Hopkins, Pauline E.
|CHAPTER IX. -- "LOVE TOOK UP THE HARP OF LIFE."|
Love took up the glass of Time, and turn'd it in his glowing hands; Every moment, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden sands. Love took up the harp of Life, and smote on all the chords with might.
Will Smith sat the next evening in his room trying to engage his mind and chain his wandering thoughts upon an important prize thesis. As a brilliant philosophical student destined to shine in the future in the world of science, he had been requested to become a competitor for the prize. Ever and anon his attention wavered, and finally he threw his books and papers to one side with a sigh, and rising to his feet paced the floor impatiently. Two soft eyes looked into his; the low music of a gentle voice seemed all about him.
"Pshaw!" he exclaimed impatiently, "I have laughed at others only to become more of a drivelling idiot than any of the men I have ridiculed. I never thought mere beauty in a woman could move me so." The smile induced by pleasant thoughts lingered on his face as he threw himself upon his couch and tried to bring order out of the chaos of his thoughts.
Smith's hopes were all for a finishing course at college, and then a course in philosophy at some good German university. Philosophy was a mania with him. In vain had bishops and clergymen of all denominations warned him that his mania might become a passion, which would draw him from a right conception of the Word, and dull his appreciation of the beauties of Revelation. Will contended that religion and the natural laws were not antagonistic, and that being convinced and thoroughly grounded in his faith, he but discovered fresh evidence of infinite perfection in the doctrine of his Master when he sought to expand his faculties and illuminate his mind by seeking a clearer perception of the interesting relation which weak humanity bears to the glorious mysteries of life and the grandeurs of creation.
He laughed at the idea of Latin and Greek being above the caliber of the Negro and likely to unfit him for the business of bread-getting in the peculiar position in life to which the Negro, as maintained by some, was destined from the beginning. With him Latin and Greek represented but tools which he used to unlock the storehouse of knowledge. The development of his race was a matter of first importance to his mind. The only way to bring the best faculties of the Negro to their full fruition, he
At twenty-five Smith found himself about to realize his hopes. He was fitted to enter Harvard University and graduate after a short course there. His articles in local magazines had attracted the favorable notice of scientific men, and one wealthy gentleman had offered him a course at Heidelberg after graduation. Emerson's words on character were an apt description of the strong personality of this man: "A reserved force which acted directly by its presence, and without (apparent) means."
His sister's friends possessed no attraction for him; he treated them as little girls, looking down upon them from the superior height of his twenty-five years with a gentle condescension, tempered always by the natural chivalry of a generous nature toward the weak and helpless. He was a favorite with women, old and young, in spite of his careless, half-haughty ways. Many a sigh was wafted after his handsome, unconscious self, as a pretty maiden who had fancied that she had at length conquered
Although love had come to Smith like a flood sweeping all barriers before it, yet the very strength of his desire for her love but served to restrain decided action. He approached the desired end slowly and carefully, not to defeat his own plans. He was well aware that Sappho's nature was a rare one, dwelling much upon lonely heights, the home of extraordinary moral sensitiveness and high intellectual development. Again he saw her advancing toward him in the mazes of the dance: her hand lay in his; her soft hair brushed his face; her sweet breath came to him from smiling rose-leaf lips, and intoxicated his senses.
"The starlike beauty of immortal eyes," fringed by long, curling lashes, flashed at him
Propinquity is responsible for many matches. It was pleasant for Sappho, when she returned mornings from delivering her work, to find her fire burning briskly and the room well warmed. It was a comfort to her not to have the ugly problem of ashes, wood and coal to solve. Not that she was too proud, or that she thought housework of any kind beneath her; but what woman does not feel it a relief to find the machinery of the home running smoothly without her aid. She thought nothing about ways and means, taking it for granted that there was nothing unusual in finding things pleasant, and she congratulated herself on being so fortunate in having "heat" included in Ma Smith's modest charges for lodging. Upon her return one morning, as she mounted the stairs to her room she saw from the light reflected that her door was open. Someone within the room
Of all the days that are in the week,
I dearly love but one day.
That is the day that comes between
Saturday and Monday.
For then I dress all in my best
And roam with my dear Sally;
She's the darling of my heart,
And she lives in our alley.
She pushed the door open and entered. Her cheeks were glowing from her walk in the bracing morning air, but her face assumed a serious, questioning look as she discovered Will just finishing up his self-imposed morning task. He gave an extra flourish to the brushes to cover his confusion and annoyance, and kept right on polishing off the little heater with his dubious-looking black cloths well filled with stove polish.
"Well!" she exclaimed.
