The Deliverance; a Romance of the Virginia Tobacco Fields

Contents:
Author: Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow

Chapter I. The Unforeseen

The road was steep, and Christopher, descending from the big, lumbering cart, left the oxen to crawl slowly up the incline. It was a windy afternoon in March, and he was returning from a trip to Farrar’s mill, which was reached by a lane that branched off a half-mile or so from the cross-roads. A blue sky shone brightly through the leafless boughs above him, and along the little wayside path tufts of dandelion were blooming in the red dust. The wind, which blew straight toward him from the opening beyond the strip of wood in which he walked, brought the fresh scent of the upturned fields and of the swelling buds putting out with the warm sunshine. In his own veins he felt also that the blood had stirred, and that strange, quickening impulse, which comes with the rising sap alike to a man and to a tree, worked restlessly in his limbs at the touch of spring. Nature was alive again, and he felt vaguely that in the resurrection surrounding him he must have his part—that in him as well as in the earth the spirit of life must move and put forth in gladness. A flock of swallows passed suddenly like a streak of smoke on the blue sky overhead, and as his eyes followed them the old roving instinct pulled at his heart. To be up and away, to drink life to its dregs and come home for rest, were among the impulses which awoke with the return of spring.

The oxen moved behind him at a leisurely pace, and outstripping them in a little while, he had turned at a sudden opening in the trees into the main road, when, to his surprise, he saw a woman in black, followed by a small yellow dog, walking in front of him along the grassy path. As he caught sight of her a strong gust of wind swept down the road, wrapping her skirt closely about her and whirling a last year’s leaf into her face. For a moment she paused and, throwing back her head, drank the air like water; then, holding firmly to her hat, she started on again at her rapid pace. In the ease with which she moved against the wind, in the self-possession of her carriage, and most of all in the grace with which she lifted her long black skirt, made, he could see, after the fashion of the outside world, he realised at once that she was a stranger to the neighbourhood. No woman whom he had known—not even Lila—had this same light yet energetic walk—a walk in which every line in her body moved in accord with the buoyant impulse that controlled her step. As he watched her he recalled instantly the flight of a swallow in the air, for her passage over the ground was as direct and beautiful as a bird’s.

When he neared her she turned suddenly, and, as she flung back her short veil, he saw to his amazement that he faced Maria Fletcher.

"So you have forgotten me?" she said, with a smile. "Or have I changed so greatly that my old friends do not know me?"

She held out her hand, and while a tremor ran through him, he kept her bared palm for an instant in his own.

"You dropped from the sky," he answered, steadying his voice with an effort. "You have taken my breath away and I cannot speak."

Then letting her hand fall, he stood looking at her in a wonder that shone in his face, for to the Maria whom he had known the woman before him now bore only the resemblance that the finished portrait bears to the charcoal sketch; and the years which had so changed and softened her had given her girlish figure a nobility that belonged to the maturity she had not reached. It was not that she had grown beautiful—when he sought for physical changes he found only that her cheek was rounder, her bosom fuller; but if she still lacked the ruddy attraction of mere flesh-and-blood loveliness, she had gained the deeper fascination which is the outward accompaniment of a fervent spirit. Her eyes, her voice, her gestures were all attuned to the inner harmony which he recognised also in the smile with which she met his words; and the charm that she irradiated was that rarest of all physical gifts, the power of the flesh to express the soul that it envelops.

The wind or the meeting with himself had brought a faint flush to her cheek, but without lowering her eyes she stood regarding him with her warm, grave smile. The pale oval of her face, framed in the loosened waves of her black hair, had for him all the remoteness that surrounded her memory; and yet, though he knew it not, the appeal she made to him now, and had made long ago, was that he recognised in her, however dumbly, a creature born, like himself, with the power to experience the fulness of joy or grief.

"So I have taken your breath away," she said; "and you have forgotten Agag."

"Agag?" he turned with a question and followed her glance in the direction of the dog. "It is the brute you saved?"

