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Title: Fortunes of a Country-Boy; Incidents in Town—and his Adventure at the South

Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as J. R. S.]

Date: November 20, 1846

Whitman Archive ID: per.00284

Source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat, November 20, 1846: 1. Transcribed from digital images of a microfilm reproduction of an original issue.

Contributors to digital file: Stephanie Blalock, Nicole Gray, and Ed Folsom




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A Moral Tale.

FORTUNES OF A COUNTRY-BOY;

Incidents in Town—and his Adventure at the South.

———

BY J. R. S. ˙ ˙ ˙ ˙ ˙.

———

[Continued.

Chapter V.

IN the course of a few weeks I became quite at home in my new situation, in the office of Andrews. He treated me very civilly always, though of course he never made any approach to friendliness. I could not expect it, in the situation I occupied.

Under the auspices of my friend Colby, I became pretty well used to city life; and before the winter passed away, I could drink off nearly as much strong liquor as himself, and feel no inconvenience from it. My employer, Mr. Andrews, had become so well satisfied with my performance of my duties, that he advanced me somewhat above my original situation. I had now none of the more menial services to perform. An Irishman, named Dennis, was engaged to act as porter, and to make the fires, open and shut the office, and so on. Andrews occasionally employed him to do business also for the financial institution of which he was an officer.

There is hardly much need that I should detain the reader with a minute account of this part of my career. Though I knew it not at the time, it was the downward career of dissipation! I concealed from Andrews, as a matter of course, my habits, and attended with tolerable carefulness to my duties during the day. Through Colby's means, I soon obtained a wide circle of acquaintances, mostly young men in the same walk of life with ourselves, and having the same habits. We used frequently to go round of nights from place to place, stopping every now and then at some bar-room, and taking a drink all round. This we used to call a 'red circle.' How appropriate a name that was, the reader may judge for himself.

And about this time (I had lived nearly six months in my situation with Andrews) an incident occurred, which had an important bearing upon my future course of life. Though I saw my good benefactor, Mr. Lee, but seldom, I was not ungrateful for the kindness he had shown me, and often wished that there might be some way of repaying it. One evening, when I had finished my supper, and was going up to my room to prepare for a visit to the theatre, which I had engaged to attend that night with Colby and a party of friends, the landlady handed me a note, which had been left for me during the day. Quite curious to know who could have written to me, and what about, I opened it hastily, and read the following:

"—EXCHANGE PLACE,TUESDAY MORNING.

"DEAR YOUNG FRIEND,

"The interest I have taken in your welfare, has by no means grown cold, though of late I have not seen you, or had any opportunity of showing my good will. The particular reason of my writing is, that one of my clerks has lately left me; his situation I think, would be an agreeable one for you, and if you choose to accept it, it is at your service. The salary is $800 per year.1

"Give your present employer a couple of weeks' notice, before you leave him, in order that he may have an opportunity of getting some one in your place. At the end of that time come to me, and I will induct you in your new duties. If this proposition meets your approval, write me to that effect as soon as convenient.

STEPHEN LEE."

I was overjoyed! Not only was the stipend offered by my old friend more than twice as much as that I received from Andrews, but then I should be in the service of a man I loved, instead of one whom, at best, I could look upon with no stronger feeling than indifference. I sat down immediately, and indited a grateful acceptance of Mr. Lee's offer.

My duties at Andrews', of late, had not been, to tell the truth, of the most pleasant description. We found out, after Dennis had been with us awhile, that he had an unfortunate habit of tippling, which sadly interfered with his efficiency at work. For my own part, I could not conscientiously find fault with him, and therefore concealed his mistakes as much as possible. But they became so glaring at length, that they could not be hidden, and Andrews discharged him. Dennis frequented a little drinking shop, which was in one of the streets on my way home, and there I often saw him afterwards. So that my own labors were now as heavy as when I first commenced them.

Besides, I occasionally noticed things which looked suspicious, in connection with Andrews' business arrangements. I heard rumors too, in my intercourse with the neighboring clerks, which by no means increased my opinion of my employer's honesty. Those who were supposed to be at home in such affairs, more than hinted that he would before long be summarily removed from his station in the moneyed establishment, before alluded to in these columns. It was asserted also, that Andrews had used immense sums of money, the origin of which no one could tell. So I felt not at all grieved at the idea of finding another master, and gave the notice premonitory which Mr. Lee desired, with but ill-concealed gratification.

