"Oh, Jim," she cried weakly, "'Tildy done gone, an' me jes' speakin' ha'd 'bout huh a little while ago, an' that po' baby lef thaih to die! Ain't it awful?"
"Nev' min'," said Jim, huskily; "nev' min', honey." He had seen Ike's face when the messenger had come for him at the brickyard, and the memory of it was like a knife at his heart.
"Jes' think, I said, only a day or so ago," Martha went on, "that 'Tildy wasn't strong; an' I was glad of it, Jim, I was glad of it! I was jealous of huh havin' a baby, too. Now she's daid, an' I feel jes' lak I'd killed huh. S'p'osin' God 'ud sen' a jedgment on me—s'p'osin' He'd take our little Jim?"
"Sh, sh, honey," said Jim, with a man's inadequacy in such a moment. "'Tain't yo' fault; you nevah wished huh any ha'm."
"No; but I said it, I said it!"
"Po' Ike," said Jim absently; "po' fellah!"
"Won't you go thaih," she asked, "an' see what you kin do fu' him?"
"He don't speak to me."
"You mus' speak to him; you got to do it, Jim; you got to."
"What kin I say? 'Tildy's daid."
She reached up and put her arms around her husband's brawny neck. "Go bring that po' little lamb hyeah," she said. "I kin save it, an' 'ten' to two. It'll be a sort of consolation fu' him to keep his chile."
"Kin you do that, Marthy?" he said. "Kin you do that?"
"I know I kin." A great load seemed to lift itself from Jim's heart as he burst out of the house. He opened Ike's door without knocking. The man sat by the empty fireplace with his head bowed over the ashes.
"Ike," he said, and then stopped.
Ike raised his head and glanced at him with a look of dull despair. "She's gone," he replied; "'Tildy's gone." There was no touch of anger in his tone. It was as if he took the visit for granted. All petty emotions had passed away before this great feeling which touched both earth and the beyond.
"I come fu' the baby," said Jim. "Marthy, she'll take keer of it."
He reached down and found the other's hand, and the two hard palms closed together in a strong grip. "Ike," he went on, "I'm goin' to drop the 'Junior' an' the 'ham,' an' the two little ones'll jes' grow up togethah, one o' them lak the othah."
The bereaved husband made no response. He only gripped the hand tighter. A little while later Jim came hastily from the house with something small wrapped closely in a shawl.
THE FAITH CURE MAN
Hope is tenacious. It goes on living and working when science has dealt it what should be its deathblow.
In the close room at the top of the old tenement house little Lucy lay wasting away with a relentless disease. The doctor had said at the beginning of the winter that she could not live. Now he said that he could do no more for her except to ease the few days that remained for the child.
But Martha Benson would not believe him. She was confident that doctors were not infallible. Anyhow, this one wasn't, for she saw life and health ahead for her little one.
Did not the preacher at the Mission Home say: "Ask, and ye shall receive?" and had she not asked and asked again the life of her child, her last and only one, at the hands of Him whom she worshipped?
No, Lucy was not going to die. What she needed was country air and a place to run about in. She had been housed up too much; these long Northern winters were too severe for her, and that was what made her so pinched and thin and weak. She must have air, and she should have it.
"Po' little lammie," she said to the child, "Mammy's little gal boun' to git well. Mammy gwine sen' huh out in de country when the spring comes, whaih she kin roll in de grass an' pick flowers an' git good an' strong. Don' baby want to go to de country? Don' baby want to see de sun shine?" And the child had looked up at her with wide, bright eyes, tossed her thin arms and moaned for reply.
"Nemmine, we gwine fool dat doctah. Some day we'll th'ow all his nassy medicine 'way, an' he come in an' say: 'Whaih's all my medicine?' Den we answeh up sma't like: 'We done th'owed it out. We don' need no nassy medicine.' Den he look 'roun' an' say: 'Who dat I see runnin' roun' de flo' hyeah, a-lookin' so fat?' an' you up an' say: 'Hit's me, dat's who 'tis, mistah doctor man!' Den he go out an' slam de do' behin' him. Ain' dat fine?"
But the child had closed her eyes, too weak even to listen. So her mother kissed her little thin forehead and tiptoed out, sending in a child from across the hall to take care of Lucy while she was at work, for sick as the little one was she could not stay at home and nurse her.
Hope grasps at a straw, and it was quite in keeping with the condition of Martha's mind that she should open her ears and her heart when they told her of the wonderful works of the faith-cure man. People had gone to him on crutches, and he had touched or rubbed them and they had come away whole. He had gone to the homes of the bed-ridden, and they had risen up to bless him. It was so easy for her to believe it all. The only religion she had ever known, the wild, emotional religion of most of her race, put her credulity to stronger tests than that. Her only question was, would such a man come to her humble room. But she put away even this thought. He must come. She would make him. Already she saw Lucy strong, and running about like a mouse, the joy of her heart and the light of her eyes.
As soon as she could get time she went humbly to see the faith doctor, and laid her case before him, hoping, fearing, trembling.
Yes, he would come. Her heart leaped for joy.
"There is no place," said the faith curist, "too humble for the messenger of heaven to enter. I am following One who went among the humblest and the lowliest, and was not ashamed to be found among publicans and sinners. I will come to your child, madam, and put her again under the law. The law of life is health, and no one who will accept the law need be sick. I am not a physician. I do not claim to be. I only claim to teach people how not to be sick. My fee is five dollars, merely to defray my expenses, that's all. You know the servant is worthy of his hire. And in this little bottle here I have an elixir which has never been known to fail in any of the things claimed for it. Since the world has got used to taking medicine we must make some concessions to its prejudices. But this in reality is not a medicine at all. It is only a symbol. It is really liquefied prayer and faith."
Martha did not understand anything of what he was saying. She did not try to; she did not want to. She only felt a blind trust in him that filled her heart with unspeakable gladness.
