The Romance of A Mortgage by Herbert Ward
1111 Court Street,
Boston, Mass., Nov. 12, 1890.
Mr. Francis B. Ellesworth, University Club,
My dear Frank, I am sorry to inform you that the Benson note is
still uncollected. The party writes that he will try to pay it
soon. Our correspondent in Sunshine, S. C., considers the
Benson security in Cherokee first-class. As this is the only S.
C. mortgage that has slipped up so far on our hands, I should
advise you to be patient a few more days. Perhaps you had
better give the party leeway up to Dec. 1, if necessary, as it
is his first default since you took the papers, three years
ago. However, if you are impatient and wish to settle the
matter, send me down the trust deeds and notes. Run in any
time. I shall be glad to see you.
Very truly yours,
Young Ellesworth carefully deposited his cigar in the bronze ash
receiver on the polished table by his side, and pulled out from his
breast pocket a notebook which he consulted. After a few moments he
seemed to satisfy himself as to the identity of his mortgager Benson;
put his papers up, and sank back into a reverie.
The gray November day seemed to have contented itself with monopolizing
the streets and the faded Common, and the poor tenements, and the ragged
stragglers, and to have passed by the windows of Beacon Street, and the
luxurious smoking-room of the new University Club. Francis Ellesworth
sprawled listlessly in the deep chair by the window, and vaguely
congratulated himself that he did not have to earn his supper. It was
lucky that he did not have to, for any tyro of a physiognomist could
have seen at a glance that the delicate features, the sallow complexion,
brightened by red spots upon his cheeks, the gentle black eyes and the
straight black hair, did not belong to a robust New England body.
The trouble with Ellesworth was, not that he was rich enough not to have
to work, but that he was born at all. He considered it only a fair
compensation for this insult that three years ago he had fallen heir to
seventy-five thousand dollars, which he had successfully invested and
reinvested ever since. This occupation, and the clubs and a few other
necessary amusements formed his life.
He was not handsome, but just interesting looking enough not to pass
unnoticed. He was not vulgar; that is to say, he did not drink too much,
did not swear, and was not the kind of a fellow who compromises a woman
by his attentions. He was neither clever nor stupid. Thousands of young
men in our great cities are of this type, unimportant to men of intent,
and a missionary field to women of character.
He needed an electric shock either to kill him or make a man of him. But
perhaps, after all, Ellesworth was not wholly to blame for not trying to
make his mark; for he was not so strong as other men, as I said before,
and had, besides, so thoroughly coddled himself into that belief that
useful activity was struck off of his list of possibilities.
Now it happened that this Benson mortgage was the first which he had
taken out under his inheritance; it had a certain special interest to
him for that reason; it had netted him eight per cent. clear, and he
considered his fifteen hundred dollars well invested. His Harvard
classmate, Todd, a good judge, had selected the mortgage for him, and
altogether it seemed to the young property-holder quite an important, if
not to say a public, financial affair that this first of October passed
without producing sixty dollars from Benson. He didn't know who Benson
was; nor did he care. How many a capitalist in the East knows the sturdy
settler whose hard-earned home he holds in his relentless safe! The
drought comes, the crops wither away; the cyclone sweeps the land; the
only horse that does the ploughing dies; the mother is sick and the
father tends the babies instead of the wheat—a hundred catastrophes
menace the farmer, but whatever happens, the semi-annual dividend must
be paid or the nightmare of his life comes to pass—the terrible
capitalist in the East, less compassionate than the cyclone or the
inundation or the drought, takes the home as a matter of course, just as
he takes his dinner. Who would dare complain? Not Benson surely, thought
Ellesworth, with the smile of a man who holds a "full hand."
"Work Benson for all he is worth," wrote Ellesworth on some blue
club-paper, "and give him until the first of December."
The first of December came, but no South Carolina interest. Francis
Ellesworth was greatly annoyed and told Todd so plainly.
"He is sick," explained Todd. "Somebody else wrote for him. The letter
came the other day. But he signed it. He asks for another fifteen days."
"I'm deuced hard up just now," he said, "Christmas is coming on. That
would just settle my flower bill. Halvin has sent me three confoundedly
gentlemanly bills. That's the worst of it. Write and tell Benson I'll
give him until the fifteenth of December—not another day."
"Just as you say," answered Todd. "It's all safe enough, but it will
take some time to realize. Cherokee isn't exactly booming, but he's got
fifty acres and one half cleared, the other half is heavy yellow pine.