"Only he is not a brute—I have seen many men who were more of one. Look! He recognises you. He has followed me everywhere, but he doesn’t like Europe, and if you could have seen his joy when we got out at the cross-roads and he smelt the familiar country! It was almost as great as mine."

"As yours? Then you no longer hate it?"

"I have learned to love it in the last six years," she answered, "as I have learned to love many things that I once hated. Oh, this wind is good when it blows over the ploughed fields, and yet between city streets it would bring only dust and discomfort."

She threw back her head, looking up into the sky, where a bird passed.

"Will you get into the cart now?" he asked after a moment, vaguely troubled by the silence and by the gentleness of her upward look, "or do you wish to walk to the top of the hill?"

She turned and moved quickly on again.

"It is such a little way, let us walk," she replied, and then with a laugh she offered an explanation of her presence. "I wrote twice, but I had no answer," she said; "then I decided to come, and telegraphed, but they handed me my telegram and my last letter at the cross-roads. Can something have happened, do you think? or is it merely carelessness that keeps them from sending for the mail?"

"I hardly know; but they are all alive, at least. You have come straight from—where?"

"From abroad. I lived there for six years, first in one place, then in another—chiefly in Italy. My husband died eighteen months ago, but I stayed on with his people. It seemed then that they needed me most, but one can never tell, and I may have made a mistake in not coming home sooner."

"I think you did," he said quietly, running the end of his long whip through his fingers.

She flashed a disturbed glance at him.

"Is it possible that you are keeping something from me? Is any one ill?"

"Not that I have heard of, but I never see any of them, you know, except your brother."

"And he is married. They told me so at the cross-roads. I can’t understand why they did not let me know."

"It was very sudden—they went to Washington."

"How queer! Who is the girl, I wonder?"

"Her name was Molly Peterkin—old Sol’s daughter; you may remember him."

She shook her head. "No; I’ve lived here so little, you see. What is she like?"

"A beauty, with blue eyes and yellow hair."

"Indeed? And are they happy?" He laughed. "They are in love—or were, six months ago."

"You are cynical. But do they live at the Hall?"

"Not yet. Your grandfather has not spoken to Will since the marriage, and that was last August."

"Where, under heaven, do they live, then?"

"On a little farm he has given them adjoining Sol’s. I believe he means that they shall raise tobacco for a living."

She made a gesture of distress. "Oh, I ought to have come home long ago!"

"What difference would that have made: you could have done nothing. A thunderbolt falling at his feet doesn’t sober a man when he is in love."

"I might have helped—one never knows. At least I should have been at my post, for, after all, the ties of blood are the strongest claims we have."

"Why should they be?" he questioned, with sudden bitterness. "You are more like that swallow flying up there than you are like any Fletcher that ever lived."

She smiled. "I thought so once," she answered, "but now I know better. The likeness must be there, and I am going to find it."

"You will never find it," he insisted, "for there is nothing of them in you—nothing."

"You don’t like them, I remember."

"Nor do you."

A laugh broke from her and humour rippled in her eyes.

"So you still persist in the truth, and in the plain truth!" she exclaimed.

"Then it is so, you confess it?"

"No, no, no," she protested. "Why, I love them all—all, do you hear, and I love Will more than the rest of them put together."

He looked away from her, and then, turning, waited for the oxen to reach the summit of the hill.

"You’d better get in now, I think," he said; "there is a long walk ahead of us, and if my team is slow it is sure also."

As he brought the oxen to a halt, she laid her hand for an instant on his arm, and, mounting lightly upon the wheel, stepped into the cart.

"Now give me Agag," she said, and he handed her the little dog before he took up the ropes and settled himself beside her on the driver’s seat. "You look like one of the disinherited princesses in the old stories mother tells," he observed.

A puzzled wonder was in her face as she turned toward him.

"Who are you? And what has Blake Hall to do with your family?" she asked.

"Only that it was named after us. We used to live there."

"Within your recollection?"

He nodded, with his eyes on the slow oxen.

"Then you have not always been a farmer?"

"Ever since I was ten years old."