Tremulous with excitement, she doled out her poor dollars to him, seized the precious elixir and hurried away home to Lucy, to whom she was carrying life and strength. The little one made a weak attempt to smile at her mother, but the light flickered away and died into greyness on her face.
"Now mammy's little gal gwine to git well fu' sho'. Mammy done bring huh somep'n' good." Awed and reverent, she tasted the wonderful elixir before giving it to the child. It tasted very like sweetened water to her, but she knew that it was not, and had no doubt of its virtues.
Lucy swallowed it as she swallowed everything her mother brought to her. Poor little one! She had nothing to buoy her up or to fight science with.
In the course of an hour her mother gave her the medicine again, and persuaded herself that there was a perceptible brightening in her daughter's face.
Mrs. Mason, Caroline's mother, called across the hall: "How Lucy dis evenin', Mis' Benson?"
"Oh, I think Lucy air right peart," Martha replied. "Come over an' look at huh."
Mrs. Mason came, and the mother told her about the new faith doctor and his wonderful powers.
"Why, Mis' Mason," she said, "'pears like I could see de change in de child de minute she swallowed dat medicine."
Her neighbor listened in silence, but when she went back to her own room it was to shake her head and murmur: "Po' Marfy, she jes' ez blind ez a bat. She jes' go 'long, holdin' on to dat chile wid all huh might, an' I see death in Lucy's face now. Dey ain't no faif nur prayer, nur Jack-leg doctors nuther gwine to save huh."
But Martha needed no pity then. She was happy in her self-delusion.
On the morrow the faith doctor came to see Lucy. She had not seemed so well that morning, even to her mother, who remained at home until the doctor arrived. He carried a conquering air, and a baggy umbrella, the latter of which he laid across the foot of the bed as he bent over the moaning child.
"Give me some brown paper," he commanded.
Martha hastened to obey, and the priestly practitioner dampened it in water and laid it on Lucy's head, all the time murmuring prayers—or were they incantations?—to himself. Then he placed pieces of the paper on the soles of the child's feet and on the palms of her hands, and bound them there.
When all this was done he knelt down and prayed aloud, ending with a peculiar version of the Lord's prayer, supposed to have mystic effect. Martha was greatly impressed, but through it all Lucy lay and moaned.
The faith curist rose to go. "Well, we can look to have her out in a few days. Remember, my good woman, much depends upon you. You must try to keep your mind in a state of belief. Are you saved?"
"Oh, yes, suh. I'm a puffessor," said Martha, and having completed his mission, the man of prayers went out, and Caroline again took Martha's place at Lucy's side.
In the next two days Martha saw, or thought she saw, a steady improvement in Lucy. According to instructions, the brown paper was moved every day, moistened, and put back.
Martha had so far spurred her faith that when she went out on Saturday morning she promised to bring Lucy something good for her Christmas dinner, and a pair of shoes against the time of her going out, and also a little doll. She brought them home that night. Caroline had grown tired and, lighting the lamp, had gone home.
"I done brung my little lady bird huh somep'n nice," said Martha, "here's a lil' doll and de lil' shoes, honey. How's de baby feel?" Lucy did not answer.
"You sleep?" Martha went over to the bed. The little face was pinched and ashen. The hands were cold.
"Lucy! Lucy!" called the mother. "Lucy! Oh, Gawd! It ain't true! She ain't daid! My little one, my las' one!"
She rushed for the elixir and brought it to the bed. The thin dead face stared back at her, unresponsive.
She sank down beside the bed, moaning.
"Daid, daid, oh, my Gawd, gi' me back my chile! Oh, don't I believe you enough? Oh, Lucy, Lucy, my little lamb! I got you yo' gif'. Oh, Lucy!"
The next day was set apart for the funeral. The Mission preacher read: "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord," and some one said "Amen!" But Martha could not echo it in her heart. Lucy was her last, her one treasured lamb.
A COUNCIL OF STATE
Luther Hamilton was a great political power. He was neither representative in Congress, senator nor cabinet minister. When asked why he aspired to none of these places of honor and emolument he invariably shrugged his shoulders and smiled inscrutably. In fact, he found it both more pleasant and more profitable simply to boss his party. It gave him power, position and patronage, and yet put him under obligations to no narrow constituency.
As he sat in his private office this particular morning there was a smile upon his face, and his little eyes looked out beneath the heavy grey eyebrows and the massive cheeks with gleams of pleasure. His whole appearance betokened the fact that he was feeling especially good. Even his mail lay neglected before him, and his eyes gazed straight at the wall. What wonder that he should smile and dream. Had he not just the day before utterly crushed a troublesome opponent? Had he not ruined the career of a young man who dared to oppose him, driven him out of public life and forced his business to the wall? If this were not food for self-congratulation pray what is?
Mr. Hamilton's reverie was broken in upon by a tap at the door, and his secretary entered.
"Well, Frank, what is it now? I haven't gone through my mail yet."
"Miss Kirkman is in the outer office, sir, and would like to see you this morning."
"Oh, Miss Kirkman, heh; well, show her in at once."
The secretary disappeared and returned ushering in a young woman, whom the "boss" greeted cordially.
"Ah, Miss Kirkman, good-morning! Good-morning! Always prompt and busy, I see. Have a chair."
Miss Kirkman returned his greeting and dropped into a chair. She began at once fumbling in a bag she carried.
"We'll get right to business," she said. "I know you're busy, and so am I, and I want to get through. I've got to go and hunt a servant for Mrs. Senator Dutton when I leave here."
She spoke in a loud voice, and her words rushed one upon the other as if she were in the habit of saying much in a short space of time. This is a trick of speech frequently acquired by those who visit public men. Miss Kirkman's whole manner indicated bustle and hurry. Even her attire showed it. She was a plump woman, aged, one would say about thirty. Her hair was brown and her eyes a steely grey—not a bad face, but one too shrewd and aggressive perhaps for a woman. One might have looked at her for a long time and never suspected the truth, that she was allied to the colored race. Neither features, hair nor complexion showed it, but then "colored" is such an elastic word, and Miss Kirkman in reality was colored "for revenue only." She found it more profitable to ally herself to the less important race because she could assume a position among them as a representative woman, which she could never have hoped to gain among the whites. So she was colored, and, without having any sympathy with the people whom she represented, spoke for them and uttered what was supposed by the powers to be the thoughts that were in their breasts.
