Live Stream: A Creole from Louisiana by George Marion McClellan
Lisa Spurgin reads an extract from A Creole from Louisiana by George Marion McClellan which you can find in the latest edition of our Bread and Roses anthology - download here.
On Thursday night before the day Bertie was to leave, he said at bed time, “Miss Lizzie, I want to see the sun rise over the hills and mountains once more towards Mercury, and I am going to climb the Northwest hill at daylight. Come with me, won’t you?” “With pleasure, Bertie,” she replied, and they both laid down to their sleep and the pleasant dreams that belong to young lives, where sorrow has not been. But sweet sleep and pleasant dreams come to an end in time. The night sped on and on and at last ushered in a new day, whoselight brightened more and more upon Bertie and Lizzie as they climbed thehill northwest of the old Huntly farm in the early morning. The glory of Maywas everywhere. Already the hot weather had come, but at that early hour the air was blissfully cool, and every blade of grass and every leaf on bush and tree sparkled with the morning dew. In an adjoining pasture there was the tuneful jumble of the bell cow cropping the grass sweet and fine and all wet with dew, as she led the herd out for their long and blissful day in their pasture land. The sheep were moving off also in that formal procession which they always maintain and with a thousand tender bleats from the lambs and mothers. The crowing of the cocks and the songs of the birds came up the hillside sweet with all the joyous sounds of life. Lizzie and Bertie climbed slowly, speaking a word only now and then. It was life all too fresh and glorious to be talked about, life only to be breathed in with deep draughts and to be seen by the eye as heavenly visions.Directly east of the hill belowin the valley old Greenbottom Inn nestled close to the earth in the midst of its orchard full of the promise of luscious fruit. The old slave road wound its way by it towards the East as a yellow thread, going on and on till it stopped by the Atlantic Ocean, perhaps. On the top of the hill at the brow of the woods, Lizzie and Bertie sat down to rest and to look backwards over the valley below them. Far to the east the low mountains still made for Bertie a green wall all round the sky and in that glorious morning sunlight there was still the play of illusions that belonged to the happy mornings when he and Lizzie went that way towards Mercury to school. And all the valley south to the “Three Mountains” and southeast to Monte Sano was beautiful beyond words. Buena Vista, peerless Buena Vista, with its fig trees, its pomegranates, rich with promises of dapple fruit, and its voluptuous roses blooming in profusion, sat peacefully in the midst of the valley like some great motherbird on her summer nest. The sun came slanting down the crest of Monte Sano, down the cliffs of gray rocks covered with moss and green ferns, creeping from theniches of the rocks. The Tennessee, with its yellow loop, went crawling intoNorthern Alabama, and then back into the State whose name it bears. LizzieStory’s heart was full to the brim of happiness. “O! it is so beautiful, almostlike a beautiful dream,” she said with suppressed emotions. “It is indeed,”Bertie replied. “And yet, over beyond those green mountain walls there liesthe world.” “But why get over those green walls to find the world, Bertie? Why not find the world inside of this lovely valley?”“It would be a world too small for me,” he said with a low voice and a deepemotion new for him. He had not said truly what was in his heart. He had notsaid over those green walls love was drawing him with cords stronger thanlife. And she could not know it was so. She said no more, but dreamed on,and all her dreams were of Bertie Stein. He was the center of all the beauty, the glory and lovely life around her. And Bertie sat there dreaming also, but of another than Lizzie Story. He dreamed of one in the world beyond the green walls of the mountain, where the Cumberland winds around and washes witha horseshoe bend the Athens of the South. So love wrapped them both about in that sweet morning air, and for the hour at least created the world anew and made all things in it divine. And love is life, for on it the propagation of the race depends; still that same love is pain and is merciless. Nevertheless,one full, joyful day of it, perhaps, even one hour of it, such as Lizzie Story hadon that hillside that early morning was worth a lifetime without it, worth allthe sorrow that may have come afterwards because of that one hour of love unmodified in the momentary sweetness it gave to her existence.Lizzie Story’s life had been a simple one. She lived her first nineteen yearsof life in Rhode Island. It was what every negro girl’s life is in that land. She mixed freely in church and school with the white boys and girls. There was never an act of unkindness in all her life from them to her on account of race distinction. They were friendly and kind and every right was granted to her, but for all that she grew up among them an alien. The things of life touched her only on the outside. She was the only negro in the high school the four years she was there. She attended the class ball at the time of her graduation, and the boys of the class danced with her, just as they did with the other girls of the class, but that was essentially all the social life Lizzie Story ever knew. She came to Northern Alabama soon after her graduation from the HighSchool at Westerly, Rhode Island. She taught the district school at Mercury,and that with the truck farming, which she most successfully carried on atthe same time, consumed all her time and energy. Bertie Stein came to herwhen he was eleven years old, and had filled all her life and soul. She loved him and lived for him. At first she loved him because he was a winning and loving little boy in her school. Then she loved him more because she adopted him into her home, sympathized with him and became a part of all that madeup his life with its abundant promise. She had never stopped to analyze herlove for him to see what kind it was. Indeed, there was no necessity for that. Hers was that good love, which has no cause for concealment or shame. It was the love she would have given the man she married, the child she might have borne, and the love she gave to Christ, her Lord and Redeemer. And ifthere is any one shocked at such a moralization, let him tell to the world of a good love for a human being, in which any one of the three I mention may be left out, or put his hand on the exact spot where these three unite and make separate and distinct links. All good loves of the human heart lie inside of these three, which are a trinity. It was only in September, during those blissful and last days of vacation, before he returned to college for his senior year, that Lizzie Story ever began to think of Bertie Stein in a new sense. He was somanly then, so gallant and lover-like in all their walks and life together. He wasthen so much taller than she was. The six years’ difference in their birthdaysdid not seem so great as formerly.
Posted by The Reader on Tuesday, July 21, 2020