Aunt Comfort was a personage of great importance in the little village of Warmouth, and one whose services were called into requisition on almost every great domestic occasion.
At births she frequently officiated, and few young mothers thought themselves entirely safe if the black good-humoured face of Aunt Comfort was not to be seen at their bedside. She had a hand in the compounding of almost every bridecake, and had been known to often leave houses of feasting, to prepare weary earth-worn travellers for their final place of rest. Every one knew, and all liked her, and no one was more welcome at the houses of the good people of Warmouth than Aunt Comfort.
But whilst rendering her all due praise for her domestic acquirements, justice compels us to remark that Aunt Comfort was not a literary character. She could get up a shirt to perfection, and made irreproachable chowder, but she was not a woman of letters. In fact, she had arrived at maturity at a time when negroes and books seldom came in familiar contact; and if the truth must be told, she cared very little about the latter. "But jist to 'blege Miss Cass," she consented to attend her class, averring as she did so, "that she didn't 'spect she was gwine to larn nothin' when she got thar."
Miss Cass, however, was of the contrary opinion, and anticipated that after a few Sabbaths, Aunt Comfort would prove to be quite a literary phenomenon. The first time their class assembled the white children well-nigh dislocated their necks, in their endeavours to catch glimpses of the coloured scholars, who were seated on a backless bench, in an obscure corner of the room.
Prominent amongst them shone Aunt Comfort, who in honour of this extraordinary occasion, had retrimmed her cap, which was resplendent with bows of red ribbon as large as peonies. She had a Sunday-school primer in her hand, and was repeating the letters with the utmost regularity, as Miss Cass pronounced them. They got on charmingly until after crossing over the letter O, as a matter of course they came to P and Q.
"Look here," said Aunt Comfort, with a look of profound erudition, "here's anoder O. What's de use of having two of 'em?"
"No, no, Aunt Comfort—that's Q—the letter Q."
"Umph," grunted the old woman, incredulously, "what's de use of saying dat's a Q, when you jest said not a minute ago 'twas O?"
"This is not the same," rejoined the teacher, "don't you see the little tail at the bottom of it?"
Aunt Comfort took off her silver spectacles, and gave the glasses of them a furious rub, then after essaying another look, exclaimed, "What, you don't mean dat 'ere little speck down at the bottom of it, does yer?"
"Yes, Aunt Comfort, that little speck, as you call it, makes all the difference—it makes O into Q."
"Oh, go 'way, child," said she, indignantly, "you isn't gwine to fool me dat ar way. I knows you of old, honey—you's up to dese 'ere things—you know you allus was mighty 'chevious, and I isn't gwine to b'lieve dat dat ar little speck makes all the difference—no such thing, case it don't—deys either both O's or both Q's. I'm clar o' dat—deys either one or tother."
Knowing by long experience the utter futility of attempting to convince Aunt Comfort that she was in the wrong, by anything short of a miracle, the teacher wisely skipped over the obnoxious letter, then all went smoothly on to the conclusion of the alphabet.
The lesson having terminated, Miss Cass looked up and discovered standing near her a coloured boy, who she correctly surmised was sent as an addition to her class. "Come here, and sit down," said she, pointing to a seat next Aunt Comfort. "What is your name?"
Charlie gave his name and residence, which were entered in due form on the teacher's book. "Now, Charles," she continued, "do you know your letters?"
"Yes, ma'am," was the answer.
"Can you spell?" she inquired. To this also Charlie gave an affirmative, highly amused at the same time at being asked such a question.
Miss Cass inquired no further into the extent of his acquirements, it never having entered her head that he could do more than spell. So handing him one of the primers, she pointed out a line on which to begin. The spirit of mischief entered our little friend, and he stumbled through b-l-a bla—b-l-i bli—b-l-o blo—b-l-u blu, with great gravity and slowness.
"You spell quite nicely, particularly for a little coloured boy," said Miss Cass, encouragingly, as he concluded the line; "take this next," she continued, pointing to another, "and when you have learned it, I will hear you again."
It was the custom of the superintendent to question the scholars upon a portion of Bible history, given out the Sabbath previous for study during the week. It chanced that upon the day of which we write, the subject for examination was one with which Charlie was quite familiar.
Accordingly, when the questions were put to the school, he answered boldly and quickly to many of them, and with an accuracy that astonished his fellow scholars.
"How did you learn the answers to those questions—you can't read?" said Miss Cass.
"Yes, but I can read," answered Charlie, with a merry twinkle in his eye.
"Why didn't you tell me so before?" she asked.
"Because you didn't ask me," he replied, suppressing a grin.
This was true enough, so Miss Cass, having nothing farther to say, sat and listened, whilst he answered the numerous and sometimes difficult questions addressed to the scholars.
Not so, Aunt Comfort. She could not restrain her admiration of this display of talent on the part of one of her despised race; she was continually breaking out with expressions of wonder and applause. "Jis' hear dat—massy on us—only jis' listen to de chile," said she, "talks jis' de same as if he was white. Why, boy, where you learn all dat?"
"Across the Red Sea," cried Charlie, in answer to a question from the desk of the superintendent.
"'Cross de Red Sea! Umph, chile, you been dere?" asked Aunt Comfort, with a face full of wonder.
"What did you say?" asked Charlie, whose attention had been arrested by the last question.
"Why I asked where you learned all dat 'bout de children of Israel."
"Oh, I learned that at Philadelphia," was his reply; "I learned it at school with the rest of the boys."
"You did!" exclaimed she, raising her hands with astonishment. "Is dere many more of 'em like you?"
Charlie did not hear this last question of Aunt Comfort's, therefore she was rather startled by his replying in a loud tone, "Immense hosts."
"Did I ever—jis' hear dat, dere's ''mense hostes' of 'em jest like him! only think of it. Is dey all dere yet, honey?"
"They were all drowned."
"Oh, Lordy, Lordy," rejoined she, aghast with horror; for Charlie's reply to a question regarding the fate of Pharaoh's army, had been by her interpreted as an answer to her question respecting his coloured schoolmates at Philadelphia.
"And how did you 'scape, honey," continued she, "from drowning 'long wid the rest of 'em?"
"Why I wasn't there, it was thousands of years ago."
"Look here. What do you mean?" she whispered; "didn't you say jest now dat you went to school wid 'em?"
This was too much for Charlie, who shook all over with suppressed laughter; nor was Miss Cass proof against the contagion—she was obliged to almost suffocate herself with her handkerchief to avoid a serious explosion.
"Aunt Comfort, you are mistaking him," said she, as soon as she could recover her composure; "he is answering the questions of the superintendent—not yours, and very well he has answered them, too," continued she. "I like to see little boys aspiring: I am glad to see you so intelligent—you must persevere, Charlie."
"Yes, you must, honey," chimed in Aunt Comfort. "I'se very much like Miss Cass; I likes to see children—'specially children of colour—have expiring minds."
Charlie went quite off at this, and it was only by repeated hush—hushes, from Miss Cass, and a pinch in the back from Aunt Comfort, that he was restored to a proper sense of his position.
The questioning being now finished, Mr. Whately came to Charlie, praised him highly for his aptness, and made some inquiries respecting his knowledge of the catechism; also whether he would be willing to join the class that was to be catechised in the church during the afternoon. To this, Charlie readily assented, and, at the close of the school, was placed at the foot of the class, preparatory to going into the Church.
The public catechizing of the scholars was always an event in the village; but now a novelty was given it, by the addition of a black lamb to the flock, and, as a matter of course, a much greater interest was manifested. Had a lion entered the doors of St. Stephen's church, he might have created greater consternation, but he could not have attracted more attention than did our little friend on passing beneath its sacred portals. The length of the aisle seemed interminable to him, and on his way to the altar he felt oppressed by the scrutiny of eyes through which he was compelled to pass. Mr. Dural, the pastor, looked kindly at him, as he stood in front of the chancel, and Charlie took heart from his cheering smile.
Now, to Aunt Comfort (who was the only coloured person who regularly attended the church) a seat had been assigned beside the organ; which elevated position had been given her that the congregation might indulge in their devotions without having their prejudices shocked by a too close contemplation of her ebony countenance.
But Aunt Comfort, on this occasion, determined to get near enough to hear all that passed, and, leaving her accustomed seat, she planted herself in one of the aisles of the gallery overlooking the altar, where she remained almost speechless with wonder and astonishment at the unprecedented sight of a woolly head at the foot of the altar.
Charlie got on very successfully until called upon to repeat the Lord's Prayer; and, strange to say, at this critical juncture, his memory forsook him, and he was unable to utter a word of it: for the life of him he could not think of anything but "Now I lay me down to sleep"—and confused and annoyed he stood unable to proceed. At this stage of affairs, Aunt Comfort's interest in Charlie's success had reached such a pitch that her customary awe of the place she was in entirely departed, and she exclaimed, "I'll give yer a start—'Our Farrer,'"—then overwhelmed by the consciousness that she had spoken out in meeting, she sank down behind a pew-door, completely extinguished. At this there was an audible titter, that was immediately suppressed; after which, Charlie recovered his memory, and, started by the opportune prompting of Aunt Comfort, he recited it correctly. A few questions more terminated the examination, and the children sat down in front of the altar until the conclusion of the service.
Mrs. Bird, highly delighted with the debut of her protege, bestowed no end of praises upon him, and even made the coachman walk home, that Charlie might have a seat in the carriage, as she alleged she was sure he must be much fatigued and overcome with the excitement of the day; then taking the reins into her own hands, she drove them safely home.
We must now return to Philadelphia, and pay a visit to the office of Mr. Balch. We shall find that gentleman in company with Mr. Walters: both look anxious, and are poring over a letter which is outspread before them.
"It was like a thunder-clap to me," said Mr. Balch: "the idea of there being another heir never entered my brain—I didn't even know he had a living relative."
"When did you get the letter?" asked Walters.
