soon after sunrise I came out of my nest, and after dusting myself, strode towards Tchapitoulas Street.
The world was all before me where to choose,
And Providence my guide.
The absolutely penniless has a choice of two things, work or starve.
No boy of my age and vitality could deliberately choose starvation.
The other alternative remained to me, and for work, work of any kind, I was most ready; with a strong belief that it was the only way to achieve that beautiful independence which sat so well on those who had succeeded.
I was quite of the opinion of my Aunt Mary, that “rolling stones gathered no moss,” and I wanted permanent work, wherein I could approve myself steady, and zealously industrious.
Hitherto, I had been most unfortunate in the search.
Respectful civility, prompt obedience, and painstaking zeal, had been at a discount; but, such is the buoyancy of healthy youth, I still retained my faith that decent employment was within reach of the diligent, and it was this that I was now bent upon.
Hastening across the levee, I entered the great commercial street of the city, at a point not far from St. Thomas Street, and, after a little inward debate, continued down Tchapitoulas Street, along the sidewalk, with all my senses wide-awake.
I read every sign reflectively.
The store-owners' names were mostly foreign, and suggestive of Teutonic and Hibernian origin; but the larger buildings were of undeniable Anglo-Saxon
At the outset, lager-beer
saloons were frequent; then followed more shanties, with rusty tin roofs; but, beyond these, the stores were more massive and uniform, and over the doors were the inscriptions, “Produce and Commission merchants,” etc.
As I proceeded, looking keenly about for the favourable
chance, the doors were flung open one by one, and I obtained a view of the interior.
Negroes commenced to sweep the long alleys between the goods piles, and to propel the dust and rubbish of the previous day's traffic towards the open gutter.
Then flour, whiskey, and rum barrels, marked and branded, were rolled out, and arranged near the kerbstone.
Hogsheads and tierces were set on end, cases were built up, sacks were laid in orderly layers, awaiting removal by the drays, which, at a later hour, would convey them to the river-steamers.
Soon after seven, I had arrived near the end of the long street; and I could see the colossal Custom-House, and its immense scaffolding.
So far, I had not addressed myself to a single soul, and I was thinking I should have to search in another street; when, just at this time, I saw a gentleman of middle age seated in front of No. 3 store, reading a morning newspaper.
From his sober dark alpaca suit and tall hat, I took him to be the proprietor of the building, over the door of which was the sign, “Speake
, Wholesale and Commission Merchants.”
He sat tilted back against what appeared to be the solid granite frame of the door, with a leisured ease which was a contrast to the activity I had previously noticed.
After a second look at the respectable figure and genial face, I ventured to ask,--
“Do you want a boy, sir?”
he demanded with a start; “what did you say?”
“I want some work, sir; I asked if you wanted a boy.”
“A boy,” he replied slowly, and fixedly regarding me. “No, I do not think I want one.
What should I want a boy for?
Where do you hail from?
You are not an American.”
“I came from Liverpool
, sir, less than a week ago, by a packet-ship.
I shipped as cabin-boy; but, when we got to sea, I was sent forward, and, until last night, I was abused the whole voyage.
At last, I became convinced that I was not wanted, and left.
As you are the first gentleman I have seen, I thought I would apply to you for work, or ask you for advice as to how to get it.”
“So,” he ejaculated, tilting his chair back again.
“You are friendless in a strange land, eh, and want work to begin making your fortune, eh?
Well, what work can you do?
Can you read?
What book is that in your pocket?”
“It is my Bible, a present from our Bishop
Oh, yes, sir, I can read,” I replied proudly.
He held out his hand and said, “Let me see your Bible.”
He opened it at the fly-leaves, and smiled, as he read the inscription, “Presented to John Rowlands
by the Right Revd
Thomas Vowler Short, D. D.
, Lord Bishop
of St. Asaph, for diligent application to his studies, and general good conduct.
January 5th, 1855.”
Returning it to me, he pointed to an article in his newspaper, and said, “Read that.”
It was something about a legislative assembly, which I delivered, as he said, “very correctly, but with an un-American accent.”
“Can you write well?”
he next asked.
“Yes, sir, a good round-hand, as I have been told.”
“Then let me see you mark that coffee-sack, with the same address you see on the one near it. There is the marking-pot and brush.”
In a few seconds, I had traced “Memphis, Tenn.
,” and looked up.
“Neatly done,” he said; “now proceed and mark the other sacks in the same way.”
There were about twenty of them, and in a few minutes they were all addressed.
he cried; “ even better than I could do it myself.
There is no chance of my coffee getting lost this
Well, I must see what can be done for you. Dan
,” he cried to a darkie indoors, “when is Mr. Speake
likely to be in?”
“‘Bout nine, sah, mebbe a leetle aftah.”
“Oh, well,” said he, looking at his watch, “we have ample time before us. As I don't suppose you have breakfasted yet, you had better come along with me. Take the paper, Dan
We turned down the next street, and as we went along he said first impressions were very important in this world, and he feared that if his friend James Speake
had seen cotton fluff and dust on my jacket, and my uncombed hair, he might not be tempted to look at me twice, or care to trust me among his groceries; but, after a breakfast, a hair-cut, and a good clean-up, he thought I would have a better chance of being employed.
I was taken to a restaurant, where I was provided with
superb coffee, sugared waffles, and doughnuts, after which we adjourned to a basement distinguished by a pole with red
, and blue
Everyone who has been operated upon by an American barber will understand the delight I felt, as I lay submissive in the luxurious chair, to be beautified by a demi-semi-gentleman, with ambrosial curls!
The mere fact that such as he condescended to practise his art upon one who but yesterday was only thought worthy of a kick, gave an increased value to my person, and provoked my conceit.
When my dark hair had been artistically shortened, my head and neck shampooed, and my face glowed with the scouring, I looked into the mirror and my vanity was prodigious.
A negro boy completed my toilet with an efficient brushing and a boot-polish, and my friend was pleased to say that I looked first-rate.
By the time we returned to Speake
and McCreary's store, Mr. James Speake
had put in an appearance.
After a cordial greeting, my benefactor led Mr. Speake
away by the arm and held a few minutes' earnest conversation with him. Presently I was beckoned to advance, and Mr. Speake
said with a smile to me,--
“Well, young man, this gentleman tells me you want a place.
Is that so?”
“That is all right.
I am willing to give you a week's trial at five dollars, and if we then find we suit each other, the place will be permanent.
Are you agreeable?”
There could be no doubt of that fact, and Mr. Speake
turned round to two young gentlemen, one of whom he called Mr. Kennicy
, and the other Mr. Richardson
, and acquainted them with my engagement as a help to Mr. Richardson
in the shipping business.
The generosity of my unknown friend had been so great that, before addressing myself to any employment, I endeavoured to express my gratitude; but my strong emotions were not favourable to spontaneous fluency.
The gentleman seemed to divine what I wished to say, and said,--
“There, that will do. I know what is in your heart.
I am going up-river with my consignments, but I shall return shortly and hope to hear the best accounts of you.”
For the first half-hour my heart was too full, and my eyes
too much blurred, to be particularly bright.
The gentleman's benevolence had been immense, and as yet I knew not even his name, his business, or what connection he had with the store of Speake
I was in the midst of strangers, and, so far, my experience of them had not been of that quality to inspire confidence.
In a short time, however, Mr. Richardson
's frankness and geniality made me more cheerful.
