THERE was a tradition that his mother had been a “ yaller free nigger.” The children who lived in Jail Alley were seldom provided with fathers of any color.
Dinky and Spot were comrades. They were always seen together, and shared alike the scraps thrown them by the neighbors. During the daytime they roamed through the city, going where they pleased, and accountable to no man. When the days were warm and sunny they rejoiced in the gladness of nature, and leaving behind them the hot bricks and dusty houses of the city the two vagabonds would wander off to the green, untenanted fields, and lie for hours under some leafy shelter, blinking up in the sky, or sleeping the summer hours away. When aroused by hunger they stole if they could, and if there was nothing to steal, Dinky would beg for food ; but this he hated to do, and never importuned save where the houses were small and their inhabitants almost as poor as himself. During the chill and cheerless days of winter— which, thank Heaven, are but few and far between in Richmond on the James — Dinky and Spot kept close together in their home; for Jail Alley, that narrow and ill-smelling beehive of human misfortune, was the only home the two friends knew.
Aunt Sally, who lived in the tumbledown hovel at the corner, might have been called their patroness, for it was beneath her broken and trembling shed that they were permitted to sleep in peace during the winter months. It was whispered in the alley that she knew what had become of Dinky’s mother, when she had disappeared five years before; and, wonder of wonders, it was also said that Aunt Sally could tell, if she chose, the name of Dinky’s father. She was kind by fits and starts to her two protégés; sometimes giving Dinky a very ragged garment that she had found while plying her trade, and sometimes beating the two friends cruelly with a short, thick chair-round which she kept convenient for the purpose. She was very old and very black. She had but one tooth left, which projected and gave her an ugly nickname among her associates. She was a rag-picker, a fortune-teller, and a vender of drugs. This last means of support was reserved for a night-business, and a very dark night-business it generally proved to be. Girls in shawls and veils stole guiltily down the dark and slippery alley, and knocked with trembling lingers at Aunt Sally’s worm-eaten and blistered door, “ to have their fortunes told.” When the old crone had been rewarded, the fortune was carried off in a black bottle. Aunt Sally was her own mistress. She hired herself from her master, and paid him fifty dollars a year for the privilege of earning her living.
One morning in late October a report was circulated around the alley that Dinky was ill, and that Aunt Sally had put him in her own bed and was nursing him. The “nursing” consisted of a good deal of shaking, many hard words, and repeated doses of camomile tea and senna. Spot sat beside the bed, a living and muddy embodiment of faithful distress. The sun was shining very invitingly outside, and Aunt Sally’s chairround was in frequent juxtaposition to Spot’s back, within doors; but Spot never wavered in that allegiance which he owed his sick friend, and sat like a sentinel at his side. Frequently he was driven away from his post by the chairround; but he always promptly came back, showing his white teeth in what he meant as a reassuring smile for Dinky’s encouragement.
Before many days Dinky was able to be up and about, and tempted by a fireman’s parade, one morning, the two friends walked up the main street to see the play of the engines. When the glittering display was over Dinky stood weak, but exultant, leaning on a fireplug. Spot spied two big dogs fighting over a tempting bone which lay unclaimed between them. The little fellow had been shut up for a week, and was wild with curiosity, acquisitiveness, and the new-found sense of freedom. He started off to join the two contestants. Dinky saw something terrible come rumbling around the corner. It was a large black iron cage on wheels, drawn by fiery black horses, in which numberless dogs were howling, fighting, and barking. Two brawny negroes, carrying nets on long poles, preceded the cart to gather up all peripatetic curs lacking medals and masters. With a cry of anguish Dinky darted away to claim and protect his only friend. But alas for poor Spot! before Dinky’s trembling legs had accomplished half the distance the negroes had hurled their nets at the three unfortunates, and thrown them all together in the cart, which disappeared in a cloud of dust.
Desperate and weeping, Dinky made his way to Aunt Sally.
