THE BOUQUET





Mary Myrover's friends were somewhat surprised when she began to

teach a colored school. Miss Myrover's friends are mentioned

here, because nowhere more than in a Southern town is public

opinion a force which cannot be lightly contravened. Public

opinion, however, did not oppose Miss Myrover's teaching colored

children; in fact, all the colored public schools in town--and

there were several--were taught by white teachers, and had been so

taught since the state had undertaken to provide free public

instruction for all children within its boundaries. Previous to

that time there had been a Freedman's Bureau school and a

Presbyterian missionary school, but these had been withdrawn when

the need for them became less pressing. The colored people of the

town had been for some time agitating their right to teach their

own schools, but as yet the claim had not been conceded.



The reason Miss Myrover's course created some surprise was not,

therefore, the fact that a Southern white woman should teach a

colored school; it lay in the fact that up to this time no woman

of just her quality had taken up such work. Most of the teachers

of colored schools were not of those who had constituted the

aristocracy of the old regime; they might be said rather to

represent the new order of things, in which labor was in time to

become honorable, and men were, after a somewhat longer time, to

depend, for their place in society, upon themselves rather than

upon their ancestors. But Mary Myrover belonged to one of the

proudest of the old families. Her ancestors had been people of

distinction in Virginia before a collateral branch of the main

stock had settled in North Carolina. Before the war they had been

able to live up to their pedigree. But the war brought sad

changes. Miss Myrover's father--the Colonel Myrover who led a

gallant but desperate charge at Vicksburg--had fallen on the

battlefield, and his tomb in the white cemetery was a shrine for

the family. On the Confederate Memorial Day no other grave was so

profusely decorated with flowers, and in the oration pronounced

the name of Colonel Myrover was always used to illustrate the

highest type of patriotic devotion and self-sacrifice. Miss

Myrover's brother, too, had fallen in the conflict; but his bones

lay in some unknown trench, with those of a thousand others who

had fallen on the same field. Ay, more, her lover, who had hoped

to come home in the full tide of victory and claim his bride as a

reward for gallantry, had shared the fate of her father and

brother. When the war was over, the remnant of the family found

itself involved in the common ruin,--more deeply involved, indeed,

than some others; for Colonel Myrover had believed in the ultimate

triumph of his cause, and had invested most of his wealth in

Confederate bonds, which were now only so much waste paper.



There had been a little left. Mrs. Myrover was thrifty, and had

laid by a few hundred dollars, which she kept in the house to meet

unforeseen contingencies. There remained, too, their home, with

an ample garden and a well-stocked orchard, besides a considerable

tract of country land, partly cleared, but productive of very

little revenue.



With their shrunken resources, Miss Myrover and her mother were

able to hold up their heads without embarrassment for some years

after the close of the war. But when things were adjusted to the

changed conditions, and the stream of life began to flow more

vigorously in the new channels, they saw themselves in danger of

dropping behind, unless in some way they could add to their meagre

income. Miss Myrover looked over the field of employment, never

very wide for women in the South, and found it occupied. The only

available position she could be supposed prepared to fill, and

which she could take without distinct loss of caste, was that of a

teacher, and there was no vacancy except in one of the colored

schools. Even teaching was a doubtful experiment; it was not what

she would have preferred, but it was the best that could be done.



"I don't like it, Mary," said her mother. "It's a long step from

owning such people to teaching them. What do they need with

education? It will only make them unfit for work."



"They're free now, mother, and perhaps they'll work better if

they're taught something. Besides, it's only a business

arrangement, and doesn't involve any closer contact than we have

with our servants."



"Well, I should say not!" sniffed the old lady. "Not one of them

will ever dare to presume on your position to take any liberties

with us. I'll see to that."



Miss Myrover began her work as a teacher in the autumn, at the

opening of the school year. It was a novel experience at first.

