Transcriber's Note: This document is the text of Trial and Triumph. Any bracketed notations such as [?], and those inserting letters or other comments are from the original text.
Transcriber's Note About the Author: Francis Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911) was born to free parents in Baltimore, Maryland. Orphaned at three, she was raised by her uncle, a teacher and radical advocate for civil rights. She attended the Academy for Negro Youth and was educated as a teacher. She became a professional lecturer, activist, suffragette, poet, essayist, novelist, and the author of the first published short story written by an African-American. Her work spanned more than sixty years.
TRIAL AND TRIUMPH
A Rediscovered Novel by
Frances E.W. Harper
Edited by Frances Smith Foster
"Oh, that child! She is the very torment of my life. I have been the mother of six children, and all of them put together, never gave me as much trouble as that girl. I don't know what will ever become of her."
"What is the matter now, Aunt Susan? What has Annette been doing?"
"Doing! She is always doing something; everlastingly getting herself into trouble with some of the neighbors. She is the most mischievous and hard-headed child I ever saw."
"Well what has she been doing this morning which has so upset you?"
"Why, I sent her to the grocery to have the oil can filled, and after she came back she had not been in the house five minutes before there came such an uproar from Mrs. Larkins', my next door neighbor, that I thought her house was on fire, but——"
"Instead of that her tongue was on fire, and I know what that means."
"Yes, that's just it, and I don't wonder. That little minx sitting up there in the corner looking so innocent, stopped to pour oil on her clean steps. Now you know yourself what an aggravating thing that must have been."
"Yes, it must have been, especially as Mrs. Larkins is such a nice housekeeper and takes such pride in having everything neat and nice about her. How did you fix up matters with her."
"I have not fixed them up at all. Mrs. Larkins only knows one cure for bad children, and that is beating them, and she always blames me for spoiling Annette, but I hardly know what to do with her. I've scolded and scolded till my tongue is tired, whipping don't seem to do her a bit of good, and I hate to put her out among strangers for fear that they will not treat her right, for after all she is very near to me. She is my poor, dead Lucy's child. Sometimes when I get so angry with her that I feel as though I could almost shake the life out of her, the thought of her dying mother comes back to me and it seems to me as if I could see her eyes looking so wistfully on the child and turning so trustingly to me and saying, 'Mother, when I am gone won't you take care of Annette, and try to keep her with you?' And then all the anger dies out of me. Poor child! I don't know what is going to become of her when my head is laid low. I'm afraid she is born for trouble. Nobody will ever put up with her as I do. She has such an unhappy disposition. She is not like any of my children ever were."
"Yes. I've often noticed that she does seem different from other children. She never seems light-hearted and happy."
"Yes, that is so. She reminds me so of poor Lucy before she was born. She even moans in her sleep like she used to do. It was a dark day when Frank Miller entered my home and Lucy became so taken up with him. It seemed to me as if my poor girl just worshiped him. I did not feel that he was all right, and I tried to warn my dear child of danger, but what could an old woman like me do against him with his handsome looks and oily tongue."
"Yes," said her neighbor soothingly, "you have had a sad time, but still we cannot recall the dead past, and it is the living present with which we have to deal. Annette needs wise guidance, a firm hand and a loving heart to deal with her. To spoil her at home is only to prepare her for misery abroad."
"I am afraid that I am not equal to the task."
"If any man lack wisdom we are taught to ask it of One who giveth liberally to all men and upbraideth none. There would be so much less stumbling if we looked earnestly within for 'the light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.'"
"Well," said Mrs. Harcourt, Annette's grandmother, "there is one thing about Annette that I like. She is very attentive to her books. If you want to keep that child out of mischief just put a book in her hand; but then she has her living to get and she can't get it by nursing her hands and reading books. She has got to work like the rest of us."
"But why not give her a good education? Doors are open to her which were closed against us. This is a day of light and knowledge. I don't know much myself, but I mean to give my girls a chance. I don't believe in saying, let my children do as I have done, when I think some of us have done poorly enough digging and delving from morning till night. I don't believe the good Lord ever sent anybody into his light and beautiful world to be nothing but a drudge, and I just think it is because some take it so easy that others, who will do, have to take it so hard."
"It always makes my blood boil," said a maiden lady who was present, "to see a great hulk of a man shambling around complaining of hard times, and that he can't get work, when his wife is just working herself down to the grave to keep up the family." I asked Mrs. Johnson, who just lives in the wash tub and is the main stay of her family, what would her husband do if she were to die? and she said, 'get another wife.' Now, I just think she has spoiled that man and if she dies first, I hope that he will never find another woman to tread in her footsteps. He ought to have me to deal with. When he got through with me he would never want to laze around another woman."
"I don't think he ever would," said Mrs. Harcourt, while a gleam of humor sparkled in her eye. Her neighbor was a maiden lady who always knew how to manage other people's husbands, but had never succeeded in getting one of her own, and not having any children herself understood perfectly well how to rate other people's.
Just then a knock was heard at the door and Mr. Thomas, Annette's former school teacher, entered the room. After an exchange of courtesies he asked, "How does Annette come on with her new teacher?"
"I have not heard any complaint," said Mrs. Harcourt. "At first Mrs. Joseph's girl did not want to sit with Annette, but she soon got over it when she saw how well the other girls treated Annette and how pleasant the teacher was to her. Mr. Scott, who has been so friendly to us, told us not to mind her; that her mother had been an ignorant servant girl, who had married a man with a little money; that she was still ignorant, loud and [dressy?] and liked to put on airs. The nearer the beggar the greater the prejudice."
"I think it is true," said Mr. Thomas. "If you apply those words, not to condition, but human souls, for none but beggarly souls would despise a man because of circumstances over which he had no control; noble, large-hearted men and women are never scornful. Contempt and ridicule are the weapons of weak souls. I am glad however, that Annette is getting on so well. I hope that she will graduate at the head of her class, with high honors."
"What's the use of giving her so much education? there are no openings for her here, and if she gets married she won't want it," and Mrs. Harcourt sighed as she finished her sentence.
Mr. Thomas looked grave for a moment and then his face relaxed into a smile. "Well, really, Mrs. Harcourt, that is not very complimentary to us young men; do we have no need of intelligent and well educated wives? I think our race needs educated mothers for the home more than we do trained teachers for the school room. Not that I would ignore or speak lightly of the value of good colored teachers nor suggest as a race, that we can well afford to do without them; but to-day, if it were left to my decision, whether the education of the race should be placed in the hands of the school teacher or the mothers and there was no other alternative, I should, by all means, decide for the education of the race through its motherhood rather than through its teachers."
"But we poor mothers had no chance. We could not teach our children."
"I think you could teach some of them more than they wish to learn; but I must go now; at some other time we will talk on this subject."
"Oh, Annette!" said Mrs. Harcourt, turning to her granddaughter after Mr. Thomas had left the door; "What makes you so naughty? Why did you pour that oil on Mrs. Larkin's steps; didn't you know it was wrong?"
Annette stood silent looking like a guilty culprit.
"Why don't you answer me; what makes you behave so bad?"
"I don't know, grandma, I 'specs I did it for the devil. The preacher said the devil makes people do bad things."
"The preacher didn't say any such thing; he said the devil tempts people to be bad, but you are not to mind every thing the devil tells you to do, if you do, you will get yourself into a lot of trouble."
"Well, grandma, Mrs. Larkins is so mean and cross and she is always telling tales on me and I just did it for fun."
"Well, that is very poor fun. You deserve a good whipping, and I've a great mind to give it to you now."
"Why don't she let me alone; she is all the time trying to get you to beat me. She's a spiteful old thing anyhow. I don't like her, and I know she don't like me."
"Hush Annette, you must not talk that way of any one so much older than yourself. When I was a child I wouldn't have talked that way about any old person. Don't let me hear you talk that way again. You will never rest till I give you a good whipping."
"Yes ma'm," said Annette very demurely.
"Oh, Annette!" said her grandmother with a sudden burst of feeling. "You do give me so much trouble. You give me more worry than all my six children put together; but there is always one scabby sheep in the flock and you will be that one. Now get ready for school and don't let me hear any more complaints about you; I am not going to let you worry me to death."