He appeared to take pride in inducting me into my duties, and I responded with alacrity.
He had an extremely pleasant manner, the candour of Harry, without his vulgarity.
Before an hour had passed, I was looking up to him as to a big brother, and was asking him all sorts of questions respecting the gentleman who had taken me out of the street and started me so pleasantly in life.
From Mr. Richardson
I learned that he was a kind of broker who dealt between planters up-river and merchants in New Orleans, and traded through a brother with Havana
and other West Indian ports.
He had a desk in the store, which he made use of when in town, and did a good deal of safe business in produce both with Mr. Speake
and other wholesale merchants.
He travelled much up and down the river, taking large consignments with him for back settlements up the Arkansas
, and Saline
, and other rivers, and returning often with cotton and other articles.
His name was Mr. Stanley
His wife lived in St. Charles Street, in a first-class boarding-house, and, from the style Mr. and Mrs. Stanley
kept up, he thought they must be pretty well off. This was the extent of the information Mr. Richardson
could give me, which was most gratifying, and assured me that I had at least one friend in the strange city.
There have been several memorable occasions in my life; but, among them, this first initial stage towards dignity and independence must ever be prominent.
What a proud, glad holiday-spirit moved me then!
I soon became sensible of a kindling elation of feeling, for the speech of all to me was as though everyone recognised that I had entered into the great human fraternity.
The abruptness of the transition, from the slave of yesterday into the free-man of to-day, endowed with a sacred inviolability of person, astonished me. Only a few hours ago, I was as one whose skull might be smashed at the
impulse of a moment; and now, in an instant, as it were, I was free of the severe thraldom, and elevated to the rank of man.
were good types of free-spoken young America
They were both touchy in the extreme, and, on points of personal honour, highly intolerant.
America breeds such people by thousands, who appear to live eternally on the edge of resentment, and to be as inflammable as tinder.
It is dangerous to deal with them in badinage, irony, sarcasm, or what we call “chaff.”
Before the expiration of the first day, I had noted that their high spirits scarcely brooked a reproof, or contradiction, the slightest approach to anything of the kind exciting them to a strange heat.
When I saw that they became undisguisedly angry because Mr. Speake
happened to ask them why some order for goods had not been completed, I really could not help feeling a little contempt for them.
Otherwise, they were both estimable young men, clean as new pins, exquisitely dressed, and eminently cordial — especially Richardson
, whom I warmly admired.
My first day's employment consisted in assisting Dan
and Samuel, the two negroes, in taking groceries on trucks from the depths of the long store to the sidewalk, or rolling liquor or flour-barrels on the edges of thin boards,--an art I acquired very soon,--and in marking sundry lots for shipment to Mississippi
ports with strange names, such as Bayou Placquemine, Attakapas, Opelousas
, etc., etc. Richardson
was, in the meantime, busy in making out bills of lading, and arranging with the pursers of the steamers for their transportation.
The drays clattered to the door, and removed the goods as fast as we could get them ready.
Every moment of the day added to my rapture.
The three lofts above the ground-floor contained piles upon piles of articles such as could be comprised under the term groceries, besides rare wines and brandies, liqueurs and syrups.
The ground-floor was piled up to the ceiling almost with sacks of coffee-berries, grains, and cases of miscellanea, barrels of flour, tierces of bacon, hams
, etc., etc. It was informing even to read the titles on the neatly-branded cases, which contained bottled fruit, tinned jams, berries of all kinds, scented soaps, candles, vermicelli, macaroni, and other strange things.
If I but
stepped on the sidewalk, I saw something new and unheard — of before.
The endless drays thundering by the door, and the multitudes of human beings, not one of whom was like the other in head-gear or dress, had a fascination for me; and, with every sound and sight, I was learning something new.
While influenced by all these things, I sprang upon work of any kind with an avid desire to have it completed; but the negroes did their utmost to suppress my boisterous exuberance of spirit by saying, “Take it easy, little boss, don't kill yourself.
Plenty of time.
Leave something for to-morrow.”
Had the mates of the “Windermere
” but looked in upon us, they might have learned that a happy crew had more work in them, than when driven by belaying-pins and rope's ends.
Towards evening we swept up; and, when we had tidied the store, it came to my mind that I knew no lodging-house.
In consulting with Dan
, he said he knew a Mrs. Williams
, who kept a nice, cheap boarding-house on St. Thomas Street, where I could be most comfortable.
It was arranged that he should introduce me, and I walked up Tchapitoulas Street, with the two slaves, whose tin lunch-buckets swung heavily, I thought, as they moved homeward.
, a young and black beauty, with intelligent features, was most affable, and agreed to board me at a rate which would leave me a respectable margin at the end of the week, and to give me a large attic room for myself.
Her house was of wood, with a garden in front, and a spacious tree-shaded yard at the rear.
The maternal solicitude she showed in providing for my comfort greatly charmed me, though I was forced to smile at her peculiar English and drawling accent.
But when, just as I was about to retire to my bedroom, she, in the most matter-of-fact way, assisted me to undress, and took possession of my shirt and collar, saying they would be washed and ironed by morning, that I might look more “spruce,” my estimation of her rose very high indeed, and affected me to such a degree that I revolved all the kindnesses I had experienced during the day, and was reminded to give thanks to Him, Who, “like as a father, pitieth his children and them that fear Him.”
The next morning, by half-past 6, I was at the door of Speake
and McCreary's store, fit for any amount of work, and
glorying in my condition.
By eight o'clock the store, which was about one hundred feet long, was sweet and clean, the sidewalk was swept, and the earlier instalments of goods duly arranged on it for shipment.
Then the book-keeper and shipping-clerk entered, fresh and scented as for courtship, took off their street coats, and donning their linen “dusters,” resumed business.
About nine, Mr. James Speake
was dead — appeared with the mien of gracious masterhood, which to me was a sign of goodness, and stimulative of noble efforts in his service.1
My activity and fresh memory were soon appreciated.
Half-a-dozen times a day my ready answers saved time.
My hearing seemed to them to be phenomenal; and my accuracy in remembering the numbers of kegs, cases, and sacks remaining in store, caused me, before the end of the week, to be regarded as a kind of walking inventory.
I could tell where each article was located, and the contents of the various lofts had also been committed to my memory.
Unlike the young gentlemen, I never argued, or contradicted, or took advantage of a pettish ebullition to aggravate temper; and, what was a great relief to persons with responsibilities in a warm climate, I was always at hand, near the glass-door of the office, awaiting orders.
Previous to my arrival, Dan
and Samuel had always found something to do at a distance, either upstairs or in the back-yard; they pretended not to hear; and it had been a fatiguing task to call them, and trying to the patience to wait for them; but now I was within easy hail, and my promptitude was commended.
Thereupon my week's trial ended satisfactorily, even more so than I had anticipated, for I was permanently engaged at twenty-five dollars a month.
Such a sum left me with fifteen dollars a month, net, after payment of board and lodging, and was quite a fortune in
, moreover, advanced a month's pay, that I might procure an outfit.
, who boarded in the more fashionable Rampart Street, undertook to assist in my purchases, and presented me with a grand, brass-bound trunk of his own, which, besides having a tray for shirts, and a partition for neck-ties
and collars, was adorned on the lid with the picture of a lovely maiden.
Truly, a boy is easily pleased!
I had more joy in contemplating that first trunk of mine, and imprisoning my treasures under lock and key, than I have had in any property since!
