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A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 24060

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


While Rosabella was thus exchanging the laurel crown for the myrtle wreath, Flora and her friend were on their way to search the places that had formerly known her. Accompanied by Mr. Jacobs, who had long been a steward in her family, Mrs. Delano passed through Savannah, without calling on her friend Mrs. Welby, and in a hired boat proceeded to the island. Flora almost flew over the ground, so great was her anxiety to reach the cottage. Nature, which pursues her course with serene indifference to human vicissitudes, wore the same smiling aspect it had worn two years before, when she went singing through the woods, like Cinderella, all unconscious of the beneficent fairy she was to meet there in the form of a new Mamita. Trees and shrubs were beautiful with young, glossy foliage. Pines and firs offered their aromatic incense to the sun. Birds were singing, and bees gathering honey from the wild-flowers. A red-headed woodpecker was hammering away on the umbrageous tree under which Flora used to sit while busy with her sketches. He cocked his head to listen as they approached, and, at first sight of them, flew up into the clear blue air, with undulating swiftness. To Flora's great disappointment, they found all the doors fastened; but Mr. Jacobs entered by a window and opened one of them. The cottage had evidently been deserted for a considerable time. Spiders had woven their tapestry in all the corners. A pane had apparently been cut out of the window their attendant had opened, and it afforded free passage to the birds. On a bracket of shell-work, which Flora had made to support a vase of flowers, was a deserted nest, bedded in soft green moss, which hung from it in irregular streamers and festoons.

"How pretty!" said Mrs. Delano. "If the little creature had studied the picturesque, she couldn't have devised anything more graceful. Let us take it, bracket and all, and carry it home carefully."

"That was the very first shell-work I made after we came from Nassau," rejoined Flora. "I used to put fresh flowers on it every morning, to please Rosa. Poor Rosa! Where can she be?"

She turned away her head, and was silent for a moment. Then, pointing to the window, she said: "There's that dead pine-tree I told you I used to call Old Man of the Woods. He is swinging long pennants of moss on his arms, just as he did when I was afraid to look at him in the moonlight."

She was soon busy with a heap of papers swept into a corner of the room she used to occupy. They were covered with sketches of leaves and flowers, and embroidery-patterns, and other devices with which she had amused herself in those days. Among them she was delighted to find the head and shoulders of Thistle, with a garland round his neck. In Rosa's sleeping-room, an old music-book, hung with cobwebs, leaned against the wall.

"O Mamita Lila, I am glad to find this!" exclaimed Flora. "Here is what Rosa and I used to sing to dear papa when we were ever so little. He always loved old-fashioned music. Here are some of Jackson's canzonets, that were his favorites." She began to hum, "Time has not thinned my flowing hair." "Here is Dr. Arne's 'Sweet Echo.' Rosa used to play and sing that beautifully. And here is what he always liked to have us sing to him at sunset. We sang it to him the very night before he died." She began to warble, "Now Phoebus sinketh in the west." "Why, it seems as if I were a little girl again, singing to Papasito and Mamita," said she.

Looking up, she saw that Mrs. Delano had covered her face with her handkerchief; and closing the music-book, she nestled to her side, affectionately inquiring what had troubled her. For a little while her friend pressed her hand in silence.

"O darling," said she, "what a strange, sad gift is memory! I sang that to your father the last time we ever saw the sunset together; and perhaps when he heard it he used to see me sometimes, as plainly as I now see him. It is consoling to think he did not quite forget me."

"When we go home, I will sing it to you every evening if you would like it, Mamita Lila," said Flora.

Her friend patted her head fondly, and said: "You must finish your researches soon, darling; for I think we had better go to Magnolia Lawn to see if Tom and Chloe can be found."

"How shall we get there? It's too far for you to walk, and poor

Thistle's gone," said Flora.

"I have sent Mr. Jacobs to the plantation," replied Mrs. Delano, "and I think he will find some sort of vehicle. Meanwhile, you had better be getting together any little articles you want to carry away."

