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   Chapter 34 No.34

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 9542

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The old merchant received Mr. King with marked politeness; for though he suspected him of anti-slavery proclivities, and despised him for that weakness, he had great respect for a man whose name was as good as gold, and who was the father of such an eligible match as Eulalia.

After some discursive conversation, Mr. King said, "I am desirous to tell you a short story, if you will have patience to listen to it."

"Certainly, sir," replied the old gentleman.

His visitor accordingly began by telling of Mr. Royal's having formed one of those quadroon alliances so common in New Orleans; of his having died insolvent; and of his two handsome octoroon daughters having been claimed as slaves by his creditors.

"What the deuce do you suppose I care about his octoroon daughters?" interrupted Mr. Bell, impatiently. "I wasn't one of his creditors."

"Perhaps you will take some interest in it," rejoined Mr. King, "when I tell you that the eldest of them was married to Mr. Gerald Fitzgerald of Savannah, and that she is still living."

"Do you mean the Mr. Fitzgerald who married my daughter Lily?" inquired he.

"I do mean him," was the response.

"It's false," vociferated Mr. Bell, growing almost purple in the face.

"No, sir, it is not false," replied Mr. King. "But you need not be so much excited. The first marriage did not render the second illegal; first, because a sham ceremony was performed to deceive the inexperienced girl; and secondly, because, according to the laws of the South, any marriage with a slave, however sanctified by religious forms, is utterly void in law."

"I consider such a law a very wise provision," replied the merchant. "It is necessary to prevent the inferior race from being put on an equality with their superiors. The negroes were made to be servants, sir. You may be an advocate for amalgamation, but I am not."

"I would simply ask you to observe that the law you so much approve is not a preventive of amalgamation. Mr. Fitzgerald married the daughter of the quadroon. The only effect of the law was to deprive her of a legal right to his support and protection, and to prevent her son from receiving any share of his father's property. By another Southern law, that 'the child shall follow the condition of the mother,' her son became a slave."

"Well, sir, what interest do you suppose I can take in all this?" interrupted the merchant. "It's nothing to me, sir. The South is competent to make her own laws."

Mr. King begged his attention a little longer. He then proceeded to tell how Mr. Fitzgerald had treated the octoroon, at the time of his marriage with Miss Bell; that he had subsequently sold her to a very base man, in payment of a debt; that she, terrified and bewildered by the prospect of such a fate, had, in a moment of frantic revenge, changed her babe for his daughter's; and that consequently the Gerald he had been educating as his grandson was in fact the son of the octoroon, and born a slave.

"Really, sir," said Mr. Bell, with a satirical smile, "that story might sell for something to a writer of sensation novels; but I should hardly have expected to hear it from a sensible gentleman like yourself. Pray, on whose testimony do you expect me to believe such an improbable fiction?"

"On that of the mother herself," replied Mr. King.

With a very contemptuous curl of his lip, Mr. Bell answered: "And you really suppose, do you, that I can be induced to disinherit my grandson on the testimony of a colored woman? Not I, sir. Thank God, I am not infected with this negro mania."

"But you have not asked who the woman is," rejoined Mr. King; "and without knowing that, you cannot judge candidly of the value of her testimony."

"I don't ask, because I don't care," replied the merchant. "The negroes are a lying set, sir; and I am no Abolitionist, that I should go about retailing their lies."

Mr. King looked at him an instant, and then answered, very calmly:

"The mother of that babe, whose word you treat so contemptuously, is

Mrs. King, my beloved and honored wife."

The old merchant was startled from his propriety; and, forgetful of the gout in his feet, he sprung from his chair, exclaiming, "The Devil!"