My rating was now a junior clerk.
Our next-door neighbours, Messrs. Hall
, employed two junior clerks
, whose pay was four hundred dollars a year.
They were happy, careless lads, who dressed well, and whose hardest toil was with the marking-pot.
I was now as presentable as they, but I own to be proud that I had no fear of soiling my hands or clothes with work, and I never allowed a leaky sack of coffee, or barrel of flour, to leave our store for want of a little sewing or coopering — tasks which they felt it to be beneath them to do!
Long before the “Windermere
” had sailed back for Liver-pool with her cotton cargo, a great change had come over me. Up to my arrival in New Orleans, no indulgence had been shown me. I was scarcely an hour away from the supervision of someone.
From my nurse's maternal care, I had passed under the strict regime of the Orphan
's Academy — the Work-house
; thence I had been transferred to the no-less-strict guardianship of Aunt Mary, and the severe Moses
, thence into that of Uncle Tom; and, afterwards, had tasted of the terrible discipline of an American packet-ship.
Draconian rules had been prescribed; the birch hung ever in view in one place, censure and menace at another.
At Uncle Tom's there was no alternative but obedience or the street; and the packetship was furnished with rope's ends and belaying-pins.
But, within a few weeks of arriving in America
, I had become different in temper and spirit.
That which was natural in me, though so long repressed, had sprung out very quickly under the peculiar influence of my surroundings.
The childish fear of authority had fled — for authority no longer wore its stem, relentless aspect, but was sweetly reasonable.
exercised it were gentle and sociable, and I repaid them with respect and gratitude.
To them I owed my happiness; and my new feeling of dignity made me stretch myself to my full height, and revel luxuriously in fond ideas.
I possessed properties in my person which I instinctively valued, and felt bound to cultivate.
The two-feet square of the street I occupied were mine for the time being, and no living man could budge me except at his peril.
The view of the sky was as freely mine as another's. These American rights did not depend on depth of pocket, or stature of a man, but every baby had as much claim to them as the proudest merchant.
Neither poverty nor youth was degrading, nor was it liable to abuse from wealth or age. Besides my youth, activity, and intelligence, of which I had been taught the value, I had become conscious of the fact that I possessed privileges of free speech, free opinions, immunity from insult, oppression, and the contempt of class; and that, throughout America, my treatment from men would solely depend upon my individual character, without regard of family or pedigree.
These were proud thoughts.
I respired more freely, my shoulders rose considerably, my back straightened, my strides became longer, as my mind comprehended this new feeling of independence.
To the extent of so much I could not be indebted to any man living; but for the respectability of the covering and comfort of the body, and the extension of my rights to more ground than I could occupy standing, I must work.
Inspired of these thoughts, I was becoming as un-English in disposition as though I had been forty years in the land, and, as old Sir Thomas Browne
puts it, “of a constitution so general that it consorted and sympathised” with things American.
My British antipathies and proclivities were dropping from me as rapidly as the littlenesses of my servile life were replaced by the felicities of freedom.
I shared in the citizens' pride in their splendid port, the length and stability of their levee, their unparalleled lines of shipping, their magnificent array of steamers, and their majestic river.
I believed, with them, that their Custom-House
, when completed, would be a matchless edifice, that Canal Street was unequalled for its breadth, that Tchapitoulas Street was, beyond compare, the busiest street in the world, that no markets equalled those of
New Orleans for their variety of produce, and that no city, not even Liverpool
, could exhibit such mercantile enterprise, or such a smart go-ahead spirit, as old and young manifested in the chief city of the South
I am not sure that I have lost all that lively admiration yet, though I have since seen dozens of cities more populous, more cultivated, and more opulent.
Many years of travel have not extinguished my early faith, but it would require ages to eradicate my affection for the city which first taught me that a boy may become a man
Had the joylessness of boyhood endured a few years longer, it is probable that the power of joyousness would have dried up; but, fortunately, though I had seen fifteen summers, I was a mere child in experience.
It was only eighteen months since I had left St. Asaph, and but two months and a half since I had entered the world outside my family.
Since I became a man, I have often wondered what would have become of me had my melting mood that last night at Roscommon Street lasted a little longer.
It was the turning-point of my life, I am disposed to think, and it was good for me to have had the courage to say “No,” at that critical moment.
A trifle more perseverance, on the part of Uncle Tom, would have overcome my inclination for departure from England
, and made me a fixture within his own class.
On that occasion my weakly, half-hearted negative served me to good purpose; but I should have been spared many trials had I been educated to utter my “ Noes ” more often, more loudly, and more firmly than I have; and I suppose most men have had cause to condemn that unsatisfactory education which sent them into the world so imperfectly equipped for moral resistance.
In my opinion, the courage to deliver a proper “No” ought to be cultivated as soon as a child's intelligence is sufficiently advanced.
The few times I have been able to say it have been productive of immense benefit to me, though to my shame, be it said, I yearned to say “Yes.”
That soft habit of becoming fondly attached to associations, which made me weep on leaving St. Asaph, Ffynnon Beuno, Brynford
, and even the “Windermere
,” made me cling to my attic room in the house of Mrs. Williams
My increase of pay enabled me to secure a larger and more comfortable room; but, detesting change, I remained its occupant.
My self-denial was compensated, however, by a fine surplus of dollars, with which I satisfied a growing desire for books.
So far, all the story-books I had read, beyond the fragments found in School-readers, consisted of that thrilling romance about Enoch and his brothers, a novelette called “First Footsteps in evil,” “Kaloolah,” by Dr. Mayo
, which I had found at Ffynnon Beuno, and “Ivanhoe,” in three volumes, at which I had furtively glanced as it lay open in my cousin's study at Brynford
Through the influence of cheap copies of standard books, millions of readers in America
have been educated, at slight cost, in the best productions of English authors; and when these have been delegated to the second-hand bookstalls, it is wonderful what a library one can possess at a trifling expense.
There was such a stall existing conveniently near St. Thomas Street, which I daily passed; and I could never resist fingering the books, and snatching brief delights from their pages.
As soon as my wardrobe was established, I invested my surplus in purchases of this description, and the bookseller, seeing a promising customer in me, allowed me some latitude in my selection, and even catered to my tastes.
The state of the binding mattered little; it was the contents that fascinated me. My first prize that I took home was Gibbon
's “Decline and fall,” in four volumes, because it was associated with Brynford
I devoured it now for its own sake.
Little by little, I acquired Spenser
's “Faery Queen
's “Jerusalem delivered,” Pope
's “Iliad,” Dryden
's “Odyssey,” “Paradise lost,” Plutarch's “Lives,” Simplicius on Epictetus
, a big “History of the United States
,” the last of which I sadly needed, because of my utter ignorance of the country I was in.
gave me a few empty cases, out of which, with the loan of a saw, hammer, and nails, I constructed a creditable book-case
; and, when it was put up, I do believe my senses contained as much delight as they were able to endure, without making me extravagant in behaviour.
My attic became my world now, and a very great expansible world, full of kings, emperors, knights, warriors, heroes, and angels.
Without, it might have been better, less sordid; within, it was glorious for great deeds and splendid pageantry.
It affected my dreams, for I dreamed of the things that I had read.
I was transported into Trojan Fields, and Odyssean Isles, and Roman Palaces; and my saturated brain revolved prose as stately as Gibbon
's, and couplets that might have been a credit to Pope
, only, if I chanced to remember at daybreak what I had been busy upon throughout the night, the metre and rhyme were shameful!