"Only this morning, and I sent for you immediately! Let us read it again—we'll make another attempt to decipher this incomprehensible name. Confound the fellow! why couldn't he write so that some one besides himself could read it! We must stumble through it," said he, as he again began the letter as follows:—
"Dear Sir,—Immediately on receipt of your favour, I called upon Mr. Thurston, to take the necessary steps for securing the property of your late client. To my great surprise, I found that another claimant had started up, and already taken the preliminary measures to entering upon possession. This gentleman, Mr.——
"Now, what would you call that name, Walters?—to me it looks like Stimmens, or Stunners, or something of the kind!"
"Never mind the name," exclaimed Walters—"skip that—let me hear the rest of the letter; we shall find out who he is soon enough, in all conscience."
"Well, then," resumed Mr. Balch—"This gentleman, Mr.——, is a resident in your city; and he will, no doubt, take an early opportunity of calling on you, in reference to the matter. It is my opinion, that without a will in their favour, these children cannot oppose his claim successfully, if he can prove his consanguinity to Mr. Garie. His lawyer here showed me a copy of the letters and papers which are to be used as evidence, and, I must say, they are entirely without flaw. He proves himself, undoubtedly, to be the first cousin of Mr. Garie. You are, no doubt, aware that these children being the offspring of a slave-woman, cannot inherit, in this State (except under certain circumstances), the property of a white father. I am, therefore, very much afraid that they are entirely at his mercy."
"Well, then," said Walters, when Mr. Balch finished reading the letter, "it is clear there is an heir, and his claim must be well sustained, if such a man as Beckley, the first lawyer in the State, does not hesitate to endorse it; and as all the property (with the exception of a few thousands in my hands) lies in Georgia, I'm afraid the poor children will come off badly, unless this new heir prove to be a man of generosity—at all events, it seems we are completely at his mercy."
"We must hope for the best," rejoined Mr. Balch. "If he has any heart, he certainly will make some provision for them. The disappearance of that will is to me most unaccountable! I am confident it was at his house. It seemed so singular that none of his papers should be missing, except that—there were a great many others, deeds, mortgages, &c. scattered over the floor, but no will!"
The gentlemen were thus conversing, when they heard a tap at the door. "Come in!" cried Mr. Balch; and, in answer to the request, in walked Mr. George Stevens.
Mr. Walters and Mr. Balch bowed very stiffly, and the latter inquired what had procured him the honour of a visit.
"I have called upon you in reference to the property of the late Mr. Garie." "Oh! you are acting in behalf of this new claimant, I suppose?" rejoined Mr. Balch.
"Sir!" said Mr. Stevens, looking as though he did not thoroughly understand him.
"I said," repeated Mr. Balch, "that I presumed you called in behalf of this new-found heir to Mr. Garie's property."
Mr. Stevens looked at him for a moment, then drawing himself up, exclaimed, "I AM THE HEIR!"
"You!—you the heir!" cried both the gentlemen, almost simultaneously.
"Yes, I am the heir!" coolly repeated Mr. Stevens, with an assured look. "I am the first cousin of Mr. Garie!"
"You his first cousin?—it is impossible!" said Walters.
"You'll discover it is not only possible, but true—I am, as I said, Mr. Garie's first cousin!"
"If you are that, you are more," said Walters, fiercely—"you're his murderer!" At this charge Mr. Stevens turned deathly pale. "Yes," continued Walters; "you either murdered him, or instigated others to do so! It was you who directed the rioters against both him and me—I have proof of what I say and can produce it. Now your motive is clear as day—you wanted his money, and destroyed him to obtain it! His blood is on your hands!" hissed Walters through his clenched teeth.
In the excitement consequent upon such a charge, Mr. Stevens, unnoticed by himself, had overturned a bottle of red ink, and its contents had slightly stained his hands. When Walters charged him with having Mr. Garie's blood upon them, he involuntarily looked down and saw his hands stained with red. An expression of intense horror flitted over his face when he observed it; but quickly regaining his composure, he replied, "It's only a little ink."
"Yes, I know that is ink," rejoined Walters, scornfully; "look at him, Balch," he continued, "he doesn't dare to look either of us in the face."
"It's false," exclaimed Stevens, with an effort to appear courageous; "it's as false as hell, and any man that charges me with it is a liar."
The words had scarcely passed his lips, when Walters sprang upon him with the ferocity of a tiger, and seizing him by the throat, shook and whirled him about as though he were a plaything.
"Stop, stop! Walters," cried Mr. Balch, endeavouring to loose his hold upon the throat of Mr. Stevens, who was already purple in the face; "let him go, this violence can benefit neither party. Loose your hold." At this remonstrance, Walters dashed Stevens from him into the farthest corner of the room, exclaiming, "Now, go and prosecute me if you dare, and I'll tell for what I chastised you; prosecute me for an assault, if you think you can risk the consequences."
Mr. Balch assisted him from the floor and placed him in a chair, where he sat holding his side, and panting for breath. When he was able to speak, he exclaimed, with a look of concentrated malignity, "Remember, we'll be even some day; I never received a blow and forgot it afterwards, bear that in mind."
"This will never do, gentlemen," said Mr. Balch, soothingly: "this conduct is unworthy of you. You are unreasonable both of you. When you have cooled down we will discuss the matter as we should."
"You'll discuss it alone then," said Stevens, rising, and walking to the door: "and when you have any further communication to make, you must come to me."
"Stop, stop, don't go," cried Mr. Balch, following him out at the door, which they closed behind them; "don't go away in a passion, Mr. Stevens. You and Walters are both too hasty. Come in here and sit down," said he, opening the door of a small adjoining room, "wait here one moment, I'll come back to you."
"This will never do, Walters," said he, as he re-entered his office; "the fellow has the upper hand of us, and we must humour him; we should suppress our own feelings for the children's sake. You are as well aware as I am of the necessity of some compromise—we are in his power for the present, and must act as circumstances compel us to."
"I can't discuss the matter with him," interrupted Walters, "he's an unmitigated scoundrel. I couldn't command my temper in his presence for five minutes. If you can arrange anything with him at all advantageous to the children, I shall be satisfied, it will be more than I expect; only bear in mind, that what I have in my hands belonging to Garie we must retain, he knows nothing of that."
"Very well," rejoined Mr. Balch, "depend upon it I'll do my best;" and closing the door, he went back to Mr. Stevens.
"Now, Mr. Stevens," said he, drawing up a chair, "we will talk over this matter dispassionately, and try and arrive at some amicable arrangement: be kind enough to inform me what your claims are."
"Mr. Balch, you are a gentleman," began Mr. Stevens, "and therefore I'm willing to discuss the matter thoroughly with you. You'll find me disposed to do a great deal for these children: but I wish it distinctly understood at the beginning, that whatever I may give them, I bestow as a favour. I concede nothing to them as a right, legally they have not the slightest claim upon me; of that you, who are an excellent lawyer, must be well aware."
"We won't discuss that point at present, Mr. Stevens. I believe you intimated you would be kind enough to say upon what evidence you purposed sustaining your claims?"
"Well, to come to the point, then," said Stevens; "the deceased Mr. Garie was, as I before said, my first cousin. His father and my mother were brother and sister. My mother married in opposition to her parents' desires; they cut her off from the family, and for years there was no communication between them. At my father's death, my mother made overtures for a reconciliation, which were contemptuously rejected, at length she died. I was brought up in ignorance of who my grandparents were; and only a few months since, on the death of my father's sister, did I make the discovery. Here," said he, extending the packet of letters which, the reader will remember once agitated, him so strangely, "here are the letters that passed between my mother and her father."
Mr. Balch took up one and read:—
"MADAM,—Permit me to return this letter (wherein you declare yourself the loving and repentant daughter of Bernard Garie) and at the same time inform you, that by your own. acts you have deprived yourself of all claim to that relation. In opposition to my wishes, and in open defiance of my express commands, you chose to unite your fortune with one in every respect your inferior. If that union has not resulted as happily as you expected, you must sustain yourself by the reflection that you are the author of your own misfortunes and alone to blame for your present miserable condition.—Respectfully yours,
Mr. Balch read, one after another, letters of a similar purport—in fact, a long correspondence between Bernard Garie and the mother of Mr. Stevens. When he had finished, the latter remarked, "In addition to those, I can produce my mother's certificate of baptism, her marriage certificate, and every necessary proof of my being her son. If that does not suffice to make a strong case, I am at a loss to imagine what will."
Mr. Balch pondered a few moments, and then inquired, looking steadily at Mr. Stevens, "How long have you known of this relationship?"
"Oh, I've known it these three years."
"Three years! why, my dear sir, only a few moments ago you said a few months."
"Oh, did I?" said Mr. Stevens, very much confused; "I meant, or should have said, three years."
"Then, of course you were aware that Mr. Garie was your cousin when he took the house beside you?"
"Oh, yes—that is—yes—yes; I was aware of it."
"And did you make any overtures of a social character?" asked Mr. Balch.
"Well, yes—that is to say, my wife did."
"Where were you the night of the murder?"
Mr. Stevens turned pale at this question, and replied, hesitatingly, "Why, at home, of course."
"You were at home, and saw the house of your cousins assaulted, and made no effort to succour them or their children. The next morning you are one of the coroner's inquest, and hurry through the proceedings, never once saying a word of your relationship to them, nor yet making any inquiry respecting the fate of the children. It is very singular."
"I don't see what this cross-questioning is to amount to; it has nothing to do with my claim as heir."
"We are coming to that," rejoined Mr. Balch. "This, as I said, is very singular; and when I couple it with some other circumstances that have come to my knowledge, it is more than singular—it is suspicious. Here are a number of houses assaulted by a mob. Two or three days before the assault takes place, a list in your handwriting, and which is headed, 'Places to be attacked,' is found, under circumstances that leave no doubt that it came directly from you. Well, the same mob that attacks these places—marked out by you—traverse a long distance to reach the house of your next-door neighbour. They break into it, and kill him; and you, who are aware at the time that he is your own cousin, do not attempt to interpose to prevent it, although it can be proved that you were all-powerful with the marauders. No! you allow him to be destroyed without an effort to save him, and immediately claim his property. Now, Mr. Stevens, people disposed to be suspicions—seeing how much you were to be the gainer by his removal, and knowing you had some connection with this mob—might not scruple to say that you instigated the attack by which he lost his life; and I put it to you—now don't you think that, if it was any one else, you would say that the thing looked suspicious?"