"Well, from the way you're tossing the papers in that bag I know you've got some news for me."
"Yes, I have, but I don't know how important you'll think it is. Here we are!" She drew forth a paper and glanced at it.
"It's just a memorandum, a list of names of a few men who need watching. The Afro-American convention is to meet on the 22d; that's Thursday of next week. Bishop Carter is to preside. The thing has resolved itself into a fight between those who are office-holders and those who want to be."
"Yes, well what's the convention going to do?"
"They're going to denounce the administration."
"Hem, well in your judgment, what will that amount to, Miss Kirkman?"
"They are the representative talking men from all sections of the country, and they have their following, and so there's no use disputing that they can do some harm."
"Hum, what are they going to denounce the administration for?"
"Oh, there's a spirit of general discontent, and they've got to denounce something, so it had as well be the administration as anything else."
There was a new gleam in Mr. Hamilton's eye that was not one of pleasure as he asked, "Who are the leaders in this movement?"
"That's just what I brought this list for. There's Courtney, editor of the New York Beacon, who is rabid; there's Jones of Georgia, Gray of Ohio—"
"Whew," whistled the boss, "Gray of Ohio, why he's on the inside."
"Yes, and I can't see what's the matter with him, he's got his position, and he ought to keep his mouth shut."
"Oh, there are ways of applying the screw. Go on."
"Then, too, there's Shackelford of Mississippi, Duncan of South Carolina, Stowell of Kentucky, and a lot of smaller fry who are not worth mentioning."
"Are they organized?"
"Yes, Courtney has seen to that, the forces are compact."
"We must split them. How is the bishop?"
"Lots of it."
"How's your young man, the one for whom you've been soliciting a place—what's his name?"
Miss Kirkman did her womanhood the credit of blushing, "Joseph Aldrich, you mean. You can trust to me to see that he's on the right side."
"Happy is the man who has the right woman to boss him, and who has sense enough to be bossed by her; his path shall be a path of roses, and his bed a flowery bed of ease. Now to business. They must not denounce the administration. What are the conditions of membership in this convention?"
"Any one may be present, but it costs a fee of five dollars for the privilege of the floor."
Mr. Hamilton turned to the desk and made out a check. He handed it to Miss Kirkman, saying, "Cash this, and pack that convention for the administration. I look to you and the people you may have behind you to check any rash resolutions they may attempt to pass. I want you to be there every day and take notes of the speeches made, and their character and tenor. I shall have Mr. Richardson there also to help you. The record of each man's speech will be sent to his central committee, and we shall know how to treat him in the future. You know, Miss Kirkman, it is our method to help our friends and to crush our enemies. I shall depend upon you to let me know which is which. Good-morning."
"Good-morning, Mr. Hamilton."
"And, oh, Miss Kirkman, just a moment. Frank," the secretary came in, "bring me that jewel case out of the safe. Here, Miss Kirkman, Mrs. Hamilton told me if you came in to ask if you would mind running past the safety deposit vaults and putting these in for her?"
"Certainly not," said Miss Kirkman.
This was one of the ways in which Miss Kirkman was made to remember her race. And the relation to that race, which nothing in her face showed, came out strongly in her willingness thus to serve. The confidence itself flattered her, and she was never tired of telling her acquaintances how she had put such and such a senator's wife's jewels away, or got a servant for a cabinet minister.
When her other duties were done she went directly to a small dingy office building and entered a room, over which was the sign, "Joseph Aldrich, Counselor and Attorney at Law."
"How do, Joe."
"Why, Miss Kirkman, I'm glad to see you," said Mr. Aldrich, coming forward to meet her and setting a chair. He was a slender young man, of a complexion which among the varying shades bestowed among colored people is termed a light brown skin. A mustache and a short Vandyke beard partially covered a mouth inclined to weakness. Looking at them, an observer would have said that Miss Kirkman was the stronger man of the two.
"What brings you out this way to-day?" questioned Aldrich.
"I'll tell you. You've asked me to marry you, haven't you?"
"Well, I'm going to do it."
"Annie, you make me too happy."
"That's enough," said Miss Kirkman, waving him away. "We haven't any time for romance now. I mean business. You're going to the convention next week."
"And you're going to speak?"
"That's right. Let me see your speech."
He drew a typewritten manuscript from the drawer and handed it to her. She ran her eyes over the pages, murmuring to herself. "Uh, huh, 'wavering, weak, vaciliating adminstration, have not given us the protection our rights as citizens demanded—while our brothers were murdered in the South. Nero fiddled while Rome burned, while this modern'—uh, huh, oh, yes, just as I thought," and with a sudden twist Miss Kirkman tore the papers across and pitched them into the grate.
"Miss Kirkman—Annie, what do you mean?"
"I mean that if you're going to marry me, I'm not going to let you go to the convention and kill yourself."
"But my convictions—"
"Look here, don't talk to me about convictions. The colored man is the under dog, and the under dog has no right to have convictions. Listen, you're going to the convention next week and you're going to make a speech, but it won't be that speech. I have just come from Mr. Hamilton's. That convention is to be watched closely. He is to have his people there and they are to take down the words of every man who talks, and these words will be sent to his central committee. The man who goes there with an imprudent tongue goes down. You'd better get to work and see if you can't think of something good the administration has done and dwell on that."
"Well, I'm off."
"But Annie, about the wedding?"
"Good-morning, we'll talk about the wedding after the convention."
The door closed on her last words, and Joseph Aldrich sat there wondering and dazed at her manner. Then he began to think about the administration. There must be some good things to say for it, and he would find them. Yes, Annie was right—and wasn't she a hustler though?