“ De dog-ketchers dun took Spot. Please, please, Aunt Sally, gie me de money ter git him out! ”
“ Git long, lazy-bones. I’m glad dat pesky dog is whar he orter bin long ago.”
“Oh, Aunt Sally, I’ll wuk — I’ll wuk fer you day en night! Gie me de money.”
“ Whar you tink I gwine ter git two dollars en a haf? Git long,” and the old woman hobbled after the chairround. Dinky fled to his own corner of the shed. There was the place Spot had occupied so lately. Here they had been hungry ; here they had rejoiced over some windfall of fortune, in the shape of cheese rind and knuckle-bone ; here Dinky had so often slept with Spot curled in his arms; here Spot’s had been the only breast on which the little outcast’s head had ever been pillowed. With streaming eyes Dinky remembered each charm of his lost companion : how long and black the little terrier’s hair was, and how warm a comforter during the long chill nights: his faithful eyes, brown as a berry, sometimes so mournful, and often fairly snapping with delight ; and that beautiful white spot on his nose ! Oh ! Dinkyfelt that he could stand silence and inaction no longer. “I’ll go to Horse Heaben ! ” he cried aloud in his pain, and started off as fast as his poor little legs could carry him.
Horse Heaven, the place where all unpaid-for dogs caught by the dog-catchers were put to death, lay a short distance east of Poor-House Hill. When Dinky left Jail Alley he had to pass a spot where there was a lively negro auction going on. As he approached, Dinky could hear the auctioneer’s stentorian voice chanting the praises of the slaves of which he was disposing, and the voices of the traders in reply. Soon Dinky saw the auctioneer exhibiting his merchandise, and the buyers and traders examining their new-made property. Near the auctioneer stood a tall, handsome man, who seemed to be taking no active part in the sale. A brilliant thought struck Dinky. He hurried forward through the dusky crowd, and grasping the auctioneer by the hand said, —
“ Mars, mars, put me on de block nex; please put me on de block, en sell me fer two dollars en a haf.”
“ Sell you, child! To whom do you belong ? ” inquired the auctioneer.
“ I belongs ter myself. I ’se a free nigger. Sell me quick, mars, befo dey kills Spot! ” cried the little yellow boy, with swollen and flushed face.
“ Who is Spot ? ”
“ Spot’s my dog, en de dog-ketchers took him. Sell me quick, en gie me de money, and lemme go to Horse Heaben. I ‘m right smart, gentlemens,” said Dinky, addressing the crowd. “ I kin dance, en sing, en crack bones, en play de Jew’s-harp. See me cut de pigeon wing; ” and climbing up on the block, Dinky began, and tried to “ jump Juba ” as he sang : —
De nigger is a hoein’
De lowlan groun’.
De yaller gal is waitin’,
De tomtit ’s matin’,
De sun’s guin’ down.
Crackin’ nuts, en bettin’
De flat boat’s comin’,
Wid de rowers hummin’
Nigger start deir kickin’
On de kitchen floo.
De fiddle am scrapin’,
De crowd am gapin’
At de open doo.
De yaller gal’s a flyer,
Mornin’ comes prancin’,
De sun’s in de sky.
Hear de horn fer de pickin’,
Nigger ’ll git a lickin’,
If daylight cotch him dancin’
‘ Root hog er die.’ ”
Mr. Joseph Chace lived in Newtown, Rhode Island. A republican, a well-todo lawyer, a man of education and ideas, he had been traveling through the South. Actuated by curiosity, he had gone that morning to witness a negro slave market. Mr. Chace felt his heart swell with pity for the seven years’ old child, who was sobbing and dancing, and offering his freedom in exchange for his little dog’s life. The auctioneer had his business to attend to. He waved Dinky away, and soon the waif was pouring his woes into Mr. Chace’s friendly ear.
Mr. Chace’s only child, a boy of twelve, was a hopeless cripple. His father had done everything in his power to relieve the suffering which he could not remove. While Dinky was relating his story, his life in Jail Alley, his friendless and woe-begone condition, the thought of the pleasure which his son Arthur might find in Dinky struck Mr. Chace very agreeably, and the philanthropist wished that he might educate the boy, and make him the Moses of his enslaved people.