Annette took up her bonnet and glided quietly out of the door, glad to receive instead of the threatened whipping a liberal amount of talk, and yet the words struck deeper than blows. Her own grandmother had prophesied evil things of her. She was to be the scabby sheep of the flock. The memory of the blows upon her body might have passed soon away after the pain and irritation of the infliction were over, but that inconsiderate prophecy struck deep into her heart and left its impress upon her unfolding life. Without intending it, Mrs. Harcourt had struck a blow at the child's self-respect; one of the things which she should have strengthened, even if it was "ready to die." Annette had entered life sadly handicapped. She was the deserted child of a selfish and unprincipled man and a young mother whose giddiness and lack of self-control had caused her to trail the robes of her womanhood in the dust. With such an ante-natal history how much she needed judicious, but tender, loving guidance. In that restless, sensitive and impulsive child was the germ of a useful woman with a warm, loving heart, ready to respond to human suffering, capable of being faithful in friendship and devoted in love. Before that young life with its sad inheritance seemed to lay a future of trial, and how much, humanly speaking, seemed to depend upon the right training of that life and the development within her of self-control, self-reliance and self-respect. There was no mother's heart for her to nestle upon in her hours of discouragement and perplexity; no father's strong, loving arms to shelter and defend her; no sister to brighten her life with joyous companionship, and no brother to champion her through the early and impossible period of ripening womanhood. Her grandmother was kind to her, but not very tender and loving. Her struggle to keep the wolf from the door had absorbed her life, and although she was neither hard nor old, yet she was not demonstrative in her affections, and to her a restless child was an enigma she did not know how to solve. If the child were hungry or cold she could understand physical wants, but for the hunger of the heart she had neither sympathy nor comprehension. Fortunately Annette had found a friend who understood her better than her grandmother, and who, looking beneath the perverseness of the child, saw in her rich possibilities, and would often speak encouragingly to her. Annette early developed a love for literature and poetry and would sometimes try to make rhymes and string verses together and really Mrs. Lasette thought that she had talent or even poetic genius and ardently wished that it might be cultivated and rightly directed; but it never entered the minds of her grandmother and aunts that in their humble home was a rarely gifted soul destined to make music which would set young hearts to thrilling with higher hopes and loftier aspirations.
Mrs. Lasette had been her teacher before she married. After she became a wife and mother, instead of becoming entirely absorbed in a round of household cares and duties, the moment the crown of motherhood fell upon her, as she often said, she had poured a new interest into the welfare of her race. With these feelings she soon became known as a friend and helper in the community in which she lived. Young girls learned to look to her for council and encouragement amid the different passages of their [lives?] sometimes with blushing cheeks they whispered in to her ears tender secrets they did not always bring to their near relatives, and young men about to choose their life work, often came to consult her and to all her heart was responsive. With this feeling of confidence in her judgment, Mr. Thomas had entered her home after leaving Mrs. Harcourt's, educating himself for a teacher. He had spent several years in the acquisition of knowledge and was proving himself an acceptable and conscientious teacher, when the change came which deprived him of his school, by blending his pupils in the different ward schools of the city. Public opinion which moves slowly, had advanced far enough to admit the colored children into the different schools, irrespective of color, but it was not prepared, except in a few places to admit the colored teachers as instructors in the schools. "What are you going to do next?" inquired Mrs. Lasette of Mr. Thomas as he seated himself somewhat wearily by the fire. "I hardly know, I am all at sea, but I am going to be like the runaway slave who, when asked, 'Where is your pass?' raised his fist and said 'Dem is my passes,' and if 'I don't see an opening I will make one.'"
"Why don't you go into the ministry? When Mr. Pugh failed in his examination he turned his attention to the ministry, and it is said that he is succeeding admirably."
"Mrs. Lasette, I was brought up to respect the institutions of religion, and not to lay rash hands on sacred things, and while I believe that every man should preach Christ by an upright life, and chaste conversation, yet I think one of the surest ways to injure a Church, and to make the pulpit lose its power over the rising generation, is for men without a true calling, or requisite qualifications to enter the ministry because they have failed in some other avocation and find in preaching an open door to success."
"But they often succeed."
"Why by getting into good churches, increasing their congregations and paying off large church debts." "And is that necessarily success? We need in the Church men who can be more than financiers and who can attract large congregations. We need earnest thoughtful Christly men, who will be more anxious to create and develop moral earnestness than to excite transient emotions. Now there is Rev. Mr. Lamson who was educated in R. College. I have heard him preach to, as I thought, an honest, well meaning, but an ignorant congregation, and instead of lifting them to more rational forms of worship, he tried to imitate them and made a complete failure. He even tried to moan as they do in worship but it didn't come out natural."
"Of course it did not. These dear old people whose moaning during service, seems even now so pitiful and weird, I think learned to mourn out in prayers, thoughts and feelings wrung from their agonizing hearts, which they did not dare express when they were forced to have their meetings under the surveillance of a white man."
"It is because I consider the ministry the highest and most sacred calling, that I cannot, nay I dare not, rush into it unless I feel impelled by the strongest and holiest motives."
"You are right and I think just such men as you ought to be in the ministry."
"Are you calling me?" "I wish it were in my power." "I am glad that it is not, I think there are more in the ministry now than magnify their calling."
"But Mr. Thomas are you not looking on the dark side of the question? you must judge of the sun, not by its spots, but by its brightness."
"Oh I did not mean to say that the ministry is crowded with unworthy men, who love the fleece more than the flock. I believe that there are in the ministry a large number who are the salt of the earth and whose life work bears witness to their fitness. But unfortunately there are men who seem so lacking in reverence for God, by their free handling of sacred things; now I think one of the great wants of our people is more reverence for God who is above us, and respect for the man who is beside us, and I do hope that our next minister will be a good man, of active brain, warm heart and Christly sympathies, who will be among us a living, moral, and spiritual force, and who will be willing to teach us on the Bible plan of 'line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little there a little.'"
"I hope he will be; it is said that brother Lomax our new minister is an excellent young man."
"Well I hope that we will not fail to receive him as an apostle and try to hold up his hands."
"I hope so. I think that to be called of God to be an ambassador for Christ, to help him build the kingdom of righteousness, love and peace, amid the misery, sin and strife, is the highest and most blessed position that a man can hold, and because I esteem the calling so highly I would not rush into it unless I felt divinely commissioned."
Mrs. Harcourt was a Southern woman by birth, who belonged to that class of colored people whose freedom consisted chiefly in not being the chattels of the dominant race—a class to whom little was given and from whom much was required. She was naturally bright and intelligent, but had come up in a day when the very book of the Christian's law was to her a sealed volume; but if she had not been educated through the aid of school books and blackboards, she had obtained that culture of manners and behavior which comes through contact with well-bred people, close observation and a sense of self-respect and self-reliance, and when deprived of her husband's help by an untimely death, she took up the burden of life bravely and always tried to keep up what she called "a stiff upper lip." Feeling the cramping of Southern life, she became restive under the privations and indignities which were heaped upon free persons of color, and at length she and her husband broke up their home and sold out at a pecuniary sacrifice to come North, where they could breathe free air and have educational privileges for their children. But while she was strong and healthy her husband, whose health was not very firm, soon succumbed to the change of climate and new modes of living and left Mrs. Harcourt a stranger and widow in a strange land with six children dependent on her for bread and shelter: but during her short sojourn in the North she had enlisted the sympathy and respect of kind friends, who came to her relief and helped her to help herself, the very best assistance they could bestow upon her. Capable and efficient, she found no difficulty in getting work for herself and older children, who were able to add their quota to the support of the family by running errands, doing odd jobs for the neighbors and helping their mother between school hours. Nor did she lay all the household burdens on the shoulders of the girls and leave her boys to the mercy of the pavement; she tried to make her home happy and taught them all to have a share in adding to its sunshine. "It makes boys selfish," she would say, "to have their sisters do all the work and let the boys go scot-free. I don't believe there would be so many trifling men if the boys were trained to be more helpful at home and to feel more for their mothers and sisters." All this was very well for the peace and sunshine of that home, but as the children advanced in life the question came to her with painful emphasis——"What can I do for the future of my boys and girls?" She was not anxious to have them all professional men and school teachers and government clerks, but she wanted each one to have some trade or calling by which a respectable and comfortable living could be made; but first she consulted their tastes and inclinations. Her youngest boy was very fond of horses, but instead of keeping him in the city, where he was in danger of getting too intimate with horse jockeys and stable boys, she found a place for him with an excellent farmer, who, seeing the tastes of the boy, took great interest in teaching him how to raise stock and he became a skillful farmer. Her second son showed that he had some mechanical skill and ingenuity and she succeeded in getting him a situation with a first-class carpenter, and spared no pains to have him well instructed in all the branches of carpentry, and would often say to him, "John, don't do any sham work if you are going to be a carpenter; be thorough in every thing you do and try to be the best carpenter in A.P., and if you do your work better than others, you won't have to be all the time going around advertising yourself; somebody will find out what you can do and give you work." Her oldest son was passionately fond of books and she helped him through school till he was able to become a school teacher. But as the young man was high spirited and ambitious, he resolved that he would make his school teaching a stepping stone to a more congenial employment. He studied medicine and graduated with M.D., but as it takes a young doctor some time to gain the confidence of an old community, he continued after his graduation to teach and obtained a certificate to practice medicine. Without being forced to look to his mother for assistance, while the confidence of his community was slowly growing, he depended on the school for his living and looked to the future for his success as a physician.
For the girls, because they were colored, there were but few avenues open, but they all took in sewing and were excellent seamstresses, except Lucy, who had gone from home to teach school in a distant city as there were no openings of the kind for her at her own home.
