Published Works

Fiction

About this Item

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 24, 1846

Whitman Archive ID: per.00287

Source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat, November 24, 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




image 1

cropped image 1

A Moral Tale.

FORTUNES OF A COUNTRY-BOY;

Incidents in Town—and his Adventure at the South.

———

BY J. R. S. ˙ ˙ ˙ ˙ ˙.

———

[Continued.

Chapter VIII.

I must not run into any thing egotistical; and therefore it will not do for me to undertake an explanation of the causes which led at this very time, to a startling but most joyful event—a reconciliation between myself and my kind mercantile employer, at the instance of the latter personage himself. He did me the favor to employ me again, (O how the succeeding days must have shown him my gratitude!) and to express a kindness, and generous intention, toward me, which affected me deeply. He gave me such advice as fathers give to beloved sons. He told me his determination to make me the inheritor of a handsome estate! The record I furnish of all this, here, is brief; for my heart owns a sort of sacredness in the theme, as one not lightly to be touched upon!

I pass over rapidly this era. Let it answer the reader, that in my further conduct toward Mr. Lee, I was not ungrateful for his not unremarkable friendship and liberality to me—God bless him!

Soon after the transpiring of these latter-named events, the occasion turned up, which I have before alluded to, of the necessity of a personal mission to Mr. Bourne, at the south, who was very largely connected in business with Mr. Lee. I seized the opportunity to ask the privilege of being charged with this mission; and that privilege was granted.

What I have now to relate—a train of events quite out of the method of my hitherto adventures—bears somewhat the air of romance. And yet, reader! when we look around us in the course of our every day lives, or go out among our neighbors, and investigate what is transacted there, you might come to the knowledge of things far more improbable and inconsistent.

Upon my arrival at my destination, (at which it was probable I should have to stay the better part of the season.) I was gratified in being received with the greatest kindness by Mr. Bourne. Though he was a bachelor, he lived in a style of ample comfort—and was evidently a man who understood how to enjoy life.

I found, from what I learned in the village and in my after acquaintance with the planter himself, that Bourne's father had come over from France, during the troublesome times there, in the latter part of the last century. He was among a large number of gentlemen and citizens who left that country to obtain quiet, even at the expense of exile. The cause of his departure from his native land, however, was not a disapproval of the schemes of the revolutionizers, just then on the point of coming into power. On the contrary, he assimilated strongly to their doctrines, and afterward took every opportunity to instil them into the minds of his son.

Bourne chose America as the place of his retreat, because of the liberty he might enjoy there. And here he had bought himself a plantation, and placed upon it the needful requisites of slaves and material, for the purpose to which he intended applying it.

Perhaps it may hardly be the appropriate place here, to remark upon the national customs of this country; but I cannot help pausing a moment to say that Bourne, as he saw with his own eyes, and judged with his own judgment, became convinced of the fallacy of many of those assertions which are brought against slavery in the south. He beheld, it is true, a large number of men and women in bondage; but he could not shut his eyes to the fact, that they would be far more unhappy, if possessed of freedom. He saw them well taken care of—with shelter and food, and every necessary means of comfort: and he wonddred in his own mind, as he remembered what misery he had seen in his travels through various countries of Europe, that the philanthropists of the Old World should wish to interfere with the systems of the New—when the merely nominal oppression of the latter is overbalanced, so many hundred times, by the stern reality of starvation and despotism in the former.

I must also introduce to the reader one other personage who has much to do with the adventure soon to be related. This personage was a half sister of Mr. Bourne, a creole girl,1 whom he called, (and I soon became familiar enough to call,) Margaret—a dark eyed, handsome maiden, whose grace and voluptuousness fascinated me the first time I saw her—and with whom, before I had been a week in the house, I was on the footing a declared suitor—a situation of things on which Mr. Bourne appeared to look with entire indifference, for from some reason he never seemed to like his half sister—and never took any more interest in her affairs, than in those of an entire stranger. He thought, I believe, much more of me, than he did of her. Margaret had a special attendant, a handsome little slave-boy named Louis—who, though a slave, could hardly be discriminated from a dark-complexioned American. The young lady was very fond of the child—and would have braved anything for him. I don't know whether I have intimated, in the preceeding course of my narrative, that my nature was not wanting in susceptibility to female charms. The truth was so, however. And moreover, I had imbibed not a few of the pernicious notions which prevail among young men in our great American city, upon conjugal matters. My safety, hitherto, had been from the swiftness with which my passion passed over. Often had I been struck with a pretty face—remembered it for four or five days—and then recovered from my delusion to smile at my own folly. Ah! how flippantly we are apt to give the sacred name of Love to some temporary silliness, which is as evanescent as the clouds!