“ Here,” said Mr. Chace, — " here are five dollars. I will go with you to Horse Heaven.”
Dinky, ignorant of the forms of a polite civilization, threw himself into the stranger’s arms and embraced him rapturously.
A convenient carriage was found, and soon the street Arab and the well-dressed Northern lawyer were seated side by side in pursuit of Spot. It was late in the afternoon when the carriage reached Horse Heaven. In the centre of the ring lay a heap of newly slaughtered victims. Several negroes were busy dispatching their prey, and their dying yelps smote the ear of the stranger. With a bound Dinky left the carriage, and not seeing his treasure among the living began to search for him among the dead. There he lay in the middle of the pile, dead, but not yet cold. Screaming with impotent rage, and wild with grief, Dinky hugged Spot to his heart. Then, as though felled by unseen hands, Dinky dropped senseless at Mr. Chace’s feet.
What was Mr. Chace to do with his self-imposed protégé? He could not leave him at the mercy of those dogkillers, and would not take him hack to Jail Alley. He dared not carry him to the hotel, and place him in his bed ; for in 1847 that would have been a proclamation of abolition sentiment, meriting the rough handling of a mob, perhaps.
Mr. Chace held a long colloquy with the negro hackman. The result was that Dinky was lifted into the carriage and securely covered with a shawl. Mr. Chace went to his hotel, paid his bill, and drove straight to the railroad station. The Northern-bound train started a few minutes after he entered the car. No one’s attention was specially directed to the child, who lay swathed in the shawl. When Dinky recovered consciousness he ate ravenously of the food which Mr. Chace had thoughtfully secured ; and then he sank into a heavy sleep which lasted many hours. When they had passed through Baltimore Mr. Chace breathed more freely. He had no desire to be arraigned for kidnapping. In Philadelphia he stopped long enough to provide Dinky with clothes and more food. The child was stupid with illness, fatigue, and the unwonted excitement of travel. A few days after his arrival in Newtown, when he was somewhat recovered from his illness, Dinky was presented to Arthur Chace, who had been pining to see the child his father had rescued from the wretchedness of Jail Alley.
Mr. Chace’s household consisted of himself, his motherless boy Arthur, and Miss Aurelia Chace. Miss Aurelia was aged sixty ; was high-nosed, high-minded, bigoted, dogmatic, skinny, and spectacled, Mr. Chace’s sister and housekeeper.
To Arthur, Dinky at once became the source of an endless succession of delights. Such tales as Dinky told Arthur about Jail Alley ! How Arthur’s eyes sparkled, and how he loved his yellow sprite !
Dinky stole everything he wanted, it is true, and had not the slightest regard for the truth ; he had not the first idea of law or order. What a subject to be introduced into a prim, well-ordered Yankee family ! One day the handsomest vase in the parlor was found smashed. Who did it? Dinky, of course. Why ? To gain possession of a large painted red rose, its central ornament. He broke the eighth commandment whenever he saw anything that he thought Arthur would fancy ; and he presented his stolen treasures with graceless innocence of virtue and ignorance of vice. Dinky’s most skillful depredations were committed upon the neighbors. Woe betide the housewife who left her jelly cooling in the basement window, or put her custard out to freeze itself in the snow ! The spirit of mischief was rampant in Dinky, who was as slippery as an eel, as adroit as Cartouche, and as unrepentant as — Dinky.
To Mr. Chace, he was the incarnate representative of a national enigma ; to Arthur, a deep delight; to Miss Aurelia, the object she had been chosen to convert. To Mr. Chace, Dinky was affectionately respectful ; to Arthur, an adoring slave; but to Miss Aurelia’s admonitions he turned a deaf ear and a smiling face. When Miss Aurelia began to read the Bible to him, and tried to teach him the difference between right and wrong, he was not very attentive; but when Arthur relieved his aunt of her pupil, Dinky became all alive with attention and regard. Every morning for two hours Arthur struggled with Dinky, teaching him his letters, reading to him, and trying to interest him.
