A TALE OF NEW-ORLEANS.
NEW-YORK: DERBY & JACKSON, 119 NASSAU-STREET. 1857.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1857, BY DERBY & JACKSON,
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, for Southern District of New-York.
THE BROTHER CLERKS.
There, stranger lips shall give the greeting, There, stranger eyes shall mark the meeting; While the bosom, sad and lone, Turns its heavy heart-beats home.
A September sun was casting its parting rays far over the dull waters of the Mississippi, as a steamer, with steady course, ploughed her way through the thick waves and "rounded to" at the thronged and busy wharf of New Orleans.
Upon her deck, apart from all other passengers, stood two youths gazing with anxious eyes on the vast city spread out before them. The taller and elder of the two, bore upon his brow the flush of his twentieth summer. His figure seemed already to have gained its full proportions, and in his carriage and tone of voice there was all the pliant grace of youth, combined with manhood's strength and ease. His hair was of that purplish black so rarely seen save in the raven's wing, or the exquisite portraits of the old masters. The full broad forehead, shadowed by its dark locks, the clear black eye, the hue of health upon the check, and the smile upon the red lips as they parted over the snowy teeth, formed a picture of fresh and manly beauty over which the wing of this wicked world had as yet never hung darkly.
The younger was a mere boy; and stood beside his brother in that autumn hour, like a pure memory of other days; so marked was his whole bearing with that pureness of grace and refinement which circles some young brows like a halo. His figure was slender and delicate as a girl's; while his hair, almost golden in its hue, hung in curls about the blue-veined temples, and a brow of solid and exquisite formation, such as the lover of the intellectual delights to behold. His eyes were like the blue which lies revealed when the storm ceases and the clouds part in the sunshine; and the long lashes curled upon a cheek of almost invariable whiteness. His nose was of a pure Grecian cast, his mouth one of great expression and most beautifully cut. No one ever looked upon that young face without turning to look again, and felt holier for the gaze, in their hearts. Dear reader, do not imagine this an over-drawn sketch from a romantic fancy. I have only too weakly delineated the reality, as the portrait which hangs before me, looking down with its golden-fringed blue eyes upon my task, can fully testify.
During the whole passage the brothers had attracted universal attention, and won the good will of all; and now, as they stood arm in arm, amid all the hurry and bustle of the "first hour in port," not a sailor passed them but raised his dusty tarpaulin with a hearty "good e'en to the lads," and the passengers, as they reached the shore, would look up through the crowd once more at their young faces, to gain one more smile or one more parting wave of the hand, thinking, perhaps, it might be the last time forever.
"Guly," said the elder of the two, suddenly throwing his right arm around the slight figure of his brother, and drawing him closer to him, "tell me what makes you silent and thoughtful at this moment, when the scene of our future action lies before us, and our destination is gained. Of what are you thinking?
"I was thinking," replied the boy, as he laid his cheek caressingly upon his brother's shoulder, while his thoughtful eyes became suffused with emotion, "I was thinking of home. The sun is setting, and you know, at this hour our mother prays for her absent boys—were you thinking of the same thing, brother?"
There came no reply for a moment; Arthur only pressed his brother closer to him, but he answered at last, while a faint blush stole over his cheek: "No, Guly, I must confess my thoughts were far from that. I wish I could always think as rightly as you do, but it isn't my nature so to do. I was thinking of the untried path before us, the probable events of the next few years, the fair home so recently torn from us, the possibility of regaining possession of it through our efforts, and re-establishing ourselves in that station where we have ever moved. We must do this, Guly, for our mother's sake."
"With God's help we will."
Again Arthur's clasp tightened round his brother's figure, and again for a few moments he was silent; then suddenly resuming he said: "You must strive to make a good impression on Mr. Delancey, Guly; don't be timid or shrinking—such things have a bad effect. Be every inch a man, as you so well know how to be; bear always in mind how much depends on us two, and we shall get on bravely." It was evident Arthur dreaded more for his brother than he thought of for himself.
"I dread the meeting," returned Guly; "from the tone of his letter I learned to dread the man, and a boy-novice, as I am, in mercantile business, I shrink from the examination I may have to undergo, while you, with your experience, of course, scarce give it a thought. I have pictured Mr. Delancey as a very stern man."
They put themselves and their baggage into a cab, and at length brought up before a large and brilliantly lighted store, with the name "Delancey," in gilt block letters over the door. The cabman set the trunks which comprised the brothers' baggage, within, and pocketing his fare, drove off, leaving the youthful strangers standing upon the stage of their young future, waiting for fate to ring the curtain up.
In a short time a tall, heavily built young man, with a fine eye and pleasant smile, stepped between them, with an interrogative expression on his countenance, which asked, without the aid of any words, what might be their business; and Arthur replied that they desired to see Mr. Delancey as soon as possible.
The young man glanced at the trunk, and then at Guly's face, and ejaculating an "Ah, yes!" as if he had suddenly jumped at a conclusion, asked—this time putting his question into words—if they were the young chaps Mr. Delancey was looking for from the North; "because," said he, "if you are, I can settle you."
Guly replied that they were the same; and informed him they were not a little fatigued with their recent journey, and would be pleased to be "settled" as soon as convenient.
The clerk, whose name was Wilkins, regarded Guly attentively a moment, then smiled pleasantly, and said: "You are to sleep in the store—up stairs. If I'm a judge, you've been used to pleasanter places; however, I presume it will soon be home to you. Here, Jeff," beckoning to a tall negro near by, "tote this trunk up for your young masters."
"Jeff" appeared, and with a scrape and a bow signified his readiness to show the brothers to their room, and nodding to Wilkins, they followed the negro to the back part of the store, where a long winding staircase led to the floor above.
They had reached the stair foot, when Wilkins, who had been observing them, hurried after them, and holding out his hand to Gulian, said: "Don't get a bad impression of all of us here by the dingy room you'll find up there; notwithstanding you meet such a rough welcome, I hope you'll learn to like us and be happy."
"Thank you," said Guly, shaking his hand warmly, and feeling pleased at his frank, honest manner, "I've no doubt we shall be very good friends. Good-night."
"Good-night," returned Wilkins, and he stood watching the boy as he mounted the steep staircase, until the golden curls and young face were lost to sight. He turned away then with a short deep sigh, which sounded almost like a gasp, and thoughtfully resumed his station near the door.
"Dis is a gloomsome sort of place, young massa," said Jeff, the negro, as he placed the trunk at the foot of the bed and turned towards Guly, who was trying to look through the dingy window; "howsomever, 'taint quite so bad in the day time."
"What makes it more pleasant then?" asked the boy.
"Oh," said Jeff, "when 'tis light you can look straight down from here into de neighbors' kitchens; you can see all dey hab for dinner, how dey 'conomize, how different de misses are drest in de backdoor to what dey are when dey come out de front, and all dat."
"A pleasant occupation, truly," laughed Guly. "Does any one sleep in the store beside ourselves?"
"Massa Wilkins, sah, and me. Massa Wilkins' room is down below, just under the stairs; I sleeps behind the big door on the floor, and play watch-dog for master."
"What's your name besides Jeff?" asked Arthur, amused at the loquacity of the black.
"Same as my father's, sah."
"And what is your father's?"
"Well," said the negro, twisting a lock of wool in his fingers, "dat's a puzzler! His fust name's Voltaire, and I guess his last one's Delancey, 'cause he belongs to master, and his belongings generally take his name—sich as Delancey's hosses and Delancey's niggers; but bress de Lord! I 'spec you's sleepy; good-night, young massars—why didn't I tink of dis afore?"
"Good-night," said Guly, at the same time lifting a book from his trunk.
Jeff reached the door and laid his hand on the knob to go out, but as he cast his eye back at the brothers, he stopped short, then walked towards them on tip-toe.
"'Scuse me, massa," said he to Guly, "but I jist happened to tink mebbe dat big book was de Bible."
"And you are right."
"Was you gwine to read it, sah!"
"May dis chile stay an' listen? I like to hear de talk ob dat book; It fecks me inordly and makes me feel better in my heart."
Guly signified his assent, and opening the book, read in a sweet, mellow voice a selection of Psalms. Arthur listened attentively, but not more so than Jeff, who stood with parted lips drinking eagerly in every word. When Guly closed the Bible no one spoke; and after a moment's hesitation he knelt, as did his brother and Jeff, and from the depths of his pure young heart poured forth a prayer of sweet and touching eloquence, such as might have graced the lips of older and wiser persons.
Backward we turn life's varied page, To note the changes written there.
On the banks of the Hudson, in one of the oldest settled counties of New-York, stood the handsome dwelling of Arthur Pratt, the elder. All that wealth could buy was lavished upon the elegant house and grounds, to gratify the taste of the owner.