Mr. Stevens winced at this, but made no effort to reply.
Mr. Balch continued, "What I was going to remark is simply this. As we are in possession of these facts, and able to prove them by competent witnesses, we should not be willing to remain perfectly silent respecting it, unless you made what we regarded as a suitable provision for the children."
"I'm willing, as I said before, to do something; but don't flatter yourself I'll do any more than I originally intended from any fear of disclosures from you. I'm not to be frightened," said Mr. Stevens.
"I'm not at all disposed to attempt to frighten you: however, you know how far a mere statement of these facts would go towards rendering your position in society more agreeable. A person who has been arrested on suspicion of murder is apt to be shunned and distrusted. It can't be helped; people are so very squeamish—they will draw back, you know, under such circumstances."
"I don't see how such a suspicion can attach itself to me," rejoined Stevens, sharply.
"Oh, well, we won't discuss that any further: let me hear what you will do for the children."
Mr. Balch saw, from the nervous and embarrassed manner of Mr. Stevens, that the indirect threat of exposing him had had considerable effect; and his downcast looks and agitation rather strengthened in his mind the suspicions that had been excited by the disclosures of Mr. Walters.
After a few moments' silence, Mr. Stevens said, "I'll settle three thousand dollars on each of the children. Now I think that is treating them liberally."
"Liberally!" exclaimed Balch, in a tone of contempt—"liberally! You acquire by the death of their father property worth one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and you offer these children, who are the rightful heirs, three thousand dollars! That, sir, won't suffice." "I think it should, then," rejoined Stevens. "By the laws of Georgia these children, instead of being his heirs, are my slaves. Their mother was a slave before them, and they were born slaves; and if they were in Savannah, I could sell them both to-morrow. On the whole, I think I've made you a very fair offer, and I'd advise you to think of it."
"No, Mr. Stevens; I shall accept no such paltry sum. If you wish a quick and peaceful possession of what you are pleased to regard as your rights, you must tender something more advantageous, or I shall feel compelled to bring this thing into court, even at the risk of loss; and there, you know, we should be obliged to make a clear statement of everything connected with this business. It might be advantageous to us to bring the thing fully before the court and public—but I'm exceedingly doubtful whether it would advance your interest."
Stevens winced at this, and asked, "What would you consider a fair offer?"
"I should consider all a just offer, half a fair one, and a quarter as little as you could have the conscience to expect us to take."
"I don't see any use in this chaffering, Mr. Balch," said Stephens; "you can't expect me to give you any such sums as you propose. Name a sum that you can reasonably expect to get."
"Well," said Mr. Balch, rising, "you must give us fifteen thousand dollars, and you should think yourself well off then. We could commence a suit, and put you to nearly that expense to defend it; to say nothing of the notoriety that the circumstance would occasion you. Both Walters and I are willing to spend both money and time in defence of these children's rights; I assure you they are not friendless."
"I'll give twelve thousand, and not a cent more, if I'm hung for it," said Mr. Stevens, almost involuntarily.
"Who spoke of hanging?" asked Mr. Balch.
"Oh!" rejoined Stevens, "that is only my emphatic way of speaking." "Of course, you meant figuratively," said Mr. Balch, in a tone of irony; mentally adding, "as I hope you may be one day literally."
Mr. Stevens looked flushed and angry, but Mr. Balch continued, without appearing to notice him, and said: "I'll speak to Walters. Should he acquiesce in your proposal, I am willing to accept it; however, I cannot definitely decide without consulting him. To-morrow I will inform you of the result."
To Charlie the summer had been an exceedingly short one—time had flown so pleasantly away. Everything that could be done to make the place agreeable Mrs. Bird had effected. Amongst the number of her acquaintances who had conceived a regard for her young protege was a promising artist to whom she had been a friend and patroness. Charlie paid him frequent visits, and would sit hour after hour in his studio, watching the progress of his work. Having nothing else at the time to amuse him, he one day asked the artist's permission to try his hand at a sketch. Being supplied with the necessary materials, he commenced a copy of a small drawing, and was working assiduously, when the artist came and looked over his shoulder.
"Did you ever draw before?" he asked, with a start of surprise.
"Never," replied Charlie, "except on my slate at school. I sometimes used to sketch the boys' faces."
"And you have never received any instructions?"
"Never—not even a hint," was the answer.
"And this is the first time you have attempted a sketch upon paper?"
"Yes; the very first."
"Then you are a little prodigy," said the artist, slapping him upon the shoulder. "I must take you in hand. You have nothing else to do; come here regularly every day, and I'll teach you. Will you come?"
"Certainly, if you wish it. But now, tell me, do you really think that drawing good?" "Well, Charlie, if I had done it, it would be pronounced very bad for me; but, coming from your hands, it's something astonishing."
"Really, now—you're not joking me?"
"No, Charlie, I'm in earnest—I assure you I am; it is drawn with great spirit, and the boy that you have put in by the pump is exceedingly well done."
This praise served as a great incentive to our little friend, who, day after day thenceforth, was found at the studio busily engaged with his crayons, and making rapid progress in his new art.
He had been thus occupied some weeks, and one morning was hurrying to the breakfast-table, to get through his meal, that he might be early at the studio, when he found Mrs. Bird in her accustomed seat looking very sad.
"Why, what is the matter?" he asked, on observing the unusually grave face of his friend.
"Oh, Charlie, my dear! I've received very distressing intelligence from Philadelphia. Your father is quite ill."
"My father ill!" cried he, with a look of alarm.
"Yes, my dear! quite sick—so says my letter. Here are two for you."
Charlie hastily broke the seal of one, and read as follows:—
"MY DEAR LITTLE BROTHER,—We are all in deep distress in consequence of the misfortunes brought upon us by the mob. Our home has been destroyed; and, worse than all, our poor father was caught, and so severely beaten by the rioters that for some days his life was entirely despaired of. Thank God! he is now improving, and we have every reasonable hope of his ultimate recovery. Mother, Caddy, and I, as you may well suppose, are almost prostrated by this accumulation of misfortunes, and but for the kindness of Mr. Walters, with whom we are living, I do not know what would have become of us. Dear Mr. and Mrs. Garie—[Here followed a passage that was so scored and crossed as to be illegible. After a short endeavour to decipher it, he continued:] We would like to see you very much, and mother grows every day more anxious for your return. I forgot to add, in connection with the mob, that Mr. Walters's house was also attacked, but unsuccessfully, the rioters having met a signal repulse. Mother and Caddy send a world of love to you. So does Kinch, who comes every day to see us and is, often extremely useful. Give our united kind regards to Mrs. Bird, and thank her in our behalf for her great kindness to you.—Ever yours,
"P.S.—Do try and manage to come home soon."
The tears trickled down Charlie's cheek as he perused the letter, which, when he had finished reading, he handed to Mrs. Bird, and then commenced the other. This proved to be from Kinch, who had spent all the spare time at his disposal since the occurrence of the mob in preparing it.
"To MR. CHARLES ELLIS, ESQ., at MRS. BIRD'S.
"DEAR SIR AND HONNORED FRIEND.—I take This chance To Write To you To tell You that I am Well, And that we are all well Except Your father, who Is sick; and I hope you are Enjoying the same Blessin. We had An Awful fight, And I was There, and I was One of The Captings. I had a sord on; and the next Mornin we had a grate Brekfast. But nobody Eat anything but me, And I was obliged to eat, Or the Wittles would have spoiled. The Mob had Guns as Big as Cannun; And they Shot them Off, and the holes Are in The Shutter yet; And when You come Back, I will show them to You. Your Father is very bad; And I Have gone back to school, And I am Licked every day because I don't Know my Lesson. A great big boy, with white woolly hair and Pinkish Grey eyes, has got Your seat. I Put a Pin under him one Day, And he told On me; and We Are to Have a fight tomorrow. The boys Call Him 'Short and Dirty,' because he ain't tall, and never washes His Face. We Have got a new Teacher for the 5th Division. He's a Scorcher, And believes in Rat Tan. I am to Wear My new Cloths Next Sunday. Excuse This long letter. Your Friend till death,
"KINCH SANDERS DE YOUNGE.
"P.S. This it the best Skull and Cross-bones That I can make. Come home soon, Yours &c.,
"K. S. DE YOUNGE, ESQ."
Charlie could not but smile through his tears, as he read this curious epistle, which was not more remarkable for its graceful composition than its wonderful chirography. Some of the lines were written in blue ink, some in red, and others in that pale muddy black which is the peculiar colour of ink after passing through the various experiments of school-boys, who generally entertain the belief that all foreign substances, from molasses-candy to bread-crumbs, necessarily improve the colour and quality of that important liquid.
"Why every other word almost is commenced with a capital; and I declare he's even made some in German text," cried Charlie, running his finger mirthfully along the lines, until he came to "Your father is very bad." Here the tears came welling up again—the shower had returned almost before the sun had departed; and, hiding his face in his hands, he leant sobbing on the table.
"Cheer up, Charlie!—cheer up, my little man! all may go well yet."
"Mrs. Bird," he sobbed, "you've been very kind to me; yet I want to go home. I must see mother and father. You see what Esther writes,—they want me to come home; do let me go."
"Of course you shall go, if you wish. Yet I should like you to remain with me, if you will."
"No, no, Mrs. Bird, I mustn't stay; it wouldn't be right for me to remain here, idle and enjoying myself, and they so poor and unhappy at home. I couldn't stay," said he, rising from the table,—"I must go."
"Well, my dear, you can't go now. Sit down and finish your breakfast, or you will have a head-ache."
"I'm not hungry—I can't eat," he replied; "my appetite has all gone." And stealing away from the room, he went up into his chamber, threw himself on the bed, and wept bitterly.
