Plum Bun - A Novel Without A Moral
by Jessie Redmon Fauset
To Market, to Market
To buy a Plum Bun;
Home again, Home again, Market is done
Part 1 - Home
OPAL STREET, as streets go, is no jewel of the first water. It is merely an imitation, and none too good at that. Narrow, unsparkling, uninviting, it stretches meekly off from dull Jefferson Street to the dingy, drab market which forms the north side of Oxford Street. It has no mystery, no allure, either of exclusiveness or of downright depravity ; its usages are plainly significant, an unpretentious little street lined with unpretentious little houses, inhabited for the most part by unpretentious little people.
The dwellings are three stories high, and contain six boxes called by courtesy, rooms. A "parlour", a midget of a dining-room, a larger kitchen and, above, a front bedroom seemingly large only because it extends for the full width of the house, a mere shadow of a bathroom, and another back bedroom with windows whose possibilities are spoiled by their outlook on sad and diminutive back-yards. And above these two, still two others built in similar wise.
In one of these houses dwelt a father, a mother and two daughters. Here, as often happens in a home sheltering two generations, opposite, unevenly matched emotions faced each other. In the houses of the rich the satisfied ambition of the older generation is faced by the overwhelming ambition of the younger. Or the elders may find themselves brought in opposition to the blank indifference and ennui of youth engendered by the realization that there remain no more worlds to conquer; their fathers having already taken all. In houses on Opal Street these niceties of distinction are hardly to be found; there is a more direct and concrete contrast. The satisfied ambition of maturity is a foil for the restless despair of youth, Affairs in the Murray household were advancing towards this stage; yet not a soul in that family of four could have foretold its coming. To Junius and Mattie Murray, who had known poverty and homelessness, the little house on Opal Street represented the ne plus ultra of ambition; to their daughter Angela it seemed the dingiest, drabbest chrysalis that had ever fettered the wings of a brilliant butterfly. The stories which Junius and Mattie told of difficulties overcome, of the arduous learning of trades, of the pitiful scraping together of infinitesimal savings, would have made a latter- day Iliad, but to Angela they were merely a description of a life which she at any cost would avoid living. Somewhere in the world were paths which lead to broad thoroughfares, large, bright houses, delicate niceties of existence. Those paths Angela meant to find and frequent. At a very early age she had observed that the good things of life are unevenly distributed; merit is not always rewarded; hard labour does not necessarily entail adequate recompense. Certain fortuitous endowments, great physical beauty, unusual strength, a certain unswerving singleness of mind, gifts bestowed quite blindly and disproportionately by the forces which control life, these were the quali ties which contributed toward a glowing and pleasant existence.
Angela had no high purpose in life; unlike her sister Virginia, who meant some day to invent a marvellous method for teaching the pianoforte, Angela felt no impulse to discover, or to perfect. True she thought she might become eventually a distinguished painter, but that was because she felt within herself an ability to depict which as far as it went was correct and promising. Her eye for line and for expression was already good and she had a nice feeling for colour. Moreover she possessed the instinct for self-appraisal which taught her that she had much to learn. And she was sure that the knowledge once gained would flower in her case to perfection. But her gift was not for her the end of existence ; rather it was an adjunct to a life which was to know light, pleasure, gaiety and freedom.
Freedom! That was the note which Angela heard oftenest in the melody of living which was to be hers. With a wildness that fell just short of unreasonableness she hated restraint. Her father's earlier days as coachman in a private family, his later successful, independent years as boss carpenter, her mother's youth spent as maid to a famous actress, all this was to Angela a manifestation of the sort of thing which happens to those enchained it might be by duty, by poverty, by weakness or by colour.
Colour or rather the lack of it seemed to the child the one absolute prerequisite to the life of which she was always dreaming. One might break loose from a too hampering sense of duty; poverty could be overcome; physicians conquered weakness; but colour, the mere possession of a black or a white skin, that was clearly one of those fortuitous endowments of the gods. Gratitude was no strong ingredient in this girl's nature, yet very often early she began thanking Fate for the chance which in that household of four had bestowed on her the heritage of her mother's fair skin. She might so easily have been, like her father, black, or have received the melange which had resulted in Virginia's rosy bronzeness and her deeply waving black hair. But Angela had received not only her mother's creamy complexion and her soft cloudy, chestnut hair, but she had taken from Junius the aquiline nose, the gift of some remote Indian ancestor which gave to his face and his eldest daughter's that touch of chiselled immobility.
It was from her mother that Angela learned the possibilities for joy and freedom which seemed to her inherent in mere whiteness. No one would have been more amazed than that same mother if she could have guessed how her daughter interpreted her actions. Certainly Mrs. Murray did not attribute what she considered her happy, busy, sheltered life on tiny Opal Street to the accident of her colour; she attributed it to her black husband whom she had been glad and proud to marry. It is equally certain that that white skin of hers had not saved her from occasional contumely and insult. The famous actress for whom she had worked was aware of Mattie's mixed blood and, boasting temperament rather than refinement, had often dubbed her "white nigger".
Angela's mother employed her colour very much as she practised certain winning usages of smile and voice to obtain indulgences which meant much to her and which took nothing from anyone else. Then, too, she was possessed of a keener sense of humour than her daughter; it amused her when by herself to take lunch at an exclusive restaurant whose patrons would have been panic-stricken if they had divined the presence of a "coloured" woman no matter how little her appearance differed from theirs. It was with no idea of disclaiming her own that she sat in orchestra seats which Philadelphia denied to coloured patrons. But when Junius or indeed any other dark friend accompanied her she was the first to announce that she liked to sit in the balcony or gallery, as indeed she did; her infrequent occupation of orchestra seats was due merely to a mischievous determination to flout a silly and unjust law.
Her years with the actress had left their mark, a perfectly harmless and rather charming one. At least so it seemed to Junius, whose weakness was for the qualities known as " essentially feminine ". Mrs. Murray loved pretty clothes, she liked shops devoted to the service of women; she enjoyed being even on the fringe of a fashionable gathering. A satisfaction that was almost ecstatic seized her when she drank tea in the midst of modishly gowned women in a stylish tea-room. It pleased her to stand in the foyer of a great hotel or of the Academy of Music and to be part of the whirling, humming, palpitating gaiety. She had no desire to be of these people, but she liked to look on; it amused and thrilled and kept alive some un quenchable instinct for life which thrived within her. To walk through Wanamaker's on Saturday, to stroll from Fifteenth to Ninth Street on Chestnut, to have her tea in the Bellevue Stratford, to stand in the lobby of the St. James 5 fitting on immaculate gloves; all innocent, childish pleasures pursued without malice or envy contrived to cast a glamour over Monday's washing and Tuesday's ironing, the scrubbing of kitchen and bathroom and the fashioning of children's clothes. She was endowed with a humorous and pungent method of presentation ; Junius, who had the wit not to interfere with these little excursions and the sympathy to take them at their face value, preferred one of his wife's sparkling accounts of a Saturday's adventure in " passing " to all the tall stories told by cronies at his lodge.
Much of this pleasure, harmless and charming though it was, would have been impossible with a dark skin.
In these first years of marriage, Mattie, busied with the house and the two babies had given up those excursions. Later, when the children had grown and Junius had reached the stage where he could afford to give himself a half-holiday on Saturdays, the two parents inaugurated a plan of action which eventually became a fixed programme. Each took a child, and Junius went off to a beloved but long since suspended pastime of exploring old Philadelphia, whereas Mattie embarked once more on her social adventures. It is true that Mattie accompanied by brown Virginia could not move quite as freely as when with Angela. But her maternal instincts were sound; her children, their feelings and their faith in her meant much more than the pleasure which she would have been first to call unnecessary and silly. As it happened the children themselves quite unconsciously solved the dilemma; Virginia found shopping tiring and stupid, Angela returned from her father's adventuring worn and bored. Gradually the rule was formed that Angela accompanied her mother and Virginia her father.
On such fortuities does life depend. Little Angela Murray, hurrying through Saturday morning's scrubbing of steps in order that she might have her bath at one and be with her mother on Chestnut Street at two, never realized that her mother took her pleasure among all these pale people because it was there that she happened to find it. It never occurred to her that the delight which her mother obviously showed in meeting friends on Sunday morning when the whole united Murray family came out of church was the same as she showed on Chestnut Street the previous Saturday, because she was finding the qualities which her heart craved, bustle, excitement and fashion. The daughter could not guess that if the economic status or the racial genius of coloured people had permitted them to run modish hotels or vast and popular department stores her mother would have been there. She drew for herself certain clearly formed conclusions which her subconscious mind thus codified : First, that the great rewards of life riches, glamour, pleasure, are for white-skinned people only. Secondly, that Junius and Virginia were denied these privileges because they were dark; here her reasoning bore at least an element of verisimilitude but she missed the essential fact that her father and sister did not care for this type of pleasure. The effect of her fallaciousness was to cause her to feel a faint pity for her unfortunate relatives and also to feel that coloured people were to be considered fortunate only in the proportion in which they measured up to the physical standards of white people.
One Saturday excursion left a far-reaching impression. Mrs. Murray and Angela had spent a successful and interesting afternoon. They had browsed among the contents of the small exclusive shops in Walnut Street; they had had soda at Adams' on Broad Street and they were standing finally in the portico of the Walton Hotel deciding with fashionable and idle elegance what they should do next. A thin stream of people constantly passing threw an occasional glance at the quietly modish pair, the well-dressed, assured woman and the refined and no less assured daughter. The door-man knew them; it was one of Mrs. Murray's pleasures to proffer him a small tip, much appreciated since it was uncalled for. This was the atmosphere which she loved. Angela had put on her gloves and was waiting for her mother, who was drawing on her own with great care, when she glimpsed in the laughing, hurrying Saturday throng the figures of her father and of Virginia. They were close enough for her mother, who saw them too, to touch them by merely descending a few steps and stretching out her arm. In a second the pair had vanished. Angela saw her mother's face change with trepidation she thought. She remarked: " It's a good thing Papa didn't see us, you'd have had to speak to him, wouldn't you? " But her mother, giving her a distracted glance, made no reply.
That night, after the girls were in bed, Mattie, perched on the arm of her husband's chair, told him about it. "I was at my old game of play acting again to-day, June, passing you know, and darling, you and Virginia went by within arm's reach and we never spoke to you. I'm so ashamed."
But Junius consoled her. Long before their marriage he had known of his Mattie's weakness and its essential harmlessness. " My dear girl, I told you long ago that where no principle was involved, your passing means nothing to me. It's just a little joke ; I don't think you'd be ashamed to acknowledge your old husband anywhere if it were necessary."