As Flora took up the music-book, some of the loose leaves fell out, and with them came a sketch of Tulee's head, with the large gold hoops and the gay turban. "Here's Tulee!" shouted Flora. "It isn't well drawn, but it is like her. I'll make a handsome picture from it, and frame it, and hang it by my bedside, where I can see it every morning. Dear, good Tulee! How she jumped up and kissed us when we first arrived here. I suppose she thinks I am dead, and has cried a great deal about little Missy Flory. O, what wouldn't I give to see her!"

She had peeped about everywhere, and was becoming very much dispirited with the desolation, when Mr. Jacobs came back with a mule and a small cart, which he said was the best conveyance he could procure. The jolting over hillocks, and the occasional grunts of the mule, made it an amusing ride; but it was a fruitless one. The plantation negroes were sowing cotton, but all Mr. Fitzgerald's household servants were leased out in Savannah during his absence in Europe. The white villa at Magnolia Lawn peeped out from its green surroundings; but the jalousies were closed, and the tracks on the carriage-road were obliterated by rains.

Hiring a negro to go with them to take back the cart, they made the best of their way to the boat, which was waiting for them. Fatigued and disconsolate with their fruitless search, they felt little inclined to talk as they glided over the bright waters. The negro boatmen frequently broke in upon the silence with some simple, wild melody, which they sang in perfect unison, dipping their oars in rhythm. When Savannah came in sight, they urged the boat faster, and, improvising words to suit the occasion, they sang in brisker strains:-

"Row, darkies, row!

See de sun down dar am creepin';

Row, darkies, row!

Hab white ladies in yer keepin';

Row, darkies, row!"

With the business they had on hand, Mrs. Delano preferred not to seek her friends in the city, and they took lodgings at a hotel. Early the next morning, Mr. Jacobs was sent out to ascertain the whereabouts of Mr. Fitzgerald's servants; and Mrs. Delano proposed that, during his absence, they should drive to The Pines, which she described as an extremely pleasant ride. Flora assented, with the indifference of a preoccupied mind. But scarcely had the horses stepped on the thick carpet of pine foliage with which the ground was strewn, when she eagerly exclaimed, "Tom! Tom!" A black man, mounted on the seat of a carriage that was passing them, reined in his horses and stopped.

"Keep quiet, my dear," whispered Mrs. Delano to her companion, "till I can ascertain who is in the carriage."

"Are you Mr. Fitzgerald's Tom?" she inquired.

"Yes, Missis," replied the negro, touching his hat.

She beckoned him to come and open her carriage-door, and, speaking in a low voice, she said: "I want to ask you about a Spanish lady who used to live in a cottage, not far from Mr. Fitzgerald's plantation. She had a black servant named Tulee, who used to call her Missy Rosy. We went to the cottage yesterday, and found it shut up. Can you tell us where they have gone?"

Tom looked at them very inquisitively, and answered, "Dunno, Missis."

"We are Missy Rosy's friends, and have come to bring her some good news. If you can tell us anything about her, I will give you this gold piece."

Tom half stretched forth his hand to take the coin, then drew it back, and repeated, "Dunno, Missis."

Flora, who felt her heart rising in her throat, tossed back her veil, and said, "Tom, don't you know me?"

The negro started as if a ghost had risen before him.

"Now tell me where Missy Rosy has gone, and who went with her," said she, coaxingly.

"Bress yer, Missy Flory! am yer alive!" exclaimed the bewildered negro.

Flora laughed, and, drawing off her glove, shook hands with him. "Now you know I'm alive, Tom. But don't tell anybody. Where's Missy Rosy gone."

"O Missy," replied Tom, "dar am heap ob tings to tell."

Mrs. Delano suggested that it was not a suitable place; and Tom said he must go home with his master's carriage. He told them he had obtained leave to go and see his wife Chloe that evening; and he promised to come to their hotel first. So, with the general information that Missy Rosy and Tulee were safe, they parted for the present.

Tom's communication in the evening was very long, and intensely interesting to his auditors; but it did not extend beyond a certain point. He told of Rosa's long and dangerous illness; of Chloe's and Tulee's patient praying and nursing; of the birth of the baby; of the sale to Mr. Bruteman; and of the process by which she escaped with Mr. Duroy. Further than that he knew nothing. He had never been in New Orleans afterward, and had never heard Mr. Fitzgerald speak of Rosa.

