A STORY IN TWO PARTS.
GENTLEMAN BILL, full of confidence in his powers of persuasion, advances, to add the weight of his respectability to his parent’s remonstrance.
“Good morning, Mr. Frisbie,” — politely lifting his hat.
“ Hey ? ” says Frisbie, sarcastic. — “ Look at his insolence, Stephen ! ”
“ I sincerely trust, Sir,” begins Bill, “ that you will reconsider your determination, Sir”—
“ Shall I fetch him a cut with the hosswhip ? ” whispers Stephen, loud enough for the stalwart young black to hear.
“ You can fetch him a cut with the hosswhip, if you like,” Bill answers for Mr. Frisbie, with fire blazing upon his polite face. “ But, Sir, in case you do, Sir, I shall take it upon myself to teach you better manners than to insult a gentleman conferring with your master, Sir! ”
“ Ha, ha, ha!” roared Mr. Frisbie. “ You ’ve got it, Stephen ! ”
The whip trembled in Stephen’s angry hand, but the strapping young negro looked so cool and wicked, standing there, that he wisely forbore to strike.
“I am sure, Sir,” Bill addresses the landlord, “you are too humane a person -
“ No, I a’n’t,” says the florid Frisbie. “ I know what you ’re going to say ; but it’s no use. You can’t work upon my feelings ; I a’n’t one of your soft kind. —Drive up to the door, Stephen.”
Stephen is very glad to start the horse suddenly and graze Gentleman Bill’s knee with the wheel-hub. Bill steps back a pace, and follows him with the smiting look of one who treasures up wrath. You’d better be careful, Stephen, let me tell you!
Joe stands holding the door open, and Mr. Frisbie looks in. There, to his astonishment, he sees the women washing clothes as unconcernedly as if nothing unusual was about to occur. He jumps to the ground, heated with passion.
“ Ho, here ! ” he shouts in at the door; “ don’t you see the house is coming down ?”
Upon which the deaf old grandfather rises in his corner, and pulls off his cap, with the usual salutation, “ Sarvant, Sah,” etc., and sitting down again, relapses into a doze immediately.
Frisbie is furious. “ What you ’bout here ? ” he cries, in an alarming voice.
“ Bless you, Sir,” answers the old woman, over a tub, “ don’t you see ? We’s doon’ a little washing Sir. Didn’t you never see nobody wash afore ? ” And she proceeds with her rubbing.
“ The house will be tumbling on you in ten minutes ! ”
“ You think so ? Now I don’t, Mr. Frisbie ! This 'ere house a’n’t gwine to tumble down this mornin’, I know. The Lord ’ll look out for that, I guess. Look o’ these ’ere childern. ! look o’ me ! look o’ my ole father there, more ’n a hunderd year ole ! What’s a-gwine to ’come on us all, if you pull the house down ? Can’t git another right away ; no team to tote our things off with ; an’ how ’n the world we can do ’thout no house this winter I can’t see. So I’ve jes’ concluded to trust the Lord, an’ git out my washin’.” Rub, rub, rub !
Frisbie grows purple. “ Are you fools ? ” be inquires.
“ Yes, I am! I’m Fessenden’s.” And the honest, staring youth comes forward to see what is wanted.
This unexpected response rather pricks the wind-bag of the man’s zeal. He looks curiously at the boy, who follows him out of the house.
“ Stephen, did you ever see that fellow before ? ”
“ Yes, Sir; he’s the one come to our house Saturday night, and I showed round to the Judge’s.”
“ Are you the fellow ? ”
“ Yes,” says Fessenden’s. “ There would n’t any of you let me into your houses, neither! ”
“ Would n’t the people I sent you to let yon in ? ” “No!”
“ Hear that, Stephen ! your philanthropical Gingerford! — And what did you do ? ”
“ I did n’t do nothin’, —only laid down to die, I did.”
“ But you did n’t die, did you ? ”
“No ! This man he come along, and brought me here.”
“ Here ? to the niggers ? ”
“ Yes ! You would n’t have me, so they took me, and dried me, and fed me, — good folks, niggers!” Fessenden’s bore this simple testimony.
What is it makes the Frisbie color heighten so ? Is it Gentleman Bill’s quiet smile, as he stands by and hears this conversation ?
“ And you have been here ever since ? ” says the man, in a humbler key, and with a milder look, than before.
“ Yes ! It’s a r’al good place ! ” says the youth.
“But a’n’t you ashamed to live with niggers ? ”
“ Ashamed ? What for ? Nobody else was good to me. But they was good to me. I a’n’t ashamed.”
The Frisbie color heightens more and more. He looks at that wretched dwelling, — he glances aside at Mr. Williams, that coal-black Christian, of sad and resigned demeanor, waiting ruefully to see the roof torn off, — the only roof that had afforded shelter to the perishing Outcast. Mr. Frisbie is not one of the “ soft kind,” but he feels the prick of conscience in his heart.
“ Why did n’t you go to the poorhouse ? Did n’t anybody tell you to ? ”
“ Yes, that’s what they said. But nobody showed me the way, and I could n’t find it.”
