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   Chapter 36 No.36

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 16292

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Through the following year, the political sky grew ever darker with impending clouds, crinkled with lightning, and vocal with growlings of approaching thunder. The North continued to make servile concessions, which history will blush to record; but they proved unavailing. The arrogance of slaveholders grew by what it fed on. Though a conscientious wish to avoid civil war mingled largely with the selfishness of trade, and the heartless gambling of politicians, all was alike interpreted by them as signs of Northern cowardice. At last, the Sumter gun was heard booming through the gathering storm. Instantly, the air was full of starry banners, and Northern pavements resounded with the tramp of horse and the rolling of artillery wagons. A thrill of patriotic enthusiasm kindled the souls of men. No more sending back of slaves. All our cities became at once cities of refuge; for men had risen above the letter of the Constitution into the spirit of the Declaration of Independence.

Gerald and his Lily-mother arrived in New York to find the social atmosphere all aglow. Under its exciting influence, he wrote to Mr. King:-

"Yesterday, I informed you of our arrival; and now I write to tell you that they are forming a regiment here to march to the defence of Washington, and I have joined it. Lily-mother was unwilling at first. But a fine set of fellows are joining,-all first-class young gentlemen. I told Lily-mother she would be ashamed to have me loiter behind the sons of her acquaintance, and that Mr. Seward said it was only an affair of sixty days. So she has consented. I enclose a letter to Rose-mother, to ask her blessing on my enterprise, which I am quite sure I shall have, together with your own."

Thus, with the unreflecting exhilaration of youth, Gerald went forth to the war, as light of heart as if he had been joining a boat-race or a hunting excursion; so little did he comprehend that ferocious system of despotism which was fastening its fangs on free institutions with the death-grapple of a bloodhound.

For the next two months, his letters, though hurried, were frequent, and always cheerful; mostly filled with trifling gossipings about camp-life, and affectionate remembrances to those he had left behind. At last, Mr. King received one of graver import, which ran thus:-

"I have met with a strange adventure. A number of us were on picket duty, with orders to keep a sharp lookout. We went pacing back and forth on our allotted ground, now passing under the shadow of trees, now coming out into the moonlight. I walked very erect, feeling myself every inch a soldier. Sometimes I cast scrutinizing glances into groups of shrubbery, and sometimes I gazed absently on the sparkling Potomac, while memory was retracing the events of my life, and recalling the dear ones connected with them. Just as I reached a large tree which formed the boundary of my prescribed course, the next sentinel, whose walk began where mine ended, approached the same tree, and before he turned again we met face to face for an instant. I started, and I confess to a momentary feeling of superstition; for I thought I had seen myself; and that, you know, is said to be a warning of approaching death. He could not have seen me very plainly, for I was in shadow, while he for an instant was clearly revealed by the moonlight. Anxious to be sure whether I had seen a vision or a reality, when I again approached the tree I waited for him; and a second time I saw such a likeness of myself as I never saw excepting in the mirror. He turned quickly, and marched away with military promptitude and precision. I watched him for a moment, as his erect figure alternately dipped into shadow and emerged into light. I need not tell you what I was thinking of while I looked; for you can easily conjecture. The third time we met, I said, 'What is your name?' He replied, 'George Falkner,' and marched away. I write on a drumhead, in a hurry. As soon as I can obtain a talk with this duplicate of myself, I will write to you again. But I shall not mention my adventure to Lily-mother. It would only make her unhappy."

Another letter, which arrived a week after, contained merely the following paragraph on the subject that interested them most:-

"We soldiers cannot command our own movements or our time. I have been able to see G.F. but once, and then our interview was brief. He seemed very reserved about himself. He says he came from New York; but his speech is Southern. He talks about 'toting' things, and says he 'disremembers,' I shall try to gain his confidence, and perhaps I shall be able to draw him out."