Mr. Pratt (or Colonel Pratt, as he was more generally called) had married quite early in life, and having inherited a large fortune from his father, sought out for himself and bride a home suited to their wealth and station. His wife was a woman of great personal beauty, of most engaging and graceful manners, and distinguished in her own circle for her sweet and unobtrusive piety.
As far as was consistent with what she considered her Christian duty, Mrs. Pratt mingled in the gay scenes with which she was constantly brought in contact; and her gentleness and affability were the comment of all. Col. Pratt having located himself in business (with the desire of having "something to do," which sometimes prompts the millionaire to busy himself in some way) in the adjacent city of New-York, was enabled to pass much of his time in the precincts of his happy home, and at the same time to enjoy the society of the haut ton of the city.
When the happy father clasped to his proud breast his first-born child, the little Arthur, he deemed his happiness complete. The boy was like his father, both in character and beauty; and as he grew in "winsome ways," he became the pride and pet not only of the household, but of friends and visitors. So much indulgence, and openly expressed admiration, did not fail to foster the boy's inherent spirit of pride, and he soon learned to demand concessions and indulgences which were all too rarely denied him. At times, the mother, her fears aroused for the well-being of her child, would remonstrate upon the course of training pursued with him; but a laughing promise of amendment, forgotten almost as soon as given, a kiss, a word of endearment, or a gentle smile, caused the subject to be dropped; not to be renewed until some glaring fault in their darling boy again demanded it.
Gulian seemed sent to his father's arms just in time to prevent the utter ruin, by over-indulgence, of young Arthur. He was a delicate but exquisitely beautiful babe, and his frequent illnesses made deep demands on the endearments hitherto so freely lavished upon his brother. For a time Arthur was highly indignant at the new turn of affairs, and openly resented the slights which necessarily he now often received. Naturally, however, he was of a noble and generous disposition, and soon learned to tenderly love the helpless babe, whose blue eyes would brighten when he drew near, and whose lips murmured, for their first word, "Arty."
Arthur had attained his sixth year when his brother was born; and when time had written Guly a schoolboy, the closest affection united the children, notwithstanding the difference in their years and disposition. Guly, as he was called, though of a cheerful disposition, never displayed that sprightliness and vivacity which characterized Arthur. Even in his merriest moments, a thoughtfulness mingled with his mirth, which rendered him ever attentive to the comfort of others.
There was an attraction about the child which won all hearts—a natural grace and refinement of manner, mingled with a presence whose influence was always for good. With the tattered beggar he came in contact kindly, pressing into his tawny hands the alms he had to give, while Arthur, though equally generous, spoiled his gift by the manner in which it was bestowed, tossing his gold contemptuously at the weary feet of those who asked it, and turning carelessly away. Too early had he learned the power of that wealth to which he might one day becomes the joint heir with his brother, and his pride, perhaps, was censured more than he deserved.
His love for his mother and brother were strong redeeming traits in that self-willed nature, and toward those two beings he ever exercised a lofty and ennobling forbearance. Throughout their school-days he assumed the part of defender and protector toward his younger companion, and if a slur was ever cast upon Guly's meekness, or a taunt uttered at his almost girlish beauty, an earnest champion was ever at his side to adopt his cause, and give the lie to those who dared thus to speak; and Guly in return looked up to Arthur as one brave and manly in all things, a superior both in mind and body; little dreaming of the hour when their stations should seem changed, and he assume the part of guide and guardian over his brother.
Colonel Pratt was desirous that both his children should choose a profession. But Arthur impatiently expressed his distaste for such a course, preferring the busy hum of mercantile life, to the long study necessary to fit him for a profession. Consequently, after having received a good school education, he was placed in his father's store, there to become acquainted with the business under the immediate care and supervision of his doting parent. Gulian at this time was still at school, the same gentle-souled, spiritual-looking boy; who perhaps more than Arthur had wound himself round the fond heart of his mother, and who seemed to love her presence, and cherish her affection, with a depth of feeling unusual in boys of his age.
One morning, late in August, as Colonel Pratt was about to proceed to the city, his wife observed him wandering over the house and grounds with an air of thoughtfulness amounting even to dejection. Astonished at this in one usually so cheerful-hearted, she joined him, and anxiously inquired the cause.
"I have suffered for several days from this same depression of spirits," he answered, with a faint attempt to smile. "Perhaps some wise sightseer might declare it a presentiment of coming evil, but it is no doubt the mere effect of a slight indisposition, occasioned by the extreme heat and application to business."
"Stay at home with me to-day, Arthur!" said his wife, earnestly, reading beneath his attempts to treat the matter lightly a seriousness which he had striven to conceal.
"Nay, my wife," he answered, "it would but seem that I yielded to a superstitious dread. It will all be right to-morrow."
Seeing the boat drawing near, the fond husband bade his wife an affectionate farewell, and hurried to the wharf. She saw him safely on board, and watched the steamer till out of sight.
In life she never saw that husband more. The boat in which he returned was the ill-fated "Empire," which was sunk near Newburgh, and he was among those who perished. The corpse of Colonel Pratt was not discovered until two days had elapsed, and immediate burial was necessary upon the arrival of the body at that dear home whence he had so lately departed. This blow was so severe to his wife, that for several weeks her reason deserted her, in an attack of long-continued illness. She recovered, only to learn, that extensive speculations, whose prospect of certain success had induced Colonel Pratt to invest very nearly the whole of his fortune, had proved an utter failure, and that she and her children were destitute.
Here was something which called forth all her energies, and for her children's sake she nerved herself to action. Their beautiful home, the scene of so much happiness, passed into strangers' hands. Horses and carriage, and even Mrs. Pratt's jewelry, all went in the general ruin. Naught was reserved save enough to purchase a diminutive cottage not many miles from the scene of her former prosperity, and thither she departed, taking with her Arthur and Gulian, who had never before tasted the bitter dregs of poverty or sorrow.
As usual, in such cases, the many friends who had so gladly shared her wealth, now apparently forgot her existence, and she was left to battle with the heavy change alone. It was impossible for them all to live together now, and the mother felt that if Arthur left her, Gillian, too, must go to learn the ways of that world, of the hollowness and falseness of which he as yet knew nothing.
About this time, a Southern paper fell into their hands, containing an advertisement, by a merchant in New-Orleans, for two young clerks, to fill vacancies recently made in his number of assistants. After due consideration, it was determined that they might fill those places, and the merchant was accordingly written to. An answer was immediately returned, desiring that they should come on as soon as possible, stating that it was not his custom to engage Northern clerks, but that it was a season of the year when it was difficult to procure any one, and for this reason he had decided in their favor. He further stated that he should expect them to remain with him winter and summer, as he could not go to the inconvenience of engaging clerks from such a distance, and then have them away three or four months in a year.
On the whole, Mrs. Pratt thought the letter a very stern and disagreeable one in tone, and shuddered as she pictured to herself the character of the writer. What would her delicate and gentle Guly do, in daily contact with such a cold, blunt-lipped man. Still, there was nothing she could devise that would be well for them, and New-Orleans, at that time, was considered an El Dorado, where industry and perseverance soon brought the fickle goddess to bestow her glittering stores. It was a long way to send them from her side, but she experienced a pride which prevented her from applying for situations for them nearer home. Thus, it was decided they should go. In the bright anticipations of future fortune and happiness, which immediately filled his busy brain, in the preparation for departure, and the prospect of his approaching journey, Arthur in a measure forgot the calamity which had over-taken them, and the attendant painful separation from his sole remaining parent. He dwelt enthusiastically upon the fortune he was confident he should soon win. He told how frequent his letters home would be, and hinted that, as soon as practicable, they would contain something more than mere words. His voice, when dwelling upon this subject, was always loud and confident, and even in the midst of all their troubles he sometimes laughed as merrily as of old, when picturing their restored wealth and renewed happiness.
Not so Guly. He hovered round his mother like some gentle spirit; saying but little, yet evincing in every glance of his expressive blue eyes, and in every noiseless footfall, the deep sorrow which lay in the recesses of his young heart. When he spoke it was in accents of tenderness and sympathy for his mother; and though he never talked as Arthur did of the approaching journey, and its results, there was an expression of firmness and determination in his thoughtful face, which more than once forced upon the mother's heart the conviction, that in that distant land, this frail being, after all, might prove the stronger of the two. Daily she warned them of the temptations and snares that would beset their path, and taught them to zealously shun such, as they would a viper in their way. They listened and promised; and when the expected day of departure arrived, bade her adieu in the midst of her tears, and prayers, and blessings. Thus was the widow left utterly alone; yet in her faith she felt not forsaken, knowing that the Father of the fatherless was with her in her woe.
Number — Chartres-Street.