My self-indulgence in midnight readings was hurtful to my eyes, but they certainly interposed between me and other harms.
The passion of study was so absorbing that it effectually prevented the intrusion of other passions, while it did not conflict with day-work at the store.
's young gentlemen sometimes awoke in me a languid interest in Ben de Bar
's Theatrical troupe, or in some great actor; but, on reaching home, my little library attracted my attention, and a dip into a page soon effaced all desire for other pleasure.
What I am I owe to example, nature, school-education, reading, travel, observation, and reflection.
An infinitesimal amount of the mannerisms observed clung to me, no doubt.
The housewifely orderliness of Aunt Mary, the serious propriety of Cousin Moses,--then, when I went to sea, the stern voice of the captain, the ripping, explosive manner of the mates, the reckless abandon of the sailors,--after that, the conscientious yielding of myself to details of business,--all this left indelible impressions on me.
About the fourth week Mr. Stanley
returned, with a new batch of orders.
He warmly congratulated me upon my improved appearance, and confidentially whispered to me that Mr. Speake
was thoroughly satisfied with my devotion to business.
He gave me his card, and said that on the following Sunday
he would be glad to see me at breakfast.
When the day arrived, I went to St. Charles Street, a quarter greatly superior to St. Thomas Street. The houses were aristocratic, being of classic design, with pillared porticoes, and wide, cool verandahs, looking out upon garden-shrubbery and flowering magnolias.
was in an easy-chair, awaiting me. But for that, I should have hesitated at mounting the wide steps, so imposing the establishment appeared.
He took me by the hand to an ample room luxuriously
furnished, and introduced me to a fragile little lady, who was the picture of refinement.
My reception was of such a character that it led me to believe she was as tender and mild as her quiet and subdued looks; and the books on the centre table made me think her pious.
Nothing could have been better calculated to conquer my shyness than the gracious welcome she accorded me. We took our respective places at once, she as a motherly patroness, and I as a devotedly-grateful protege, fully sensible of what was due to her as the wife of my benefactor.
Her husband stood towering over me with his hand on my head, and an encouraging smile on his face, that I might speak out without fear; and he watched the impression I made on his wife.
The ordeal of presentation was made easy through her natural goodness, and the gentle art she possessed of winning my confidence.
She placed me on a divan near her, and I was soon prattling away with a glibness that a few minutes before would have been deemed impossible to such a stocky boy.
To confine within a sentence my impressions of the first lady I ever conversed with, is entirely beyond my power.
There was an atmosphere about her, in the first place, which was wholly new. The elaborateness and richness of dress, the purity and delicacy of her face, the exquisite modulations of her voice, the distinctness of her enunciation, and the sweet courtesy of her manner, I will not say awed me, but it kindled as much of reverence as ever I felt in my life.
If I were to combine this with a feeling that the being beside me might command me to endure practically any torture, or dare any danger, for her sake, it will perhaps sum up the effect which this gentlewoman made on my raw mind.
It was at this hour I made the discovery of the immense distance between a lady and a mere woman; and, while I gazed at her clear, lustrous eyes, and noted the charms which played about her features, I was thinking that, if a lady could be so superior to an ordinary housewife, with her careless manner of speech, and matter-of-fact ways, what a beautiful thing an angel must be!
When we adjourned to the breakfast-table, I found more material to reflect upon.
There were about a dozen people, of about the age and rank of Mr.Stanley
and Mrs. Stanley
, at the table; and it struck me that there was an almost impassable
gulf between me and them.
Their conversation was beyond my understanding, mostly, though I could spell and interpret each word; but the subjects of their talk left me in the clouds.
Their remarks upon literature, politics, and social life, seemed to me most appropriate to books; but it surprised me to think that people could exchange so much learning across a table with the fluency of boys discussing the quality of pudding.
Their soothing manner of address, the mutual respect, and deferent temper, greatly elevated them above my coarsegrained acquaintances; and, though they must have guessed, by my manner and age, that I did not belong to their sphere, they paid me the honour of including me in their courteous circle, until, unconsciously, I was straining to acquit myself worthily.
Altogether, it was a memorable breakfast; and, when I reached home, it seemed to me that fortune was about to spoil me; otherwise, why this glow and pride that I felt?
After this Sunday, my acquaintance with Mr. Stanley
rapidly ripened into something exceeding common gratitude.
His bearing towards me was different from that which anybody else showed to me. Many were kind and approving; but, nevertheless, no one stooped to court my notice with that warm, genial manner which distinguished Mr. Stanley
I felt frequently flattered by the encomiums of Mr. Speake
, and the friendship of Richardson
; but still, there was something of reserve between us, which kept me somewhat tongue-tied in their presence.
They never inquired about my welfare or health, or how I liked my boarding-house, or what I thought of anything, or made any suggestion which would stimulate confidence.
Their talks with me were all about the business appertaining to the store, or some hap-hazard remark about the weather, or some scene in the street; but Mr. Stanley
's way was as though it specially concerned him to know everything about me personally, which had the quality of drawing me out, and making me garrulous, to the verge of familiarity.
So, little by little, I came to regard him as an elderly associate, with such a charming, infectious frankness, that I could only, for want of a comparison, remember my affection for my old grandfather, as corresponding with the mixed feelings of regard and awe I had towards him. Besides, to be in his company, even for a brief time, was an education for one so
ignorant as myself.
Information about somebody or something dropped from his lips with every remark he made.
I felt myself becoming intelligent, informed about the geography and history of the city and state that I was in, and learned in the ways and customs of the people.
The great merchants and institutions assumed a greater interest for me. They were something more than strange names for repetition; they had associations which revealed personalities of worth, colossal munificence, remunerative enterprise, etc., etc.
Every Sunday morning I spent with the Stanleys, and the instantaneous impression I had received of their goodness was more than confirmed.
seemed to become at each visit more tender and caressingly kind, in the same manner as he manifested a more paternal cordiality.
I yielded myself wholly to their influence, so that my conduct when out of their sight was governed by the desire to retain their good opinions.
Without them, probably, my love of books would have proved sufficient safe-guard against the baser kind of temptations; but, with them, I was rendered almost impregnable to vice.
They took me to church, each Sabbath; and, in other ways, manifested a protective care.
I resumed the custom of morning and evening prayer, my industry at the store was of a more thoughtful kind, my comings and goings were of more exemplary punctuality.
The orderly, industrious life I was following not only ensured me the friendship of the Stanleys, but won me favour from Mr. Speake
, who, though wearing often a somewhat anxious expression, restrained himself whenever he had an occasion to communicate with me.
In the third month there was a change at the store.
had some words with Mr. Kennicy
, the book-keeper, who, being, as I said, touchy, resigned on the spot.
A Mr. J. D. Kitchen
was employed in his stead, and Mr. Speake
saw fit to increase my salary to thirty dollars a month, giving for his reason the fact that the store had never been in such admirable order as it had been since I had entered it. I was immensely proud, of course, at this acknowledgement; but it was only natural that, being so susceptible and impressionable, it should stimulate me to greater efforts to deserve his approbation.
Enlightening me, as it did, in duties expected of me,
it might be said to have increased my interest in the condition of the store, until it partook of that which a fond proprietor might feel in it. Envious, or ill-natured, people might have said it was fussy, or officious.