"I can’t understand, I can’t understand," she said, perplexed. "You are like no one about here; you are like no one I have ever seen."

"Then I must be like you," he returned bluntly.

"Like me? Oh, heavens, no; you would make three of me—body, brain, and soul. I believe, when I think of it, that you are the biggest man I’ve ever known—and by that I don’t mean in height— for I have seen men with a greater number of physical inches. Inches, somehow, have very little to do with the impression—and so has muscle, strong as yours is. It is simple bigness that I am talking about, and it was the first thing I noticed in you—"

"At the cross-roads?" he asked, and instantly regretted his words.

"No; not at the cross-roads," she answered, smiling. "You have a good memory; but mine is better. I saw you once on a June morning, when I was riding along the road with the chestnuts and you were standing out in the field."

"I did not see you or I should have remembered," he said quietly.

Silence fell between them, and he was conscious in every fiber of his body—that he had never been so close to her before—had never felt the touch of her arm upon his own, nor the folds of her skirt brushing against his knees. A gust of wind whipped the end of her veil into his face, and when she turned to recapture it he felt her warm breath on his cheek. The sense of her nearness pervaded him from head to foot, and an unrest like that produced by the spring wind troubled his heart. He did not look at her, and yet he saw her full dark eyes and the curve of her white throat more distinctly than he beheld the blue sky at which he gazed. Was it possible that she, too, shared his disquietude? he wondered, or was the silence that she kept as undisturbed as her tranquil pose?

"I should not have forgotten it," he repeated presently, turning to meet her glance.

She started and looked away from the landscape. "You have long memories in this county, I know," she said. "So few things happen that it becomes a religion to cherish the little incidents. It may be that I, too, have inherited something of this, for I remember very clearly the few months I spent here."

"You remembered them even while you were away?"

"Why not?" she asked. "It is not the moving about, the strange places one sees, nor the people one meets, that really count in life, you know."

"What is it?" he questioned abruptly.

She hesitated as if trying to put her thoughts more clearly into words.

"I think it is the things one learns," she said; "the places in which we take root and grow, and the people who teach us what is really worth while—patience, and charity, and the beauty there is in the simplest and most common lives when they are lived close to Nature."

"In driving the plough or in picking the suckers from a tobacco plant," he added scornfully.

"In those things, yes; and in any life that is good, and true, and natural."

"Well, I have lived near enough to Nature to hate her with all my might," he answered, not without bitterness. "Why, there are times when I’d like to kick every ploughed field I see out into eternity. Tobacco-growing is one of the natural things, I suppose, but if you want to see any beauty in it you must watch it from a shady road. When you get in the midst of it you’ll find it coarse and sticky, and given over generally to worms. I have spent my whole life working on it, and to this day I never look at a plant nor smell a pipe without a shiver of disgust. The things I want are over there," he finished, pointing with his whip-handle to the clear horizon. "I want the excitement that makes one’s blood run like wine."

"Battle, murder, and all that, I suppose?" she said, smiling.

"War, and fame, and love," he corrected.

Her face had grown grave, and in the thoughtful look she turned upon him it seemed to him that he saw a purpose slowly take form. So earnest was her gaze that at last his own fell before it, at which she murmured a confused apology, like one forcibly awakened from a dream.

"I was wondering what that other life would have made of you," she said; "the life that I have known and wearied of—a life of petty shams, of sham love, of sham hate, of sham religion. It is all little, you know, and it takes a little soul to keep alive in it. I craved it once myself, and it took six years of artifice to teach me that I loved a plain truth better than a pretty lie."

He had been looking at the strong white hand lying in her lap, and now, with a laugh, he held out his own bronzed and roughened one.

"There is the difference," he said; "do you see it?"

A wave of sympathy swept over her expressive face, and with one of her impulsive gestures, which seemed always to convey some spiritual significance, she touched his outstretched palm with her fingers. "How full of meaning it is," she replied, "for it tells of quiet days in the fields, and of a courage that has not faltered before the thing it hates. When I look at it it makes me feel very humble—and yet very proud, too, that some day I may be your friend."