With the first ray of the morning light, Gulian was awake. Without disturbing his brother, he rose, dressed himself, and took a survey of his chamber by daylight. It was a large, gloomy-looking room, unceiled and unpainted, and the rough beams and rafters looked like the ponderous ribs of some antediluvian monster, which might crumble in at any time, and bury all beneath them. The windows were large, but dingy and begrimed with the unmoved dust of years; and spiders' webs hung in profuse festoons from the dirty sashes. A quantity of old barrels, boards, wine casks, and other lumber, were carelessly thrown in one corner, and the door which opened upon the staircase was covered with big-lettered advertisements, in such diversified type that it seemed as if the old door was "making faces" all the time, to improve its Punch and Judyish appearance. The windows looked down into the courtyards of adjoining dwellings, which were built up so high that no view was afforded beyond. As Guly looked down now, he saw the servants hurrying about with their turbaned heads and ebony faces, busied with preparations for the morning meal; laughing and joking as they passed one another, apparently as happy in these narrow gloomy courts as though they were the possessors of the proud mansions adjoining.
Such was the view from two of the windows of the room. There was another one covered partially by a tattered and dusty painted shade, at the southern extremity of the apartment, but Guly did not approach it, not caring to look down upon what he thought must be a third edition of kitchen scenery.
Opposite the bed was a pile of empty dry goods boxes; and one or two pieces of furniture of the same description were placed about the room, which, with the addition of one store stool, minus a bottom, served for seats.
The bedstead was of common stained wood, furnished with a tester and flimsy mosquito bar, through the grim and smoky folds of which were visible sheets of unbleached factory muslin, an emaciated mattress, and a pair of lean pillows, which seemed quite lost in the much too large cases which covered them. The boy sighed as he took in all the dinginess and gloom, and his heart throbbed yearningly for the pleasant room which, even in adversity, had been his at home, cheered and enlivened so often, too, by the presence of his tender mother.
"It isn't time to get up yet, is it, Gulian?" said Arthur, half-rousing himself, then closing his weary lids again. "The sun isn't up yet, is it?"
"The sun never gets into this room, Arthur; we can only know when it's up by the increased light."
"I was dreaming of home; oh! such a pleasant dream! I must sleep a little longer," murmured Arthur again, in the lingering tones of one but half-awake.
"Not this morning, brother. Come, we must up, and be doing. I hear them opening the store below; we shouldn't be late the first morning, you know, dear Arthur. It is too late to sleep."
Alas! that this first bright dream of home, in that old gloomy room, should ever have been broken! Alas! that the first sweet slumber, on that rude couch, should have had its awaking! Alas! for the beauty of that boyish face, radiant in the flush and glow of early youth, with the halo of home dreams upon it, that it had not there and then chilled and crumbled! Alas! for the innocence and purity of that buoyant spirit, that it had not then taken its flight to brighter realms, forewarned of the dark time coming, when it would quake to find in conscience's depths, that, indeed, "it was too late to sleep."
Upon going down stairs the first person the brothers met was Jeff, who stood at the foot of the staircase, looking up as if expecting them. They returned his cheerful and respectful salutation kindly, and passed on to the front door, where Wilkins stood in his shirt-sleeves; leaning against the door-post, reading the morning paper.
He raised his eyes as they approached, and nodded to them, and, somewhat to Guly's surprise, inquired how they had rested, adding that the room needed some cleaning before it could be made habitable for human beings, and he would see to it.
They thanked him, and, as he resumed his reading, they could do nothing more than stand in the door and look out, or walk briskly up and down the floor for exercise. The clerks began to gather in after a while, all of whom gave the young strangers a passing greeting, as they stationed themselves at their respective places. At length beginning to experience the craving of naturally good appetites, they walked up to Wilkins, and inquired where they were expected to board.
"Good gracious! sure enough!" said he, flinging his paper on the counter, "I came near forgetting you; and would have been off to breakfast without you in a minute more. Come on," and he put on his coat as he went out of the door, and led the way down street. They only walked a couple of blocks, then entered a large room, opening upon the street, with glazed glass doors, which stood open on account of the heat of the morning.
"I always eat here, as it is cheaper than to take a boarding-house, I think; and, besides, you can always have just what you call for. If you take my advice, you'll take your meals here, too," said Wilkins, assuming a very patronizing air, as he rang the little table bell for the waiter.
Arthur thanked him for his kindness, and asked him when they would probably see Mr. Delancey.
"He's only in the store from nine in the morning till three in the afternoon," replied Wilkins. "You will see him shortly after we get back there."
When their meal was over, arm in arm they took their way back to the store. It wasn't nine o'clock yet, so they didn't walk very briskly, but looked about them, and made their comments to each other on the appearance of the buildings, the streets, etc., etc., and Arthur drew some comparisons between them and those in New-York. They reached the store almost at the same time that a pony-chaise, driven by a very respectable-looking negro man, drew up at the door. A tall, spare gentleman, in a suit of black, stepped out of it, and after reaching back for his walking-stick, entered the building. He had, apparently, seen about fifty winters; he was active enough to be fifty, but he was wrinkled and skinny enough to be sixty. His hair was quite grey, and of a dry, husky nature, which prevented its ever looking smooth; and, in consequence, it stuck straight up in front, and straight out at the sides, in a very bristling and business-like manner. He had a deep frown between the eyes, which were of a cold stone color, of a most peculiar expression, and exceedingly quick and restless; always darting hither and thither, never as if looking for a bright side to anything, but always as if seeking for something amiss. His nose was high and pinched, but long, also, and very hooked; so hooked that it seemed as if each nostril had baited a corner of his mouth, and drawn it up in speaking distance, so that when it was open, the end of that prodigious nasal organ might refresh itself by looking down his throat.
There was a firmness in his tread, as he passed through the store, looking quickly to the right and left, without turning his head, which told of energy and decision; but there was in the whole appearance of the man something repugnant and disagreeable, and a shadow seemed to fall on every face he passed, so that the whole line of clerks, ranged on either side behind the counters, and a moment before so cheerful and bright, looked as if a pall had been dropped over them after he had gone by.
Gulian and Arthur had shrunk back at his first entrance, and felt as certain at that moment that this man was Mr. Delancey as they did a few minutes afterwards, when Wilkins took them up, and formally introduced them.
"So, you've come?" said he, by way of greeting, and turning his keen eyes upon them alternately, as Wilkins named them, "which of you is it that's been in the business before?"
"I, sir," said Arthur, stepping forward.
"What do you know about it? what have you been accustomed to doing—anything more than sweeping out and cleaning the lamps?"
"I never swept out, or cleaned a lamp, in my life, sir. I have sold goods, and sometimes taken charge of the books in the book-keeper's absence."
"No airs, young man—don't want any exhibitions of pride here; you'll have to do whatever you're set at in my service, if it's washing windows. Can you make out, a bill?"
Arthur's face was very red, and angry words were on his lips, but Guly's hand that moment touched his arm, and pressed it gently. He remembered all, and answered calmly that he could.
"Step up here, then, and let me see you do it," said Mr. Delancey, making room for him to use the large desk.
Arthur obeyed, and in a clear, bold hand, drew up the bill properly, and handed it to him.
He ran it over with his eyes quickly and eagerly, as if certain of finding a flaw; and there was something like disappointment in the tone of his voice as he said, briefly, "Right, sir," and laid it down.
There was a moment's pause, during which Mr. Delancey busied himself in writing down a great many figures on a piece of paper. When he had finished he handed it to Arthur, with a look of triumph in his face, and said, "Let's see you solve this problem correctly, if you can."
That sneering "if you can," to Arthur's mind seemed to imply so much doubt of his capacity, that he felt stung to the quick; and it was with a gesture of pride and impatience, which he could not repress, that he took the paper. He returned it to the desk in a few minutes, and again those cold gray eyes ran over his work, and again they showed disappointment when it proved to be right.
"Wilkins," said Mr. Delancey, turning to that individual, who had remained standing near, "Give this young man the vacancy in the bleached goods department, which Jones left."
Mr. Wilkins moved away to fulfill the order, and Arthur was about to follow him, when his employer called him back.
"It is my custom," said he, "to give young clerks the first year a merely nominal salary, but as you seem to be pretty well acquainted with the business, and have a face that may win custom, you will get liberal pay. I will give you five hundred a year. Five hundred—but mark me, sir, you've got to earn it!—every picayune of it, sir, you've got to work for. When any clerk is caught idling or dawdling about these premises, he's turned out, neck and heels, with only just what he can scrape together on the shortest possible notice. I hope we understand each other. Go, now."
Arthur bowed, and moved away with Wilkins, who pointed out his place to him, and having introduced him to the young men on either side of him, returned to his position near the big desk.
After dismissing Arthur, Mr. Delancey seemed entirely to have forgotten Gulian, and leaned stiffly back in his chair, regarding the lines of clerks and the customers, who now began to flock in, without taking any notice of him. When Wilkins approached, however, and cast a meaning glance toward him, he seemed suddenly to remember Gulian, and turning round, said, bluntly:
"Come here, sir."
Guly's face had lost every vestige of color, and his heart beat so violently that it seemed to make him tremble all over, and he came forward hesitatingly, with his eyes cast upon the floor.