At any rate, this disposition to have everything clean, to keep the stacks in orderly arrangement, to be on hand when wanted, to keep my notes of shipment methodically, to be studiously bent upon perfection in my duties, led to the following incident.
We were ordered to take stock, and, while counting cases, and sacks, and barrels, etc., I had now and then to rearrange the stacks, because, in the hurry of business, a box of pickles or jams had become mixed with biscuits or candle-boxes; and, in handling these articles, it struck me that several of them were uncommonly light.
I mentioned this, but it did not attract much attention.
It was discovered, also, that the coffee-sacks were much slacker than they ought to be; but, though the rents through which the contents must have escaped appeared as if made by rats, as the quantity of berries on the ground was inadequate to the loss, I knew no other way in which to account for it. However, when, on going to the lofts, we gauged the contents of the wine-puncheons and syrup-barrels, and found them to be half-emptied, matters began to look serious.
The leakage on the floor was not sufficient to explain the loss of so many gallons; and the discussion between the book-keeper and shipping-clerk suggested trouble when the “old man” would be informed.
From what I gathered, the former book-keeper, Mr. Kennicy
, was supposed to be in fault.
We were short of several boxes of biscuits, sardines, and other articles; and it seemed obvious that Mr. Kennicy
must have omitted to enter sales on his book, and thus caused this unexpected discrepancy.
, as had been anticipated, exhibited much vexation, though, in the presence of Mr. Kitchen
and Mr. Richardson
, he could only ask, querulously, “How could such articles disappear in such a disproportionate manner?
We do not sell by retail.
If we sold wine, or syrup, at all, we would sell by the cask, or barrel, and not by the gallon.
The barrels seem to tally, but the contents are diminished in some mysterious manner.
Then there are the emptied cases, of which this boy has spoken: how can we account for bottles taken from one,
and tins from another?
The invoices were checked when the goods came in, and no deficiency was reported to me. There is gross carelessness somewhere, and it must be looked into,” etc., etc.
Both Mr. Kitchen
and Mr. Richardson
, under this argument, laboured under the sense of reproach, and I was not wholly free from a feeling of remissness.
I strove hard to remember whether in conveying the cases to their respective piles, or hoisting the barrels to the lofts, a suspicion of light weight had entered my mind; and while filled with a sense of doubt and misgiving, I proceeded to hunt for a broom to sweep up, before closing.
I found one in the corner of the back-yard; but, on drawing it to me, a tin lunch-bucket was disclosed, the sight of which in such an unexpected place suggested that the broom had been placed to screen it from view.
On taking hold of it, I was amazed at its weight; but, on lifting the lid, I no longer wondered, for it was three-fourths full of golden syrup.
It flashed across my mind that here was the solution of the mystery that troubled us, and that, if one bucket was made the means of surreptitiously conveying golden syrup, a second might be used for the same purpose.
On searching for the other negro's bucket, I found it placed high above my reach, on a peg, and under his out-door coat.
Seizing a board, I struck it underneath, and a few drops of a dark aromatic liquor trickled down the sides.
As, now, there could be no reason to doubt that the culprits had been discovered, I hastened to the office to give my information.
By great good-luck, Mr. Stanley
appeared at that moment, and I at once acquainted him with what I had found.
joined us, and, when he had heard it, he became hotly indignant, and cried, “I see it all now. Come on, let us inform Mr. Speake
, and have this affair cleared up at once!”
and Mr. Kitchen
were in the office turning over ledger, journal, and day-book, comparing entries, when we burst upon them with the discovery.
was astonished and exclaimed, “There now, who would have thought of these fellows?
A systematic robbery has been going on for goodness knows how long!”
While breathlessly discussing the matter, we suddenly
remembered various strange proceedings of the negroes, and our suspicions were excited that there must be certain secret nests of stores somewhere in the building; and Richardson
and I were sent off to explore.
The same idea seemed to be in our minds, for we first searched the dark alleys between the goods-piles, and, in a short time, we had lit upon the secret hoards.
Hams, sardines, and tins of biscuits, packages of candles, etc., etc., were found between the hogsheads and tierces; and, when we had carried them to the office, the indignation of everyone was very high.
and Samuel had been all this time in the upper lofts, and were now called down.
When questioned as to their opinions about the disappearance of certain articles, they both denied all knowledge, and affected the ignorance of innocence; but, when they were sharply told to lead us to their tin buckets, their features underwent a remarkable change, and assumed a strange grey colour.
pretended to forget where he had placed his bucket; but, when Mr. Speake
took him by the collar and led him to the broom that hid it, he fell on his knees, and begged his master's pardon.
was, however, too angry to listen to him, and, snatching the lid off, revealed to us half a gallon of the best golden syrup, which the wretch had intended to have taken home.
When Sam's useful utensil was examined, it was found that its owner had a preference for sweet Malmsey wine!
A constable was called in, and Dan
and Samuel were marched off to the watch-house, to receive on the next day such a flogging as only practised State-officials know how to administer.
, a few days later, was reinstated at the store; but Samuel was disposed of to a planter, for field-work.
The last Sunday morning Mr. Stanley
was in the city, on this occasion, was marked with a visit he paid to me at my humble boarding-house.
He was pleased to express his great surprise that, at that early hour, my attic was arranged as though for inspection.
He scrutinised my book-case
, and remarked that I had a pretty broad taste, and suggested that I should procure various books which he mentioned.
In self-defence, I was obliged to plead poverty, and explained that my books were only such as I could obtain at a second-hand book-stall.
He finally condescended to breakfast with me, and made
himself especially agreeable to Mrs. Williams
and her guests; after which, we went to church, and thence he took me to dine with him. In the afternoon, we drove in a carriage down Levee Street, past the French Market
, and I was shown many of the public buildings, banks, and squares; and, later, we took a short railway trip to Lake Ponchartrain, which is a fair piece of water, and is a great resort for bathers.
When we returned to the city, late in the evening, I was fairly instructed in the topography of the city and neighbourhood, and had passed a most agreeable and eventful day.
On the next evening, I found a parcel addressed to me, which, when opened, disclosed a dozen new books in splendid green
covers, bearing the names of Shakespeare
, Ben Jonson
, etc. They were a gift from Mr. Stanley
, and in each book was his autograph.
The summer of 1859, according to Mr. Richardson
, was extremely unhealthy.
Yellow fever and dysentery were raging.
What a sickly season meant I could not guess; for, in those days, I never read a newspaper, and the city traffic, to all appearance, was much as usual.
On Mr. Speake
's face, however, I noticed lines of suffering; and one day he was so ill that he could not attend to business.
Three or four days later, he was dead; and a message came from the widow that I should visit her, at her home, at the corner of Girod and Carondelet Streets. She was now in a state of terrible distress, and, clad in heavy mourning, she impressed me with very sombre thoughts.
It comforted her to hear how sensible we all were of her loss; and then she communicated to me her reasons for desiring my presence.
Through her husband she had been made aware of my personal history, and, on account of the interest it had excited in her, she had often induced her husband to tell her every incident at the store.
She proceeded to reveal to me the flattering opinion he had formed of me, in terms that augmented my grief; and, as a mark of special favour, I was invited to stay in the house until after the funeral.
That night, I was asked to watch the dead, a duty of which I was wholly unaware before.
The body rested in a splendid open coffin, covered with muslin, but the ghastliness of death
was somewhat relieved by the Sunday costume in which the defunct merchant was clothed.