" I'd do that if people were mistaking me for a queen," she assured him fondly. But she was silent, not quite satisfied. " After all," she said with her charming frankness, " it isn't you, dear, who make me feel guilty. I really am ashamed to think that I let Virginia pass by without a word. I think I should feel very badly if she were to know it. I don't believe I'll ever let myself be quite as silly as that again."
But of this determination Angela, dreaming excitedly of Saturdays spent in turning her small olive face firmly away from peering black countenances was, unhappily, unaware.
SATURDAY came to be the day of the week for Angela, but her sister Virginia preferred Sundays. She loved the atmosphere of golden sanctity which seemed to hover with a sweet glory about the stodgy, shabby little dwelling. Usually she came downstairs first so as to enjoy by herself the blessed " Sunday feeling " which, she used to declare, would have made it possible for her to recognize the day if she had awakened to it even in China. She was only twelve at this time, yet she had already developed a singular aptitude and liking for the care of the home, and this her mother gratefully fostered. Gradually the custom was formed of turning over to her small hands all the duties of Sunday morning; they were to her a ritual. First the kettle must be started boiling, then the pavement swept. Her father's paper must be carried up and left outside his door. Virginia found a nameless and sweet satisfaction in performing these services.
She prepared the Sunday breakfast which was always the same, bacon and eggs, strong coffee with good cream for Junius, chocolate for the other three and muffins. After the kettle had boiled and the muffins were mixed it took exactly half an hour to complete preparations. Virginia always went about these matters in the same way. She set the muffins in the oven, pursing her lips and frowning a little just as she had seen her mother do; then she went to the foot of the narrow, enclosed staircase and called " hoo-hoo " with a soft rising inflection, " last call to dinner," her father termed it. And finally, just for those last few minutes before the family descended she went into the box of a parlour and played hymns, old-fashioned and stately tunes, " How firm a foundation ", " The spacious firmament on high ", " Am I a soldier of the Cross ". Her father's inflexible bass, booming down the stairs, her mother's faint alto in thirds mingled with her own sweet treble; a shaft of sunlight, faint and watery in winter, strong and golden in summer, shimmering through the room in the morning dusk completed for the little girl a sensation of happiness which lay perilously near tears.
After breakfast came the bustle of preparing for church. Junius of course had come down in complete readiness; but the others must change their dresses; Virginia had mislaid her Sunday hair-ribbon again; Angela had discovered a rip in her best gloves and could not be induced to go down until it had been mended. " Wait for me just a minute, Jinny dear, I can't go out looking like this, can I? " She did not like going to church, at least not to their church, but she did care about her appearance and she liked the luxuriousness of being " dressed up " on two successive days. At last the little procession filed out, Mattie hoping that they would not be late, she did hate it so; Angela thinking that this was a stupid way to spend Sunday and wondering at just what period of one's life existence began to shape itself as you wanted it. Her father's thoughts were inchoate; expressed they would have revealed a patriarchal aspect almost biblical. He had been a poor boy, homeless, a nobody, yet somehow he had contrived in his mid-forties to attain to the status of a respect able citizen, house-owner, a good provider. He possessed a charming wife and two fine daughters, and as was befitting he was accompanying them to the house of the Lord. As for Virginia, no one to see her in her little red hat and her mother's cut-over blue coat could have divined how near she was to bursting with happiness. Father, mother and children, well-dressed, well-fed, united, going to church on a beautiful Sunday morning; there was an immense cosmic rightness about all this which she sensed rather than realized. She envied no one the incident of finer clothes or a larger home; this unity was the core of happiness, all other satisfactions must radiate from this one; greater happiness could be only a matter of degree but never of essence. When she grew up she meant to live the same kind of life; she would marry a man exactly like her father and she would conduct her home exactly as did her mother. Only she would pray very hard every day for five children, two boys and two girls and then a last little one, it was hard for her to decide whether this should be a boy or a girl, which should stay small for a long, long time. And on Sundays they would all go to church. Intent on her dreaming she rarely heard the sermon. It was different with the hymns, for they constituted the main part of the service for her father, and she meant to play them again for him later in the happy, golden afternoon or the grey dusk of early evening. But first there were acquaintances to greet, friends of her parents who called them by their first names and who, in speak ing of Virginia and Angela still said: " And these are the babies; my, how they grow! It doesn't seem as though it could be you, Mattie Ford, grown up and with children ! "
On Communion Sundays the service was very late, and Angela would grow restless and twist about in her seat, but the younger girl loved the sudden, mystic hush which seemed to descend on the congre gation. Her mother's sweetly merry face took on a certain childish solemnity, her father's stern profile softened into beatific expectancy. In the exquisite diction of the sacramental service there were certain words, certain phrases that almost made the child faint; the minister had a faint burr in his voice and somehow this lent a peculiar underlying resonance to his intonation ; he half spoke, half chanted and when, picking up the wafer he began " For in the night " and then broke it, Virginia could have cried out with the ecstasy which filled her. She felt that those who partook of the bread and wine were somehow transfigured; her mother and father wore an expression of ineffable content as they returned to their seats and there was one woman, a middle-aged, mischief-making person, who re turned from taking the sacrament, walking down the aisle, her hands clasped loosely in front of her and her face so absolutely uplifted that Virginia used to hasten to get within earshot of her after the church was dismissed, sure that her first words must savour of something mystic and holy. But her assumption proved always to be ill-founded.
The afternoon and the evening repeated the morning's charm but in a different key. Usually a few acquaintances dropped in; the parlour and dining-room were full for an hour or more of pleasant, harmless chatter. Mr. Henson, the policeman, a tall, yellow man with freckles on his nose and red " bad hair " would clap Mr. Murray on the back and exclaim " I tell you what, June," which always seemed to Virginia a remarkably daring way in which to address her tall, dignified father. Matthew Henson, a boy of sixteen, would inevitably be hovering about Angela who found him insufferably boresome and made no effort to hide her ennui. Mrs. Murray passed around rather hard cookies and delicious currant wine, talking stitches and patterns meanwhile with two or three friends of her youth with a frequent injec tion of " Mame, do you remember ! "
Presently the house, emptied of all but the family, grew still again, dusk and the lamp light across the street alternately panelling the walls. Mrs. Murray murmured something about fixing a bite to eat, " I'll leave it in the kitchen if any body wants it ". Angela reflected aloud that she had still to get her Algebra or History or French as the case might be, but nobody moved. What they were really waiting for was for Virginia to start to play and finally she would cross the narrow absurdity of a room and stretching out her slim, brown hands would begin her version, a glorified one, of the hymns which they had sung in church that morning, and then the old favourites which she had played before breakfast. Even Angela, somewhat remote and difficult at first, fell into this evening mood and asked for a special tune or a repetition: " I like the way you play that, Jinny ". For an hour or more they were as close and united as it is possible for a family to be.
At eight o'clock or thereabouts Junius said exactly as though it had not been in his thoughts all even ing: "Play the 'Dying Christian', daughter". And Virginia, her treble sounding very childish and shrill against her father's deep, unyielding bass, began Pope's masterpiece on the death of a true believer. The magnificently solemn words: " Vital spark of heavenly flame ", the strangely appropriate minor music filled the little house with an awesome beauty which was almost palp able. It affected Angela so that in sheer self- defence she would go out in the kitchen and eat her share of the cold supper set by her mother. But Mattie, although she never sang this piece, remained while her husband and daughter sang on. Death triumphant and mighty had no fears for her. It was inevitable, she knew, but she would never have to face it alone. When her husband died, she would die too, she was sure of it; and if death came to her first it would be only a little while before Junius would be there stretching out his hand and guiding her through all the rough, strange places just as years ago, when he had been a coachman to the actress for whom she worked, he had stretched out his good, honest hand and had saved her from a dangerous and equivocal position. She wiped away happy and grateful tears.
' The world recedes, it disappears," sang Virginia. But it made no difference how far it drifted away as long as the four of them were together; and they would always be together, her father and mother and she and Angela. With her visual mind she saw them proceeding endlessly through space; there were her parents, arm in arm, and she and but to-night and other nights she could not see Angela; it grieved her to lose sight thus of her sister, she knew she must be there, but grope as she might she could not find her. And then quite suddenly Angela was there again, but a different Angela, not quite the same as in the beginning of the picture.
And suddenly she realized that she was doing four things at once and each of them with all the intent- ness which she could muster; she was singing, she was playing, she was searching for Angela and she was grieving because Angela as she knew her was lost forever.
" Oh Death, oh Death, where is thy sting! " the hymn ended triumphantly, she and the piano as usual came out a little ahead of Junius which was always funny. She said, " Where's Angela? " and knew what the answer would be. " I'm tired, mummy! I guess I'll go to bed."
“ You ought to, you got up so early and you've been going all day."
Kissing her parents good-night she mounted the stairs languidly, her whole being pervaded with the fervid yet delicate rapture of the day.
MONDAY morning brought the return of the busy, happy week. It meant wash-day for Mattie, for she and Junius had never been able to raise their menage to the status either of a maid or of putting out the wash. But this lack meant nothing to her, she had been married fifteen years and still had the ability to enjoy the satisfaction of having a home in which she had full sway instead of being at the beck and call of others. She was old enough to remember a day when poverty for a coloured girl connoted one of three things : going out to service, working as ladies' maid, or taking a genteel but poorly paid position as seamstress with one of the families of the rich and great on Rittenhouse Square, out West Walnut Street or in one of the numerous impeccable, aristocratic suburbs of Philadelphia.
She had tried her hand at all three of these possibilities, had known what it meant to rise at five o'clock, start the laundry work for a patronizing indifferent family of people who spoke of her in her hearing as " the girl " or remarked of her in a slightly lower but still audible tone as being rather better than the usual run of niggers, " She never steals, I'd trust her with anything and she isn't what you'd call lazy either." For this family she had prepared breakfast, gone back to her washing, served lunch, had taken down the clothes, sprinkled and folded them, had gone upstairs and made three beds, not including her own and then had returned to the kitchen to prepare dinner. At night she nodded over the dishes and finally stumbling up to the third floor fell into her unmade bed, sometimes not even fully undressed. And Tuesday morning she would begin on the long and tedious strain of ironing. For this she received four dollars a week with the privilege of every other Sunday and every Thursday off. But she could have no callers.