The timber is worth the whole amount, my correspondent assures me,
besides the house and out-buildings. You won't lose, not a cent, I'll
guarantee; but it's annoying, I will admit."
Then they fell to talking about the Yale foot-ball victory. Of course
they talked late and Ellesworth walked to his apartments in a heavy
That night, one of the catastrophes which prove demons or angels to our
lives, occurred to the young man. He was taken suddenly and violently
ill. Of the three physicians summoned by the excited janitor, to
prescribe for the sickness, one called the case pneumonia; another
preferred malaria; and the third, having just delivered an original
paper on the subject, suggested brain grippe. In only one respect the
three wise men agreed—their patient must spend the winter in the
South. Oddly enough, they recommended Sunshine, South Carolina; and as
Sunshine is a fashionable resort, with plenty of hotels and tennis and
girls, Ellesworth found no difficulty in obeying the medical counsel.
Thus in ten days he found himself in the land of the palmetto and the
japonica. It was an abrupt change, and therefore all the more natural
for that. The other day an invalid started for India on an eighteen
Ellesworth's illness and the journey had entirely driven the Benson
matter out of his mind. He had drawn upon an emergency fund for his
trip, and the fact that he was sixty dollars short had escaped his easy
memory. Therefore the further announcement from Todd that Benson could
not pay at the date agreed upon came to him as a new shock. Todd had
written a formal letter to his classmate, merely stating the fact and
asking for instructions. As Ellesworth read it, he had a vague feeling
that there was something behind that was not told. But he had just lost
a game of billiards to an inferior player, and felt cross.
"Confound that Benson!" he ejaculated. Then he sat down and wrote:
"Foreclose at once. My attorneys, Squeeze & Claw, will give you the
Benson trust deeds on presentation of this. Hurry it through as soon as
He heaved a sigh of relief, and lighted a cigar with Todd's letter.
There are critics who assert that the modern story fails of its mission
unless it deals in extraordinary characters embedded like the rare
crystals of Hiddenite, in an extraordinary matrix; and that the public,
tired to suffocation of its own commonplaces, has a right to expect
something out of the usual run. If such a dictum were final Francis
Ellesworth is in nowise a fit hero for a "penny-dreadful," nor was it
even an extraordinary circumstance that made him inquire how far
Cherokee Garden was from Sunshine.
"You can go by railroad," answered the Northern clerk, "or you can go
horseback. It's only eight miles by road through the pines. It's a very
pretty ride to take before dinner."
Ellesworth had two reasons for amusing himself by an easy trip to
Cherokee. He had a vague feeling of remorse which often follows the
decree of justice. Lincoln was made ill by being obliged to refuse a
pardon. The greater the power the heavier it hangs upon the heart.
Ellesworth, as he entertained himself in the conventional way, ever
spending, never earning, began to feel that he had done a brutal thing,
without even looking into the circumstances, to order a man's home sold
over his head, because he had failed to pay interest for the first
time. If Benson's farm were only eight miles away why did he not see him
before he sent the command to foreclose? There was an atonement owing,
and this feeling, rising like a mist in the mind of the young man, who
knew much of pleasure and little of misery, drew him to the mortgaged
plantation. And then, if Benson did prove a shiftless fellow, he wanted
to see what kind of a place he might be soon forced to own. He might
make it his winter resort and come down there every year. The more
selfish thought reinforced the generous one, and piqued his curiosity,
as he rode slowly into the wilderness, leaving Sunshine and its
fashionable savor behind.
It was a December morning. To one not used to the tropics, the sun, the
heat, the greenness, the exhilaration were magical. Under what cold
comforter was Boston Common shivering on this winter day! What pneumonic
gales roared up Beacon Street and gnashed through Commonwealth Avenue,
seeking whom they might devour, and having not a great way to go! How
blue the street vendors looked—the Italian boys who gilded statuettes
on Tremont Street, and the man under the old courthouse who offers to
clean your gloves of the unpardonable sin—for five cents! How the
fellows shivered as they stamped the snow off in the club vestibule!
The wonder that New England is not depopulated when there is such an
Eden in which to spend the devastating winter! So Ellesworth thought as
he jogged along the uneven, sandy road, congratulating himself with
every deep breath, and sitting straight and straighter in the saddle. He
had never felt so happy and so free as he did this December morning.
