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   Chapter 33 No.33

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 13638

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The probability that the lost child was alive and in slavery was a very serious complication of existing difficulties. Thinking it prudent to prepare Gerald's mind for any contingencies that might occur, Mr. King proceeded immediately to Boston to have a conference with him. The young man received the news with unexpected composure.

"It will annoy Lily-mother very much," said he, "and on that account I regret it; but so far as I am myself concerned, it would in some respects be a relief to me to get out of the false position in which I find myself. Grandfather Bell has always grumbled about the expense I have been to him in consequence of my father's loss of fortune, and of course that adds to the unpleasantness of feeling that I am practising a fraud upon him. He is just now peculiarly vexed with me for leaving Northampton so suddenly. He considers it an unaccountable caprice of mine, and reproaches me with letting Eulalia slip through my fingers, as he expresses it. Of course, he has no idea how it cuts me. This state of things is producing a great change in my views. My prevailing wish now is to obtain an independent position by my own exertions, and thus be free to become familiar with my new self. At present, I feel as if there were two of me, and that one was an impostor."

"I heartily approve of your wish to rely upon your own resources," replied Mr. King; "and I will gladly assist you to accomplish it. I have already said you should be to me as a son, and I stand by my word; but I advise you, as I would an own son, to devote yourself assiduously to some business, profession, or art. Never be a gentleman of leisure. It is the worst possible calling a man can have. Nothing but stagnation of faculties and weariness of soul comes of it. But we will talk about your plans hereafter. The urgent business of the present moment is to obtain some clew to your missing brother. My conscientious wife will suffer continual anxiety till he is found. I must go to New Orleans and seek out Mr. Bruteman, to ascertain whether he has sold him."

"Bruteman!" exclaimed the young man, with sudden interest. "Was he the one who seized that negro woman and the child?"

"Yes," rejoined Mr. King. "But why does that excite your interest?"

"I am almost ashamed to tell you," replied Gerald. "But you know I was educated in the prejudices of my father and grandfather. It was natural that I should be proud of being the son of a slaveholder, that I should despise the colored race, and consider abolition a very vulgar fanaticism. But the recent discovery that I was myself born a slave has put me upon my thoughts, and made me a little uneasy about a transaction in which I was concerned. The afternoon preceding Mrs. Green's splendid ball, where I first saw my beautiful Rose-mother, two fugitive slaves arrived here in one of grandfather's ships called 'The King Cotton.' Mr. Bruteman telegraphed to grandfather about them, and the next morning he sent me to tell Captain Kane to send the slaves down to the islands in the harbor, and keep them under guard till a vessel passed that would take them back to New Orleans. I did his errand, without bestowing upon the subjects of it any more thought or care than I should have done upon two bales of cotton. At parting, Captain Kane said to me, 'By George, Mr. Fitzgerald, one of these fellows looks so much like you, that, if you were a little tanned by exposure to the sun, I shouldn't know you apart.' 'That's flattering,' replied I, 'to be compared to a negro.' And I hurried away, being impatient to make an early call upon your lady at the Revere House. I don't suppose I should ever have thought of it again, if your present conversation had not brought it to my mind."

"Do you know whether Mr. Bruteman sold those slaves after they were sent back?" inquired Mr. King.

"There is one fact connected with the affair which I will tell you, if you promise not to mention it," replied the young man. "The Abolitionists annoyed grandfather a good deal about those runaways, and he is nervously sensitive lest they should get hold of it, and publish it in their papers." Having received the desired promise, he went on to say: "Those slaves were mortgaged to grandfather, and he sent orders to have them immediately sold. I presume Mr. Bruteman managed the transaction, for they were his slaves; but I don't know whether he reported the name of the purchaser. He died two months ago, leaving his affairs a good deal involved; and I heard that some distant connections in Mississippi were his heirs."

"Where can I find Captain Kane?" inquired Mr. King.

"He sailed for Calcutta a fortnight ago," rejoined Gerald.

"Then there is no other resource but to go to New Orleans, as soon as the weather will permit," was the reply.

"I honor your zeal," said the young man. "I wish my own record was clean on the subject. Since I have taken the case home to myself, I have felt that it was mean and wrong to send back fugitives from slavery; but it becomes painful, when I think of the possibility of having helped to send back my own brother,-and one, too, whom I have supplanted in his birthright."

* * * * *

When Mr. King returned to Northampton, the information he had obtained sent a new pang to the heart of his wife. "Then he is a slave!" she exclaimed. "And while the poor fellow was being bound and sent back to slavery, I was dancing and receiving homage. Verily the Furies do pursue me. Do you think it is necessary to tell Mrs. Fitzgerald of this?"

"In a reverse of cases, I think you would feel that you ought to be informed of everything," he replied. "But I will save you from that portion of the pain. It was most fitting that a woman should make the first part of the disclosure; but this new light on the subject can be as well revealed by myself."

"Always kind and considerate," she said. "This news will be peculiarly annoying to her, and perhaps she will receive it better from you than from me; for I can see that I have lost her favor. But you have taught me that it is of more consequence to deserve favor than to have it; and I shall do my utmost to deserve a kindly estimate from her."

"I confess I am somewhat puzzled by this tangle," rejoined her husband. "But where there is both the will and the means to repair a wrong, it will be strange if a way cannot be found."

"I would like to sell my diamonds, and all my other expensive ornaments, to buy that young man," said she.