Mr. King, without noticing the abrupt exclamation, went on to relate in detail the manner of his first introduction to Miss Royal, his compassion for her subsequent misfortunes, his many reasons for believing her a pure and noble woman, and the circumstances which finally led to their marriage. He expressed his conviction that the children had been changed in a fit of temporary insanity, and dwelt much on his wife's exceeding anxiety to atone for the wrong, as far as possible. "I was ignorant of the circumstance," said he, "unt

il the increasing attraction between Gerald and Eulalia made an avowal necessary. It gives me great pain to tell you all this; but I thought that, under a reverse of circumstances, I should myself prefer to know the facts. I am desirous to do my utmost to repair the mischief done by a deserted and friendless woman, at a moment when she was crazed by distress and terror; a woman, too, whose character I have abundant reason to love and honor. If you choose to disinherit Gerald, I will provide for his future as if he were my own son; and I will repay with interest all the expense you have incurred for him. I hope that this affair may be kept secret from the world, and that we may amicably settle it, in such a way that no one will be materially injured."

Somewhat mollified by this proposal, the old gentleman inquired in a milder tone, "And where is the young man who you say is my daughter's son?"

"Until very recently he was supposed to be dead," rejoined Mr. King; "and unfortunately that circumstance led my wife to think there was no need of speaking to me concerning this affair at the time of our marriage. But we now have reason to think he may be living; and that is why I have particularly felt it my duty to make this unpleasant revelation." After repeating Tulee's story, he said, "You probably have not forgotten that last winter two slaves escaped to Boston in your ship 'The King Cotton'?"

The old merchant started as if he had been shot.

"Try not to be agitated," said Mr. King. "If we keep calm, and assist each other, we may perhaps extricate ourselves from this disagreeable dilemma, without any very disastrous results. I have but one reason for thinking it possible there may be some connection between the lost babe and one of the slaves whom you sent back to his claimant. The two babes were very nearly of an age, and so much alike that the exchange passed unnoticed; and the captain of 'The King Cotton' told Gerald that the eldest of those slaves resembled him so much that he should not know them apart."

Mr. Bell covered his face and uttered a deep groan. Such distress in an old man powerfully excited Mr. King's sympathy; and moving near to him, he placed his hand on his and said: "Don't be so much troubled, sir. This is a bad affair, but I think it can be so managed as to do no very serious harm. My motive in coming to you at this time is to ascertain whether you can furnish me with any clew to that young man. I will myself go in search of him, and I will take him to Europe and have him educated in a manner suitable to his condition, as your descendant and the heir of your property."

The drawn expression of the old merchant's mouth was something painful to witness. It seemed as if every nerve was pulled to its utmost tension by the excitement in his soul. He obviously had to make a strong effort to speak when he said, "Do you suppose, sir, that a merchant of my standing is going to leave his property to negroes?"

"You forget that this young man is pure Anglo-Saxon," replied Mr.

King.

"I tell you, sir," rejoined Mr. Bell, "that the mulatto who was with him was his wife; and if he is proved to be my grandson, I'll never see him, nor have anything to do with him, unless he gives her up; not if you educate him with the Prince Royal of France or England. A pretty dilemma you have placed me in, sir. My property, it seems, must either go to Gerald, who you say has negro blood in his veins, or to this other fellow, who is a slave with a negro wife."

"But she could be educated in Europe also," pleaded Mr. King; "and I could establish him permanently in lucrative business abroad. By this arrangement-"

"Go to the Devil with your arrangements!" interrupted the merchant, losing all command of himself. "If you expect to arrange a pack of mulatto heirs for me, you are mistaken, sir."

He rose up and struck his chair upon the floor with a vengeance, and his face was purple with rage, as he vociferated: "I'll have legal redress for this, sir. I'll expose your wife, sir. I'll lay my damages at a million, sir."

Mr. King bowed and said, "I will see you again when you are more calm."

As he went out, he heard Mr. Bell striding across the room and thrashing the furniture about. "Poor old gentleman!" thought he. "I hope I shall succeed in convincing him how little I value money in comparison with righting this wrong, as far as possible. Alas! it would never have taken place had there not been a great antecedent wrong; and that again grew out of the monstrous evil of slavery."

He had said to the old merchant, "I will see you again when you are calmer." And when he saw him again, he was indeed calm, for he had died suddenly, of a fit produced by violent excitement.

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