Though there always had been negro servants in the house, and

though on the streets colored people were more numerous than her

own people, and though she was so familiar with their dialect that

she might almost be said to speak it, barring certain

characteristic grammatical inaccuracies, she had never been

brought in personal contact with so many of them at once as when

she confronted the fifty or sixty faces--of colors ranging from a

white almost as clear as her own to the darkest livery of the sun--

which were gathered in the schoolroom on the morning when she

began her duties. Some of the inherited prejudice of her caste,

too, made itself felt, though she tried to repress any outward

sign of it; and she could perceive that the children were not

altogether responsive; they, likewise, were not entirely free from

antagonism. The work was unfamiliar to her. She was not

physically very strong, and at the close of the first day she went

home with a splitting headache. If she could have resigned then

and there without causing comment or annoyance to others, she

would have felt it a privilege to do so. But a night's rest

banished her headache and improved her spirits, and the next

morning she went to her work with renewed vigor, fortified by the

experience of the first day.



Miss Myrover's second day was more satisfactory. She had some

natural talent for organization, though she had never known it,

and in the course of the day she got her classes formed and

lessons under way. In a week or two she began to classify her

pupils in her own mind, as bright or stupid, mischievous or well

behaved, lazy or industrious, as the case might be, and to

regulate her discipline accordingly. That she had come of a long

line of ancestors who had exercised authority and mastership was

perhaps not without its effect upon her character, and enabled her

more readily to maintain good order in the school. When she was

fairly broken in she found the work rather to her liking, and

derived much pleasure from such success as she achieved as a

teacher.



It was natural that she should be more attracted to some of her

pupils than to others. Perhaps her favorite--or rather, the one

she liked best, for she was too fair and just for conscious

favoritism--was Sophy Tucker. Just the ground for the teacher's

liking for Sophy might not at first be apparent. The girl was far

from the whitest of Miss Myrover's pupils; in fact, she was one of

the darker ones. She was not the brightest in intellect, though

she always tried to learn her lessons. She was not the best

dressed, for her mother was a poor widow, who went out washing and

scrubbing for a living. Perhaps the real tie between them was

Sophy's intense devotion to the teacher. It had manifested itself

almost from the first day of the school, in the rapt look of

admiration Miss Myrover always saw on the little black face turned

toward her. In it there was nothing of envy, nothing of regret;

nothing but worship for the beautiful white lady--she was not

especially handsome, but to Sophy her beauty was almost divine--

who had come to teach her. If Miss Myrover dropped a book, Sophy

was the first to spring and pick it up; if she wished a chair

moved, Sophy seemed to anticipate her wish; and so of all the

numberless little services that can be rendered in a school-room.



Miss Myrover was fond of flowers, and liked to have them about

her. The children soon learned of this taste of hers, and kept

the vases on her desk filled with blossoms during their season.

Sophy was perhaps the most active in providing them. If she could

not get garden flowers, she would make excursions to the woods in

the early morning, and bring in great dew-laden bunches of bay, or

jasmine, or some other fragrant forest flower which she knew the

teacher loved.



"When I die, Sophy," Miss Myrover said to the child one day, "I

want to be covered with roses. And when they bury me, I'm sure I

shall rest better if my grave is banked with flowers, and roses

are planted at my head and at my feet."



Miss Myrover was at first amused at Sophy's devotion; but when she

grew more accustomed to it, she found it rather to her liking. It

had a sort of flavor of the old regime, and she felt, when she

bestowed her kindly notice upon her little black attendant, some

of the feudal condescension of the mistress toward the slave. She

was kind to Sophy, and permitted her to play the role she had

assumed, which caused sometimes a little jealousy among the other

girls. Once she gave Sophy a yellow ribbon which she took from

her own hair. The child carried it home, and cherished it as a

priceless treasure, to be worn only on the greatest occasions.



Sophy had a rival in her attachment to the teacher, but the

rivalry was altogether friendly. Miss Myrover had a little dog, a

white spaniel, answering to the name of Prince. Prince was a dog

of high degree, and would have very little to do with the children

of the school; he made an exception, however, in the case of

Sophy, whose devotion for his mistress he seemed to comprehend.