"Good morning," returned Will, with a businesslike flourish of his cloth, as, having finished the stove, he proceeded to touch up the bright piece of zinc under it. "How will she take it?" he asked himself.
"Well!" she repeated.
"Quite well, thank you," said Will, this time with a quizzical grin on his face.
"I had no idea you were the fireman, Mr. Smith."
"No? In the words of Doctor Peters, 'I do mos' anythin' in the wurl, honey, to git an hones' livin' without stealin' it.'"
Will had donned one of his mother's ample kitchen aprons for the protection of his clothing. The bib was pinned well up in front across the broad expanse of shirt bosom; the ample folds of the apron-skirt enveloped his limbs to his ankles; the long strings, crossed in the back, met in front in a huge bow-knot. There was a streak of smut across one eye, and the side of his nose was polished to perfection. The picture was too much for Sappho, and peal after peal of laughter shook her slight frame.
"Oh, Mr. Smith," she said, when she could find breath, "you do look so funny!"
"''Twas ever thus from childhood's hour,'" quoted Will, marching up to the mirror to survey his beauty spots; "I do look rather fetching," he continued, with a confidential smile at his laughing companion.
"Do you do this every day?" asked Sappho, suddenly sobering down.
"Do what every day?"
"Why, make my fire?"
"It's not your fire any more than anyone else's fire."
"I'm very sorry."
"Sorry! sorry about what? It isn't a crime, is it, for a man to make a fire for his women folks?"
"But I'm not your 'women folks.'"
"Look here," said Will in an aggrieved tone, balancing a hod of ashes in one hand and a pile of stove brushes in the other, "are we going to quarrel?"
"There is no reason why we should if we agree," said Sappho, smiling gravely.
"That means that we shan't quarrel if I agree to whatever you are going to propose. What is it you want to say?" he asked, becoming grave in his turn. "Is it that I have behaved unmanly in visiting your room in your absence? Why cavil about a little thing of that sort? I do this for you as I would for Dora."
"Oh, if you look at it that way"--she began, a trifle confused by his apparent unconsciousness.
"How else ought I to look at it?"
"How horrid you are."
"Horrid! I don't see what I've said that is so very dreadful."
"You speak so--well--so cross."
"I speak like a man talking to a silly girl."
"Now you are rude again; calling me names."
"Children must be kept in their places," he said banteringly.
"You're making fun of me."
"Of course I am. What do you expect?"
"But you mustn't make my fire again."
"I am sorry you found it out; I didn't intend you to know it."
"I can't pay for having the work done, and it is not proper for you to do it; there is no reason why you should do such work for me."
"Suppose we play you are my other sister; that will make it all right, won't it?
"No," came firmly from Sappho's lips; "no more fires."
"See here, I've hit it! Play I'm your father."
"What, neither brother nor father? How'd it do to imagine that you're my mother? You can't find fault with that, surely."
"How silly you are."
"No like me for sonny?" queried Will, with a sad shake of his head.
"If you don't leave this room instantly, William Smith, I'll call your mother," replied Sappho, laughing in spite of herself.
"The best play, though, would be sweethearts," he continued, as though she had not spoken.
"Yes, sweethearts; and I believe I could win the game, too, in spite of your reserve."
"You must be very sure of your power, young man. You need a lesson in diffidence." He held her gaze for a moment, and there was so much earnestness in the persistent dark eyes that she blushed furiously. He turned and abruptly left the room. No more was said about the fire, but Will continued to perform common everyday duties for her the same as for his sister. She did her part, too. Many an evening he found her helping Dora, darning socks or replacing lost buttons. Will's manner had changed toward her from that day; from easy familiarity it changed to a mixture of timid reserve and marked deference. Sappho noticed it, but somehow she liked it better. It spoke to her silently of tender, sacred thoughts. Tonight he thought of the scene just pictured, as he sat there in his room. She and none other should be his wife--God willing.
In another part of the house Ma Smith sat before the fire in her chamber and meditated on many things. The knitting with which the busy hands were always engaged when at leisure, dropped in her lap, and lay there unheeded. She thought of the incident of Sappho and the rose of the night before, and the merry, teasing look that had flashed out at her for one instant from Dora's laughing eyes. Could it be possible that she was about to lose her son? Dora's
Her Will with a wife! herself a grandmother! To renew at this age the joys which had been hers when first he lay within her arms a soft morsel of humanity, with sweet brown face and melting black eyes that mirrored themselves within the citadel of her heart. Ma Smith had known much sorrow in her life. She could tell you of hard times when it seemed that the combined efforts of her husband and herself would not avail to keep the wolf from the door. She knew what it was to bake and brew, to mend and make over, to minister to the needs of childhood with increasing maternal cares near at hand. With all this, the offered work which added a few dollars to their little store was always gladly accepted. But she would
Tonight she lived those struggles over again, and tried to imagine what it would be to have another share the love and reverence of the idolized son. At first it seemed that she could not endure the thought; but then she remembered how happy she had been in her married life, and prayed the Lord to deliver her from selfish desires. Who was she to stand in the way of her son's happiness--a son whom she loved? Sappho Clark was beautiful; she believed her to be a girl of exemplary conduct. Sappho was always deferential to her, giving to the elder woman the gentle deference which, coming from youth, is so dear to those advanced in years. So with a heart overflowing with love, and filled with kind and tender thoughts,
"Why, mummy dear, I declare you are growing younger and handsomer every day. We girls must look to our laurels if you keep on growing so pretty."
