The Romance of A Mortgage by Herbert Ward

1111 Court Street,
Boston, Mass., Nov. 12, 1890.

Mr. Francis B. Ellesworth, University Club,
Boston, Mass.:

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,
Joseph Todd.

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."

Ellesworth frowned.

"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 shower.

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 hours' notice.

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 you can."

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 face.

"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 him. Why?"

"Ye'll hev'ter go right smart ways to find Bill Benson," replied the old woman, grimly.

She peered up into his face again, and shook her head. Ellesworth, wondering whether his creditor had "skipped to Cuba to avoid payment," awaited information.

"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 strange place.

"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, air ye?"

Taken off his guard, Ellesworth hesitated, and then forswore his section.

"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 courteously declined.

"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 home.

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 first.

"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 indignation.

"You mistake, sir. This is his place, and I think, sir, it will remain so."

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 admirable feint,—

"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 health."

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 ride."

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, blandly.

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 Benson's "relations."

"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 you here?"

"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. McCorkle, softly.

"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 at her.

"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 smile.

"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 an engagement.

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 upon her.

"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 out,—

"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.

"Are you—He?"

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 choked her.

"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. McCorkle.

"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 quarreling.

"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 way.

Messrs. Screw & Claw desire me to enclose their little bill. Mine will keep until you get here.

Yours truly,
Joseph Todd.