Passing slowly by a deserted orchard, he could see the yellow larks
flying from tree to tree, and could hear the robins and the cat-birds
calling each other names, and mocking each other merrily. Now and then
he stopped his horse to watch a couple of quails leisurely hopping
across the road, and strained his ears to hear their thrum as they were
startled in the thicket. The very air seemed happy. Care and illness
slipped away as the sunshine slipped on the faces of the leaves. It was
December? No, it was summer with something thrown in that is never
present in our Northern June.
Ellesworth galloped along until his horse stumbled into a mud-hole.
Before him, in a hollow, a stream had to be forded in the usual Southern
way. Above and beyond, a cabin could be seen from whose outside chimney
smoke arose in a perpendicular column. Cocks crew in the distance, and
there was every indication that the outskirts of Cherokee were
represented in the hut before him. As Ellesworth halted in the deepest
part of the brook, allowing his horse to drink, he saw clusters of
mistletoe on the tops of slender trees. The dark green of this romantic
parasite set against the gray of the trees and their moss formed a new
picture for the Northerner. The glistening mistletoe with its white
berries recalled scenes that he had read about. Ellesworth had played
too lightly with life to have ever been seriously in love. The
flirtation of a few weeks or months and the solemn tenderness of devoted
love are not allied. The one passes into the other as seldom as silicon
passes into the cells of a fallen tree. Ellesworth had never gone beyond
conventional devotion: and this he had so far discreetly given to
married women. This emblem of Christmas troth actually growing before
his eyes, and seen by him in its native state for the first time,
produced a vague longing upon the young New Englander. He remembered a
precise and beautiful Boston girl, rich enough and all that, whom he had
vainly tried to consider in the light of a possible wife. What well-bred
surprise would she have poured upon him if he had attempted to claim the
right of the mistletoe branch! He had waited in order to give and
receive spontaneous, unconventional tokens of affection. He had dreamed
of walking in the fields by the side of the phantom he loved, clasping
her hand and swinging it with his, just like children in Arcadia. He
wanted no wife who would accept her husband's kiss as a matter of
necessity. He had seen them, and cynically watched the husband casting
furtive, longing looks at her who swore to cherish him unto death.
Thus spoke the chaste, the alluring mistletoe to his heart. These
thoughts surprised him, and he hurried along in vague discomfort over
the little slope (the natives called it a hill) and up to the straggling
village, called in his papers of description Cherokee Garden for no
earthly reason whatever.
"Is this Cherokee Garden?" he asked of the wrinkled white woman sitting
in the doorway of the solitary suburban residence.
"This ain't the hull of it, young man," she answered severely, taking
her corn-cob pipe out of her mouth and looking at Ellesworth as if he
had cast an aspersion upon a city. "Ye kin ride down the road a right
smart bit until ye come to the kyars. The post office is on the other
side o' the track." This she said with an accent of resentment.
"Do you know where a man called William Benson lives, whom I understand
has a—a farm here somewhere?"
When Ellesworth had finished his question the old woman got up and,
supported by her stick, tottered to his side, and peered up into his
"Air ye any kin ter Bill Benson? Air ye an'thin' to him?"
"No, no," stammered Ellesworth, taken aback. "I only wanted to call on
"Ye'll hev'ter go right smart ways to find Bill Benson," replied the old
She peered up into his face again, and shook her head. Ellesworth,
wondering whether his creditor had "skipped to Cuba to avoid payment,"
"Bill Benson" (she stopped to take a whiff, and then proceeded with a
tone of awe caught from Methodist preachers) "hez gone to glory!"
"Where?" asked Boston, ignorant of the longitude and latitude of that
"To glory, young man!" repeated the old woman, impressively. "Elder
Jones buried Bill in Tantallon buryin' ground, four mile from hyar down
the track," added the woman, severely.
Her voice dropped to a whisper on the last words, and she looked to see
their effect upon the horseman. The red handkerchief, tied over her head
and under her chin, had fallen down behind her neck and revealed a bald
head. The cock crew from the step of the hut.
Benson dead! This, then, accounted for the note so long overdue. Benson
had been sick, and could not pay. Why had Ellesworth not known this
before? He reddened with self-reproach. This was the first tragedy which
he had stumbled upon, and how much of it was his own doing! The old
woman looked at him suspiciously.
"When did he die?" he asked softly.
The woman counted backwards on her fingers with the stem of her pipe.
"Right smart onto two weeks," she answered after much calculation. Then
she shot this question at him with a scowl, "Ye hain't no Northerner,
Taken off his guard, Ellesworth hesitated, and then forswore his
"I—I am living at—eh—Sunshine."