When the traffic of the streets had ceased, and the silence of the night had fallen on the city, the shadows in the ill-lit room grew mysterious.
About midnight, I dozed a little, but suddenly woke up with an instinctive feeling that the muslin had moved!
I sprang to my feet, and memories of spectral tales were revived.
Was it an illusion, begotten of fear?
Was Mr. Speake
There was, at that moment, another movement, and I prepared to give the alarm; but a sacrilegious “meow” betrayed the character of the ghost!
A second later, it was felled by a bolster; and, in its haste to escape, the cat entangled its claws in the muslin, and tore and spat in a frenzy; but this was the means of saving me from the necessity of chasing the wretched animal along the corridors, for, as it was rushing through the door, I caught the veil.
The next day, a long procession wound through the streets towards the cemetery.2
The place of interment was surrounded by a high wall, which contained several square tablets, commemorative, as I supposed, of the dead lying in the earth; but I was much shocked when I learned that, behind each tablet, was a long narrow cell wherein bodies were corrupting.
One of these cells had just been opened, and was destined for the body of my late employer; but, unfortunately for my feelings, not far off lay, huddled in a corner, the relics of mortality which had occupied it previously, and which had been ruthlessly displaced.
Within a short time, the store, with all its contents, was disposed of by auction, to Messrs. Ellison
. Messrs. Kitchen
departed elsewhere, but I was retained by the new firm.
Mrs. Cornelia Speake
and her two children removed to Louisville
, and I never saw either of them again.
About this time there came to Mrs. Williams
's boarding-house a blue-eyed and fair-haired lad, of about my own age, seeking lodgings.
As the house was full, the landlady insisted
on accommodating him in my room, and bedding him with me; and, on finding that the boy was English
, and just arrived from Liverpool
, I assented to her arrangement.
My intended bed-fellow called himself Dick Heaton
, and described himself as having left Liverpool
in the ship “Pocahontas
,” as a cabin-boy.
He also had been a victim to the hellish brutality of Americans
at sea, the steward apparently having been as callous and cruel as Nelson
of the “Windermere
” ; and, no sooner had his ship touched the pier, than the boy fled, as from a fury.
Scarcely anything could have been better calculated to win my sympathy than the recital of experiences similar to my own, by one of my own age, and hailing from the same port that I had come from.
was clever and intelligent, though not well educated; but, to make up for his deficiency in learning, he was gifted with a remarkable fluency, and had one of the cheeriest laughs, and a prettiness of manner which made up for all defects.
Our bed was a spacious four-poster, and four slim lads like us might have been easily accommodated in it. I observed, however, with silent surprise, that he was so modest he would not retire by candle-light, and that when he got into bed he lay on the verge of it, far removed from contact with me. When I rose in the morning, I found that he was not undressed, which he explained by saying that he had turned in thus from the habit of holding himself ready for a call.
On beginning his voyage he had been so severely thrashed for a delay caused by dressing, that he had scarcely dared to take off his boots during the whole voyage.
He also told me that, when he had discovered how almost impossible it was to avoid a beating from the steward and cook, he had resorted to the expedient of padding the seat of his trousers with cotton, and wearing a pad of the same material along the spine, but to avert suspicion that he was thus cunningly fortified against the blows, he had always continued to howl as freely as before.
The naivete of the revelation was most amusing, though I was surprised at the shameless way in which he disclosed his tricks and cowardly fears.
However, it did not deter me from responding to his friendly advances, and in two days I came to regard him as a very charming companion.
third morning, being Sunday, we chatted longer abed; but, when rising together, I cast a glance at his hips, and remarked that he need have no fear of being thrashed at New Orleans.
He appeared a little confused at first, but, suddenly remembering, he said that on the Monday he would have to purchase a new pair of trousers and seek work.
A little later, it struck me that there was an unusual forward inclination of the body, and a singular leanness of the shoulders, compared with the fulness below the waist in him; and I remarked that he walked more like a girl than a boy. “So do you,” he retorted, with a liberty natural to our age, at which I only laughed.
I proposed to him that we should breakfast at the French Market
that morning, to which he willingly agreed.
We walked down Levee Street, down to the foot of Canal Street, where we saw fifty or sixty river steamers assembled, which, massed together, made a most imposing sight.
Turning to take a view of the scene up-river, with its miles upon miles of shipping, its levee choked with cotton, and other cargoes, he said that it was a finer sight than even the docks of Liverpool
After a cup of coffee and some sugared waffles, we proceeded on a tour through the old quarter of the city, and wandered past the Cathedral of St. Louis
, and through Royal, Chartres, Burgundy, and Toulouse Streets, and, coming home by Rampart Street, entered Canal Street, and continued our weary way, through Carondelet and St. Charles Streets, home, where we arrived heated and hungry.
had shown himself very observant, and professed to be astonished at the remarkable variety of complexions and appearance of the population.
So long as we were in the neighbourhood of the levee he had been rather shy, and had cast anxious glances about him, fearing recognition from some of the crew of the ‘Pocahontas
’; but, after we had gone into some of the back streets, he had been more at ease, and his remarks upon the types of people we met showed much shrewdness.
Monday morning I woke at an early hour, to prepare myself for the week's labour; and, on looking towards Dick
, who was still sound asleep, was amazed to see what I took to be two tumours on his breast.
My ejaculation and start woke my companion.
He asked what was the matter?
his open breast, I anxiously inquired if those were not painful?
He reddened, and, in an irritable manner, told me that I had better mind my own business!
Huffed at his ungraciousness, I turned resentfully away.
Almost immediately after, I reminded myself of his confusion, his strange manner of entering a clean bed with his clothes on, his jealous avoidance of the light, his affectation of modesty, his peculiar suppleness and mincing gait, and the odd style of his figure.
These things shaped themselves rapidly into proofs that Dick
was not what he represented himself to be. True, he had a boy's name, he wore boy's clothes, he had been a cabin-boy; but such a strange boy I had never seen.
He talked far too much and too fluently, he was too tricky, too nimble, somehow.
No, I was convinced he could not
be a boy!
I sat up triumphantly, and cried out with the delight of a discoverer:--
, you are a girl!”
Nevertheless, when he faced me, and unblushingly admitted the accusation, it frightened me; and I sprang out of bed as though I had been scorched!
“What,” I exclaimed, “do you mean to say you are a girl?”
“Yes, I am,” said she, turning pale, as she became infected with my excitement.
Perplexed at this astounding confirmation of what, after all, had been only a surmise of playful malice, I stammeringly demanded,--
“Well, what is
your name, then?
It cannot be Dick
, for that belongs to a boy.”
“I am Alice Heaton
There, now, you have my whole secret!”
she said with asperity.
I echoed, quite confounded at the feminine name; and I reproachfully asked, “If you are a girl, say, what do you mean by coming into my bed, and passing yourself off as a boy?”
She had kept up bravely so far, but she now answered me with tears and sobs, and every doubt of her sex vanished, while I was in such a medley of emotions that I stood like one utterly bereft of sense, not knowing what to do. Presently, she said, “Come, let us dress, and I will tell you all about it.”
I lost no time in doing what she advised; and, after taking a turn or two in the yard, returned to find her ready for me.
Now that her sex was revealed, I wondered that I had been so blind as not to perceive it before, for, in every movement, there was unmistakeable femininity.
Alice made me sit down, and the substance of the story she now told me was as follows:
She had been born at Everton
, and, since she had begun to walk, she had lived with a severe old grandmother, who grew more cross as she aged.