Mrs. Bird was greatly distressed at the idea of losing her little favourite. He had been so much with her that she had become strongly attached to him, and therefore looked forward to his departure with unfeigned regret. But Charlie could not be persuaded to stay; and reluctantly Mrs. Bird made arrangements for his journey home. Even the servants looked a little sorry when they heard of his intended departure; and Reuben the coachman actually presented him with a jack-knife as a token of his regard.
Mrs. Bird accompanied him to the steamer, and placed him under the special care of the captain; so that he was most comfortably provided for until his arrival in New York, where he took the cars direct for home.
Not having written to inform them on what day he might be expected, he anticipated giving them a joyful surprise, and, with this end in view, hastened in the direction of Mr. Walters's. As he passed along, his eye was attracted by a figure before him which he thought he recognized, and on closer inspection it proved to be his sister Caddy.
Full of boyish fun, he crept up behind her, and clasped his hands over her eyes, exclaiming, in an assumed voice, "Now, who am I?"
"Go away, you impudent, nasty thing!" cried Caddy, plunging violently. Charlie loosed his hold; she turned, and beheld her brother.
"Oh! Charlie, Charlie! is it you? Why, bless you, you naughty fellow, how you frightened me!" said she, throwing her arms round his neck, and kissing him again and again. "When did you come? Oh, how delighted mother and Ess will be!" "I only arrived about half an hour ago. How are mother and father and Esther?"
"Mother and Ess are well, and father better. But I'm so glad to see you," she cried, with a fresh burst of tears and additional embraces.
"Why, Cad," said he, endeavouring to suppress some watery sensations of his own, "I'm afraid you're not a bit pleased at my return—you're actually crying about it."
"Oh, I'm so glad to see you that I can't help it," she replied, as she fell to crying and kissing him more furiously than before.
Charlie became much confused at these repeated demonstrations of joyful affection in the crowded street, and, gently disengaging her, remarked, "See, Caddy, everybody is looking at us; let us walk on."
"I had almost forgot I was sent on an errand—however, it's not of much consequence—I'll go home again with you;" and taking his hand, they trudged on together.
"How did you say father was?" he asked again.
"Oh, he's better bodily; that is, he has some appetite, sits up every day, and is gradually getting stronger; but he's all wrong here," said she, tapping her forehead. "Sometimes he don't know any of us—and it makes us all feel so bad." Here the tears came trickling down again, as she continued: "Oh, Charlie! what those white devils will have to answer for! When I think of how much injury they have done us, I hate them! I know it's wrong to hate anybody—but I can't help it; and I believe God hates them as much as I do!"
Charlie looked gloomy; and, as he made no rejoinder, she continued, "We didn't save a thing, not even a change of clothes; they broke and burnt up everything; and then the way they beat poor father was horrible—horrible! Just think—they chopped his fingers nearly all off, so that he has only the stumps left. Charlie, Charlie!" she cried, wringing her hands, "it's heart-rending to see him—he can't even feed himself, and he'll never be able to work again!"
"Don't grieve, Cad," said Charlie, with an effort to suppress his own tears; "I'm almost a man now," continued he, drawing himself up—"don't be afraid, I'll take care of you all!"
Thus conversing, they reached Mr. Walters's. Caddy wanted Charlie to stop and look at the damage effected by the mob upon the outside of the house, but he was anxious to go in, and ran up the steps and gave the bell a very sharp pull. The servant who opened the door was about to make some exclamation of surprise, and was only restrained by a warning look from Charlie. Hurrying past them, Caddy led the way to the room where her mother and Esther were sitting. With a cry of joy Mrs. Ellis caught him in her arms, and, before he was aware of their presence, he found himself half smothered by her and Esther.
They had never been separated before his trip to Warmouth; and their reunion, under such circumstances, was particularly affecting. None of them could speak for a few moments, and Charlie clung round his mother's neck as though he would never loose his hold. "Mother, mother!" was all he could utter; yet in that word was comprised a world of joy and affection.
Esther soon came in for her share of caresses; then Charlie inquired, "Where's father?"
"In here," said Mrs. Ellis, leading the way to an adjoining room. "I don't think he will know you—perhaps he may."
In one corner of the apartment, propped up in a large easy chair by a number of pillows, sat poor Mr. Ellis, gazing vacantly about the room and muttering to himself. His hair had grown quite white, and his form was emaciated in the extreme; there was a broad scar across his forehead, and his dull, lustreless eyes were deeply sunken in his head. He took no notice of them as they approached, but continued muttering and looking at his hands.
Charlie was almost petrified at the change wrought in his father. A few months before he had left him in the prime of healthful manhood; now he was bent and spectrelike, and old in appearance as if the frosts of eighty winters had suddenly fallen on him. Mrs. Ellis laid her hand gently upon his shoulder, and said, "Husband, here's Charlie." He made no reply, but continued muttering and examining his mutilated hands. "It's Charlie," she repeated.
"Oh, ay! nice little boy!" he replied, vacantly; "whose son is he?"
Mrs. Ellis's voice quivered as she reiterated, "It's Charlie—our Charlie!—don't you know him?"
"Oh, yes! nice little boy—nice little boy. Oh!" he continued, in a suppressed and hurried tone, as a look of alarm crossed his face; "run home quick, little boy! and tell your mother they're coming, thousands of them; they've guns, and swords, and clubs. Hush! There they come—there they come!" And he buried his face in the shawl, and trembled in an agony of fright.
"Oh, mother, this is dreadful!" exclaimed Charlie. "Don't he know any of you?"
"Yes; sometimes his mind comes back—very seldom, though—only for a very little while. Come away: talking to him sometimes makes him worse." And slowly and sorrowfully the two left the apartment.
That evening, after Mr. Ellis had been safely bestowed in bed, the family gathered round the fire in the room of Mrs. Ellis, where Charlie entertained them with a description of Warmouth and of the manner in which he had passed the time whilst there. He was enthusiastic respecting Mrs. Bird and her kindness. "Mother, she is such a dear old lady: if I'd been as white as snow, and her own son, she couldn't have been kinder to me. She didn't want me to come away, and cried ever so much. Let me show you what she gave me!" Charlie thrust his hand into his pocket, and drew out a small wallet, from which he counted out four ten-dollar bills, two fives, and a two dollar and a half gold piece, "Ain't I rich!" said he, as, with the air of a millionaire, he tossed the money upon a table. "Now," he continued, "do you know what I'm about to do?" Not receiving any answer from his wondering sisters or mother, he added, "Why, just this!—here, mother, this is yours," said he, placing the four ten-dollar bills before her; "and here are five apiece for Esther and Cad; the balance is for your humble servant. Now, then," he concluded, "what do you think of that?"
Mrs. Ellis looked fondly at him, and, stroking his head, told him that he was a good son; and Esther and Caddy declared him to be the best brother in town.
"Now, girls," said he, with the air of a patriarch, "what do you intend to do with your money?"
"Mine will go towards buying me a dress, and Esther will save hers for a particular purpose," said Caddy. "I'll tell you something about her and Mr. Walters," continued she, with a mischievous look at her sister.
"Oh, Caddy—don't! Ain't you ashamed to plague me so?" asked Esther, blushing to the roots of her hair. "Mother, pray stop her," cried she, pleadingly.
"Hush, Caddy!" interposed her mother, authoritatively; "you shall do no such thing."
"Well," resumed Caddy, "mother says I mustn't tell; but I can say this much——"
Esther here put her hand over her sister's mouth and effectually prevented any communication she was disposed to make.
"Never mind her, Ess!" cried Charlie; "you'll tell me all in good time, especially if it's anything worth knowing."
Esther made no reply, but, releasing her sister, hurried out of the room, and went upstairs to Charlie's chamber, where he found her on retiring for the night.
"I'm glad you're here, Ess," said he, "you'll indulge me. Here is the key—open my trunk and get me out a nightcap; I'm too tired, or too lazy, to get it for myself." Esther stooped down, opened the trunk, and commenced searching for the article of head-gear in question. "Come, Ess," said Charles, coaxingly, "tell me what this is about you and Mr. Walters."
She made no reply at first, but fumbled about in the bottom of the trunk, professedly in search of the nightcap which she at that moment held in her hand. "Can't you tell me?" he again asked.
"Oh, there's nothing to tell, Charlie!" she answered.
"There must be something, Ess, or you wouldn't have blushed up so when Cad was about to speak of it. Do," said he, approaching her, and putting his arm round her neck—"do tell me all about it—I am sure there is some secret!"
"Oh, no, Charlie—there is no secret; it's only this——" Here she stopped, and, blushing, turned her head away.
"Ess, this is nonsense," said Charlie, impatiently: "if it's anything worth knowing, why can't you tell a fellow? Come," said he, kissing her, "tell me, now, like a dear old Ess as you are."
"Well, Charlie," said she, jerking the words out with an effort, "Mr.—Mr. Walters has asked me to marry him!"
"Phew—gemini! that is news!" exclaimed Charlie. "And are you going to accept him Ess?"
"I don't know," she answered.
"Don't know!" repeated Charlie, in a tone of surprise. "Why, Ess, I'm astonished at you—such a capital fellow as he is! Half the girls of our acquaintance would give an eye for the chance."
"But he is so rich!" responded Esther.
"Well, now, that's a great objection, ain't it! I should say, all the better on that account," rejoined Charlie.
"The money is the great stumbling-block," continued she; "everybody would say I married him for that."
"Then everybody would lie, as everybody very often does! If I was you, Ess, and loved him, I shouldn't let his fortune stand in the way. I wish," continued he, pulling up his shirt-collar, "that some amiable young girl with a fortune of a hundred thousand dollars, would make me an offer—I'd like to catch myself refusing her!"
The idea of a youth of his tender years marrying any one, seemed so ludicrous to Esther, that she burst into a hearty fit of laughter, to the great chagrin of our hero, who seemed decidedly of the opinion that his sister had not a proper appreciation of his years and inches.
"Don't laugh, Ess; but tell me—do you really intend to refuse him?"