Her face lighted.
"Mebbe ye'r raised in Charleston. Ye look like a South Carolinian."
Ellesworth was drawn to it by some occult power, and nodded assent. The
old woman's manner was now totally different, and she approached him
confidentially, and offered him the use of her tin snuff-box, which he
"Ye haint heerd, so Colonel Tom Garvin told me, that a dum Northerner
hez got a holt on Bill's place; and there ain't none left now 'cept
Georgy and Mrs. McCorkle as is a widder nigh on ten year. Colonel Tom is
kin to her mother's second cousin, and he says thet thet dum Yankee hed
better not show up 'round these parts, for he'd get plugged if he tries
to take Bill's place away from Georgy, poor, innercent thing that she
is." The old woman's cracked voice thrilled with the passion and
tenderness of her kind; but Ellesworth did not look at her as she
finished. He felt a little frightened, and he bent over his horse to
fleck a bit of bark with his whip to conceal it.
"How far do they live from here?" he asked after a pause, which she
interpreted as actuated by sympathy.
"'Tain't no fur at all. Ye take the next turn to yer left. It's the
first plantation ye come to. I reckon ye'll see Georgy a dustin' and
sweepin'. She's almighty pertikler, she is, poor creetur."
Ellesworth thanked the old woman dreamily and rode in the direction
which she pointed out.
Ellesworth had never thought of this view of the subject. It never
occurred to him that he would be an object of hatred in Cherokee Garden.
He glanced around furtively, as if he expected to see an enemy hiding
behind the trees. At any rate, so far, he was not known. He made up his
mind that he should not be. Benson's daughter was undoubtedly a sallow,
withered young girl, with a hot temper and a deep sense of injury; and,
if she found out his identity would probably call the country to arms
against him. But the Yankee had no idea of giving up his rights. His
hands tightened on reins and whip. He meant to see the plantation that
was mortgaged in his name at any cost. But about one thing he was now
certain. Cherokee would never be a winter resort for him.
He walked his horse to the cross-road, to the left, about a thousand
yards or so, until he came in front of a house. He halted and looked at
it long and critically. It was a two-story house, built of yellow pine,
that had not been painted. In spite of this, it did not look neglected.
It had an air of scrupulous neatness and care. Around the house ran a
simple fence, made to keep the chickens and the pigs that swarmed about
him, from the garden and the piazza. A huge rose-bush covered one whole
side of the house, while in the garden and on the veranda red and white
japonicas were in flower. Flanking the walk from the gate to the house,
high azalea bushes were pushing forth their buds for the spring
blooming, and little borders of box protected with wooden boards, and
bunches of holly intersected the little garden. It was more than a
home-like looking place: it was fascinatingly cozy, with its roses and
camellias and azaleas and a single protecting palmetto, and
over-towering live oaks, and majestic pines. It was just the place
Ellesworth had dreamed of possessing. It was luxuriant; it was tropical.
The air, semi-spiced with odors of gum and blooms mounted to his brain
like a narcotic. He sat upon his horse and looked about. His eyes roamed
past the house and caught the contrast of the unkempt fields with the
neatness within the enclosure. He noted the olive fingers of the high
pines beyond the ploughed land.
It was a fair and a sad sight—William Benson was not there to enjoy his
With a sigh of longing and of self-reproach he turned his face toward
the house again. Before him, with one hand on the gate, stood a woman.
She was looking at him. Questions were in her eyes. Ellesworth stared at
her in amazement, and only superlatives crowded into his mind; for she
was the most glorious woman he had ever seen. She was tall, almost to
his own height, and with a proportional figure. Dressed without
ornament, without ruffle, or frill or white at the throat, in plain
black, her face revealed itself on the green background as if it were
upon a canvas by Bastien Lepage. It was a face in which there seemed to
be many nationalities blended: Italian eyes, Spanish coloring of the
cheeks, black Indian hair, rich Mexican lips,—these co÷rdinated into
the most startling type he had ever seen, through a quick, sensitive,
high-spirited intelligence, the inheritance of Southern blood. He could
not analyze this beauty; he could only gasp at it.
Francis B. Ellesworth was, as has been intimated, not a captivating man
per se; but as he sat upon his horse, with the flush of excitement
upon his face, and a certain refinement in his carriage that looked as
much out of place in Cherokee Garden as the face of the girl before him,
he was not an unattractive fellow. Now, as the two were not over fifteen
feet apart, and were both looking at each other, one of them had to
speak. She waited for him to do so. He simply couldn't. So she spoke
"Have you lost your way, sir?"