It was on the morning of the 22d and near nine o'clock, the hour at which the convention was to be called to order. But Mr. Gray of Ohio had not yet gone in. He stood at the door of the convention hall in deep converse with another man. His companion was a young looking sort of person. His forehead was high and his eyes were keen and alert. The face was mobile and the mouth nervous. It was the face of an enthusiast, a man with deep and intense beliefs, and the boldness or, perhaps, rashness to uphold them.
"I tell you, Gray," he was saying, "it's an outrage, nothing less. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Bah! It's all twaddle. Why, we can't even be secure in the first two, how can we hope for the last?"
"You're right, Elkins," said Gray, soberly, "and though I hold a position under the administration, when it comes to a consideration of the wrongs of my race, I cannot remain silent."
"I cannot and will not. I hold nothing from them, and I owe them nothing. I am only a bookkeeper in a commercial house, where their spite cannot reach me, so you may rest assured that I shall not bite my tongue."
"Nor shall I. We shall all be colored men here together, and talk, I hope, freely one to the other. Shall you introduce your resolution to-day?"
"I won't have a chance unless things move more rapidly than I expect them to. It will have to come up under new business, I should think."
"Hardly. Get yourself appointed on the committee on resolutions."
"Good, but how can I?"
"I'll see to that; I know the bishop pretty well. Ah, good-morning, Miss Kirkman. How do you do, Aldrich?" Gray pursued, turning to the newcomers, who returned his greeting, and passed into the hall.
"That's Miss Kirkman. You've heard of her. She fetches and carries for Luther Hamilton and his colleagues, and has been suspected of doing some spying, also."
"Who was that with her?"
"Oh, that's her man Friday; otherwise Joseph Aldrich by name, a fellow she's trying to make something of before she marries him. She's got the pull to do it, too."
"Why don't you turn them down?"
"Ah, my boy, you're young, you're young; you show it. Don't you know that a wind strong enough to uproot an oak only ripples the leaves of a creeper against the wall? Outside of the race that woman is really considered one of the leaders, and she trades upon the fact."
"But why do you allow this base deception to go?"
"Because, Elkins, my child," Gray put his hand on the other's shoulder with mock tenderness, "because these seemingly sagacious whites among whom we live are really a very credulous people, and the first one who goes to them with a good front and says 'Look here, I am the leader of the colored people; I am their oracle and prophet,' they immediately exalt and say 'That's so.' Now do you see why Miss Kirkman has a pull?"
"I see, but come on, let's go in; there goes the gavel."
The convention hall was already crowded, and the air was full of the bustle of settling down. When the time came for the payment of their fees, by those who wanted the privilege of the floor, there was a perfect rush for the secretary's desk. Bank notes fluttered everywhere. Miss Kirkman had on a suspiciously new dress and bonnet, but she had done her work well, nevertheless. She looked up into the gallery in a corner that overlooked the stage and caught the eye of a young man who sat there notebook in hand. He smiled, and she smiled. Then she looked over at Mr. Aldrich, who was not sitting with her, and they both smiled complacently. There's nothing like being on the inside.
After the appointment of committees, the genial bishop began his opening address, and a very careful, pretty address it was, too—well worded, well balanced, dealing in broad generalities and studiously saying nothing that would indicate that he had any intention of directing the policy of the meetings. Of course it brought forth all the applause that a bishop's address deserves, and the ladies in the back seats fluttered their fans, and said: "The dear man, how eloquent he is."
Gray had succeeded in getting Elkins placed on the committee on resolutions, but when they came to report, the fiery resolution denouncing the administration for its policy toward the negro was laid on the table. The young man had succeeded in engineering it through the committee, but the chairman decided that its proper place was under the head of new business, where it might be taken up in the discussion of the administration's attitude toward the negro.
"We are here, gentlemen," pursued the bland presiding officer, "to make public sentiment, but we must not try to make it too fast; so if our young friend from Ohio will only hold his resolution a little longer, it will be acted upon at the proper time. We must be moderate and conservative."
Gray sprang to his feet and got the chairman's eye. His face was flushed and he almost shouted: "Conservatism be hanged! We have rolled that word under our tongues when we were being trampled upon; we have preached it in our churches when we were being shot down; we have taught it in our schools when the right to use our learning was denied us, until the very word has come to be a reproach upon a black man's tongue!"
There were cries of "Order! Order!" and "Sit down!" and the gavel was rattling on the chairman's desk. Then some one rose to a point of order, so dear to the heart of the negro debater. The point was sustained and the Ohioan yielded the floor, but not until he had gazed straight into the eyes of Miss Kirkman as they rose from her notebook. She turned red. He curled his lip and sat down, but the blood burned in his face, and it was not the heat of shame, but of anger and contempt that flushed his cheeks.
This outbreak was but the precursor of other storms to follow. Every one had come with an idea to exploit or some proposition to advance. Each one had his panacea for all the aches and pains of his race. Each man who had paid his five dollars wanted his full five dollars' worth of talk. The chairman allowed them five minutes apiece, and they thought time dear at a dollar a minute. But there were speeches to be made for buncombe, and they made the best of the seconds. They howled, they raged, they stormed. They waxed eloquent or pathetic. Jones of Georgia was swearing softly and feelingly into Shackelford's ear. Shackelford was sympathetic and nervous as he fingered a large bundle of manuscript in his back pocket. He got up several times and called "Mr. Chairman," but his voice had been drowned in the tumult. Amid it all, calm and impassive, sat the man, who of all others was expected to be in the heat of the fray.
It had been rumored that Courtney of the New York Beacon had come to Washington with blood in his eyes. But there he sat, silent and unmoved, his swarthy, eagle-like face, with its frame of iron-grey hair as unchanging as if he had never had a passionate thought.
"I don't like Jim Courtney's silence," whispered Stowell to a colleague. "There's never so much devil in him as when he keeps still. You look out for him when he does open up."
