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   Chapter 27 No.27

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 16991

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


A few days past the middle of the following May, a carriage stopped before the house of Mr. Joseph Bright, in Northampton, and Mrs. Delano, with all the Blumenthal family, descended from it. Mr. Bright received them at the gate, his face smiling all over. "You're welcome, ladies," said he. "Walk in! walk in! Betsey, this is Mrs. Delano. This is Mrs. Bright, ladies. Things ain't so stylish here as at your house; but I hope you'll find 'em comfortable."

Mrs. Bright, a sensible-looking woman, with great moderation of manner, showed them into a plainly furnished, but very neat parlor.

"O, how pleasant this is!" exclaimed Mrs. Blumenthal, as she looked out of one of the side-windows.

The children ran up to her repeating: "How pleasant! What a nice hedge, mamma! And see that wall all covered with pretty flowers!"

"Those are moss-pinks," said Mrs. Bright. "I think they are very ornamental to a wall."

"Did you plant them?" inquired Rosa.

"O, no," said Mr. Bright, who was bringing in various baskets and shawls. "That's not our garden; but we have just as much pleasure looking at it as if it was. A great Southern nabob lives there. He made a heap o' money selling women and children, and he's come North to spend it. He's a very pious man, and deacon of the church." The children began to laugh; for Mr. Bright drawled out his words in solemn tones, and made his broad face look very comical by trying to lengthen it. "His name is Stillham," added he, "but I call him Deacon Steal'em."

As he passed out, Rosa whispered to her mother, "What does he mean about a deacon's selling women and children?"

Before an answer could be given, Mr. Bright reappeared with a bird-cage. "I guess this is a pretty old parrot," said he.

"Yes, she is quite old," replied Mrs. Delano. "But we are all attached to her; and our house being shut up for the summer, we were unwilling to trust her with strangers."

The parrot, conscious of being talked about, turned up her head sideways, and winked her eye, without stirring from the corner of the cage, where she was rolled up like a ball of feathers. Then she croaked out an English phrase, which she had learned of the children, "Polly wants a cacker."

"She shall have a cracker," said good-natured Mr. Bright; and Rosa and little Lila were soon furnished with a cracker and a lump of sugar for Poll.

In a short time they were summoned to tea; and after enjoying Mrs. Bright's light bread and sweet butter, they saw no more of their host and hostess for the evening. In the morning the whole family were up before the hour appointed for breakfast, and were out in the garden, taking a look at the environments of their new abode. As Mrs. Blumenthal was walking among the bushes, Mr. Bright's beaming face suddenly uprose before her, from where he was stooping to pluck up some weeds.

"Good morning, ma'am," said he. "Do hear that old thief trying to come

Paddy over the Lord!"

As he spoke, he pointed his thumb backward toward Deacon Stillham's house, whence proceeded a very loud and monotonous voice of prayer.

Mrs. Blumenthal smiled as she inquired, "What did you mean by saying he sold women and children?"

"Made his money by slave-trading down in Carolina, ma'am. I reckon a man has to pray a deal to get himself out of that scrape; needs to pray pretty loud too, or the voice of women screaming for their babies would get to the throne afore him. He don't like us over and above well, 'cause we're Abolitionists. But there's Betsey calling me; I mustn't stop here talking."

Mrs. Blumenthal amused her companions by a repetition of his remarks concerning the Deacon. She was much entertained by their host's original style of bubbling over, as she termed it. After breakfast she said: "There he is in the garden. Let's go and talk with him, Florimond."

And taking her parasol, she went out, leaning on her husband's arm.

"So you are an Abolitionist?" said Mr. Blumenthal, as they stopped near their host.

Mr. Bright tossed his hat on a bush, and, leaning on his hoe, sang in a stentorian voice: "I am an Abolitionist; I glory in the name.-There," said he, laughing, "I let out all my voice, that the Deacon might hear. He can pray the loudest; but I reckon I can sing the loudest. I'll tell you what first made me begin to think about slavery. You see I was never easy without I could be doing something in the musical way, so I undertook to teach singing. One winter, I thought I should like to run away from Jack Frost, and I looked in the Southern papers to see if any of 'em advertised for a singing-master. The first thing my eye lighted on was this advertisement:-

"Ran away from the subscriber a stout mulatto slave, named Joe; has light sandy hair, blue eyes, and ruddy complexion; is intelligent, and will pass himself for a white man. I will give one hundred dollars' reward to whoever will seize him and put him in jail.'

"'By George!' said I, 'that's a description of me. I didn't know before that I was a mulatto. It'll never do for me to go there.' So I went to Vermont to teach. I told 'em I was a runaway slave, and showed 'em the advertisement that described me. Some of 'em believed me, till I told 'em it was a joke. Well, it is just as bad for those poor black fellows as it would have been for me; but that blue-eyed Joe seemed to bring the matter home to me. It set me to thinking about slavery, and I have kept thinking ever since."