The tremor of the dimple in her chin and the marked effort which she
made to steady her voice, showed that she was much agitated. Had she not
been expecting the man who was to take away her home for a paltry sum of
unpaid money? She had looked upon the Yankee who held her fathers notes
as little more than a thief. And now that her father had died, she
seriously considered him in the light of a murderer. She thought of his
agent as his "minion," whom it was clearly due her dignity to resist.
The case had been the talk of the scraggly village, and the judge of the
district, who was reputed to know the intricacies of all the law that
ever was tabulated, asserted vehemently in her presence that to eject
her from her home was an outrage that could not and would not be
permitted as long as the able-bodied men of Cherokee could carry a gun.
This testimony of Southern chivalry the girl fully believed.
And now the invader had come at last. She clutched the gate and
collected herself to meet him.
"No, miss, that is—is this William Benson's?—I mean——" Ellesworth
halted, remembering that his debtor was no more, and not wishing to
remind her of the fact. "Was this his place?"
The magnificent girl looked at him over that fence and measured him.
Yes, the worst had come at last, and an uncalled-for insult with it. How
the stranger gloated over the fact that the place was not her
father's! She drew herself to her full height; her black eyes blazed;
her cheeks became carmine. She could hardly control her voice from
"You mistake, sir. This is his place, and I think, sir, it will remain
She looked at him fiercely and waited to let that sentiment fructify in
the young man's soul.
"Indeed, I—I hope so," ventured Ellesworth.
Disregarding this as a feeble attempt at apology, she asked,—
"What is your name, sir? Do you come from him? Or are you he?"
The contempt which she cast into the personal pronouns had a marked
effect upon Ellesworth. The mere fact that a woman, for whom at first
sight he felt a greater admiration than he had ever bestowed elsewhere,
should be so antagonistic to him at the start, made his heart contract
within him. Yet he managed to pull himself together and say, with
"Excuse me. You must labor under a mistake. I am a total stranger here.
I am—eh—merely looking about. I am staying at Sunshine, for my
He noted with satisfaction a look of relief stealing over her face, and
a slight touch of spontaneous sympathy, too, at his last statement.
Ellesworth immediately followed the lead up.
"Yes," he said, "I am an invalid, and was ordered South for my lungs. I
have heard so much about Southern hospitality, would it be asking too
much for me to rest here awhile? I am a trifle tired after this long
He heaved a sigh and tried to look utterly fagged out as he noticed how
admirably that tack succeeded.
"Oh, I beg your pardon, sir," said the girl impulsively. "I thought you
were a lawyer or a sheriff, or perhaps a man from—Boston." She could
hardly pronounce the name of the cultured city. It stuck in her throat.
"I?" he asked in a tone of reproach. "Not at all," he answered,
laughing. "I told you that I have come from Sunshine," he added,
The girl, taking his negative as a reply to all her doubts, now opened
the gate hospitably.
"Forgive my rudeness, sir, and come in and sit awhile," she said, as
prettily as a woman could. "I'll ask Aunt McCorkle to get
you—something. Would you take a glass of milk?"
She blushed as she remembered her empty wine cellar. With a
well-feigned, languid air, which he could hardly maintain, so
boisterously the blood surged through his veins, Ellesworth walked up to
the piazza and sat down.
He looked about him in a bewildered way. The passionless white camellia
blooming by his side seemed singularly out of place. He thought of the
intoxicating Jacqueminot roses he used to order at Halvin's for that
chilly Boston girl he tried to love and couldn't. The red camellia had
more of this splendid Southern creature's color, but that too, with its
waxen, expressionless petals, had no business there either. It
exasperated him. It looked at him coolly and sarcastically as if that
which happens to a man but once in his life had not come to him.
Aunt McCorkle appeared with the glass of milk. She was a vague Southern
gentlewoman, gentle and faded and appealing. She was just what he
expected the daughter of William Benson to be. He thought of the
middle-aged and elderly Boston dames with their strong profiles and keen
eyes and decisive opinions of reforms and literature and charity. Any
one of them might have put out her arms and have taken Mrs. McCorkle up
in her lap and trotted her to sleep. Yet Ellesworth liked the Southern
lady. Already he felt a queer movement of the heart toward Georgiella
"Is it lung trouble?" inquired Aunt McCorkle sympathetically. The girl
came out of the house at this moment and sat down on the veranda under
the white camellia. She glanced at her guest with interest.