Mrs. Harcourt was very proud of her children and had unbounded confidence in them. She was high-spirited and self-respecting and it never seemed to enter her mind that any evil might befall the children that would bring sorrow and shame to her home; but nevertheless it came and Lucy, her youngest child, the pet and pride of the household returned home with a great sorrow tugging at her heart and a shadow on her misguided life. It was the old story of woman's weakness and folly and man's perfidy and desertion. Poor child, how wretched she was till "peace bound up her bleeding heart," and even then the arrow had pierced too deep for healing. Sorrow had wasted her strength and laid the foundation of disease and an early death. Religion brought balm to the wounded spirit, but no renewed vigor to the wasted frame and in a short time she fell a victim to consumption, leaving Annette to the care of her mother. It was so pitiful to see the sorrow on the dear old face as she would nestle the wronged and disinherited child to her heart and would say so mournfully, "Oh, I never, never expected this!"
Although Annette had come into the family an unbidden and unwelcome guest, associated with the saddest experience of her grandmother's life, yet somehow the baby fingers had wound themselves around the tendrils of her heart and the child had found a shelter in the warm clasp of loving arms. To her, Annette was a new charge, an increased burden; but burden to be defended by her love and guarded by her care. All her other children had married and left her, and in her lowly home this young child with infantile sweetness, beguiled many a lonely hour. She loved Lucy and that was Lucy's child.
But where was he who sullied Her once unspotted name; Who lured her from life's brightness To agony and shame?
Did society, which closed its doors against Lucy and left her to struggle as best she might out of the depth into which she had fallen, pour any righteous wrath upon his guilty head? Did it demand that he should at least bring forth some fruit meet for repentance by at least helping Mrs. Harcourt to raise the unfortunate child? Not so. He left that poor old grandmother to struggle with her failing strength, not only to bear her own burden, but the one he had so wickedly imposed upon her. He had left A.P. before Lucy's death and gone to the Pacific coast where he became wealthy through liquor selling, speculation, gambling and other disreputable means, and returned with gold enough to hide a multitude of sins, and then fair women permitted and even courted his society. Mothers with marriageable daughters condoned his offences against morality and said, "oh, well, young men will sow their wild oats; it is no use to be too straight laced." But there were a few thoughtful mothers old fashioned enough to believe that the law of purity is as binding upon the man as the woman, and who, under no conditions, would invite him to associate with their daughters. Women who tried to teach their sons to be worthy of the love and esteem of good women by being as chaste in their conversation and as pure in their lives as their young daughters who sat at their side sheltered in their pleasant and peaceful homes. One of the first things that Frank Miller did after he returned to A.P. was to open a large and elegantly furnished saloon and restaurant. The license to keep such a place was very high, and men said that to pay it he resorted to very questionable means, that his place was a resort for gamblers, and that he employed a young man to guard the entrance of his saloon from any sudden invasion of the police by giving a signal without if he saw any of them approaching, and other things were whispered of his saloon which showed it to be a far more dangerous place for the tempted, unwary and inexperienced feet of the young men of A.P., than any low groggery in the whole city. Young men who would have scorned to enter the lowest dens of vice, felt at home in his gilded palace of sin. Beautiful pictures adorned the walls, light streamed into the room through finely stained glass windows, women, not as God had made them, but as sin had debased them, came there to spend the evening in the mazy dance, or to sit with partners in sin and feast at luxurious tables. Politicians came there to concoct their plans for coming campaigns, to fix their slates and to devise means for grasping with eager hands the spoils of government. Young men anxious for places in the gift of the government found that winking at Frank Miller's vices and conforming to the demoralizing customs of his place were passports to political favors, and lacking moral stamina, hushed their consciences and became partakers of his sins. Men talked in private of his vices, and drank his liquors and smoked his cigars in public. His place was a snare to their souls. "The dead were there but they knew it not." He built a beautiful home and furnished it magnificently, and some said that the woman who married him would do well, as if it were possible for any woman to marry well who linked her destinies to a wicked, selfish and base man, whose business was a constant menace to the peace, the purity and progress of society. I believe it was Milton who said that the purity of a man should be more splendid than the purity of a woman, basing his idea upon the declaration, "The head of the woman is the man, and the head of the man is Jesus Christ." Surely if man occupies this high rank in the creation of God he should ever be the true friend and helper of woman and not, as he too often proves, her falsest friend and basest enemy.
"Annette," said Mrs. Harcourt one morning early, "I want you to stir your stumps to-day; I am going to have company this evening and I want you to help me to get everything in apple pie order."
"Who is coming, grandma?"
"Mr. Thomas and Mrs. Lasette."
"Mrs. Lasette!" Annette's eyes brightened. "I hope she will come; she is just as sweet as a peach and I do love her ever so much; and who else?"
"Brother Lomax, the minister who preached last Sunday and gave us such a good sermon."
"Is he coming, too?" Annette opened her eyes with pleased surprise. "Oh, I hope he will come, he's so nice."
"What do you know about him?"
"Why, grandmother, I understood everything that he said, and I felt that I wanted to be good just like he told us, and I went and asked aunt 'Liza how people got religion. She had been to camp-meeting and seen people getting religion, and I wanted her to tell me all about it for I wanted to get it too."
"What did she tell you?"
"She told me that people went down to the mourner's bench and prayed and then they would get up and shout and say they had religion, and that was all she knew about it."
"You went to the wrong one when you went to your aunt 'Liza. And what did you do after she told you?"
"Why, I went down in the garden and prayed and I got up and shouted, but I didn't get any religion. I guess I didn't try right."
"I guess you didn't if I judge by your actions. When you get older you will know more about it."
"But, grandma, Aunt 'Liza is older than I am, why don't she know?"
"Because she don't try; she's got her head too full of dress and dancing and nonsense."
Grandmother Harcourt did not have very much faith in what she called children's religion, and here was a human soul crying out in the darkness; but she did not understand the cry, nor look for the "perfecting of praise out of the mouths of babes and sucklings," not discerning the emotions of that young spirit, she let the opportunity slip for rightly impressing that young soul. She depended too much on the church and too little on the training of the home. For while the church can teach and the school instruct, the home is the place to train innocent and impressible childhood for useful citizenship on earth and a hope of holy companionship in heaven; and every Christian should strive to have "her one of the provinces of God's kingdom," where she can plant her strongest batteries against the ramparts of folly, sin and vice.
"Who else is coming, grandma?"
"Why, of course I must invite Mrs. Larkins; it would never do to leave her out."
Annette shrugged her shoulders, a scowl came over her face and she said:
"I hope she won't come."
"I expect she will and when she comes I want you to behave yourself and don't roll up your eyes at her and giggle at her and make ugly speeches. She told me that you made mouths at her yesterday, and that when Mr. Ross was whipping his horse you said you knew some one whom you wished was getting that beating, and she said that she just believed you meant her. How was that, Annette? If I were like you I would be all the time keeping this neighborhood in hot water."
Annette looked rather crestfallen and said, "I did make mouths at her house as I came by, but I didn't know that she saw me."
"Yes she did, and you had better mind how you cut your cards with her."
Annette finding the conversation was taking a rather disagreeable turn suddenly remembered that she had something to do in the yard and ceased to prolong the dialogue. If the truth must be confessed, Annette was not a very earnest candidate for saintship, and annoying her next door neighbor was one of her favorite amusements.
Grandma Harcourt lived in a secluded court, which was shut in on every side but one from the main streets, and her environments were not of the most pleasant and congenial kind. The neighbors, generally speaking, belonged to neither the best nor worst class of colored people. The court was too fully enclosed to be a thoroughfare of travel, but it was a place in which women could sit at their doors and talk to one another from each side of the court. Women who had no scruples about drinking as much beer, and sometimes stronger drinks, as they could absorb, and some of the men said that the women drank more than men, and under the besotting influence of beer and even stronger drinks, a fearful amount of gossiping, news-carrying and tattling went on, which often resulted in quarrels and contentions, which, while it never resulted in blood, sadly lowered the tone of social life. It was the arena of wordy strife in which angry tongues were the only weapons of warfare, and poor little Annette was fast learning their modes of battle. But there was one thing against which grandmother Harcourt set her face like flint, and that was sending children to saloons for beer, and once she flamed out with righteous indignation when one of her neighbors, in her absence, sent Annette to a saloon to buy her some beer. She told her in emphatic terms she must never do so again, that she wanted her girl to grow up a respectable woman, and that she ought to be ashamed of herself, not only to be guzzling beer like a toper, but to send anybody's child to a saloon to come in contact with the kind of men who frequented such places, and that any women who sent their children to such places were training their boys to be drunkards and their girls to be street-walkers. "I am poor," she said, "but I mean to keep my credit up and if you and I live in this neighborhood a hundred years you must never do that thing again."
Her neighbor looked dazed and tried to stammer out an apology, but she never sent Annette to a beer saloon again, and in course of time she became a good temperance woman herself, influenced by the faithfulness of grandmother Harcourt.