“Where did you come from? Who are you ? ”
“ Who is Fessenden ? ”
“ The man that owns me. But he whipped me and shot me up, and I would n’t stay.”
“ Where does he live ? ”
“ Don’t know. Away off.”
“ You’d better go baek to him, had n’t you ? ”
“ No ! I like these folks. Best folks I ever seen ! ” avers the earnest youth.
Flush and confusion are in the rich man’s face, He turns up an uneasy glanee at Adsly’s men, already on the roof; then coughs, and says to Stephen, —
“ This is interesting ! ”
“ Very,” says Stephen.
“ Don’t you remember, I was going to make some provision for this fellow,— I’d have seen him safe in the almshouse, if nothing more,—but you suggested Gingerford’s.”
“ I supposed Gingerford. would be delighted to take him in,” grins Stephen.
“ Instead of that, he turns him out in the storm ! Did you ever hear of such sham philanthropy ? By George ! ” cries Frisbie, in his indignation against the Judge, “ there’s more real philanthropy in these niggers ” —checking himself, and glancing again at the workmen on the roof.
“What ’s philanthropy ?” asks Fessenden’s. “ Is that what you ’re tearin’ their house down for ? I’m sorry ! ”
Frisbie is flustered. He is ashamed of appearing “ soft.” He wishes heartily to be well rid of the niggers. But something in his own heart rebels against the course he has taken to eject them.
“Just hold on there a minute, Adsly!”
“ Ay, ay ! ” says Adsly. And the work stops.
“ Now what do I do this for ? ” exclaims Frisbie, vexed at himself the instant he has spoken. And he frowns, and blows his nose furiously. “It’s because I am too good - matured, altogether ! ”
“ No, no, Sir, — I beg your pardon ! ” says Mr. Williams, his heart all aglow with gratitude. “ To be kind and merciful to the poor, that is n’t to be too goodnatured, Sir ! ”
“Well, well! I a’n’t one of your milk-and-water sort. Look at such a man as Gingerford, for example ! But I guess, come case in hand, you ’ll find as much genuine humanity in me, Adsly, as in them that profess so much. Wait till to-morrow before you knock the old shell to pieces. I ’ll give ’em another day. And in the mean time, boy,” turning to Fessenden’s, “you must find you another home. Either go back to your guardian, or I ’ll send you over to the almshouse. These people can’t keep you, for they ’ll have no house in these parts to keep themselves in.”
“ So ? ” says Fessenden’s. “ They kep’ me when they had a house, and I ’ll stay with them when they have n’t got any.”
Something in the case of this unfortunate stripling interested Frisbie. His devotion to his new friends was so sincere, and so simply expressed, that the robust, well-fed man was almost touched by it.
“ I vow, it’s a queer ease, Stephen ! What do you think of it?”
“ I think ”said the joker.
“ What do you think ? Out with it!”
“ You own that vacant lot opposite Gingerford’s ? ”
“ Yes; what of that ? ”
“ I think, then, instead of pulling the house down, I’d just move it over there, niggers and all ”-
“ And set it opposite the Judge’s I ” exclaims Frisbie, catching gleefully at the idea.
“ Exactly,” says Stephen ; “ and give him enough of niggers for one while.”
“ I ’ll do it! — Adsly ! Adsly ! See here, Adsly! Do you suppose this old box can be moved ? ”
“ I fuess so. ’T a’n’t very large. Ruther think the frame ’ll hold together.”
“ Will you undertake the job ? ”
“ Wal, I never moved a house. There’s Cap’en Slade, he moves houses, He’s got all the tackle for it, and I ha’n’t. I suppose I can git him, if you want me to see to the job.”
Agreed ! It did not take Frisbie long to decide. It was such a tremendous joke ! A nest of niggers under the dainty Gingerford nose! ho, ho! Whip up, Stephen ! And the red and puffy face, redder and puffier still with immense fun, rode off.
Adsly and his men disappeared also, to return with Cap’en Slade and his tackle on the morrow. Then Joe began to dance and scream like a little devil.
“ Have a ride ! have a ride! Oh, mammy ! they ’re gunter snake th’ ole house through the village to-morrer, an’ we ’re all gunter have a ride ! free gratis for nothin’! ’thout payin’ for ’t neither ! A’n’t we, Bill ? ”
Mrs. Williams sits right down, overcome by the surprise.
“ Now I want to know if that ’ere ’s so! ”
“ That ’s what’t, looks like now,” says Mr. Williams. “ We ’re goin’ to be sot opposite Mr. Gingerford’s.”
“ ’Ristocratic ! ” cries Joe, putting on airs. “ That’s what ’ll tickle Bill! ”
“ Oh, laws ! ” exclaims Mrs. Williams, with humorous sadness, — “ what a show th’ ole cabin ’ll make, stuck down there ’mongst all them fine housen ! ”
“ I don’t know’s I quite like the notion,” says her husband, with a good-natured expansion of his serious features. “ I’m 'fraid we sha’n’t be welcome neighbors down there. ’T a’n’t so much out o’ kindness to us as it is out o’ spite to the Gingerfords, that the house is to be moved instid o’ tore down.”
