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   Chapter 29 No.29

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 11664

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


When the sisters were alone together, the next day after dinner,

Flora said, "Rosa, dear, does it pain you very much to hear about Mr.

Fitzgerald?"

"No; that wound has healed," she replied. "It is merely a sad memory now."

"Mrs. Bright was nursery governess in his family before her marriage," rejoined Flora. "I suppose you have heard that he disappeared mysteriously. I think she may know something about it, and I have been intending to ask her; but your sudden appearance, and the quantity of things we have had to say to each other, have driven it out of my head. Do you object to my asking her to come in and tell us something about her experiences?"

"I should be unwilling to have her know we were ever acquainted with

Mr. Fitzgerald," responded Mrs. King.

"So should I," said Flora. "It will be a sufficient reason for my curiosity that Mrs. Fitzgerald is our acquaintance and neighbor."

And she went out to ask her hostess to come and sit with them. After some general conversation, Flora said: "You know Mrs. Fitzgerald is our neighbor in Boston. I have some curiosity to know what were your experiences in her family."

"Mrs. Fitzgerald was always very polite to me," replied Mrs. Bright; "and personally I had no occasion to find fault with Mr. Fitzgerald, though I think the Yankee schoolma'am was rather a bore to him. The South is a beautiful part of the country. I used to think the sea-island, where they spent most of the summer, was as beautiful as Paradise before the fall; but I never felt at home there. I didn't like the state of things. It's my theory that everybody ought to help in doing the work of the world. There's a great deal to be done, ladies, and it don't seem right that some backs should be broken with labor, while others have the spine complaint for want of exercise. It didn't agree with my independent New England habits to be waited upon so much. A negro woman named Venus took care of my room. The first night I slept at the plantation, it annoyed me to see her kneel down to take off my stockings and shoes. I told her she might go, for I could undress myself. She seemed surprised; and I think her conclusion was that I was no lady. But all the negroes liked me. They had got the idea, somehow, that Northern people were their friends, and were doing something to set them free."

"Then they generally wanted their freedom, did they?" inquired Flora.

"To be sure they did," rejoined Mrs. Bright. "Did you ever hear of anybody that liked being a slave?"

Mrs. King asked whether Mr. Fitzgerald was a hard master.

"I don't think he was," said their hostess. "I have known him to do very generous and kind things for his servants. But early habits had made him indolent and selfish, and he left the overseer to do as he liked. Besides, though he was a pleasant gentleman when sober, he was violent when he was intoxicated; and he had become much addicted to intemperance before I went there. They said he had been a very handsome man; but he was red and bloated when I knew him. He had a dissipated circle of acquaintances, who used to meet at his house in Savannah, and gamble with cards till late into the night; and the liquor they drank often made them very boisterous and quarrelsome. Mrs. Fitzgerald never made any remark, in my presence, about these doings; but I am sure they troubled her, for I often heard her walking her chamber long after she had retired for the night. Indeed, they made such an uproar, that it was difficult to sleep till they were gone. Sometimes, after they had broken up, I heard them talking on the piazza; and their oaths and obscene jests were shocking to hear; yet if I met any of them the next day, they appeared like courtly gentlemen. When they were intoxicated, niggers and Abolitionists seemed always to haunt their imaginations. I remember one night in particular. I judged by their conversation that they had been reading in a Northern newspaper some discussion about allowing slaveholders to partake of the sacrament. Their talk was a strange tipsy jumble. If Mr. Bright had heard it, he would give you a comical account of it. As they went stumbling down the steps, some were singing and some were swearing. I heard one of them bawl out, 'God damn their souls to all eternity, they're going to exclude us from the communion-table.' When I first told the story to Mr. Bright, I said d-- their souls; but he said that was all a sham, for everybody knew what d-- stood for, and it was just like showing an ass's face to avoid speaking his name. So I have spoken the word right out plain, just as I heard it. It was shocking talk to hear, and you may think it very improper to repeat it, ladies; but I have told it to give you an idea of the state of things in the midst of which I found myself."

Mrs. King listened in sad silence. The Mr. Fitzgerald of this description was so unlike the elegant young gentleman who had won her girlish love, that she could not recognize him as the same person.

"Did Mr. Fitzgerald die before you left?" inquired Flora.

"I don't know when or how he died," replied Mrs. Bright; "but I have my suspicions. Out of regard to Mrs. Fitzgerald, I have never mentioned them to any one but my husband; and if I name them to you, ladies, I trust you will consider it strictly confidential."

They promised, and she resumed.