As a seamstress, life had been a little more endurable but more precarious. The wages were better while they lasted, she had a small but comfortable room; her meals were brought up to her on a tray and the young girls of the house holds in which she was employed treated her with a careless kindness which while it still had its element of patronage was not offensive. But such families had a disconcerting habit of closing their households and departing for months at a time, and there was Mattie stranded and peril ously trying to make ends meet by taking in sewing. But her clientele was composed of girls as poor as she, who either did their own dressmaking or could afford to pay only the merest trifle for her really exquisite and meticulous work.
The situation with the actress had really been the best in many, in almost all, respects. But it presented its pitfalls. Mattie was young, pretty and innocent; the actress was young, beautiful and sophisticated. She had been married twice and had been the heroine of many affairs; maidenly modesty, virtue for its own sake, were qualities long since forgotten; high ideals and personal self-respect were too abstract for her slightly coarsened mind to visualize, and at any rate they were incomprehensible and even absurd in a servant, and in a coloured servant to boot. She knew that in spite of Mattie's white skin there was black blood in her veins; in fact she would not have taken the girl on had she not been coloured; all her servants must be coloured, for hers was a carelessly conducted household, and she felt dimly that all coloured people are thickly streaked with immorality. They were naturally loose, she reasoned, when she thought about it at all. " Look at the number of mixed bloods among them; look at Mattie herself for that matter, a perfectly white nigger if ever there was one. I'll bet her mother wasn't any better than she should be."
When the girl had come to her with tears in her eyes and begged her not to send her as mes senger to the house of a certain Haynes Brokinaw, politician and well-known man about town, Madame had laughed out loud. " How ridicu lous ! He'll treat you all right. I should like to know what a girl like you expects. And anyway, if I don't care, why should you? Now run along with the note and don't bother me about this again. I hire you to do what I want, not to do as you want." She was not even jealous, of a coloured working girl! And anyway, constancy was no virtue in her eyes; she did not possess it herself and she valued it little in others,
Mattie was in despair. She was receiving twenty-five dollars a month, her board, and a comfortable, pleasant room. She was seeing something of the world and learning of its amenities. It was during this period that she learned how very pleasant indeed life could be for a person possessing only a very little extra money and a white skin. But the special attraction which her present position held for her was that every day she had a certain amount of time to call her own, for she was Madame's personal servant; in no wise was she connected with the routine of keeping the house. If Madame elected to spend the whole day away from home, Mattie, once she had arranged for the evening toilette, was free to act and to go where she pleased.
And now here was this impasse looming up with Brokinaw. More than once Mattie had felt his covetous eyes on her; she had dreaded going to his rooms from the very beginning. She had even told his butler, " I'll be back in half an hour for the answer"; and she would not wait in the great square hall as he had indicated for there she was sure that danger lurked. But the third time Brokinaw was standing in the hall. "Just come into my study," he told her, " while I read this and write the answer." And he had looked at her with his cold, green eyes and had asked her why she was so out of breath. " There's no need to rush so, child; stay here and rest. I'm in no hurry, I assure you. Are you really coloured? You know, I've seen lots of white girls not as pretty as you. Sit here and tell me all about your mother, and your father. Do you remember him? " His whole bearing reeked with intention.
Within a week Madame was sending her again and she had suggested fearfully the new coach man. " No," said Madame. " It's Wednesday, his night off, and I wouldn't send him anyway; coachmen are too hard to keep nowadays ; you're all getting so independent." Mattie had come down from her room and walked slowly, slowly to the corner where the new coachman, tall and black and grave, was just hailing a car. She ran to him and jerked down the arm which he had just lifted to seize the railing. " Oh, Mr. Murray," she stammered. He had been so astonished and so kind. Her halting explanation done, he took the note in silence and delivered it, and the next night and for many nights thereafter they walked through the silent, beautiful square, and Junius had told her haltingly and with fear that he loved her. She threw her arms about his neck: " And I love you too."
' You don't mind my being so dark then? Lots of coloured girls I know wouldn't look at a black man."
But it was partly on account of his colour that she loved him; in her eyes his colour meant safety. " Why should I mind? " she asked with one of her rare outbursts of bitterness, " my own colour has never brought me anything but insult and trouble."
The other servants, it appeared, had told him that sometimes she hesitated.
She explained it eagerly, "And anyway when I am alone what can I do? I can't label myself, And if I'm hungry or tired and I'm near a place where they don't want coloured people, why should I observe their silly old rules, rules that are un natural and unjust, because the world was made for everybody, wasn't it, Junius? "
She had told him then how hard and joyless her girlhood life had been, she had known such dreadful poverty and she had been hard put to it to keep herself together. But since she had come to live with Madame Sylvio she had glimpsed, thanks to her mistress's careless kindness, some thing of the life of comparative ease and beauty and refinement which one could easily taste if he possessed just a modicum of extra money and the prerequisite of a white skin.
"I've only done it for fun but I won't do it any more if it displeases you. I'd much rather live in the smallest house in the world with you, Junius, than be wandering around as I have so often, lonely and unknown in hotels and restaur ants." Her sweetness disarmed him. There was no reason in the world why she should give up her harmless pleasure unless, he added rather sternly, some genuine principle were involved.
It was the happiest moment of her life when Junius had gone to Madame and told her that both he and Mattie were leaving. " We are going to be married," he announced proudly. The actress had been sorry to lose her, and wanted to give her a hundred dollars, but the tall, black coachman would not let his wife accept it. " She is to have only what she earned," he said in stern refusal. He hated Madame Sylvio for having thrown the girl in the way of Haynes Brokinaw.
They had married and gone straight into the little house on Opal Street which later was to become their own. Mattie her husband considered a perfect woman, sweet, industrious, affectionate and illogical. But to her he was God.
When Angela and Virginia were little children and their mother used to read them fairy tales she would add to the ending, " And so they lived happily ever after, just like your father and me."
All this was passing happily through her mind on this Monday morning. Junius was working some where in the neighbourhood; his shop was down on Bainbridge Street, but he tried to devote Mondays and Tuesdays to work up town so that he could run in and help \Mattie on these trying days. Before the advent of the washing machine he used to dart in and out two or three times in the course of a morning to lend a hand to the heavy sheets and the bed-spreads. Now those articles were taken care of in the laundry, but Junius still kept up the pleasant fiction.
Virginia attended school just around the corner, and presently she would come in too, not so much to get her own lunch as to prepare it for her mother. She possessed her father's attitude toward Mattie as someone who must be helped, indulged and protected. Moreover she had an unusually keen sense of gratitude toward her father and mother for their kindness and their unselfish ambitions for their children. Jinny never tired of hearing of the difficult childhood of her parents. She knew of no story quite so thrilling as the account of their early trials and difficulties. She thought it wonderfully sweet of them to plan, as? they constantly did, better things for their daughters.
"My girls shall never come through my experi ences," Mattie would say fimly. They were both to be school-teachers and independent.
It is true that neither of them felt any special leaning toward this calling. Angela frankly despised it, but she supposed she must make her living some way. The salary was fairly good in fact, very good for a poor girl and there would be the long summer vacation. At fourteen she knew already how much money she would save during those first two or three years and how she would spend those summer vacations. But although she proffered this much information to her family she kept her plans to herself. Mattie often pondered on this lack of openness in her older daughter. Virginia was absolutely transparent. She did not think she would care for teaching either, that is, not for teaching in the ordinary sense. But she realized that for the present that was the best profession which her parents could have chosen for them. She would spend her summers learning all she could about methods of teaching music.
" And a lot of good it will do you," Angela scoffed. " You know perfectly well that there are no coloured teachers of music in the public schools here in Philadelphia." But Jinny thought it possible that there might be. " When Mamma was coming along there were very few coloured teachers at all, and now it looks as though there'd be plenty of chance for us. And anyway you never know your luck."
By four o'clock the day's work was over and Mattie free to do as she pleased. This was her idle hour. The girls would get dinner, a Monday version of whatever the main course had been the day before. Their mother was on no account to be disturbed or importuned. To-day as usual she sat in the Morris chair in the dining-room, dividing her time between the Sunday paper and the girls' chatter. It was one of her most cherished ex periences, this sense of a day's hard labour far behind her, the happy voices of her girls, her joyous expectation of her husband's home-coming. Usually the children made a game of their pre parations, recalling some nonsense of their early childhood days when it had been their delight to dress up as ladies. Virginia would approach Angela: " Pardon me, is this Mrs. Henrietta Jones? " And Angela, drawing herself up haughtily would reply: " Er, really you have the advantage of me." Then Virginia : "Oh pardon! I thought you were Mrs. Jones and I had heard my friend Mrs, Smith speak of you so often and since you were in the neighbourhood and passing, I was going to ask you in to have some ice-cream ". The game of course being that Angela should immediately drop her haughtiness and proceed for the sake of the goodies to ingratiate herself into her neighbour's esteem. It was a poor joke, long since worn thin, but the two girls still used the greeting and for some reason it had become part of the Monday ritual of preparing the supper.
But to-night Angela's response lacked spontaneity. She was absorbed and reserved, even a little sulky. Deftly and swiftly she moved about her work, however, and no one who had not attended regularly on those Monday evening prep arations could have guessed that there was anything on her mind other than complete absorption in the problem of cutting the bread or garnishing the warmed over roast beef. But Mattie was aware of the quality of brooding in her intense con centration. She had seen it before in her daughter but to-night, though to her practised eye it was more apparent than ever, she could not put her hand on it. Angela's response, if asked what was the matter, would be " Oh, nothing ". It came to her suddenly that her older daughter was growing up; in a couple of months she would be fifteen. Children were often absorbed and moody when they were in their teens, too engaged in finding themselves to care about their e fleet on others. She must see to it that the girl had plenty of rest; perhaps school had been too strenuous for her to-day; she thought the high school programme very badly arranged, five hours one right after the other were much too long. " Angela, child, I think you'd better not be long out of bed to-night; you look very tired to me." Angela nodded. But her father came in then and in the little hubbub that arose about his home-coming and the final preparations for supper her listlessness went without further remark.
THE third storey front was Angela's bed-room. She was glad of its loneliness and security to-night, even if her mother had not suggested her going to bed early she would have sought its shelter immediately after supper. Study for its own sake held no attractions for her; she did not care for any of her subjects really except Drawing and French. And when she was drawing she did not consider that she was studying, it was too natur ally a means of self-expression. As for French, she did have to study that with great care, for languages did not come to her with any great readiness, but there was an element of fine lady-ism about the beautiful, logical tongue that made her in accordance with some secret subconscious ambition resolve to make it her own.