It was indeed some time before Dinky grew really interested in Arthur’s reading from the good book. One morning Arthur chanced to read that canticle of Solomon’s which begins, “ Black am I, though comely, ye daughters of Jerusalem.” When Arthur had finished his reading Dinky gave a sigh of pleasure and relief. “ Mars Arty,” he said, “ I ’so mighty glad you read me ’bout dat Bible nigger dat was king of de Jews. Aunt Sally said dere was no place in de Bible fer niggers, an now I ’se monstous glad ter hear you read out of de white folks’ Bible ’bout de nigger king.”
Every day after that he listened attentively ; and when, under Mr. Chace’s direction, Arthur read those portions of the New Testament most intelligible and interesting to children, Dinky was really impressed, and, to quote Miss Aurelia, “showed a more moral disposition.”
Some time previous Miss Aurelia had lost a ten-dollar gold piece. She had taxed Dinky with the theft, and he had rolled his eyes up and sworn that he did not have the money. Miss Aurelia turned his pockets inside out, and found nothing. “ You little wretch, you will never go to heaven,” she said, as she banged the door behind her.
“ Mars Arty,” said Dinky confidentially, when he found himself alone with the lame boy, “ is Miss ’Rely gwine ter heaben ? ”
“Yes,” replied Arthur, “of course she is.”
“ Den I does n’t want ter go,” replied Dinky firmly.
“Oh, Dinky, dear!” said Arthur, patting Dinky’s curly head, which lay against the bed as he crouched beside it. “ I hope that I am going to heaven, and there are many little children there.”
“What, nigger chillun ? ” inquired Dinky.
“ Yes, indeed,” replied Arthur eagerly; “ all sorts of children.”
“ I specks de colored chilluns hev ter pick up trash en run roun waitin on de quality. I reckon I ’ll stay here wid Mars Joe. Does you speck Miss ’Rely gwine ter start soon ? Mars Arty,” continued Dinky reflectively, “Miss’Rely all de time ’cusin me o’ sumthin’. Dis time’t is de money. Now I nebber stole dat money. I was jes a-standin by de table, en de little yaller thing kept up sech a shinin’ I jes put my finger on it, en all at onct de shiny piece pintedly riz up en stuck ter my hand.”
“ Oh, Dinky ! give aunt Aurelia her money. It is not right for you to keep it.”
“ Mars Arty, I hopes I may nebber fall down ef I ’se got Miss ’Rely’s money,” and Dinky walked away from Arthur’s pleading eyes and entreating hands.
Months afterwards Mr. Chace heard accidentally that Dinky had given the money to Sady Small, the poor, halfstarved, wretched daughter of a drunken cobbler. Mr. Chace also heard the reason of Dinky’s usual hatless and shoeless condition, and how the child was always ready to distribute his clothes among the poor children in the neighborhood. Generous, warm-hearted, undisciplined Dinky, — Dinky, who had never entirely recovered from the fever, which had left him with a hollow cough ; Dinky, who told stories, and smiled sweetly as he gave his last stolen treasure away; Dinky, whose big black eyes got bigger and blacker as his little yellow face became thin and worn ; Dinky, who came home weekly almost, naked through frost and snow, to which his feet were little accustomed, and refused to account for the lack of vesture ; unquiet, restless Dinky; Dinky, on whose little frame the Northern winter was telling hardly; in a word, naughty Dinky, whom everybody loved.
There was a large colored photograph of Christ blessing little children which hung beside Arthur’s bed. Dinky always arranged his little chair so that he might face the picture during his lessons and the Bible reading.
“Mars Arty,” he said one evening, when everything was quite still, and only the flickering wood fire lent its light to the room, “ dat’s a monstous pitiful-looking gentlemun up dar in dat picture frame. I likes him mightily, specially sence you dun tole me he nebber slighted poo folks. I specks I knows what he’s a-t’inkin’ ter hisself dis minute, while his hans is a layin’ on dat white boy’s head.”