"I never pried into the secrets of the family, but I could not help learning something about them, partly from my own observation, and inferences drawn therefrom, and partly from the conversation of Venus, my talkative waiting-maid. She told me that her master married a Spanish lady, the most beautiful lady that ever walked the earth; and that he conveyed her away secretly somewhere after he married the milk-face, as she called Mrs. Fitzgerald. V

enus was still good-looking when I knew her. From her frequent remarks I judge that, when she was young, her master thought her extremely pretty; and she frequently assured me that he was a great judge 'ob we far sex.' She had a handsome mulatto daughter, whose features greatly resembled his; and she said there was good reason for it. I used to imagine Mrs. Fitzgerald thought so too; for she always seemed to owe this handsome Nelly a grudge. Mr. Fitzgerald had a body-servant named Jim, who was so genteel that I always called him 'Dandy Jim o' Caroline.' Jim and Nelly were in love with each other; but their master, for reasons of his own, forbade their meeting together.

"Finding that Nelly tried to elude his vigilance, he sold Jim to a New Orleans trader, and the poor girl almost cried her handsome eyes out. A day or two after he was sold, Mr. Fitzgerald and his lady went to Beaufort on a visit, and took their little son and daughter with them. The walls of my sleeping-room were to be repaired, and I was told to occupy their chamber during their absence. The evening after they went away, I sat up rather late reading, and when I retired the servants were all asleep. As I sat before the looking-glass, arranging my hair for the night, I happened to glance toward the reflection of the bed, which showed plainly in the mirror; and I distinctly saw a dark eye peeping through an opening in the curtains. My heart was in my throat, I assure you; but I had the presence of mind not to cry out or to jump up. I continued combing my hair, occasionally glancing toward the eye. If it be one of the negroes, thought I, he surely cannot wish to injure me, for they all know I am friendly to them. I tried to collect all my faculties, to determine what it was best to do. I reflected that, if I alarmed the servants, he might be driven to attack me in self-defence. I began talking aloud to myself, leisurely taking off my cuffs and collar as I did so, and laying my breastpin and watch upon the table. 'I wish Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald were not going to stay so long at Beaufort,' said I. 'It is lonesome here, and I don't feel at home in this chamber. I sha'n't sleep if I go to bed; so I think I'll read a little longer. 'I looked round on the table and chairs, and added: 'There, now! I've left my book down stairs, and must go for it.' I went down to the parlor and locked myself in. A few minutes afterward I saw a dark figure steal across the piazza; and, unless the moonlight deceived me, it was Dandy Jim. I wondered at it, because I thought he was on his way to New Orleans. Of course, there was no sleep for me that night. When the household were all astir, I went to the chamber again. My watch and breastpin, which I had left on purpose, were still lying on the table. It was evident that robbery had not been the object. I did not mention the adventure to any one. I pitied Jim, and if he had escaped, I had no mind to be the means of his recapture. Whatever harm he had intended, he had not done it, and there was no probability that he would loiter about in that vicinity. I had reason to be glad of my silence; for the next day an agent from the slave-trader arrived, saying that Jim had escaped, and that they thought he might be lurking near where his wife was. When Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald returned, they questioned Nelly, but she averred that she had not seen Jim, or heard from him since he was sold. Mr. Fitzgerald went away on horseback that afternoon. The horse came back in the evening with an empty saddle, and he never returned. The next morning Nelly was missing, and she was never found. I thought it right to be silent about my adventure. To have done otherwise might have produced mischievous results to Jim and Nelly, and could do their master no good. I searched the woods in every direction, but I never came upon any trace of Mr. Fitzgerald, except the marks of footsteps near the sea, before the rising of the tide. I had made arrangements to return to the North about that time; but Mrs. Fitzgerald's second son was seized with fever, and I stayed with her till he was dead and buried. Then we all came to Boston together. About a year after, her little daughter, who had been my pupil, died."

"Poor Mrs. Fitzgerald!" said Flora. "I have heard her allude to her lost children, but I had no idea she had suffered so much."

"She did suffer," replied Mrs. Bright, "though not so deeply as some natures would have suffered in the same circumstances. Her present situation is far from being enviable. Her father is a hard, grasping man, and he was greatly vexed that her splendid marriage turned out to be such a failure. It must be very mortifying to her to depend upon him mainly for the support of herself and son. I pitied her, and I pitied Mr. Fitzgerald too. He was selfish and dissipated, because he was brought up with plenty of money, and slaves to obey everything he chose to order. That is enough to spoil any man."

Rosa had listened with downcast eyes, but now she looked up earnestly and said, "That is a very kind judgment, Mrs. Bright, and I thank you for the lesson."

"It is a just judgment," replied their sensible hostess. "I often tell Mr. Bright we cannot be too thankful that we were brought up to wait upon ourselves and earn our own living. You will please to excuse me now, ladies, for it is time to prepare tea."

As she closed the door, Rosa pressed her sister's hand, and sighed as she said, "O, this is dreadful!"

"Dreadful indeed," rejoined Flora. "To think of him as he was when I used to make you blush by singing, 'Petit blanc! mon bon fr?re!' and then to think what an end he came to!"

The sisters sat in silence for some time, thinking with moistened eyes of all that had been kind and pleasant in the man who had done them so much wrong.

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