"So, you know nothing at all about a store, eh?"
"Well, I think, for my part, such a white-livered, baby-faced chap as you are would have been better off at your mother's apron strings, than coming so far from home to get initiated."
No answer, but the pale face and golden head drooped a trifle lower.
"Do you know your multiplication-table?"
"Step up here, and repeat it."
Without lifting his eyes Guly obeyed; and stepping forward, commenced in a low tone to repeat the table.
"Louder, sir!" exclaimed Mr. Delancey, angrily; "how do you suppose I can hear such a muttering as that?"
The throbbing in his breast increased to such a degree, that Guly felt as if he could not breathe. He reached up and laid one white delicate hand upon the desk tightly, for support, then summoning all his courage, he elevated his voice, and went on, mechanically, to repeat what, in calm moments, he knew as well as A B C, but which now seemed to be a sort of dead memory, which would desert him every moment.
"Louder, sir!" again shouted his tormentor, as his voice unconsciously lulled again. "What do you want to play the fool in this way for? If you know it, speak up."
There was a sudden turning of heads by the clerks nearest the desk towards the spot, attracted by the unusually loud tone of the proprietor. Guly felt, rather than saw, that he had become the object of attention, and with a last effort raised his voice, and commenced another number, but suddenly he ceased altogether, the white hand slid from the desk, and he fell fainting at Delancey's feet.
Wilkins sprang quickly forward, with a hot flush burning on either cheek, and lifted the boy like a baby in his arms. As he did so he cast a look full of deep and mysterious meaning upon Delancey. It was a look difficult for a mere observer to interpret, but the merchant quailed visibly beneath it, and turned aside his head.
Wilkins bore the quiet figure in his arms farther back into the shadow of the staircase, and placing him in a large chair which stood there, bathed his temples with camphor water, and held it to his nostrils, gazing upon him meanwhile with an intense and anxious gaze. At length the snowy lids, with their curve of golden lashes, trembled slightly, then opened wide, and the blue eyes were raised an instant, appealingly, to the face which bent kindly over him.
"A drop of water, Mr. Wilkins, if you please."
It was brought, and he drank eagerly.
"Are you better?"
"Yes, Wilkins, almost well."
He dropped his head upon his hand a moment, and those to whom he was visible saw his lips move earnestly for a moment or two.
"I can go on without any trouble, I think," he said, in a voice of gentle earnestness, referring to his unsaid table.
"You needn't say any more unless you would like to," returned Wilkins; "I am sure you know it."
"I would rather," said Guly, firmly.
He rose, and, with Wilkins at his side, again approached the desk where Mr. Delancey had resumed his stiff position, leaning back in his chair.
"He will finish, if you please, sir," said Wilkins, with the respectful bow of an inferior, but at the same time fixing his eyes sternly on the merchant's face.
Mr. Delancey assumed an air of attention, and Guly, taking his old station in front of him, commenced in a clear, distinct voice, and repeated the table unfalteringly, from beginning to end.
"There! why couldn't you have done that in the first place, without acting such a namby-pamby farce, I'd like to know?"
"I had not the power, sir."
"Well, what do you s'pose you're good for in a dry goods store, anyway, eh? Look at that!" and he lifted one of the boy's small white hands by the tips of the fingers, and held it towards the light, as if he would look through it, then dropped it with a contemptuous "Umph!"
"What shall we do with him, Wilkins?"
"Give him the embroidery department. His hands are just fit for such delicate work, and besides it will just put him under my eye."
"Poh! he'll make such ruinous mistakes, that I'll never be able to stand it, sir. Give him Harper's place in the thread and tape, up here, then he'll be under my eye."
"He'll do well, sir, in the place I propose," Wilkins returned quietly, but firmly. "With a little instruction, I'll answer for him; and there's a freer circulation of air down there, something he needs."
"Well, take him along, and see what you can do with him. I expect nothing more than that he'll die on my hands, before he's earned enough to pay his funeral expenses."
Wilkins turned, and beckoned the boy to follow him.
The First Sunday at Church.
Wilkins was head clerk in the establishment, and although he had all the books to keep, his work was lighter than that of any of the rest. He went to work later in the morning, and left it earlier at night. Besides being book-keeper, he was a sort of a superintendent of the whole concern; and the clerks looked up to him as second only to the proprietor himself. To win Wilkins' favor was to propitiate Mr. Delancey: a fact well known, and acted upon.
Guly's beauty, or gentle disposition, had evidently gained for him, through Wilkins, the best stand in the store. His work was light and agreeable, he had no heavy lifting to do, and the Beautiful, which in any form was delightful to him, was constantly before his eyes. In addition to this, the clerk who stood next to him, on his right hand, was a most estimable and kind young man, of the name of Hull; who used every effort to assist his young neighbor, in learning to correctly perform his work, and by his own example, taught him patiently to endure its tediousness. This, together with the frequent and kindly-tendered instructions of Wilkins, enabled Guly, who was naturally very quick, to readily acquire the knowledge requisite for his situation; and with his brother, nearly opposite, to speak to occasionally, and to see all the time, he felt that he was highly favored.
As Mr. Delancey had never shown any interest in the matter of their board, they still continued to "victual," as Wilkins called it, at the restaurant, and sleep at the store. By dint of working a little before going to bed every night, the brothers, without reminding Wilkins of his promise to "see to it," had managed to make their sleeping apartment present a very habitable appearance.
As every moment of their time, since their arrival, had been taken up with business, they remained in their room the first Sunday, without going to church; feeling that for each of them to pour into the fond breast of their distant mother all the thoughts, feelings, and events, which they had experienced since they had left her side, would be as acceptable to Him whose day it was, as to attend church, leaving her to mourn in anxious uncertainty as to their safety or happiness. The succeeding Sabbath, however, they rose early, and, after performing their devotional exercises, prepared themselves to attend public worship.
While waiting for the bell to ring, they sought Wilkins, for the purpose of inquiring what church Mr. Delancey attended. Wilkins had taken possession of the merchant's seat at the high desk when they found him, and, as usual had his coat off, reading.
He looked up, apparently a good deal surprised, as they put the question to him, and exclaimed, rather dryly:
"Why, you don't say you're going to church!"
"Certainly, Mr. Wilkins. Won't you go with us?"
"Ah! not I."
"Do you never go?"
"I used to, but it was a long time ago. You forget that I have been in New-Orleans five years."
"No, we don't forget that. Mr. Hull said, the other day, that Mr. Delancey would never get as good a clerk as you again, or one that would be as faithful, and remain with him so long. But does being here a few years make any difference about going to church?"
"I'm afraid you'll find so."
"How can you spend so much unoccupied time without church, Wilkins?" said Guly, earnestly, stepping up on the chair round, and seating himself quietly on the head clerk's knee.
Wilkins flung down the novel he had been reading, and, reaching out his strong arms, clasped both hands round the slender figure sitting there, and, throwing back his head, looked thoughtfully into the boy's blue eyes.
"I spend it," said he, at length, speaking in a suppressed voice, and more as if talking to himself than another, "in racing on the Shell Road, in betting on fast horses, in excursions out of town, and in visiting"—he stopped short, then added, through his shut teeth, after an instant's pause—"places which I hope to God you'll never know more about than you do now."
"Are you going to the race-course to-day?" asked Guly, suddenly lifting his head.
"I don't feel quite well. No, I reckon not," returned Wilkins, disjointedly, and moving uneasily in his chair.
"I weary you," said the boy, gently essaying to leave his seat on the head clerk's knee.
"No! no! you don't!" cried the other, eagerly; and suddenly drawing the bright head down upon his bosom, he added, in a voice of deep emotion, "Oh, that I had you always thus to lie upon my heart, and keep the evil out!"
The church bell at this moment began to ring, and, having ascertained where the Episcopal Church was, the brothers started forth, and, arm-in-arm, walked briskly forward. Whenever Guly looked back at the tall store, towering up above its brick-and-mortar neighbors so proudly, he thought of Wilkins sitting in there in the gloom, all alone, and wishing for some one to lay upon his heart, and keep the evil out.
When they reached the church, Arthur asked the sexton if Mr. Delancey's pew was full, and, on being informed there was no one in it but himself and wife, he desired to be shown to it. It was situated quite at the head of the aisle, near the pulpit; and the sexton's hand was on the door, before the merchant, who was sitting in his usual position, bolt upright, in the pew, noticed their approach.
When his eyes fell upon his two new clerks, the frown between his eyes deepened very visibly, while his whole face wore a look of angry astonishment. Holding the door shut, as the sexton, with his best bow, attempted to open it, Mr. Delancey leaned out, and, in a harsh whisper to Arthur, which was loud enough to reach Guly's ear, exclaimed:
"What the devil do you want? I hope you don't expect to sit with me? Up gallery with you! There's seats enough for your class there."