He was a clever dog, and could fetch and carry, sit up on his

haunches, extend his paw to shake hands, and possessed several

other canine accomplishments. He was very fond of his mistress,

and always, unless shut up at home, accompanied her to school,

where he spent most of his time lying under the teacher's desk,

or, in cold weather, by the stove, except when he would go out now

and then and chase an imaginary rabbit round the yard, presumably

for exercise.



At school Sophy and Prince vied with each other in their

attentions to Miss Myrover. But when school was over, Prince went

away with her, and Sophy stayed behind; for Miss Myrover was white

and Sophy was black, which they both understood perfectly well.

Miss Myrover taught the colored children, but she could not be

seen with them in public. If they occasionally met her on the

street, they did not expect her to speak to them, unless she

happened to be alone and no other white person was in sight. If

any of the children felt slighted, she was not aware of it, for

she intended no slight; she had not been brought up to speak to

negroes on the street, and she could not act differently from

other people. And though she was a woman of sentiment and capable

of deep feeling, her training had been such that she hardly

expected to find in those of darker hue than herself the same

susceptibility--varying in degree, perhaps, but yet the same in

kind--that gave to her own life the alternations of feeling that

made it most worth living.



Once Miss Myrover wished to carry home a parcel of books. She had

the bundle in her hand when Sophy came up.



"Lemme tote yo' bundle fer yer, Miss Ma'y?" she asked eagerly.

"I'm gwine yo' way."



"Thank you, Sophy," was the reply. "I'll be glad if you will."



Sophy followed the teacher at a respectful distance. When they

reached Miss Myrover's home Sophy carried the bundle to the

doorstep, where Miss Myrover took it and thanked her.



Mrs. Myrover came out on the piazza as Sophy was moving away. She

said, in the child's hearing, and perhaps with the intention that

she should hear: "Mary, I wish you wouldn't let those little

darkies follow you to the house. I don't want them in the yard.

I should think you'd have enough of them all day."



"Very well, mother," replied her daughter. "I won't bring any

more of them. The child was only doing me a favor."



Mrs. Myrover was an invalid, and opposition or irritation of any

kind brought on nervous paroxysms that made her miserable, and

made life a burden to the rest of the household; so that Mary

seldom crossed her whims. She did not bring Sophy to the house

again, nor did Sophy again offer her services as porter.



One day in spring Sophy brought her teacher a bouquet of yellow

roses.



"Dey come off'n my own bush, Miss Ma'y," she said proudly, "an' I

didn' let nobody e'se pull 'em, but saved 'em all fer you, 'cause

I know you likes roses so much. I'm gwine bring 'em all ter you

as long as dey las'."



"Thank you, Sophy," said the teacher; "you are a very good girl."



For another year Mary Myrover taught the colored school, and did

excellent service. The children made rapid progress under her

tuition, and learned to love her well; for they saw and

appreciated, as well as children could, her fidelity to a trust

that she might have slighted, as some others did, without much

fear of criticism. Toward the end of her second year she

sickened, and after a brief illness died.



Old Mrs. Myrover was inconsolable. She ascribed her daughter's

death to her labors as teacher of negro children. Just how the

color of the pupils had produced the fatal effects she did not

stop to explain. But she was too old, and had suffered too deeply

from the war, in body and mind and estate, ever to reconcile

herself to the changed order of things following the return of

peace; and with an unsound yet not unnatural logic, she visited

some of her displeasure upon those who had profited most, though

passively, by her losses.



"I always feared something would happen to Mary," she said. "It

seemed unnatural for her to be wearing herself out teaching little

negroes who ought to have been working for her. But the world has

hardly been a fit place to live in since the war, and when I

follow her, as I must before long, I shall not be sorry to go."



She gave strict orders that no colored people should be admitted

to the house. Some of her friends heard of this, and

remonstrated. They knew the teacher was loved by the pupils, and

felt that sincere respect from the humble would be a worthy

tribute to the proudest. But Mrs. Myrover was obdurate.



"They had my daughter when she was alive," she said, "and they've

killed her. But she's mine now, and I won't have them come near

her. I don't want one of them at the funeral or anywhere around."