“ What do you believe him to be thinking of, Dinky ? ”
“ I specks he’s a-t’inkin’ of Jail Alley, en a-wishin’ de little Chilluns dere was es clean en white es dese in de picture frame.”
Arthur smiled and sighed.
One cold, bleak day in March Arthur had been feeling very unwell, and to amuse him Dinky had been playing all sorts of tricks, and turning somersaults on the wolfskin which lay beside the bed. All at once the child stopped, and put his hands to his lips, from which the red life blood was pouring.
Arthur’s cries summoned Miss Aurelia, and Dinky, at Arthur’s earnest entreaty, was made comfortable on a sofa pushed close to the bed. When the hæmorrhage was stopped the physician administered an anæsthetic, and Dinky slept undisturbed for some hours. The household came in and went out with cat-like tread, and Arthur was almost afraid to breathe, fearing to disturb the little patient. Mr. Chace looked very sad and nervous.
About sunset Dinky awoke, brighteyed, flushed, delirious ; and the nervous fingers went restlessly picking about the bright squares of Miss Aurelia’s satin quilt.
“ Hey, Spot, ole dog; hey, Spot, come long. Aunt Sally ain’t dar,—no, no. I darsn’t steal de pie. Mars Arty say dat’s wrong. Heylo, Spot! de green trees ; oh ! de nice runnin’ water. Lady, gie a poo nigger a cent,—one cent, lady, ter buy a flower fer Mars Arty, lame Mars Arty, lady. Don’t hit so hard, Aunt Sally. I wish I was dead. Ha-ha-ha, who put de skeercrow on de fence ? Nice, nice gentlemun.” The child babbled on, picking at the quilt, and gazing intently at the far corner of the room. “ Dinky’s sorry. Miss ’Rely say ef I come home barefoot agin she gwine ter lock me up. I could n’t keep de money. Sady’s foot was all bloody in de snow. Mars Arty, Mars Arty! ”
“ Dear, dear Dinky, I am here, and so is papa,” cried Arthur, sobbing and trying to catch Dinky’s fluttering fingers.
“ Oh, gentlemun, nice gentlemun ! ” Dinky said, still gazing into the corner, and stretching out his hands. “ Whar you come fom, wid Spot ? Thankee, mars, thankee. Spot, Spot, I ’se glad. I ’se so glad. Miss ’Rely got heap ov goodies in de pantry. No, no, Miss ’Rely, I won’t steal. I gwine ter ax you ’er sumptin. Gie Spot a dollar — fer Aunt Sally — poor Aunt Sally in Jail Alley — she don’t know you, gentlemun — but — Mars Arty say you is so pitiful you lub her all de same. What Mars Arty say? ‘ When your fader and your mudder forsake you de — Lord — will — pick — you — up.’ Dinky got no mudder, gentlemun. Is you my fader ? You is n’t de Lord come a-standin by a yaller chile like dis ? Who is you? I ain’t stole nuthin’ ter-day. I ain’t stole nuthin sence — Nobody ebber told Dinky befo. Marster, I ’m sorry,” and Dinky’s eyes looked pleadingly at his invisible friend. Miss Aurelia had taken off her spectacles, and was crying softly, ashamed and contrite. The little negro boy was teaching the bigot that there are many paths leading to the house of God.
Simple, well-meaning Mr. Chace ! He had hoped to be the humble instrument of giving a Moses to his people. Poor man, his eyes were blinded with tears, but “ it was well with the child.”
“Oh, papa, he won’t look at me, he won’t speak to me ! ” sobbed Arthur. “ What is he looking at ? What does he see ? ”
“ Spot,” cried Dinky rapturously, “ I’m coming wid de gentlemun. Spot, my Spot ” — and he fell back on the pillow.
Mary Beale Brairierd.