The House Behind the Cedars/XVII

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The House Behind the Cedars by Charles W. Chesnutt
XVII
The House Behind the Cedars is an novel by African-American author Charles Chesnutt first published in 1900. Copied from The Project Gutenberg Etext.

XVII

TWO LETTERS


Warwick awaited events with some calmness
and some philosophy,--he could hardly have had
the one without the other; and it required much
philosophy to make him wait a week in patience
for information upon a subject in which he was so
vitally interested. The delay pointed to disaster.
Bad news being expected, delay at least put off
the evil day. At the end of the week he received
two letters,--one addressed in his own hand
writing and postmarked Patesville, N. C.; the
other in the handwriting of George Tryon. He
opened the Patesville letter, which ran as follows:--


MY DEAR SON,--Frank is writing this letter
for me. I am not well, but, thank the Lord, I
am better than I was.

Rena has had a heap of trouble on account of
me and my sickness. If I could of dreamt that I
was going to do so much harm, I would of died and
gone to meet my God without writing one word to
spoil my girl's chances in life; but I didn't know
what was going to happen, and I hope the Lord
will forgive me.

Frank knows all about it, and so I am having
him write this letter for me, as Rena is not well
enough yet. Frank has been very good to me
and to Rena. He was down to your place and
saw Rena there, and never said a word about it to
nobody, not even to me, because he didn't want
to do Rena no harm. Frank is the best friend I
have got in town, because he does so much for me
and don't want nothing in return. (He tells me
not to put this in about him, but I want you to
know it.)

And now about Rena. She come to see me,
and I got better right away, for it was longing for
her as much as anything else that made me sick,
and I was mighty mizzable. When she had been
here three days and was going back next day, she
went up town to see the doctor for me, and while
she was up there she fainted and fell down in the
street, and Dr. Green sent her home in his buggy
and come down to see her. He couldn't tell what
was the matter with her, but she has been sick ever
since and out of her head some of the time, and
keeps on calling on somebody by the name of
George, which was the young white man she told
me she was going to marry. It seems he was in
town the day Rena was took sick, for Frank saw
him up street and run all the way down here to tell
me, so that she could keep out of his way, while she
was still up town waiting for the doctor and getting
me some camphor gum for my camphor bottle. Old
Judge Straight must have knowed something about
it, for he sent me a note to keep Rena in the house,
but the little boy he sent it by didn't bring it till
Rena was already gone up town, and, as I couldn't
read, of course I didn't know what it said. Dr.
Green heard Rena running on while she was out of
her head, and I reckon he must have suspicioned
something, for he looked kind of queer and went
away without saying nothing. Frank says she met
this man on the street, and when he found out she
wasn't white, he said or done something that broke
her heart and she fainted and fell down.

I am writing you this letter because I know you
will be worrying about Rena not coming back. If
it wasn't for Frank, I hardly know how I could
write to you. Frank is not going to say nothing
about Rena's passing for white and meeting this
man, and neither am I; and I don't suppose Judge
Straight will say nothing, because he is our good
friend; and Dr. Green won't say nothing about it,
because Frank says Dr. Green's cook Nancy says
this young man named George stopped with him
and was some cousin or relation to the family, and
they wouldn't want people to know that any of their
kin was thinking about marrying a colored girl,
and the white folks have all been mad since J. B.
Thompson married his black housekeeper when she
got religion and wouldn't live with him no more.

All the rest of the connection are well. I have
just been in to see how Rena is. She is feeling
some better, I think, and says give you her love
and she will write you a letter in a few days, as
soon as she is well enough. She bust out crying
while she was talking, but I reckon that is better
than being out of her head. I hope this may find
you well, and that this man of Rena's won't say
nor do nothing down there to hurt you. He has
not wrote to Rena nor sent her no word. I reckon
he is very mad.
             Your affectionate mother,
                         MARY WALDEN.


This letter, while confirming Warwick's fears,
relieved his suspense. He at least knew the worst,
unless there should be something still more disturbing
in Tryon's letter, which he now proceeded to
open, and which ran as follows:--


JOHN WARWICK, ESQ.

Dear Sir,--When I inform you, as you are
doubtless informed ere the receipt of this, that I
saw your sister in Patesville last week and learned
the nature of those antecedents of yours and hers
at which you hinted so obscurely in a recent
conversation, you will not be surprised to learn that
I take this opportunity of renouncing any pretensions
to Miss Warwick's hand, and request you to
convey this message to her, since it was through
you that I formed her acquaintance. I think
perhaps that few white men would deem it necessary
to make an explanation under the circumstances,
and I do not know that I need say more than
that no one, considering where and how I met your
sister, would have dreamed of even the possibility
of what I have learned. I might with justice
reproach you for trifling with the most sacred
feelings of a man's heart; but I realize the hardship
of your position and hers, and can make allowances.
I would never have sought to know this thing; I
would doubtless have been happier had I gone
through life without finding it out; but having the
knowledge, I cannot ignore it, as you must understand
perfectly well. I regret that she should be
distressed or disappointed,--she has not suffered
alone.

I need scarcely assure you that I shall say
nothing about this affair, and that I shall keep
your secret as though it were my own. Personally,
I shall never be able to think of you as other than
a white man, as you may gather from the tone of
this letter; and while I cannot marry your sister,
I wish her every happiness, and remain,
             Yours very truly,
                    GEORGE TRYON.


Warwick could not know that this formal epistle
was the last of a dozen that Tryon had written and
destroyed during the week since the meeting in
Patesville,--hot, blistering letters, cold, cutting
letters, scornful, crushing letters. Though none of
them was sent, except this last, they had furnished
a safety-valve for his emotions, and had left him in
a state of mind that permitted him to write the
foregoing.

And now, while Rena is recovering from her
illness, and Tryon from his love, and while Fate is
shuffling the cards for another deal, a few words
may be said about the past life of the people who
lived in the rear of the flower garden, in the quaint
old house beyond the cedars, and how their lives
were mingled with those of the men and women
around them and others that were gone. For connected
with our kind we must be; if not by our
virtues, then by our vices,--if not by our services,
at least by our needs.