The court in which Mrs. Harcourt lived was not a very desirable place, but, on account of her color, eligible houses could not always be obtained, and however decent, quiet or respectable she might appear on applying for a house, she was often met with the rebuff, "We don't rent to colored people," and men who virtually assigned her race the lowest place and humblest positions could talk so glibly of the degradation of the Negro while by their Christless and inhuman prejudice they were helping add to their low social condition. In the midst of her unfavorable environments Mrs. Harcourt kept her home neat and tidy; sent Annette to school constantly and tried to keep her out of mischief, but there was moral contagion in the social atmosphere of Tennis Court and Annette too often succumbed to its influence; but Annette was young and liked the company of young girls and it seemed cruel to confine the child's whole life to the home and schoolhouse and give her no chance to be merry and playful with girls of her own age. So now and then grandmother Harcourt would let her spend a little time with some of the neighbors' girls but from the questions that Annette often asked her grandmother and the conversations she sometimes repeated Mrs. Harcourt feared that she was learning things which should only be taught by faithful mothers in hours of sacred and tender confidence, and she determined, even if it gave offence to her neighbors, that she would choose among her own friends, companions for her granddaughter and not leave all her social future to chance. In this she was heartily aided by Mrs. Lasette, who made it a point to hold in that neighborhood, mothers' meetings and try to teach mothers, who in the dark days of slavery had no bolts nor bars strong enough to keep out the invader from scattering their children like leaves in wintry weather, how to build up light and happy homes under the new dispensation of freedom. To her it was a labor of love and she found her reward in the peace and love which flowed into the soul and the improved condition of society. In lowly homes where she visited, her presence was a benediction and an inspiration. Women careless in their household and slatternly in their dress grew more careful in the keeping of their homes and the arrangement of their attire. Women of the better class of their own race, coming among them awakened their self-respect. Prejudice and pride of race had separated them from their white neighbors and the more cultured of their race had shrunk from them in their ignorance, poverty and low social condition and they were left, in a great measure, to themselves—ostracised by the whites on the one side and socially isolated from the more cultured of their race on the other hand. The law took little or no cognizance of them unless they were presented at its bar as criminals; but if they were neither criminals nor paupers they might fester in their vices and perpetuate their social condition. Who understood or cared to minister to their deepest needs or greatest wants? It was just here where the tender, thoughtful love of a warm-hearted and intelligent woman was needed. To her it was a labor of love, but it was not all fair sailing. She sometimes met with coldness and distrust where she had expected kindness and confidence; lack of sympathy where she had hoped to find ready and willing cooperation; but she knew that if her life was in harmony with God and Christly sympathy with man; for such a life there was no such word as fail.
By dint of energy and perseverance grandmother Harcourt had succeeded in getting everything in order when her guests began to arrive. She had just put the finishing touches upon her well-spread table and was reviewing it with an expression of pleasure and satisfaction. And now while the guests are quietly taking their seats let me introduce you to them.
Mr. Thomas came bringing with him the young minister, Rev. Mr. Lomax, whose sermon had so interested and edified Mrs. Harcourt the previous Sunday. Mrs. Lasette, looking bright and happy, came with her daughter, and Mrs. Larkins entered arrayed in her best attire, looking starched and prim, as if she had made it the great business of her life to take care of her dignity and to think about herself. Mrs. Larkins, though for years a member of church, had not learned that it was unchristian to be narrow and selfish. She was strict in her attendance at church and gave freely to its support; but somehow with all her attention to the forms of religion, one missed its warm and vivifying influence from her life, and in the loving clasp of a helping hand, in the tender beam of a sympathizing glance, weary-hearted mothers and wives never came to her with their heartaches and confided to her their troubles. Little children either shrank from her or grew quiet in her presence. What was missing from her life was the magnetism of love. She had become so absorbed in herself that she forgot everybody else and thought more of her rights than her duties. The difference between Mrs. Lasette and Mrs. Larkins was this, that in passing through life one scattered sunshine and the other cast shadows over her path. Mrs. Lasette was a fine conversationalist. She regarded speech as one of heaven's best gifts, and thought that conversation should be made one of the finest arts, and used to subserve the highest and best purposes of life, and always regretted when it was permitted to degenerate into gossip and backbiting. Harsh judgment she always tried to modify, often saying in doubtful cases, "Had we not better suspend our judgments? Truly we do not like people to think the worst of us and it is not fulfilling the law of love to think the worst of them. Do you not know that if we wish to dwell in his tabernacle we are not to entertain a reproach against our neighbor, nor to back-bite with our lips and I do not think there is a sin which more easily besets society than this." "Speech," she would say, "is a gift so replete with rich and joyous possibilities," and she always tried to raise the tone of conversation at home and abroad. Of her it might be emphatically said, "She opened her mouth with wisdom and in her lips was the law of kindness."
The young minister, Rev. Mr. Lomax, was an earnest, devout and gifted young man. Born in the midst of poverty, with the shadows of slavery encircling his early life, he had pushed his way upward in the world, "toiling while others slept." His father was dead. While living he had done what he could to improve the condition of his family, and had, it was thought, overworked himself in the struggle to educate and support his children. He was a kind and indulgent father and when his son had made excellent progress in his studies, he gave him two presents so dear to his boyish heart—a gun and a watch. But the hour came when the loving hands were closed over the quiet breast, and the widowed wife found herself unable to provide the respectable funeral she desired to give him. Thomas then came bravely and tenderly to her relief. He sold his watch and gun to defray the funeral expenses of his father. He was a good son to his aged mother, and became the staff of her declining years. With an earnest purpose in his soul, and feeling that knowledge is power, he applied himself with diligence to his studies, passed through college, and feeling within his soul a commission to teach and help others to develop within themselves the love of nature, he entered the ministry, bringing into it an enthusiasm for humanity and love of Christ, which lit up his life and made him a moral and spiritual force in the community. He had several advantageous offers to labor in other parts of the country, but for the sake of being true to the heavenly vision, which showed him the needs of his people and his adaptation to their wants, he chose, not the most lucrative, but the most needed work which was offered him with
A joy to find in every station, Something still to do or bear.
He had seen many things in the life of the people with whom he was identified which gave him intense pain, but instead of constantly censuring and finding fault with their inconsistencies of conscience, he strove to live so blamelessly before them that he would show them by example a more excellent way and "criticise by creation." To him religion was a reasonable service and he wished it to influence their conduct as well as sway their emotions. Believing that right thinking is connected with right living, he taught them to be conservative without being bigoted, and liberal without being morally indifferent and careless in their modes of thought. He wanted them to be able to give a reason for the faith that was in them and that faith to be rooted and grounded in love. He was young, hopeful, and enthusiastic and life was opening before him full of hope and promise.
"It has been a beautiful day," said Mrs. Lasette, seating herself beside Mrs. Larkins, who always waited to be approached and was ever ready to think that some one was slighting her or ignoring her presence.
"It has been a fine day, but I think it will rain soon; I judge by my corn."
"Oh! I think the weather is just perfect. The sun set gloriously this evening and the sky was the brightest blue."
"I think the day was what I call a weather breeder. Whenever you see such days this time of year, you may look out for falling weather. I [expect?] that it will snow soon."
"How that child grows," said Mrs. Larkins, as Annette entered the room.
"Ill weeds grow apace; she has nothing else to do. That girl is going to give her grandmother a great deal of trouble."
"Oh! I do not think so."
"Well, I do, and I told her grandmother so one day, but she did not thank me for it."
"No, I suppose not."
"I didn't do it for thanks; I did it just to give her a piece of my mind about that girl. She is the most mischievous and worrisome child I ever saw. The partition between our houses is very thin and many a time when I want to finish my morning sleep or take an afternoon nap, if Mrs. Harcourt is not at home, Annette will sing and recite at the top of her voice and run up and down the stairs as if a regiment of soldiers were after her."
"Annette is quite young, full of life and brimful of mischief, and girls of that age I have heard likened to persimmons before they are ripe; if you attempt to eat them they will pucker your mouth, but if you wait till the first frost touches them they are delicious. Have patience with the child, act kindly towards her, she may be slow in developing womanly sense, but I think that Annette has within her the making of a fine woman."
"Do you know what Annette wants?"
"Yes, I know what she wants; but what do you think she wants?"
"She wants kissing."
"I'd kiss her with a switch if she were mine."
"I do not think it wise to whip a child of her age."
"I'd whip her if she were as big as a house."
"I do not find it necessary with my Laura; it is sufficient to deter her from doing anything if she knows that I do not approve of it. I have tried to establish perfect confidence between us. I do not think my daughter keeps a secret from me. I think many young persons go astray because their parents have failed to strengthen their characters and to forewarn and forearm them against the temptations and dangers that surround their paths. How goes the battle?" said Mrs. Lasette, turning to Mr. Thomas.