The other subjects, History, English, and Physi cal Geography, were not drudgery, for she had a fair enough mind; but then they were not attractive either, and she was lacking in Virginia's dogged resignation to unwelcome duties. Even when Jinny was a little girl she had been known to say manfully in the face of an uncongenial task: " Well I dotta det it done ". Angela was not like that. But to-night she was concentrating with all her power on her work. During the day she had been badly hurt; she had received a wound whose depth and violence she would not reveal even to her parents, because, and this only in creased the pain, young as she was she knew that there was nothing they could do about it. There was nothing to be done but to get over it. Only she was not developed enough to state this stoicism to herself. She was like a little pet cat that had once formed part of their household; its leg had been badly torn by a passing dog and the poor thing had dragged itself into the house and lain on its cushion patiently, waiting stolidly for this unfamiliar agony to subside. So Angela waited for the hurt in her mind to cease.
But across the history dates on the printed page and through the stately lines of Lycidas she kept seeing Mary Hastings' accusing face, hearing Mary Hastings' accusing voice: " Coloured ! Angela, you never told me that you were coloured ! "
And then her own voice in tragic but proud be wilderment. " Tell you that I was coloured ! Why of course I never told you that I was coloured. Why should I?"
She had been so proud of Mary Hastings' friend ship. In the dark and tortured spaces of her difficult life it had been a lovely, hidden refuge. It had been an experience so rarely sweet that she had hardly spoken of it even to Virginia. The other girls in her classes had meant nothing to her. At least she had schooled herself to have them mean nothing. Some of them she had known since early childhood; they had lived in her neighbourhood and had gone to the graded schools with her. They had known that she was coloured, for they had seen her with Virginia, and sometimes her tall, black father had come to fetch her home on a rainy day. There had been pleasant enough contacts and intimacies; in the quiet of Jefferson Street they had played " The Farmer in the Dell ", and "Here come three jolly, jolly sailor-boys"; dark retreats of the old market had afforded endless satisfaction for " Hide and Go Seek ". She and those other children had gone shopping arm in arm for school supplies, threading their way in and out of the bustle and confusion that were Columbia Avenue.
As she grew older many of these intimacies lessened, in some cases ceased altogether. But she was never conscious of being left completely alone; there was always some one with whom to eat lunch or who was going her way after school. It was not until she reached the high school that she began to realize how solitary her life was becoming. There were no other coloured girls in her class but there had been only two or three during her school-life, and if there had been any she would not necessarily have confined herself to them; that this might be a good thing to do in sheer self-defence would hardly have occurred to her. But this problem did not confront her; what did confront her was that the very girls with whom she had grown up were evading her; when she went to the Assembly none of them sat next to her unless no other seat were vacant; little groups toward which she drifted during lunch, inexplicably dissolved to re-form in another portion of the room. Sometimes a girl in this new group threw her a backward glance charged either with a mean amusement or with annoyance.
Angela was proud; she did not need such a hint more than once, but she was bewildered and hurt. She took stories to school to read at recess, or wan dered into the drawing laboratory and touched up her designs. Miss Barrington thought her an unusually industrious student.
And then in the middle of the term Mary Hast ings had come, a slender, well-bred girl of fifteen. She was rather stupid in her work, in fact she shone in nothing but French and good manners. Undeniably she had an air, and her accent was remarkable. The other pupils, giggling, produced certain uncouth and unheard of sounds, but Mary said in French: " No, I have lent my knife to the brother-in-law of the gardener but here is my cane," quite as though the idiotic phrase were part of an imaginary conversation which she was conducting and appreciating. " She really knows what she's talking about," little Esther Bayliss commented, and added that Mary's family had lost some money and they had had to send her to public school. But it was some time before this knowledge, dis pensed by Esther with mysterious yet absolute authenticity, became generally known. Mean while Mary was left to her own devices while the class with complete but tacit unanimity " tried her out ". Mary, unaware of this, looked with her near-sighted, slightly supercilious gaze about the room at recess and seeing only one girl, and that girl Angela, who approached in dress, manner and deportment her own rather set ideas, had taken her lunch over to the other pupil's desk and said : " Come on, let's eat together while you tell me who everybody is."
Angela took the invitation as simply as the other had offered. " That little girl in the purplish dress is Esther Bayliss and the tall one in the thick glasses "
Mary, sitting with her back to the feeding groups, never troubled to look around. " I don't mean the girls. I expect I'll know them soon enough when I get around to it. I mean the teachers. Do you have to dig for them? " She liked Angela and she showed it plainly and directly. Her home was in some remote fastness of West Philadelphia which she could reach with comparative swiftness by taking the car at Spring Garden Street. Instead she walked half way home with her new friend, up Seventeenth Street as far as Girard Avenue where, after a final exchange of school matters and fare wells, she took the car, leaving Angela to her happy, satisfied thoughts. And presently she began to know more than happiness and satisfaction, she was knowing the extreme gratification of being the chosen companion of a popular and important girl, for Mary, although not quick at her studies, was a power in everything else. She dressed well, she had plenty of pocket money, she could play the latest marches in the gymnasium, she received a certain indefinable but flattering attention from the teachers, and she could make things " go ". The school paper was moribund and Mary knew how to resuscitate it; she brought in advertisements from her father's business friends; she made her married sisters obtain subscriptions. Without being obtrusive or over-bearing, without conde scension and without toadying she was the leader of her class. And with it all she stuck to Angela. She accepted popularity because it was thrust upon her, but she was friendly with Angela because the latter suited her.
Angela was happy. She had a friend and the friendship brought her unexpected advantages. She was no longer left out of groups because there could be no class plans without Mary and Mary would remain nowhere for any length of time with out Angela. So to save time and argument, and also to avoid offending the regent, Angela was always included. Not that she cared much about this, but she did like Mary; as is the way of a " fidus Achates ", she gave her friendship whole-heartedly. And it was gratifying to be in the midst of things.
In April the school magazine announced a new departure. Henceforth the editorial staff was to be composed of two representatives from each class ; of these one was to be the chief representative chosen by vote of the class, the other was to be assistant, selected by the chief. The chief represen tative, said the announcement pompously, would sit in at executive meetings and have a voice in the policy of the paper. The assistant would solicit and collect subscriptions, collect fees, re ceive and report complaints and in brief, said Esther Bayliss, " do all the dirty work ". But she coveted the position and title for all that. Angela's class held a brief meeting after school and elected Mary Hastings as representative with out a dissenting vote. " No," said Angela holding up a last rather grimy bit of paper. " Here is one for Esther Bayliss." Two or three of the girls giggled; everyone knew that she must have voted for herself; indeed it had been she who had insisted on taking a ballot rather than a vote by acclaim. Mary was already on her feet. She had been sure of the result of the election, would have been astonished indeed had it turned out any other way. " Well, girls," she began in her rather high, refined voice, " I wish to thank you for the er confidence you have bestowed, that is, placed in me and I'm sure you all know I'll do my best to keep the old paper going. And while I'm about it I might just as well announce that I'm choosing Angela Murray for my assistant."
There was a moment's silence. The girls who had thought about it at all had known that if Mary were elected, as assuredly she would be, this meant also the election of Angela. And those who had taken no thought saw no reason to object to her appointment. And anyway there was nothing to be done. But Esther Bayliss pushed forward: " I don't know how it is with the rest of you, but I should have to think twice before I'd trust my subscription money to a coloured girl."
Mary said in utter astonishment: " Coloured, why what are you talking about? Who's coloured? "
" Angela, Angela Murray, that's who's coloured. At least she used to be when we all went to school at Eighteenth and Oxford."
Mary said again: "Coloured!" And then, " Angela, you never told me you were coloured ! "
Angela's voice was as amazed as her own: " Tell you that I was coloured ! Why of course I never told you that I was coloured! Why should I? "
"There," said Esther, " see she never told Mary that she was coloured. What wouldn't she have done with our money ! "
Angela had picked up her books and strolled out the door. But she flew down the north stair case and out the Brandywine Street entrance and so to Sixteenth Street where she would meet no one she knew, especially at this belated hour. At home there would be work to do, her lessons to get and the long, long hours of the night must pass before she would have to face again the hurt and humiliation of the classroom; before she would have to steel her heart and her nerves to drop Mary Hastings before Mary Hastings could drop her. No one, no one, Mary least of all, should guess how completely she had been wounded. Mary and her shrinking bewilder ment! Mary and her exclamation: " Coloured! " This was a curious business, this colour. It was the one god apparently to whom you could sacri fice everything. On account of it her mother had neglected to greet her own husband on the street. Mary Hastings could let it come between her and her friend.
In the morning she was at school early; the girls should all see her there and their individual attitude should be her attitude. She would remember each one's greetings, would store it away for future guidance. Some of the girls were especially careful to speak to her, one or two gave her a meaning smile, or so she took it, and turned away. Some did not speak at all. When Mary Hastings came in Angela rose and sauntered unseeing and unheeding deliberately past her through the doorway, across the hall to Miss Barrington's laboratory. As she returned she passed Mary's desk, and the girl lifted troubled but not un friendly eyes to meet her own; Angela met the glance fully but without recognition. She thought to herself: " Coloured ! If they had said to me Mary Hastings is a voodoo, I'd have answered, ' What of.it? She's my friend.' "
Before June Mary Hastings came up to her and asked her to wait after school. Angela who had been neither avoiding nor seeking her gave a cool nod. They walked out of the French class room together. When they reached the corner Mary spoke:
" Oh, Angela, let's be friends again. It doesn't really make any difference. See, I don't care any more."
" But that's what I don't understand. Why should it have made any difference in the first place? I'm just the same as I was before you knew I was coloured and just the same afterwards. Why should it ever have made any difference at all? "
" I don't know, I'm sure. I was just surprised. It was all so unexpected."
" What was unexpected? "
" Oh, I don't know. I can't explain it. But let's be friends."
" Well," said Angela slowly, " I'm willing, but I don't think it will ever be the same again."
It wasn't. Some element, spontaneity, trustful ness was lacking. Mary, who had never thought of speaking of colour, was suddenly conscious that here was a subject which she must not dis cuss. She was less frank, at times even restrained. Angela, too young to define her thoughts, yet felt vaguely: " She failed me once, I was her friend, yet she failed me for something with which I had nothing to do. She's just as likely to do it again. It's in her."
Definitely she said to herself. Mary withdrew herself not because I was coloured but because she didn't know I was coloured. Therefore if she had never known I was coloured she would always have been my friend. We would have kept on having our good times together." And she began to wonder which was the more important, a patent insistence on the fact of colour or an acceptance of the good things of life which could come to you in America if either you were not coloured or the fact of your racial connections was not made known.
During the summer Mary Hastings' family, it appeared, recovered their fallen fortunes. At any rate she did not return to school in the fall and Angela never saw her again.
