Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  Mr. Rogers’s “Onjestice”

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Mr. Rogers’s “Onjestice”

By Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849–1924)

[Born in Manchester, England, 1849. Died in Plandome, N. Y., 1924. Louisiana. 1880.]

FERROL was obliged to admit when they turned their faces homeward that the day was hardly a success, after all. Olivia had not been at her best, for some reason or other, and from the moment they had taken the right-hand road Louisiana had been wholly incomprehensible.

In her quietest mood she had never worn a cold air before; to-day she had been cold and unresponsive. It had struck him that she was absorbed in thinking of something which was quite beyond him. She was plainly not thinking of him, nor of Olivia, nor of the journey they were making. During the drive she had sat with her hands folded upon her lap, her eyes fixed straight before her. She had paid no attention to the scenery, only rousing herself to call their attention to one object. This object was a house they passed—the rambling, low-roofed white house of some well-to-do farmer. It was set upon a small hill and had a long front porch, mottled with blue and white paint in a sanguine attempt at imitating variegated marble.

She burst into a low laugh when she saw it.

“Look at that,” she said. “That is one of the finest houses in the country. The man who owns it is counted a rich man among his neighbors.”

Ferrol put up his eye-glasses to examine it. (It is to be deplored that he was a trifle near-sighted.)

“By George!” he said. “That is an idea, isn’t it, that marble business! I wonder who did it? Do you know the man who lives there?”

“I have heard of him,” she answered, “from several people. He is a namesake of mine. His name is Rogers.”

When they returned to their carriage, after a ramble up the mountain-side, they became conscious that the sky had suddenly darkened. Ferrol looked up, and his face assumed a rather serious expression.

“If either of you is weather-wise,” he said, “I wish you would tell me what that cloud means. You have been among the mountains longer than I have.”

Louisiana glanced upward quickly.

“It means a storm,” she said, “and a heavy one. We shall be drenched in half an hour.”

Ferrol looked at her white dress and the little frilled fichu, which was her sole protection.

“Oh, but that won’t do!” he exclaimed. “What insanity in me not to think of umbrellas!”

“Umbrellas!” echoed Louisiana. “If we had each six umbrellas they could not save us. We may as well get into the carriage. We are only losing time.”

They were just getting in when an idea struck Ferrol which caused him to utter an exclamation of ecstatic relief.

“Why,” he cried, “there is that house we passed! Get in quickly. We can reach there in twenty minutes.”

Louisiana had her foot upon the step. She stopped short and turned to face him. She changed from red to white and from white to red again, as if with actual terror.

“There!” she exclaimed. “There!”

“Yes,” he answered. “We can reach there in time to save ourselves. Is there any objection to our going—in the last extremity?”

For a second they looked into each other’s eyes, and then she turned and sprang into the carriage. She laughed aloud.

“Oh, no,” she said. “Go there! It will be a nice place to stay—and the people will amuse you. Go there.”

They reached the house in a quarter of an hour instead of twenty minutes. They had driven fast and kept ahead of the storm, but when they drew up before the picket fence the clouds were black and the thunder was rolling behind them.

It was Louisiana who got out first. She led the way up the path to the house and mounted the steps of the variegated porch. She did not knock at the door, which stood open, but, somewhat to Ferrol’s amazement, walked at once into the front room, which was plainly the room of state. Not to put too fine a point upon it, it was a hideous room.

The ceiling was so low that Ferrol felt as if he must knock his head against it; it was papered—ceiling and all—with paper of an unwholesome yellow enlivened with large blue flowers; there was a bedstead in one corner, and the walls were ornamented with colored lithographs of moon-faced houris, with round eyes and round, red cheeks, and wearing low-necked dresses, and flowers in their bosoms, and bright yellow gold necklaces. These works of art were the first things which caught Ferrol’s eye, and he went slowly up to the most remarkable, and stood before it, regarding it with mingled wonderment and awe.

He turned from it after a few seconds to look at Louisiana, who stood near him, and he beheld what seemed to him a phenomenon. He had never seen her blush before as other women blush; now she was blushing, burning red from chin to brow.

“There—there is no one in this part of the house,” she said. “I—I know more of these people than you do. I will go and try to find some one.”

She was gone before he could interpose. Not that he would have interposed, perhaps. Somehow, without knowing why, he felt as if she did know more of the situation than he did—almost as if she were, in a manner, doing the honors for the time being.

