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HOME > Classical Novels > The House Behind the Cedars33 > XXIX PLATO EARNS HALF A DOLLAR
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 Tryon's first feeling, when his mother at the dinner-table gave an account of her visit to the schoolhouse in the woods, was one of extreme annoyance1. Why, of all created beings, should this particular woman be chosen to teach the colored school at Sandy Run? Had she learned that he lived in the neighborhood, and had she sought the place hoping that he might consent to renew, on different terms, relations which could never be resumed upon their former footing? Six weeks before, he would not have believed her capable of following him; but his last visit to Patesville had revealed her character in such a light that it was difficult to predict what she might do. It was, however, no affair of his. He was done with her; he had dismissed her from his own life, where she had never properly belonged, and he had filled her place, or would soon fill it, with another and worthier2 woman. Even his mother, a woman of keen discernment and delicate intuitions, had been deceived by this girl's specious3 exterior4. She had brought away from her interview of the morning the impression that Rena was a fine, pure spirit, born out of place, through some freak of Fate, devoting herself with heroic self-sacrifice to a noble cause. Well, he had imagined her just as pure and fine, and she had deliberately5, with a negro's low cunning, deceived him into believing that she was a white girl. The pretended confession6 of the brother, in which he had spoken of the humble7 origin of the family, had been, consciously or unconsciously, the most disingenuous8 feature of the whole miserable9 performance. They had tried by a show of frankness to satisfy their own consciences,—they doubtless had enough of white blood to give them a rudimentary trace of such a moral organ,—and by the same act to disarm10 him against future recriminations, in the event of possible discovery. How was he to imagine that persons of their appearance and pretensions12 were tainted13 with negro blood? The more he dwelt upon the subject, the more angry he became with those who had surprised his virgin14 heart and deflowered it by such low trickery. The man who brought the first negro into the British colonies had committed a crime against humanity and a worse crime against his own race. The father of this girl had been guilty of a sin against society for which others—for which he, George Tryon—must pay the penalty. As slaves, negroes were tolerable. As freemen, they were an excrescence, an alien element incapable15 of absorption into the body politic16 of white men. He would like to send them all back to the Africa from which their forefathers17 had come,—unwillingly enough, he would admit,—and he would like especially to banish18 this girl from his own neighborhood; not indeed that her presence would make any difference to him, except as a humiliating reminder19 of his own folly20 and weakness with which he could very well dispense21.  
Of this state of mind Tryon gave no visible manifestation22 beyond a certain taciturnity, so much at variance23 with his recent liveliness that the ladies could not fail to notice it. No effort upon the part of either was able to affect his mood, and they both resigned themselves to await his lordship's pleasure to be companionable.
For a day or two, Tryon sedulously24 kept away from the neighborhood of the schoolhouse at Sandy Rim11. He really had business which would have taken him in that direction, but made a detour25 of five miles rather than go near his abandoned and discredited26 sweetheart.
But George Tryon was wisely distrustful of his own impulses. Driving one day along the road to Clinton, he overhauled27 a diminutive28 black figure trudging29 along the road, occasionally turning a handspring by way of diversion.
"Hello, Plato," called Tryon, "do you want a lift?"
"Hoddy, Mars Geo'ge. Kin30 I ride wid you?"
"Jump up."
Plato mounted into the buggy with the agility31 to be expected from a lad of his acrobatic accomplishments32. The two almost immediately fell into conversation upon perhaps the only subject of common interest between them. Before the town was reached, Tryon knew, so far as Plato could make it plain, the estimation in which the teacher was held by pupils and parents. He had learned the hours of opening and dismissal of the school, where the teacher lived, her habits of coming to and going from the schoolhouse, and the road she always followed.
"Does she go to church or anywhere else with Jeff Wain, Plato?" asked Tryon.
"No, suh, she don' go nowhar wid nobody excep'n' ole Elder Johnson er Mis' Johnson, an' de child'en. She use' ter stop at Mis' Wain's, but she's stayin' wid Elder Johnson now. She alluz makes some er de child'en go home wid er f'm school," said Plato, proud to find in Mars Geo'ge an appreciative33 listener,—"sometimes one an' sometimes anudder. I's be'n home wid 'er twice, ann it'll be my tu'n ag'in befo' long."
"Plato," remarked Tryon impressively, as they drove into the town, "do you think you could keep a secret?"
"Yas, Mars Geo'ge, ef you says I shill."
"Do you see this fifty-cent piece?" Tryon displayed a small piece of paper money, crisp and green in its newness.
"Yas, Mars Geo'ge," replied Plato, fixing his eyes respectfully on the government's promise to pay. Fifty cents was a large sum of money. His acquaintance with Mars Geo'ge gave him the privilege of looking at money. ............
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