VIRGINIA came rushing in. " Angela, where's Mummy? "
" Out. What's all the excitement? " " I've been appointed. Isn't it great? Won't Mother and Dad be delighted! Right at the beginning of the year too, so I won't have to wait. The official notice isn't out yet but I know it's all right. Miss Herren wants me to report to morrow. Isn't it perfectly marvellous! Here I graduate from the Normal in June and in the second week of school in September I've got my perfectly good job. Darling child, it's very much better, as you may have heard me observe before, to be born lucky than rich. But I am lucky and I'll be rich too. Think of that salary for my very own ! With both of us working, Mummy won't have to want for a thing, nor Father either. Mummy won't have to do a lick of work if she doesn't want to. Well, what have you got to say about it, old Rain-in-the-Face? Or perhaps this isn't Mrs. Henrietta Jones whom I'm addressing of?"
Angela giggled, then raised an imaginary lorgnette. " Er, really I think you have the advantage of me. Well, I was thinking how fortunate you were to get your appointment right off the bat and how you'll hate it now that you have got it."
She herself, appointed two years previously, had had no such luck. Strictly speaking there are no coloured schools as such in Philadelphia. Yet, by an unwritten law, although coloured children may be taught by white teachers, white children must never receive knowledge at the hands of coloured instructors. As the number of coloured Normal School graduates is steadily increasing, the city gets around this difficulty by manning a school in a district thickly populated by Negroes, with a coloured principal and a coloured teaching force. Coloured children living in that district must thereupon attend that school. But no attention is paid to the white children who leave this same district for the next nearest white or " mixed " school.
Angela had been sixth on the list of coloured graduates. Five had been appointed, but there was no vacancy for her, and for several months she was idle with here and there a day, perhaps a week of substituting. She could not be appointed in any but a coloured school, and she was not supposed to substitute in any but this kind of classroom. Then her father discovered that a young white woman was teaching in a coloured school. He made some searching inquiries and was met with the complacent rejoinder that as soon as a vacancy occurred in a white school, Miss Mc- Sweeney would be transferred there and his daughter could have her place.
Just as she had anticipated, Angela did not want the job after she received it. She had expected to loathe teaching little children and her expecta tion, it turned out, was perfectly well grounded. Perhaps she might like to teach drawing to grown-ups; she would certainly like to have a try at it. Meanwhile it was nice to be independent, to be holding a lady-like, respectable position so different from her mother's early days, to be able to have pretty clothes and to help with the house, in brief to be drawing an appreciably adequate and steady salary. For one thing it made it possible for her to take up work at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts at Broad and Cherry.
Jinny was in excellent spirits at dinner. " Now, Mummy darling, you really shall walk in silk attire and siller hae to spare." Angela's appointment had done away with the drudgery of washday. " We'll get Hettie Daniels to come in Saturdays and clean up. I won't have to scrub the front steps any more and everything will be feasting and fun." Pushing aside her plate she rushed over to her father, climbed on his knee and flung her lovely bronze arms around his neck. She still adored him, still thought him the finest man in the world; she still wanted her husband to be just exactly like him; he would not be so tall nor would he be quite as dark. Matthew Henson was of only medium height and was a sort of reddish yellow and he distinctly was not as handsome as her father. Indeed Virginia thought, with a pang of shame at her disloyalty, that it would have been a fine thing if he could exchange his lighter skin for her father's colour if in so doing it he might have gained her father's thick, coarsely grained but beautifully curling, open black hair. Matthew had inherited his father's thick, tight, " bad " hair. Only, thank heaven, it was darker.
Junius tucked his slender daughter back in the hollow of his arm.
" Well, baby, you want something off my plate? " As a child Virginia had been a notorious beggar.
" Darling ! I was thinking that now you could buy Mr. Hallowell's car. He's got his eye on a Cadillac, Kate says, and he'd be willing to let Henry Ford go for a song."
Junius was pleased, but he thought he ought to protest. " Do I look as old as all that? I might be able to buy the actual car, now that my girls are getting so monied, but the upkeep, I under stand, is pretty steep."
" Oh, nonsense," said Mattie. " Go on and get it, June. Think how nice it will be riding out North Broad Street in the evenings."
And Angela added kindly: " I think you owe it to yourself to get it, Dad. Jinny and I'll carry the house till you get it paid for."
" Well, there's no reason of course why I " he corrected himself, " why we shouldn't have a car if we want it." He saw himself spending happy moments digging in the little car's inmost mysteries. He would buy new parts, change the engine perhaps, paint it and overhaul her generally. And he might just as well indulge himself. The little house was long since paid for; he was well insured, and his two daughters were grown up and taking care of themselves. He slid Jinny off his knee.
" I believe I'll run over to the Hallowells now and see what Tom'll take for that car. Catch him before he goes down town in it."
Virginia called after him. " Just think ! May be this time next week you'll be going down town"
She was very happy. Life was turning out just right. She was young, she was twenty, she was about to earn her own living, " to be about to live " she said, happily quoting a Latin construction which had always intrigued her. Her mother would never have to work again; her father would have a Henry Ford ; she herself would get a new, good music teacher and would also take up the study of methods at the University of Pennsylvania.
Angela could hear her downstairs talking to Matthew Henson whose ring she had just answered. " Only think, Matt, I've been appointed."
" Great ! " said Matthew. " Is Angela in? Do you think she'd like to go to the movies with me to-night? She was too tired last time. Run up and ask her, there's a good girl."
Angela sighed. She didn't want to go out with Matthew; he wearied her so. And besides people always looked at her so strangely. She wished he would take it into his head to come and see Jinny.
Sunday was still a happy day. Already an air of prosperity, of having arrived beyond the striving point, had settled over the family. Mr. Murray's negotiations with Tom Hallowell had been most successful. The Ford, a little four seater coupe, compact and sturdy, had changed hands. Its former owner came around on Sunday to give Junius a lesson. The entire household piled in, for both girls were possessed of the modern slenderness. They rode out Jefferson Street and far, far out Ridge Avenue to the Wissahickon and on to Chestnut Hill. From time to time, when the traffic was thin, Junius took the wheel, anticipating Tom's instructions with the readiness of the born mechanic. They came back laughing and happy and pardonably proud. The dense, tender glow of the late afternoon September sun flooded the little parlour, the dining-room was dusky and the kitchen was redolent of scents of ginger bread and spiced preserves. After supper there were no lessons to get. " It'll be years before I forget all that stuff I learned in practice school," said Jinny gaily.
Later on some boys came in; Matthew Henson inevitably, peering dissatisfied through the autumn gloom for Angela and immediately content when he saw her; Arthur Sawyer, who had just entered the School of Pedagogy and was a little ashamed of it, for he considered teaching work fit only for women. " But I've got to make a living somehow, ain't I? And I won't go into that post-office! "
" What's the matter with the post-office? " Henson asked indignantly. He had just been appointed. In reality he did not fancy the work himself, but he did not want it decried before Angela.
" Tell me what better or surer job is there for a 'coloured man in Philadelphia? "
" Nothing," said Sawyer promptly, " not a thing in the world except school teaching. But that's just what I object to. I'm sick of planning my life with regard to being coloured. I'm not a bit ashamed of my race. I don't mind in the least that once we were slaves. Every race in the world has at some time occupied a servile position. But I do mind having to take it into consideration every time I want to eat outside of my home, every time I enter a theatre, every time I think of a profession.
" But you do have to take it into consideration," said Jinny softly. " At present it's one of the facts of our living, just as lameness or near-sightedness might be for a white man."
The inevitable race discussion was on.
" Ah, but there you're all off, Miss Virginia." A tall, lanky, rather supercilious youth spoke up from the corner. He had been known to them all their lives as Franky Porter, but he had taken lately to publishing poems in the Philadelphia Tribunal which he signed F. Seymour Porter. " Really you're all off, for you speak as though colour itself were a deformity. Whereas, as Miss Angela being an artist knows, colour may really be a very beautiful thing, mayn't it? "
" Oh don't drag me into your old discussion," Angela answered crossly. "I'm sick of this whole race business if you ask me. And don't call me Miss Angela. Call me Angela as you've all done all our lives or else call me Miss Murray. No, I don't think being coloured in America is a beautiful thing. I think it's nothing short of a curse."
" Well," said Porter slowly, " I think its being or not being a curse rests with you. You've got to decide whether or not you're going to let it interfere with personal development and to that extent it may be harmful or it may be an incentive. I take it that Sawyer here, who even when we were all kids always wanted to be an engineer, will transmute his colour either into a bane or a blessing according to whether he lets it make him hide his natural tendencies under the bushel of school- teaching or become an inspiration toward making him the very best kind of engineer that there ever was so that people will just have to take him for what he is and overlook the fact of colour."
" That's it," said Jinny. " You know, being coloured often does spur you on."
" And that's what I object to," Angela answered perversely. "I'm sick of this business of always being below or above a certain norm. Doesn't anyone think that we have a right to be happy simply, naturally? "
Gradually they drifted into music. Virginia played a few popular songs and presently the old beautiful airs of all time, " Drink to me only with thine eyes " and " Sweet and Low ". Arthur Sawyer had a soft, melting tenor and Angela a rather good alto; Virginia and the other boys carried the air while Junius boomed his deep, unyielding bass. The lovely melodies and the peace of the happy, tranquil household crept over them, and presently they exchanged farewells and the young men passed wearied and contented out into the dark confines of Opal Street. Angela and Mattie went upstairs, but Virginia and her father stayed below and sang very softly so as not to disturb the sleeping street; a few hymns and finally the majestic strains of " The Dying Christian " floated up. Mrs. Murray had complained of feeling [tired. " I think I'll just lie a moment on your bed, Angela, until your father comes up." But her daughter noticed that she had not relaxed, instead she was straining forward a little and Angela realized that she was trying to catch every note of her husband's virile, hearty voice.
She said, " You heard what we were all talking about before the boys left. You and father don't ever bother to discuss such matters, do you? "
Her mother seemed to strain past the sound of her voice. " Not any more; oh, of course we used to talk about such things, but you get so taken up with the problem of living, just life itself you know, that by and by being coloured or not is just one thing more or less that you have to contend with. But of course there have been times when colour was the starting point of our discussions. I remember how when you and Jinny were little things and she was always running to the piano and you were scribbling all over the walls, many's the time I've slapped your little fingers for that, Angela, we used to spend half the night talking about you, your father and I. I wanted you to be great artists but Junius said: ' No, we'll give them a good, plain education and set them in the way of earning a sure and honest living; then if they've got it in them to travel over all the rocks that'll be in their way as coloured girls, they'll manage, never you fear.' And he was right." The music downstairs ceased and she lay back, relaxed and drowsy. " Your father's always right."
