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HOME > Classical Novels > The House Behind the Cedars33 > XIV A LOYAL FRIEND
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 Mention has been made of certain addressed envelopes which John Warwick, on the occasion of his visit to Patesville, had left with his illiterate1 mother, by the use of which she might communicate with her children from time to time. On one occasion, Mis' Molly, having had a letter written, took one of these envelopes from the chest where she kept her most valued possessions, and was about to inclose the letter when some one knocked at the back door. She laid the envelope and letter on a table in her bedroom, and went to answer the knock. The wind, blowing across the room through the open windows, picked up the envelope and bore it into the street. Mis' Molly, on her return, missed it, looked for it, and being unable to find it, took another envelope. An hour or two later another gust4 of wind lifted the bit of paper from the ground and carried it into the open door of the cooper shop. Frank picked it up, and observing that it was clean and unused, read the superscription. In his conversations with Mis' Molly, which were often about Rena,—the subject uppermost in both their minds,—he had noted5 the mystery maintained by Mis' Molly about her daughter's whereabouts, and had often wondered where she might be. Frank was an intelligent fellow, and could put this and that together. The envelope was addressed to a place in South Carolina. He was aware, from some casual remark of Mis' Molly's, that Rena had gone to live in South Carolina. Her son's name was John—that he had changed his last name was more than likely. Frank was not long in reaching the conclusion that Rena was to be found near the town named on the envelope, which he carefully preserved for future reference.  
For a whole year Frank had yearned6 for a smile or a kind word from the only woman in the world. Peter, his father, had rallied him somewhat upon his moodiness7 after Rena's departure.
"Now 's de time, boy, fer you ter be lookin' roun' fer some nice gal8 er yo' own color, w'at'll 'preciate you, an' won't be 'shamed er you. You're wastin' time, boy, wastin' time, shootin' at a mark outer yo' range."
But Frank said nothing in reply, and afterwards the old man, who was not without discernment, respected his son's mood and was silent in turn; while Frank fed his memory with his imagination, and by their joint9 aid kept hope alive.
Later an opportunity to see her presented itself. Business in the cooper shop was dull. A barrel factory had been opened in the town, and had well-nigh paralyzed the cooper's trade. The best mechanic could hardly compete with a machine. One man could now easily do the work of Peter's shop. An agent appeared in town seeking laborers10 for one of the railroads which the newly organized carpet-bag governments were promoting. Upon inquiry11 Frank learned that their destination was near the town of Clarence, South Carolina. He promptly12 engaged himself for the service, and was soon at work in the neighborhood of Warwick's home. There he was employed steadily13 until a certain holiday, upon which a grand tournament was advertised to take place in a neighboring town. Work was suspended, and foremen and laborers attended the festivities.
Frank had surmised14 that Rena would be present on such an occasion. He had more than guessed, too, that she must be looked for among the white people rather than among the black. Hence the interest with which he had scanned the grand stand. The result has already been recounted. He had recognized her sweet face; he had seen her enthroned among the proudest and best. He had witnessed and gloried in her triumph. He had seen her cheek flushed with pleasure, her eyes lit up with smiles. He had followed her carriage, had made the acquaintance of Mimy the nurse, and had learned all about the family. When finally he left the neighborhood to return to Patesville, he had learned of Tryon's attentions, and had heard the servants' gossip with reference to the marriage, of which they knew the details long before the principals had approached the main fact. Frank went away without having received one smile or heard one word from Rena; but he had seen her: she was happy; he was content in the knowledge of her happiness. She was doubtless secure in the belief that her secret was unknown. Why should he, by revealing his presence, sow the seeds of doubt or distrust in the garden of her happiness? He sacrificed the deepest longing15 of a faithful heart, and went back to the cooper shop lest perchance she might accidentally come upon him some day and suffer the shock which he had sedulously16 spared her.
"I would n' want ter skeer her," he mused17, "er make her feel bad, an' dat's w'at I'd mos' lackly do ef she seed me. She'll be better off wid me out'n de road. She'll marry dat rich w'ite gent'eman,—he won't never know de diffe'nce,—an' be a w'ite lady, ez she would 'a' be'n, ef some ole witch had n' changed her in her cradle. But maybe some time she'll 'member de little nigger w'at use' ter nuss her w'en she woz a chile, an' fished her out'n de ole canal, an' would 'a' died fer her ef it would 'a' done any good."
Very generously too, and with a fine delicacy18, he said nothing to Mis' Molly of his having seen her daughter, lest she might be disquieted19 by the knowledge that he shared the family secret,—no great mystery now, this pitiful secret, but more far-reaching in its consequences than any blood-curdling crime. The taint20 of black blood was the unpardonable sin, from the unmerited penalty of which there was no escape except by
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