She crossed the passage with a quick, uneven step, and made her way, as if well used to the place, into the kitchen at the back of the house.

A stout negro woman stood at a table, filling a pan with newly made biscuits. Her back was toward the door and she did not see who entered.

“Aunt Cassandry,” the girl began, when the woman turned toward her.

“Who’s dar?” she exclaimed. “Lor’, honey, how ye skeert me! I ain’t no C’sandry.”

The face she turned was a strange one, and it showed no sign of recognition of her visitor.

It was an odd thing that the sight of her unfamiliar face should have been a shock to Louisiana: but it was a shock. She put her hand to her side.

“Where is my—where is Mr. Rogers?” she asked. “I want to see him.”

“Out on de back po’ch, honey, right now. Dar he goes!”

The girl heard him, and flew out to meet him. Her heart was throbbing hard, and she was drawing quick, short breaths.

“Father!” she cried. “Father! Don’t go in the house!”

And she caught him by both shoulders and drew him round. He did not know her at first in her fanciful-simple dress and her Gainsborough hat. He was not used to that style of thing, believing that it belonged rather to the world of pictures. He stared at her. Then he broke out with an exclamation,

“Lo-rd! Louisianny!”

She kept her eyes on his face. They were feverishly bright, and her cheeks were hot. She laughed hysterically.

“Don’t speak loud,” she said. “There are some strange people in the house, and—and I want to tell you something.”

He was a slow man, and it took him some time to grasp the fact that she was really before him in the flesh. He said, again:

“Lord, Louisianny!” adding, cheerfully, “How ye’ve serprised me!”

Then he took in afresh the change in her dress. There was a pile of stove-wood stacked on the porch to be ready for use, and he sat down on it to look at her.

“Why, ye’ve got a new dress on!” he said. “Thet thar’s what made ye look sorter curis. I hardly knowed ye.”

Then he remembered what she had said on first seeing him.

“Why don’t ye want me to go in the house?” he asked. “What sort o’ folks air they?”

“They came with me from the Springs,” she answered; “and—and I want to—to play a joke on them.”

She put her hands up to her burning cheeks, and stood so.

“A joke on ’em?” he repeated.

“Yes,” she said, speaking very fast. “They don’t know I live here, they think I came from some city,—they took the notion themselves,—and I want to let them think so until we go away from the house. It will be such a good joke.”

She tried to laugh, but broke off in the middle of a harsh sound. Her father, with one copperas-colored leg crossed over the other, was chewing his tobacco slowly, after the manner of a ruminating animal, while he watched her.

“Don’t you see?” she asked.

“Wa-al, no,” he answered. “Not rightly.”

She actually assumed a kind of spectral gayety.

“I never thought of it until I saw it was not Cassandry who was in the kitchen,” she said. “The woman who is there didn’t know me, and it came into my mind that—that we might play off on them,” using the phraseology to which he was the most accustomed.

“Waal, we mought,” he admitted, with a speculative deliberateness. “Thet’s so. We mought—if thar was any use in it.”

“It’s only for a joke,” she persisted, hurriedly.

“Thet’s so,” he repeated. “Thet’s so.”

He got up slowly and rather lumberingly from his seat and dusted the chips from his copperas-colored legs.

“Hev ye ben enjyin’ yerself, Louisianny?” he asked.

“Yes,” she answered. “Never better.”

“Ye must hev,” he returned, “or ye wouldn’t be in sperrits to play jokes.”

Then he changed his tone so suddenly that she was startled.

“What do ye want me to do?” he asked.

She put her hand on his shoulder and tried to laugh again.

“To pretend you don’t know me—to pretend I have never been here before. That’s joke enough, isn’t it? They will think so when I tell them the truth. You slow old father! Why don’t you laugh?”

“P’r’aps,” he said, “it’s on account o’ me bein’ slow, Louisianny. Mebbe I shall begin arter a while.”

“Don’t begin at the wrong time,” she said, still keeping up her feverish laugh, “or you’ll spoil it all. Now come along in and—and pretend you don’t know me,” she continued, drawing him forward by the arm. “They might suspect something if we stay so long. All you’ve got to do is to pretend you don’t know me.”

“Thet’s so, Louisianny,” with a kindly glance downward at her excited face as he followed her out. “Thar ain’t no call fur me to do nothin’ else, is there—just pretend I don’t know ye?”

It was wonderful how well he did it, too. When she preceded him into the room the girl was quivering with excitement. He might break down, and it would be all over in a second. But she looked Ferrol boldly in the face when she made her first speech.