But all the details of the convention do not belong to this narrative. It is hardly relevant, even, to tell how Stowell's prediction came true, and at the second day's meeting Courtney's calm gave way, and he delivered one of the bitterest speeches of his life. It was in the morning, and he was down for a set speech on "The Negro in the Higher Walks of Life." He started calmly, but as he progressed, the memory of all the wrongs, personal and racial that he had suffered; the knowledge of the disabilities that he and his brethren had to suffer, and the vision of toil unrequited, love rejected, and loyalty ignored, swept him off his feet. He forgot his subject, forgot everything but that he was a crushed man in a crushed race.
The auditors held their breath, and the reporters wrote much.
Turning to them he said, "And to the press of Washington, to whom I have before paid my respects, let me say that I am not afraid to have them take any word that I may say. I came here to meet them on their own ground. I will meet them with pen. I will meet them with pistol," and then raising his tall, spare form, he shouted, "Yes, even though there is but one hundred and thirty-five pounds of me, I will meet them with my fists!"
This was all very rash of Courtney. His paper did not circulate largely, so his real speech, which he printed, was not widely read, while through the columns of the local press, a garbled and distorted version of it went to every corner of the country. Purposely distorted? Who shall say? He had insulted the press; and then Mr. Hamilton was a very wealthy man.
When the time for the consideration of Elkins' resolution came, Courtney, Jones and Shackelford threw themselves body and soul into the fight with Gray and its author. There was a formidable array against them. All the men in office, and all of those who had received even a crumb of promise were for buttering over their wrongs, and making their address to the public a prophecy of better things.
Jones suggested that they send an apology to lynchers for having negroes where they could be lynched. This called for reproof from the other side, and the discussion grew hot and acrimonious. Gray again got the floor, and surprised his colleagues by the plainness of his utterances. Elkins followed him with a biting speech that brought Aldrich to his feet.
Mr. Aldrich had chosen well his time, and had carefully prepared his speech. He recited all the good things that the administration had done, hoped to do, tried to do, or wanted to do, and showed what a very respectable array it was. He counseled moderation and conservatism, and his peroration was a flowery panegyric of the "noble man whose hand is on the helm, guiding the grand old ship of state into safe harbor."
The office-holders went wild with enthusiasm. No self-interest there. The opposition could not argue that this speech was made to keep a job, because the speaker had none. Then Jim Courtney got up and spoiled it all by saying that it may be that the speaker had no job but wanted one.
Aldrich was not moved. He saw a fat salary and Annie Kirkman for him in the near future.
The young lady had done her work well, and when the resolution came to a vote it was lost by a good majority. Aldrich was again on his feet and offering another. The forces of the opposition were discouraged and disorganized, and they made no effort to stop it when the rules were suspended, and it went through on the first reading. Then the convention shouted, that is, part of it did, and Miss Kirkman closed her notebook and glanced up at the gallery again. The young man had closed his book also. Their work was done. The administration had not been denounced, and they had their black-list for Mr. Hamilton's knife.
There were some more speeches made, just so that the talkers should get their money's worth; but for the masses, the convention had lost its interest, and after a few feeble attempts to stir it into life again, a motion to adjourn was entertained. But, before a second appeared, Elkins arose and asked leave to make a statement. It was granted.
"Gentlemen," he said, "we have all heard the resolution which goes to the public as the opinion of the negroes of the country. There are some of us who do not believe that this expresses the feelings of our race, and to us who believe this, Mr. Courtney has given the use of his press in New York, and we shall print our resolution and scatter it broadcast as the minority report of this convention, but the majority report of the race."
Miss Kirkman opened her book again for a few minutes, and then the convention adjourned.
* * * * *
"I wish you'd find out, Miss Kirkman," said Hamilton a couple of days later, "just what firm that young Elkins works for."
"I have already done that. I thought you'd want to know," and she handed him a card.
"Ah, yes," he said. "I have some business relations with that firm. I know them very well. Miss Anderson," he called to his stenographer, "will you kindly take a letter for me. By the way, Miss Kirkman, I have placed Mr. Aldrich. He will have his appointment in a few days."
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Hamilton; is there anything more I can do for you?"
A week later in his Ohio home William Elkins was surprised to be notified by his employers that they were cutting down forces, and would need his services no longer. He wrote at once to his friend Gray to know if there was any chance for him in Washington, and received the answer that Gray could hardly hold his own, as great pressure was being put upon him to force him to resign.
"I think," wrote Gray, "that the same hand is at the bottom of all our misfortunes. This is Hamilton's method."
Miss Kirkman and Mr. Aldrich were married two weeks from the day the convention adjourned. Mr. Gray was removed from his position on account of inefficiency. He is still trying to get back, but the very men to whom his case must go are in the hands of Mr. Hamilton.
Silas Jackson was a young man to whom many opportunities had come. Had he been a less fortunate boy, as his little world looked at it, he might have spent all his days on the little farm where he was born, much as many of his fellows did. But no, Fortune had marked him for her own, and it was destined that he should be known to fame. He was to know a broader field than the few acres which he and his father worked together, and where he and several brothers and sisters had spent their youth.
Mr. Harold Marston was the instrument of Fate in giving Silas his first introduction to the world. Marston, who prided himself on being, besides a man of leisure, something of a sportsman, was shooting over the fields in the vicinity of the Jackson farm. During the week he spent in the region, needing the services of a likely boy, he came to know and like Silas. Upon leaving, he said, "It's a pity for a boy as bright as you are to be tied down in this God-forsaken place. How'd you like to go up to the Springs, Si, and work in a hotel?"
The very thought of going to such a place, and to such work, fired the boy's imagination, although the idea of it daunted him.
"I'd like it powahful well, Mistah Ma'ston," he replied.
"Well, I'm going up there, and the proprietor of one of the best hotels, the Fountain House, is a very good friend of mine, and I'll get him to speak to his head waiter in your behalf. You want to get out of here, and see something of the world, and not stay cooped up with nothing livelier than rabbits, squirrels, and quail."