Some days after, as I was passing down to the office from my breakfast, I saw Dennis, the discharged porter, come out of the little groggery I have mentioned. He stepped forward, and stood upon the curb-stone, looking down upon the ground, very miserable to all appearance. Dennis had gone from bad to worse, until he was now at the very lowest stage of degradation. Though I saluted him, I could hardly conceal my disgust at his filthy and bloated looks! Perhaps it will not be without a wholesome moral if I finish this chapter with the relation of poor Dennis's subsequent conduct that day, and an off-set of the doings of another personage, who has figured somewhat in my narrative—as those occurrences subsequently came to my knowledge.

At the early hour I saw him, Dennis was passing through the agonies which mark the period immediately after a fit of intoxication. Pain and hunger racked him in the corporeal frame; despair, mortification and disgust with himself, burnt in his heart. He felt that he was a degraded man. With an unwonted bitterness, thoughts of many chances neglected—of weeks spent in riot—of the scorn of the world—and the superciliousness of those called respectable—cut at his heart with a sharp grief.—Heaving an inward groan, he started off, and passed down a by-street, to walk away, if possible, such fearful reflections.

Nearly an hour, he rapidly traversed, at hap-hazard, the narrowest and darkest ways he could pick; for he did not wish to be seen. Then his appetite became acute, and he wished for food. Wishing, merely, was vain; and he had not a single cent.—Poor creature! In the preceding two days, he had not eaten a single meal. Should he beg? Should he ask for work? His suspicious appearance might subject him to denial; besides, the emergency was one not to be postponed. In an evil moment Dennis yielded to the tempter. He saw, in a small grocery, some bread piled upon a barrel top. He entered, and while the owner was busy at a back shelf, the ravenous man purloined a loaf and made off with it. The keeper of the grocery saw him as he went out, discovered the theft, and pursued the criminal. He was brought back, a police officer called, and the bread found upon him.

So the thief was taken off to prison, and being arraigned a few hours afterward, was summarily convicted, and sentenced to the customary place, just out of the city; there to remain for several days, at hard labor and confinement.

During the same hour wherein these things were being transacted, in another and distant part of the town, sat a gentleman in a parlor. The carpets were very rich, the curtains glossy silk, and the chairs heavy mahogany. The person who sat there was Andrews, my master. On a table before him lay some written papers. By the opposite side of the table, and just about to depart, stood a second gentleman, elegantly attired, and with a lofty look, which spoke of pride within.

"The time is as favorable now," said Andrews, in reply to something his companion had spoken, "as it ever was. Besides, we must make hay while the sun shines. Who knows whether we shall have the chance, five days from this?"

"And yet you are not willing to take the bold steps," rejoined the other; "the transfer ought to have been made a week ago."

"Are you sure it can be made without the others knowing it?" said Andrews.

"As easy as speak," was the answer; "they never examine."

"But they might examine."

"I tell you, only pay them a handsome dividend, and they'll rest easy any length of time."

Andrews put his finger under his chin, and looked down a moment abstractedly.

"Have you not determined yet?" asked the person standing.

"Long ago, sir—long ago," was Andrews' reply. "But it is a dangerous game, and should be played cautiously."

"Well; shall we take this step, or no?"

Andrews raised up his head; his dark eye twinkled as it met the glance of his companion, and the two looked at each other a minute. There was evil fraternity in that look. Then Andrews bent his head two or three times without speaking. The other understood him. He smiled, and turning, left the apartment.

A person looking on as they parted, would hardly have thought them to be aught else than two respectable citizens—yet were they two most consummate scoundrels. It was indeed too true—the host of rumors I had heard about my employer's honesty. The situation he occupied, he turned to account by schemes which were nothing more or less than swindling; and his well-dressed companion was of kindred spirit with himself. He had now come to have a private conference with Andrews, and the subject of that conference was a scheme for making a splendid fortune jointly, by means of the peculiar facilities for cheating possessed by both. A long time ago, the plan had been marked out; and now the hour was nigh, to strike the finishing stroke.

It would be painful to describe, as it would also be to read, all the villainy, the deceit, the underhand swindling, and the imposition which these two wicked men had followed, and were on the eve of closing. In all their rascality, however, they acted warily—with the wisdom of the serpent. They knew that whatever might be the execrations of people, the law could not touch them. Opinions, too, might be bought: defence and character might be bought. And what, that it was possible to buy, might they not purchase?

In the course of the succeeding week, the conspiracy worked its way out. The bubble burst!—The master hands had arranged things well, and they triumphed.


To be continued.2


Notes:

1. Adjusting for inflation, this would be today's equivalent of about $19,500. [back]

2. Click here for the next installment of "Fortunes of a Country-Boy." [back]


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