An Outcast/Chapter XLIX
Two months have passed since the events recorded in the preceding chapter. Tom has been arraigned before a jury of his peers, and honorably acquitted, although strong efforts were made to procure a conviction, for Mr. Snivel had many friends in Charleston who considered his death a loss. But the people said it was a righteous verdict, and justified it by their applause.
And now, the dark clouds of sorrow and trial having passed away, the happy dawn of a new life is come. How powerfully the truth of the words uttered by the woman, Undine, impresses itself on her mind now,—"You are still richer than me." It is a bright sunny morning in early April. Birds are making the air melodious with their songs; flowers blooming by the roadside, are distilling their perfumes; a bright and serene sky, tinged in the East with soft, azure clouds, gives a clear, delicate outline to the foliage, so luxuriant and brilliant of color, skirting the western edge of the harbor, and reflecting itself in the calm, glassy water. A soft whispering wind comes fragrant from the west; it does indeed seem as if nature were blending her beauties to make the harmony perfect.
A grotesque group, chiefly negroes, old and young, may be seen gathered about the door of a quaint old personage near the millpond. Their curiosity is excited to the highest pitch, and they wait with evident impatience the coming of the object that has called them together. Chief among the group is old Cato, in his best clothes, consisting of a tall drab hat, a faded blue coat, the tail extending nearly to the ground, striped pantaloons, a scarlet vest, an extravagant shirt collar, tied at the neck with a piece of white cotton, and his bare feet. Cato moves up and down, evidently feeling himself an important figure of the event, and admonishing his young "brudren," who are much inclined to mischief, not a few having perched on the pickets of the parsonage, to keep on their best behavior. Then he discourses with great volubility of his long acquaintance with Mas'r Tom and Miss Maria.
As if to add another prominent picture to the scene, there appears at the door of the parsonage, every few minutes, a magnificently got-up negro, portly, grey hair, and venerable, dressed in unsullied black, a spotless white cravat, and gloves. This is Uncle Pomp, who considers himself an essential part of the parsonage, and is regarded with awe for his Bible knowledge by all the colored people of the neighborhood. Pomp glances up, then down the street, advances a few steps, admonishes the young negroes, and exchanges bows with Cato, whom he regards as quite a common brought-up negro compared with himself. Now he disappears, Cato remarking to his companions that if he had Pomp's knowledge and learning he would not thank anybody to make him a white man.
Presently there is a stir in the group: all eyes are turned up the road, and the cry is, "Dare da comes." Two carriages approach at a rapid speed, and haul up at the gate, to the evident delight and relief of the younger members of the group, who close in and begin scattering sprigs of laurel and flowers along the path, as two couple, in bridal dress, alight, trip quickly through the garden, and disappear, Pomp bowing them into the parsonage. Tom and Maria are the central figures of the interesting ceremony about to be performed. Old Cato received a warm press of the hand from Tom as he passed, and Cato returned the recognition, with "God bress Mas'r Tom." A shadow of disappointment deepened in his face as he saw the door closed, and it occurred to him that he was not to be a witness of the ceremony. But the door again opened, and Pomp relieved his wounded feelings by motioning with his finger, and, when Cato had reached the porch, bowing him into the house.
And now we have reached the last scene in the picture. There, kneeling before the altar in the parlor of that quaint old parsonage, are the happy couple and their companions. The clergyman, in his surplice, reads the touching service in a clear and impressive voice, while Pomp, in a pair of antique spectacles, ejaculates the responses in a voice peculiar to his race. Old Cato, kneeling before a chair near the door, follows with a loud—Amen. There is something supremely simple, touching, and impressive in the picture. As the closing words of the benediction fall from the clergyman's lips, Maria, her pale oval face shadowed with that sweetness and gentleness an innocent heart only can reflect, raises her eyes upwards as if to return thanks to the Giver of all good for his mercy and protection. As she did this a ray of light stole in at the window and played softly over her features, like a messenger of love come to announce a happy future. Just then the cup of her joy became full, and tears, like gems of purest water, glistened in her eyes, then moistened her pallid cheeks. Truly the woman spoke right when she said,
"You are still still richer than me."