"The doctors think I shall come out all right if I am careful of my
self," replied Ellesworth, evasively.
"It is hard to be sick," said Georgiella sincerely. Illness and death
had touched her so lately and so cruelly that she could not help feeling
sorry for the sick young man.
"I have just ridden over from Sunshine, where I am living now,"
explained Ellesworth again, although his conscience gave him a twinge.
He hurried on: "You see, I'm looking for a quiet place to board in." He
made a diplomatic pause. "The Sunshine Hotel is too noisy, what with
billiards and bowling and late dances; so I rode over here to look
about, and an old lady with a pipe told me you lived here."
"That was Aunt Betsey," said the girl decisively. "But we never took
boarders," with a stately drawing up of her head, "why should she send
"My dear," protested Mrs. McCorkle mildly, "the Randolphs of Sunshine
took boarders last winter; and I suppose we could get Aunt Betsey to
cook." She rose to carry away Ellesworth's glass, and beckoned to the
girl to follow her. Evidently the two poor ladies whispered together in
the hall, consulting upon the awful problem suddenly presented to their
empty pockets and plethoric pride. They came out on the veranda again,
and Mrs. McCorkle asked him point blank what his name was. Without
perceptible hesitation he replied:
"Bigelow, madam. Frank Bigelow." The unimagined value of a middle name
suddenly presented itself to the young man's mind, and his conscience
slipped behind the camellias and made no protest. A very irreligious
baby, black in the face from howling, had been indeed baptized Francis
Bigelow in King's Chapel, twenty-nine years ago—and had since bought a
mortgage on the Benson property.
"Couldn't you take me? It's a case of charity," he pleaded, turning to
the girl beside him. "It's so noisy at the hotel, I can't sleep."
This last shot went straight to the mark. Sympathy and need are powerful
partners, and they worked together for Ellesworth's case in the hearts
of the two poor, lonely women.
It is only in the South that one can find women—ladies, and who dress
like ladies, and who hardly have ten dollars in cash the year round. The
mystery of the maintenance of their existence is not solved outside the
walls of their own homes. Proud, refined and shy, they divulge nothing.
Who is a boarder that he should think to comprehend the pathetic
ingenuity of their eventless lives?
"Are you connected with the Bigelows of Charleston?" asked Mrs.
"I think we must be another branch," replied Ellesworth, boldly.
"I will—I would pay you," added Ellesworth, blushing, "just what they
would charge me at the Sunshine Hotel, if that would be satisfactory."
"How much is that, Mr. Bigelow?" inquired Mrs. McCorkle, reddening too.
"Twenty-five dollars a week."
"That is too much. We should think that enough for a month," said the
girl, turning her wonderful face upon her visitor.
"I could not think of giving less," he insisted. Still he did not look
"Perhaps," admitted Mrs. McCorkle with a sigh, "we might take you, sir,
seeing that you are one of the Bigelow family—on trial."
"I will come," returned Ellesworth, quickly, looking straight at
Georgiella, "I will come next Monday—on trial.
"You won't look upon me as a sheriff, will you?" he added, as he mounted
at the gate, to ride back to his hotel.
The girl shook her head, as he looked down at her quizzically.
"That was very stupid of me. My mind has been full of my trouble. I have
dreamed about it, and hate the man who holds that mortgage.
"Please do not think of it any more. And when you come, sir, perhaps you
can advise us what to do."
Ellesworth looked at her gravely. What would the following week, and the
next, and the winter bring forth?
"Perhaps," he said in a whisper that might have come from the Delphian
oracle; and then he cantered away.
For the first time since her father's death, Georgiella sang that
afternoon as she walked about the garden teasing her plants to bloom.
It was Monday, the fifteenth of December. Mrs. McCorkle ushered
Ellesworth upstairs into his own room in the cottage mortgaged in his
own name. The sun poured into it like a living blessing. The rose-bush
enveloped the windows, and when the sash was raised, delicate tendrils
insinuated themselves within, as if, in Southern fashion, they would
"shake howdy." The room was dainty and home-like. It flashed across
Ellesworth as he sank into the cushioned rocking-chair with a long
breath of content, that it might have been Georgiella's. It was in the
dreamy part of the day. The sun was dipping under the high branches of
the pines. Then the luxury of leaning out of the window in December! He
could not help but think of it as his sun, and his garden and his
trees. And now Georgiella came out, bareheaded, and swept the pine
needles and leaves from the narrow box-bordered path, and snipped dead
branches from the shrubs, and then before she went to feed the chickens
she cast up at him a shy glance that made his heart leap within him. He
did not leave his room until he was called to supper. His fancy was
feverish, and kept picturing his mortgaged girl in a Boston
drawing-room, thrilling all the people he knew with her beauty. He
called it carmine beauty; but he was young and ardent.
