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   Chapter 6 No.6

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 15029

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Mr. Fitzgerald lingered on the wharf till the vessel containing his treasure was no longer visible. Then he returned to the carriage, and was driven to his hotel. Notwithstanding a day of very unusual excitement and fatigue, when he retired to rest he felt no inclination to sleep. Rosabella floated before him as he had first seen her, a radiant vision of beauty surrounded by flowers. He recalled the shy pride and maidenly modesty with which she had met his ardent glances and impassioned words. He thought of the meek and saddened expression of her face, as he had seen it in these last hurried interviews, and it seemed to him she had never appeared so lovely. He remembered with a shudder what Madame Guirlande had said about the auction-stand. He was familiar with such scenes, for he had seen women offered for sale, and had himself bid for them in competition with rude, indecent crowds. It was revolting to his soul to associate the image of Rosa with such base surroundings; but it seemed as if some fiend persisted in holding the painful picture before him. He seemed to see her graceful figure gazed at by a brutal crowd, while the auctioneer assured them that she was warranted to be an entirely new and perfectly sound article,-a moss rosebud from a private royal garden,-a diamond fit for a king's crown. And men, whose upturned faces were like greedy satyrs, were calling upon her to open her ruby lips and show her pearls. He turned restlessly on his pillow with a muttered oath. Then he smiled as he thought to himself that, by saving her from such degradation, he had acquired complete control of her destiny. From the first moment he heard of her reverses, he had felt that her misfortunes were his triumph. Madly in love as he had been for more than a year, his own pride, and still more the dreaded scorn of proud relatives, had prevented him from offering marriage; while the watchful guardianship of her father, and her dutiful respect to his wishes, rendered any less honorable alliance hopeless. But now he was her sole protector; and though he had satisfied her scruples by marriage, he could hide her away and keep his own secret; while she, in the fulness of her grateful love, would doubtless be satisfied with any arrangement he chose to make. But there still remained some difficulties in his way. He was unwilling to leave his own luxurious home and exile himself in the British West Indies; and if he should bring the girls to Georgia, he foresaw that disastrous consequences might ensue, if his participation in their elopement should ever be discovered, or even suspected. "It would have been far more convenient to have bought them outright, even at a high price," thought he; "but after the Signor repeated to me that disgusting talk of Bruteman's, there could be no mistake that he had his eye fixed upon them; and it would have been ruinous to enter into competition with such a wealthy roué as he is. He values money no more than pebble-stones, when he is in pursuit of such game. But though I have removed them from his grasp for the present, I can feel no security if I bring them back to this country. I must obtain a legal ownership of them; but how shall I manage it?" Revolving many plans in his mind, he at last fell asleep.

His first waking thought was to attend a meeting of the creditors at noon, and hear what they had to say. He found ten or twelve persons present, some of gentlemanly appearance, others hard-looking characters. Among them, and in singular contrast with their world-stamped faces, was the ingenuous countenance of Florimond Blumenthal. Three hundred dollars of his salary were due to him, and he hoped to secure some portion of the debt for the benefit of the orphans. A few individuals, who knew Mr. Fitzgerald, said, "What, are you among the creditors?"

"I am not a creditor," he replied, "but I am here to represent the claims of Mr. Whitwell of Savannah, who, being unable to be present in person, requested me to lay his accounts before you."

He sat listening to the tedious details of Mr. Royal's liabilities, and the appraisement of his property, with an expression of listless indifference; often moving his fingers to a tune, or making the motion of whistling, without the rudeness of emitting a sound.

Young Blumenthal, on the contrary, manifested the absorbed attention of one who loved his benefactor, and was familiar with the details of his affairs. No notice was taken of him, however, for his claim was small, and he was too young to be a power in the commercial world. He modestly refrained from making any remarks; and having given in his account, he rose to take his hat, when his attention was arrested by hearing Mr. Bruteman say: "We have not yet mentioned the most valuable property Mr. Royal left. I allude to his daughters."

Blumenthal sank into his chair again, and every vestige of color left his usually blooming countenance; but though Fitzgerald was on tenter-hooks to know whether the escape was discovered, he betrayed no sign of interest.

