisted the boy, and the urgent voice remained with Carraway throughout the day.

It was not until the afternoon, however, when he had tossed his farewell handful of rice at the departing carriage and met Maria’s last disturbed look at the Hall, that he found time to carry Will’s request and Fletcher’s check to Christopher Blake. The girl had shown her single trace of emotion over the boy’s pillow, where she had shed a few furtive tears, and the thought of this was with Carraway as he walked meditatively along the red clay road, down the long curves of which he saw the carriage rolling leisurely ahead of him. As a bride, Maria puzzled him no less than she had done at their first meeting, and the riddle of her personality he felt to be still hopelessly unsolved. Was it merely repression of manner that annoyed him in her he questioned, or was it, as he had once believed, the simple lack of emotional power? Her studied speech, her conventional courtesy, seemed to confirm the first impression she had made; then her dark, troubled gaze and the sullen droop of her mouth returned to give the lie to what he could but feel to be a possible misjudgment. In the end, he concluded wisely enough that, like the most of us, she was probably but plastic matter for the mark of circumstance—that her development would be, after all, according to the events she was called upon to face. The possibility that Destiny, which is temperament, should have already selected her as one of those who come into their spiritual heritage only through defeat, did not enter into the half-humorous consideration with which he now regarded her.

Turning presently into the sunken road by the ice-pond, he came in a little while to the overgrown fence surrounding the Blake farm. In the tobacco field beyond the garden he saw Christopher’s blue-clad figure rising from a blur of green, and, following the ragged path amid the yarrow, he joined the young man where he stood at work.

As the lawyer reached his side Christopher glanced up indifferently to give a nod of welcome. His crop had all been cut, and be was now engaged in hanging the wilting plants from long rails supported by forked poles. At his feet there were little green piles of tobacco, and around him from the sunbaked earth rose a headless army of bruised and bleeding stubble.

So thriftless were the antiquated methods he followed that the lawyer, as he watched him, could barely repress a smile. Two hundred years ago the same crop was probably raised, cut and cured on the same soil in the same careless and primitive fashion. Beneath all the seeming indifference to success or failure Carraway discerned something of that blind reliance upon chance which is apt to be the religious expression of a rural and isolated people.

"Yes, I’ll leave it out awhile, I reckon, unless the weather changes," replied Christopher, in answer to the lawyer’s inquiry.

"Well, it promises fair enough," returned Carraway pleasantly. "They tell me, by the way, that the yellow, sun-cured leaf is coming into favour in the market. You don’t try that, eh?"

Christopher shook his head, and, kneeling on the ground, carelessly sorted his pile of plants. "I learned to cure it indoors," he answered, and I reckon I’ll keep to the old way. The dark leaf is what the people about here like—it makes the sweeter chew, they think. As for me, I hate the very smell of it." "That’s odd, and I’ll wager you’re the only man in the county who neither smokes nor chews." "Oh, I handle it, you see. The smell and the stain of it are well soaked in. I sometimes wonder if all the water in the river of Jordan could wash away the blood of the tobacco worm." With a laugh in which there was more bitterness than mirth, he stretched out his big bronzed hands, and Carraway saw that the nails and finger-tips were dyed bright green. "It does leave its mark," observed the lawyer, and felt instantly that the speech was inane. Christopher went on quietly with his work, gathering up the plants and hanging the slit stalks over the long poles, while the peculiar heavy odour of the freshly cut crop floated unpleasantly about them. For a time Carraway watched him in silence, his eyes dwelling soberly upon the stalwart figure. In spite of himself, the mere beauty of outline touched him with a feeling of sadness, and when he spoke at last it was in a lowered tone. "You have, perhaps, surmised that my call is not entirely one of pleasure," he began awkwardly; "that I am, above all, the bearer of a message from Mr. Fletcher." "From Fletcher?" repeated Christopher coolly. "Well, I never heard a message of his yet that wasn’t better left undelivered." "I am sure I am correct in saying," Carraway went on steadily and not without definite purpose, "that he hopes you will be generous enough to let bygones be bygones." Christopher nodded. "He feels, of course," pursued the lawyer, "that his obligation to you is greater than he can hope to repay. Indeed, I think if you knew the true state of the case your judgment of him would be softened. The boy—who so nearly lost his life is the one human being whom Fletcher loves better than himself—better than his own soul, I had almost said."