He felt it when he first saw her, but that eventful afternoon he
formulated it and repeated it over and over again until he became
dizzy—"I love her! I love her!" And then visions of work and strength
and success, and ambitions that had been stifled, began to spring within
him like blades from watered bulbs. The electric shock had come. He knew
it. He meant to spring to it like a man.
Dreamily he dressed for supper, and dreamily descended. Mrs. McCorkle
greeted him with her fine, thin manner. The young man looked about him
curiously. Aunt Betsey waited on the table. He tried not to think of her
hospitality in the matter of snuff. The room was worn and bare and
gray; so bereft of all but the most necessary furniture that its few
ornaments had a startling conspicuousness. He noticed a fat Chinese vase
set up like an idol in an old escritoire. Over the mantel was a
glass-case religiously protecting some coins and ancient papers. A rusty
sword hung on the wall. Biographies of Lee and Jackson, flanking the
Chinese fat vase in the dilapidated escritoire, and a villainous crayon
framed in immortelles upon the wall, that probably represented his
deceased debtor, completed the ornamentation of the room. Miss Benson
entered when he had gone as far as this, and vivaciously exhibited the
bric-Ó-brac of the room.
"This is a Ming." She pointed to the fat vase. "I understand there isn't
another like it in the country. It belongs to the Ming dynasty."
Although from Boston, Ellesworth was not familiar with the Ming dynasty,
but he bowed and feebly ejaculated,—
"Ah! this is a real Ming, is it?"
"And there," said the young lady, bringing him before the glass-case,
"are family possessions. That is a coin of George II.; those are
Pine-tree shillings; those yellow papers are two copies of a continental
newspaper, and this is the South Carolinian continental penny."
Ellesworth inspected the treasures gravely. He did his best not to
"Very remarkable!" he murmured. "How Southern!" he thought.
"Colonel Tom Garvin says there are nothing like them in the country. I
suppose they would bring a great deal if sold," she added, wistfully.
"But we don't like to sell them. Besides, we never saw anybody who
wanted to buy them."
Acquaintance under one roof passes quickly into intimacy. Love moves
with fleet feet when two young people breakfast and dine together with a
vague chaperone. A tropical garden, soft evenings and youthful
impetuosity shorten the span to experience thought necessary to precede
Georgiella was the soul of domestic comfort—as Southern women are. She
was a high-spirited, variable, bewitching creature. At first, the
Northerner could not understand her indifference to her obligations as a
mortgager. Why did she not sell the Ming vase? She looked upon debt not
as a disgrace, but as an inconvenience. Foreclosure proceedings were
under way, and it never occurred to the two women to stop them with even
a part of the fifty dollars which Ellesworth paid for his board in
advance. When Ellesworth found out that this trait was not a pauper's,
but like Georgiella's strange beauty, constitutional, he forbore to
criticise it. In truth, he was too much in love now to criticise the
girl at all. It is probable that if she had robbed his pocketbook he
would have merely said, "How interesting! it is her tropical way."
A day or two before Christmas he drove over to Sunshine and returned
with a happy, tired face.
"You would take a Christmas present from me, wouldn't you?" he asked
with unprecedented humility.
"It's in a paper," he explained.
"What is it?" she asked uncomfortably, for she felt his serious look
"It's—eh—a trifle that I think you will like," replied Ellesworth
without a smile.
Christmas came cheerfully into the mortgaged house. Georgiella cried a
little for her father's sake. In spite of her bereavement, and of the
fact that she was sure the sheriff would attach the house that day of
all others, she did not feel very wretched. She felt that she was wicked
because she was so happy. There were wings in her heart.
It was not the custom to hang up stockings at the Benson's.
"My things have always been put into the Ming vase," Georgiella
explained, "and the others went on the breakfast table."
She did not look at Ellesworth often. Her eyes dropped. Her cheeks were
like red camellias. She felt in a hurry all of the time. The young man
himself took the situation out in looking at his watch. It seemed to him
as if the world were turning over too fast. He thought of what he meant
to do stolidly, notwithstanding.
