It was with feelings of fear bordering on despair that Regenia Underwood alighted from the coach the second morning after leaving Minton. She had pierced through to the very heart of the South, an absolute stranger. Armed with a letter to Rev. Mr. Foggs, she set out, carrying her traveling bag, on a hunt for this much desired person. It was through this gentleman of some importance in the community where he lived, that Clement had obtained the position that Regenia so readily accepted. After some inquiry of the hangers-on, always about the station, she secured a hack and was driven to the parsonage. The parson was at breakfast and Regenia was received by his good wife, who, with true southern hospitality, invited the young girl out to breakfast.
Regenia wanted no second invitation. Her scanty lunch-box had been turned bottom side upward and thrown from the car window, long before the sun had closed his burning eye the evening before.
She was tired, hungry and sleepy, a trio of discomforts, which when added to loneliness, made a combination hard to outweigh in the scale of misfortunes. While Regenia is enjoying her much needed refreshment, let us take a little glimpse at the place in which she is to meet humanity in every form for next few months.
On a little knoll in the centre of clump of trees, near the outskirts of the city of Grandville, stands a neat white building. The school house has been recently erected. The knoll on which it stands slopes gently for some distance until it reaches the banks of a babbling brook whose clear waters laugh and frisk over its shallow bed. A rustic foot-log, hewed smooth on one side and made safe for passengers by a rude guard consisting of a hickory pole placed between the forks of two uprights nailed to the above-mentioned log, formed the approach to the school. The building had desk room and seating capacity for sixty, but was expected to accommodate more than twice that number. The school was new because the necessity for it was new also. A Northern syndicate had recently established in the vicinity of the school, a large steel plant. The workmen about this new enterprise were for the most part, Afro-American. The company, with far-seeing generosity, had almost immediately erected two churches and a school house; well aware that around these institutions, so highly prized by the Negro, could be best made permanent a happy and contented class of laborers.
The Afro-American, unlike any other people similarly circumstanced, believes in God and intelligence. Toward these two ideas he inclines with unerring instinct. He may be irreligious; he may be ignorant, but with all the strength of an over-enthusiastic heart, he believes in the church and the school. The shrewd Yankees knew this, and planned their campaign of cheap labor with gilded generosity, accordingly. It was the generosity that pays, the religion that brings shekels with its contentment. The children of the laborers at this new plant were to be the recipients of the syndicate's generosity. Regenia Underwood thenceforward would share with them their sorrows and misfortunes and through them hear more acutely the heart-throbs of this sin-burdened world than she would have heard in a century at Mt. Clare.
As Regenia entered the dining room, Rev. Foggs pushed his chair back from the table and walking around a number of little Foggs, made his way to Regenia, and grasping her hand with a warmth too genial for comfort, welcomed her to such hospitality as his table afforded.
"Make yourself at home," he said, re-seating himself and tucking his napkin under his chin, "you must be hungry after your long ride. How far have you come? I received Mr. St. John's telegram yesterday, but supposed you would not arrive until this afternoon. How did you find me, anyway?" he continued, not even deigning to await a reply to all of these questions. When he was at last satisfied that he had asked about all the questions he could think of, he paused for a reply.
Regenia answered his series of questions in a general way, which seemed to satisfy him until he could get time to cut another huge rasher of ham and fill his plate sufficiently to begin a new siege of stuffing and talking.
The breakfast being over, Mr. Foggs busied himself getting Regenia's thinks together, preparatory to escorting her to her boarding place.
"You will find Mrs. Landers a most excellent woman, he said, after Regenia had thanked the parson's wife for her kindness, bade the group of little Foggs good-bye, and started off with her new found clerical friend.
To this information Regenia very discreetly made no reply.
"I have known her for years," continued her escort, "and she has always been a consistent Christian. She is one of the leading members of my church and stands very high socially," he volunteered. "As soon as she heard you were coming, she sent over to tell me that she would take you," he continued.
He might has said, if he had been nice about little truthful expressions, that he was at Sister Landers' very hospitable home when Clement St. John's telegram reached him. In fact, if the truth must be told, when Rev. Mr. Foggs was not at home, it was safe to predict that he could be found at the house of this most excellent woman. Mrs. Landers kept a very excellent kind of brandy and soda, a decoction for which it is painful to relate, Rev. Mr. Foggs had a decided partiality.
"Does Mrs. Landers live near the school?" Regenia finally ventured to ask.
"No, not very near, but near enough to give you a good appetite after the walk," said Mr. Foggs, eyeing his companion narrowly.
"Mrs. Landers lives in the city," he continued, "but your school is out in the suburbs, in the vicinity of the steel plant. It is a little walk from here," he said, as he rang the door bell of a large sombre brick building. "But after you become accustomed to the journey, you will rather enjoy it than otherwise."
As he finished the last sentence, the door was partially opened and a pair of lynx-like black eyes peeped out at the two visitors. It was thrown wide open when Elder Foggs' bland voice cried out, "Good mornin' Sister Landers, this is Miss Underwood."
Mrs. Landers came forward, took both of Regenia's hands into her big brown palms, and said, "Welcome to Grandville, Miss Underwood."
The woman that Regenia saw standing before her was a thin, wiry individual, neither black nor brown, but a soft shading off between the two, a color not unknown among Afro-Americans, raven black hair, little sparkling watery black eyes, and an obsequious, overweening manner that was intended to inspire confidence, but had exactly the opposite effect upon our young heroine.