“This is the gentleman of the house,” she said. “I found him on the back porch. He had just come in. He has been kind enough to say we may stay until the storm is over.”

“Oh, yes,” said he hospitably, “stay an’ welcome. Ye ain’t the first as has stopped over. Storms come up sorter suddent, an’ we hain’t the kind as turns folks away.”

Ferrol thanked him, Olivia joining in with a murmur of gratitude. They were very much indebted to him for his hospitality; they considered themselves very fortunate.

Their host received their protestations with much equanimity.

“If ye’d like to set out on the front porch and watch the storm come up,” he said, “thar’s seats thar. Or would ye druther set here? Wimmin-folks is gin’rally fond o’ settin’ in-doors whar thar’s a parlor.”

But they preferred the porch, and followed him out upon it.

Having seen them seated, he took a chair himself. It was a split-seated chair, painted green, and he tilted it back against a pillar of the porch and applied himself to the full enjoyment of a position more remarkable for ease than elegance. Ferrol regarded him with stealthy rapture, and drank in every word he uttered.

“This,” he had exclaimed delightedly to Olivia, in private—“why, this is delightful! These are the people we have read of. I scarcely believed in them before. I would not have missed it for the world!”

“In gin’ral, now,” their entertainer proceeded, “wimmin-folk is fonder o’ settin’ in parlors. My wife was powerful sot on her parlor. She wasn’t never satisfied till she hed one an’ hed it fixed up to her notion. She was allers tradin’ fur picters fur it. She tuk a heap o’ pride in her picters. She allers had it in her mind that her little gal should have a showy parlor when she growed up.”

“You have a daughter?” said Ferrol.

Their host hitched his chair a little to one side. He bent forward to expectorate, and then answered with his eyes fixed upon some distant point toward the mountains.

“Wa-al, yes,” he said; “but she ain’t yere, Louisianny ain’t.”

Miss Ferrol gave a little start, and immediately made an effort to appear entirely at ease.

“Did you say,” asked Ferrol, “that your daughter’s name was”——

“Louisianny,” promptly. “I come from thar.”

Louisiana got up and walked to the opposite end of the porch.

“The storm will be upon us in a few minutes,” she said. “It is beginning to rain now. Come and look at this cloud driving over the mountain-top.”

Ferrol rose and went to her. He stood for a moment looking at the cloud, but plainly not thinking of it.

“His daughter’s name is Louisiana,” he said, in an undertone. “Louisiana! Isn’t that delicious?”

Suddenly, even as he spoke, a new idea occurred to him.

“Why,” he exclaimed, “your name is Louise, isn’t it? I think Olivia said so.”

“Yes,” she answered, “my name is Louise.”

“How should you have liked it,” he inquired, absent-mindedly, “if it had been Louisiana?”

She answered him with a hard coolness which it startled him afterward to remember.

“How would you have liked it?” she said.

They were driven back just then by the rain, which began to beat in upon their end of the porch. They were obliged to return to Olivia and Mr. Rogers, who were engaged in an animated conversation.

The fact was that, in her momentary excitement, Olivia had plunged into conversation as a refuge. She had suddenly poured forth a stream of remark and query which had the effect of spurring up her companion to a like exhibition of frankness. He had been asking questions, too.

“She’s ben tellin’ me,” he said, as Ferrol approached, “that you’re a littery man, an’ write fur the papers—novel-stories, an’ pomes an’ things. I never seen one before—not as I know on.”

“I wonder why not!” remarked Ferrol. “We are plentiful enough.”

“Air ye now?” he asked reflectively. “I had an idee thar was only one on ye now an’ ag’in—jest now an’ ag’in.”

He paused there to shake his head.

“I’ve often wondered how ye could do it,” he said. “I couldn’t. Thar’s some as thinks they could if they tried, but I wa’n’t never thataway—I wa’n’t never thataway. I hain’t no idee I could do it, not if I tried ever so. Seems to me,” he went on, with the air of making an announcement of so novel a nature that he must present it modestly, “seems to me, now, as if them as does it must hev a kinder gift fur it, now. Lord! I couldn’t write a novel. I wouldn’t know whar to begin.”

“It is difficult to decide where,” said Ferrol.

He did not smile at all. His manner was perfect—so full of interest, indeed, that Mr. Rogers quite warmed and expanded under it.