They went out and gathered mistletoe in the swamps. He climbed trees and
tore his hands and fell into the water with zest. They brought home a
barrelful of it. He thought how he had bought it at twenty-five cents a
spray on Washington street. He held a great branch of it behind
Georgiella over her head, and looked at her. She started like a wild
animal, and kept ahead of him all the way home.
On Christmas morning Ellesworth got up early—he had hardly slept; he
could not rest, and went softly downstairs. The door into the
dining-room was open, and she was there before him. She stood before the
Ming vase. The mistletoe branch to which he had fastened his present,
and which he had set into the vase to look like a little Christmas tree,
lay tossed beneath her feet. The pearly white berries were scattered on
the floor. The mortgage was in her hand—trust deeds, principal notes,
interest notes, insurance policy. She was turning the papers over
helplessly. She looked scared and was quite pale. Her bosom heaved
boisterously. She heard him and confronted him. She managed to stammer
"What, sir, does this mean?"
It required a brave man to tell her in her present mood; but he did.
"It only means that I love you," said Ellesworth point blank.
The girl went from blinding white to blazing crimson, but she stood her
ground. The mortgage papers shook in her hands. He thought that she was
going to tear them up. To gain time, for he dared not approach her, he
stooped and picked up the disdained mistletoe. When he had raised
himself she shot out this awful question, looking at him as she did when
they first met.
The young man bowed his head before her. If he had set fire to her
place, or robbed her father's grave, she could not have regarded him
with a more crushing scorn. She tried to speak again, but her passion
"I—I give you back your home," he protested humbly. "It is mine no
longer. It is your own Don't blame me. I love you."
"My father did not bring me up to take valuable presents
from—Boston—gentlemen!" blazed the Southern girl.
She waved him aside, swept by him without another look, and melted out
of the room. But he noticed that she took the mortgage papers with her.
In the course of the morning he threw himself upon the mercy of Mrs.
"I have a right," he said; "I want to make her my wife."
"Georgiella is not behaving prettily," said Mrs. McCorkle severely. "If
a Northerner does act like a gentleman, the least a Southern girl can
do is to behave like a lady. I will speak to Georgiella, sir."
Georgiella came to the Christmas dinner with blazing eyes. She ate in
silence, looking like an offended goddess, dressed in an old black silk
gown of her mother's trimmed with aged Valenciennes lace.
But after dinner she stayed in the dining-room while Mrs. McCorkle and
Aunt Betsey went into the kitchen. She walked up to the Ming vase and
stood before it. Ellesworth followed her.
"I have been thinking it over," she began abruptly in a quaint
affectation of a business-like tone. "I will keep the mortgage—thank
you, sir. It is my home, you know," she put in pugnaciously. "But I
will pay for it, if you please."
"Pay for it!" gasped Ellesworth.
"Yes, sir; I will sell you the Ming vase," returned Miss Benson calmly,
"and the two Revolutionary papers, and the coin of George the Second and
the rest—" She waved her hand toward the glass-case. "You may take them
to Boston with you."
These were her assets. Ellesworth looked at her for a moment, torn
between astonishment, pity, amusement and love; but love got the better
of them all, and he answered solemnly,—
"Yes, I will take the Ming vase, and the Revolutionary papers, and the
old coins and you too, my darling!"
"Well, I do like you," admitted Georgiella. Suddenly she began to
droop and tremble, and then to sob. Then he held her.
"You must give me a first mortgage; you must," demanded the young man.
"I must have everything—the whole—no other claims to come in from any
quarter of the universe. You understand. You've got to be my wife!" he
exploded in a kind of glorious anger.
She could not deny him, for she thought it was the Northern way of
wooing, and smiled divinely.
"And now—may I?" He took the mistletoe branch from the Ming vase and
held it over her head. Their eyes closed in ecstacy.
Mrs. McCorkle gave a funny little feminine scream of dismay. She had
heard no sound, and had come in from the kitchen to see if they were
"And I'll put it in the trust deed," he whispered humbly, "that I will
make you happy, dear!"
When Ellesworth rode over to Sunshine for his next mail he found the
following letter awaiting him:
1111 Court Street,
Boston, Mass., Dec. 22, 1890.
Mr. Francis B. Ellesworth:
Dear Frank,—What the deuce do you mean by countermanding
Benson's foreclosure at this time of day? It makes a peck of
trouble. In Boston we are too busy to fool with affairs this
Messrs. Screw & Claw desire me to enclose their little bill.
Mine will keep until you get here.