"That you can do, if it will be any gratification to you," he replied; "but the few thousands I have invested in jewels for you would go but little way toward the full remuneration I intend to make, if he can be found. We will send the young people out of the way this evening, and lay the case before a family

council of the elders. I should like to consult Blumenthal. I have never known a man whose natural instincts were so true as his; and his entire freedom from conventional prejudices reminds me of my good father. I have great reliance also on Mrs. Delano's delicate perceptions and quiet good sense. And our lively little Flora, though she jumps to her conclusions, always jumps in a straight line, and usually hits the point."

As soon as the council was convened, and the subject introduced, Mrs.

Blumenthal exclaimed: "Why, Florimond, those slaves in 'The King

Cotton' were the ones you and Mr. Goldwin tried so hard to help them

find."

"Yes," rejoined he; "I caught a hasty glimpse of one of the poor fellows just as they were seizing him with the cry of 'Stop thief!' and his Italian look reminded me so forcibly of the danger Flora was once in, that I was extremely troubled about him after I heard he was a slave. As I recall him to my mind, I do think he resembled young Fitzgerald. Mr. Percival might perhaps throw some light on the subject; for he was unwearied in his efforts to rescue those fugitives. He already knows Flora's history."

"I should like to have you go to Boston with me and introduce me to him," said Mr. King.

"That I will do," answered Blumenthal. "I think both Mr. Bell and Mrs. Fitzgerald would prefer to have it all sink into unquestioned oblivion; but that does not change our duty with regard to the poor fellow."

"Do you think they ought to be informed of the present circumstances?" inquired Mr. King.

"If I were in their position, I should think I ought to know all the particulars," replied he; "and the golden rule is as good as it is simple."

"Mrs. Fitzgerald has great dread of her father's knowing anything about it," responded Rosa; "and I have an earnest desire to spare her pain as far as possible. It seems as if she had a right to judge in the premises."

Mrs. Delano took Mr. Blumenthal's view of the subject, and it was decided to leave that point for further consideration. Flora suggested that some difficulties might be removed by at once informing Eulalia that Gerald was her brother. But Mrs. Delano answered: "Some difficulties might be avoided for ourselves by that process; but the good of the young people is a paramount consideration. You know none of them are aware of all the antecedents in their family history, and it seems to me best that they should not know them till their characters are fully formed. I should have no objection to telling them of their colored ancestry, if it did not involve a knowledge of laws and customs and experiences growing out of slavery, which might, at this early age, prove unsettling to their principles. Anything that mystifies moral perceptions is not so easily removed from youthful minds as breath is wiped from a mirror."

"I have that feeling very deeply fixed with regard to our Eulalia," observed Mr. King; "and I really see no need of agitating their young, unconscious minds with subjects they are too inexperienced to understand. I will have a talk with Mrs. Fitzgerald, and then proceed to Boston."

Mrs. Fitzgerald received the announcement with much less equanimity than she had manifested on a former occasion. Though habitually polite, she said very abruptly: "I was in hopes I should never be troubled any more with this vulgar subject. Since Mrs. King saw fit to change the children, let her take care of the one she has chosen. Of course, it would be very disagreeable to me to have a son who had been brought up among slaves. If I wished to make his acquaintance, I could not do it without exciting a great deal of remark; and there has already been too much talk about my husband's affairs. But I have no wish to see him. I have educated a son to my own liking, and everybody says he is an elegant young man. If you would cease from telling me that there is a stain in his blood, I should never be reminded of it."

"We thought it right to inform you of everything," rejoined Mr. King, "and leave you to decide what was to be done."

"Then, once for all," said she, "please leave Gerald and me in peace; and do what you choose about the other one. We have had sufficient annoyance already; and I never wish to hear the subject mentioned again."

"I accept your decision," replied Mr. King. "If the unfortunate young man can be found, I will educate him and establish him in business, and do the same for him in all respects that you would have done if he had been your acknowledged heir."

"And keep him at a distance from me," said the perturbed lady; "for if he resembles Gerald so strongly, it would of course give rise to unpleasant inquiries and remarks."

The gentleman bowed, wished her good morning, and departed, thinking what he had heard was a strange commentary on natural instincts.

Mr. Percival was of course greatly surprised and excited when he learned the relation which one of the fugitives in "The King Cotton" bore to Mr. Bell. "We hear a good deal about poetical justice," said he; "but one rarely sees it meted out in this world. The hardness of the old merchant when Mr. Jackson and I called upon him was a thing to be remembered. He indorsed, with warm approbation, the declaration of the reverend gentleman who professed his willingness to send his mother or brother into slavery, if the laws of the United States required it."

"If our friend Mr. Bright was with us, he would say the Lord took him at his word," rejoined Mr. Blumenthal, smiling.

An earnest discussion ensued concerning the possibilities of the case, and several days were spent in active investigation. But all the additional light obtained was from a sailor, who had been one of the boat's crew that conveyed the fugitives to the islands in the harbor; and all he could tell was that he heard them call each other George and Henry. When he was shown a colored photograph, which Gerald had just had taken for his Rose-mother, he at once said that was the one named George.

"This poor fellow must be rescued," said Mr. King, after they returned from their unsatisfactory conference with the sailor. "Mr. Bell may know who purchased him, and a conversation with him seems to be the only alternative."

"Judging by my own experience, your task is not to be envied," rejoined Mr. Percival. "He will be in a tremendous rage. But perhaps the lesson will do him good. I remember Francis Jackson said at the time, that if his dark-complexioned grandson should be sent into slavery, it might bring him to a realizing sense of the state of things he was doing his utmost to encourage."

The undertaking did indeed seem more formidable to Mr. King than anything he had yet encountered; but true to his sense of duty he resolved to go bravely through with it.

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