“ That ’s the glory of the Lord ! Even the wrath of man shall praise Him!” utters the old grandmother, devoutly,
“Won’t it be jimmy?” crows Joe. “ He’s a jolly ole brick, that Frisbie!
I’m a-gunter set straddle on the ridgepole, an’ carry a flag. Hooray ! ”
“ I consider that the situation will be very much preferable to this,” observes Gentleman Bill, polishing his hat with his coat-sleeve. “ Better quarter of the town ; more central; eligible locality for establishing a tailor-shop.”
“ Legible comicality for stablin’ a shailor-top ! ” stammers Joe, mimicking his brother.
Upon which Bill — as he sometimes did, when excited—relapsed into the vulgar, but expressive idiom of the family. “ Shet yer head, can’t ye ? ” And he lifted a hand, with intent to clap it smartly upon the part the occlusion of which was desirable.
Joe shrieked, and fled.
“ No quarrellin’ on a ’casion like this! ” interposes the old woman, covering the boy’s retreat. “ This ’ere’s a time for joy and thanks, an’ nuffin’ else. Bless the Lord, I knowed He ’d keep an eye on to th’ ole house. Did n’t I tell ye that boy’d bring us good luck ? It’s all on his account the house a’n’t tore down, an’ I consider it a mighty Providence from fust to last. Was n’t I right, when I said I guessed I ’d have faith, an’ git the washin’ out ? Bless the Lord, I could cry ! ”
And cry she did, with a fulness of heart which, I think, might possibly have convinced even the jocund Frisbie that there was something better than an old, worn-out, spiteful jest in the resolution he had taken to have the house moved, instead of razed.
And now the deaf old patriarch In the corner became suddenly aware that something exciting was going forward ; but being unable clearly to comprehend what, and chancing to see Fessenden’s coming in, he gave expression to his exuberant emotions by rising, and shaking the lad’s passive hand, with the usual highly polite salutation.
“ Tell him we ’re all a-gunter have a ride,” said Joe.
But as Fessenden’s could n’t tell him loud enough, Joe screamed the news.
“ Say ? ” asked the old man, raising a feeble hand to his ear, and stooping and smiling.
“ Put th’ ole house on wheels, an’ dror it! ” shrieked Joe.
“ Yes, yes! ” chuckled the old man, “ I remember! Six hills in a row. Busters ! ” — looking wonderfully knowing, and, with feeble forefinger raised, nodding and winking at his great-grandchild,— as it were across the slim gulf of a hundred years which divided the gleeful boyhood of Joe from the second childhood of the ancient dreamer.
The next day came Adsly and his men again, with Cap’en Slade and his tackle, and several yokes of oxen with drivers. Levers and screws moved the house from its foundations, and it was launched upon rollers. Then, progress ! Then, sensation in Timberville ! Some said it was Noah’s ark, sailing down the street. The household furniture of the patriarch was mostly left on board the antique craft, but Noah and his family followed on foot. They took their live stock with them,—cow and calf, and poultry and pig. Joe and his great-grandfather carried each a pair of pullets in their hands. Gentleman Bill drove the pig, with a rope tied to his (piggy’s) leg. Mr. Williams transported more poultry,—turkeys and hens, in two great flopping clusters, slung over his shoulder, with their heads down. The women bore crockery and other frangible articles, and helped Fessenden’s drive the cow. A picturesque procession, not noiseless! The bosses shouted to the men, the drivers shouted to the oxen, loud groaned the beams of the ark, the cow lowed, the calf bawled, great was the squawking and squealing!
Gentleman Bill was sick of the business before they had gone half-way. He wished he had stayed in the shop, instead of coming over to help the family, and make himself ridiculous. There was not much pleasure in driving that stout young porker. Many a sharp jerk lamed the hand that held the rope that restrained the leg that piggy wanted to run with. Besides, (as I believe swine and some other folks invariably do under the like circumstances,) piggy always tried to run in the wrong direction. To add to Gentleman Bill’s annoyance, spectators soon became numerous, and witty suggestions were not wanting.
“ Take him up in your arms,” said somebody.
“ Take advantage of his contrariness, and try to drive him ’t other way,” said somebody else.
“ Ride him,” proposed a third.
“ Make a whistle of his tail, an’ blow it, an’ he ’ll foller ye ! ” screamed a bright school-boy.
“ Stick some of yer tailor’s needles into him ! ” “ Sew him up in a sack, and shoulder him ! ” “ Take up his hind-legs, and push him like a wheelbarrer ! ” And so forth, and so forth, till Bill was in a fearful sweat and rage, partly with the pig, but chiefly with the uncivil multitude.
“ Ruther carry me on your back, some rainy night, had n’t ye ?” said Fessenden’s, in all simplicity, perceiving his distress.
“ You did n’t excruciate my wrist so like time ! ” groaned Bill. And what was more, darkness covered that other memorable journey.
As for Joe, be liked it. Though he was not allowed to ride the ridge-pole and wave a flag through the village, as he proposed, he had plenty of fun on foot. He went swinging his chickens, and frequently pinching them to make them musical. The laughter of the lookers-on did n’t trouble him in the least; for he could laugh louder than any. But his sisters were ashamed, and Mr. Williams looked grave; for they were, actually, human ! and I suppose they did n’t like to be jeered at, and called a swarm of niggers, any more than you or I would.