"I am still at sea, and the tide has not yet turned in my favor. Of course, I feel the change; it has taken my life out of its accustomed channel, but I am optimist enough to hope that even this change will result in greater good to the greatest number. I think one of our great wants is the diversification of our industries, and I do not believe it would be wise for the parents to relax their endeavors to give their children the best education in their power. We cannot tell what a race can do till it utters and expresses itself, and I know that there is an amount of brain among us which can and should be utilized in other directions than teaching school or seeking for clerkships. Mr. Clarkson had a very intelligent daughter whom he wished to fit for some other employment than that of a school teacher. He had her trained for a physician. She went to B., studied faithfully, graduated at the head of her class and received the highest medal for her attainments, thus proving herself a living argument of the capability in her race. Her friend, Miss Young, had artistic talent, and learned wood carving. She developed exquisite taste and has become a fine artist in that branch of industry. A female school teacher's work in the public schools is apt to be limited to her single life, but a woman who becomes proficient in a useful trade or business, builds up for herself a wall of defense against the invasions of want and privation whether she is married or single. I think that every woman, and man too, should be prepared for the reverses of fortune by being taught how to do some one thing thoroughly so as to be able to be a worker in the world's service, and not a pensioner upon its bounty. And for this end it does not become us as a race to despise any honest labor which lifts us above pauperism and dependence. I am pleased to see our people having industrial fairs. I believe in giving due honor to all honest labor, in covering idleness with shame, and crowning labor with respect."
For awhile Mrs. Harcourt was busy in preparing the supper, to which they all did ample justice. In her white apron, faultless neck handkerchief and nicely fitting, but plain dress, Mrs. Harcourt looked the impersonation of contented happiness. Sorrow had left deep furrows upon her kindly face, but for awhile the shadows seemed to have been lifted from her life and she was the pleasant hostess, forgetting her own sorrows in contributing to the enjoyment of others. Supper being over, her guests resumed their conversation.
"You do not look upon the mixing of the schools as being necessarily disadvantageous to our people," said the minister.
"That," said Mr. Thomas, "is just in accordance to the way we adapt ourselves to the change. If we are to remain in this country as a component part of the nation, I cannot fail to regard with interest any step which tends toward our unification with all the other branches of the human race in this Western Hemisphere."
"Although," said Mrs. Lasette, "I have been educating my daughter and have felt very sorry when I have witnessed the disappointment of parents who have fitted their children for teachers and have seen door after door closed against them, I cannot help regarding the mixing of the schools as at least one step in a right direction."
"But Mrs. Lasette," said the minister, "as we are educated by other means than school books and blackboards, such as the stimulus of hope, the incentives of self-respect and the consensus of public opinion, will it not add to the depression of the race if our children are made to feel that, however well educated they may be or exemplary as pupils, the color of their skin must debar them from entering avenues which are freely opened to the young girls of every other nationality."
Mr. Thomas replied, "In considering this question, which is so much broader than a mere local question, I have tried to look beyond the life of the individual to the life of the race, and I find that it is through obstacles overcome, suffering endured and the tests of trial that strength is obtained, courage manifested and character developed. We are now passing through a crucial period in our race history and what we so much need is moral earnestness, strength of character and purpose to guide us through the rocks and shoals on which so many life barques have been stranded and wrecked."
"Yes," said Mrs. Lasette, "I believe that we are capable of being more than light-hearted children of the tropics and I want our young people to gain more persistence in their characters, perseverance in their efforts and that esprit de corps, which shall animate us with higher, nobler and holier purpose in the future than we have ever known in the past; and while I am sorry for the parents who, for their children's sake, have fought against the entailed ignorance of the ages with such humble weapons as the washboard, flat iron and scrubbing brush, and who have gathered the crumbs from the humblest departments of labor, still I feel with Mr. Thomas that the mixing of the schools is a stride in the march of the nation, only we must learn how to keep step in the progress of the centuries."
"I do not think that I fully comprehend you," Mr. Lomax replied.
"Let me explain. I live in the 19th Ward. In that Ward are not a half dozen colored children. When my husband bought the land we were more than a mile from the business part of the city, but we were poor and the land was very cheap and my husband said that paying rent was like putting money in a sinking fund; so he resolved, even if it put us to a little disadvantage, that he would buy the tract of land where we now live. Before he did so, he called together a number of his acquaintances, pointed out to them the tract of land and told them how they might join with him in planting a small hamlet for themselves; but except the few colored neighbors we now have, no one else would join with us. Some said it was too far from their work, others that they did not wish to live among many colored people, and some suspected my husband of trying either to take the advantage of them, or of agrandising himself at their expense, and I have now dear friends who might have been living comfortably in their own homes, who, to-day, are crowded in tenement houses or renting in narrow alleys and little streets."
"That's true," said Mrs. Larkins, "I am one of them. I wanted my husband to take up with your husband's offer, but he was one of those men who knew it all and he never seemed to think it possible that any colored man could see any clearer than he did. I knew your husband's head was level and I tried to persuade Mr. Larkins to take up with his offer, but he would not hear to it; said he knew his own business best, and shut me up by telling me that he was not going to let any woman rule over him; and here I am to-day, Larkins gone and his poor old widow scuffing night and day to keep soul and body together; but there are some men you couldn't beat anything into their heads, not if you took a sledge hammer. Poor fellow, he is gone now and I ought not to say anything agin him, but if he had minded me, I would have had a home over my head and some land under my feet; but it is no use to grieve over spilled milk. When he was living if I said, yes, he was always sure to say, no. One day I said to him when he was opposing me, the way we live is like the old saying, 'Pull Dick and pull devil,' and what do you think he said?"
"I don't know, I'm sure, what was it?"
"Why, he just looked at me and smiled and said, 'I am Dick.' Of course he meant that I was the other fellow."
"But," said Mrs. Lasette, "this is a digression from our subject. What I meant to say is this, that in our Ward is an excellent school house with a half score of well equipped and efficient teachers. The former colored school house was a dingy looking building about a mile and a half away with only one young school teacher, who had, it is true, passed a creditable examination. Now, when my daughter saw that the children of all other nationalities, it mattered not how low and debasing might be their environments, could enter the school for which her father paid taxes, and that she was forced either to stay at home or to go through all weathers to an ungraded school, in a poorly ventilated and unevenly heated room, would not such public inequality burn into her soul the idea of race-inferiority? And this is why I look upon the mixed school as a right step in the right direction."
"Taking this view of the matter I see the pertinence of your position on this subject. Do you know," continued Mr. Lomax, his face lighting up with a fine enthusiasm, "that I am full of hope for the future of our people?"
"That's more than I am," said Mrs. Larkins very coldly. "When you have summered and wintered them as I have, you will change your tune."
"Oh, I hope not," he replied with an accent of distress in his voice. "You may think me a dreamer and enthusiast, but with all our faults I firmly believe that the Negro belongs to one of the best branches of the human race, and that he has a high and holy mission in the great drama of life. I do not think our God is a purposeless Being, but his ways are not as our ways are, and his thoughts are not our thoughts, and I dare not say 'Had I his wisdom or he my love,' the condition of humanity would be better. I prefer thinking that in the crucible of pain and apparent disaster, that we are held by the hand of a loving Father who is doing for us all, the best he can to fit us for companionship with him in the eternities, and with John G. Whittier, I feel:
Amid the maddening maze of things When tossed by storm and flood, To one fixed stake my spirit clings I know that God is good.
"I once questioned and doubted, but now I have learned to love and trust in 'Him whom the heavens must receive till the time of the restitution of all things.' By this trust I do not mean a lazy leaning on Providence to do for us what we have ability to do for ourselves. I think that our people need more to be taught how to live than to be constantly warned to get ready to die. As Brother Thomas said, we are now passing through a crucial period of our history and what we need is life—more abundant life in every fibre of our souls; life which will manifest itself in moral earnestness, vigor of purpose, strength of character and spiritual progression."
"I do hope," said Mr. Thomas, "that as you are among us, you will impart some of your earnestness and enthusiasm to our young people."
"As I am a new comer here, and it is said that the people of A.P., are very sensitive to criticism, though very critical themselves and rather set and conservative in their ways, I hope that I shall have the benefit of your experience in aiding me to do all I can to help the people among whom my lot is cast."
"You are perfectly welcome to any aid I can give you. Just now some of us are interested in getting our people out of these wretched alleys and crowded tenement houses into the larger, freer air of the country. We want our young men to help us fight the battle against poverty, ignorance, degradation, and the cold, proud scorn of society. Before our public lands are all appropriated, I want our young men and women to get homesteads, and to be willing to endure privations in order to place our means of subsistence on a less precarious basis. The land is a basis of power, and like Anteus in the myth, we will never have our full measure of material strength till we touch the earth as owners of the soil. And when we get the land we must have patience and perseverance enough to hold it."
"In one of our Western States is a city which suggests the idea of Aladdin's wonderful lamp. Where that city now stands was once the homestead of a colored man who came from Virginia and obtained it under the homestead law. That man has since been working as a servant for a man who lives on 80 acres of his former section, and who has plotted the rest for the city of C."
"How did he lose it?"
"When he came from the South the country was new and female labor in great demand. His wife could earn $1.50 a day, and instead of moving on his land, he remained about forty miles away, till he had forfeited his claim, and it fell into the hands of the present proprietor. Since then our foresight has been developing and some months since in travelling in that same State, I met a woman whose husband had taken up a piece of land and was bringing it under cultivation. She and her children remained in town where they could all get work, and transmit him help and in a few years, I expect, they will be comfortably situated in a home owned by their united efforts."
What next? was the question Mr. Thomas was revolving in his mind, when a knock was heard at his door, and he saw standing on the threshold, one of his former pupils.