A fortnight later he wrote:-

"I have learned from G.F. that the first thing he remembers of himself is living with an old negress, about ten miles from New Orleans, with eight other children, of various shades, but none so white as himself. He judges he was about nine years old when he was carried to New Orleans, and let out by a rich man named Bruteman to a hotel-keeper, to black boots, do errands, &c. One of the children that the old negress brought up with him was a mulatto named Henriet. The boys called her Hen, he said. He used to 'tote' her about when she was a baby, and afterward they used to roll in the mud, and make mud-pies together. When Hen was twelve years old, she was let out to work in the same hotel where he was. Soon afterward, Mr. Bruteman put him out to learn the carpenter's trade, and he soon became expert at it. But though he earned five or six dollars a week, and finally nine or ten, he never received any portion of it; except that now and then Mr. Bruteman, when he counted his wages, gave him a fip. I never thought of this side of the question when I used to hear grandfather talk about the rights of slaveholders; but I feel now, if this had been my own case, I should have thought it confounded hard. He and Hen were very young when they first begun to talk about being married; but he couldn't bear the thoughts of bringing up a family to be slaves, and they watched for an opportunity to run away. After several plans which proved abortive, they went boldly on board 'The King Cotton,' he as a white gentleman, and she disguised as his boy servant. You know how that attempt resulted. He says they were kept two days, with hands and feet tied, on an island that was nothing but rock. They suffered with cold, though one of the sailors, who seemed kind-hearted, covered them with blankets and overcoats. He probably did not like the business of guarding slaves; for one night he whispered to G.F., 'Can't you swim?' But George was very little used to the water, and Hen couldn't swim at all. Besides, he said, the sailors had loaded guns, and some of them would have fired upon them, if they had heard them plunge; and even if by a miracle they had gained the shore, he thought they would be seized and sent back again, just as they were in Boston.

"You may judge how I felt, while I listened to this. I wanted to ask his forgiveness, and give him all my money, and my watch, and my ring, and everything. After they were carried back, Hen was sold to the hotel-keeper for six hundred dollars, and he was sold to a man in Natchez for fifteen hundred. After a while, he escaped in a woman's dress, contrived to open a communication with Hen, and succeeded in carrying her off to New York. There he changed his woman's dress, and his slave name of Bob Bruteman, and called himself George Falkner. When I asked him why he chose that name, he rolled up his sleeve and showed me G.F. marked on his arm. He said he didn't know who put them there, but he supposed they were the initials of his name. He is evidently impressed by our great resemblance. If he asks me directly whether I can conjecture anything about his origin, I hardly know how it will be best to answer. Do write how much or how little I ought to say. Feeling unsafe in the city of New York, and being destitute of money, he applied to the Abolitionists for advice. They sent him to New Rochelle, where he let himself to a Quaker, called Friend Joseph Houseman, of whom he hired a small hut. Ther

e, Hen, whom he now calls Henriet, takes in washing and ironing, and there a babe has been born to them. When the war broke out he enlisted; partly because he thought it would help him to pay off some old scores with slaveholders, and partly because a set of rowdies in the village of New Rochelle said he was a white man, and threatened to mob him for living with a nigger wife. While they were in New York city, he and Henriet were regularly married by a colored minister. He said he did it because he hated slavery and couldn't bear to live as slaves did. I heard him read a few lines from a newspaper, and he read them pretty well. He says a little boy, son of the carpenter of whom he learned his trade, gave him some instruction, and he bought a spelling-book for himself. He showed me some beef-bones, on which he practises writing with a pencil. When he told me how hard he had tried to get what little learning he had, it made me ashamed to think how many cakes and toys I received as a reward for studying my spelling-book. He is teaching an old negro, who waits upon the soldiers. It is funny to see how hard the poor old fellow tries, and to hear what strange work he makes of it. It must be 'that stolen waters are sweet,' or slaves would never take so much more pains than I was ever willing to take to learn to spell out the Bible. Sometimes I help G.F. with his old pupil; and I should like to have Mrs. Blumenthal make a sketch of us, as I sit on the grass in the shade of some tree, helping the old negro hammer his syllables together. My New York companions laugh at me sometimes; but I have gained great favor with G.F. by this proceeding. He is such an ingenious fellow, that he is always in demand to make or mend something. When I see how skilful he is with tools, I envy him. I begin to realize what you once told me, and which did not please me much at the time, that being a fine gentleman is the poorest calling a man can devote himself to.

"I have written this long letter under difficulties, and at various times. I have omitted many particulars, which I will try to remember in my next. Enclosed is a note for Rose-mother. I hold you all in most affectionate remembrance."