From childhood, she had known nothing but ill-treatment; she was scolded and slapped perpetually.
When she was twelve years of age, she began to struggle with her granny, and, in a short time, she proved that her strength was too great to be beaten by an infirm old woman; little by little, her grandmother desisted from the attempt, but substituted, instead, the nagging system.
As she approached her fourteenth year, her grandmother developed a parsimony which made her positively hateful.
Every crust she ate at the house was begrudged to her, though, so far as she knew, there was no cause for this pinching and starving.
Her home contained evidences of respectability.
The furniture was abundant and of good quality, and the many curios in the glass cases in the parlour showed that her parents had been in comfortable circumstances.
How her grandmother obtained her means of living, Alice did not know; but, judging from her dress and condition, her poverty was not so distressing as to be the cause of such extreme penuriousness.
During the last five or six months, as she was getting on to fifteen, Alice had been acquainted with girlish neighbours, and through them, with some young middies who had just returned from their voyages.
These had delighted to tell her friends of the wonders of foreign lands, and of the genial welcome they had met with from their foreign friends.
The stories of their sea-life, and the pictures of America
which they gave, fascinated her; and she secretly resolved that, upon the first violent outbreak of her grandmother's temper, she would try her fortune as a cabin-boy.
With this view, every penny she could scrape, or steal, from her grandmother she hoarded, until, at last, she had enough to purchase from a slop-shop all she needed for a disguise.
When her grandmother
finally broke out into a bad fit of temper, and, provoked by her defiance, ordered her out of the house, she was ready for her venture.
She went to a barber's shop and had her hair cut close; returning home, she dressed herself in boy's costume, and, with a sailor's bag on her back, entered a boarding-house near the docks.
A few days later, she had the good luck to be engaged as a cabin-boy by the captain of the “Pocahontas
,” and, by careful conduct, escaped detection during the voyage, though nothing would avail her to avoid the rope's ending and cuffing of the steward and his fellow-officers.
By the time she had concluded her narrative, it was full time for me to depart to my work.
We hurriedly agreed to consult together about future plans upon my return in the evening, and I left her with an assurance that all my means and help were at her service.
All that day her extraordinary story occupied my mind, and, though she was undoubtedly an artful and bold character, her uncommon spirit compelled my admiration, while her condition was such as to compel my sympathy.
At the closing hour I sped homeward, but, on arriving at Mrs. Williams
's, I was told Alice had not been seen since the early morning.
I waited many hours, but waited in vain.
She was never seen, or heard of, by me again; but I have hoped ever since that Fate was as propitious to her, as I think it was wise, in separating two young and simple creatures, who might have been led, through excess of sentiment, into folly.
The next Sabbath after the disappearance of Alice, I paid my usual visit to Mrs. Stanley
, and was shocked and grieved to hear, from her maid, Margaret, that she was seriously ill, and under medical treatment.
A glass of ice-water which she had taken on Friday had been speedily followed by alarming symptoms of illness.
She was now so prostrated by disease that she required constant attendance.
Margaret's face betrayed so much fatigue and anxiety that I tendered my services, and even begged her to employ me in any way. After a little hesitation, she said I might be useful in enabling her to take a little rest, if I would sit at the door, and, upon any movement or sound within the sick chamber, call her. I kept my post all through the day and night, and, though there were frequent calls on Margaret, her snatches of rest served to
maintain her strength.
As I went off to my labour, I promised to solicit a few days' leave from Mr. Ellison
, and to return to her within the hour.
, however, to whom I preferred my request for a few days' liberty, affected to regard me as though I had uttered something very outrageous, and curtly told me I “might go to the D-----, if I liked, and stay with him for good.”
Such an offensive reply, a few months earlier, would have made me shrink into myself; but the New Orleans atmosphere ripens one's sense of independence and personal dignity, and I replied with something of the spirit that I had admired in Mr. Kennicy
and Mr. Richardson
, and said:--
“Very well, sir. You may discharge me at once!
” Of course, to a person of Mr. Ellison
's sanguinary hair and complexion, the answer was sufficient to ensure my furious dismissal on the instant.
Margaret was greatly vexed at my action when she heard of it, but consoled me by saying that a few days' liberty would do me no harm.
My whole time was now placed at her disposal, and I had reason to know that my humble services were a considerable relief and assistance to her at this trying time.
Meanwhile, poor Mrs. Stanley
was becoming steadily worse; and, on Wednesday night, her case was reported to be desperate by the physician.
There was no more sleep for any of us until the issue should be decided.
Near midnight, Margaret, with a solemn and ghastly face, beckoned me into the sick lady's room.
With my heart throbbing painfully, and expecting I know not what, I entered on tiptoe.
I saw a broad bed, curtained with white muslin, whereon lay the fragile figure of the patient, so frail and delicate that, in my rude health, it seemed insolence in me to be near her. It had been easy for me to speak of illness when I knew so little of what it meant; but, on regarding its ravages, and observing the operation of death, I stood as one petrified.
Margaret pushed me gently to the bedside, and I saw by the dim light how awfully solemn a human face can be when in saintly peace.
Slowly, I understood how even the most timid woman could smilingly welcome Death, and willingly yield herself to its cold embrace.
I had hitherto a stony belief that those who died had only been conquered through a sheer
want of will on their part ( “All men think all men mortal but themselves.”
and that the monster, with its horrors of cold, damp earth, and worms, needed only to be defied to be defeated of its prey.
While listening at the door, I had wished that, in some way, I could transfuse a portion of my fulness of spirit into her, that she might have the force to resist the foe; for, surely, with a little more courage, she would not abandon husband, friends, and admirers, for the still company in the Churchyard.
But the advance of Death was not like that of a blustering tyrant.
It was imperceptible, and inconceivably subtle, beginning with a little ache — like one of many known before.
Before it had declared its presence, it had narcotized the faculties, eased the beats of the heart, lessened the flow of blood, weakened the pulse; it had sent its messenger, Peace, before it, to dispel all anxieties and regrets, and to elevate the soul with the hope of Heaven; and then it closed the valves.
She opened her mild eyes, and spoke words as from afar: “Be a good boy. God bless you!”
And, while I strained my hearing for more, there was an indistinct murmur, the eyes opened wide and became fixed, and a beautiful tranquillity settled over the features.
How strangely serene!
When I turned to look into Margaret's eyes, I knew Death had come.
By a curious coincidence, Captain Stanley
, her brother-in-law, arrived from Havana
the next day, in a brig.
He knew nothing of me. There was no reason he should be tender to my feelings, and he intimated to me, with the frankness of a ship's captain, that he would take charge of everything.
Even Margaret subsided before this strong man; and, being very miserable, and with a feeling of irretrievable loss, I withdrew, after a silent clasp of the hands.
About three days later I received a letter from Margaret, saying that the body had been embalmed, and the casket had been put in lead; and that, according to a telegram received from Mr. Stanley
, she was going up the river to St. Louis
with it, by the steamer “Natchez
For a period, I was too forlorn to heed anything greatly.
I either stayed at home, reading, or brooding over the last scene in Mrs. Stanley
's chamber, or I wandered aimlessly about the levee, or crossed over to Algiers
, where I sat on the hulks, and
watched the river flowing, with a feeling as of a nightmare on me.
My unhappy experiences at Liverpool
had not been without their lessons of prudence.
