Read CHAPTER XXVII of The Garies and Their Friends, free online book, by Frank J. Webb, on ReadCentral.com.

Sudbury.

We must now admit our readers to a consultation that is progressing between Mr. Balch and Mr. Walters, respecting the future of the two Garie children. They no doubt entered upon the conference with the warmest and most earnest desire of promoting the children’s happiness; but, unfortunately, their decision failed to produce the wished-for result.

“I scarcely thought you would have succeeded so well with him,” said Walters, “he is such an inveterate scoundrel; depend upon it nothing but the fear of the exposure resulting from a legal investigation would ever have induced that scamp to let twelve thousand dollars escape from his clutches. I am glad you have secured that much; when we add it to the eight thousand already in my possession it will place them in very comfortable circumstances, even if they never get any more.”

“I think we have done very well,” rejoined Mr. Balch; “we were as much in his power as he was in ours not in the same way, however; a legal investigation, no matter how damaging it might have been to his reputation, would not have placed us in possession of the property, or invalidated his claim as heir. I think, on the whole, we may as well be satisfied, and trust in Providence for the future. So now, then, we will resume our discussion of that matter we had under consideration the other day. I cannot but think that my plan is best adapted to secure the boy’s happiness.”

“I’m sorry I cannot agree with you, Mr. Balch. I have tried to view your plan in the most favourable light, yet I cannot rid myself of a presentiment that it will result in the ultimate discovery of his peculiar position, and that most probably at some time when his happiness is dependent upon its concealment. An undetected forger, who is in constant fear of being apprehended, is happy in comparison with that coloured man who attempts, in this country, to hold a place in the society of whites by concealing his origin. He must live in constant fear of exposure; this dread will embitter every enjoyment, and make him the most miserable of men.”

“You must admit,” rejoined Mr. Balch, “that I have their welfare at heart. I have thought the matter over and over, and cannot, for the life of me, feel the weight of your objections. The children are peculiarly situated; everything seems to favour my views. Their mother (the only relative they had whose African origin was distinguishable) is dead, and both of them are so exceedingly fair that it would never enter the brain of any one that they were connected with coloured people by ties of blood. Clarence is old enough to know the importance of concealing the fact, and Emily might be kept with us until her prudence also might be relied upon. You must acknowledge that as white persons they will be better off.”

“I admit,” answered Mr. Walters, “that in our land of liberty it is of incalculable advantage to be white; that is beyond dispute, and no one is more painfully aware of it than I. Often I have heard men of colour say they would not be white if they could had no desire to change their complexions; I’ve written some down fools; others, liars. Why,” continued he, with a sneering expression of countenance, “it is everything to be white; one feels that at every turn in our boasted free country, where all men are upon an equality. When I look around me, and see what I have made myself in spite of circumstances, and think what I might have been with the same heart and brain beneath a fairer skin, I am almost tempted to curse the destiny that made me what I am. Time after time, when scraping, toiling, saving, I have asked myself. To what purpose is it all? perhaps that in the future white men may point at and call me, sneeringly, ’a nigger millionaire,’ or condescend to borrow money of me. Ah! often, when some negro-hating white man has been forced to ask a loan at my hands, I’ve thought of Shylock and his pound of flesh, and ceased to wonder at him. There’s no doubt, my dear sir, but what I fully appreciate the advantage of being white. Yet, with all I have endured, and yet endure from day to day, I esteem myself happy in comparison with that man, who, mingling in the society of whites, is at the same time aware that he has African blood in his veins, and is liable at any moment to be ignominiously hurled from his position by the discovery of his origin. He is never safe. I have known instances where parties have gone on for years and years undetected; but some untoward circumstance brings them out at last, and down they fall for ever.”

“Walters, my dear fellow, you will persist in looking upon his being discovered as a thing of course: I see no reason for the anticipation of any such result. I don’t see how he is to be detected it may never occur. And do you feel justified in consigning them to a position which you know by painful experience to be one of the most disagreeable that can be endured. Ought we not to aid their escape from it if we can?”

Mr. Walters stood reflectively for some moments, and then exclaimed, “I’ll make no farther objection; I would not have the boy say to me hereafter, ’But for your persisting in identifying me with a degraded people, I might have been better and happier than I am.’ However, I cannot but feel that concealments of this kind are productive of more misery than comfort.”