And so the work was done. The black boy's ambitions that had only needed an encouraging word had awakened into buoyant life. He looked his destiny squarely in the face, and saw that the great world outside beckoned to him. From that time his dreams were eagle-winged. The farm looked narrower to him, the cabin meaner, and the clods were harder to his feet. He learned to hate the plough that he had followed before in dumb content, and there was no longer joy in the woods he knew and loved. Once, out of pure joy of living, he had gone singing about his work; but now, when he sang, it was because his heart was longing for the city of his dreams, and hope inspired the song.
However, after Mr. Marston had been gone for over two weeks, and nothing had been heard from the Springs, the hope died in Silas's heart, and he came to believe that his benefactor had forgotten him. And yet he could not return to the old contentment with his mode of life. Mr. Marston was right, and he was "cooped up there with nothing better than rabbits, squirrels, and quail." The idea had never occurred to him before, but now it struck him with disconcerting force that there was something in him above his surroundings and the labor at which he toiled day by day. He began to see that the cabin was not over clean, and for the first time recognized that his brothers and sisters were positively dirty. He had always looked on it with unconscious eyes before, but now he suddenly developed the capacity for disgust.
When young 'Lishy, noticing his brother's moroseness, attributed it to his strong feeling for a certain damsel, Silas turned on him in a fury. Ambition had even driven out all other feelings, and Dely Manly seemed poor and commonplace to the dark swain, who a month before would have gone any length to gain a smile from her. He compared everything and everybody to the glory of what he dreamed the Springs and its inhabitants to be, and all seemed cheap beside.
Then on a day when his spirits were at their lowest ebb, a passing neighbor handed him a letter which he had found at the little village post office. It was addressed to Mr. Si Jackson, and bore the Springs postmark. Silas was immediately converted from a raw backwoods boy to a man of the world. Save the little notes that had been passed back and forth from boy to girl at the little log schoolhouse where he had gone four fitful sessions, this was his first letter, and it was the first time he had ever been addressed as "Mr." He swelled with a pride that he could not conceal, as with trembling hands he tore the missive open.
He read it through with glowing eyes and a growing sense of his own importance. It was from the head waiter whom Mr. Marston had mentioned, and was couched in the most elegant and high-sounding language. It said that Mr. Marston had spoken for Silas, and that if he came to the Springs, and was quick to learn, "to acquire knowledge," was the head waiter's phrase, a situation would be provided for him. The family gathered around the fortunate son, and gazed on him with awe when he imparted the good news. He became, on the instant, a new being to them. It was as if he had only been loaned to them, and was now being lifted bodily out of their world.
The elder Jackson was a bit doubtful about the matter.
"Of co'se ef you wants to go, Silas, I ain't a-gwine to gainsay you, an' I hope it's all right, but sence freedom dis hyeah piece o' groun's been good enough fu' me, an' I reckon you mought a' got erlong on it."
"But pap, you see it's diff'ent now. It's diff'ent, all I wanted was a chanst."
"Well, I reckon you got it, Si, I reckon you got it."
The younger children whispered long after they had gone to bed that night, wondering and guessing what the great place to which brother Si was going could be like, and they could only picture it as like the great white-domed city whose picture they had seen in the gaudy Bible foisted upon them by a passing agent.
As for Silas, he read and reread the letter by the light of a tallow dip until he was too sleepy to see, and every word was graven on his memory; then he went to bed with the precious paper under his pillow. In spite of his drowsiness, he lay awake for some time, gazing with heavy eyes into the darkness, where he saw the great city and his future; then he went to sleep to dream of it.
From then on, great were the preparations for the boy's departure. So little happened in that vicinity that the matter became a neighborhood event, and the black folk for three miles up and down the road manifested their interest in Silas's good fortune.
"I hyeah you gwine up to de Springs," said old Hiram Jones, when he met the boy on the road a day or two before his departure.
"Yes, suh, I's gwine up thaih to wo'k in a hotel. Mistah Ma'ston, he got me the job."
The old man reined in his horse slowly, and deposited the liquid increase of a quid of tobacco before he said; "I hyeah tell it's powahful wicked up in dem big cities."
"Oh, I reckon I ain't a-goin' to do nuffin wrong. I's goin' thaih to wo'k."
"Well, you has been riz right," commented the old man doubtfully, "but den, boys will be boys."
He drove on, and the prospect of a near view of wickedness did not make the Springs less desirable in the boy's eyes. Raised as he had been, almost away from civilization, he hardly knew the meaning of what the world called wickedness. Not that he was strong or good. There had been no occasion for either quality to develop; but that he was simple and primitive, and had been close to what was natural and elemental. His faults and sins were those of the gentle barbarian. He had not yet learned the subtler vices of a higher civilization.
Silas, however, was not without the pride of his kind, and although his father protested that it was a useless extravagance, he insisted upon going to the nearest village and investing part of his small savings in a new suit of clothes. It was quaint and peculiar apparel, but it was the boy's first "store suit," and it filled him with unspeakable joy. His brothers and sisters regarded his new magnificence with envying admiration. It would be a long while before they got away from bagging, homespun, and copperas-colored cotton, whacked out into some semblance of garments by their "mammy." And so, armed with a light bundle, in which were his few other belongings, and fearfully and wonderfully arrayed, Silas Jackson set out for the Springs. His father's parting injunctions were ringing in his ears, and the memory of his mammy's wet eyes and sad face lingered in his memory. She had wanted him to take the gaudy Bible away, but it was too heavy to carry, especially as he was to walk the whole thirty miles to the land of promise. At the last, his feeling of exaltation gave way to one of sorrow, and as he went down the road, he turned often to look at the cabin, until it faded from sight around the bend. Then a lump rose in his throat, and he felt like turning and running back to it. He had never thought the old place could seem so dear. But he kept his face steadily forward and trudged on toward his destiny.
The Springs was the fashionable resort of Virginia, where the aristocrats who thought they were ill went to recover their health and to dance. Compared with large cities of the North, it was but a small town, even including the transient population, but in the eyes of the rural blacks and the poor whites of the region, it was a place of large importance.