"Well, Charley, how does the world use you? Everything going on swimmingly?"
"Oh, no indeed. I have lost my situation."
"How is that? You were getting on so well. Mr. Hazleton seemed to be perfectly satisfied with you, and I thought that you were quite a favorite in the establishment. How was it that you lost your place?"
"I lost it through the meanness of Mr. Mahler."
"Mr. Mahler, our Superintendent of public schools?"
"Yes, it was through him that I lost my situation."
"Why, what could you have done to offend him?"
"Nothing at all; I never had an unpleasant word with him in my life."
"Do explain yourself. I cannot see why he should have used any influence to deprive you of your situation."
"He had it in his power to do me a mean, low-life trick, and he did it, and I hope to see the day when I will be even with him," said the lad, with a flashing eye, while an angry flush mantled his cheek.
"Do any of the family deal at Mr. Hazleton's store? Perhaps you gave some of them offence through neglect or thoughtlessness in dealing with them."
"It was nothing of the kind. Mr. Mahler knew me and my mother. He knew her because she taught under him, and of course saw me often enough to know that I was her son, and so last week when he saw me in the store, I noticed that he looked very closely at me, and that in a few moments after he was in conversation with Mr. Hazleton. He asked him, 'if he employed a nigger for a cashier?' He replied, 'Of course not.' 'Well,' he said, 'you have one now.' After that they came down to the desk where I was casting up my accounts and Mr. Mahler asked, 'Is Mrs. Cooper your mother?' I answered, 'yes sir.' Of course I would not deny my mother. 'Isn't your name Charley?' and again I answered, yes; I could have resorted to concealment, but I would not lie for a piece of bread, and yet for mother's sake I sorely needed the place.
"What did Mr. Hazleton say?"
"Nothing, only I thought he looked at me a little embarrassed, just as any half-decent man might when he was about to do a mean and cruel thing. But that afternoon I lost my place. Mr. Hazleton said to me when the store was about to close, that he had no further use for me. Not discouraged, I found another place; but I believe that my evil genius found me out and that through him I was again ousted from that situation and now I am at my wits end."
"But, Charley, were you not sailing under false colors?"
"I do not think so, Mr. Thompson. I saw in the window an advertisement, 'A boy wanted.' They did not say what color the boy must be and I applied for the situation and did my work as faithfully as I knew how. Mr. Hazleton seemed to be perfectly satisfied with my work and as he did not seek to know the antecedents of my family I did not see fit to thrust them gratuitously upon him. You know the hard struggle my poor mother has had to get along, how the saloon has cursed and darkened our home and I was glad to get anything to do by which I could honestly earn a dollar and help her keep the wolf from the door, and I tried to do my level best, but it made no difference; as soon as it was known that I had Negro blood in my veins door after door was closed against me; not that I was not honest, industrious, obliging and steady, but simply because of the blood in my veins."
"I admit," said Mr. Thomas, trying to repress his indignation and speak calmly, "that it was a hard thing to be treated so for a cause over which you had not the least control, but, Charley, you must try to pick up courage."
"Oh, it seems to me that my courage has all oozed out. I think that I will go away; maybe I can find work somewhere else. Had I been a convict from a prison there are Christian women here who would have been glad to have reached me out a helping hand and hailed my return to a life of honest industry as a blessed crowning of their labors of love; while I, who am neither a pauper nor felon, am turned from place after place because I belong to a race on whom Christendom bestowed the curse of slavery and under whose shadow has flourished Christless and inhuman caste prejudice. So I think that I had better go and start life afresh."
"No, Charley, don't go away. I know you could pass as a white man; but, Charley, don't you know that to do so you must separate from your kindred and virtually ignore your mother? A mother, who, for your sake, would, I believe, take blood from every vein and strength from every nerve if it were necessary. If you pass into the white basis your mother can never be a guest in your home without betraying your origin; you cannot visit her openly and crown her with the respect she so well deserves without divulging the secret of your birth; and Charley, by doing so I do not think it possible that however rich or strong or influential you may be as a white man, that you can be as noble and as true a man as you will be if you stand in your lot without compromise or concealment, and feel that the feebler your mother's race is the closer you will cling to it. Charley, you have lately joined the church; your mission in the world is not to seek to be rich and strong, but because there is so much sin and misery in the world by it is to clasp the hand of Christ through faith and try to make the world better by your influence and gladder and brighter by your presence."
"Mr. Thomas I try to be, and I hope I am a Christian, but if these prejudices are consistent with Christianity then I must confess that I do not understand it, and if it is I do not want it. Are these people Christians who open the doors of charitable institutions to sinners who are white and close them against the same class who are black? I do not call such people good patriots, let alone clear-sighted Christians. Why, they act as if God had done wrong in making a man black, and that they have never forgiven him and had become reconciled to the workmanship of his hands."
"Charley, you are excited just now, and I think that you are making the same mistake that better educated men than you have done. You are putting Christianity and its abuses together. I do think, notwithstanding all its perversions, and all the rubbish which has gathered around its simplicity and beauty, that Christianity is the world's best religion. I know that Christ has been wounded in what should have been the house of his friends; that the banner of his religion which is broad enough to float over the wide world with all its sin and misery, has been drenched with the blood of persecution, trampled in the mire of slavery and stained by the dust of caste proscription; but I believe that men are beginning more fully to comprehend the claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am not afraid of what men call infidelity. I hold the faith which I profess, to be too true, too sacred and precious to be disturbed by every wave of wind and doubt. Amid all the religious upheavals of the Nineteenth Century, I believe God is at the helm, that there are petrifactions of creed and dogma that are to [be] broken up, not by mere intellectual speculations, but by the greater solvent of the constraining love of Christ, and it is for this that I am praying, longing and waiting. Let schoolmen dispute and contend, the faith for which I most ardently long and earnestly contend, is a faith which works by love and purifies the soul."
"Mr. Thomas, I believe that there is something real about your religion, but some of these white Christians do puzzle me awfully. Oh, I think that I will go. I am sick and tired of the place. Everything seems to be against me."
"No, Charley; stay for your mother's sake. I know a noble and generous man who is brave enough to face a vitiated public opinion, and rich enough to afford himself the luxury of a good conscience. I shall tell him your story and try to interest him in your behalf. Will you stay?"
"I certainly will if he will give me any chance to get my living and help my mother."
"It has been said that everything has two handles, and if you take it by the wrong handle it will be too hard to hold."
"I should like to know which is the right handle to this prejudice against color."
"I do not think that there is prejudice against color in this country."
"No prejudice against color!" said Charley Cooper, opening his eyes with sudden wonder. "What was it that dogged my steps and shut door after door against me? Wasn't that prejudice against color?"
"Whose color, Charley? Surely not yours, for you are whiter than several of Mr. Hazleton's clerks. Do you see in your case it was not prejudice against color?"
"What was it, then?"
"It was the information that you were connected by blood with a once enslaved and despised people on whom society had placed its ban, and to whom slavery and a low social condition had given a heritage of scorn, and as soon as he found out that you were connected with that race, he had neither the manliness nor the moral courage to say, the boy is capable and efficient. I see no cause why he should be dismissed for the crimes of his white ancestors. I heard an eminent speaker once say that some people would sing, 'I can smile at Satan's rage, and face a frowning world,' when they hadn't courage enough to face their next door neighbor on a moral question."
"I think that must be the case with Mr. Hazleton."
"I once used to despise such men. I have since learned to pity them."
"I don't see what you find to pity in Mr. Hazleton, unless it is his meanness."
"Well, I pity him for that. I think there never was slave more cowed under the whip of his master than he is under the lash of public opinion. The Negro was not the only one whom slavery subdued to the pliancy of submission. Men fettered the slave and cramped their own souls, denied him knowledge and then darkened their own spiritual insight, and the Negro, poor and despised as he was, laid his hands upon American civilization and has helped to mould its character. It is God's law. As ye sow, so shall ye reap, and men cannot sow avarice and oppression without reaping the harvest of retribution. It is a dangerous thing to gather
The flowers of sin that blossom Around the borders of hell."
"I never want to go to that school again," said Annette entering Mrs. Lasette's sitting room, throwing down her books on the table and looking as if she were ready to burst into tears.
"What is the matter now, my dear child? You seem to be all out of sorts."
"I've had a fuss with that Mary Joseph."
"Mary Joseph, the saloon-keeper's daughter?"
"How did it happen?"
"Yesterday in changing seats, the teacher put us together according to the first letter in our last names. You know that I, comes next to J; but there wasn't a girl in the room whose name begins with I, and so as J comes next, she put Mary Joseph and myself together."
"Ireland and Africa, and they were not ready for annexation?"
"No, and never will be, I hope."
"Never is a long day, Annette, but go on with your story."
"Well, after the teacher put her in the seat next to me she began to wriggle and squirm and I asked her if anything was biting her, because if there was, I did not want it to get on me."
"Oh, Annette, what a girl you are; why did you notice her? What did she say?"
"She said if there was, it must have got there since the teacher put her on that seat, and it must have come from me."