“We will agree to differ about that, Walters; and now, having your consent, I shall not hesitate to proceed in the matter, with full reliance that the future will amply justify my choice.”

“Well, well! as I said before, I will offer no further objection. Now let me hear the details of your plan.”

“I have written,” answered Mr. Balch, “to Mr. Eustis, a friend of mine living at Sudbury, where there is a large preparatory school for boys. At his house I purpose placing Clarence. Mr. Eustis is a most discreet man, and a person of liberal sentiments. I feel that I can confide everything to him without the least fear of his ever divulging a breath of it. He is a gentleman in the fullest sense of the term, and at his house the boy will have the advantage of good society, and will associate with the best people of the place.”

“Has he a family?” asked Mr. Walters.

“He is a widower,” answered Mr. Balch; “a maiden sister of his wife’s presides over his establishment; she will be kind to Clarence, I am confident; she has a motherly soft heart, and is remarkably fond of children. I have not the least doubt but that he will be very happy and comfortable there. I think it very fortunate, Walters,” he continued, “that he has so few coloured acquaintances no boyish intimacies to break up; and it will be as well to send him away before he has an opportunity of forming them. Besides, being here, where everything will be so constantly reviving the remembrance of his recent loss, he may grow melancholy and stupid. I have several times noticed his reserve, so unusual in a child. His dreadful loss and the horrors that attended it have made, a deep impression stupified him, to a certain extent, I think. Well, well! we will get him off, and once away at school, and surrounded by lively boys, this dulness will soon wear off.”

The gentlemen having fully determined upon his being sent, it was proposed to bring him in immediately and talk to him relative to it. He was accordingly sent for, and came into the room, placing himself beside the chair of Mr. Walters.

Clarence had altered very much since the death of his parents. His face had grown thin and pale, and he was much taller than when he came to Philadelphia: a shade of melancholy had overspread his face; there was now in his eyes that expression of intense sadness that characterized his mother’s. “You sent for me?” he remarked, inquiringly, to Mr. Walters.

“Yes, my boy,” he rejoined, “we sent for you to have a little talk about school. Would you like to go to school again?”

“Oh, yes!” answered Clarence, his face lighting up with pleasure; “I should like it of all things; it would be much better than staying at home all day, doing nothing; the days are so long,” concluded he, with a sigh.

“Ah! we will soon remedy that,” rejoined Mr. Balch, “when you go to Sudbury.”

“Sudbury!” repeated Clarence, with surprise; “where is that? I thought you meant, to go to school here.”

“Oh, no, my dear,” said Mr. Balch, “I don’t know of any good school here, such as you would like; we wish to send you to a place where you will enjoy yourself finely, where you will have a number of boys for companions in your studies and pleasures.”

“And is Em going with me?” he asked.

“Oh, no, that is not possible; it is a school for boys exclusively; you can’t take your sister there,” rejoined Mr. Walters.

“Then I don’t want to go,” said Clarence, decidedly; “I don’t want to go where I can’t take Em with me.”

Mr. Balch exchanged glances with Mr. Walters, and looked quite perplexed at this new opposition to his scheme. Nothing daunted, however, by this difficulty, he, by dint of much talking and persuasion, brought Clarence to look upon the plan with favour, and to consent reluctantly to go without his sister.

But the most delicate part of the whole business was yet to come they must impress upon the child the necessity of concealing the fact that he was of African origin. Neither seemed to know how to approach the subject. Clarence, however, involuntarily made an opening for them by inquiring if Emily was to go to Miss Jordan’s school again.

“No, my dear,” answered Mr. Balch, “Miss Jordan won’t permit her to attend school there.”

“Why?” asked Clarence.

“Because she is a coloured child,” rejoined Mr. Balch. “Now, Clarence,” he continued, “you are old enough, I presume, to know the difference that exists between the privileges and advantages enjoyed by the whites, and those that are at the command of the coloured people. White boys can go to better schools, and they can enter college and become professional men, lawyers, doctors, &c, or they may be merchants in fact, they can be anything they please. Coloured people can enjoy none of these advantages; they are shut out from them entirely. Now which of the two would you rather be coloured or white?”

“I should much rather be white, of course,” answered Clarence; “but I am coloured, and can’t help myself,” said he, innocently.