So the journey was accomplished ; and the stupendous joke of Frisbse’s was achieved. Conceive Mrs. Gingerford’s wonder, when she beheld the ark approaching! Fancy her feelings, when she saw it towed up and moored in front of her own door, — the whole tribe of Noah, lowing cow, bawling calf, squawking poultry, and squealing pig, and so forth, and so forth, accompanying ! This, then, was the meaning of the masons at work over there since yesterday. They had been preparing the new foundations on which the old house was to rest. So the stunning truth broke upon her: niggers for neighbors ! What had she done to merit such a dispensation ?
What done, unhappy lady ? Your own act has drawn down upon you this retribution. You yourself have done quite as much towards bringing that queer craft along-side as yonder panting and lolling oxen. They are but the brute instruments, while you have been a moral agent in the matter. One word, uttered by you three nights ago, has had the terrible magic in it to summon forth from the mysterious womb of events this extraordinary procession. Had but a different word been spoken, it would have proved equally magical, though we might never have known it: that breath by your delicate lips would have blown back these horrible shadows; and instead of all this din and confusion of house-hauling, we should have had silence this day in the streets of Timberville. You don’t see it ? In plain phrase, then, understand : you took not in the stranger at your gate; but he found refuge with these blacks; and because they showed mercy unto him, the sword of Frisbie’s wrath was turned aside from them, and, edged by Stephen’s witty jest, directed against you and yours. Hence this interesting scene which you look down upon from your windows, at the beautiful hour of sunset, which you love. And, oh, to think of it ! between your chamber and those golden sunsets that negro hut and those negroes will always be henceforth !
Now don’t you wish, Madam, you had had compassion on the wayfarer ? But we will not mock at your calamity. You did precisely what any of us would have been only too apt to do in your place, You told the simple truth, when you said you did n’t want the ragged wretch in your house. And what person of refinement, I 'd like to know, would have wanted him ? For, say what you will, it is a most disagreeable thing to admit downright dirty vagabonds into our elegant dwellings. And dangerous, besides ; for they might murder us in the night, — or steal something ! Oh, we fastidious and fearful! where is our charity ? where is the heart of trust ? There was of old a Divine Man, who had not where to lay his head,—whom the wise of those days scoffed at as a crazy fellow,— whom respectable people shunned, — who made himself the companion of the poor, the comforter of the distressed, the helper of those in trouble, and the healer of diseases,—who shrank neither from the man or woman of sin, nor from the loathsome leper, nor from sorrow and death for our sakes,— whose gospel we now profess to live by, and—
But let us not be “ soft.” We are reasonably Christian, we hope; and it shows low breeding to be ultra. (Was the Carpenter’s Son low-bred ?)
And now the Judge rides home in the dusk of the December day. It is still light enough, however, for him to see that Frisbie’s vacant lot has been made an Ararat of; and lie could hear the Noachian noises, were it ever so dark. The awful jest bursts upon him; he hears the screaming of the bomb-shell, then the explosion. But the mind of this man is (so to speak) casemated. It is a shock,— but he never once loses his self-possession. His quick perception detects Friend Frisbie behind the gun ; and he smiles with his intelligent, fine-cut face. Shall malice have the pleasure of knowing that the shot has told ? Our orator is too sagacious for that. There is never any use in being angry : that is one of his maxims. Therefore, if he feels any chagrin, he will smother it. If there is a storm within, the world shall see only the rainbow, that radiant smile of his. Cool is Gingerford ! He has seized the subject instantly, and calculated all its bearings. He is a man to make the best of it; and even the bitterness which is in it shall, if possible, bear him some wholesome drink. To school his mind to patience,—to practise daily the philanthropy he teaches,— this will be much ; and already his heart is humbled and warmed. And who knows, — for, with all his sincerity and aspiration, he has an eye to temporal uses, — who knows but this stumbling-block an enemy has placed in his way may prove the stepping-stone of his ambition ?
“What is all this, James?” he inquires of his son, who comes out to the gate to meet him.
“ Frisbie’s meanness ! ” says the young man, almost choking. “ And the whole town is laughing at us ! ”
“ Laughing at us ? What have we done ? ” mildly answers the parent. “ I tell you what, James,—they sha’n’t laugh at us long. We can live so as to compel them to reverence us; and if there is any ridicule attached to the affair, it will soon rest where it belongs.”
“ Such a sty stuck right down under our noses ! ” muttered the mortified James.
“ We will make of it an ornament,” retorts the Judge, with mounting spirits. “ Come with me,” — taking the youth’s arm. “ My son, call no human habitation a sty. These people are our brothers, and we will show them the kindness of brethren.”
A servant receives the horse, and Gingerford and his son cross the street.
“ Good evening, Friend Williams ! So you have concluded to come and live neighbor to us, have you ? ”
Friend Williams was at the end of the house, occupied in improvising a cowshed under an old apple - tree. Piggy was already tied to the trunk of the tree, and the hens and turkeys were noisily selecting their roosts in the boughs. At sight of the Judge, whose displeasure he feared, the negro was embarrassed, and hardly knew what to say. But the pleasant greeting of the silver-toned voice reassured him, and he stopped his work to frame his candid, respectful answer.