Much of this was news to Angela, and she would have liked to learn more about those early nocturnal discussions. But she only said, smiling, " You're still crazy about father, aren't you, darling? "
Her mother was wide awake in an instant. "Crazy! I'd give my life for him!"
The Saturday excursions were long since a thing of the past; Henry Ford had changed that. Also the extra work which the girls had taken upon themselves in addition to their teaching, Angela at the Academy, Virginia at the University, made Saturday afternoon a too sorely needed period of relaxation to be spent in the old familiar fashion. Still there were times when Angela in search of a new frock or intent on the exploration of a picture gallery asked her mother to accompany her. And at such times the two indulged in their former custom of having tea and a comfortable hour's chat in the luxurious comfort of some exclusive tea room or hotel. Mattie, older and not quite so lightly stepping in these days of comparative ease as in those other times when a week's arduous duties lay behind her, still responded joyously to the call of fashion and grooming, the air of " good living " which pervaded these places. Moreover she herself was able to contribute to this atmosphere. Her daughters insisted on presenting her with the graceful and dainty clothes which she loved, and they were equally insistent on her wearing them. " No use hanging them in a closet," said Jinny blithely. All her prophecies had come true her mother had the services of a maid whenever she needed them, she went clad for the most part " in silk attire ", and she had " siller to spare " and to spend.
She was down town spending it now. The Ladies' Auxiliary of her church was to give a reception after Lent, and Mattie meant to hold her own with the best of them. " We're getting to be old ladies," she said a bit wistfully, " but we'll make you young ones look at us once or twice just the same." Angela replied that she was sure of that. " And I know one or two little secrets for the complexion that will make it impossible for you to call yourself old."
But those her mother knew already. However she expressed a willingness to accept Angela's offer. She loved to be fussed over, and of late Angela had shown a tendency to rival even Jinny in this particular. The older girl was beginning to lose some of her restlessness. Life was pretty hum-drum, but it was comfortable and pleasant; her family life was ideal and her time at the art school delightful. The instructor was interested in her progress, and one or two of the girls had shown a desire for real intimacy. These intimations she had not followed up very closely, but she was seeing enough of a larger, freer world to make her chafe less at the restrictions which somehow seemed to bind in her own group. As a result of even this slight satisfaction of her cravings, she was indulging less and less in brooding and introspection, although at no time was she able to adapt herself to living with the complete spontaneity so characteristic of Jinny.
But she was young, and life would somehow twist and shape itself to her subsconscious yearnings, just as it had done for her mother, she thought, following Mattie in and out of shops, delivering opinions and lending herself to all the exigencies which shopping imposed. It was not an occupation which she particularly enjoyed, but, like her mother, she adored the atmosphere and its accompaniment of well-dressed and luxuriously stationed women. No one could tell, no one would have thought for a moment that she and her mother had come from tiny Opal Street; no one could have dreamed of their racial connections. " And if Jinny were here," she thought, slowly selecting another cake, " she really would be just as capable of fitting into all this as mother and I ; but they wouldn't let her light." And again she let herself dwell on the fallaciousness of a social system which stretched appearance so far beyond being.
From the tea-room they emerged into the damp grey ness of the March afternoon. The streets were slushy and slimy; the sky above sodden and dull. Mattie shivered and thought of the Morris chair in the minute but cosy dining-room of her home. She wanted to go to the " Y " on Catherine Street and there were two calls to make far down Fifteenth. But at last all this was accomplished. " Now we'll get the next car and before you know it you'll be home."
"You look tired, Mother," said Angela.
" I am tired," she acknowledged, and, suddenly sagging against her daughter, lost consciousness. About them a small crowd formed, and a man passing in an automobile kindly drove the two women to a hospital in Broad Street two blocks away. It was a hospital to which no coloured woman would ever have been admitted except to char, but there was no such question to be raised in the case of this patient. " She'll be all right presently," the interne announced, "just a little fainting spell brought on by over-exertion. Was that your car you came in? It would be nice if you could have one to get her home in."
" Oh, but I can," and in a moment Angela had rushed to the telephone forgetting everything except that her father was in his shop to-day and therefore almost within reach and so was the car.
Not long after he came striding into the hospital, tall and black and rather shabby in his working clothes. He was greeted by the clerk with a rather hostile, " Yes, and what do you want? "
Angela, hastening across the lobby to him, halted at the intonation.
Junius was equal to the moment's demands. " I'm Mrs. Murray's chauffeur," he announced, hating the deception, but he would not have his wife bundled out too soon. " Is she very badly off, Miss Angela? "
His daughter hastened to reassure him. " No, she'll be down in a few minutes now."
" And meanwhile you can wait outside," said the attendant icily. She did not believe that black people were exactly human; there was no place for them in the scheme of life so far as she could see.
Junius withdrew, and in a half hour's time the young interne and the nurse came out supporting his wan wife. He sprang to the pavement: "Lean on me, Mrs. Murray."
But sobbing, she threw her arms about his neck. " Oh Junius, Junius ! "
He lifted her then, drew back for Angela and mounting himself, drove away. The intern stepped back into the hospital raging about these damn white women and their nigger servants. Such women ought to be placed in a psychopathic ward and the niggers burned.
The girls got Mrs. Murray into the Morris chair and ran upstairs for pillows and wraps. When they returned Junius was in the chair and Mrs. Murray in his arms. " Oh, June, dear June, such a service of love."
" Do you suppose she's going to die? " whispered Jinny, stricken. What, she wondered, would become of her father.
But in a few days Mattie was fully recovered and more happy than ever in the reflorescence of love and tenderness which had sprung up between herself and Junius. Only Junius was not so well. He had had a slight touch of grippe during the winter and the half hour's loitering in the treacherous March weather, before the hospital, had not served to improve it. He was hoarse and feverish, though this he did not immediately admit. But a tearing pain in his chest compelled him one morning to suggest the doctor. In a panic Mattie sent for him. Junius really ill ! She had never seen him in anything but the pink of condition. The doctor reluctantly admitted pneumonia " a severe case but I think we can pull him through."
He suffered terribly Mattie suffered with him, never leaving his bedside. On the fifth day he was delirious. His wife thought, " Surely God isn't going to let him die without speaking to me again."
Toward evening he opened his eyes and saw her tender, stricken face. He smiled. " Dear Mattie," and then, "Jinny, I'd like to hear some music, 'Vital spark '-
So his daughter went down to the little parlour and played and sang " The Dying Christian ".
Angela thought, " Oh, isn't this terrible ! Oh how can she? " Presently she called softly, "Jinny, Jinny come up."
Junius' hand was groping for Mattie's. She placed it in his. " Dear Mattie," he said, " Heaven opens on my eyes, -- "
The house was still with the awful stillness that follows a funeral. All the bustle and hurry were over; the end, the fulfilment toward which the family had been striving for the last three days was accomplished. The baked funeral meats had been removed; Virginia had seen to that. Angela was up in her room, staring dry-eyed before her; she loved her father, but not even for him could she endure this aching, formless pain of bereavement. She kept saying to herself fiercely : " I must get over this, I can't stand this. I'll go away."
Mrs. Murray sat in the old Morris chair in the dining-room. She stroked its arms with her plump, worn fingers; she laid her face again and again on its shabby back. One knew that she was remembering a dark, loved cheek. Jinny said, " Come upstairs and let me put you to bed, darling. You're going to sleep with me, you know. You're going to comfort your little girl, aren't you, Mummy? " Then as there was no response, " Darling, you'll make yourself ill."
Her mother sat up suddenly. " Yes, that's what I want to do. Oh, Jinny, do you think I can make myself ill enough to follow him soon? My daughter, try to forgive me, but I must go to him. I can't live without him. I don't deserve a daughter like you, but, don't let them hold me back. I want to die, I must die. Say you for give me, -- "
" Darling," and it was as though her husband rather than her daughter spoke, " whatever you want is what I want." By a supreme effort she held back her tears, but it was years before she forgot the picture of her mother sitting back in the old Morris chair, composing herself for death.
AT the Academy matters progressed smoothly without the flawing of a ripple. Angela looked forward to the hours which she spent there and honestly regretted their passage. Her fellow students and the instructors were more than cordial, there was an actual sense of camaraderie among them. She had not mentioned the fact of her Negro strain, indeed she had no occasion to, but she did not believe that this fact if known would cause any change in attitude. Artists were noted for their broad-mindedness. They were the first persons in the world to judge a person for his worth rather than by any hall-mark. It is true that Miss Henderson, a young lady of undeniable colour, was not received with the same cordiality and attention which Angela was receiving, and this, too, despite the fact that the former's work showed undeniable talent, even originality. Angela thought that something in the young lady's personality precluded an approach to friendship; she seemed to be wary, almost offensively stand-offish. Certainly she never spoke unless spoken to; she had been known to spend a whole session without even glancing at a [fellow student.
Angela herself had not arrived at any genuine intimacies. Two of the girls had asked her to their homes but she had always refused; such invitations would have to be returned with similar ones and the presence of Jinny would entail explanations. The invitation of Mr. Shields, the instructor, to have tea at his wife's at home was another matter and of this she gladly availed herself. She could not tell to just what end she was striving. She did not like teaching and longed to give it up. On the other hand she must make her living. Mr. Shields had suggested that she might be able to increase both her earning capacity and her enjoyments through a more practical application of her art. There were directorships of drawing in the public schools, positions in art schools and colleges, or, since Angela frankly acknowledged her unwillingness to instruct, there was such a thing as being buyer for the art section of a department store.
" And anyway," said Mrs. Shields, " you never know what may be in store for you if you just have preparation." She and her husband were both attracted to the pleasant-spoken, talented girl. Angela possessed an undeniable air, and she dressed well, even superlatively. Her parents' death had meant the possession of half the house and half of three thousand dollars' worth of insurance. Her salary was adequate, her expenses light. Indeed even her present mode of living gave her little cause for complaint except that her racial affiliations narrowed her confines. But she was restlessly conscious of a desire for broader horizons. She confided something like this to her new friends.
" Perfectly natural," they agreed. " There's no telling where your tastes and talents will lead you, to Europe perhaps and surely to the formation of new and interesting friendships. You'll find artistic folk the broadest, most liberal people in the world."
" There are possibilities of scholarships, too," Mr. Shields concluded more practically. The Academy offered a few in competition. But there were others more liberally endowed and practically without restriction.