So saying, the merchant jerked himself back, and, resuming his stiff position in the pew, looked straight ahead with his stony eyes, as if utterly unconscious of any one else.
With burning cheeks the brothers took their way down the carpeted aisle, and reached the pillared porch.
"I'm not going up there to sit," said the elder brother, proudly; "if there is no place for me below, there is no place for me in the gallery;" and flinging off the gentle hand that would have detained him, he sprang down the granite steps, and started at a rapid pace down the street.
Guly stood for a moment, gazing anxiously after him, half-tempted to follow, but seeing his brother took the direction towards the store, he decided to remain, and mounting the winding stairs, found himself in the spacious but scantily peopled gallery.
Guly's was a pure mind, unaccustomed to drawing sarcastic comparisons, or indulging in bitter fancies; but, as he looked down into the body of the church, he could not help wondering to himself which were the most acceptable in God's sight: the mass of life, bowing and swaying in their costly array of silks and laces, and fine cloth, kneeling on their velvet cushions, and bending their brows upon their jeweled hands, or the few earnest and devout, seated in the unornamented gallery, kneeling upon bare floors, seated on uncushioned benches, bending their hearts in simple worship to Him whose Word they came to hear.
The Broken Sabbath.
As soon as Arthur's rapid walking had taken him out of sight of the church, he slackened his pace, and walked moodily on along the almost deserted banquette, towards the Levee. Still smarting from the wound his pride had received, his cheeks burning with the flush of anger, and his heart heavy at the remembrance of his unkind words to Guly, the youth looked anxiously about for something to divert his thoughts, and while away the hours till church was out, when he hoped to rejoin his brother, and with him return to their apartment.
At this moment, however, he received a hearty slap upon his shoulder; and turning quickly, saw one of the clerks of the store, well known to be of low and dissolute habits, but who managed to retain his place by steady application to business during business hours.
Hitherto, Arthur had never had anything to say to him, beyond what was necessary in the store, having intuitively shunned him as an unfit associate. Now, however, he felt that any companion was better than solitude, for the unoccupied Sabbath hours; and although a sense of shame filled his breast, that he should ever have given the opportunity to such a man to approach him thus familiarly, he crushed it with an effort, and extending his hand, exclaimed, in a hearty tone:
"Glad to see you, Quirk; whither bound?"
"Anywhere that I can get company," returned the other, giving Arthur's hand a close grasp. "This is the only day, you know, that a clerk has to himself, and I always make it a point to have a deuce of a time to begin the week with."
And the fellow burst into a loud laugh.
Arthur withdrew his hand hastily, and an expression of disgust swept over his fine features. The quick eye of the other did not fail to detect it, and, eager to retain the vantage he had gained, he said:
"You musn't mind my easy expressions, Pratt; they come to me somehow like second nature, and I can't help them; just let 'em pass; and tell me what you'd like to visit to-day, and what you'd like to see, and I'll show it to you; for there's no sight in this city that I ain't as used to as measuring tape."
"I've never been accustomed to go sight-seeing on Sunday," said Arthur, in a hesitating tone.
"That was because you were never accustomed to working every week-day before."
"No, it was because I was strictly taught to 'Remember the Sabbath-day, and keep it holy.'"
"Fiddlesticks! all that'll do in the North, where folks put on their long faces every Sunday, and go to church, rain or shine, and don't cook any dinners, and don't read anything but pious books, but such things ain't expected here of anybody. Why, this is always a holiday here—the military companies are always drilled on Sunday, the best races are reserved for Sunday, the best plays at the theatre are on Sunday nights, and so are the best balls. Ha! ha! to talk of keeping this day holy here."
"You shock me!" said Arthur, with a shudder.
"Just what every young prig from the North is sure to say at first, but they get to be one of the 'fast ones' at last. I was quite sober myself when I first came here. I was from the land of steady habits, ye see—the only son of my mother, and she was a widder; but she died, and nobody cared for me here, so I just joined the b'hoys, and learned how to enjoy myself."
"I'll tell you what we'll do!" exclaimed Quirk, after another short pause, "we'll just take the cars, and go to Carrolton. That's a fine place, and it can't hurt your conscience any to visit it. Even the ministers ride up there on Sundays sometimes."
"How soon could we return? By the time church is out?"
"Oh, we can come back any minute we like. Hurrah! Now hop in, or we'll be left."
The cars were just on the point of leaving, and they were obliged to run in order to catch their chance. The moment of reflection did not come to Arthur till he had taken his seat, and was rapidly moving away. If there came any pangs of conscience then, they were, from a dread of ridicule, studiously concealed from his companion, and consoling himself with the thought that it now was too late to repent, he gave himself up to the full enjoyment of his ride.
After leaving the city, as the charming suburban retreats, one by one, came out upon his view, Arthur eagerly regarded each one, appreciating its brightness and freshness all the more from his recent confinement in the city. The clear sloping meadows, the rural cottages, the fresh air, all served to enliven and cheer him; and, as the cars were crowded with pleasure-seekers, like himself, he forgot it was Sunday, and was happy in his forgetfulness.
Near Carrolton a beautiful wood burst upon his sight, skirting either side of the track, and casting soft deep shadows on the bright green sward beneath the branches. The trees were of noble growth, and from every limb hung pendant the tattered sheets of long gray moss, so common in the South, and so solemn and sombre in their effect.
"Was there ever anything more beautiful, even on the banks of my own Hudson!" exclaimed Arthur, enraptured at the scene. "Can we not persuade the conductor to stop, and let us down? I would enjoy a stroll there."
"Nonsense!" returned his companion. "I can't go with you if you go there. I have a horror of that swinging moss, and can't bear to be near it. Those trees always make me think of ghosts, with rotten shrouds on 'em."
"That's a fine comparison, Charley," said a clear, sarcastic voice near them; and a young man, bearing the unmistakable stamp of the genteel loafer about him, stretched out a small white hand, with a large diamond glittering on the little finger, and shook Charley's over the back of the seat.
He was quite a youth, apparently not over twenty years of age; but there was an expression in his eye which would lead one to believe him older. It was an eye old in cunning, old in craft, and old in sin. It was small, deep-set, and of piercing blackness. His hair was of a soft chestnut, and curled slightly at the ends. His lips were thin, and his complexion sallow. His dress, in every article, was of the finest material, but arranged with a decidedly foppish taste; and, somehow or other, his whole appearance reminded one of those large bills, stuck up in depots, with "Beware of Pickpockets" on them.
Charley leaned back, after shaking hands with him, and whispered something in his ear; then, nodding to Arthur, said:
"Mr. Pratt, I'll make you acquainted with Mr. Clinton. Mr. Clinton, Mr. Pratt."
Arthur bowed, and accepted the hand cordially extended to him, and politely expressed his pleasure at the acquaintance.
"Well, just consider me one of you from this hour," said Clinton, rising, and turning his seat so that he might face his friends. "Just confide to me your intentions for to-day, and you'll find I'm with you, heart and hand."
Charley tipped a sly wink at him, unperceived by Arthur, and answered:
"We're only going to Carrolton, to stroll through the gardens; that's all."
"Ah, yes; going to contemplate the beauties of nature. I understand. Just so. Glad to hear it; for, of all things in the world, it's just what will suit me best. Just consider me one of you."
Arthur eyed his new friend with considerable curiosity, as he let off these little explosive sentences, and withdrew his eyes with an unsatisfied look, as the other ceased speaking.
"He evidently," thought he, "wants to seem a gentleman, and don't know how."
"Here we are!" cried Clinton, as the train stopped. "Now, my dear friends, let's hasten to leave these clattering cars, where I scarcely can breathe. Ah! you perceive this beautiful scenery has already inspired me. I s'pose, Mr. Pratt, you didn't know I was a poet before, did you?"
"I was certainly not previously aware of your poetical talents, Mr. Clinton," returned Arthur, laughing, "but I shall never doubt it again."
"That's right, my boy. Like your candor. You're excusable for not noticing before that I was a genius. It was no doubt merely because you didn't look closely in my face. Any one can see it who does. There's the pretty Miss Julia Tippet, she declares she'd know me for one through a pair of green spectacles."
So saying, Mr. Clinton sprang to the ground, and being a little taller than the other two, he familiarly passed an arm over their shoulders as he stepped between them, and so passed on through the garden gate.
As they trod the neat shell walks, and inhaled the fragrance of the many blooming flowers, Arthur enthusiastically expressed his delight; and Mr. Clinton, suddenly drew in a long breath through his nostrils, and exclaimed, at the same time striking an attitude:—
"Delightful spot! I know not what could e'er draw hence my willing feet, Unless it be a chance I see, for some kind friend to stand a treat."
"There!" bringing down his right hand, with a hearty whack upon his knee, "if I haven't been off again into one of my spontaneous bursts of poetical effusion! Who ever saw that beat?"
"Ha! ha! ha!" roared Charley. "I take the hint; what'll you have; mint-juleps for three, or three for old Cogniac?"