My only extravagances so far had been in the purchase of books; and, even then, a vague presentiment of want had urged me to be careful, and hurry to raise a shield against the afflictions of the destitute.
Though at liberty, there was no fear that I should abuse it.
By and by, the cloud lifted from my mind; and I set about seeking for work.
Fortune, however, was not so kind this time.
The Mr. Stanleys
of the world are not numerous.
After two weeks diligent search, there was not a vacancy to be found.
Then I lowered my expectations, and sought for work of any kind.
I descended to odd jobs, such as the sawing of wood, and building wood-piles for private families.
The quality of the work mattered little.
One day there came a mate to our boarding-house, who told me that his captain was ill, and required an attendant.
I offered myself, and was accepted.
The vessel was the “Dido
,” a full-sized brig.
The captain suffered from a bilious fever, aggravated by dysentery, from drinking Mississippi
water, it was thought.
He was haggard, and yellow as saffron.
I received my instructions from the doctor, and committed them to paper to prevent mistakes.
My duties were light and agreeable.
During the remission of fever, the captain proved to be a kindly and pious soul; and his long grey beard gave him a patriarchal appearance, and harmonized with his patient temper.
For three weeks we had an anxious time over him, but, during the fourth, he showed signs of mending, and took the air on the poop.
He became quite communicative with me, and had extracted from me mostly all that was worth relating of my short history.
At the end of a month I was relieved from my duties; and as I had no desire to resume sea-life, even with so good a man, I was paid off most handsomely, with a small sum as a “token of regard.”
As I was about to depart, he said some words which, uttered with all solemnity, were impressive.
“Don't be down-hearted at this break in the beginning of your life.
If you will only have patience, and continue in well-doing, your future will be better than you dream of. You have uncommon
faculties, and I feel certain that, barring accidents, you will some day be a rich man. If I were you, I would seek your friend at St. Louis
, and what you cannot find in this city, you may find in that.
You deserve something better than to be doing odd jobs.
Good-bye, and take an old man's best wishes.”
The old captain's words were better than his gold, for they gave me a healthful stimulus.
His gold was not to be despised, but his advice inspired me with hope, and I lifted my head, and fancied I saw clearer and further.
All men must pass through the bondage of necessity before they emerge into life and liberty.
The bondage to one's parents and guardians is succeeded by bondage to one's employers.
On the very next day I took a passage for St. Louis
, by the steamer “Tuscarora
” ; and, by the end of November, 1859, I reached that busy city.
The voyage had proved to me wonderfully educative.
The grand pictures of enterprise, activity, and growing cities presented by the river shores were likely to remain with me forever.
The successive revelations of scenery and human life under many aspects impressed me with the extent of the world.
Mental exclamations of “What a river!”
“What a multitude of steamers!”
“What towns, and what a people!”
greeted each new phase.
The intensity of everything also surprised me, from the resistless and deep river, the driving force within the rushing boats, the galloping drays along the levees, to the hurried pace of everybody ashore.
On our own steamer my nerves tingled incessantly with the sound of the fast-whirling wheels, the energy of the mates, and the clamour of the hands.
A feverish desire to join in the bustle burned in my veins.
On inquiring at the Planters' Hotel
, I extracted from the hotel clerk the news that Mr. Stanley
had descended to New Orleans on business a week before!
For about ten days I hunted for work along the levee, and up and down Broadway
, and the principal streets, but without success; and, at last, with finances reduced to a very low ebb, the river, like a magnet, drew me towards it. I was by this time shrunk into a small compass, even to my own perception.
Self-depreciation could scarcely have become lower.
Wearied and disheartened, I sat down near a number of flatboats and barges, several of which were loading, or loaded,
with timber, boards, and staves; and the talk of the men,--rough-bearded fellows,--about me, was of oak, hickory, pine shingles, scantling, and lumber; and I heard the now familiar names of Cairo
, and New Orleans.
At the last word, my attention was aroused, and I discovered that one of the flat-boats was just about to descend the river to that port.
Its crew were seated on the lumber, yarning lightheartedly; and their apparent indifference to care was most attractive to an outcast.
I stole nearer to them, found out the boss, and, after a while, offered to work my passage down the river.
Something in me must have excited his rough sympathy, for he was much kinder than might have been expected from his rough exterior.
I had long since learned that the ordinary American
was a curious compound of gentleman and navvy.
His garb and speech might be rough, his face and hands soiled, beard and hair unkempt, but the bearing was sure to be free, natural, and grand, and his sentiments becoming; the sense of manly dignity was never absent, and his manners corresponded with his situation.
My services were accepted, not without receiving a hint that loafing could not be tolerated aboard a flat-boat.
Being the youngest on board, I was to be a general helper, assist the cook, and fly about where wanted.
But what a joy to the workless is occupation!
Independence may be a desirable thing, but the brief taste I had had of it had, by this, completely sickened me.
We cast off at day-break, and committed our huge unwieldy boat to the current of the Mississippi
, using our sweeps occasionally to keep her in the middle.
For the most part it seemed to me a lazy life.
The physical labours were almost nil, though, now and then, all hands were called to exert their full strength, and the shouting and swearing were terrific.
When the excitement was passed, we subsided into quietude, smoking, sleeping, and yarning.
A rude galley had been set up temporarily for the cook's convenience, and a sail was stretched over the middle of the boat as a shelter from the sun and rain.
There were eleven of us altogether, including myself.
My promiscuous duties kept me pretty busy.
I had to peel potatoes, stir mush, carry water, wash tin pans, and scour the plates, and on occasions lend my strength at pulling one of the tremendously long oars.
No special incident occurred during the long and tedious voyage.
Once we narrowly escaped being run down by the ‘Empress’ steamer, and we had a lively time of it, the angry men relieving themselves freely of threats and oaths.
Steamers passed us every day. Sometimes a pair of them raced madly side by side, or along opposite banks, while their furnaces, fed by pitch-pine, discharged rolling volumes of thick smoke, which betrayed, for hours after they had disappeared from view, the course they had taken.
The water would splash up the sides of our boat, and the yellow river would part into alarming gulfs on either hand.
At large towns, such as Cairo
, and Natchez
, we made fast to the shore; and, while the caterer of the mess took me with him to make his purchases of fresh provisions, the crew sought congenial haunts by the river-side for a mild dissipation.
By the end of the month, our voyage terminated at some stave and lumber-yards between Carrolltown and New Orleans.
On the whole, the flat-boatmen had been singularly decent in their behaviour.
Their coarseness was not disproportionate to their circumstances, or what might be expected from wage-earners of their class; but what impressed me most was the vast amount of good feeling they exhibited.
There had been a few exciting tussles, and some sharp exchanges of bellicose talk between the principals, but their bitterness vanished in a short time, while, towards myself, they were more like protectors than employers.
Nevertheless, a few painful truths had been forced on my notice; I had also gained valuable experience of the humours of rivers.
The fluvial moods had considerably interested me. The play of currents, eddies, and whirlpools afforded inexhaustible matter for observation.
The varying aspects of the stream in calm and storm, when deep or shallow, in the neighbourhood of snags, sandbars, and spits, reflecting sunshine or leaden sky, were instructive, and the veteran flat-boatmen were not averse to satisfying my inquisitiveness.
Being naturally studious and reflective, I carried away with me far more than I could rehearse of what was of practical value; but, boy-like, I relegated my impressions to memory, where, in process of time, they could be solidified into knowledge.