Mr. Bruteman went on to say, "We appraised them at six thousand dollars."

"Much less than they would bring at auction," observed Mr. Chandler," as you would all agree, gentlemen, if you had seen them; for they are fancy articles, A No. 1."

"Is it certain the young ladies are slaves?" inquired Blumenthal, with a degree of agitation that attracted attention toward him.

"It is certain," replied Mr. Bruteman. "Their mother was a slave, and was never manumitted."

"Couldn't a subscription be raised, or an appeal be made to some court in their behalf?" asked the young man, with constrained calmness in his tones, while the expression of his face betrayed his inward suffering. "They are elegant, accomplished young ladies, and their good father brought them up with the greatest indulgence."

"Perhaps you are in love with one or both of them," rejoined Mr. Bruteman. "If so, you must buy them at auction, if you can. The law is inexorable. It requires that all the property of an insolvent debtor should be disposed of at public sale."

"I am very slightly acquainted with the young ladies," said the agitated youth; "but their father was my benefactor when I was a poor destitute orphan, and I would sacrifice my life to save his orphans from such a dreadful calamity. I know little about the requirements of the law, gentlemen, but I implore you to tell me if there isn't some way to prevent this. If it can be done by money, I will serve any gentleman gratuitously any number of years he requires, if he will advance the necessary sum."

"We are not here to talk sentiment, my lad," rejoined Mr. Bruteman.

"We are here to transact business."

"I respect this youth for the feeling he has manifested toward his benefactor's children," said a gentleman named Ammidon. "If we could enter into some mutual agreement to relinquish this portion of the property, I for one should be extremely glad. I should be willing to lose much more than my share, for the sake of bringing about such an arrangement. And, really, the sale of such girls as these are said to be is not very creditable to the country. If any foreign travellers happen to be looking on, they will make great capital out of such a story. At all events, the Abolitionists will be sure to get it into their papers, and all Europe will be ringing changes upon it."

"Let 'em ring!" fiercely exclaimed Mr. Chandler. "I don't care a damn about the Abolitionists, nor Eu

rope neither. I reckon we can manage our own affairs in this free country."

"I should judge by your remarks that you were an Abolitionist yourself, Mr. Ammidon," said Mr. Bruteman. "I am surprised to hear a Southerner speak as if the opinions of rascally abolition- amalgamationists were of the slightest consequence. I consider such sentiments unworthy any Southern gentleman, sir."

Mr. Ammidon flushed, and answered quickly, "I allow no man to call in question my being a gentleman, sir."

"If you consider yourself insulted, you know your remedy," rejoined

Mr. Bruteman. "I give you your choice of place and weapons."

Mr. Fitzgerald consulted his watch, and two or three others followed his example.

"I see," said Mr. Ammidon, "that gentlemen are desirous to adjourn."

"It is time that we did so," rejoined Mr. Bruteman. "Officers have been sent for these slaves of Mr. Royal, and they are probably now lodged in jail. At our next meeting we will decide upon the time of sale."

Young Blumenthal rose and attempted to go out; but a blindness came over him, and he staggered against the wall.

"I reckon that youngster's an Abolitionist," muttered Mr. Chandler. "At any rate, he seems to think there's a difference in niggers,-and all such ought to have notice to quit."

Mr. Ammidon called for water, with which he sprinkled the young man's face, and two or three others assisted to help him into a carriage.

Another meeting was held the next day, which Mr. Fitzgerald did not attend, foreseeing that it would be a stormy one. The result of it was shown in the arrest and imprisonment of Signor Papanti, and a vigilant search for Madame Guirlande. Her cousin, Mr. Duroy, declared that he had been requested to take care of her apartments for a few weeks, as she was obliged to go to New York on business; that she took her young lady boarders with her, and that was all he knew. Despatches were sent in hot haste to the New York and Boston police, describing the fugitives, declaring them to be thieves, and demanding that they should be sent forthwith to New Orleans for trial. The policeman who had been employed to watch Madame's house, and who had been induced to turn his back for a while by some mysterious process best known to Mr. Fitzgerald, was severely cross-examined and liberally pelted with oaths. In the course of the investigations, it came out that Florimond Blumenthal had visited the house on the day of the elopement, and that toward dusk he had been seen lingering about the premises, watching the windows. The story got abroad that he had been an accomplice in helping off two valuable slaves. The consequence was that he received a written intimation that, if he valued his neck, he had better quit New Orleans within twenty-four hours, signed Judge Lynch.