Sundays on Opal Street bore still their aspect of something different and special. Jinny sometimes went to church, sometimes packed the car with a group of laughing girls of her age and played at her father's old game of exploring. Angela preferred to stay in the house. She liked to sleep late, get up for a leisurely bath and a meticulous toilet. Afterwards she would turn over her wardrobe, sorting and discarding; read the week's forecast of theatres, concerts and exhibits. And finally she would begin sketching, usually ending up with a new view of Hetty Daniels' head.
Hetty, who lived with them now in the triple capacity, as she saw it, of housekeeper, companion, and chaperone, loved to pose. It satisfied some unquenchable vanity in her unloved, empty exist ence. She could not conceive of being sketched because she was, in the artist's jargon, " interest ing", "paintable", or "difficult". Models, as she understood it, were chosen for their beauty. Square and upright she sat, regaling Angela with tales of the romantic adventures of some remote period which was her youth. She could not be very old, the young girl thought; indeed, from some of her dates she must have been at least twelve years younger than her mother. Yet Mrs. Murray had carried with her to the end some irrefragable quality of girlishness which would keep her memory forever young.
Miss Daniels' great fetish was sex morality. " Them young fellers was always 'round me thick ez bees; wasn't any night they wasn't more fellows in my kitchen then you an' Jinny ever has in yore parlour. But I never listened to none of the' talk, jist held out agin 'em and kept my pearl of great price untarnished. I aimed then and I'm continual to aim to be a verjous woman."
Her unslaked yearnings gleamed suddenly out of her eyes, transforming her usually rather expressionless face into something wild and avid. The dark brown immobile mask of her skin made an excellent foil for the vividness of an emotion which was so apparent, so palpable that it seemed like something superimposed upon the background of her countenance.
" If I could just get that look for Mr. Shields," Angela said half aloud to herself, " I bet I could get any of their old scholarships. ... So you had lots more beaux than we have, Hetty? Well you wouldn't have to go far to outdo us there."
The same half dozen young men still visited the Murray household on Sundays. None of them except Matthew Henson came as a suitor; the others looked in partly from habit, partly, Jinny used to say, for the sake of Hetty Daniels' good
"They certainly do argue;" Angela grumbled a little, but she didn't care. Matthew was usually the leader in their illimitable discussions, but she much preferred him at this than at his clumsy and distasteful love-making. Of course she could go out, but there was no place for her to visit and no companions for her to visit with. If she made calls there would be merely a replica of what she was finding in her own household. It was true that in the ultra-modern set Sunday dancing was being taken up. But she and Virginia did not fit in here any too well. Her fancy envisaged a comfortable drawing-room (there were folks who used that term), peopled with distinguished men and women who did things, wrote and painted and acted, people with a broad, cultural background behind them, or, lacking that, with the originality of thought and speech which comes from failing, deliberately failing, to conform to the pattern. Somewhere, she supposed, there must be coloured people like that. But she didn't know any of them. She knew there were people right in Philadelphia who had left far, far behind them the economic class to which her father and mother had belonged. But their thoughts, their actions were still cramped and confined; they were sitting in their new, even luxurious quarters, still mental parvenus, still dis cussing the eternal race question even as these boys here.
To-night they were hard at it again with/a new phase which Angela, who usually sat only half attentive in their midst, did not remember ever having heard touched before. Seymour Porter had started the ball by forcing their attention to one of his poems. It was not a bad poem; as modern verse goes it possessed a touch distinctly above the mediocre.
" Why don't you stop that stuff and get down to brass tacks, Porter? " Matthew snarled. " You'll be of much more service to your race as a good dentist than as a half-baked poet." Henson happened to know that the amount of study which the young poet did at the University kept him just barely registered in the dental college.
Porter ran his hand over his beautifully groomed hair. He had worn a stocking cap in his room all the early part of the day to enable him to perform this gesture without disaster. " There you go, Henson, service to the race and all the rest of it. Doesn't it ever occur to you that the race is made up of individuals and you can't conserve the good of the whole unless you establish that of each part? Is it better for me to be a first rate dentist and be a cabined and confined personality or a half-baked poet, as you'd call it, and be myself? "
Henson reasoned that a coloured American must take into account that he is usually living in a hostile community. " If you're only a half-baked poet they'll think that you're a representative of your race and that we're all equally no account. But if you're a fine dentist, they won't think, it's true, that we're all as skilled as you, but they will respect you and concede that probably there're a few more like you. Inconsistent, but that's the way they argue."
Arthur Sawyer objected to this constant yield ing to an invisible censorship. " If you're coloured you've just got to straddle a bit; you've got to consider both racial and individual integrity. I've got to be sure of a living right now. So in order not to bring the charge of vagrancy against my family I'm going to teach until I've saved enough money to study engineering in comfort."
" And when you get through? " Matthew asked politely.
" When I get through, if this city has come to its senses, I'll get a big job with Baldwin. If not I'll go to South America and take out naturalization papers."
" But you can't do that," cried Jinny, " we'd need you more than ever if you had all that training. You know what I think? We've all of us got to make up our minds to the sacrifice of some thing. I mean something more than just the ordin ary sacrifices in life, not so much for the sake of the next generation as for the sake of some principle, for the sake of some immaterial quality like pride or intense self-respect or even a saving complacency; a spiritual tonic which the race needs perhaps just as much as the body might need iron or whatever it does need to give the proper kind of resistance. There are some things which an individual might want, but which he'd just have to give up forever for the sake of the more important whole."
" It beats me," said Sawyer indulgently, " how a little thing like you can catch hold of such a big thought. I don't know about a man's giving up his heart's desire forever, though, just because he's coloured. That seems to me a pretty large order."
" Large order or not," Henson caught him up, " she comes mighty near being right. What do you think, Angela? "
"Just the same as I've always thought. I don't see any sense in living unless you're going to be happy."
Angela took the sketch of Hetty Daniels to school. " What an interesting type ! " said Gertrude Quale, the girl next to her. " Such cosmic and tragic unhappiness in that face. What is she, not an American? "
" Oh yes she is. She's an old coloured woman who's worked in our family for years and she was born right here in Philadelphia."
" Oh coloured ! Well, of course I suppose you would call her an American though I never think of darkies as Americans. Coloured, yes that would account for that unhappiness in her face. I suppose they all mind it awfully."
It was the afternoon for the life class. The model came in, a short, rather slender young woman with a faintly pretty, shrewish face full of a certain dark, mean character. Angela glanced at her thoughtfully, full of pleasant anticipation. She liked to work for character, preferred it even to beauty. The model caught her eye, looked away and again turned her full gaze upon her with an insistent, slightly incredulous stare. It was Esther Bayliss who had once been in the High School with Angela. She had left not long after Mary Hastings' return .to her boarding school.
Angela saw no reason why she should speak to her and presently, engrossed in the portrayal of the round, yet pointed little face, forgot the girl's identity. But Esther kept her eyes fixed on her former school-mate with a sort of intense, angry brooding so absorbing that she forgot her pose and Mr. Shield spoke to her two or three times. On the third occasion he said not un kindly, " You'll have to hold your pose better than this, Miss Bayliss, or we won't be able to keep you on."
" I don't want you to keep me on." She spoke with an amazing vindictiveness. " I haven't got to the point yet where I'm going to lower myself to pose for a coloured girl."
He looked around the room in amazement; no, Miss Henderson wasn't there, she never came to this class he remembered. " Well after that we couldn't keep you anyway. We're not taking orders from our models. But there's no coloured girl here."
" Oh yes there is, unless she's changed her name." She laughed spitefully. " Isn't that An gela Murray over there next to that Jew girl? " In spite of himself, Shields nodded. " Well, she's coloured though she wouldn't let you know. But I know. I went to school with her in North Philadelphia. And I tell you I wouldn't stay to pose for her not if you were to pay me ten times what I'm getting. Sitting there drawing from me just as though she were as good as a white girl ! "
Astonished and disconcerted, he told his wife about it. " But I can't think she's really coloured, Mabel. Why she looks and acts just like a white girl. She dresses in better taste than anybody in the room. But that little wretch of a model insisted that she was coloured."
" Well she just can't be. Do you suppose I don't know a coloured woman when I see one? I can tell 'em a mile off."
It seemed to him a vital and yet such a disgraceful matter. " If she is coloured she should have told me. I'd certainly like to know, but hang it all, I can't ask her, for suppose she should be white in spite of what that little beast of a model said? " He found her address in the registry and overcome one afternoon with shamed curiosity drove up to Opal Street and slowly past her house. Jinny was coming in from school and Hetty Daniels on her way to market greeted her on the lower step. Then Virginia put the key in the lock and passed inside. " She is coloured," he told his wife, " for no white girl in her senses would be rooming with coloured people."
" I should say not ! Coloured, is she? Well, she shan't come here again, Henry."
Angela approached him after class on Saturday. " How is Mrs. Shields? I can't get out to see her this week but I'll be sure to run in next."
He blurted out miserably, " But, Miss Murray, you never told me that you were coloured."
She felt as though she were rehearsing a well-known part in a play. " Coloured ! Of course I never told you that I was coloured. Why should I?"
But apparently there was some reason why she should tell it; she sat in her room in utter dejection trying to reason it out. Just as in the old days she had not discussed the matter with Jinny, for what could the latter do? She wondered if her mother had ever met with any such experi ences. Was there something inherently wrong in "passing"?
Her mother had never seemed to consider it as anything but a lark. And on the one occasion, that terrible day in the hospital when passing or not passing might have meant the difference between good will and unpleasantness, her mother had deliberately given the whole show away. But her mother, she had long since begun to realize, had not considered this business of colour or the lack of it as pertaining intimately to her personal happiness. She was perfectly satisfied, absolutely content whether she was part of that white world with Angela or up on little Opal Street with her dark family and friends. Where as it seemed to Angela that all the things which she most wanted were wrapped up with white people. All the good things were theirs. Not, some coldly reasoning instinct within was saying, because they were white. But because for the present they had power and the badge of that power was whiteness, very like the colours on the escutcheon of a powerful house. She possessed the badge, and unless there was someone to tell she could possess the power for which it stood.
Hetty Daniels shrilled up: " Mr. Henson's down here to see you."
Tiresome though his presence was, she almost welcomed him to-night, and even accepted his eager invitation to go to see a picture. " It's in a little gem of a theatre, Angela. You'll like the surroundings almost as much as the picture, and that's very good. Sawyer and I saw it about two weeks ago. I thought then that I'd like to take you."
