Read Chapter V of Trial and Triumph, free online book, by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, on

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.”