“The scenes on ’em all, now, bein’ mostly laid in Bagdad, would be agin me, if nothin’ else war,” he proceeded.

“Being laid?”——queried Ferrol.

“In Bagdad or—wa-al, furrin parts tharabouts. Ye see I couldn’t tell nothin’ much about no place but North Ca’liny, an’ folks wouldn’t buy it.”

“But why not?” exclaimed Ferrol.

“Why, Lord bless ye!” he said, hilariously, “they’d know it wa’n’t true. They’d say in a minnit: ‘Why, thar’s thet fool Rogers ben a writin’ a pack o’ lies thet ain’t a word on it true. Thar ain’t no cas-tles in Hamilton County, an’ thar ain’t no folks like these yere. It just ain’t so!’ I ’lowed thet thar was the reason the novel-writers allers writ about things a-happenin’ in Bagdad. Ye kin say most anythin’ ye like about Bagdad an’ no one cayn’t contradict ye.”

“I don’t seem to remember many novels of—of that particular description,” remarked Ferrol, in a rather low voice. “Perhaps my memory”——

“Ye don’t?” he queried, in much surprise. “Waal now, jest you notice an’ see if it ain’t so. I hain’t read many novels myself. I hain’t read but one”——

“Oh!” interposed Ferrol. “And it was a story of life in Bagdad.”

“Yes; an’ I’ve heard tell of others as was the same. Hance Claiborn, now, he was a-tellin me of one.”

He checked himself to speak to the negro woman who had presented herself at a room-door.

“We’re a-comin’, Nancy,” he said, with an air of good-fellowship. “Now, ladies an’ gentlemen,” he added, rising from his chair, “walk in an’ have some supper.”

Ferrol and Olivia rose with some hesitation.

“You are very kind,” they said. “We did not intend to give you trouble.”

“Trouble!” he replied, as if scarcely comprehending. “This yere ain’t no trouble. Ye hain’t ben in North Ca’liny before, hev ye?” he continued, good naturedly. “We’re bound to hev ye eat, if ye stay with us long enough. We wouldn’t let ye go ’way without eatin’, bless ye. We ain’t that kind. Walk straight in.”

He led them into a long, low room, half kitchen, half dining-room. It was not so ugly as the room of state, because it was entirely unadorned. Its ceiled walls were painted brown and stained with many a winter’s smoke. The pine table was spread with a clean homespun cloth and heaped with well-cooked, appetizing food.

“If ye can put up with country fare, ye’ll not find it so bad,” said the host. “Nancy prides herself on her way o’ doin’ things.”

There never was more kindly hospitality, Ferrol thought. The simple generosity which made them favored guests at once warmed and touched him. He glanced across at Louisiana to see if she was not as much pleased as he was himself. But the food upon her plate remained almost untouched. There was a strange look on her face; she was deadly pale and her downcast eyes shone under their lashes. She did not look at their host at all; it struck Ferrol that she avoided looking at him with a strong effort. Her pallor made him anxious.

“You are not well,” he said to her. “You do not look well at all.”

Their host started and turned toward her.

“Why, no ye ain’t!” he exclaimed, quite tremulously. “Lord, no! Ye cayn’t be. Ye hain’t no color. What—what’s the trouble, Lou—Lord! I was gwine to call ye Louisianny, an’ she ain’t yere, Louisianny ain’t.”

He ended with a nervous laugh.

“I’m used to takin’ a heap o’ care on her,” he said. “I’ve lost ten on ’em, an’ she’s all that’s left me, an’—an’ I think a heap on her. I—I wish she was yere. Ye musn’t get sick, ma’am.”

The girl got up hurriedly.

“I am not sick, really,” she said. “The thunder—I have a little headache. I will go out on to the porch. It’s clearing up now. The fresh air will do me good.”

The old man rose, too, with rather a flurried manner.

“If Louisianny was yere,” he faltered, “she could give ye something to help ye. Camphire now—sperrits of camphire—let me git ye some.”

“No—no,” said the girl. “No, thank you.”

And she slipped out of the door and was gone.

Mr. Rogers sat down again with a sigh.

“I wish she’d let me git her some,” he said, wistfully. “I know how it is with young critters like that. They’re dele-cate,” anxiously. “Lord, they’re dele-cate. They’d oughter hev’ their mothers round ’em. I know how it is with Louisianny.”.

A cloud seemed to settle upon him. He rubbed his grizzled chin with his hand again and again, glancing at the open door as he did it. It was evident that his heart was outside with the girl who was like “Louisianny.”