Hither, on the morning after his departure from the home gate, came Silas Jackson, a little foot-sore and weary, but hopeful withal. In spite of the pains that he had put upon his dressing, he was a quaint figure on the city streets. Many an amused smile greeted him as he went his way, but he saw them not. Inquiring the direction, he kept on, until the many windows and broad veranda of the great hotel broke on his view, and he gasped in amazement and awe at the sight of it, and a sudden faintness seized him. He was reluctant to go on, but the broad grins with which some colored men who were working about the place regarded him, drove him forward, in spite of his embarrassment.
He found his way to the kitchen, and asked in trembling tones for the head waiter. Breakfast being over, that individual had leisure to come to the kitchen. There, with the grinning waiters about him, he stopped and calmly surveyed Silas. He was a very pompous head waiter.
Silas had never been self-conscious before, but now he became distressfully aware of himself—of his awkwardness, of his clumsy feet and dangling hands, of the difference between his clothes and the clothes of the men about him.
After a survey, which seemed to the boy of endless duration, the head waiter spoke, and his tone was the undisputed child of his looks.
"I pussoom," said Mr. Buckner, "that you are the pusson Mistah Ma'ston spoke to the p'op'ietor about?"
"Yes, suh, I reckon I is. He p'omised to git me a job up hyeah, an' I got yo' lettah—" here Silas, who had set his bundle on the floor in coming into the Presence, began to fumble in his pockets for the letter. He searched long in vain, because his hands trembled, and he was nervous under the eyes of this great personage who stood unmoved and looked calmly at him.
Finally the missive was found and produced, though not before the perspiration was standing thick on Silas's brow. The head waiter took the sheet.
"Ve'y well, suh, ve'y well. You are evidently the p'oper pusson, as I reco'nize this as my own chirography."
The up-country boy stood in awed silence. He thought he had never heard such fine language before.
"I ca'culate that you have nevah had no experience in hotel work," pursued Mr. Buckner somewhat more graciously.
"I's nevah done nuffin' but wo'k on a farm; but evahbody 'lows I's right handy." The fear that he would be sent back home without employment gave him boldness.
"I see, I see," said the head waiter. "Well, we'll endeavor to try an' see how soon you can learn. Mistah Smith, will you take this young man in charge, an' show him how to get about things until we are ready to try him in the dinin'-room?"
A rather pleasant-faced yellow boy came over to Silas and showed him where to put his things and what to do.
"I guess it'll be a little strange at first, if you've never been a hotel man, but you'll ketch on. Just you keep your eye on me."
All that day as Silas blundered about slowly and awkwardly, he looked with wonder and admiration at the ease and facility with which his teacher and the other men did their work. They were so calm, so precise, and so self-sufficient. He wondered if he would ever be like them, and felt very hopeless as the question presented itself to him.
They were a little prone to laugh at him, but he was so humble and so sensible that he thought he must be laughable; so he laughed a little shamefacedly at himself, and only tried the harder to imitate his companions. Once when he dropped a dish upon the floor, he held his breath in consternation, but when he found that no one paid any attention to it, he picked it up and went his way.
He was tired that night, more tired than ploughing had ever made him, and was thankful when Smith proposed to show him at once to the rooms apportioned to the servants. Here he sank down and fell into a doze as soon as his companion left him with the remark that he had some studying to do. He found afterward that Smith was only a temporary employee at the Springs, coming there during the vacations of the school which he attended, in order to eke out the amount which it cost him for his education. Silas thought this a very wonderful thing at first, but when he grew wiser, as he did finally, he took the point of view of most of his fellows and thought that Smith was wasting both time and opportunities.
It took a very short time for Silas's unfamiliarity with his surroundings to wear off, and for him to become acquainted with the duties of his position. He grew at ease with his work, and became a favorite both in dining-room and kitchen. Then began his acquaintance with other things, and there were many other things at the Springs which an unsophisticated young man might learn.
Silas's social attainments were lamentably sparse, but being an apt youngster, he began to acquire them, quite as he acquired his new duties, and different forms of speech. He learned to dance—almost a natural gift of the negro—and he was introduced into the subtleties of flirtation. At first he was a bit timid with the nurse-girls and maids whom the wealthy travelers brought with them, but after a few lessons from very able teachers, he learned the manly art of ogling to his own satisfaction, and soon became as proficient as any of the other black coxcombs.
If he ever thought of Dely Manly any more, it was with a smile that he had been able at one time to consider her seriously. The people at home, be it said to his credit, he did not forget. A part of his wages went back every month to help better the condition of the cabin. But Silas himself had no desire to return, and at the end of a year he shuddered at the thought of it. He was quite willing to help his father, whom he had now learned to call the "old man," but he was not willing to go back to him.
Early in his second year at the Springs Marston came for a stay at the hotel. When he saw his protege, he exclaimed: "Why, that isn't Si, is it?"
"Yes, suh," smiled Silas.
"Well, well, well, what a change. Why, boy, you've developed into a regular fashion-plate. I hope you're not advertising for any of the Richmond tailors. They're terrible Jews, you know."
"You see, a man has to be neat aroun' the hotel, Mistah Ma'ston."
"Whew, and you've developed dignity, too. By the Lord Harry, if I'd have made that remark to you about a year and a half ago, there at the cabin, you'd have just grinned. Ah, Silas, I'm afraid for you. You've grown too fast. You've gained a certain poise and ease at the expense of—of—I don't know what, but something that I liked better. Down there at home you were just a plain darky. Up here you are trying to be like me, and you are colored."
"Of co'se, Mistah Ma'ston," said Silas politely, but deprecatingly, "the worl' don't stan' still."
"Platitudes—the last straw!" exclaimed Mr. Marston tragically. "There's an old darky preacher up at Richmond who says it does, and I'm sure I think more of his old fog-horn blasts than I do of your parrot tones. Ah! Si, this is the last time that I shall ever fool with good raw material. However, don't let this bother you. As I remember, you used to sing well. I'm going to have some of my friends up at my rooms to-night; get some of the boys together, and come and sing for us. And remember, nothing hifalutin; just the same old darky songs you used to sing."