He shook his head, with his eyes on the sun, which was slowly setting.

"That is out of the question," he answered. "You cannot be my friend except for this single day. If I meet you to-morrow I shall not know you."

"Because I am a Fletcher?" she asked, wondering.

"Because you are a Fletcher, and because you would find me worse than a Fletcher."

"Riddles, riddles," she protested, laughing; "and I was always dull at guessing—but I may as well warn you now that I have come home determined to make a friend of every mortal in the county, man and beast."

"You’ll do it," he answered seriously. "I’m the only thing about here that will resist you. You’ll be everybody’s friend but mine."

She caught and held his gaze. "Let us see," she responded quietly.

For a time they were silent, and spreading out her skirt, she made a place for the dog upon it. The noise of the heavy wheels on the rocky bed of the road grew suddenly louder in his ears, and he realised with a pang that every jolt of the cart carried him nearer the end. With the thought there came to him a wish that life might pause at the instant—that the earth might be arrested in its passage and leave him forever aware of the warm contact that thrilled through him. They had already passed Weatherby’s lane, and presently the chimneys of Blake Hall appeared above the distant trees. When they reached the abandoned ice-pond Christopher spoke with an attempted carelessness.

"It would perhaps be better for you to walk the rest of the way," he said. "Trouble might be made in the beginning if your grandfather were to know that I brought you over."

"You’re right, I think," she said, and rising as the cart stopped, she followed him down into the road. Then with a word or two of thanks, she smiled brightly, and, calling the dog, passed rapidly into the twilight which stretched between him and a single shining window that was visible in the Hall.

After she had quite disappeared he still stood motionless by the ice-pond, staring into the dusk that had swallowed her up from his gaze. So long did he remain there that at last the oxen tired of waiting and began to move slowly on along the sunken road. Then starting abruptly from his meditation, he picked up the ropes that trailed before him on the ground and fell into his accustomed walk beside the cart. At the moment it seemed to him that his whole life was shattered into pieces by the event of a single instant. Something stronger than himself had shaken the foundations of his nature, and he was not the man that he had been before. He was like one born blind, who, when his eyes are opened, is ignorant that the light which dazzles him is merely the shining of the sun.

When he came into the house, after putting up the oxen, Cynthia commented upon the dazed look that he wore.

"You must have fallen asleep on the way home," she remarked.

"It is the glare of the lamp," he answered. "I have just come out of the darkness," and before sitting down to his supper, he opened the door and listened for the sound of his mother’s voice.

"She is asleep, then?" he said, coming back again. "Has she recognised either of you to-day?"

"No; she wanders again. The present is nothing to her any longer—it is all blotted out with everything that Fletcher told her. She asks for father constantly, and the only thing that interested her was when Jim went in and talked to her about farming. She is quite rational except that she has entirely forgotten the last twenty years, and just before falling asleep she laughed heartily over some old stories of Grandpa Bolivar’s."

"Then I may see her for a minute?"

"If you wish it—yes."

Passing along the hall, he entered the little chamber where the old lady lay asleep in her tester bed. Her fine white hair was brushed over the pillow, and her drawn and yellowed face wore a placid and childlike look. As he paused beside her a faint smile flickered about her mouth and her delicate hand trembled slightly upon the counterpane. Her dreams had evidently brought her happiness, and as he stood looking down upon her the wish entered his heart that he might change his young life for her old one— that he might become, in her place, half dead, and done with all that the future could bring of either joy or grief.

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Chicago: Ellen Anderson Gholson Glasgow, "Chapter I. The Unforeseen," 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 April 22, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=X3PGV2CJUABRM69.

MLA: Glasgow, Ellen Anderson Gholson. "Chapter I. The Unforeseen." 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. 22 Apr. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=X3PGV2CJUABRM69.

Harvard: Glasgow, EA, 'Chapter I. The Unforeseen' 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 22 April 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=X3PGV2CJUABRM69.