The storm was quite over, and the sun was setting in flames of gold when the meal was ended and they went out on the porch again. Mr. Rogers had scarcely recovered himself, but he had made an effort to do so, and had so far succeeded as to begin to describe the nature of the one novel he had read. Still, he had rubbed his chin and kept his eye uneasily on the door all the time he had been talking.

“It was about a Frenchman,” he said, seriously, “an’ his name was—Frankoyse—F-r-a-n-c-o-i-s, Frankoyse. Thet thar’s a French name, ain’t it? Me an’ Ianthy ’lowed it was common to the country. It don’t belong yere, Frankoyse don’t, an’ it’s got a furrin sound.”

“It—yes, it is a French name,” assented Ferrol.

A few minutes afterward they went out. Louisiana stood at the end of the porch, leaning against a wooden pillar and twisting an arm around it.

“Are ye better?” Mr. Rogers asked. “I am goin’ to ’tend to my stock, an’ if ye ain’t, mebbe the camphire—sperrits of camphire”——

“I don’t need it,” she answered. “I am quite well.”

So he went away and left them, promising to return shortly and “gear up their critters” for them that they might go on their way.

When he was gone, there was a silence of a few seconds which Ferrol could not exactly account for. Almost for the first time in his manhood, he did not know what to say. Gradually there had settled upon him the conviction that something had gone very wrong indeed, that there was something mysterious and complicated at work, that somehow he himself was involved, and that his position was at once a most singular and delicate one. It was several moments before he could decide that his best plan seemed to be to try to conceal his bewilderment and appear at ease. And, very naturally, the speech he chose to begin with was the most unlucky he could have hit upon.

“He is charming,” he said. “What a lovable old fellow! What a delicious old fellow! He has been telling me about the novel. It is the story of a Frenchman, and his name—try to guess his name.”

But Louisiana did not try.

“You couldn’t guess it,” he went on. “It is better than all the rest. His name was—Frankoyse.”

That instant she turned round. She was shaking all over like a leaf.

“Good heavens!” flashed through his mind. “This is a climax! This is the real creature!”

“Don’t laugh again!” she cried. “Don’t dare to laugh! I won’t bear it! He is my father!”

For a second or so he had not the breath to speak.

“Your father!” he said, when he found his voice. “Your father! Yours!”

“Yes,” she answered, “mine. This is my home. I have lived here all my life—my name is Louisiana. You have laughed at me too!”

It was the real creature, indeed, whom he saw. She burst into passionate tears.

“Do you think that I kept up this pretence to-day because I was ashamed of him?” she said. “Do you think I did it because I did not love him—and respect him—and think him better than all the rest of the world? It was because I loved him so much that I did it—because I knew so well that you would say to each other that he was not like me—that he was rougher, and that it was a wonder I belonged to him. It is a wonder I belong to him! I am not worthy to kiss his shoes. I have been ashamed—I have been bad enough for that, but not bad enough to be ashamed of him. I thought at first it would be better to let you believe what you would—that it would soon be over, and we should never see each other again, but I did not think that I should have to sit by and see you laugh because he does not know the world as you do—because he has always lived his simple, good life in one simple, country place.”

Ferrol had grown as pale as she was herself. He groaned aloud.

“Oh!” he cried, “what shall I say to you? For heaven’s sake try to understand that it is not at him I have laughed, but”——

“He has never been away from home,” she broke in. “He has worked too hard to have time to read, and”—she stopped and dropped her hands with a gesture of unutterable pride. “Why should I tell you that?” she said. “It sounds as if I were apologizing for him, and there is no need that I should.”

“If I could understand,” began Ferrol,—“if I could realize”——

“Ask your sister,” she replied. “It was her plan. I—I” (with a little sob) “am only her experiment.”

Olivia came forward, looking wholly subdued. Her eyes were wet, too.

“It is true,” she said. “It is all my fault.”

“May I ask you to explain?” said Ferrol, rather sternly. “I suppose some of this has been for my benefit.”

“Don’t speak in that tone,” said Olivia. “It is bad enough as it is. I—I never was so wretched in my life. I never dreamed of its turning out in this way. She was so pretty and gentle and quick to take a hint, and—I wanted to try the experiment—to see if you would guess at the truth. I—I had a theory, and I was so much interested that—I forgot to—to think of her very much. I did not think she would care.”