Mr. Fitzgerald appeared to take no share in the excitement. When he met any of the creditors, he would sometimes ask, carelessly, "Any news yet about those slaves of Royal's?" He took occasion to remark to two or three of them, that, Signor Papanti being an old friend of his, he had been to the prison to see him; that he was convinced he had no idea where those girls had gone; he was only their music-teacher, and such an impetuous, peppery man, that they never would have thought of trusting him with any important secret. Having thus paved the way, he came out with a distinct proposition at the next meeting. "I feel a great deal of sympathy for Signor Papanti," said he. "I have been acquainted with him a good while, and have taken lessons of him, both in music and Italian; and I like the old gentleman. He is getting ill in prison, and he can never tell you any more than he has told you. Doubtless he knew that Madame intended to convey those girls to the North if she possibly could; but I confess I should have despised him if he had turned informer against the daughters of his friend, who had been his own favorite pupils. If you will gratify me by releasing him, I will make you an offer for those girls, and take my chance of ever finding them."

"What sum do you propose to offer?" inquired the creditors.

"I will pay one thousand dollars if you accede to my terms."

"Say two thousand, and we will take the subject under consideration," they replied.

"In that case I must increase my demands," said he. "I have reason to suspect that my friend the Signor would like to make a match with Madame Guirlande. If you will allow her to come back to her business and remain undisturbed, and will make me a sale of these girls, I don't care if I do say two thousand."

"He has told you where they are!" exclaimed Mr. Bruteman, abruptly; "and let me tell you, if you know where they are, you are not acting the part of a gentleman."

"He has not told me, I assure you, nor has he given me the slightest intimation. It is my firm belief that he does not know. But I am rather fond of gambling, and this is such a desperate throw, that it will be all the more exciting. I never tried my luck at buying slaves running, and I have rather a fancy for experimenting in that game of chance. And I confess my curiosity has been so excited by the wonderful accounts I have heard of those nonpareil girls, that I should find the pursuit of them a stimulating occupation. If I should not succeed, I should at least have the satisfaction of having done a good turn to my old Italian friend."

They asked more time to reflect upon it, and to hear from New York and Boston. With inward maledictions on their slowness, he departed, resolving in his own mind that nothing should keep him much longer from Nassau, come what would.

As he went out, Mr. Chandler remarked: "It's very much like him. He's always ready to gamble in anything."

"After all, I have my suspicion that he's got a clew to the mystery somehow, and that he expects to find those handsome wenches," said Mr. Bruteman. "I'd give a good deal to baffle him."

"It seems pretty certain that we cannot obtain any clew," rejoined

Mr. Ammidon, "and we have already expended considerable in the effort.

If he can be induced to offer two thousand five hundred, I think we

had better accept it."

After a week's absence in Savannah and its vicinity, making various arrangements for the reception of the sisters, Mr. Fitzgerald returned to New Orleans, and took an early opportunity to inform the creditors that he should remain a very short time. He made no allusion to his proposed bargain, and when they alluded to it he affected great indifference.

"I should be willing to give you five hundred dollars to release my musical friend," said he. "But as for those daughters of Mr. Royal, it seems to me, upon reflection, to be rather a quixotic undertaking to go in pursuit of them. You know it's a difficult job to catch a slave after he gets to the North, if he's as black as the ace of spades; and all Yankeedom would be up in arms at any attempt to seize such white ladies. Of course, I could obtain them in no other way than by courting them and gaining their goodwill."

Mr. Bruteman and Mr. Chandler made some remarks unfit for repetition, but which were greeted with shouts of laughter. After much dodging and doubling on the financial question, Fitzgerald agreed to pay two thousand five hundred dollars, if all his demands were complied with. The papers were drawn and signed with all due formality. He clasped them in his pocket-book, and walked off with an elastic step, saying, "Now for Nassau!"

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