"I can't decide yet, Charlie," answered she seriously; "if we were situated as we were before—were not such absolute paupers—I wouldn't hesitate to accept him; but to bring a family of comparative beggars upon him—I can't make up my mind to do that."
Charlie looked grave as Esther made this last objection; boy as he was, he felt its weight and justice. "Well, Ess," rejoined he, "I don't know what to say about it—of course I can't advise. What does mother say?"
"She leaves it entirely to me," she answered. "She says I must act just as I feel is right."
"I certainly wouldn't have him at all, Ess, if I didn't love him; and if I did, I shouldn't let the money stand in the way—so, good night!"
Charlie slept very late the next morning, and was scarcely dressed when Esther knocked at his door, with the cheerful tidings that her father had a lucid interval and was waiting to see him.
Dressing himself hastily, he followed her into their father's room. When he entered, the feeble sufferer stretched out his mutilated arms towards him and clasped him round the neck, "They tell me," said he, "that you came yesterday, and that I didn't recognize you. I thought, when I awoke this morning, that I had a dim recollection of having seen some dear face; but my head aches so, that I often forget—yes, often forget. My boy," he continued, "you are all your mother and sisters have to depend upon now; I'm—I'm——" here his voice faltered, as he elevated his stumps of hands—"I'm helpless; but you must take care of them. I'm an old man now," said he despondingly.
"I will, father; I'll try so hard" replied Charlie.
"It was cruel in them, wasn't it, son," he resumed. "See, they've made me helpless for ever!" Charlie restrained the tears that were forcing themselves up, and rejoined, "Never fear, father! I'll do my best; I trust I shall soon be able to take care of you."
His father did not understand him—his mind was gone again, and he was staring vacantly about him. Charlie endeavoured to recall his attention, but failed, for he began muttering about the mob and his hands; they were compelled to quit the room, and leave him to himself, as he always became quiet sooner by being left alone.
We must now admit our readers to a consultation that is progressing between Mr. Balch and Mr. Walters, respecting the future of the two Garie children. They no doubt entered upon the conference with the warmest and most earnest desire of promoting the children's happiness; but, unfortunately, their decision failed to produce the wished-for result.
"I scarcely thought you would have succeeded so well with him," said Walters, "he is such an inveterate scoundrel; depend upon it nothing but the fear of the exposure resulting from a legal investigation would ever have induced that scamp to let twelve thousand dollars escape from his clutches. I am glad you have secured that much; when we add it to the eight thousand already in my possession it will place them in very comfortable circumstances, even if they never get any more."
"I think we have done very well," rejoined Mr. Balch; "we were as much in his power as he was in ours—not in the same way, however; a legal investigation, no matter how damaging it might have been to his reputation, would not have placed us in possession of the property, or invalidated his claim as heir. I think, on the whole, we may as well be satisfied, and trust in Providence for the future. So now, then, we will resume our discussion of that matter we had under consideration the other day. I cannot but think that my plan is best adapted to secure the boy's happiness."
"I'm sorry I cannot agree with you, Mr. Balch. I have tried to view your plan in the most favourable light, yet I cannot rid myself of a presentiment that it will result in the ultimate discovery of his peculiar position, and that most probably at some time when his happiness is dependent upon its concealment. An undetected forger, who is in constant fear of being apprehended, is happy in comparison with that coloured man who attempts, in this country, to hold a place in the society of whites by concealing his origin. He must live in constant fear of exposure; this dread will embitter every enjoyment, and make him the most miserable of men."
"You must admit," rejoined Mr. Balch, "that I have their welfare at heart. I have thought the matter over and over, and cannot, for the life of me, feel the weight of your objections. The children are peculiarly situated; everything seems to favour my views. Their mother (the only relative they had whose African origin was distinguishable) is dead, and both of them are so exceedingly fair that it would never enter the brain of any one that they were connected with coloured people by ties of blood. Clarence is old enough to know the importance of concealing the fact, and Emily might be kept with us until her prudence also might be relied upon. You must acknowledge that as white persons they will be better off."
"I admit," answered Mr. Walters, "that in our land of liberty it is of incalculable advantage to be white; that is beyond dispute, and no one is more painfully aware of it than I. Often I have heard men of colour say they would not be white if they could—had no desire to change their complexions; I've written some down fools; others, liars. Why," continued he, with a sneering expression of countenance, "it is everything to be white; one feels that at every turn in our boasted free country, where all men are upon an equality. When I look around me, and see what I have made myself in spite of circumstances, and think what I might have been with the same heart and brain beneath a fairer skin, I am almost tempted to curse the destiny that made me what I am. Time after time, when scraping, toiling, saving, I have asked myself. To what purpose is it all?—perhaps that in the future white men may point at and call me, sneeringly, 'a nigger millionaire,' or condescend to borrow money of me. Ah! often, when some negro-hating white man has been forced to ask a loan at my hands, I've thought of Shylock and his pound of flesh, and ceased to wonder at him. There's no doubt, my dear sir, but what I fully appreciate the advantage of being white. Yet, with all I have endured, and yet endure from day to day, I esteem myself happy in comparison with that man, who, mingling in the society of whites, is at the same time aware that he has African blood in his veins, and is liable at any moment to be ignominiously hurled from his position by the discovery of his origin. He is never safe. I have known instances where parties have gone on for years and years undetected; but some untoward circumstance brings them out at last, and down they fall for ever."
"Walters, my dear fellow, you will persist in looking upon his being discovered as a thing of course: I see no reason for the anticipation of any such result. I don't see how he is to be detected—it may never occur. And do you feel justified in consigning them to a position which you know by painful experience to be one of the most disagreeable that can be endured. Ought we not to aid their escape from it if we can?"
Mr. Walters stood reflectively for some moments, and then exclaimed, "I'll make no farther objection; I would not have the boy say to me hereafter, 'But for your persisting in identifying me with a degraded people, I might have been better and happier than I am.' However, I cannot but feel that concealments of this kind are productive of more misery than comfort."
"We will agree to differ about that, Walters; and now, having your consent, I shall not hesitate to proceed in the matter, with full reliance that the future will amply justify my choice."
"Well, well! as I said before, I will offer no further objection. Now let me hear the details of your plan."
"I have written," answered Mr. Balch, "to Mr. Eustis, a friend of mine living at Sudbury, where there is a large preparatory school for boys. At his house I purpose placing Clarence. Mr. Eustis is a most discreet man, and a person of liberal sentiments. I feel that I can confide everything to him without the least fear of his ever divulging a breath of it. He is a gentleman in the fullest sense of the term, and at his house the boy will have the advantage of good society, and will associate with the best people of the place."
"Has he a family?" asked Mr. Walters.
"He is a widower," answered Mr. Balch; "a maiden sister of his wife's presides over his establishment; she will be kind to Clarence, I am confident; she has a motherly soft heart, and is remarkably fond of children. I have not the least doubt but that he will be very happy and comfortable there. I think it very fortunate, Walters," he continued, "that he has so few coloured acquaintances—no boyish intimacies to break up; and it will be as well to send him away before he has an opportunity of forming them. Besides, being here, where everything will be so constantly reviving the remembrance of his recent loss, he may grow melancholy and stupid. I have several times noticed his reserve, so unusual in a child. His dreadful loss and the horrors that attended it have made, a deep impression—stupified him, to a certain extent, I think. Well, well! we will get him off, and once away at school, and surrounded by lively boys, this dulness will soon wear off."
The gentlemen having fully determined upon his being sent, it was proposed to bring him in immediately and talk to him relative to it. He was accordingly sent for, and came into the room, placing himself beside the chair of Mr. Walters.
Clarence had altered very much since the death of his parents. His face had grown thin and pale, and he was much taller than when he came to Philadelphia: a shade of melancholy had overspread his face; there was now in his eyes that expression of intense sadness that characterized his mother's. "You sent for me?" he remarked, inquiringly, to Mr. Walters.
"Yes, my boy," he rejoined, "we sent for you to have a little talk about school. Would you like to go to school again?"
"Oh, yes!" answered Clarence, his face lighting up with pleasure; "I should like it of all things; it would be much better than staying at home all day, doing nothing; the days are so long," concluded he, with a sigh.
"Ah! we will soon remedy that," rejoined Mr. Balch, "when you go to Sudbury."
"Sudbury!" repeated Clarence, with surprise; "where is that? I thought you meant, to go to school here."
"Oh, no, my dear," said Mr. Balch, "I don't know of any good school here, such as you would like; we wish to send you to a place where you will enjoy yourself finely,—where you will have a number of boys for companions in your studies and pleasures."
"And is Em going with me?" he asked.
"Oh, no, that is not possible; it is a school for boys exclusively; you can't take your sister there," rejoined Mr. Walters.
"Then I don't want to go," said Clarence, decidedly; "I don't want to go where I can't take Em with me."
Mr. Balch exchanged glances with Mr. Walters, and looked quite perplexed at this new opposition to his scheme. Nothing daunted, however, by this difficulty, he, by dint of much talking and persuasion, brought Clarence to look upon the plan with favour, and to consent reluctantly to go without his sister.
But the most delicate part of the whole business was yet to come—they must impress upon the child the necessity of concealing the fact that he was of African origin. Neither seemed to know how to approach the subject. Clarence, however, involuntarily made an opening for them by inquiring if Emily was to go to Miss Jordan's school again.
"No, my dear," answered Mr. Balch, "Miss Jordan won't permit her to attend school there."
"Why?" asked Clarence.
"Because she is a coloured child," rejoined Mr. Balch. "Now, Clarence," he continued, "you are old enough, I presume, to know the difference that exists between the privileges and advantages enjoyed by the whites, and those that are at the command of the coloured people. White boys can go to better schools, and they can enter college and become professional men, lawyers, doctors, &c, or they may be merchants—in fact, they can be anything they please. Coloured people can enjoy none of these advantages; they are shut out from them entirely. Now which of the two would you rather be—coloured or white?"
"I should much rather be white, of course," answered Clarence; "but I am coloured, and can't help myself," said he, innocently.