Louisiana broke in.

“Yes,” she said, her eyes bright with pain, “she forgot. I was very fond of her, and I knew so very little that she forgot to think of me. I was only a kind of plaything—but I was too proud to remind her. I thought it would be soon over, and I knew how ignorant I was. I was afraid to trust my feelings at first. I thought perhaps—it was vanity, and I ought to crush it down. I was very fond of her.”

“Oh!” cried Olivia, piteously, “don’t say ‘was,’ Louise!”

“Don’t say ‘Louise,’” was the reply. “Say ‘Louisiana.’ I am not ashamed of it now. I want Mr. Ferrol to hear it.”

“I have nothing to say in self-defence,” Laurence replied, hopelessly.

“There is nothing for any, of us to say but good-by,” said Louisiana….

Sometimes when her father talked she could scarcely bear to look at his face as the firelight shone on it.

So, when she had bidden him good-night at last and walked to the door leaving him standing upon the hearth watching her as she moved away, she turned round suddenly and faced him again, with her hand upon the latch.

“Father,” she cried, “I want to tell you—I want to tell you”——

“What?” he said. “What, Louisianny?”

She put her hand to her side and leaned against the door—a slender, piteous figure.

“Don’t look at me kindly,” she said. “I don’t deserve it. I deserve nothing. I have been ashamed”——

He stopped her, putting up his shaking hand and turning pale.

“Don’t say nothin’ as ye’ll be sorry fer when ye feel better, Louisianny,” he said. “Don’t git carried away by yer feelin’s into sayin’ nothin’ es is hard on yerself. Don’t ye do it, Louisianny. Thar ain’t no need fer it, honey. Yer kinder wrought up, now, an’ ye cayn’t do yerself jestice.”

But she would not be restrained.

“I must tell you,” she said. “It has been on my heart too long. I ought never to have gone away. Everybody was different from us—and had new ways. I think they laughed at me, and it made me bad. I began to ponder over things until at last I hated myself and everything, and was ashamed that I had been content. When I told you I wanted to play a joke on the people who came here, it was not true. I wanted them to go away without knowing that this was my home. It was only a queer place, to be laughed at, to them, and I was ashamed of it, and bitter and angry. When they went into the parlor they laughed at it and at the pictures, and everything in it, and I stood by with my cheeks burning. When I saw a strange woman in the kitchen it flashed into my mind that I had no need to tell them that all these things that they laughed at had been round me all my life. They were not sneering at them—it was worse than that—they were only interested and amused and curious, and were not afraid to let me see. The—gentleman had been led by his sister to think I came from some city. He thought I was—was pretty and educated—his equal, and I knew how amazed he would be and how he would say he could not believe that I had lived here, and wonder at me and talk me over. And I could not bear it. I only wanted him to go away without knowing, and never, never see me again!”

Remembering the pain and fever and humiliation of the past, and of that dreadful day above all, she burst into sobbing.

“You did not think I was that bad, did you?” she said. “But I was! I was!”

“Louisianny,” he said, huskily, “come yere. Thar ain’t no need fer ye to blame yerself thataway. Yer kinder wrought up.”

“Don’t be kind to me!” she said. “Don’t! I want to tell you all—every word! I was so bad and proud and angry that I meant to carry it out to the end, and tried to—only I was not quite bad enough for one thing, father—I was not bad enough to be ashamed of you, or to bear to sit by and see them cast a slight upon you. They didn’t mean it for a slight—it was only their clever way of looking at things—but I loved you. You were all I had left, and I knew you were better than they were a thousand times! Did they think I would give your warm, good heart—your kind, faithful heart—for all they had learned, or for all they could ever learn? It killed me to see and hear them! And it seemed as if I was on fire. And I told them the truth—that you were my father and that I loved you and was proud of you—that I might be ashamed of myself and all the rest, but not of you—never of you—for I wasn’t worthy to kiss your feet!”

For one moment her father watched her, his lips parted and trembling. It seemed as if he meant to try to speak, but could not. Then his eyes fell with an humble, bewildered, questioning glance upon his feet, encased in their large, substantial brogans—the feet she had said she was not worthy to kiss. What he saw in them to touch him so it would be hard to tell, for he broke down utterly, put out his hand, groping to feel for his chair, fell into it with head bowed on his arm, and burst into sobbing too.

She left her self-imposed exile in an instant, ran to him, and knelt down to lean against him.