Soon after the reception of this letter, news came of the defeat at Bull Run, followed by tidings that Gerald was among the slain. Mr. King immediately waited upon Mrs. Fitzgerald to offer any services that he could render, and it was agreed that he should forthwith proceed to Washington with her cousin, Mr. Green. They returned with a long wooden box, on which was inscribed Gerald's name and regiment. It was encased in black walnut without being opened, for those who loved him dreaded to see him, marred as he was by battle. It was carried to Stone Chapel, where a multitude collected to pay the last honors to the youthful soldier. A sheathed sword was laid across the coffin, on which Mrs. Fitzgerald placed a laurel wreath. Just above it, Mrs. King deposited a wreath of white roses, in the centre of which Eulalia timidly laid a white lily. A long procession followed it to Mount Auburn, with a band playing Beethoven's Funeral March. Episcopal services were performed at the grave, which friends and relatives filled with flowers; and there, by the side of Mr. Bell, the beautiful young man was hidden away from human sight. Mr. King's carriage had followed next to Mrs. Fitzgerald's; a circumstance which the public explained by a report that the deceased was to have married his daughter. Mrs. Fitzgerald felt flattered to have it so understood, and she never contradicted it. After her great disappointment in her husband, and the loss of her other children, all the affection she was capable of feeling had centred in Gerald. But hers was not a deep nature, and the world held great sway over it. She suffered acutely when she first heard of her loss; but she found no small degree of soothing compensation in the praises bestowed on her young hero, in the pomp of his funeral, and the general understanding that he was betrothed to the daughter of the quatro-millionnaire.

The depth of Mrs. King's sorrow was known only to Him who made the heart. She endeavored to conceal it as far as possible, for she felt it to be wrong to cast a shadow over the home of her husband and daughter. Gerald's likeness was placed in her chamber, where she saw it with the first morning light; but what were her reveries while she gazed upon it was told to no one. Custom, as well as sincere sympathy, made it necessary for her to make a visit of condolence to Mrs. Fitzgerald. But she merely took her hand, pressed it gently, and said, "May God comfort you." "May God comfort you, also," replied Mrs. Fitzgerald, returning the pressure; and from that time henceforth the name of Gerald was never mentioned between them.

After the funeral it was noticed that Alfred Blumenthal appeared abstracted, as if continually occupied with grave thoughts. One day, as he stood leaning against the window, gazing on the stars and stripes that floated across the street, he turned suddenly and exclaimed: "It is wrong to be staying here. I ought to be fighting for that flag. I must supply poor Gerald's place."

Mrs. Delano, who had been watching him anxiously, rose up and clasped him round the neck, with stronger emotion than he had ever seen her manifest. "Must you go, my son?" she said.

He laid his hand very gently on her head as he replied: "Dearest Mamita, you always taught me to obey the voice of duty; and surely it is a duty to help in rescuing Liberty from the bloody jaws of this dragon Slavery."

She lingered an instant on his breast then, raising her tearful face, she silently pressed his hand, while she looked into those kind and honest eyes, that so strongly reminded her of eyes closed long ago. "You are right, my son," murmured she; "and may God give you strength."

Turning from her to hide the swelling of his own heart, Alfred saw his mother sobbing on his father's bosom. "Dearest mamma," said he, "Heaven knows it is hard for me. Do not make it harder."

"It takes the manhood out of him to see you weep, darling," said Mr. Blumenthal. "Be a brave little woman, and cheerfully give your dearest and best for the country."

She wiped her eyes, and, fervently kissing Alfred's hand, replied, "I will. May God bless you, my dear, my only son!"

His father clasped the other hand, and said, with forced calmness:

"You are right, Alfred. God bless you! And now, dear Flora, let us

consecrate our young hero's resolution by singing the Battle Song of


She seated herself at the piano, and Mrs. Delano joined in with her weak but very sweet voice, while they sang, "Father! I call on thee." But when they came to the last verse, the voices choked, and the piano became silent. Rosen Blumen and Lila came in and found them all weeping; and when their brother pressed them in his arms and whispered to them the cause of all this sorrow, they cried as if their hearts were breaking. Then their mother summoned all her resolution, and became a comforter. While their father talked to them of the nobility and beauty of self-sacrifice, she kissed them and soothed them with hopeful words. Then, turning to Mrs. Delano, she tenderly caressed her faded hair, while she said: "Dearest Mamita, I trust God will restore to us our precious boy. I will paint his picture as St. George slaying the dragon, and you shall hang it in your chamber, in memory of what he said to you."

Alfred, unable to control his emotions, hid himself in the privacy of his own chamber. He struck his hand wildly against his forehead, exclaiming, "O my country, great is the sacrifice I make for thee!" Then, kneeling by the bed where he had had so many peaceful slumbers, and dreamed so many pleasant dreams, he prayed fervently that God would give him strength according to his need.

And so he went forth from his happy home, self-consecrated to the cause of freedom. The women now had but one absorbing interest and occupation. All were eager for news from the army, and all were busy working for the soldiers.

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