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Mr. Ryder is the head of the Blue Veins Society and the central character to the story. He is a middle aged man of mixed race who has done well for himself and has been pursued by many women. Throughout his life he has not considered marriage until he met Molly Dixon a young woman, who is also bi-racial but described as very fair-skinned. Mr. Ryder decides to organize a ball in her honor and to present his feelings for her then and there. When he is preparing his speech for the ball, he is visited by an older black woman, a former slave, who is looking for her husband who has escaped before the civil war. Mr Ryder argues that there is no point in looking for him after such a long time and that maybe he does not want to be found. The woman, Liza Jane, asserts that her husband has surely remained faithful to her and that she is going to keep looking. She leaves Mr Ryder with the picture of her husband as a young man. At the ball, Mr. Ryder recounts the story to his guests and explains why it could be inconvenient for the man if his long forgotten wife reappeared after 25 years. Afterwards he ask his guests, whether the man should acknowledge the woman despite all of these reasons and everybody answers yes. As a result, Mr. Ryder brings in Liza Jane and introduces her as 'the wife of his youth’.
Liza Jane is an older black woman who was born as a slave. Before the civil war she was married to a free born man by the name Sam Taylor, whom she helped to escape when she has learned his family wanted to sell him to slavery. She visits the house of Mr. Ryder to ask about her husband, who has not returned for her as he promised. Mr. Ryder discourages her, but she refuses to give up her search for Sam and leaves him with the picture of her husband as a young man. At the end of her story Mr. Ryder introduces her ‘as the wife of his youth’.
Molly Dixon is a fairly young widow of mixed race that Mr Ryder falls in love with. The ball, where Mr. Ryder acknowledges his former wife, is organized in Molly’y honor, and she is the first to say that the man in the story should acknowledge his wife, which leads to Liza Jane’s introduction as the wife of Mr. Ryder.
Sam Taylor is a free born man of mixed race who was married to Liza Jane before the war. When he learns that his family wants to sell him to slavery he escapes with the help of Liza Jane and promises to come back for her, however, he does not. Liza Jane goes on looking for him for 25 years. At the end of the story it turns out that Sam Taylor is in fact Mr. Ryder.
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“I have no race prejudice,” he would say, “but we people of mixed blood are ground between the upper and the nether millstone. Our fate lies between absorption by the white race and extinction in the black. The one...