“Oh!” she cried, “have I broken your heart? Have I broken your heart? Will God ever forgive me? I don’t ask you to forgive me, father, for I don’t deserve it.”

At first he could not speak, but he put his arm round her and drew her head up to his breast; and, with all the love and tenderness he had lavished upon her all her life, she had never known such love and tenderness as he expressed in this one movement.

“Louisianny,” he said, brokenly, when he had found his voice, “it’s you as should be a-forgivin’ me.”

“I!” she exclaimed.

He held her in his trembling arm so close that she felt his heart quivering.

“To think,” he almost whispered, “as I should not hev ben doin’ ye jestice! To think as I didn’t know ye well enough to do ye jestice! To think yer own father, thet’s knowed ye all yer life, could hev give in to its bein’ likely as ye wasn’t—what he’d allers thought, an’ what yer mother ’d thought, an’ what ye was, honey.”

“I don’t”——she began falteringly.

“It’s me as oughter be a-standin’ agin the door,” he said. “It’s me! I knowed every word of the first part of what ye’ve told me, Louisianny. I’ve been so sot on ye thet I’ve got into a kinder noticin’ way with ye, an’ I guessed it out. I seen it in yer face when ye stood thar tryin’ to laugh on the porch while them people was a-waitin’. Twa’n’t no nat’ral gal’s laugh ye laughed, an’ when ye thought I wasn’t a-noticin’ I was a-noticin’ an’ a-thinkin’ all the time. But I seen more than was thar, honey, an’ I didn’t do ye jestice—an’ I’ve ben punished fer it. It come agin me like a slungshot. I ses to myself, ‘She’s ashamed o’ me! It’s me she’s ashamed of—an’ she wants to pass me off fer a stranger!’”

The girl drew off from him a little and looked up into his face wonderingly.

“You thought that!” she said. “And never told me—and humored me, and”——

“I’d oughter knowed ye better,” he said; “but I’ve suffered fer it, Louisianny. I ses to myself, ‘All the years thet we’ve ben sot on each other an’ nussed each other through our little sick spells, an’ keered fer each other, hes gone fer nothin’. She wants to pass me off fer a stranger.’ Not that I blamed ye, honey. Lord! I knowed the difference betwixt us! I’d knowed it long afore you did. But somehow it warn’t eggsakly what I looked fer an’ it was kinder hard on me right at the start. An’ then the folks went away an’ ye didn’t go with ’em, an’ thar was somethin’ workin’ on ye as I knowed ye wasn’t ready to tell me about. An’ I sot an’ steddied it over an’ watched ye, an’ I prayed some, an’ I laid wake nights a-steddyin’. An’ I made up my mind thet es I’d ben the cause o’ trouble to ye I’d oughter try an’ sorter balance the thing. I allers ’lowed parents hed a duty to their child’en. An’ I ses, ‘Thar’s some things thet kin be altered an’ some thet cayn’t. Let’s alter them es kin!’”

She remembered the words well, and now she saw clearly the dreadful pain they had expressed; they cut her to her soul.

“Oh! father,” she cried. “How could you?”

“I’d oughter knowed ye better, Louisianny.” he repeated. “But I didn’t. I ses, ‘What money an’ steddyin’ an’ watchin ’ll do fer her to make up, shell be done. I’ll try to make up fer the wrong I’ve did her onwillin’ly—on willin’ly.’ An’ I went to the Springs an’ I watched an’ steddied thar, an’ I come home an’ I watched an’ steddied thar—an’ I hed the house fixed, an’ I laid out to let ye go to Europe—though what I’d heern o’ the habits o’ the people, an’ the brigands an’ sich, went powerful agin me makin’ up my mind easy. An’ I never lost sight nary minnit o’ what I’d laid out fer to do—but I wasn’t doin’ ye jestice an’ didn’t suffer no more than I’d oughter. An’ when ye stood up thar agen the door, honey, with yer tears a-streamin’ an’ yer eyes a-shinin’, an’ told me what ye’d felt an’ what ye’d said about—wa’l” (delicately), “about thet thar as ye thought ye wasn’t worthy to do, it set my blood a-tremblin’ in my veins—an’ my heart a-shakin’ in my side, an’ me a-goin’ all over—an’ I was struck all of a heap, an’ knowed thet the Lord hed ben better to me than I thought, an’—an’ even when I was fondest on ye, an’ proudest on ye, I hadn’t done ye no sort o’ jestice in the world—an’ never could!”