“But, my child, we are going to send you where it is not known that you are coloured; and you must never, never tell it, because if it became known, you would be expelled from the school, as you were from Miss Jordan’s.”

“I didn’t know we were expelled,” rejoined Clarence. “I know she sent us home, but I could not understand what it was for. I’m afraid they will send me from the other school. Won’t they know I am coloured?”

“No, my child, I don’t think they will discover it unless you should be foolish enough to tell it yourself, in which case both Mr. Walters and myself would be very much grieved.”

“But suppose some one should ask me,” suggested Clarence.

“No one will ever ask you such a question,” said Mr. Balch, impatiently; “all you have to do is to be silent yourself on the subject. Should any of your schoolmates ever make inquiries respecting your parents, all you have to answer is, they were from Georgia, and you are an orphan.”

Clarence’s eyes began to moisten as Mr. Balch spoke of his parents, and after a few moments he asked, with some hesitation, “Am I never to speak of mother? I love to talk of mother.”

“Yes, my dear, of course you can talk of your mother,” answered Mr. Balch, with great embarrassment; “only, you know, my child, you need not enter into particulars as regards her appearance; that is, you ah! need not say she was a coloured woman. You must not say that; you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” answered Clarence.

“Very well, then; bear that in mind. You must know, Clarence,” continued he, “that this concealment is necessary for your welfare, or we would not require it; and you must let me impress it upon you, that it is requisite that you attend strictly to our directions.”

Mr. Walters remained silent during most of this conversation. He felt a repugnance to force upon the child a concealment the beneficial results of which were the reverse of obvious, so he merely gave Clarence some useful advice respecting his general conduct, and then permitted him to leave the room.

The morning fixed upon for their departure for Sudbury turned out to be cold and cheerless; and Clarence felt very gloomy as he sat beside his sister at their early breakfast, of which he was not able to eat a morsel. “Do eat something, Clary,” said she, coaxingly; “only look what nice buckwheat cakes these are; cook got up ever so early on purpose to bake them for you.”

“No, sis,” he replied, “I can’t eat. I feel so miserable, everything chokes me.”

“Well, eat a biscuit, then,” she continued, as she buttered it and laid it on his plate; “do eat it, now.”

More to please her than from a desire to eat, he forced down a few mouthfuls of it, and drank a little tea; then, laying his arm round her neck, he said, “Em, you must try hard to learn to write soon, so that I may hear from you at least once a week.”

“Oh! I shall soon know how, I’m in g’s and h’s now. Aunt Esther she says I may call her Aunt Esther teaches me every day. Ain’t I getting on nicely?”

“Oh, yes, you learn very fast,” said Esther, encouragingly, as she completed the pile of sandwiches she was preparing for the young traveller; then, turning to look at the timepiece on the mantel, she exclaimed, “Quarter to seven how time flies! Mr. Balch will soon be here. You must be all ready, Clarence, so as not to keep him waiting a moment.”

Clarence arose from his scarcely tasted meal, began slowly to put on his overcoat, and make himself ready for the journey. Em tied on the warm woollen neck-comforter, kissing him on each cheek as she did so, and whilst they were thus engaged, Mr. Balch drove up to the door.

Charlie, who had come down to see him off, tried (with his mouth full of buckwheat cake) to say something consolatory, and gave it as his experience, “that a fellow soon got over that sort of thing; that separations must occur sometimes,” &c. and, on the whole, endeavoured to talk in a very manly and philosophical strain; but his precepts and practice proved to be at utter variance, for when the moment of separation really came and he saw the tearful embrace of Em and her brother, he caught the infection of grief, and cried as heartily as the best of them. There was but little time, however, to spare for leave-takings, and the young traveller and his guardian were soon whirling over the road towards New York.

By a singular chance, Clarence found himself in the same car in which he had formerly rode when they were on their way to Philadelphia: he recognized it by some peculiar paintings on the panel of the door, and the ornamental border of the ceiling. This brought back a tide of memories, and he began contrasting that journey with the present. Opposite was the seat on which his parents had sat, in the bloom of health, and elate with; joyous anticipations; he remembered oh! so well his father’s pleasant smile, his mother’s soft and gentle voice. Both now were gone. Death had made rigid that smiling face her soft voice was hushed for ever and the cold snow was resting on their bosoms in the little churchyard miles away. Truly the contrast between now and then was extremely saddening, and the child bowed his head upon the seat, and sobbed in bitter grief.

