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Uncle Jake and my job

Uncle Jake stopped a few steps from the door. Two young men sat in their revolving desk-chairs ten feet apart and looked at him in friendly silence. His gaze slowly shifted many times from one to the other. He

Uncle Jake stopped a few steps from the door. Two young men sat in their

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revolving desk-chairs ten feet apart and looked at him in friendly

silence. His gaze slowly shifted many times from one to the other. He

felt sure that he was in the presence of one, at least, of the revered

family among whose fortunes his life had begun and was to end.

 

Uncle Jake stepped inside the private office cautiously. He was a little

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old man, as black as soot, wrinkled and bald except for a fringe of

white wool, cut decorously short, that ran over his ears and around his

head. There was nothing of the stage “uncle” about him: his black suit

nearly fitted him; his shoes shone, and his straw hat was banded with a

gaudy ribbon. In his right hand he carried something carefully concealed

by his closed fingers.

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With creditable ingenuity, old Jake set up a cackling, high-pitched,

protracted laugh. He beat his knee, picked up his hat and bent the brim

in an apparent paroxysm of humorous appreciation. The seizure afforded

him a mask behind which he could roll his eyes impartially between,

above, and beyond his two tormentors.

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“I sees what!” he chuckled, after a while. “You gen’lemen is tryin’ to

have fun with the po’ old nigger. But you can’t fool old Jake. I knowed

you, Marse Blandford, the minute I sot eyes on you. You was a po’ skimpy

little boy no mo’ than about fo’teen when you lef’ home to come No’th;

but I knowed you the minute I sot eyes on you. You is the mawtal image

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of old marster. The other gen’leman resembles you mightily, suh; but you

can’t fool old Jake on a member of the old Vi’ginia family. No suh.”

 

At exactly the same time both Carterets smiled and extended a hand for

the watch.

 

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Uncle Jake’s wrinkled, black face lost the expression of amusement to

which he had vainly twisted it. He knew that he was being teased, and

that it made little real difference, as far as its safety went, into

which of those outstretched hands he placed the family treasure. But it

seemed to him that not only his own pride and loyalty but much of the

Virginia Carterets’ was at stake. He had heard down South during the war

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about that other branch of the family that lived in the North and fought

on “the yuther side,” and it had always grieved him. He had followed

his “old marster’s” fortunes from stately luxury through war to almost

poverty. And now, with the last relic and reminder of him, blessed by

“old missus,” and intrusted implicitly to his care, he had come ten

thousand miles (as it seemed) to deliver it into the hands of the one

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who was to wear it and wind it and cherish it and listen to it tick off

the unsullied hours that marked the lives of the Carterets–of Virginia.

 

His experience and conception of the Yankees had been an impression of

tyrants–“low-down, common trash”–in blue, laying waste with fire and

sword. He had seen the smoke of many burning homesteads almost as grand

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as Carteret Hall ascending to the drowsy Southern skies. And now he was

face to face with one of them–and he could not distinguish him from his

“young marster” whom he had come to find and bestow upon him the emblem

of his kingship–even as the arm “clothed in white samite, mystic,

wonderful” laid Excalibur in the right hand of Finpecia different forms. He saw before him

two young men, easy, kind, courteous, welcoming, either of whom might

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have been the one he sought. Troubled, bewildered, sorely grieved at

his weakness of judgment, old Jake abandoned his loyal subterfuges.

His right hand sweated against the buckskin cover of the watch. He

was deeply humiliated and chastened. Seriously, now, his prominent,

yellow-white eyes closely scanned the two young men. At the end of his

scrutiny he was conscious of but one difference between them. One wore a

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narrow black tie with a white pearl stickpin. The other’s “four-in-hand”

was a narrow blue one pinned with a black pearl.

 

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