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HOME > Classical Novels > The House Behind the Cedars33 > XIII AN INJUDICIOUS PAYMENT
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 When Judge Straight's visitors had departed, he took up the papers which had been laid loosely on the table as they were taken out of Tryon's breast-pocket, and commenced their perusal1. There was a note for five hundred dollars, many years overdue2, but not yet outlawed3 by lapse5 of time; a contract covering the transaction out of which the note had grown; and several letters and copies of letters modifying the terms of the contract. The judge had glanced over most of the papers, and was getting well into the merits of the case, when he unfolded a letter which read as follows:—  
MY DEAREST GEORGE,—I am going away for about a week, to visit the bedside of an old friend, who is very ill, and may not live. Do not be alarmed about me, for I shall very likely be back by the time you are.
Yours lovingly,
The judge was unable to connect this letter with the transaction which formed the subject of his examination. Age had dimmed his perceptions somewhat, and it was not until he had finished the letter, and read it over again, and noted7 the signature at the bottom a second time, that he perceived that the writing was in a woman's hand, that the ink was comparatively fresh, and that the letter was dated only a couple of days before. While he still held the sheet in his hand, it dawned upon him slowly that he held also one of the links in a chain of possible tragedy which he himself, he became uncomfortably aware, had had a hand in forging.
"It is the Walden woman's daughter, as sure as fate! Her name is Rena. Her brother goes by the name of Warwick. She has come to visit her sick mother. My young client, Green's relation, is her lover—is engaged to marry her—is in town, and is likely to meet her!"
The judge was so absorbed in the situation thus suggested that he laid the papers down and pondered for a moment the curious problem involved. He was quite aware that two races had not dwelt together, side by side, for nearly three hundred years, without mingling8 their blood in greater or less degree; he was old enough, and had seen curious things enough, to know that in this mingling the current had not always flowed in one direction. Certain old decisions with which he was familiar; old scandals that had crept along obscure channels; old facts that had come to the knowledge of an old practitioner9, who held in the hollow of his hand the honor of more than one family, made him know that there was dark blood among the white people—not a great deal, and that very much diluted10, and, so long as it was sedulously11 concealed12 or vigorously denied, or lost in the mists of tradition, or ascribed to a foreign or an aboriginal13 strain, having no perceptible effect upon the racial type.
Such people were, for the most part, merely on the ragged14 edge of the white world, seldom rising above the level of overseers, or slave-catchers, or sheriff's officers, who could usually be relied upon to resent the drop of black blood that tainted15 them, and with the zeal16 of the proselyte to visit their hatred17 of it upon the unfortunate blacks that fell into their hands. One curse of negro slavery was, and one part of its baleful heritage is, that it poisoned the fountains of human sympathy. Under a system where men might sell their own children without social reprobation18 or loss of prestige, it was not surprising that some of them should hate their distant cousins. There were not in Patesville half a dozen persons capable of thinking Judge Straight's thoughts upon the question before him, and perhaps not another who would have adopted the course he now pursued toward this anomalous20 family in the house behind the cedars21.
"Well, here we are again, as the clown in the circus remarks," murmured the judge. "Ten years ago, in a moment of sentimental22 weakness and of quixotic loyalty23 to the memory of an old friend,—who, by the way, had not cared enough for his own children to take them away from the South, as he might have done, or to provide for them handsomely, as he perhaps meant to do,—I violated the traditions of my class and stepped from the beaten path to help the misbegotten son of my old friend out of the slough24 of despond, in which he had learned, in some strange way, that he was floundering. Ten years later, the ghost of my good deed returns to haunt me, and makes me doubt whether I have wrought25 more evil than good. I wonder," he mused26, "if he will find her out?"
The judge was a man of imagination; he had read many books and had personally outlived some prejudices. He let his mind run on the various phases of the situation.
"If he found her out, would he by any possibility marry her?"
"It is not likely," he answered himself. "If he made the discovery here, the facts would probably leak out in the town. It is something that a man might do in secret, but only a hero or a fool would do openly."
The judge sighed as he contemplated27 another possibility. He had lived for seventy years under the old regime. The young man was a gentleman—so had been the girl's father. Conditions were changed, but human nature was the same. Would the young man's love turn to disgust and repulsion, or would it merely sink from the level of worship t............
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