Christopher looked up attentively. "Who’d have thought it," he muttered beneath his breath. Judging that he had at last made a beginning at the plastering over of old scars, Carraway went on as if the other had not spoken. "So jealous is his affection in this instance, that I believe his granddaughter’s marriage is something of a relief to him. He is positively impatient of any influence over the boy except his own—and that, I fear, is hardly for good." Picking up a clod of earth, Christopher crumbled it slowly to dust. "So the little chap comes in for all this, does he?" he asked, as his gaze swept over the wide fields in the distance. "He comes in for all that is mine by right, and Fletcher’s intention is, I dare say, that he’ll reflect honour upon the theft?" "That he’ll reflect honour upon the name—yes. It is the ambition of his grandfather, I believe, that the lad should grow up to be respected in the county—to stand for something more than he himself has done." "Well, he’ll hardly stand for more of a rascal," remarked Christopher quietly; and then, as his eyes rested on the landscape, he appeared to follow moodily some suggestion which had half escaped him. "Then the way to touch the man is through the boy, I presume," he said abruptly.

Arrested by the words, the lawyer looked down quickly, but the other, still kneeling upon the ground, was fingering a plant he had just picked up. "Fine leaves, eh?" was the remark that met Carraway’s sudden start.

"To touch him, yes," replied the lawyer thoughtfully. "Whatever heart he has is given to his grandson, and when you saved the lad’s life the other day you placed Fletcher in your debt for good. Of his gratitude I am absolutely sure, and as a slight expression of it he asked me to hand you this."

He drew the check from his pocket, and leaning over, held it out to Christopher. To his surprise, the young man took it from him, but the next moment he had torn it roughly in two and handed it back again. "So you may as well return it to him," he said, and, rising slowly from the ground, he stood pushing the loose plants together with his foot.

"I feared as much," observed Carraway, placing the torn slip of paper in his pocket. "Your grudge is of too long standing to mend in a day. Be that as it may, I have a request to make of you from the boy himself which I hope you will not refuse. He has taken a liking to you, it appears, and as he will probably be ill for some weeks, he begs that you will come back with me to see him."

He finished a little wistfully, and stood looking up at the young man who towered a good head and shoulders above him.

"I may as well tell you once for all," returned Christopher, choking over the words, "that you’ve given me as much of Fletcher as I can stand and a long sight more than I want. If anybody but you had brought me that piece of paper with Bill Fletcher’s name tagged to it I’d have rammed it down his throat before this. As it is, you may tell him from me that when I have paid him to the last drop what I owe him—and not till then—will I listen to any message he chooses to send me. I hate him, and that’s my affair; I mean to be even with him some day, and I reckon that’s my affair, too. One thing I’m pretty sure of, and that is that it’s not yours. Is your visit over, or will you come into the house?"

"I’ll be going back now," replied the lawyer, shrinking from the outburst, "but if I may have the pleasure, I’ll call upon your mother in the morning."

Christopher shook the hand which he held out, and then spoke again in the same muffled voice. "You may tell him one thing more," he pursued, "and that is, that it’s the gospel truth I didn’t know it was his grandson in the wagon. Why, man, there’s not a Fletcher on this earth whose neck I’d lift my little finger to save!"

Then, as Carraway passed slowly along the ragged path to the sunken road, he stood looking after him with a heavy frown upon his brow. His rage was at white heat within him, and, deny it as he would, he knew now that within the last few weeks his hatred had been strengthened by the force of a newer passion which had recoiled upon itself. Since his parting with Maria Fletcher the day before, he had not escaped for a breath from her haunting presence. She was in his eyes and in the air he breathed; the smell of flowers brought her sweetness to him, and the very sunshine lying upon the September fields thrilled him like the warmth of her rare smile. He found himself fleeing like a hunted animal from the memory which he could not put away, and despite the almost frenzied haste with which he presently fell to work, he saw always the light and gracious figure which had come to him along the red clay road. The fervour which had shone suddenly in her eyes, the quiver of her mouth as she turned away, the poise of her head, the gentle, outstretched hand he had repulsed, the delicate curve of her wrist beneath the falling sleeve, the very lace on her bosom fluttering in the still weather as if a light wind were blowing—these things returned to torture him like the delirium of fever. Appealing as the memory was, it aroused in his distorted mind all the violence of his old fury, and he felt again the desire for revenge working like madness in his blood. It was as if every emotion of his life swept on, to empty itself at last into the wide sea of his hatred.

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Chicago: Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow, "Chapter VI. Shows Fletcher in a New Light," 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 August 8, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4U95Y6C57FXHPSB.

MLA: Glasgow, Ellen Anderson Gholson. "Chapter VI. Shows Fletcher in a New Light." 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. 8 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4U95Y6C57FXHPSB.

Harvard: Glasgow, EA, 'Chapter VI. Shows Fletcher in a New Light' 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 8 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4U95Y6C57FXHPSB.