“It was Mr. Frisbie that concluded. All I had to do was to go with the house wherever he chose to move it.”
“ Well, he might have done much worse by you. You have a nice landlord, a nice landlord, Mr. Williams. Mr. Frisbie is a very fine man.”
It was Gingerford’s practice to speak well of everybody with whom he had any persona] relations, and especially well of his enemies; because, as lie used to say to his son, evil words commonly do more harm to him who utters them than to those they are designed to injure, while fair and good words are easily spoken, and are the praise of their author, if of nobody else: for, if the subject of them is a bad man, they will not be accepted as literally true by any one that knows him, but, on the contrary, they will be set down to the credit of your good-nature, — or who knows but they may become coals of fire upon the head of your enemy, and convert him into a friend ?
James had now an opportunity to test the truth of these observations. Was Mr. Williams convinced that Frisbie was a nice landlord and a fine man ? By no means. But that Judge Gingerford was a fine man, and a charitable, be believed more firmly than ever. Then there was Stephen standing by,—having, no doubt, been sent by his master to observe the chagrin of the Gingerfords, and to bring back the report thereof; who, when he heard the Judge’s words, looked surprised and abashed, and presently stole away, himself discomfited.
“ I pray the Lord,” said Mr. Williams, humbly and heartily, “ you won’t consider us troublesome neighbors.”
“ I hope not,” replied the Judge; “ and why should I ? You have a good, honest reputation, Friend Williams; and I hear that you are a peaceable and industrious family. We ought to be able to serve each other in many ways. What can I do for you, to begin with ? Would n’t you like to turn your cow and calf into my yard ? ”
“ Thank you a thousand times, — if I can, just as well as not,” said the grateful negro. “ We had to tear down the shed and pig-pen when we moved the house, and I ha’n’t had time to set ’em up again.”
“ And I imagine you have had enough to do, for one day. Let your children drive the creatures through the gate yonder; my man will show them the shed. Are you a good gardener, Mr. Williams ? ”
“ Wal, I’ve done consid’able at that sort of work, Sir.”
“ I’m glad of that. I have to hire a good deal of gardening done. I see we are going to be very much obliged to your landlord for bringing us so near together. And this is your father ? ”
“ My grandfather, Sir,” said Mr. Williams.
“ Your grandfather ? I must shake hands with him.”
“ Sarvant, Sah,” said the old man, cap off, bowing and smiling there in the December twilight.
“ He’s deaf as can be,” said Mr. Williams ; “you ’ll have to talk loud, to make him hear. He’s more ’n a hunderd year old.”
“ You astonish me ! ” exclaimed the Judge. “ A very remarkable old person ! I should delight to converse with him,— to know what his thoughts are in these new times, and what his memories are of the past, which, I suppose, is even now more familiar to his mind than the objects of to-day. God bless you, my venerable friend !” shaking hands a second time with the ancient black, and speaking in a loud voice.
“ Yankee, Sah,—very kind,” smiled the flattered old man. “ Sarvant, Sah.”
“ ’T is you who are kind, to take notice of young fellows like me,” pleasantly replied the Judge. — “Well, good evening, friends. I shall always be glad to know if there is anything I can do for you. Ha ! what is this ? ”
It was the cow and calf coming back again, followed by Joe and Fessenden’s.
“ Gorry ! ” cried Joe,—“ wa’n’t that man mad? Thought he’d bite th’ ole cow’s tail off !”
“ What man ? My man ? ”
“Yes,” said honest Fessenden’s “ he said he’d be damned if he’d have a nigger’s critters along with his’n ! ”
“ Then we ’ll afford him an early opportunity to be damned,” observed the Judge. “ Drive them back again. I’ll go with you. — By the way, Mr. Williams,” — Gingerford saw his man approaching, and spoke loud enough for him to hear and understand, — “ are you accustomed to taking care of horses ? I may find it necessary to employ some one before long.”
“ Wal, yes, Sir ; I ’m tol’able handy about a stable,” replied the negro.
“ Hollo, there!" called the man, somewhat sullenly, “ drive that cow back here ! Why did n’t you tell me’t was the boss’s orders ? ”
“ Did tell him so ; and he said as how I lied,” said Joe, — driving the animals back again triumphantly.
The Judge departed with his son, — a thoughtful and aspiring youth, who pondered deeply what he had seen and heard, as he walked by his father’s side. And Mr. Williams, greatly relieved and gratified by the interview, hastened to relate to his family the good news. And the praises of Gingerford were on all their tongues, and in their prayers that night he was not forgotten.
Three days after, the Judge’s man was dismissed from his place, in consequence of difficulties originating in the affair of the cow. The Judge had sought an early opportunity to converse with him on the subject.
“ A negro’s cow,” said he, “ is as good as anybody’s cow ; and I consider Mr. Williams as good a man as you are.”