At that crisis in the conversation, Mrs. Delano summoned Mr. Jacobs, and requested him to ascertain when a steamboat would go to New Orleans. Flora kissed her hand, with a glance full of gratitude. Tom looked at her in a very earnest, embarrassed way, and said: "Missis, am yer one ob dem Ab-lish-nishts dar in de Norf, dat Massa swars 'bout?"

Mrs. Delano turned toward Flora with a look of perplexity, and, having received an interpretation of the question, she smiled as she answered: "I rather think I am half an Abolitionist, Tom. But why do you wish to know?"

Tom went on to state, in "lingo" that had to be frequently explained, that he wanted to run away to the North, and that he could manage to do it if it were not for Chloe and the children. He had been in hopes that Mrs. Fitzgerald would have taken her to the North to nurse her baby while she was gone to Europe. In that case, he intended to follow after; and he thought some good people would lend them money to buy their little ones, and, both together, they could soon work off the debt. But this project had been defeated by Mrs. Bell, who brought a white nurse from Boston, and carried her infant grandson back with her.

"Yer see, Missis," said Tom, with a sly look, "dey tinks de niggers don't none ob 'em wants dare freedom, so dey nebber totes 'em whar it be."

Ever since that disappointment had occurred, he and his wife had resolved themselves into a committee of ways and means, but they had not yet devised any feasible mode of escape. And now they were thrown into great consternation by the fact that a slave-trader had been to look at Chloe, because Mr. Fitzgerald wanted money to spend in Europe, and had sent orders to have some of his negroes sold.

Mrs. Delano told him she didn't see how she could help him, but she would think about it; and Flora, with a sideway inclination of the head toward her, gave Tom an expressive glance, which he understood as a promise to persuade her. He urged the matter no further, but asked what time it was. Being told it was near nine o'clock, he said he must hasten to Chloe, for it was not allowable for negroes to be in the street after that hour.

He had scarcely closed the door, before Mrs. Delano said, "If Chloe is sold, I must buy her."

"I thought you would say so," rejoined Flora.

A discussion then took place as to ways and means, and a strictly confidential letter was written to a lawyer from the North, with whom Mrs. Delano was acquainted, requesting him to buy the woman and her children for her, if they were to be sold.

It happened fortunate

ly that a steamer was going to New Orleans the next day. Just as they were going on board, a negro woman with two children came near, and, dropping a courtesy, said: "Skuse, Missis. Dis ere's Chloe. Please say Ise yer nigger! Do, Missis!"

Flora seized the black woman's hand, and pressed it, while she whispered: "Do, Mamita! They're going to sell her, you know."

She took the children by the hand, and hurried forward without waiting for an answer. They were all on board before Mrs. Delano had time to reflect. Tom was nowhere to be seen. On one side of her stood Chloe, with two little ones clinging to her skirts, looking at her imploringly with those great fervid eyes, and saying in suppressed tones, "Missis, dey's gwine to sell me away from de chillen"; and on the other side was Flora, pressing her hand, and entreating, "Don't send her back, Mamita! She was so good to poor Rosa."

"But, my dear, if they should trace her to me, it would be a very troublesome affair," said the perplexed lady.

"They won't look for her in New Orleans. They'll think she's gone

North," urged Flora.

During this whispered consultation, Mr. Jacobs approached with some of their baggage. Mrs. Delano stopped him, and said: "When you register our names, add a negro servant and her two children."

He looked surprised, but bowed and asked no questions. She was scarcely less surprised at herself. In the midst of her anxiety to have the boat start, she called to mind her former censures upon those who helped servants to escape from Southern masters, and she could not help smiling at the new dilemma in which she found herself.

The search in New Orleans availed little. They alighted from their carriage a few minutes to look at the house where Flora was born. She pointed out to Mrs. Delano the spot whence her father had last spoken to her on that merry morning, and the grove where she used to pelt him with oranges; but neither of them cared to enter the house, now that everything was so changed. Madame's house was occupied by strangers, who knew nothing of the previous tenants, except that they were said to have gone to Europe to live. They drove to Mr. Duroy's, and found strangers there, who said the former occupants had all died of yellow-fever,-the lady and gentleman, a negro woman, and a white baby. Flora was bewildered to find every link with her past broken and gone. She had not lived long enough to realize that the traces of human lives often disappear from cities as quickly as the ocean closes over the tracks of vessels. Mr. Jacobs proposed searching for some one who had been in Mr. Duroy's employ; and with that intention, they returned to the city. As they were passing a house where a large bird-cage hung in the open window, Flora heard the words, "Petit blanc, mon bon fr?re! Ha! ha!"