"But, my child, we are going to send you where it is not known that you are coloured; and you must never, never tell it, because if it became known, you would be expelled from the school, as you were from Miss Jordan's."
"I didn't know we were expelled," rejoined Clarence. "I know she sent us home, but I could not understand what it was for. I'm afraid they will send me from the other school. Won't they know I am coloured?"
"No, my child, I don't think they will discover it unless you should be foolish enough to tell it yourself, in which case both Mr. Walters and myself would be very much grieved."
"But suppose some one should ask me," suggested Clarence.
"No one will ever ask you such a question," said Mr. Balch, impatiently; "all you have to do is to be silent yourself on the subject. Should any of your schoolmates ever make inquiries respecting your parents, all you have to answer is, they were from Georgia, and you are an orphan."
Clarence's eyes began to moisten as Mr. Balch spoke of his parents, and after a few moments he asked, with some hesitation, "Am I never to speak of mother? I love to talk of mother."
"Yes, my dear, of course you can talk of your mother," answered Mr. Balch, with great embarrassment; "only, you know, my child, you need not enter into particulars as regards her appearance; that is, you—ah!—need not say she was a coloured woman. You must not say that; you understand?"
"Yes, sir," answered Clarence.
"Very well, then; bear that in mind. You must know, Clarence," continued he, "that this concealment is necessary for your welfare, or we would not require it; and you must let me impress it upon you, that it is requisite that you attend strictly to our directions."
Mr. Walters remained silent during most of this conversation. He felt a repugnance to force upon the child a concealment the beneficial results of which were the reverse of obvious, so he merely gave Clarence some useful advice respecting his general conduct, and then permitted him to leave the room.
The morning fixed upon for their departure for Sudbury turned out to be cold and cheerless; and Clarence felt very gloomy as he sat beside his sister at their early breakfast, of which he was not able to eat a morsel. "Do eat something, Clary," said she, coaxingly; "only look what nice buckwheat cakes these are; cook got up ever so early on purpose to bake them for you."
"No, sis," he replied, "I can't eat. I feel so miserable, everything chokes me."
"Well, eat a biscuit, then," she continued, as she buttered it and laid it on his plate; "do eat it, now."
More to please her than from a desire to eat, he forced down a few mouthfuls of it, and drank a little tea; then, laying his arm round her neck, he said, "Em, you must try hard to learn to write soon, so that I may hear from you at least once a week."
"Oh! I shall soon know how, I'm in g's and h's now. Aunt Esther—she says I may call her Aunt Esther—teaches me every day. Ain't I getting on nicely?"
"Oh, yes, you learn very fast," said Esther, encouragingly, as she completed the pile of sandwiches she was preparing for the young traveller; then, turning to look at the timepiece on the mantel, she exclaimed, "Quarter to seven—how time flies! Mr. Balch will soon be here. You must be all ready, Clarence, so as not to keep him waiting a moment."
Clarence arose from his scarcely tasted meal, began slowly to put on his overcoat, and make himself ready for the journey. Em tied on the warm woollen neck-comforter, kissing him on each cheek as she did so, and whilst they were thus engaged, Mr. Balch drove up to the door.
Charlie, who had come down to see him off, tried (with his mouth full of buckwheat cake) to say something consolatory, and gave it as his experience, "that a fellow soon got over that sort of thing; that separations must occur sometimes," &c.—and, on the whole, endeavoured to talk in a very manly and philosophical strain; but his precepts and practice proved to be at utter variance, for when the moment of separation really came and he saw the tearful embrace of Em and her brother, he caught the infection of grief, and cried as heartily as the best of them. There was but little time, however, to spare for leave-takings, and the young traveller and his guardian were soon whirling over the road towards New York.
By a singular chance, Clarence found himself in the same car in which he had formerly rode when they were on their way to Philadelphia: he recognized it by some peculiar paintings on the panel of the door, and the ornamental border of the ceiling. This brought back a tide of memories, and he began contrasting that journey with the present. Opposite was the seat on which his parents had sat, in the bloom of health, and elate with; joyous anticipations; he remembered—oh! so well—his father's pleasant smile, his mother's soft and gentle voice. Both now were gone. Death had made rigid that smiling face—her soft voice was hushed for ever—and the cold snow was resting on their bosoms in the little churchyard miles away. Truly the contrast between now and then was extremely saddening, and the child bowed his head upon the seat, and sobbed in bitter grief.
"What is the matter?" asked Mr. Balch; "not crying again, I hope. I thought you were going to be a man, and that we were not to have any more tears. Come!" continued he, patting him encouragingly on the back, "cheer up! You are going to a delightful place, where you will find a number of agreeable playmates, and have a deal of fun, and enjoy yourself amazingly."
"But it won't be home," replied Clarence.
"True," replied Mr. Balch, a little touched, "it won't seem so at first; but you'll soon like it, I'll guarantee that."
Clarence was not permitted to indulge his grief to any great extent, for Mr. Balch soon succeeded in interesting him in the various objects that they passed on the way.
On the evening of the next day they arrived at their destination, and Clarence alighted from the cars, cold, fatigued, and spiritless. There had been a heavy fall of snow a few days previous, and the town of Sudbury, which was built upon the hill-side, shone white and sparkling in the clear winter moonlight.
It was the first time that Clarence had ever seen the ground covered with snow, and he could not restrain his admiration at the novel spectacle it presented to him. "Oh, look!—oh, do look! Mr. Balch," he exclaimed, "how beautifully white it looks; it seems as if the town was built of salt."
It was indeed a pretty sight. Near them stood a clump of fantastic-shaped trees, their gnarled limbs covered with snow, and brilliant with the countless icicles that glistened like precious stones in the bright light that was reflected upon them from the windows of the station. A little farther on, between them and the town, flowed a small stream, the waters of which were dimpling and sparkling in the moonlight. Beside its banks arose stately cotton-mills, and from their many windows hundreds of lights were shining. Behind them, tier above tier, were the houses of the town; and crowning the hill was the academy, with its great dome gleaming on its top like a silver cap upon a mountain of snow. The merry sleigh-bells and the crisp tramp of the horses upon the frozen ground were all calculated to make a striking impression on one beholding such a scene for the first time.
Clarence followed Mr. Balch into the sleigh, delighted and bewildered with the surrounding objects. The driver whipped up his horses, they clattered over the bridge, dashed swiftly through the town, and in a very short period arrived at the dwelling of Mr. Eustis.
The horses had scarcely stopped, when the door flew open, and a stream of light from the hall shone down the pathway to the gate. Mr. Eustis came out on the step to welcome them. After greeting Mr. Balch warmly, he took Clarence by the hand, and led him into the room where his sister was sitting.
"Here is our little friend," said he to her, as she arose and approached them; "try and get him warm, Ada—his hands are like ice."
Miss Ada Bell welcomed Clarence in the most affectionate manner, assisted him to remove his coat, unfastened his woollen neck-tie, and smoothed down his glossy black hair; then, warming a napkin, she wrapped it round his benumbed hands, and held them in her own until the circulation was restored and they were supple and comfortable again.
Miss Ada Bell appeared to be about thirty-five. She had good regular features, hazel eyes, and long chestnut curls: a mouth with the sweetest expression, and a voice so winning and affectionate in its tone that it went straight to the hearts of all that listened to its music.
"Had you a pleasant journey?" she asked.
"It was rather cold," answered Clarence, "and I am not accustomed to frosty weather."
"And did you leave all your friends well?" she continued, as she chafed his hands.
"Quite well, I thank you," he replied.
"I hear you have a little sister; were you not sorry to leave her behind?"
This question called up the tearful face of little Em and her last embrace. He could not answer; he only raised his mournful dark eyes to the face of Miss Ada, and as he looked at her they grew moist, and a tear sparkled on his long lashes. Miss Ada felt that she had touched a tender chord, so she stooped down and kissed his forehead, remarking, "You have a good face, Clarence, and no doubt an equally good heart; we shall get on charmingly together, I know." Those kind words won the orphan's heart, and from that day forth. Clarence loved her. Tea was soon brought upon the table, and they all earnestly engaged in the discussion of the various refreshments that Miss Ada's well-stocked larder afforded. Everything was so fresh and nicely flavoured that both the travellers ate very heartily; then, being much fatigued with their two days' journey, they seized an early opportunity to retire.
* * * * *
Here we leave Clarence for many years; the boy will have become a man ere we re-introduce him, and, till then, we bid him adieu.
Charlie seeks Employment.
Charlie had been at borne some weeks, comparatively idle; at least he so considered himself, as the little he did in the way of collecting rents and looking up small accounts for Mr. Walters he regarded as next to nothing, it not occupying half his time. A part of each day he spent in attendance on his father, who seemed better satisfied with his ministrations than with those of his wife and daughters. This proved to be very fortunate for all parties, as it enabled the girls to concentrate their attention on their sewing—of which they had a vast deal on hand.
One day, when Esther and Charlie were walking out together, the latter remarked: "Ess, I wish I could find some regular and profitable employment, or was apprenticed to some good trade that would enable me to assist mother a little; I'd even go to service if I could do no better—anything but being idle whilst you are all so hard at work. It makes me feel very uncomfortable."
"I would be very glad if you could procure some suitable employment. I don't wish you to go to service again, that is out of the question. Of whom have you made inquiry respecting a situation."
"Oh, of lots of people; they can tell me of any number of families who are in want of a footman, but no one appears to know of a 'person who is willing to receive a black boy as an apprentice to a respectable calling. It's too provoking; I really think, Ess, that the majority of white folks imagine that we are only fit for servants, and incapable of being rendered useful in any other capacity. If that terrible misfortune had not befallen father, I should have learned his trade."
"Ah!" sighed Esther, "but for that we should all have been happier. But, Charlie," she added, "how do you know that you cannot obtain any other employment than that of a servant? Have you ever applied personally to any one?"
"No, Esther, I haven't; but you know as well as I that white masters won't receive coloured apprentices."
"I think a great deal of that is taken for granted," rejoined Esther, "try some one yourself."