The white coachman could n’t stand that; and the result was that the Gingerfords had a black coachman in a few days. The situation was offered to Mr. Williams, and very glad he was to accept it.
Thus the wrath of man continued to work the welfare of these humble Christians. It is reasonable to doubt whether the Judge was at heart delighted with his new neighbors ; and jolly Mr. Frisbie enjoyed the joke somewhat less, I suspect, than he anticipated. One party enjoyed it, nevertheless. It was a serious and solid satisfaction to the Williams family. No member of which, with the exception, perhaps, of Joe, exhibited greater pleasure at the change in their situation than the old patriarch. It rejuvenated him. His hearing was almost restored. “ One move more,” he said, “ and I shall be young and spry agin as the day I got my freedom,” — that day, so many, many years ago, which he so well remembered ! Well, the “ one move more ” was near ; and the morning of a new freedom, the morning of a more perfect youth and gladness, was not distant.
It was the old man’s delight to go out and sit in the sun before the door, in the clear December weather, and pull off his cap to the Judge as he passed. To get a bow, and perhaps a kind word, from the illustrious Gingerford, was glory enough for one day, and the old man invariably hurried into the house to tell of it.
But one morning a singular thing occurred. To all appearances—to the eyes of all except one—he remained sitting out there in the sun after the Judge had gone. But Fessenden’s, looking up suddenly, and staring at vacancy, cried, —
“ Hollo ! ”
“What, child?” asked Mrs. Williams.
“The old man!” said Fessenden’s. “ Coinin’ into the door ! Don’t ye see him ? ”
Nobody saw him but the lad ; and of course all were astonished by his earnest announcement of the apparition. The old grandmother hastened to look out. There sat her father still, on the bench by the apple-tree, leaning against the trunk. But the sight did not satisfy her. She ran out to him. The smile of salutation was still on his lips, which Seemed just saying, “ Sarvant, Sah,” to the Judge. But those lips would never move again. They were the lips of death.
“ What is the matter, Williams ? ” asked the Judge, on his return home that afternoon.
“ My gran’ther is dead, Sir; and I don’t know where to bury him.” This was the negro’s quiet and serious answer.
“ Dead?” ejaculates the Judge. “Why,
I saw him only this morning, and had a smile from him ! ”
“ That was his last smile, Sir. You can see it on his face yet. He went to heaven with that smile, we trust.”
To heaven ? a negro in heaven ? If that is so, some of us, I suppose, will no longer wish to go there. Or do you imagine that you will have need of servants in paradise, and that that is what Christian niggers are for ? Or do you believe that in the celestial congregations there will also be a place set aside for the colored brethren,— a glorified niggers’ pew ? You scowl; you don’t like a joke upon so serious a subject ? Hypocrite ! do you see nothing but a joke here ?
The Judge leaves everything and goes home with his coachman. Sure enough ! there is the same smile he saw in the morning, frozen on the face of the corpse.
“ Gently and late death came to him !” says Gingerford. “ 'Would we could all die as happy! There is no occasion to mourn, my good woman.”
“ Bless the Lord, I don’t mourn ! ” replied the old negress. “ But I’m so brimful of thanks, I must cry for’t! He died a blessed ole Christian ; an’ he ’s gone straight to glory, if there’s anything in the promises. He is free now, if he never was afore ; — for, though they pretend there a’n’t no slaves in this ’ere State, an’ the law freed us years ago, seems to me there a’n’t no r’al liberty for us, ’cept this! ” She pointed at the corpse, then threw up her eyes and hands with an expression of devout and joyful gratitude. “ He’s gone where there a’n’t no predijice agin color, bless the Lord ! He ’s gone where all them that’s been washed with the blood of Christ is all of one color in His sight!” Then turning to the Judge, — “ And you ’ll git your reward. Sir, be sure o’ that! ”
“My reward?” And Gingerford, touched with genuine emotion, shook his head, sadly.
“ Yes, Sir, your reward,” repeated the old woman, tenderly arranging the sheet over the still breast, and still, folded hands of the corpse. “ For matin’ his last days happy,—for makin’ his last minutes happy, I may say. That ’ere smile was for you, Sir. You was kinder to him’n folks in gin’ral. lie wa’n’t used to ’t. An’ he felt it. An’ he’s gone to glory with the news on’t. An’ it ’ll be sot down to your credit there, in the Big Book.”
Where was the Judge’s eloquence? He could not find words to frame a fitting reply to this ignorant black woman, whose emotion was so much deeper than any fine phrases of his could reach, and whose simple faith and gratitude overwhelmed him with the sudden conviction that he had never yet said anything to the purpose, in all his rhetorical defences of the down-trodden race. From that conviction came humility. Out of humility rose inspiration. Two days later his eloquence found tongue; and this was the occasion of it: —
The body of the old negro was to be buried. That he should be simply put into the ground, and nothing said, any more than as if he were a brute beast, did not seem befitting the obsequies of so old a man and so faithful a Christian. The family had natural feelings on that subject. They wanted to have a funeral sermon.