"All right, suh, we'll be up."
Silas was very glad to be rid of his old friend, and he thought when Marston had gone that he was, after all, not such a great man as he had believed. But the decline in his estimation of Mr. Marston's importance did not deter him from going that night with three of his fellow-waiters to sing for that gentleman. Two of the quartet insisted upon singing fine music, in order to show their capabilities, but Silas had received his cue, and held out for the old songs. Silas Jackson's tenor voice rang out in the old plantation melodies with the force and feeling that old memories give. The concert was a great success, and when Marston pressed a generous-sized bank-note into his hand that night, he whispered, "Well, I'm glad there's one thing you haven't lost, and that's your voice."
That was the beginning of Silas's supremacy as manager and first tenor of the Fountain Hotel Quartet, and he flourished in that capacity for two years longer; then came Mr. J. Robinson Frye, looking for talent, and Silas, by reason of his prominence, fell in this way.
Mr. J. Robinson Frye was an educated and enthusiastic young mulatto gentleman, who, having studied music abroad, had made art his mistress. As well as he was able, he wore the shock of hair which was the sign manual of his profession. He was a plausible young man of large ideas, and had composed some things of which the critics had spoken well. But the chief trouble with his work was that his one aim was money. He did not love the people among whom American custom had placed him, but he had respect for their musical ability.
"Why," he used to exclaim in the sudden bursts of enthusiasm to which he was subject, "why, these people are the greatest singers on earth. They've got more emotion and more passion than any other people, and they learn easier. I could take a chorus of forty of them, and with two months' training make them sing the roof off the Metropolitan Opera house."
When Mr. Frye was in New York, he might be seen almost any day at the piano of one or the other of the negro clubs, either working at some new inspiration, or playing one of his own compositions, and all black clubdom looked on him as a genius.
His latest scheme was the training of a colored company which should do a year's general singing throughout the country, and then having acquired poise and a reputation, produce his own opera.
It was for this he wanted Silas, and in spite of the warning and protests of friends, Silas went with him to New York, for he saw his future loom large before him.
The great city frightened him at first, but he found there some, like himself, drawn from the smaller towns of the South. Others in the company were the relics of the old days of negro minstrelsy, and still others recruited from the church choirs in the large cities. Silas was an adaptable fellow, but it seemed a little hard to fall in with the ways of his new associates. Most of them seemed as far away from him in their knowledge of worldly things as had the waiters at the Springs a few years before. He was half afraid of the chorus girls, because they seemed such different beings from the nurse girls down home. However, there was little time for moping or regrets. Mr. Frye was, it must be said, an indefatigable worker. They were rehearsing every day. Silas felt himself learning to sing. Meanwhile, he knew that he was learning other things—a few more elegancies and vices. He looked upon the "rounders" with admiration and determined to be one. So, after rehearsals were over other occupations held him. He came to be known at the clubs and was quite proud of it, and he grew bolder with the chorus girls, because he was to be a star.
After three weeks of training, the company opened, and Silas, who had never sung anything heavier than "Bright Sparkles in the Churchyard," was dressed in a Fauntleroy suit, and put on to sing in a scene from "Rigoletto."
Every night he was applauded to the echo by "the unskilful," until he came to believe himself a great singer. This belief was strengthened when the girl who performed the Spanish dance bestowed her affections upon him. He was very happy and very vain, and for the first time he forgot the people down in a little old Virginia cabin. In fact, he had other uses for his money.
For the rest of the season, either on the road or in and about New York, he sang steadily. Most of the things for which he had longed and had striven had come to him. He was known as a rounder, his highest ambition. His waistcoats were the loudest to be had. He was possessed of a factitious ease and self-possession that was almost aggression. The hot breath of the city had touched and scorched him, and had dried up within him whatever was good and fresh. The pity of it was that he was proud of himself, and utterly unconscious of his own degradation. He looked upon himself as a man of the world, a fine product of the large opportunities of a great city.
Once in those days he heard of Smith, his old-time companion at the Springs. He was teaching at some small place in the South. Silas laughed contemptuously when he heard how his old friend was employed. "Poor fellow," he said, "what a pity he didn't come up here, and make something out of himself, instead of starving down there on little or nothing," and he mused on how much better his fate had been.
The season ended. After a brief period of rest, the rehearsals for Frye's opera were begun. Silas confessed to himself that he was tired; he had a cough, too, but Mr. Frye was still enthusiastic, and this was to be the great triumph, both for the composer and the tenor.
"Why, I tell you, man," said Frye, "it's going to be the greatest success of the year. I am the only man who has ever put grand-opera effects into comic opera with success. Just listen to the chords of this opening chorus." And so he inspired the singer with some of his own spirit. They went to work with a will. Silas might have been reluctant as he felt the strain upon him grow, but that he had spent all his money, and Frye, as he expressed it, was "putting up for him," until the opening of the season.
Then one day he was taken sick, and although Frye fumed, the rehearsals had to go on without him. For awhile his companions came to see him, and then they gradually ceased to come. So he lay for two months. Even Sadie, his dancing sweetheart, seemed to have forgotten him. One day he sent for her, but the messenger returned to say she could not come, she was busy. She had married the man with whom she did a turn at the roof-garden. The news came, too, that the opera had been abanboned, and that Mr. Frye had taken out a company with a new tenor, whom he pronounced far superior to the former one.
Silas gazed blankly at the wall. The hollowness of his life all came suddenly before him. All his false ideals crumbled, and he lay there with nothing to hope for. Then came back the yearnings for home, for the cabin and the fields, and there was no disgust in his memory of them.
When his strength partly returned, he sold some of the few things that remained to him from his prosperous days, and with the money purchased a ticket for home; then spent, broken, hopeless, all contentment and simplicity gone, he turned his face toward his native fields.