"I only wish I knew of any one to try," responded Charlie, "I'd hazard the experiment at any rate."
"Look over the newspaper in the morning," advised Esther; "there are always a great many wants advertised—amongst them you may perhaps find something suitable."
"Well, I will Ess—now then we won't talk about that any more—pray tell me, if I'm not too inquisitive, what do you purpose buying with your money—a wedding-dress, eh?" he asked, with a merry twinkle in his eye.
Esther blushed and sighed, as she answered: "No, Charlie, that is all over for the present. I told him yesterday I could not think of marrying now, whilst we are all so unsettled. It grieved me to do it, Charlie, but I felt that it was my duty. Cad and I are going to add our savings to mother's; that, combined with what we shall receive for father's tools, good-will, &c, will be sufficient to furnish another house; and as soon as we can succeed in that, we will leave Mr. Walters, as it is embarrassing to remain under present circumstances."
"And what is to become of little Em?—she surely won't remain alone with him?"
"Mr. Walters has proposed that when we procure a house she shall come and board with us. He wants us to take one of his houses, and offers some fabulous sum for the child's board, which it would be unreasonable in us to take. Dear, good man, he is always complaining that we are too proud, and won't let him assist us when he might. If we find a suitable house I shall be delighted to have her. I love the child for her mother's sake and her own."
"I wonder if they will ever send her away, as they did Clarence?" asked Charlie.
"I do not know," she rejoined. "Mr. Balch told me that he should not insist upon it if the child was unwilling."
The next day Charlie purchased all the morning papers he could obtain, and sat down to look over the list of wants. There were hungry people in want of professed cooks; divers demands for chamber-maids, black or white; special inquiries for waiters and footmen, in which the same disregard of colour was observable; advertisements for partners in all sorts of businesses, and for journeymen in every department of mechanical operations; then there were milliners wanted, sempstresses, and even theatrical assistants, but nowhere in the long columns could he discover: "Wanted, a boy." Charlie searched them over and over, but the stubborn fact stared him in the face—there evidently were no boys wanted; and he at length concluded that he either belonged to a very useless class, or that there was an unaccountable prejudice existing in the city against the rising generation.
Charlie folded up the papers with a despairing sigh, and walked to the post-office to mail a letter to Mrs. Bird that he had written the previous evening. Having noticed a number of young men examining some written notices that were posted up, he joined the group, and finding it was a list of wants he eagerly read them over.
To his great delight he found there was one individual at least, who thought boys could be rendered useful to society, and who had written as follows: "Wanted, a youth of about thirteen years of age who writes a good hand, and is willing to make himself useful in an office.—Address, Box No. 77, Post-office."
"I'm their man!" said Charlie to himself, as he finished perusing it—"I'm just the person. I'll go home and write to them immediately;" and accordingly he hastened back to the house, sat down, and wrote a reply to the advertisement. He then privately showed it to Esther, who praised the writing and composition, and pronounced the whole very neatly done.
Charlie then walked down to the post-office to deposit his precious reply; and after dropping it into the brass mouth of the mail-box, he gazed in after it, and saw it glide slowly down into the abyss below.
How many more had stopped that day to add their contributions to the mass which Charlie's letter now joined? Merchants on the brink of ruin had deposited missives whose answer would make or break them; others had dropped upon the swelling heap tidings that would make poor men rich—rich men richer; maidens came with delicately written notes, perfumed and gilt-edged, eloquent with love—and cast them amidst invoices and bills of lading. Letters of condolence and notes of congratulation jostled each other as they slid down the brass throat; widowed mothers' tender epistles to wandering sons; the letters of fond wives to absent husbands; erring daughters' last appeals to outraged parents; offers of marriage; invitations to funerals; hope and despair; joy and sorrow; misfortune and success—had glided in one almost unbroken stream down that ever-distended and insatiable brass throat.
Charlie gave one more look at the opening, then sauntered homeward, building by the way houses of fabulous dimensions, with the income he anticipated from the situation if he succeeded in procuring it. Throughout the next day he was in a state of feverish anxiety and expectation, and Mrs. Ellis two or three times inquired the meaning of the mysterious whisperings and glances that were exchanged between him and Esther. The day wore away, and yet no answer—the next came and passed, still no communication; and Charlie had given up in despair, when he was agreeably surprised by the following:——
"Messrs. Twining, Western, and Twining will be much obliged to Charles Ellis, if he will call at their office, 567, Water-street, to-morrow morning at eleven o'clock, as they would like to communicate further with him respecting a situation in their establishment."
Charlie flew up stairs to Esther's room, and rushing in precipitately, exclaimed, "Oh! Ess—I've got it, I've got it—see here," he shouted, waving the note over his head; "Hurrah! Hurrah! Just read it, Ess, only just read it!"
"How can I, Charlie?" said she, with a smile, "if you hold it in your hand and dance about in that frantic style—give it me. There now—keep quiet a moment, and let me read it." After perusing it attentively, Esther added, "Don't be too sanguine, Charlie. You see by the tenor of the note that the situation is not promised you; they only wish to see you respecting it. You may not secure it, after all—some obstacle may arise of which we are not at present aware."
"Go on, old raven—croak away!" said Charlie, giving her at the same time a facetious poke.
"There's many a slip between the cup and the lip," she added.
"Oh, Ess!" he rejoined, "don't throw cold water on a fellow in that style—don't harbour so many doubts. Do you think they would take the trouble to write if they did not intend to give me the situation? Go away, old raven," concluded he, kissing her, "and don't let us have any more croaking."
Charlie was bounding from the room, when he was stopped by his sister, who begged him not to say anything to their mother respecting it, but wait until they knew the issue of the interview; and, if he secured the situation, it would be a very agreeable surprise to her.
We will now visit, in company with the reader, the spacious offices of Messrs. Twining, Western, and Twining, where we shall find Mr. Western about consigning to the waste-paper basket a large pile of letters. This gentleman was very fashionably dressed, of dark complexion, with the languid air and drawling intonation of a Southerner.
At an adjoining desk sat an elderly sharp-faced gentleman, who was looking over his spectacles at the movements of his partner. "What a mass of letters you are about to destroy," he remarked.
Mr. Western took from his month the cigar he was smoking, and after puffing from between his lips a thin wreath of smoke, replied: "Some of the most atwocious scwawls that man ever attempted to pewuse,—weplies to the advertisement. Out of the whole lot there wasn't more than a dozen amongst them that were weally pwesentable. Here is one wemawkably well witten: I have desiwed the witer to call this morning at eleven. I hope he will make as favouwable an impwession as his witing has done. It is now almost eleven—I pwesume he will be here soon."
Scarcely had Mr. Western finished speaking, ere the door opened, and Esther entered, followed by Charlie. Both the gentlemen rose, and Mr. Twining offered her a chair.
Esther accepted the proffered seat, threw up her veil, and said, in a slightly embarrassed tone, "My brother here, took the liberty of replying to an advertisement of yours, and you were kind enough to request him to call at eleven to-day."
"We sent a note to your brother?" said Mr. Twining, in a tone of surprise.
"Yes, sir, and here it is," said she, extending it to him.
Mr. Twining glanced over it, and remarked, "This is your writing, Western;" then taking Charlie's letter from the desk of Mr. Western, he asked, in a doubting tone, "Is this your own writing and composition?"
"My own writing and composing," answered Charlie.
"And it is vewy cweditable to you, indeed," said Mr. Western.
Both the gentlemen looked at the note again, then at Charlie, then at Esther, and lastly at each other; but neither seemed able to say anything, and evident embarrassment existed on both sides.
"And so you thought you would twy for the situation," at last remarked Mr. Western to Charlie.
"Yes, sir," he answered. "I was and am very anxious to obtain some employment." "Have you a father?" asked Mr. Twining.
"Yes, sir; but he was badly injured by the mob last summer, and will never be able to work again."
"That's a pity," said Western, sympathisingly; "and what have you been doing?"
"Nothing very recently. I broke my arm last spring, and was obliged to go into the country for my health. I have not long returned."
"Do your pawents keep house?"
"Not at present. We are staying with a friend. Our house was burned down by the rioters."
This conversation recalled so vividly their past trials, that Esther's eyes grew watery, and she dropped her veil to conceal a tear that was trembling on the lid.
"How vewy unfortunate!" said Mr. Western, sympathisingly; "vewy twying, indeed!" then burying his chin in his hand, he sat silently regarding them for a moment or two.
"Have you come to any decision about taking him?" Esther at last ventured to ask of Mr. Twining.
"Taking him!—oh, dear me, I had almost forgot. Charles, let me see you write something—here, take this seat."
Charlie sat down as directed, and dashed off a few lines, which he handed to Mr. Twining, who looked at it over and over; then rising, he beckoned to his partner to follow him into an adjoining room.
"Well, what do you say?" asked Western, after they had closed the door behind them. "Don't you think we had better engage him?"
"Engage him!" exclaimed Twining—"why, you surprise me, Western—the thing's absurd; engage a coloured boy as under clerk! I never heard of such a thing."
"I have often," drawled Western; "there are the gweatest number of them in New Orleans."
"Ah, but New Orleans is a different place; such a thing never occurred in Philadelphia."
"Well, let us cweate a pwecedent, then. The boy wites wemarkably well, and will, no doubt, suit us exactly. It will be a chawity to take him. We need not care what others say—evewybody knows who we are and what we are?"
"No, Western; I know the North better than you do; it wouldn't answer at all here. We cannot take the boy—it is impossible; it would create a rumpus amongst the clerks, who would all feel dreadfully insulted by our placing a nigger child on an equality with them. I assure you the thing is out of the question."
"Well, I must say you Northern people are perfectly incompwehensible. You pay taxes to have niggers educated, and made fit for such places—and then won't let them fill them when they are pwepared to do so. I shall leave you, then, to tell them we can't take him. I'm doosed sowwy for it—I like his looks."
Whilst Mr. Western and his partner were discussing in one room, Charlie and Esther were awaiting with some anxiety their decision in the other.