Now it so happened that there was to be another funeral in the village about that time. The old minister, had he been living, might have managed to attend both. But the young minister could n’t think of such a thing. The loveliest flower of maidenhood in his parish had been cut down. One of the first families had been bereaved. Bay and night be must ponder and scribble to prepare a suitable discourse. And then, having exhausted spiritual grace in bedecking the tomb of the lovely, should he,—good gracious! could he descend from those heights of beauty and purity to the grave of a superannuated negro ? Could divine oratory so descend ?
And batten on this moor ” ?
Ought the cup of consolation, which he extended to his best, his worthiest friends and parishioners, to be passed in the same hour to thick African lips?
Which questions were, of course, decided in the negative. There was another minister in the village, but be was sick. What should be done ? To go wandering about the world in search of somebody to preach the funeral sermon seemed a hard case, — as Mr. Williams remarked to the Judge.
“Tell you what, Williams,” said the Judge,— “ don’t give yourself any more trouble on that account. I ’m not a minister, nor half good enough for one,” — he could afford to speak disparagingly of himself, the beautiful, gracious gentleman!—“but if you can’t do any better, I’ll be present and say a few words at the funeral.”
“ Thank you a thousand times!” said the grateful negro. “ Could n’t be nothin’ better ’n that! We never expected no such honor; an’ if my ole gran’ther could have knowed you would speak to his funeral, he’d have been proud, Sir ! ”
“ He was a simple-minded old soul!” replied the Judge, pleasantly. “ And you ’re another, Williams ! However, I am glad you are satisfied. So this difficulty is settled, too.” For already one very serious difficulty had been arranged through this man’s kindness.
Bid I neglect to mention it, — how, when the old negro died, his family had no place to bury' him? The rest of his race, dying before him, had been gathered to the mother’s bosom in distant places: long lines of dusky ancestors in Africa ; a few descendants in America, — here and there a grave among New-England hills. Only one, a child of Mr. Williams’s, had died in Timberville, and been placed in the old burying-ground over yonder. But that was now closed against interments. And as for purchasing a lot in the new cemetery, — how could poor Mr. Williams ever hope to raise money to pay for it ?
“ Williams,” said the Judge, “ I own several lots there, and if you ’ll be a good boy, I 'll make you a present of one.”
Ah, Gingerford! Gingerford! was it pure benevolence that prompted the gift ? Was the smile with which you afterwards related the circumstance to dear Mrs. Gingerford a smile of sincere satisfaction at having done a good action and witnessed the surprise and gratitude of your black coachman ? Tell us, was it altogether an accident, with no tincture whatever of pleasant malice in it, that the lot you selected, out of several, to be the burial-place of negroes, lay side by side with the proud family-vault of your neighbor Frisbie ?
The Judge was one of those cool heads, who, when they have received an injury, do not go raving of it up and down, but put it quietly aside, and keep their temper, and rest content to wait patiently, perhaps years, perhaps a lifetime, for the opportunity of a sudden and pat revenge. Indeed, I suppose he would have been well satisfied to answer Frisbie’s spite with the nobler revenge of magnanimity and smiling forbearance, had not the said opportunity presented itself. It was a temptation not to be resisted. And he, the most philanthropical of men, proved himself capable of' being also the most cruel.
There, in the choicest quarter of the cemetery, shone the white ancestral monuments of the Frisbies. Death, the leveller, had not, somehow, levelled them, — proud and pretentious even in their tombs. You felt, as you read the sculptured record of their names and virtues, that even their ashes were better than the ashes of common mortals. They rendered sacred not only the still inclosure where they lay, but all that beautiful sunny bank ; so that nobody else had presumed to be buried near them, but a space of many square rods on either side was left still unappropriated,— until now, when, lo! here comes a black funeral, and the corpse of one who had been a slave in his day, to profane the soil!
Nor is this all, alas! There comes not one funeral procession only. The first has scarcely entered the cemetery, when a second arrives. Side by side the dead of this day are. to be laid : our old friend the negro, and the lovely young lady we have mentioned,—even the fairest of Mr. Frisbie’s own children.
For it is she. The sweetest of the faces Fessenden’s saw that stormy night at the window, and yearned to be within the bright room where the fire was, — that dear warm face is cold in yonder coffin which the afflicted family are attending to the tomb.
And Frisbie, as we have somewhere said, loved his children. And in the anguish of his bereavement he bad not heeded the singular and somewhat humiliating fact that his daughter had issued from the portal of Time in company with one of his most despised tenants, — that, in the same hour, almost at the same moment, Death had summoned them, leading them together, as it were, one with his right hand, and one with his left, the way of all the world. So that here was a surprise for the proud and grief-smitten parent.
“What is all that, Stephen ?” he demands, with sudden consternation.
“ It seems to be another funeral, Sir. They ’re bury in' somebody next lot to yours.”
“ Who, who, Stephen ? ”
“I — I ruther guess it. ’s the old nigger, Sir,” says Stephen.
The mighty man is shaken. Wrath and sorrow and insulted affection convulse him for a moment. His face grows purple, then pale, and he struggles with his neckcloth, which is choking him. He sees the tall form of Gingerford at the grave, and knows what it is to wish to murder a man. Were those two Christian neighbors quite alone, in this solitude of the dead, I fear one of them would soon be a fit subject for a coroner’s inquest and an epitaph. O pride and hatred I with what madness can you inspire a mortal man ! O Fessenden’s ! bless thy stars that thou art not the only fool alive this day, nor the greatest !