"Thank you," said Arthur, as he met Charley's inquiring glance. "Nothing for me. I never indulge."
"Oh, you must have something, if it's nothing more than lemonade with a stick in it," returned Charley.
"Hurry up your pegs there, Charley!" cried Clinton, at the top of his voice. "Pratt's getting faint, and wants something to strengthen him!"
This was said in such a good humored hope-I-don't-offend manner, that Arthur could not repress a smile; and while the smile was on his lips the drinks arrived, and he received his with a bow. That he considered it good, was very evident from the manner in which he drank it, an act which Quirk and Clinton watched narrowly, over the brims of their glasses.
Arthur experienced no more pangs of conscience that day; neither did he recall his intended return by the time church was out. After drinking, his companions used every effort to make themselves agreeable, and showed him over the extensive grounds, strolled through the shady avenue on the Levee with him, and then, as the day was warm, declared themselves thirsty, and proposed that Arthur should treat them.
He eagerly assented, and for the first time in his life marched boldly into the bar-room, and ordered three strong drinks, all of the same description.
Then a military company arrived, and the excitement of the drill, the sound of the martial music, and the fresh uniform of the soldiers, combined with the noise and bustle of railroad travel, and the crowd of lookers on, seemed to dispel all remembrance of Sunday, and the whole afternoon passed in this way, in what then seemed real enjoyment.
It was eleven o'clock in the evening when, heated and dizzy from the wine they had drunk, Arthur and Charley took their seats in the cars for home; with Mr. Clinton heavily reclining between them. They were a noisy trio, though an experienced eye might have detected readily that Clinton pretended to be much more intoxicated than he really was. When the cars arrived at St. Joseph-street he alighted, bidding his two friends a hearty good night, and saying, as he shook Arthur's hand:
"Hope to see you soon again, Pratt, [hic]—from this day for [hic] ward, consider me one of you."
And, with a stagger which threatened a fall, he left the cars, and disappeared round the corner. As he did so, he drew a ponderous key from his pocket, and holding it up between his eye and an adjacent lamp, regarded it closely, then burst into a laugh: "I'll have some fun with this yet, I reckon; I'll teach the governor to forbid my having any of the keys. By the gods! I'll bring him round with this, or die in the attempt," soliloquized Mr. Clinton, swinging the key between his thumb and finger.
"By-the-by," he added, suddenly thrusting it deep into a side-pocket, "I'll just stroll down Chartres-street, and see what the boys'll do when they find it out."
Mr. Clinton was evidently perfectly sober.
Whistling a tune thoughtfully, as he went, he reached Camp-street; when, taking the shady side, he struck into a run, which pace he kept up until he had crossed Canal, then he assumed a slow, careless walk; and as the moon had now risen, the lamps had been put out, and one side of Chartres-street lay in deep shadow.
To this side he kept, and when he had arrived nearly opposite Delancey's store, he stepped back into an archway, and remained quiet.
In a few moments he heard the voices of his late companions, and saw them coming down the other side of the street, leaning upon each other, and both evidently fully affected by the liquor they had imbibed.
As Charley gained the door, he sustained himself by holding with his left hand upon the door-post, while with the right he applied a small steel key to the key-hole.
"Why the devil don't it fit? Lend a hand here, Pratt, and see what you can do."
Arthur had seated himself upon the step, and sat with his head leaning on his hand, but he rose at Charley's bidding, and took the key.
"Why don't it fit?" said he, after looking at it a moment, intently. "Well, the reason is my trunk key don't fit this door, and I'd like to know how you came by it."
"Your trunk key! well, where's the other? Your trunk key! I guess so! Well, here's one that will fit," and he drew out a brass house-door key, and shufflingly applied it to the lock.
"Devil! wrong again. Pratt, stand up here, and help me."
"We'll never get in at this rate, Charley."
"I'll give you a lodging, if that's what you're after," said a voice near them, and a hand fell heavily on a shoulder of each.
"Nabbed, by gripes!" cried Quirk, suddenly turning round.
"But just look here, old feller, I'd like to know [hic] what for you arrest a couple—of gen'l'men for—as is decently [hic] to go home to bed."
"Breaking into a store is a new way of going to bed. You're my prisoners; so march along with you."
"Do you take us for thieves," said Arthur, startled into soberness; "we belong there, and were trying to use our pass-key."
"Let's see your pass-key, then."
"It's lost! I can find it neither in my own nor my companion's pockets."
"Good story, but won't go down, so trot along."
And the watchman, stepping between them, seized an arm of each, and hurried them off to the guard-house.
"Phew! that's more than I bargained for," said Clinton, stepping out of the archway, and looking after the retreating figures. "However, that's Grey that's got 'em, and I can make it straight by morning." So saying, he pressed his hand hard upon the ponderous key he held, and muttering, "Ah, a good time's coming," turned his steps toward the First Municipality.
Since noonday, Guly had sat in the darkened store alone. He could not go out in search of his brother, being ignorant of the streets; and besides, where in that great city could he have looked with any hope of finding him? When he returned from church, and found Arthur absent, he was not only surprised, but deeply troubled. Knowing what a stranger he was in that vast metropolis, the thought crossed his mind that in the proud and angry mood that was upon him, he might have wandered off, and lost himself. But an instant's reflection told him that any one would be able to give the direction of Mr. Delancey's store, and that Arthur, in such a case, would not be slow to make inquiry.
He could but wait patiently, as there was no one near, either to accompany him in a search, or to give him advice. He seated himself to write to his mother, deeming that his time could not be more dutifully passed.
The letter was finished and sealed, and still no news of Arthur. Guly had seized his hat with the intent of going forth at all hazards, when the door of his room slowly opened, and Jeff's shining face was thrust in.
"Please, young massar, may I come in?"
"Certainly. Close the door."
The negro entered with a shuffling gait, holding a tattered straw hat in his hands, and with a bow and sheepish look stopped directly in front of Guly.
"Anything I can do for you, Jeff?"
"Well, I hopes you'll 'scuse my 'trusion, young massar, but I thought as dis was Sunday, mebbe you'd be reading dat big book yourself, and would let me hear you."
"To be sure, Jeff, to be sure. Whenever that big book is read you will always be a welcome listener, and whenever I have time I shall always be ready to read it to you."
"Oh, young massar, you is so good to de poor nigger—sometimes when I look at you, I can't help tinking you'se just some angel as has lost his wings, and a-waiting on dis airth till they grow agin."
"Yes, massar; if you'se ready to read, I'se ready to listen."
Guly smiled at this misconstruction of his words, but opening the Bible he read aloud the fourteenth chapter of John; while Jeff sat with his elbows on his knees, and his chin in his palms, his large eyes fixed attentively on the reader.
When the chapter was finished, Guly took the different paragraphs, and in a simple but concise manner endeavored to explain all which was difficult for his listener to understand.
"Thar!" said Jeff, flinging his old hat emphatically upon the floor, as Guly ceased, "If that ain't as good as a minister, dis child guv it up, dat's all! Oh, young massar, if you'd just call a meetin' ob de clerks in dis store, and read and 'spound to 'em sometime in dis way, dar'd be a better set in old massar's bizness, to say the least."
"Your master's clerks all seem to be well-disposed young men, I'm sure, Jeff—I never see them commit a wrong."
"You'se too good yousef to see evil, sah; but mebbe de clerks is good when de Boss's sharp eye is on 'em."
"Oh!" exclaimed Guly, starting to his feet, and rapidly pacing the floor, "What a place of sin for a young inexperienced boy to be in, and under the influence of evil companions. Oh! my brother! my brother!"
"He'll be home by night-time, Massar Gulian, in my 'pinion. I'se jus sorry I told you, sah, since you take on so, but it just slipped out o' me like, an' I couldn't help it."
Guly drew a chair near one of the windows, and though he could see neither sky above or brightness below, he gazed out upon the brick walls before him, and his thoughts flew backward to the past. From that hour of reflection Guly rose up wiser and older. He felt how much depended on himself, and decided that henceforth his watchful eye should ever be upon the brother, who, though so much older than himself, required so much of tender counsel and care.
The sun was down when he again approached the table where Jeff still sat, turning over the leaves of the "Big Book."
"Massar Gulian, you look in your eyes as though you was gwine to pray. May I hear you 'fore I go?"
Guly bowed, and knelt beside his dusky friend; and as he prayed, the great white tears rolled over Jeff's cheeks, and fell down on the box by which he was kneeling.
The prayer was ended and Jeff rose to go.
"Good night, Jeff," said Guly, holding out his hand.
"Good night, young Massar; God forever bress your heart."
Left alone, Guly sat down to patiently await the termination of what he could not possibly avert; but the loneliness was so oppressive, the silence and darkness lay like such a weight upon his troubled heart, that he determined to descend to Wilkins' room, and if he were there to remain with him.