"Well, my love, I have been thinking of your father tonight, and how happy we were when you and Will were wee tots."
Dora knew well what had set her mother thinking. She appreciated her feelings. She knew that her mother had always felt that no woman could be good enough for Will's wife. She felt instinctively that her mother had faced the difficulty alone that evening and conquered it, effacing herself and her desires for the happiness of her son. With her usual impulsiveness Dora threw herself on her knees beside her mother's chair, and drawing her face down to her, kissed the wrinkled brow and smoothed the soft white hair.
"Mummy, dear," she said, "you have made up your mind to give him up to Sappho if things turn out that way?"
"Yes, my dear," replied her mother, with her hand upon the dark braids beside her. "I will
"Oh, no," replied the girl, as she rose from her knees by her mother's side and began putting her things away and preparing for the night. "Isn't it strange what a queer old world this is? If you are happy I am not, or vice versa . It does seem that one thing or another is always happening to vex a body. And the worst of it is that it may happen that we are impatient and unhappy about things that are trivial. I don't feel sweet-tempered tonight, and really, I can't tell why."
Ma Smith glanced at her daughter sharply but said nothing, as Dora thrust her bare feet into bedroom slippers and proceeded to undo the thick masses of curling brown hair, and brush and arrange it for the night. The mother knew that her daughter would unburden her mind presently, and so she waited patiently. It was not like Dora to be petulant and have moods. She was a happy, healthy, active girl, with a kindly disposition.
"Ma," said Dora after a silence, "why is it that Southern colored people seem to be so prejudiced against the Northern colored people? I always fancied that we were all in the same boat, and that mere accidental locality was not to be considered."
"That is true, my dear; but it must be that you imagine the prejudice to exist that you mention; surely we have outgrown such ideas, as a race, by this time."
Dora shook her head obstinately. "I fancied that the Wilsons slighted me tonight, and that they would have been better pleased if John had chosen a Southern girl."
"You are over-sensitive, Dora."
Dora did not reply, and after a moment's silence continued: "John said that he had not met a decent-looking woman who was Northern-born, and that when he did see a pretty colored girl on the street he knew without asking that she was a Southerner."
"That was rather thoughtless in John, but I don't think he meant to hurt your feelings, daughter."
"I cannot imagine what has got into him lately; he's not like himself. Oh, I do wish I was handsome like Sappho Clark! All the men are wild over her."
"Well, my dear, you don't harbor hard feelings
"Sappho is the best and dearest girl on earth, and I only hope that Will may be so lucky as to marry her. And, mummy, I hope Will will speak to her right off, so as to get the matter straightened out; there won't be a blessed man left to us girls if she remains single long."
Her mother smiled. "Daughter, I want to say just a word to you about our conversation: Don't allow jealousy to lurk in your heart; don't brood over unkind words; cast them from you. And I would have you remember, also, that sectional prejudice has always been fostered by the Southern whites among the Negroes to stifle natural feelings of brotherly love among us. Dissension means disunion. Carry these thoughts always in your mind, and act accordingly. Do not allow yourself to be made unhappy."
Meanwhile on the floor above them Sappho turned restlessly on her pillow, thinking of a noble head and bright dark eyes. She knew that Will Smith loved her. What woman does not feel the subtle intertwining of a kindred spirit linked to her own by the decree of Destiny, long years, perhaps, before either restless
"What have I done, what have I done to suffer thus? To give up all joy, and have only misery for all my life. I love this man; I know it now! I want his love, his care, his protection. I want him through life and beyond the grave, we two as one--my husband. Oh, my God, help me, help me!" Heavy sobs shook her frame. Broken exclamations fell from her lips. "I cannot! It must not be! So good, so noble! Oh, the happiness of home and love! must I be shut from them forever?"
Far into the night the agony of sobs continued. At last with a murmured prayer for help she fell asleep.