For a month before Miss Myrover's death Sophy had been watching

her rosebush--the one that bore the yellow roses--for the first

buds of spring, and when these appeared had awaited impatiently

their gradual unfolding. But not until her teacher's death had

they become full-blown roses. When Miss Myrover died, Sophy

determined to pluck the roses and lay them on her coffin.

Perhaps, she thought, they might even put them in her hand or on

her breast. For Sophy remembered Miss Myrover's thanks and praise

when she had brought her the yellow roses the spring before.



On the morning of the day set for the funeral Sophy washed her

face until it shone, combed and brushed her hair with painful

conscientiousness, put on her best frock, plucked her yellow

roses, and, tying them with the treasured ribbon her teacher had

given her, set out for Miss Myrover's home.



She went round to the side gate--the house stood on a corner--and

stole up the path to the kitchen. A colored woman, whom she did

not know, came to the door.



"W'at yer want, chile?" she inquired.



"Kin I see Miss Ma'y?" asked Sophy timidly.



"I don' know, honey. Ole Miss Myrover say she don' want no cullud

folks roun' de house endyoin' dis fun'al. I'll look an' see if

she's roun' de front room, whar de co'pse is. You sed-down heah

an' keep still, an' ef she's upstairs maybe I kin git yer in dere

a minute. Ef I can't, I kin put yo' bokay 'mongs' de res', whar

she won't know nuthin' erbout it."



A moment after she had gone there was a step in the hall, and old

Mrs. Myrover came into the kitchen.



"Dinah!" she said in a peevish tone. "Dinah!"



Receiving no answer, Mrs. Myrover peered around the kitchen, and

caught sight of Sophy.



"What are you doing here?" she demanded.



"I--I'm-m waitin' ter see de cook, ma'am," stammered Sophy.



"The cook isn't here now. I don't know where she is. Besides, my

daughter is to be buried to-day, and I won't have any one visiting

the servants until the funeral is over. Come back some other day,

or see the cook at her own home in the evening."



She stood waiting for the child to go, and under the keen glance

of her eyes Sophy, feeling as though she had been caught in some

disgraceful act, hurried down the walk and out of the gate, with

her bouquet in her hand.



"Dinah," said Mrs. Myrover, when the cook came back, "I don't want

any strange people admitted here to-day. The house will be full

of our friends, and we have no room for others."



"Yas'm," said the cook. She understood perfectly what her

mistress meant; and what the cook thought about her mistress was a

matter of no consequence.



The funeral services were held at St. John's Episcopal Church,

where the Myrovers had always worshiped. Quite a number of Miss

Myrover's pupils went to the church to attend the services. The

church was not a large one. There was a small gallery at the

rear, to which colored people were admitted, if they chose to

come, at ordinary services; and those who wished to be present at

the funeral supposed that the usual custom would prevail. They

were therefore surprised, when they went to the side entrance, by

which colored people gained access to the gallery stairs, to be

met by an usher who barred their passage.



"I'm sorry," he said, "but I have had orders to admit no one until

the friends of the family have all been seated. If you wish to

wait until the white people have all gone in, and there's any room

left, you may be able to get into the back part of the gallery.

Of course I can't tell yet whether there'll be any room or not."



Now the statement of the usher was a very reasonable one; but,

strange to say, none of the colored people chose to remain except

Sophy. She still hoped to use her floral offering for its

destined end, in some way, though she did not know just how. She

waited in the yard until the church was filled with white people,

and a number who could not gain admittance were standing about the

doors. Then she went round to the side of the church, and,

depositing her bouquet carefully on an old mossy gravestone,

climbed up on the projecting sill of a window near the chancel.

The window was of stained glass, of somewhat ancient make. The

church was old, had indeed been built in colonial times, and the

stained glass had been brought from England. The design of the

window showed Jesus blessing little children. Time had dealt

gently with the window; but just at the feet of the figure of

Jesus a small triangular piece of glass had been broken out. To

this aperture Sophy applied her eyes, and through it saw and heard

what she could of the services within.