She knew that this was his indirect method of telling her that they would meet with no difficulty in the matter of admission ; a comforting assurance, for Philadelphia theatres, as Angela knew, could be very unpleasant to would-be coloured patrons. Henson offered to telephone for a taxi while she was getting on her street clothes, and she permitted the unnecessary extravagance, for she hated the conjectures on the faces of passengers in the street cars; conjectures, she felt in her sensitiveness, which she could only set right by being unusually kind and friendly in her manner to Henson. And this produced undesirable effects on him. She had gone out with him more often in the Ford, which permitted a modicum of privacy. But Jinny was off in the little car to-night.
At Broad and Ridge Avenue the taxi was held up ; it was twenty-five minutes after eight when they reached the theatre. Matthew gave Angela a bill. " Do you mind getting the tickets while I settle for the cab? " he asked nervously. He did not want her to miss even the advertisements. This, he almost prayed, would be a perfect night.
Cramming the change into his pocket, he rushed into the lobby and joined Angela who, almost as excited as he, for she liked a good picture, handed the tickets to the attendant. He returned the stubs. " All right, good seats there to your left." The theatre was only one storey. He glanced at Matthew.
" Here, here, where do you think you're going? "
Matthew answered unsuspecting: " It's all right. The young lady gave you the tickets."
" Yes, but not for you; she can go in, but you can't." He handed him the torn ticket, turned and took one of the stubs from Angela, and thrust that in the young man's unwilling hand. " Go over there and get your refund."
" But," said Matthew and Angela could feel his very manhood sickening under the silly humiliation of the moment, " there must be some mistake; I sat in this same theatre less than three weeks ago."
' Well, you won't sit in there to-night; the management's changed hands since then, and we're not selling tickets to coloured people." He glanced at Angela a little uncertainly. " The young lady can come in "
Angela threw her ticket on the floor. " Oh, come Matthew, come."
Outside he said stiffly, " I'll get a taxi, we'll go somewhere else."
" No, no ! We wouldn't enjoy it. Let's go home and we don't need a taxi. We can get the Sixteenth Street car right at the
She was very kind to him in the car; she was so sorry for him, suddenly conscious of the pain which must be his at being stripped before the girl he loved of his masculine right to protect, to appear the hero.
She let him open the two doors for her but stopped him in the box of a hall. " I think I'll say good-night now, Matthew; I'm more tired than I realized. But, but it was an adventure, wasn't it? "
His eyes adored her, his hand caught hers: " Angela, I'd have given all I hope to possess to have been able to prevent it; you know I never dreamed of letting you in for such humiliation. Oh how are we ever going to get this thing straight? "
' Well, it wasn't your fault." Unexpectedly she lifted her delicate face to his, so stricken and freckled and woebegone, and kissed him; lifted her hand and actually stroked his reddish, stiff, " bad " hair.
Like a man in a dream he walked down the street wondering how long it would be before they married.
Angela, waking in the middle of the night and reviewing to herself the events of the day, said aloud: "This is the end," and fell asleep again.
The little back room was still Jinny's, but Angela, in order to give the third storey front to Hetty Daniels, had moved into the room which had once been her mother's. She and Virginia had placed the respective head-boards of their narrow, virginal beds against the dividing wall so that they could lie in bed and talk to each other through the communicating door-way, their voices making a circuit from speaker to listener in what Jinny called a hair pin curve.
Angela called in as soon as she heard her sister moving, "Jinny, listen. I'm going away."
Her sister, still half asleep, lay intensely quiet for another second, trying to pick up the continuity of this dream. Then her senses came to her.
" What'd you say, Angela? "
" I said I was going away. I'm going to leave Philadelphia, give up school teaching, break away from our loving friends and acquaintances, and bust up the whole shooting match."
" Haven't gone crazy, have you? "
" No, I think I'm just beginning to come to my senses. I'm sick, sick, sick of seeing what I want dangled right before my eyes and then of having it snatched away from me and all of it through no fault of my own."
" Darling, you know I haven't the faintest idea of what you're driving at."
" Well, I'll tell you." Out came the whole story, an accumulation of the slights, real and fancied, which her colour had engendered through out her lifetime; though even then she did not tell of that first hurt through Mary Hastings. That would always linger in some remote, impenetrable fastness of her mind, for wounded trust was there as well as wounded pride and love. " And these two last happenings with Matthew and Mr. Shields are just too much; besides they've shown me the way."
" Shown you what way? "
Virginia had arisen and thrown an old rose kimono around her. She had inherited her father's thick and rather coarsely waving black hair, enhanced by her mother's softness. She was slender, yet rounded; her cheeks were flushed with sleep and excitement. Her eyes shone. As she sat in the brilliant wrap, cross-legged at the foot of her sister's narrow bed, she made the latter think of a strikingly dainty, colourful robin.
" Well you see as long as the Shields thought I was white they were willing to help me to all the glories of the promised land. And the doorman last night, he couldn't tell what I was, but he could tell about Matthew, so he put him out; just as the Shields are getting ready in another way to put me out. But as long as they didn't know it didn't matter. Which means it isn't being coloured that makes the difference, it's letting it be known. Do you see?
" So I've thought and thought. I guess really I've had it in my mind for a long time, but last night it seemed to stand right out in my con sciousness. Why should I shut myself off from all the things I want most, clever people, people who do things, Art, " her voice spelt it with a capital, " travel and a lot of things which are in the world for everybody really but which only white people, as far as I can see, get their hands on. I mean scholarships and special funds, patronage. Oh Jinny, you don't know, I don't think you can understand the things I want to see and know. You're not like me ".
" I don't know why I'm not," said Jinny looking more like a robin than ever. Her bright eyes dwelt on her sister. " After all, the same blood flows in my veins and in the same propor tion. Sure you're not laying too much stress on something only temporarily inconvenient? "
" But it isn't temporarily inconvenient; it's happening to me every day. And it isn't as though it were something that I could help. Look how Mr. Shields stressed the fact that I hadn't told him I was coloured. And see how it changed his attitude toward me; you can't think how different his manner was. Yet as long as he didn't know, there was nothing he wasn't willing and glad, glad to do for me. Now he might be willing but he'll not be glad though I need his assistance more than some white girl who will find a dozen people to help her just because she is white." Some faint disapproval in her sister's face halted her for a moment. " What's the matter? You certainly don't think I ought to say first thing: ' I'm Angela Murray. I know I look white but I'm coloured and expect to be treated accordingly ! ' Now do you? "
" No," said Jinny, " of course that's absurd. Only I don't think you ought to mind quite so hard when they do find out the facts. It seems sort of an insult to yourself. And then, too, it makes you lose a good chance to do something for for all of us who can't look like you but who really have the same combination of blood that you have."
" Oh that's some more of your and Matthew Henson's philosophy. Now be practical, Jinny; after all I am both white and Negro and look white. Why shouldn't I declare for the one that will bring me the greatest happiness, prosperity and respect? "
" No reason in the world except that since in this country public opinion is against any infusion of black blood it would seem an awfully decent thing to put yourself, even in the face of appearances, on the side of black blood and say: " Look here, this is what a mixture of black and white really means ! "
Angela was silent and Virginia, feeling suddenly very young, almost childish in the presence of this issue, took a turn about the room. She halted beside her sister.
"Just what is it you want to do, Angela? Evidently you have some plan."
She had. Her idea was to sell the house and to divide the proceeds. With her share of this and her half of the insurance she would go to New York or to Chicago, certainly to some place where she could by no chance be known, and launch out " into a freer, fuller life ".
" And leave me ! " said Jinny astonished. Some how it had not dawned on her that the two would actually separate. She did not know what she had thought, but certainly not that. The tears ran down her cheeks.
Angela, unable to endure either her own pain or the sight of it in others, had all of a man's dislike for tears.
" Don't be absurd, Jinny ! How could I live the way I want to if you're with me. We'd keep on loving each other and seeing one another from time to time, but we might just as well face the facts. Some of those girls in the art school used to ask me to their homes; it would have meant opportunity, a broader outlook, but I never dared accept because I knew I couldn't return the invitation."
Under that Jinny winced a little, but she spoke with spirit. " After that, Angela dear, I'm beginning to think that you have more white blood in your veins than I, and it was that extra amount which made it possible for you to make that remark." She trailed back to her room and when Hetty Daniels announced breakfast she found that a bad headache required a longer stay in bed.
For many years the memory of those next few weeks lingered in Virginia's mind beside that other tragic memory of her mother's deliberate submission to death. But Angela was almost tremulous with happiness and anticipation. Al most as though by magic her affairs were arranging themselves. She was to have the three thousand dollars and Jinny was to be the sole possessor of the house. Junius had paid far less than this sum for it, but it had undoubtedly increased in value. " It's a fair enough investment for you, Miss Virginia," Mr. Hallowell remarked gruffly. He had disapproved heartily of this summary division, would have disapproved more thoroughly and openly if he had had any idea of the reasons behind it. But the girls had told no one, not even him, of their plans. " Some sisters' quarrel ? I suppose," he commented to his wife. " I've never seen any coloured people yet, relatives that is, who could stand the joint possession of a little money."
A late Easter was casting its charm over the city when Angela trim, even elegant, in her conventional tailored suit, stood in the dining-room of the little house waiting for her taxi. She had burned her bridges behind her, had resigned from school, severed her connection with the Academy, and had permitted an impression to spread that she was going West to visit indefinitely a distant cousin of her mother's. In reality she was going to New York. She had covered her tracks very well, she thought ; none of her friends was to see her off; indeed, none of them knew the exact hour of her departure. She was even leaving from the North Philadelphia station so that none of the porters of the main depot, friends perhaps of the boys who came to her house, and, through some far flung communal instinct familiar to coloured people, acquainted with her by sight, would be able to tell of her going. Jinny, until she heard of this, had meant to accompany her to the station, but Angela's precaution palpably scotched this idea; she made no comment when Virginia announced that it would be impossible for her to see her sister off. An indefinable steeliness was creeping upon them.
Yet when the taxi stood rumbling and snorting outside, Angela, her heart suddenly mounting to her throat, her eyes smarting, put her arm tightly about her sister who clung to her frankly crying. But she only said: " Now, Jinny, there's nothing to cry about. You'll be coming to New York soon. First thing I know you'll be walking up to me: 'Pardon me! Isn't this Mrs. Henrietta Jones? ' "
Virginia tried to laugh, " And you'll be saying : Really you have the advantage of me.' Oh, Angela, don't leave me ! "
The cabby was honking impatiently. " I must, darling. Good-bye, Virginia. You'll hear from me right away."
She ran down the steps, glanced happily back. But her sister had already closed the door.
End of Part 1 of Plum Bun by Jessie Redmon Fauset
Part 2 to follow in May 2018