"Well, Mary Joseph knows how to scratch as well as you do."
"Yes, she is a real scratch cat."
"And what are you, my dear; a pattern saint?"
"No," said Annette, as the ruefulness of her face relaxed into a smile, "but that isn't all; when I went to eat my lunch, she said she wasn't used to eating with niggers. Then I asked her if her mother didn't eat with the pigs in the old country, and she said that she would rather eat with them than to eat with me, and then she called me a nigger and I called her a poor white mick."
"Oh, Annette, I am so sorry; I am afraid that trouble may come out of this fuss, and then it is so wrong and unlady-like for you to be quarrelling that way. Do you know how old you are?"
"I am almost fourteen years old."
"Where was the teacher all this time? Did she know anything about it?"
"No; she was out of the room part of the time, but I don't think she likes colored people, because last week when Joe Smith was cutting up in school, she made him get up and sit alongside of me to punish him."
"She should not have done so, but I don't suppose she thought for one moment how it looked."
"I don't know, but when I told grandma about it, Mrs. Larkins was in the room, and she said if she had done a child of hers so, she would have gone there and sauced her head off; but grandma said that she would not notice it; that the easiest way is the best."
"I think that your grandmother was right; but what did Joe say?"
He said that the teacher didn't spite him; that he would as lieve sit by me as any girl in school, and that he liked girls."
"A little scamp."
"He says he likes girls because they are so jolly."
"But tell me all about Mary Joseph."
"Well, a mean old thing, she went and told her horrid old father, and just as I was coming along he took hold of my arm and said he had heard that I had called his daughter, Miss Mary Joseph, a poor white mick and that if I did it again he would give me a good thrashing, and that for two pins he would do it then."
"I guess I felt like Mrs. Larkins does when she says her Guinea gets up. My Guinea was up but I was afraid to show it. Oh, but I do hate these Irish. I don't like them for anything. Grandmother says that an Irishman is only a negro turned wrong side out, and I told her so yesterday morning when she was fussing with me."
"Say, rather, when we were fussing together; I don't think the fault was all on her side."
"But, Mrs. Lasette, she had no business calling me a nigger."
"Of course not; but would you have liked it [any] better if she had called you a negro?"
"No; I don't want her to call me anything of the kind, neither negro nor nigger. She shan't even call me black."
"But, Annette, are you not black?"
"I don't care if I am, she shan't call me so."
"But suppose you were to say to Miss Joseph, 'How white your face is,' do you suppose she would get angry because you said that she looked white?"
"No, of course not."
"But suppose you met her hurrying to school, and you said to her, how red and rosy you look this morning, would that make her angry?"
"I don't suppose that it would."
"But suppose she would say to you, 'Annette, how black your face is this morning,' how would you feel?"
"I should feel like slapping her."
"Why so; do you think because Miss Joseph——"
"Don't call her Miss, she is so mean and hateful."
"But that don't hinder her from being Miss Joseph; If she is rude and coarse, that is no reason why I should not have good manners."
"Oh, Mrs. Lasette you are too sweet for anything. I wish I was like you."
"Never mind my sweetness; that is not to the point. Will you listen to me, my dear?"
"Of course I will. I could listen to you all night."
"Well, if it were not for signs there's no mistaking I should think you had a lot of Irish blood in your veins, and had kissed the blarney stone."
"No I haven't and if I had I would try to let——"
"Hush, my child; how you do rattle on. Do you think because Miss Joseph is white that she is any better than you are."
"No, of course not."
"But don't you think that she can see and hear a little better than you can?"
"Why, no; what makes you ask such a funny question?"
"Never mind, just answer me a few more questions. Don't you think if you and she had got to fighting that she would have whipped you because she is white?"
"Why, of course not. Didn't she try to get the ruler out of my hand and didn't because I was stronger."
"But don't you think she is smarter than you are and gets her lessons better."
"Now you are shouting."
"Why, Annette, where in the world did you get that slang?"
"Why, Mrs. Lasette, I hear the boys saying it in the street, and the girls in Tennis Court all say it, too. Is there any harm in it?"
"It is slang, my child, and a young lady should never use slang. Don't use it in private and you will not be apt to use it in public. However humble or poor a person may be, there is no use in being coarse and unrefined."
"But what harm is there in it?"
"I don't say that there is any, but I don't think it nice for young ladies to pick up all sorts of phrases in the street and bring them into the home. The words may be innocent in themselves, but they may not have the best associations, and it is safer not to use them. But let us return to Miss Joseph. You do not think that she can see or hear any better than you can, learn her lessons any quicker than you can, and when it comes to a trial of strength that she is stronger than you are, now let me ask you one more question. Who made Miss Joseph?"
"Why, the Lord, of course."
"And who made you?"
"He made me, too."
"Are you sure that you did not make yourself?"
"Why, of course not," said Annette with an accent of wonder in her voice.
"Does God ever make any mistakes?"
"Then if any one calls you black, why should you get angry? You say it would not make Miss Joseph angry to say she looked white, or red and rosy."
"I don't know; I know I don't like it and it makes me mad."
"Now, let me explain the reason why it makes you angry to be called black. Suppose I were to burn my hand in that stove, what would I have on my hand?"
"A sore place."
"If it were your hand, what would you do?"
"I would put something on it, wrap it up to keep from getting cold into it and try to get it well as soon as I could."
"Well, that would be a very sensible way of dealing with it. In this country, Annette, color has been made a sore place; it has been associated with slavery, poverty and ignorance. You cannot change your color, but you can try to change the association connected with our complexions. Did slavery force a man to be servile and submissive? Learn to hold up your head and respect yourself. Don't notice Mary Joseph's taunts; if she says things to tease you don't you let her see that she has succeeded. Learn to act as if you realized that you were born into this world the child of the Ruler of the universe, that this is his world and that you have as much right in it as she has. I think it was Gilbert Haven, a Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a man for whose tombstone I do not think America has any marble too white or any laurel too green, who saw on his travels a statue of Cleopatra, which suggested to him this thought, 'I am black, but comely, the sun has looked down upon me, but I will make you who despise me feel that I am your superior,' and, Annette, I want you to be so noble, true and pure that if everybody should hate you, that no one could despise you. No, Annette, if Miss Joseph ever attempts to quarrel with you don't put yourself on the same level by quarreling with her. I knew her parents when they were very poor; when a half dozen of them slept in one room. He has made money by selling liquor; he is now doing business in one of the most valuable pieces of property I see in East L street. He has been a curse, and his saloon a nuisance in that street. He has gone up in property and even political influence, but oh, how many poor souls have gone down, slain by strong drink and debauchery."
True to his word, Mr. Thomas applied to Mr. Hastings, the merchant, of whom he had spoken to his young friend. He went to his counting-room and asked for a private interview, which was readily granted. They had kindred intellectual and literary tastes and this established between them a free masonry of mind which took no account of racial differences.
"I have a favor to ask," said Mr. Thomas, "can you spare me a few moments?"
"I am at your service," Mr. Hasting replied, "what can I do for you?"
"I have," he said, "a young friend who is honest and industrious and competent to fill the place of clerk or cashier in your store. He has been a cashier for Hazleton & Co., and while there gave entire satisfaction."
"Why did he leave?"
"I cannot say, because he was guilty of a skin not colored like your own, but because a report was brought to Mr. Hazleton that he had Negro blood in his veins."
"And what then?"
"He summarily dismissed him."
"What a shame!"
"Yes, it was a shame, but this pride of caste dwarfs men's moral perception so that it prepares them to do a number of contemptible things which, under other circumstances, they would scorn to do."
"Yes, it is so, and I am sorry to see it."
"There are men, Mr. Hastings, who would grow hotly indignant if you would say that they are not gentlemen who would treat a Negro in a manner which would not be recognized as fair, even by ruffians of the ring, for, I believe, it is their code of honor not to strike a man when he is down; but with respect to the colored man, it seems to be a settled policy with some not only to push him down, but to strike him when he is down. But I must go; I came to ask a favor and it is not right to trespass on your time."
"No; sit still. I have a little leisure I can give you. My fall trade has not opened yet and I am not busy. I see and deplore these things of which you complain, but what can be done to help it?"
"Mr. Hastings, you see them, and I feel them, and I fear that I am growing morbid over them, and not only myself, but other educated men of my race, and that, I think, is a thing to be deprecated. Between the white people and the colored people of this country there is a unanimity of interest and I know that our interests and duties all lie in one direction. Can men corrupt and intimidate voters in the South without a reflex influence being felt in the North? Is not the depression of labor in the South a matter of interest to the North? You may protect yourself from what you call the pauper of Europe, but you will not be equally able to defend yourself from the depressed laborer of the new South, and as an American citizen, I dread any turn of the screw which will lower the rate of wages here; and I like to feel as an American citizen that whatever concerns the nation concerns me. But I feel that this prejudice against my race compresses my soul, narrows my political horizon and makes me feel that I am an alien in the land of my birth. It meets me in the church, it confronts me in business and I feel its influence in almost every avenue of my life."
"I wish, Mr. Thomas, that some of the men who are writing and talking about the Negro problem would only come in contact with the thoughtful men of your race. I think it would greatly modify their views."