"I think they are going to take me," said Charlie; "you saw how struck they appeared to be with the writing."
"They admired it, I know, my dear; but don't be too sanguine."
"I feel sure they are going to take me," repeated he with a hopeful countenance.
Esther made no reply, and they remained in silence until Mr. Twining returned to the room.
After two or three preparatory ahems, he said to Esther; "I should like to take your brother very much; but you see, in consequence of there being so much excitement just now, relative to Abolitionism and kindred subjects, that my partner and myself—that is, I and Mr. Western—think—or rather feel—that just now it would be rather awkward for us to receive him. We should like to take him; but his colour, miss—his complexion is a fatal objection. It grieves me to be obliged to tell you this; but I think, under the circumstances, it would be most prudent for us to decline to receive him. We are very sorry—but our clerks are all young men, and have a great deal of prejudice, and I am sure he would be neither comfortable nor happy with them. If I can serve you in any other way—"
"There is nothing that you can do that I am aware of," said Esther, rising; "I thank you, and am sorry that we have occupied so much of your time."
"Oh, don't mention it," said Mr. Twining, evidently happy to get rid of them; and, opening the door, he bowed them out of the office.
The two departed sadly, and they walked on for some distance in silence. At last Esther pressed his hand, and, in a choking voice, exclaimed, "Charlie, my dear boy, I'd give my life if it would change your complexion—if it would make you white! Poor fellow! your battle of life will be a hard one to fight!"
"I know it, Ess; but I shouldn't care to be white if I knew I would not have a dear old Ess like you for a sister," he answered, pressing her hand affectionately. "I don't intend to be conquered," he continued; "I'll fight it out to the last—this won't discourage me. I'll keep on trying," said he, determinedly—"if one won't, perhaps another will."
For two or three days Charlie could hear of nothing that would be at all suitable for him. At last, one morning he saw an advertisement for a youth to learn the engraver's business—one who had some knowledge of drawing preferred; to apply at Thomas Blatchford's, bank-note engraver. "Thomas Blatchford," repeated Mr. Walters, as Charlie read it over—"why that is the Mr. Blatchford, the Abolitionist. I think you have some chance there most decidedly—I would advise you to take those sketches of yours and apply at once."
Charlie ran upstairs, and selecting the best-executed of his drawings, put them in a neat portfolio, and, without saying anything to Esther or his mother, hastened away to Mr. Blatchford's. He was shown into a room where a gentleman was sitting at a table examining some engraved plates. "Is this Mr. Blatchford's?" asked Charlie.
"That is my name, my little man—do you want to see me," he kindly inquired.
"Yes, sir. You advertised for a boy to learn the engraving business, I believe."
"Well; and what then?"
"I have come to apply for the situation."
"You—you apply?" said he, in a tone of surprise.
"Yes, sir," faltered Charlie; "Mr. Walters recommended me to do so."
"Ah, you know Mr. Walters, then," he rejoined.
"Yes, sir; he is a great friend of my father's—we are living with him at present."
"What have you in your portfolio, there?" enquired Mr. Blatchford. Charlie spread before him the sketches he had made during the summer, and also some ornamental designs suitable for the title-pages of books. "Why, these are excellently well done," exclaimed he, after examining them attentively; "who taught you?"
Charlie hereupon briefly related his acquaintance with the artist, and his efforts to obtain employment, and their results, besides many other circumstances connected with himself and family. Mr. Blatchford became deeply interested, and, at the end of a long conversation, delighted Charlie by informing him that if he and his mother could agree as to terms he should be glad to receive him as an apprentice.
Charlie could scarcely believe the evidence of his own ears, and leaving his portfolio on the table was hastening away.
"Stop! stop!" cried Mr. Blatchford, with a smile; "you have not heard all I wish to say. I would be much obliged to your mother if she would call at my house this evening, and then we can settle the matter definitely."
Charlie seemed to tread on air as he walked home. Flying up to Esther—his usual confidant—be related to her the whole affair, and gave at great length his conversation with Mr. Blatchford.
"That looks something like," said she; "I am delighted with the prospect that is opening to you. Let us go and tell mother,"—and, accordingly, off they both started, to carry the agreeable intelligence to Mrs. Ellis.
That, evening Charlie, his mother, and Mr. Walters went to the house of Mr. Blatchford. They were most, kindly received, and all the arrangements made for Charlie's apprenticeship. He was to remain one month on trial; and if, at the end of that period, all parties were satisfied, he was to be formally indentured.
Charlie looked forward impatiently to the following Monday, on which day he was to commence his apprenticeship. In the intervening time he held daily conferences with Kinch, as he felt their intimacy would receive a slight check after he entered upon his new pursuit.
"Look here, old fellow," said Charlie; "it won't do for you to be lounging on the door-steps of the office, nor be whistling for me under the windows. Mr. Blatchford spoke particularly against my having playmates around in work hours; evenings I shall always be at home, and then you can come and see me as often as you like."
Since his visit to Warmouth, Charlie had been much more particular respecting his personal appearance, dressed neater, and was much more careful of his clothes. He had also given up marbles, and tried to persuade Kinch to do the same.
"I'd cut marbles, Kinch," said he to him one evening, when they were walking together, "if I were you; it makes one such a fright—covers one with chalk-marks and dirt from head to foot. And another thing, Kinch; you have an abundance of good clothes—do wear them, and try and look more like a gentleman."
"Dear me!" said Kinch, rolling up the white of his eyes—"just listen how we are going on! Hadn't I better get an eye-glass and pair of light kid gloves?"
"Oh, Kinch!" said Charlie, gravely, "I'm not joking—I mean what I say. You don't know how far rough looks and an untidy person go against one. I do wish you would try and keep yourself decent." "Well, there then—I will," answered Kinch. "But, Charlie, I'm afraid, with your travelling and one thing or other, you will forget your old playmate by-and-by, and get above him."
Charlie's eyes moistened; and, with a boy's impulsiveness, he threw his arm over Kinch's shoulder, and exclaimed with emphasis, "Never, old fellow, never—not as long as my name is Charlie Ellis! You mustn't be hurt at what I said, Kinch—I think more of these things than I used to—I see the importance of them. I find that any one who wants to get on must be particular in little things as well great, and I must try and be a man now—for you know things don't glide on as smoothly with us as they used. I often think of our fun in the old house—ah, perhaps we'll have good times in another of our own yet!"—and with this Charlie and his friend separated for the night.
Clouds and Sunshine.
The important Monday at length arrived, and Charlie hastened to the office of Mr. Blatchford, which he reached before the hour for commencing labour. He found some dozen or more journeymen assembled in the work-room; and noticed that upon his entrance there was an interchange of significant glances, and once or twice he overheard the whisper of "nigger."
Mr. Blatchford was engaged in discussing some business matter with a gentleman, and did not observe the agitation that Charlie's entrance had occasioned. The conversation having terminated, the gentleman took up the morning paper, and Mr. Blatchford, noticing Charlie, said, "Ah! you have come, and in good time, too. Wheeler," he continued, turning to one of the workmen, "I want you to take this boy under your especial charge: give him a seat at your window, and overlook his work."
At this there was a general uprising of the workmen, who commenced throwing off their caps and aprons. "What is all this for?" asked Mr. Blatchford in astonishment—"why this commotion?"
"We won't work with niggers!" cried one; "No nigger apprentices!" cried another; and "No niggers—no niggers!" was echoed from all parts of the room.
"Silence!" cried Mr. Blatchford, stamping violently—"silence, every one of you!" As soon as partial order was restored, he turned to Wheeler, and demanded, "What is the occasion of all this tumult—what does it mean?"
"Why, sir, it means just this: the men and boys discovered that you intended to take a nigger apprentice, and have made up their minds if you do they will quit in a body."
"It cannot be possible," exclaimed the employer, "that any man or boy in my establishment has room in his heart for such narrow contemptible prejudices. Can it be that you have entered into a conspiracy to deprive an inoffensive child of an opportunity of earning his bread in a respectable manner? Come, let me persuade you—the boy is well-behaved and educated!"
"Damn his behaviour and education!" responded a burly fellow; "let him be a barber or shoe-black—that is all niggers are good for. If he comes, we go—that's so, ain't it, boys?"
There was a general response of approval to this appeal; and Mr. Blatchford, seeing the utter uselessness of further parleying, left the room, followed by Charlie and the gentleman with whom he had been conversing.
Mr. Blatchford was placed in a most disagreeable position by this revolt on the part of his workmen; he had just received large orders from some new banks which were commencing operations, and a general disruption of his establishment at that moment would have ruined him. To accede to his workmen's demands he must do violence to his own conscience; but he dared not sacrifice his business and bring ruin on himself and family, even though he was right.
"What would you do, Burrell?" he asked of the gentleman who had followed them out.
"There is no question as to what you must do. You mustn't ruin yourself for the sake of your principles. You will have to abandon the lad; the other alternative is not to be thought of for a moment."
"Well, Charles, you see how it is," said Mr. Blatchford, reluctantly. Charlie had been standing intently regarding the conversation that concerned him so deeply. His face was pale and his lips quivering with agitation.
"I'd like to keep you, my boy, but you see how I'm situated, I must either give up you or my business; the latter I cannot afford to do." With a great effort Charlie repressed his tears, and bidding them good morning in a choking voice, hastened from the room.
"It's an infernal shame!" said Mr. Blatchford, indignantly; "and I shall think meanly of myself for ever for submitting to it; but I can't help myself, and must make the best of it."
Charlie walked downstairs with lingering steps, and took the direction of home. "All because I'm coloured," said he, bitterly, to himself—"all because I'm coloured! What will mother and Esther say? How it will distress them—they've so built upon it! I wish," said he, sadly, "that I was dead!" No longer able to repress the tears that were welling up, he walked towards the window of a print-store, where he pretended to be deeply interested in some pictures whilst he stealthily wiped his eyes. Every time he turned to leave the window, there came a fresh flood of tears; and at last he was obliged to give way entirely, and sobbed as if his heart would break.