"Not exactly such a silent thinking as the apothecary's famous owl, I judge," said Mrs. Blumenthal.

"No," replied he, laughing. "I never had the Quaker gift of gathering into the stillness, that's a fact. But I reckon even that 'pothecary's owl wouldn't be silent if he could hear and understand all that Betsey has told me about the goings-on down South. Before I married her, she went there to teach; but she's a woman o' feeling, and she couldn't stand it long. But, dear me, if I believed Deacon Steal'em's talk, I should think it was just about the pleasantest thing in the world to be sold; and that the niggers down South had nothing 'pon earth to do but to lick treacle and swing on a gate. Then he proves it to be a Divine institution from Scripture, chapter and verse. You may have noticed, perhaps, that such chaps are always mighty well posted up about the original designs of Providence; especially as to who's foreordained to be kept down. He says God cussed Ham, and the niggers are the descendants of Ham. I told him if there was an estate of Ham's left unsettled, I reckoned 't would puzzle the 'cutest lawyer to hunt up the rightful heirs."

"I think so," rejoined Mr. Blumenthal, smiling; "especially when they've become so mixed up that they advertise runaway negroes with sandy hair, blue eyes, and ruddy complexion."

"When the Deacon feels the ground a little shaky under him," resumed Mr. Bright, he leans on his minister down in Carolina, who, he says, is a Northern man, and so pious that folks come from far and near to get him to pray for rain in a dry time; thinking the prayers of such a godly man will be sure to bring down the showers. He says that man preached a sermon that proved niggers were born to be servants of servants unto their brethren. I told him I didn't doubt that part of the prophecy was fulfilled about their serving their brethren; and I showed him the advertisement about sandy hair and blue eyes. But as for being servants of servants, I never heard of slaveholders serving anybody except-a chap whose name it ain't polite to mention before ladies. As for that preacher, he put me in mind of a minister my father used to tell of. He'd been to a wedding, and when he come home he couldn't light his lamp. After trying a long spell he found out that the extinguisher was on it. I told the deacon that ministers down South had put an extinguisher on their lamp, and couldn't be expected to raise much of a light from it to guide anybody's steps."

"Some of the Northern ministers are not much better guides, I think," rejoined Mr. Blumenthal.

"Just so," replied his host; "'cause they've got the same extinguisher on; and ain't it curious to see 'em puffing and blowing at the old lamp? I get 'most tired of talking common sense and common feeling to the Deacon. You can't get it into him, and it won't stay on him. You might as well try to heap a peck o' flax-seed. He keeps eating his own words, too; though they don't seem to agree with him, neither. He mainta

ins that the slaves are perfectly contented and happy; and the next minute, if you quote any of their cruel laws, he tells you they are obliged to make such laws or else they would rise and cut their masters' throats. He says blacks and whites won't mix any more than oil and water; and the next minute he says if the slaves are freed they'll marry our daughters. I tell him his arguments are like the Kilkenny cats, that ate one another up to the tip o' their tails. The Deacon is sensible enough, too, about many other subjects; but he nor no other man can saw straight with a crooked saw."

"It's an old saying," rejoined Blumenthal, "that, when men enter into a league with Satan, he always deserts them at the tightest pinch; and I've often observed he's sure to do it where arguments pinch."

"I don't wonder you are far from being a favorite with the Deacon," remarked Flora; "for, according to your own account, you hit him rather hard."

"I suppose I do," rejoined Mr. Bright. "I'm always in earnest myself; and when I'm sure I'm in the right, I always drive ahead. I soon get out o' patience trying to twist a string that ain't fastened at nary end, as an old neighbor of my father used to say. I suppose some of us Abolitionists are a little rough at times; but I reckon the coarsest of us do more good than the false prophets that prophesy smooth things."

"You said Mrs. Bright had been a teacher in the South. What part of the South was it?" inquired Mrs. Blumenthal.

"She went to Savannah to be nursery governess to Mrs. Fitzgerald's little girl," replied he. "But part of the time she was on an island where Mr. Fitzgerald had a cotton plantation. I dare say you've heard of him, for he married the daughter of that rich Mr. Bell who lives in your street. He died some years ago; at least they suppose he died, but nobody knows what became of him."

Flora pressed her husband's arm, and was about to inquire concerning the mystery, when Mrs. Delano came, hand in hand with Rosa and Lila, to say that she had ordered the carriage and wanted them to be in readiness to take a drive.

They returned to a late dinner; and when they rose from a long chat over the dessert, Mr. Bright was not to be found, and his wife was busy; so further inquiries concerning Mr. Fitzgerald's fate were postponed. Mr. Blumenthal proposed a walk on Round Hill; but the children preferred staying at home. Rosa had a new tune she wanted to practise with her guitar; and her little sister had the promise of a story from Mamita Lila. So Mr. Blumenthal and his wife went forth on their ramble alone. The scene from Round Hill was beautiful with the tender foliage of early spring. Slowly they sauntered round from point to point, pausing now and then to look at the handsome villages before them, at the blooming peach-trees, the glistening river, and the venerable mountains, with feathery crowns of violet cloud.