"Yes, you know us as your servants. The law takes cognizance of our crimes. Your charitable institutions of our poverty, but what do any of you know of our best and most thoughtful men and women? When we write how many of you ever read our books and papers or give yourselves any trouble to come near us as friends and help us? Even some of your professed Christians are trying to set us apart as if we were social lepers."
"You draw a dark picture. I confess that I feel pained at the condition of affairs in the South, but what can we do in the South?"
"Set the South a better example. But I am hindering you in your business."
"Not at all. I want to see things from the same standpoint that you do."
"Put yourself then in my place. You start both North and South from the premise that we are an inferior race and as such you have treated us. Has not the consensus of public opinion said for ages, 'No valor redeems our race, no social advancement nor individual development wipes off the ban which clings to us'; that our place is on the lowest round of the social ladder; that at least, in part of the country we are too low for the equal administrations of religion and the same dispensations of charity and a fair chance in the race of life?"
"You bring a heavy verdict against us. I hardly think that it can be sustained. Whatever our motives may have been, we have been able to effect in a few years a wonderful change in the condition of the Negro. He has freedom and enfranchisement and with these two great rights he must work out his social redemption and political solution. If his means of education have been limited, a better day is dawning upon him. Doors once closed against him in the South are now freely opened to him, and I do not think that there ever was a people who freed their slaves who have given as much for their education as we have, and my only hope is that the moral life of the race will keep pace with its intellectual growth. You tell me to put myself in your place. I think if I were a colored young man that I would develop every faculty and use every power which God had given me for the improvement and development of my race. And who among us would be so blind and foolish as to attempt to keep down an enlightened people who were determined to rise in the scale of character and condition? No, Mr. Thomas, while you blame us for our transgressions and shortcomings, do not fail to do all you can to rouse up all the latent energies of your young men to do their part worthily as American citizens and to add their quota to the strength and progress of the nation."
"I am conscious of the truth and pertinence of your remarks, but bear with me just a few moments while I give an illustration of what I mean."
"Speak on, I am all attention. The subject you bring before me is of too vital importance to be constantly ignored."
"I have a friend who is presiding elder in the A.M.E. Church and his wife, I think, is capable of being a social and intellectual accession in any neighborhood in which they might live. He rented a house in the city of L. and being of a fair complexion I suppose the lessee rented to him without having a suspicion of his race connection. When it was ascertained that he and his family were colored, he was ordered to leave, and this man, holding among the ministers of that city the position of ambassador for Christ, was ordered out of the house on account of the complexion of his family. Was there not a screw loose in the religious sentiment of that city which made such an act possible? A friend of mine who does mission work in your city, some time since, found a young woman in the slums and applied at the door of a midnight mission for fallen women, and asked if colored girls could be received, and was curtly answered, 'no.' For her in that mission there was no room. The love of Christ constrained no hand to strive to rescue her from the depths of degradation. The poor thing went from bad to worse till at last, wrecked and blighted, she went down to an early grave the victim of strong drink. That same lady found on her mission a white girl; seeing a human soul adrift, regardless of color, she went, in company with some others, to that same mission with the poor castaway; to her the door was opened without delay and ready admittance granted. But I might go on reciting such instances until you would be weary of hearing and I of relating them; but I appeal to you as a patriot and Christian, is it not fearfully unwise to keep alive in freedom the old animosities of slavery? To-day the Negro shares citizenship with you. He is not arraying himself against your social order; his hands are not dripping with dynamite, nor is he waving in your face the crimson banners of anarchy, but he is increasing in numbers and growing in intelligence, and is it not madness and folly to subject him to social and public inequalities, which are calculated to form and keep alive a hatred of race as a reaction against pride of caste?"
"Mr. Thomas, you have given me a new view of the matter. To tell you the truth, we have so long looked upon the colored man as a pliable and submissive being that we have never learned to look at any hatred on his part as an element of danger, and yet I should be sorry to know that by our Southern supineness we were thoughtlessly helping create a black Ireland in our Gulf States, that in case the fires of anarchy should ever sweep through our land, that a discontented and disaffected people in our midst might be as so much fuel to fire."
"But really I have been forgetting my errand. Have you any opening in your store for my young friend?"
"I have only one vacancy, and that is the place of a utility man."
"What are the duties of that position?"
"Almost anything that comes to hand; tying up bundles, looking after the mails, scattering advertisements. A factotum whose work lies here, there and everywhere."
"I am confident that he will accept the situation and render you faithful service."
"Well, then send him around tomorrow and if there is anything in him I may be able to do better by him when the fall trade opens."
And so Charley Cooper was fortunate enough in his hour of perplexity to find a helping hand to tide him over a difficult passage in his life. Gratefully and faithfully did he serve Mr. Hastings, who never regretted the hour when he gave the struggling boy such timely assistance. The discipline of the life through which he was passing as the main stay of his mother, matured his mind and imparted to it a thoughtfulness past his years. Instead of wasting his time in idle and pernicious pleasure, he learned how to use his surplus dollar and how to spend his leisure hours, and this knowledge told upon his life and character. He was not very popular in society. Young men with cigars in their mouths and the perfume of liquor on their breaths, shrugged their shoulders and called him a milksop because he preferred the church and Sunday school to the liquor saloon and gambling dens. The society of P. was cut up and divided into little sets and coteries; there was an amount of intelligence among them, but it ran in narrow grooves and scarcely one intellect seemed to tower above the other, and if it did, no people knew better how to ignore a rising mind than the society people of A.P. If the literary aspirant did not happen to be of their set. As to talent, many of them were pleasant and brilliant conversationalists, but in the world of letters scarcely any of them were known or recognized outside of their set. They had leisure, a little money and some ability, but they lacked the perseverance and self-denial necessary to enable them to add to the great resources of natural thought. They had narrowed their minds to the dimensions of their set and were unprepared to take expansive views of life and duty. They took life as a holiday and the lack of noble purposes and high and holy aims left its impress upon their souls and deprived them of that joy and strength which should have crowned their existence and given to their lives its "highest excellence and beauty."
Two years have elapsed since we left Annette recounting her school grievances to Mrs. Lasette. She has begun to feel the social contempt which society has heaped upon the colored people, but she has determined not to succumb to it. There is force in the character of that fiery, impetuous and impulsive girl, and her school experience is bringing it out. She has been bending all her mental energies to compete for the highest prize at the commencement of her school, from which she expects to graduate in a few weeks. The treatment of the saloon-keeper's daughter, and that of other girls of her ilk, has stung her into strength. She feels that however despised her people may be, that a monopoly of brains has not been given to the white race. Mr. Thomas has encouraged her efforts, and taught her to believe that not only is her own honor at stake as a student, but that as a representative of her branch of the human race, she is on the eve of winning, or losing, not only for herself, but for others. This view of the matter increases her determination and rouses up all the latent energies of her nature, and she labors day and night to be a living argument of the capability in her race. For other girls who will graduate in that school, there will be open doors, and unclosed avenues, while she knows that the color of her skin will bar against her the doors of workshops, factories and school rooms, and yet Mr. Thomas, knowing all the discouragements around her path, has done what he could to keep her interest in her studies from flagging. He knows that she has fine abilities, but that they must be disciplined by trial and endeavor before her life can be rounded by success and triumph. He has seen several of her early attempts at versification; pleased and even delighted with them, he has shown them to a few of his most intellectual friends. Eager and earnest for the elevation of the colored people, he has been pained at the coldness with which they have been received.
"I do not call that poetry," said one of the most intelligent women of A.P.
"Neither do I see anything remarkable about her," said another.
"I did not," said Mr. Thomas, "bring you the effusions of an acknowledged poet, but I think that the girl has fine ability, which needs encouragement and recognition."
But his friends could not see it; they were very charry of their admiration, lest their judgment should be found at fault, and then it was so much easier to criticise than it was to heartily admire; and they knew it seemed safer to show their superior intelligence by dwelling on the defects, which would necessarily have an amount of crudeness in them than to look beneath the defects for the suggestions of beauty, strength and grace which Mr. Thomas saw in these unripe, but promising effusions. It seemed perfectly absurd with the surroundings of Tennis Court to expect anything grand or beautiful [to] develop in its midst; but with Annette, poetry was a passion born in her soul, and it was as natural for her to speak in tropes and figures as it was for others to talk in plain, common prose. Mr. Thomas called her "our inveterate poet," and encouraged her, but the literary aspirants took scarcely any interest in the girl whom they left to struggle on as best she might. In her own home she was doomed to meet with lack of encouragement and appreciation from her relatives and grandmother's friends. One day her aunt, Eliza Hanson, was spending the day with her mother, and Annette showed her some of her verses and said to her, "that is one of my best pieces."
"Oh, you have a number of best pieces," said her aunt, carelessly. "Can you cook a beefsteak?"
"I suppose I could if I tried."
"Well, you had better try than to be trying to string verses together. You seem to think that there must be something very great about you. I know where you want to get. You want to get among the upper tens, but you haven't got style enough about you for that."