She called out to Mr. Jacobs, "Stop! Stop!" and pushed at the carriage door, in her impatience to get out.

"What is the matter, my child?" inquired Mrs. Delano.

"That's Madame's parrot," replied she; and an instant after she was ringing at the door of the house. She told the servant they wished to make some inquiries concerning Signor and Madame Papanti, and Monsieur Duroy; and she and Mrs. Delano were shown in to wait for the lady of the house. They had no sooner entered, than the parrot flapped her wings and cried out, "Bon jour, joli petit diable!" And then she began to whistle and warble, twitter and crow, through a ludicrous series of noisy variations. Flora burst into peals of laughter, in the midst of which the lady of the house entered the room. "Excuse me, Madame," said she. "This parrot is an old acquaintance of mine. I taught her to imitate all sorts of birds, and she is showing me that she has not forgotten my lessons."

"It will be impossible to hear ourselves speak, unless I cover the cage," replied the lady.

"Allow me to quiet her, if you please," rejoined Flora. She opened the door of the cage, and the bird hopped on her arm, flapping her wings, and crying, "Bon jour! Ha! ha!"

"Taisez vous, jolie Manon," said Flora soothingly, while she stroked the feathery head. The bird nestled close and was silent.

When their errand was explained, the lady repeated the same story they had already heard about Mr. Duroy's family.

"Was the black woman who died there named Tulee?" inquired Flora.

"I never heard her name but once or twice," replied the lady. "It was not a common negro name, and I think that was it. Madame Papanti had put her and the baby there to board. After Mr. Duroy died, his son came home from Arkansas to settle his affairs. My husband, who was one of Mr. Duroy's clerks, bought some of the things at auction; and among them was that parrot."

"And what has become of Signor and Madame Papanti?" asked Mrs. Delano.

The lady could give no information, except that they had returned to Europe. Having obtained directions where to find her husband, they thanked her, and wished her good morning.

Flora held the parrot up to the cage, and said, "Bon jour, jolie

Manon!"

"Bon jour!" repeated the bird, and hopped upon her perch.

After they had entered the carriage, Flora said: "How melancholy it seems that everybody is gone, except Jolie Manon! How glad the poor thing seemed to be to see me! I wish I could take her home."

"I will send to inquire whether the lady will sell her," replied her friend.

"O Mamita, you will spoil me, you indulge me so much," rejoined Flora.

Mrs. Delano smiled affectionately, as she answered: "If you were very spoilable, dear, I think that would have been done already."

"But it will be such a bother to take care of Manon," said Flora.

"Our new servant Chloe can do that," replied Mrs. Delano. "But I really hope we shall get home without any further increase of our retinue."

From the clerk information was obtained that he heard Mr. Duroy tell Mr. Bruteman that a lady named Rosabella Royal had sailed to Europe with Signor and Madame Papanti in the ship Mermaid. He added that news afterward arrived that the vessel foundered at sea, and all on board were lost.

With this sorrow on her heart, Flora returned to Boston. Mr. Percival was immediately informed of their arrival, and hastened to meet them. When the result of their researches was told, he said: "I shouldn't be disheartened yet. Perhaps they didn't sail in the Mermaid. I will send to the New York Custom-House for a list of the passengers."

Flora eagerly caught at that suggestion; and Mrs. Delano said, with a smile: "We have some other business in which we need your help. You must know that I am involved in another slave case. If ever a quiet and peace-loving individual was caught up and whirled about by a tempest of events, I am surely that individual. Before I met this dear little Flora, I had a fair prospect of living and dying a respectable and respected old fogy, as you irreverent reformers call discreet people. But now I find myself drawn into the vortex of abolition to the extent of helping off four fugitive slaves. In Flora's case, I acted deliberately, from affection and a sense of duty; but in this second instance I was taken by storm, as it were. The poor woman was aboard before I knew it, and I found myself too weak to withstand her imploring looks and Flora's pleading tones." She went on to describe the services Chloe had rendered to Rosa, and added: "I will pay any expenses necessary for conveying this woman to a place of safety, and supplying all that is necessary for her and her children, until she can support them; but I do not feel as if she were safe here."

