The House Behind the Cedars/XXXII

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

XXXII

THE POWER OF LOVE


After Tryon's failure to obtain an interview
with Rena through Plato's connivance, he decided
upon a different course of procedure. In a few
days her school term would be finished. He was
not less desirous to see her, was indeed as much
more eager as opposition would be likely to make
a very young man who was accustomed to having
his own way, and whose heart, as he had discovered,
was more deeply and permanently involved than
he had imagined. His present plan was to wait
until the end of the school; then, when Rena went
to Clinton on the Saturday or Monday to draw
her salary for the month, he would see her in the
town, or, if necessary, would follow her to
Patesville. No power on earth should keep him from
her long, but he had no desire to interfere in any
way with the duty which she owed to others.
When the school was over and her work completed,
then he would have his innings. Writing
letters was too unsatisfactory a method of
communication--he must see her face to face.

The first of his three days of waiting had passed,
when, about ten o'clock on the morning of the
second day, which seemed very long in prospect,
while driving along the road toward Clinton, he
met Plato, with a rabbit trap in his hand.

"Well, Plato," he asked, "why are you absent
from the classic shades of the academy to-day?"

"Hoddy, Mars Geo'ge. W'at wuz dat you
say?"

"Why are you not at school to-day?"

"Ain' got no teacher, Mars Geo'ge. Teacher's
gone!"

"Gone!" exclaimed Tryon, with a sudden leap
of the heart. "Gone where? What do you
mean?"

"Teacher got los' in de swamp, night befo' las',
'cause Plato wa'n't dere ter show her de way out'n
de woods. Elder Johnson foun' 'er wid dawgs and
tawches, an' fotch her home an' put her ter bed.
No school yistiddy. She wuz out'n her haid las'
night, an' dis mawnin' she wuz gone."

"Gone where?"

"Dey don' nobody know whar, suh."

Leaving Plato abruptly, Tryon hastened down
the road toward Elder Johnson's cabin. This was
no time to stand on punctilio. The girl had been
lost in the woods in the storm, amid the thunder
and lightning and the pouring rain. She was
sick with fright and exposure, and he was the
cause of it all. Bribery, corruption, and falsehood
had brought punishment in their train, and the
innocent had suffered while the guilty escaped.
He must learn at once what had become of her.
Reaching Elder Johnson's house, he drew up by
the front fence and gave the customary halloa,
which summoned a woman to the door.

"Good-morning," he said, nodding unconsciously,
with the careless politeness of a gentleman to his
inferiors. "I'm Mr. Tryon. I have come to
inquire about the sick teacher."

"Why, suh," the woman replied respectfully,
"she got los' in de woods night befo' las', an' she
wuz out'n her min' most er de time yistiddy.
Las' night she must 'a' got out er bed an' run
away w'en eve'ybody wuz soun' asleep, fer dis
mawnin' she wuz gone, an' none er us knows whar
she is."

"Has any search been made for her?"

"Yas, suh, my husban' an' de child'en has been
huntin' roun' all de mawnin', an' he's gone ter
borry a hoss now ter go fu'ther. But Lawd knows
dey ain' no tellin' whar she'd go, 'less'n she got
her min' back sence she lef'."

Tryon's mare was in good condition. He had
money in his pocket and nothing to interfere with
his movements. He set out immediately on the
road to Patesville, keeping a lookout by the
roadside, and stopping each person he met to inquire
if a young woman, apparently ill, had been seen
traveling along the road on foot. No one had met
such a traveler. When he had gone two or three
miles, he drove through a shallow branch that
crossed the road. The splashing of his horse's
hoofs in the water prevented him from hearing a
low groan that came from the woods by the
roadside.

He drove on, making inquiries at each
farmhouse and of every person whom he encountered.
Shortly after crossing the branch, he met a young
negro with a cartload of tubs and buckets and
piggins, and asked him if he had seen on the road
a young white woman with dark eyes and hair,
apparently sick or demented. The young man
answered in the negative, and Tryon pushed forward
anxiously.

At noon he stopped at a farmhouse and swallowed
a hasty meal. His inquiries here elicited no
information, and he was just leaving when a young
man came in late to dinner and stated, in response
to the usual question, that he had met, some two
hours before, a young woman who answered
Tryon's description, on the Lillington road, which
crossed the main road to Patesville a short distance
beyond the farmhouse. He had spoken to the
woman. At first she had paid no heed to his
question. When addressed a second time, she had
answered in a rambling and disconnected way,
which indicated to his mind that there was
something wrong with her.

Tryon thanked his informant and hastened to
the Lillington road. Stopping as before to inquire,
he followed the woman for several hours, each
mile of the distance taking him farther away from
Patesville. From time to time he heard of the
woman. Toward nightfall he found her. She
was white enough, with the sallowness of the
sandhill poor white. She was still young, perhaps, but
poverty and a hard life made her look older than
she ought. She was not fair, and she was not
Rena. When Tryon came up to her, she was sitting
on the doorsill of a miserable cabin, and held in
her hand a bottle, the contents of which had never
paid any revenue tax. She had walked twenty
miles that day, and had beguiled the tedium of the
journey by occasional potations, which probably
accounted for the incoherency of speech which
several of those who met her had observed. When
Tryon drew near, she tendered him the bottle with
tipsy cordiality. He turned in disgust and
retraced his steps to the Patesville road, which he
did not reach until nightfall. As it was too dark
to prosecute the search with any chance of success,
he secured lodging for the night, intending to
resume his quest early in the morning.