“What is the matter?” asked Mr. Balch; “not crying again, I hope. I thought you were going to be a man, and that we were not to have any more tears. Come!” continued he, patting him encouragingly on the back, “cheer up! You are going to a delightful place, where you will find a number of agreeable playmates, and have a deal of fun, and enjoy yourself amazingly.”

“But it won’t be home,” replied Clarence.

“True,” replied Mr. Balch, a little touched, “it won’t seem so at first; but you’ll soon like it, I’ll guarantee that.”

Clarence was not permitted to indulge his grief to any great extent, for Mr. Balch soon succeeded in interesting him in the various objects that they passed on the way.

On the evening of the next day they arrived at their destination, and Clarence alighted from the cars, cold, fatigued, and spiritless. There had been a heavy fall of snow a few days previous, and the town of Sudbury, which was built upon the hill-side, shone white and sparkling in the clear winter moonlight.

It was the first time that Clarence had ever seen the ground covered with snow, and he could not restrain his admiration at the novel spectacle it presented to him. “Oh, look! oh, do look! Mr. Balch,” he exclaimed, “how beautifully white it looks; it seems as if the town was built of salt.”

It was indeed a pretty sight. Near them stood a clump of fantastic-shaped trees, their gnarled limbs covered with snow, and brilliant with the countless icicles that glistened like precious stones in the bright light that was reflected upon them from the windows of the station. A little farther on, between them and the town, flowed a small stream, the waters of which were dimpling and sparkling in the moonlight. Beside its banks arose stately cotton-mills, and from their many windows hundreds of lights were shining. Behind them, tier above tier, were the houses of the town; and crowning the hill was the academy, with its great dome gleaming on its top like a silver cap upon a mountain of snow. The merry sleigh-bells and the crisp tramp of the horses upon the frozen ground were all calculated to make a striking impression on one beholding such a scene for the first time.

Clarence followed Mr. Balch into the sleigh, delighted and bewildered with the surrounding objects. The driver whipped up his horses, they clattered over the bridge, dashed swiftly through the town, and in a very short period arrived at the dwelling of Mr. Eustis.

The horses had scarcely stopped, when the door flew open, and a stream of light from the hall shone down the pathway to the gate. Mr. Eustis came out on the step to welcome them. After greeting Mr. Balch warmly, he took Clarence by the hand, and led him into the room where his sister was sitting.

“Here is our little friend,” said he to her, as she arose and approached them; “try and get him warm, Ada his hands are like ice.”

Miss Ada Bell welcomed Clarence in the most affectionate manner, assisted him to remove his coat, unfastened his woollen neck-tie, and smoothed down his glossy black hair; then, warming a napkin, she wrapped it round his benumbed hands, and held them in her own until the circulation was restored and they were supple and comfortable again.

Miss Ada Bell appeared to be about thirty-five. She had good regular features, hazel eyes, and long chestnut curls: a mouth with the sweetest expression, and a voice so winning and affectionate in its tone that it went straight to the hearts of all that listened to its music.

“Had you a pleasant journey?” she asked.

“It was rather cold,” answered Clarence, “and I am not accustomed to frosty weather.”

“And did you leave all your friends well?” she continued, as she chafed his hands.

“Quite well, I thank you,” he replied.

“I hear you have a little sister; were you not sorry to leave her behind?”

This question called up the tearful face of little Em and her last embrace. He could not answer; he only raised his mournful dark eyes to the face of Miss Ada, and as he looked at her they grew moist, and a tear sparkled on his long lashes. Miss Ada felt that she had touched a tender chord, so she stooped down and kissed his forehead, remarking, “You have a good face, Clarence, and no doubt an equally good heart; we shall get on charmingly together, I know.” Those kind words won the orphan’s heart, and from that day forth. Clarence loved her. Tea was soon brought upon the table, and they all earnestly engaged in the discussion of the various refreshments that Miss Ada’s well-stocked larder afforded. Everything was so fresh and nicely flavoured that both the travellers ate very heartily; then, being much fatigued with their two days’ journey, they seized an early opportunity to retire.

Here we leave Clarence for many years; the boy will have become a man ere we re-introduce him, and, till then, we bid him adieu.