"If you will order a carriage, I will take them directly to the house of Francis Jackson, in Hollis Street," said Mr. Percival. "They will be safe enough under the protection of that honest, sturdy friend of freedom. His house is the depot of various subterranean railroads; and I pity the slaveholder who tries to get on any of his tracks. He finds himself 'like a toad under a harrow, where ilka tooth gies him a tug,' as the Scotch say."

While waiting for the carriage, Chloe and her children were brought in. Flora took the little ones under her care, and soon had their aprons filled with cakes and sugarplums. Chloe, unable to restrain her feelings, dropped down on her knees in the midst of the questions they were asking her, and poured forth an eloquent prayer that the Lord would bless these good friends of her down-trodden people.

When the carriage arrived, she rose, and, taking Mrs. Delano's hand, said solemnly: "De Lord bress yer, Missis! De Lord bress yer! I seed yer once fore ebber I knowed yer. I seed yer in a vision, when I war prayin' to de Lord to open de free door fur me an' my chillen. Ye war an angel wid white shiny wings. Bress de Lord! 'T war Him dat sent yer.-An' now, Missy Flory, de Lord bress yer! Ye war allers good to poor Chloe, down dar in de prison-house. Let me gib yer a kiss, little Missy."

Flora threw her arms round the bended neck, and promised to go and see her wherever she was.

When the carriage rolled away, emotion kept them both silent for a few minutes. "How strange it seems to me now," said Mrs. Delano, "that I lived so many years without thinking of the wrongs of these poor people! I used to think prayer-meetings for slaves were very fanatical and foolish. It seemed to me enough that they were included in our prayer for 'all classes and conditions of men'; but after listening to poor Chloe's eloquent outpouring, I am afraid such generalizing will sound rather cold."

"Mamita," said Flora, "you know you gave me some money to buy a silk dress. Are you willing I should use it to buy clothes for Chloe and her children?"

"More than willing, my child," she replied. "There is no clothing so beautiful as the raiment of righteousness."

The next morning, Flora went out to make her purchases. Some time after, Mrs. Delano, hearing voices near the door, looked out, and saw her in earnest conversation with Florimond Blumenthal, who had a large parcel in his arms. When she came in, Mrs. Delano said, "So you had an escort home?"

"Yes, Mamita," she replied; "Florimond would bring the parcel, and so we walked together."

"He was very polite," said Mrs. Delano; "but ladies are not accustomed to stand on the doorstep talking with clerks who bring bundles for them."

"I didn't think anything about that," rejoined Flora. "He wanted to know about Rosa, and I wanted to tell him. Florimond seems just like a piece of my old home, because he loved papa so much. Mamita Lila, didn't you say papa was a poor clerk when you and he first began to love one another?"

"Yes, my child," she replied; and she kissed the bright, innocent face that came bending over her, looking so frankly into hers.

When she had gone out of the room, Mrs. Delano said to herself, "That darling child, with her strange history and unworldly ways, is educating me more than I can educate her."

A week later, Mr. and Mrs. Percival came, with tidings that no such persons as Signor and Madame Papanti were on board the Mermaid; and they proposed writing letters of inquiry forthwith to consuls in various parts of Italy and France.

Flora began to hop and skip and clap her hands. But she soon paused, and said, laughingly: "Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. Mamita often tells me I was brought up in a bird-cage; and I ask her how then can she expect me to do anything but hop and sing. Excuse me. I forgot Mamita and I were not alone."

"You pay us the greatest possible compliment," rejoined Mr. Percival.

And Mrs. Percival added, "I hope you will always forget it when we are here."

"Do you really wish it?" asked Flora, earnestly. "Then I will."

And so, with a few genial friends, an ever-deepening attachment between her and her adopted mother, a hopeful feeling at her heart about Rosa, Tulee's likeness by her bedside, and Madame's parrot to wish her Bon jour! Boston came to seem to her like a happy home.

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