Having no light in his chamber, he opened the door, and slowly groped his way down the winding stairs. When he had nearly reached the foot he fancied he heard voices, and, surprised at such a sound coming from the direction of the head-clerk's room, he paused to listen; but the step on which he stood creaked loudly, and the voices ceased.
Going cautiously on in the darkness, he reached the big desk, and further back saw a stream of light glimmering through the crevice of Wilkins' door. He evidently was at home, but unless his ears had very much deceived him, Guly felt certain he was not alone.
Not wishing to play the spy, the boy went forward, and was about to knock, when through the crevice of the door his eye fell upon a scene which again arrested his attention, and held him speechless.
Wilkins was seated at a low table, writing, apparently answering a letter, which lay open before him, written in a peculiarly beautiful and delicate female hand. The light of the lamp fell full upon his face, which was very pale; and his teeth were pressed hard into his under lip.
Behind him, with one hand clasped upon the back of his chair, stood a young girl; and though her features were of exquisite proportions and beautiful moulding, she displayed in the slight tinge of duskiness upon her skin, and the peculiar blackness of her large eyes, unmistakable proofs, to an experienced judge, of the quadroon blood in her veins.
Her hair was long, and of midnight blackness; and fell in thick, close curls over the graceful scarf which covered her shoulders. Her forehead was high and fine, her eyebrows arched and delicately traced—her nose free from all trace of her negro origin, and her lashes long and curving upon her round cheek. Her mouth was small, and the lips parted over teeth of the most perfect regularity; but in this feature, more than in any other, as she stood watching Wilkins, as he wrote, there was an expression of proud bitterness, which came and went over those exquisite features, like gleams of lightning.
As Wilkins finished writing, he carefully folded and sealed his letter, and handed it to the girl, without adding any superscription.
"There, Minny, give her that; but, remember how much depends upon your secresy. There's a day coming when you shall meet your full reward for all you are doing for us now."
"Yes, Mr. Bernard," she replied, addressing him by his first name, and speaking earnestly, "I think of that myself sometimes, and tremble."
"And tremble! What do you mean?"
"Nothing, nothing; no matter now. Give me a pass, and let me be gone! The great gun has fired two hours ago!"
"You are too white to need a pass, Minny."
"Ay! but I am a slave."
The bitter emphasis with which she uttered these last words sank deep into Guly's young heart, and was the first intimation to him that she was not of unmixed origin. She looked so purely beautiful, as she stood there with that shade of scornful sadness on her face, that the boy forgot the part he was acting in standing there, and remained with his large eyes riveted upon her.
"Here's your pass, Minny; but, mark me, it will not be claimed of you."
As he spoke Wilkins rose, and handed her the paper. She concealed the letter he had given her in her dress, then folded the pass between her fingers, and prepared to leave.
The head clerk had stood still until how, watching her with a strange, eager expression on his face; but as he saw her about to leave him he sprang suddenly forward, and throwing one of his huge arms about her waist, drew back her head with the other, and imprinted kiss after kiss upon her lips.
She struggled wildly, but silently; and at last, with an almost superhuman effort, freed herself from his grasp. She turned, as she did so, and lifting her small hand closely clenched, struck him furiously full in the mouth.
The blood gushed over his lips; and never, to the latest day of his existence, not even when he saw her lie cold and still in her coffin, did Guly forget the fearful expression in her pallid face, and the almost demoniacal glare in her black eye, as she marked the effect of her blow, and darted by him like some frightened bird, escaped from the spoiler's net.
He shrank further into the darkness as she passed him, and saw her rush toward the back part of the building, where the large windows descended to the floor. She flung one up hastily, and leaped through it to the ground.
The next moment he heard the swift pattering of small feet in the alley, and the rustling of a woman's dress, as if some one were running.
The head clerk had thrown himself upon a couch, face downwards, after he received the blow, and Guly seeing he had been unobserved, thought best not to intrude upon him at this moment; and with a quiet, cat-like tread, and trembling violently with the excitement of the scene he had witnessed, he groped his way back to his own chamber.
An hour passed before he ventured to descend the stairs again; and then he found Wilkins sitting as he had seen him in the morning, at the big desk, with his coat off, reading.
"This is a late hour for you to be down stairs, my boy! What has happened to make you so pale? Are you sick?"
"No, sir, but I am troubled."
And Guly stepped toward him, and laid one hand upon the desk, while he related to Wilkins all that he had felt with regard to his brother, since he parted from him in the morning.
"Tut, tut!" said he, shaking his head as the boy finished, "this is a bad business. If I had not thought you were together somewhere, I would have been with you. I'm afraid your brother has got into bad company, which I should be sorry enough for, I promise you."
Wilkins spoke this in a tone of such kindly sympathy, at the same time laying one hand gently upon the golden head beside him, that Guly's overwrought feelings could no longer be restrained; and the tears gushed thickly from his eyes.
"Don't," said Wilkins, tenderly, "don't! This will doubtless be the last time he will wander off in this way—he is impulsive and yielding, and you, who are less so, must guard him in future."
Cheered, though not convinced, by Wilkins' words, Guly once more sought his own room. He had never pressed that pillow alone before, and with a desolate and heavy heart, the golden lashes were allowed to droop, and the boy fell into a troubled slumber.
Through a narrow chink in the roof above, a moonbeam stole, and nestled down beside him. It lay there in Arthur's vacant place like the gleam of an angel's smile; and all it fell upon was purity and beauty. The night wore on. The boy slept, the moonbeam faded, and troubled dreams and desolate darkness alone remained behind.
The city clocks were tolling midnight, and the moon rode high in the heavens. In one of the most elegant houses Apollo-street could boast, sat a young girl. The room in which she was sitting presented a scene of almost oriental ease and luxury. There was the rich carpet, giving back no echo to the tread, the gorgeous divans, into which the form sank as into down, the glittering chandeliers, the rare and exquisite vases, statuary, birds, books, and all that the capricious, self-willed spirit, which presided there, could wish to draw around her. The lights in the chandeliers had been extinguished; and save that which crept in from the moon, and that emitted from a small night-lamp, burning behind its alabaster shade, the room lay in soft shadow.
The long windows descended to the floor, and opened upon a balcony, from whence was wafted by the slight night-breeze, the delicate fragrance of the jasmine, mingled with that of rare roses, and other choice flowers. At the lower end of the balcony, a flight of steps descended to the garden, where the music of a tinkling fountain fell refreshingly on the ear. This part of the grounds was protected by a high brick wall, thickly overrun with luxuriant vines, which entirely concealed a small door, long left forgotten and unused by the proprietor of these princely domains.
This door opened into an adjacent court, little used save by the domestics, and thence egress was easy to the street. Seated upon a velvet cushion, the fair occupant of the apartment gazed eagerly out upon the garden-door. One slipper of small size and delicate hue lay a little distance from her, as if it had been cast impatiently from the unshod foot. Her brow was pressed against the window-sash, and every rustle of the vine-leaves, every whisper of the night-wind, had caused her to start violently, and called forth some low ejaculation of impatience or vexation.
"Past twelve, and not here yet!" she exclaimed, drawing from her belt a small French watch, glittering with jewels, and glancing at the hour with a frown.
"Ah! Dieu! what can have happened now? I shall be asleep before many minutes, unless—"
At this moment there came up from the garden a harsh grating sound, as of some one cautiously turning a key in a rusty lock. The listener started to her feet, and laid one hand upon her heart. There were light steps upon the stairs—a cautious tread upon the balcony—and Minny, the Quadroon, sank at her mistress's feet.
"So, child, you've come at last! Where have you lingered this long, long time? I am most distracted with watching for you, and my head aches terribly."
Minny lifted up her pale face, with the black hair falling in strong contrast around it, and the angry glitter not yet gone from her brilliant eye.
"Lady, I have lingered nowhere unnecessarily. You bade me be cautious, and it takes time to take stealthy steps. Besides, I was obliged to wait before I could approach him, and then—"
"Enough, Minny! and then he gave you a letter for me. Give it me, girl, quick!"
Minny drew the note from her bosom, and her mistress, approaching the lamp, put aside the shade which obscured it, and bent eagerly over the closely-written page she held. She read it again and again, and a smile of delight lit up the listless features, as she refolded it, and flung to the girl beside her to place in its delicate envelope.
"Oh! it is such a sweet note, Minny; such a charming, delightful note! How did he look, Min, when he was writing it? Did he frown, and bite his lips, and grow pale, in that frightful way he has sometimes, or did he look handsome and happy?"
"His back was toward me, Miss. I could not see how he looked."
"Stupid Minny! Another time get where you can look straight into those black eyes of his, and read what they say all the while."
"Another time I will, Miss."
"What's the matter, Min? Come here, child. How you frighten me. You are as pale as a ghost! Tired with your long walk, that's it, puss! Kneel down here by me, and I'll play nurse for you."