Fessenden’s walked alone to the funeral, talking by himself, and now and then laughing. Gentleman Bill thought his conduct indecorous, and reproved him for it.
“ Gracious ! ” said the lad, “ don’t you see who I’m talkin’ with ? ”
“ No, Sir, — I can’t say I see anybody, Sir.”
“No? ” exclaimed the astonished youth. “ Why, it’s the old man, goin’ to his own funeral! ”
This, you may say, was foolishness; but, oh, it was innocent and beautiful foolishness, compared with that of Frisbie and his sympathizers, when they discovered the negro burial, and felt that their mourning was too respectable to be the near companion of the mourning of those poor blacks, and that their beautiful dead was too precious to be laid in the earth beside their dead.
What could be done ? Indignation and sorrow availed nothing. The tomb of the lovely was prepared, and it only remained to pity the affront to her ashes, as she was committed to the chill depths amid silence and choking tears. It is done ; and the burial of the old negro is deferentially delayed until the more aristocratic rites are ended.
Gingerford set the example of standing with his hat off in the yellow sunshine and wintry air, with his noble head bowed low, while the last prayer was said at the maiden’s sepulture. Then he lifted up his face, radiant; and the flashing and rainbow-spanned torrent of his eloquence broke forth, He had reserved his forces for this hour. He had not the Williams family and their friends alone for an audience, but many who had come to attend the young lady’s funeral remained to hear the Judge. It was worth their while. Finely as he had discoursed at the hut of the negroes, before the corpse was brought out, that was scarcely the time, that was certainly not the place, for a crowning effort of his genius. But here, his larger audience, the open air, the blue heavens, the graves around, the burial of the young girl side by side with the old slave, all contributed to inspire him. Human brotherhood, universal love, the stern democracy of death, immortality,—those were his theme. Life, incrusted with conventionalities ; Death, that strips them all away. This is the portal (pointing to the grave) at which the soul drops all its false incumbrances, — rank, riches, sorrow, shame. It enters naked into eternity. There worldly pride and arrogance have no place. There false judgment goes out like a sick man’s night-lamp, in the morning light of truth. In the courts of God only spiritual distinctions prevail. That you were a lord in this life will be of no account there, where the humblest Christian love is preferred before the most brilliant selfishness,—where the master is degraded, and the servant is exalted. And so forth, and so forth ; a brief, but eloquent address, of which it is to be regretted that no report exists.
Then came the prayer,—for the Judge had a gift that way too ; and the tenderness and true feeling with which he spoke of the old negro and the wrongs of his race drew tears from many eyes. Then a hymn was sung,—those who had stayed to sneer joining their voices seriously with those of the lowly mourners.
A few days later, Mr. Williams had the remains of his child taken from the old burying - ground, and brought here, and laid beside the patriarch. And before spring, simple tombstones of white marble (at Gingerford’s expense) marked the spot, and commemorated the circumstances of the old man’s extreme age and early bondage.
And before spring, alas! three other graves were added to that sunny bank ! One by one, all those fair children whom Fessenden’s had seen in the warm room where the fire was had followed their sister to the tomb. So fast they followed that Mr. Frisbie had no time to move his family-vault from the degrading proximity of the negro graves. And Fessenden’s still lived, an orphan, yet happy, in the family of blacks which had adopted him ; while the parents of those children, who had loved them, were left alone in the costly house, desolate. Was it, as some supposed, a judgment upon Frisbie for his pride? I cannot tell. I only know, that, in the end, that pride was utterly broken,—and that, when the fine words of the young minister failed to console him, when sympathizing friends surrounded him, and Gingerford came to visit him, and they were reconciled, he turned from them all, and gratefully received hope and comfort from the lips of a humble old Christian who bad nursed the last of his children in her days and nights of suffering, almost against his will.
That Christian ? It was the old negro woman.
Early in the spring, Mr. WilliamsBut no more! Have n’t we already prolonged our sketch to an intolerable length, considering the subject of it ? Not a lover in it! and, of course, it is preposterous to think of making a readable story without one. Why did n’t we make young Gingerford in love with — let’s see — Miss Frisbie ? and Miss Frisbie’s brother (it would have required but a stroke of the pen to give her one) in love with — Creshy Williams ? What melodramatic difficulties might have been built upon this foundation ! And as for Fessenden’s being a fool and a pauper, he should turn out to be the son of some proud man, either Gingerford or Frisbie. But it is too late now. We acknowledge our fatal mistake. Who cares for the fortunes of a miserable negro family ? Who cares to know the future of Mr. Williams, or of any of his race ?
Suffice it, then, to say, that, as for the Williamses, God has taken care of them in every trial, — turning even the wrath of enemies to their advantage, as we have seen ; just as He will, no doubt, in His fatherly kindness, provide for that unhappy race which is now in the perilous crisis of its destiny, and concerning which so many, both its friends and enemies, are anxiously asking, “ What will become of them ? ”