Suddenly a sound of music floated on the air; and they stood spell-bound, with heads bowed, as if their souls were hushed in prayer. When it ceased, Mr. Blumenthal drew a long breath, and said, "Ah! that was our Mendelssohn."

"How exquisitely it was played," observed his wife, "and how in harmony it was with these groves! It sounded like a hymn in the forest."

They lingered, hoping again to hear the invisible musician. As they leaned against the trees, the silver orb of the moon ascended from the horizon, and rested on the brow of Mount Holyoke; and from the same quarter whence Mendelssohn's "Song without Words" had proceeded, the tones of "Casta Diva" rose upon the air. Flora seized her husband's arm with a quick, convulsive grasp, and trembled all over. Wondering at the intensity of her emotion, he passed his arm tenderly round her waist and drew her closely to him. Thus, leaning upon his heart, she listened with her whole being, from the inmost recesses of her soul, throughout all her nerves, to her very fingers' ends. When the sounds died away, she sobbed out: "O, how like Rosa's voice! It seemed as if she had risen from the dead."

He spoke soothingly, and in a few minutes they descended the hill and silently wended their way homeward. The voice that had seemed to come from another world invested the evening landscape with mystical solemnity. The expression of the moon seemed transfigured, like a great clairvoyant eye, reflecting light from invisible spheres, and looking out upon the external world with dreamy abstraction.

When they arrived at their lodgings, Flora exclaimed: "O Mamita Lila, we have heard such heavenly music, and a voice so wonderfully like Rosa's! I don't believe I shall sleep a wink to-night."

"Do you mean the Aunt Rosa I was named for?" inquired her daughter.

"Yes, Rosen Blumen," replied her mother; "and I wish you had gone with us, that you might have an idea what a wonderful voice she had."

This led to talk about old times, and to the singing of various airs associated with those times. When they retired to rest, Flora fell asleep with those tunes marching and dancing through her brain; and, for the first time during many years, she dreamed of playing them to her father, while Rosabella sang.

The next morning, when the children had gone out to ramble in the woods with their father, her memory being full of those old times, she began to say over to the parrot some of the phrases that formerly amused her father and Rosabella. The old bird was never talkative now; but when urged by Flora, she croaked out some of her familiar phrases.

"I'm glad we brought pauvre Manon with us," said Mrs. Blumenthal. "I think she seems livelier since she came here. Sometimes I fancy she looks like good Madame Guirlande. Those feathers on her head make me think of the bows on Madame's cap. Come, jolie Manon, I'll carry you out doors, where the sun will shine upon you. You like sunshine, don't you, Manon?"

She took the cage, and was busy fastening it on the bough of a tree, when a voice from the street said, "Bon jour, jolie Manon!"

The parrot suddenly flapped her wings, gave a loud laugh, and burst into a perfect tornado of French and Spanish phrases: "Bon jour! Buenos dias! Querida mia! Joli diable! Petit blanc! Ha! ha!"

Surprised at this explosion, Mrs. Blumenthal looked round to discover the cause, and exclaiming, "Oh ciel!" she turned deadly pale, and rushed into the house.

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

"O Mamita, I've seen Rosa's ghost," she replied, sinking into a chair.

Mrs. Delano poured some cologne on a handkerchief, and bathed her forehead, while she said, "You were excited last night by the tune you used to hear your sister sing; and it makes you nervous, dear."

While she was speaking, Mrs. Bright entered the room, saying, "Have you a bottle of sal volatile you can lend me? A lady has come in, who says she is a little faint."

"I will bring it from my chamber," replied Mrs. Delano. She left the room, and was gone some time. When she returned, she found Mrs. Blumenthal leaning her head on the table, with her face buried in her hands. "My child, I want you to come into the other room," said Mrs. Delano. "The lady who was faint is the famous Mrs. King, from Boston. She is boarding on Round Hill, and I suppose it was her voice you heard singing. She said she had seen a lady come into this house who looked so much like a deceased relative that it made her feel faint. Now don't be excited, darling; but this lady certainly resembles the sketch you made of your sister; and it is barely possible-"

Before she could finish the sentence, Flora started up, and flew into the adjoining room. A short, quick cry, "O Floracita!" "O Rosabella!" and they were locked in each other's arms.

After hugging and kissing, and weeping and laughing by turns, Mrs. King said: "That must have been Madame's parrot. The sight of her made me think of old times, and I said, 'Bon jour, jolie Manon! Your back was toward me, and I should have passed on, if my attention had not been arrested by her wild outpouring of French and Spanish. I suppose she knew my voice."

"Bless the dear old bird!" exclaimed Flora. "It was she who brought us together again at last. She shall come in to see you."

They went out to bring in their old pet. But jolie Manon was lying on the floor of her cage, with eyes closed and wings outstretched. The joyful surprise had been too much for her feeble old nerves. She was dead.

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