Mrs. Landers bade her visitors to be seated and after indulging in the ordinary commonplace, thought necessary on such occasions, she showed Regenia to her room. The poor child was glad at last to be alone. She lost no time in lowering the blinds and throwing her tired form across the bed, where she slept until called to dinner.
Mr. Foggs threw himself upon one of the large sofas in the room and with the contentment of one who is perfectly at home availed himself of the prerogative of his cloth to enjoy a tete-a-tete with Mrs. Landers.
It is well to mention at this juncture, that the Rev. Ananias Foggs was a powerful man in Grandville. His name was a tower of strength among the members of his faith and order. In appearance he was rather striking. Dressed always in full clerical attire, his vest buttoned to the throat, a white cravat, that reminded you that perhaps there had been a time when it was immaculate, but that time was in the grim and dizzy long ago; a shining black hat, sleek in spots, looking for all the world as if it had been treated with beeswax and tallow; black trousers, ornamented with tobacco juice and bulging slightly at the knees; rattling grey and white celluloid cuffs and collar; smoothly shaven saddle colored face, large gray eyes; of medium height, inclined to stoutness and a self-conscious, self-important air, will give an excellent mental photograph of Rev. Ananias Foggs. He always carried a book in his hand, in order, as he himself expressed it, "that I may seem deep."
Rev. Mr. Foggs was a very friendly man; in fact his friendliness was so fullsome, especially after a prolonged stay at that "most excellent woman's," Mrs. Landers, as to be tiresome. He was, of course, an educated man-- educated from above downward. He had begun his intellectual structure at the cupola. He had commenced the study of theology when the third reader was a mazy dilemma. He was said to be an erudite Greek and Hebrew scholar, but judging from his pronunciation, English was to him a foreign language. He had a head full of other men's ideas, indiscriminately mixed. He was an adept in the theories and disputes of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, but in the vast sea of independent generalization, he was without a helm, rudder or sail. His sermons were a combination of bluff, bluster and crocodile enthusiasm, and he had reached the highest pinnacle of pulpit oratory when he had hypnotised his hearers into a wild orgy of muscular gyrations -- motion rather than emotion. A conscious hypocrite, he misled rather than directed the native devotiveness of an ignorant people. No sermon was complete that did not end in a shout, and to this end he regularly wound up his noisy diatribe with a pathetic description of the dead or dying, which, as he expressed it to those in his confidence, "was sho' to fetch 'em!"
With all of these defects, the character of Rev. Foggs was not without its redeeming qualities. He was generous and hospitable to a fault. No traveling brother in straightened circumstances ever left his home hungry, or wanted a bed to rest for the night, who could not find it for the asking at the open door of the humble parsonage. No night was so dark that he could not find his way to the rude homes of the sick and dying. He had a weakness for preaching funerals. His obituary efforts were noted for miles around. Judging other men's frailties by a knowledge of his own, he found it easy to throw over their indiscretions the mantle of charity and stretch to the point of breaking his rigorous creed, if need be, to assure their friends that the dead had passed the grim portal in perfect safety.
It has been previously stated that he was a regular caller at the boarding house or lodging house of Mrs. Landers. Mrs. Landers, as far as anybody knew, grew up with the town of Grandville. She had owned that large brick house and lived just as she was living the day Regenia entered her door, for so many years that the community had ceased to conjecture about her age and solved the tireless enigma by considering her a fixture. She did not look a day older than she had looked twenty-five years before. He hair was as black, her step as light and her ability to get on in the world as pronounced as it had been at anytime during all the years the community had known her. She was wonderfully fond of pretty young girls, and never seemed to be so thoroughly happy as when surrounded by them in her home. There were those who nodded their heads and smiled knowingly when Mrs. Landers' name was mentioned. Some even doubted her loud amens and moments of entranced happiness during Sunday services, but by regular contributions and a whispered suspicion that she carried under her black bonnet a knowledge of the frailties and mishaps of many of the leaders of the congregation, for a quarter of a century, enabled her, in spite of her enemies, to hold her state unchallenged in church and society.
Mrs. Landers enjoyed the friendship of many of the oldest white families of the city; what tie bound them was not disclosed, but it is certain that, some of them seem to come and go, night and day from her door; what their mission was, is not known, but no one seemed to question their propriety. Into such a home and among such people goes Regenia Underwood to make her maiden effort at bread winning.
When Mrs. Landers came down from Regenia's chamber, she invited Rev. Foggs into the dining room, where she set out a bottle filled with brandy, some sugar and water, and bade him enjoy himself while she busied herself with her morning's work. The Elder sat by the blazing fire, alternately snoozing and in his moments of wakefulness mixing with the deftness of a veteran his favorite drink.
After awhile he went out into the kitchen, "making himself at home," as he called it, and kept the widow company until dinner. He was very talkative during the meal and once or twice the shrewd Mrs. Landers felt it her duty to interpose, to keep Regenia from seeing in Rev. Foggs' rambling, hilarious conversation, something that might prejudice the young girl against him.
The dinner was at last ended, to the infinite relief of both Regenia and Mrs. Landers. Regenia was tired and longed for quiet and rest; Mrs. Landers had the good sense to see that every moment, the possibility of Elder Foggs' making a fool out of himself was measurably increasing.
After many promises to call around the next day and escort the new teacher to school and introduce her to the pupils, Regenia was permitted to slip away to her room and think over the incidents of the past few days and plans for the morrow. The shades of evening had fallen around the dimly lighted streets before Elder Foggs, his steps still unsteady, made his way back to the parsonage.
Chapter 16 -- Chapter 18