The impossible has been attempted in "The House Behind the Cedars," the latest story from the pen of Charles W. Chesnutt. The heroine of the novel is the daughter of a "bright mulatto" woman and a white man, and it is made to appear that the sins of the father she had never been permitted to name, and the mother who had uncomplainingly borne the sorrow of her position, were visited upon the innocent young woman. She had grown up in a little North Carolina village, known only as Molly Walden's girl Rena. There was no outward show of negro blood in her veins, and her grace, beauty, and melting voice made her very attractive. Just before she reached womanhood, a brother who had gone away years before, successfully conquered fortune, and as a white man had married the heiress of a fine estate, returned home secretly and decided to give his sister the future to which her attractions and ability seemed entitled. He sent her for a year to a fashionable school, then brought her to his home and introduced her into the society in which he had secured a position. She was soon loved by a wealthy young planter, and after some hesitation on her part was won. As was to be expected, she was eager to tell him the secret of her birth, but out of consideration for her brother remained silent. The wedding was close at hand when the truth was accidentally discovered by the lover, and he at once broke the engagement. Rena then returned to her old home, began teaching a negro school, was persecuted by an mulatto admirer, and died from a fever brought on by a night out in the swamp during a storm.
This is a sad story, but not a strong one. The author, with all his art, does not succeed in winning the sympathy of the reader for the heroine. In fact, she is hardly real. The keen, business-like brother is a better figure. His character and career are not beyond the probabilities. The tragedy of the story should be in the giving up of her children by the lonely old mother, the sacrifice of their love and care. The proud places they might win seemed glorified even in her sight, and she consented with courage worthy of a better cause to see them leave her forever.
Published by Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston; price, $1.50.