Before the chancel, on trestles draped in black, stood the sombre

casket in which lay all that was mortal of her dear teacher. The

top of the casket was covered with flowers; and lying stretched

out underneath it she saw Miss Myrover's little white dog, Prince.

He had followed the body to the church, and, slipping in unnoticed

among the mourners, had taken his place, from which no one had the

heart to remove him.



The white-robed rector read the solemn service for the dead, and

then delivered a brief address, in which he spoke of the

uncertainty of life, and, to the believer, the certain blessedness

of eternity. He spoke of Miss Myrover's kindly spirit, and, as an

illustration of her love and self-sacrifice for others, referred

to her labors as a teacher of the poor ignorant negroes who had

been placed in their midst by an all-wise Providence, and whom it

was their duty to guide and direct in the station in which God had

put them. Then the organ pealed, a prayer was said, and the long

cortege moved from the church to the cemetery, about half a mile

away, where the body was to be interred.



When the services were over, Sophy sprang down from her perch,

and, taking her flowers, followed the procession. She did not

walk with the rest, but at a proper and respectful distance from

the last mourner. No one noticed the little black girl with the

bunch of yellow flowers, or thought of her as interested in the

funeral.



The cortege reached the cemetery and filed slowly through the

gate; but Sophy stood outside, looking at a small sign in white

letters on a black background:--



"NOTICE. This cemetery is for white people only. Others please

keep out."



Sophy, thanks to Miss Myrover's painstaking instruction, could

read this sign very distinctly. In fact, she had often read it

before. For Sophy was a child who loved beauty, in a blind,

groping sort of way, and had sometimes stood by the fence of the

cemetery and looked through at the green mounds and shaded walks

and blooming flowers within, and wished that she could walk among

them. She knew, too, that the little sign on the gate, though so

courteously worded, was no mere formality; for she had heard how a

colored man, who had wandered into the cemetery on a hot night and

fallen asleep on the flat top of a tomb, had been arrested as a

vagrant and fined five dollars, which he had worked out on the

streets, with a ball-and-chain attachment, at twenty-five cents a

day. Since that time the cemetery gate had been locked at night.



So Sophy stayed outside, and looked through the fence. Her poor

bouquet had begun to droop by this time, and the yellow ribbon had

lost some of its freshness. Sophy could see the rector standing

by the grave, the mourners gathered round; she could faintly

distinguish the solemn words with which ashes were committed to

ashes, and dust to dust. She heard the hollow thud of the earth

falling on the coffin; and she leaned against the iron fence,

sobbing softly, until the grave was filled and rounded off, and

the wreaths and other floral pieces were disposed upon it. When

the mourners began to move toward the gate, Sophy walked slowly

down the street, in a direction opposite to that taken by most of

the people who came out.



When they had all gone away, and the sexton had come out and

locked the gate behind him, Sophy crept back. Her roses were

faded now, and from some of them the petals had fallen. She stood

there irresolute, loath to leave with her heart's desire

unsatisfied, when, as her eyes fell upon the teacher's last

resting place, she saw lying beside the new-made grave what looked

like a small bundle of white wool. Sophy's eyes lighted up with a

sudden glow.



"Prince! Here, Prince!" she called.



The little dog rose, and trotted down to the gate. Sophy pushed

the poor bouquet between the iron bars. "Take that ter Miss Ma'y,

Prince," she said, "that's a good doggie."



The dog wagged his tail intelligently, took the bouquet carefully

in his mouth, carried it to his mistress's grave, and laid it

among the other flowers. The bunch of roses was so small that

from where she stood Sophy could see only a dash of yellow against

the white background of the mass of flowers.



When Prince had performed his mission he turned his eyes toward

Sophy inquiringly, and when she gave him a nod of approval lay

down and resumed his watch by the graveside. Sophy looked at him

a moment with a feeling very much like envy, and then turned and

moved slowly away.





THE AWAKENING OF THE NEGRO THE CAPTURE OF A SLAVER facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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