Ruth smiled and nodded.
“I got one from my beau,” went on Rachel, in great embarrassment; “but dat nigger knows I can’t read.”
“Where does he live?” asked Ruth.
“Up in Injianapolis. He drives de hearse.”
Ruth suppressed a smile. “I’ll read the love-letter for you,” she said.
Rachel sat down on the floor and began taking down her hair. It was divided into many tight braids, each of which was wrapped with a bit of shoe-string. From under the last one she took a small envelope and handed it to Ruth.
“Dat’s it,” she said. “I was so skeered I’d lose it I didn’t trust it no place ’cept in my head.”
Ruth unfolded the note and read:
I mean biznis if you mean biznis send me fore
dollars to git a devorce.
Rachel sat on the floor, with her hair standing out wildly and anxiety deepening on her face.
“I ain’t got but three dollars,” she said.
“I was gwine to buy my weddin’ dress wif dat.”
“But, Rachel,” protested Ruth, in laughing remonstrance, “he has one wife.”
“Yes,’m. Pete Lawson ain’t got no wife; but he ain’t got but one arm, neither. Whicht one would you take, Miss Rufe?”
“Pete,” declared Ruth. “He’s a good boy, what there is of him.”
“Well, I guess I better notify him to-night,” sighed Rachel; but she held the love-letter on her knee and regretfully smoothed its crumpled edges.
Ruth pushed back her chair from the table and crossed the wide hall to the library.
It was a large room, with heavy wainscoting, above which simpered or frowned a long row of her ancestors.
She stepped before the one nearest her and looked at it long and earnestly. The face carried no memory with it, though it was her father. It was the portrait of a handsome man in uniform, in the full bloom of a dissipated youth. Her mother had seldom spoken of him, and when she did her eyes filled with tears.
A few feet farther away hung a portrait of her grandfather, brave in a high stock and ruffled shirt, the whole light of a bibulous past radiating from the crimson tip of his incriminating nose.
Next him hung Aunt Elizabeth, supercilious, arrogant, haughty. Ruth recalled a tragic day of her past when she was sent to bed for climbing upon the piano and pasting a stamp on the red-painted lips.
She glanced down the long line: velvets, satins, jewels, and uniforms, and, above them all, the same narrow face, high-arched nose, brilliant dark eyes, and small, weak mouth.
On the table was a photograph of Carter. Ruth sighed as she passed it. It was a composite of all the grace, beauty, and weakness of the surrounding portraits.
She went to the fire and, sitting down on an ottoman, took two pictures from the folds of her dress. One was a miniature in a small old-fashioned locket. It was a grave, sweet, motherly face, singularly pure and childlike in its innocence. Ruth touched it with reverent fingers.