“Joyce,” he continued, “you have a double duty: one to your mother and this poor invalid, whose journey toward that Father’s house not made with hands is swiftly hastening; another duty toward your nobler self— the future that is in you and your woman’s heart. I tell you again that you are beautiful, and the slavery to which you are condemning yourself forever is an offence against the creator of such perfection. Do you know what it is to love?”
“I know what it is to feel kindness,” she answered after a time of silence. “I ought to know no more. Your goodness is very dear to me. We never sleep, brother and I, but we say your name together, and ask God to bless you.”
Reybold sought in vain to suppress a confession he had resisted. The contact of her form, her large dark eyes now fixed upon him in emotion, the birth of the conscious woman in the virgin and her affection still in the leashes of a slavish sacrifice, tempted him onward to the conquest.
“I am about to retire from Congress,” he said. “It is no place for me in times so insubstantial. There is darkness and beggary ahead for all your Southern race. There is a crisis coming which will be followed by desolation. The generation to which your parents belong is doomed! I open my arms to you, dear girl, and offer you a home never yet gladdened by a wife. Accept it, and leave Washington with me and with your brother. I love you wholly.”
A happy light shone in her face a moment. She was weary to the bone with the day’s work and had not the strength, if she had the will, to prevent the Congressman drawing her to his heart. Sobbing there, she spoke with bitter agony:
“Heaven bless you, dear Mr. Reybold, with a wife good enough to deserve you! Blessings on your generous heart. But I can not leave Washington. I love another here!”
The Lake and Bayou Committee reaped the reward of a good action. Crutch, the page, as they all called Uriel Basil, affected the sensibility of the whole committee to the extent that profanity almost ceased there, and vulgarity became a crime in the presence of a child. Gentle words and wishes became the rule; a glimmer of reverence and a thought of piety were not unknown in that little chamber.
“Dog my skin!” said Jeems Bee, “if I ever made a ’pintment that give me sech satisfaction! I feel as if I had sot a nigger free!”
The youthful abstractionist, Lowndes Cleburn, expressed it even better. “Crutch,” he said, “is like a angel reduced to his bones. Them air wings or pinions, that he might have flew off with, being a pair of crutches, keeps him here to tarry awhile in our service. But, gentlemen, he’s not got long to stay. His crutches is growing too heavy for that expandin’ sperit. Some day we’ll look up and miss him through our tears.”