The girl knelt, and her young mistress drew toward her a bottle of lavender water, and poured it upon the bowed head before her; putting it on with her own soft hands till the long black curls glittered with the bright drops, as if decked with diamonds.
"There, Minny, you are better now. Wipe my hands and undress me."
With gentle, but trembling fingers, the girl proceeded to obey; and as her mistress lay listlessly back in her large fauteuil, proceeded to remove each article of dress, without the slightest assistance from the languid form before her.
The jewels were laid away in their velvet cases—the ribbons folded and laid aside—the rich robe placed in the armoire, and the frilled and embroidered robe de nuit placed upon her, and fastened with its gold buttons about her neck and wrists, with no more motion on the part of that passive figure, than if it had been a doll in the hands of a child.
Finding herself ready for bed, the young lady arose, and followed her maid into an adjoining apartment. The lace bar was held up, while she laid herself upon the luxurious couch, and Minny arranged the scented pillow beneath the fair young head.
"Anything more, Miss?"
"No, Minny; yet stay! That dear little note, hand it to me; and the bottle of ottar of roses."
The white fingers of the heiress clasped the exquisitely cut bottle containing the precious perfume, and one clear drop was suffered to fall upon the snowy envelope of the note. She then pressed the paper to her lips, and laid it away beneath her pillow.
"Anything more, my lady?"
"Yes, Minny. Did you ever have a lover? Some one, Minny, to love you with all his heart, and swear he'd die for you—and to write you such tender letters—and to—and to—"
Della Delancey slept with the love-letter of Bernard Wilkins beneath her pillow.
Minny had stood with every vestige of color faded from her cheek as her young mistress spoke, and her whole frame quivering with emotion, which she tried in vain to conceal. An expression of relief crossed her features, as her questioner fell away into slumber, and, hastening from the bedside, she sought the outer-room, and flung herself down into the large chair Della had so recently vacated.
"Some one to love me," she murmured, brokenly. "Ah! yes, yes! One who swore to love me; one who vowed to cherish me, only to forget his oath. Fool! idiot! that I was, to thus yield up my passionate love, forgetful of my birth! But did he not promise all? Were we not wed? God of the just—who sees me—yes! yes! yes!"
Springing to her feet, Minny paced the floor wildly. Her white closed teeth glittered through the portals of her parted lips—her black eyes flashed and sparkled, and rained down the tears among the curls upon her bosom, while her white hands were clutched together, or wrung fiercely.
She looked not unlike a personified tigress, lashed into fury by the torment of an enemy.
Suddenly her whole aspect changed. The clutched hands unclasped, the tears ceased to fall, the knotted brow relaxed—and, choking down her sobs, Minny approached the bedside of her young mistress. Softly she raised the rose-hued netting, and slid her hand beneath the pillow. It rested there a moment quietly, and then was gently withdrawn, holding the note tightly.
Gliding away with her treasure, she seated herself by the lamp, and perused its contents. Every word, every line, every expression of endearment, and every sentence of fondness, she drank eagerly in, and seemed to write upon her heart.
Again and again she read it; but there were no more signs of emotion, save that now and then her teeth were pressed tight into her lip, or her hand laid hard against her heart.
What pen can describe the anguish of Arthur, when he found himself the inmate of a watch-house! His arrest had completely sobered him, and his intoxication was succeeded by a deathly and overpowering sickness, which he found it impossible to overcome.
His companion treated the whole affair with the utmost indifference, and when the key was turned upon them had thrown himself heavily upon a bench, and immediately gone off into a drunken slumber. There were a few other prisoners besides themselves, bearing such a villainous, cut-throat appearance that Arthur shuddered as he looked at them.
As his sickness in a measure subsided, he threw himself face downwards upon the hard, unyielding bench, and to escape the jeers of his companions, drew himself close up in a corner near the door, and pretended to be asleep. But alas! no sleep came to those burning eyeballs through those long—long hours, and though racked with a torturing headache and feverish thirst, he knew no way to relieve himself, and dared not move lest he should again encounter the ridicule of the brutes around him.
He thought of himself as he was a few short hours before, wending his way to church at his brother's side, happy in the consciousness of duty well performed, and proud in the love and esteem which he felt were but his due. He contrasted the morning with the night; and saw himself the inmate of a guard-house, herding with men whose very breath seemed crime and profanation, and whose every word was blackened with oaths or curses. He felt that the stain of guilt was on his hitherto pure brow, traced there by the finger of a justly angry God, whose laws he had violated, whose commands he had broken, and whose day he had abused.
He thought of the coming morning, with the public trial, when he would be turned forth with the stamp of a thief or drunkard upon him, and the finger of scorn pointing derisively at him. He thought of his blue-eyed, pure-minded brother, mourning his absence, and weeping over his shame. He remembered his mother—and the hot tears, so long pent up, gushed like raindrops through his trembling fingers, and bathed the hands which held that stricken head.
A sense of weight and oppression came over him—it seemed as if he could not breathe—and gasping, he sprang from his recumbent position. A glow of relief crossed his features as he saw that all the men around him were asleep, and glancing through the barred window he saw the streaks of light in the east, announcing the approach of day. At this moment he heard the key turned in the lock, and thinking that other prisoners were about being admitted, and not caring either to see or be seen by them, he again threw himself full length upon the bench. An instant more and a gush of cool air swept, over him, and a hand fell cautiously on his shoulder.
He raised his head, and met the twinkling eyes of Mr. Clinton fixed upon him.
"Hush!" whispered Clinton, laying his finger on his lips, as he saw Arthur about to speak. "Not a word; pick yourself up as noiselessly as you can, and get out of this hole. You are free."
Arthur glanced towards the door, and saw there the watchman who had arrested them, standing with a dogged expression of countenance in the gray light, and shaking nervously in his hand a gold coin.
He comprehended in a moment, as it were instinctively, that Clinton had procured his release by a bribe; and though he felt to rejoice in his freedom, he shrunk at feeling that he must be under obligations to such a man for it.
He drew his hat over his eyes, and went out softly. As he gained the open air, Quirk joined him, leaning on the arm of Mr. Clinton, and evidently not yet wholly recovered from what he was pleased to denominate a "dem fine spree."
"See what it is to have a friend, mon cher!" exclaimed Clinton, slapping Arthur upon the shoulder. "But for our acquaintance to-day, you might have come up for trial this morning, and been sent down for thirty days. 'Oh! my boy, always consider me one of you.'"
"Had I not so far forgotten myself as to be one of you to-day, I would probably have never seen the inside of such a place as this. Whatever expense you may have encountered in my behalf, this night, Mr. Clinton, consider me accountable for, and ready to refund at any moment."
Arthur spoke proudly, and experienced a sentiment of utter disgust, as he looked upon the two beings who had led him into sin, and been witnesses to his weakness. He felt that, in a measure, his good name lay in their hands, but he could not bend that proud spirit—humbled and chastened though it then was—to treat them in the slightest degree as his equals, or to accept, unrequited, any favor from such a source.
"Don't be huffy, boy," said Clinton, again; "and don't insult me by offering pay for what I've done! It's what I'd expect you to do for me in such a case, and I reckon I'd be a little grateful for it, too."
"Don't parley with him," chimed in Quirk, bending to the spout of a public hydrant at the same moment, and drinking a long draught. "You see, Clint, he's a fresh hand at this kind of life, and don't know the ropes yet. Let him alone."
Arthur deigned not the slightest reply to this, and hastily turning into a side-street, left Mr. Clinton considerably in the rear, to bring up his "dear friend Quirk."
Free from the companionship of beings whom he detested, Arthur removed his hat, and lifted his brow to receive the breath of heaven. The sun was not yet risen, and save the occasional clatter of a market-cart, as it went jostling by, or the sluggish step of some sleepy servant, on his way to procure the breakfast for his fastidious owners, there was no signs of life or business in the streets.
Arthur was glad of this, and he thought of the alley-way between the store and the adjoining building, and the steep stairs which led from the back of this alley to his own room, and as he happened to have the key of this door about him, he hoped to effect an entrance by this way, and, if possible, to conceal from his brother the fact of his having been absent all night.
Elated by this prospect, he struck into a brisk pace toward Charles-street, and, having gained it, hurried rapidly onward in the direction of the store. He was within two blocks of his destination when two figures suddenly turned the corner ahead, and advanced towards him. There was no mistaking the slender form of the one with golden ringlets floating from his brow, and the tall, stalwart figure of the other was instantly recognized by Arthur, though part of the face was concealed by a handkerchief, tied over the mouth, as if the wearer was suffering from tooth-ache.
There was no way of retreat, save to turn short round, and go back, which was something that pride would not permit him to do; so assuming as bold an air as he could, with that heavy heart in his bosom, he walked on and met Guly and Wilkins, face to face.
"Ah! Arthur, good morning," said the latter, indifferently, as if nothing had happened; "I see you are enjoying a stroll, as well as ourselves, this fine morning."