———

Chapter IX.

The course of my narrative needs now that another character should be introduced upon the stage. My evil destiny would have it that an old city acquaintance of mine, Mrs. Conway, a widow lady, visited the neighborhood at this time, and took up her quarters in the house of the overseer of Mr. Bourne's plantation, a person named Philips, to whom she was distantly related. I had met the lady often at the house of persons whom I knew in New York; and of course, nothing was more natural than for me to call upon her.

Mrs. Conway was about twenty-five, and very handsome; not with unformed and unripened loveliness, but in the rich swell, the very maturity of personal perfection. Her light hair, blue eyes, and the delicacy of her skin, formed a picture rarely met with in that region, and perhaps on this very account, the more prized. She was a woman of the world, however. Gifted with such singular charms, and her mind ornamented with the most needful and complete culture; she had but one aim, the conquest of hearts. And seldom did she determine to make any individual addition to her adorers, but what her efforts were crowned with triumph.—Luckless were the stars that led her southward!

The very next day after this woman came among us, she made up her mind to bring me to her feet.—Probably it was partly from natural inclination, and partly to find herself some agreeable method of dissipating monotony, that caused the lady to form this determination. She (I afterwards found out all this) mentioned the project to her relative, Phillips, who approved of it, and promised to give it all the aid in his power.

It needs not to explain all the artifices which were used for effecting what the plotters desired to accomplish. Fortunately for them, they had a willing subject to work upon; and in much less time than they could have been anticipated, I was indeed in the toils.

"I fear that northern beauty has bewitched you," said Margaret, with a smile, as I returned one evening from calling at the overseer's; "you did not use to be so partial to Mr. Phillips's pathway."

"Matters of business," answered I, a little confused; "nothing but business."

"But is she really as handsome as I hear? I have been told by our people that fancy can hardly conceive any creature more perfect."

"You have been told the truth," said I; "she is wonderfully fair, not dark and swarthy, which I detest!" and I turned away, sure of the effect of the sharp arrow I had winged.

"Indeed!" burst from the surprised Margaret; and she would have spoken further, but her pride came to prevent her.

Surely, a few short days could not have made this sudden change in my affection. And then the creole thought of many little things that had before been airy trifles, but were now too sure a ground-work for her suspicions.

The fears of the jealous woman were to be consummated but too soon, leaving her no further ground to doubt. I shortly made no secret of my attachment to Mrs. Conway. Indeed, I believe that, as it often happens in similar cases, the feeling I began by dissembling, (for I cannot say I loved the widow at first) I after awhile really felt in truth. Like an actor who plays a part, I became warmed in the delineation, and the very passion I feigned, came to imbue my soul with its genuine characteristics.

Poor Margaret! it was a wild and fearful storm that raged within her bosom, when she came fully to know the truth of her desertion. I have no doubt she had loved me tenderly, and with all the fiery disposition of her soul she now felt torn with strong passions, to think that another had supplanted her. I do not think I have given a faithful transcript of the creole's character in all its strong points. She was, indeed, a very woman, with some of the most beautiful traits, and some of the most devilish that ever marked her sex.


To be continued.2


Notes:

1. "Creole" was a term with an ambiguous meaning, used in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century U.S. to refer to descendants of both white European settlers and black African slaves. In the first version of Franklin Evans, the word seems to act as a reference to racial mixing, though as Christopher Castiglia and Glenn Hendler note it was not commonly used in Virginia (see the introduction to Franklin Evans, or The Inebriate: A Tale of the Times [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007], liv). In this revised version, the meaning of the word is even more ambiguous, since Margaret is not Bourne's slave, but rather his sister. It seems that Whitman, in his revisions to Franklin Evans, depended on the ambiguity of "creole," thereby eliding the miscegenation described in the earlier narrative. For a discussion of this revision, see Stephanie Blalock and Nicole Gray, "Introduction to Franklin Evans and 'Fortunes of a Country-Boy.'" For more information about the history and significance of creolization and the distinctions between definitions of "creole" in early America, see Ralph Bauer and José Antonio Mazzotti's introduction to Creole Subjects in the Colonial Americas: Empires, Texts, Identities (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 1–59. For "creole" as an alternative to "vernacular" in Whitman criticism, see Jonathan Arac, "Whitman and Problems of the Vernacular," in Breaking Bounds: Whitman and American Cultural Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 44–61. [back]

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


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.