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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 27, 1846

Whitman Archive ID: per.00289

Source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat, November 27, 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.

The child looked up in his companion's face with a strange look; and continued to walk on in silence.

"How sweet the air is!" continued the lady. It was more like talking to herself than a listener; but the foible of her sex is proverbial, and Mrs. Conway was no exception to any of her sex's foibles. "How sweet the air is! Life seems pleasant in the South, if it be only for the mild, warm air. Then, the beautiful flowers bloom all around, and are reared with so little trouble; and you have rich fruit here, such as never grows in the rigor of our stormy north. But as much as anything else, I love to hear the birds—the sweet singing birds of the South!"

"What do you think of a bird that can sing tunes?" asked Louis, suddenly.

"I think he would be well worth owning," said the lady.

"Would you like to see such a bird?" rejoined the boy, looking up into Mrs. Conway's face, and with something like a tremor in his voice.

"Certainly," said she, smiling at what appeared to be his childish earnestness; "I would like any variation, however small, of the sameness of this quiet life. Where shall we find the curiosity of which you speak?"

"Through the path yonder," answered Louis, "a little beyond that wood. Andy Warner lives there, and he has the bird hung up in a cage in his room."

"Come on then," said the widow, laughing: "Andy Warner shall show us this prodigy."

And she motioned to go; but the child moved not. His eyes stared in a wild manner, and he trembled from head to foot.

"How, boy?" exclaimed the lady. "What is the matter? You are sick, Louis, you are sick, I fear!"

"No, I am quite well," answered he, recovering his former appearance. "Come, let us go on to Andy's."

They walked down the lane, and along the path which Louis pointed out. It led to a kind of bye-place. The house he had mentioned was situated at some distance from the principal wagon-way, and on the present occasion, exhibited no sign of tenancy or life. They knocked at the door, which after a moment or two was opened by a woman, who received them with a look so full of startling surprise, that Mrs. Conway knew not what to make of it.—They told the woman the reason of their visit—and then she stood looking at them again, in a second long stare of wonder and wildness.

"There!" said Louis, pointing with his finger, "there is the bird!"

Mrs. Conway glanced up, and beheld one of the southern mocking birds, in a cage attached to the wall. The little songster seemed in a sulky vein, however; he hung his head and was totally without cheerfulness or animation.

"Could you make him sing some gay, lively strain now?" said the visiter, turning to her hostess with a sprightly air.

As she looked more fully in the face of the one to whom she spoke, Mrs. Conway started back in alarm. The woman seemed like a ghost—her face pale, and her whole aspect bearing an indescribable appearance of strangeness and insanity. Mrs. Conway was instantly impressed with the idea that she was deranged, and turned in alarm to leave the room.

"Good God!" exclaimed the pale-faced female, "she talks here of singing gay strains!"

Fairly terrified, the widow now made a quick exit, and only recovered her self-possession when she found herself in the open air with Louis by her side. They walked swiftly along the path on their return; for the day was now somewhat advanced, and they had strayed quite a distance from Phillips' house.

That very afternoon I had called at the overseer's, and been told that Mrs. Conway was out on a walk. I started forth to look for her, that I might accompany her back. So it happened, that as she came by the dwelling of Bourne, near which she had to pass, I met her.

She immediately began telling me of her afternoon's adventure. As she mentioned the course of her walk, I started, for a dim fear took possession of my mind, to which I dared not give credit, and yet thought too probable.

"But never mind," exclaimed the widow, in continuation, as she finished her story, "I suppose Andy Warner will be at home himself some day, and then I shall, no doubt, get treated with more politeness."

"Did you," gasped I faintly, as the name struck my ear, and a feeling of deadly sickness crept over my heart—"did you say Andy Warner?"

"Yes, yes, that was the name, I think;" and the alarmed lady turned with an inquiring look to Louis.

"Then are you lost, indeed," cried I, in tones of horror. "In that house was the first case of the horrid fever. Andy died this very morning, and if you had looked farther, you would no doubt have found his corpse, for it lies there yet!"

One moment more, and a wild shrill cry sounded out upon the air, waking the echoes, and sailing far off in many a sharp cadence. Another followed—and another—and the widow sank down upon the grass in a senselessness so deep, that I thought the contagion would have no chance of working its effect upon her. I was almost out of my senses with agony and alarm. But time pressed, and lifting that form so dear to me, in my arms, I bore her into the planter's residence, and there had those attentions paid which the urgency of the case demanded. In an hour, the widow was somewhat recovered from her fit. But she was still as languid as a babe, and the physician who had been summoned, spoke strongly against the propriety of carrying her the mile's distance which intervened between the house, and Philips' residence.

So I had it arranged that she should not be removed. In the south range of apartments, there was one with long low windows, opening to the ground. That room was prepared for her reception, and there I had her carried.

Could it be possible that the widow might escape the fatal effects of her visit to the cottage? Whatever chance there might have been for some other more equable mind, I saw that her agitation and ceaseless fear left none for her.

Before the end of the second day after that hapless walk, the signs of the coming horrors appeared on her cheek. They were the signals for a general desertion on the part of the attendants. So great was the panic struck to the souls of the people by the stories they had heard of the pestilence, that I found it difficult to get for Mrs. Conway the attentions absolutely necessary to her existence. Even before the disease had made its complete appearance, the servants refused to go near her. The unhappy woman had, however, one most devoted servant. Night and day was I ready at the entrance of her apartment, holding a sleepless watch over its inmate.

I shall not think it worth while for my story, to give a minute account of the lady's illness. The sick chamber is a scene which few love to look upon, or to have pictured for them. The sight of this beautiful tabernacle with its foundations broken, and its mysterious furniture out of place, and its strength bowed down in weakness—whose eye has such unhealthy craving as to delight in the grievous spectacle? The soul of a man loves its dwelling, and though itself not thereof, looks on when that dwelling is harmed by evil, and feels in its recesses a sympathizing sorrow.

At length the time arrived, which at some period or other arrives for all cases of bodily diseases—the time of the crisis. The doctor came, and with a wise look, told the listeners that his patient was at the most dangerous part of her malady. He prepared some mixture of his nauseous drugs, gave directions about the order of their being administered, and then closed by remarking to me that, in the course of the evening, or night, the suffering lady would probably fall into a continued slumber, from which she would awake to a new life, or to death.

And where was Margaret of late? The wretched creole lived in her former situation, as far as locality was concerned; but her heart and her happiness were fled for ever. She seldom left her rooms, staying there almost alone, and brooding over her griefs, and her injuries, which fancy made many times greater than they really were.

When the creole heard that the doctor announced the critical period to have arrived in Mrs. Conway's illness,—and heard also what was said about the probable lethargy—the discarded one asked her informant again. Receiving the same account, she sat a full minute, apparently gazing on some vision in the air. At length, it seemed to melt from her sight; she drew a heavy breath, and resumed her ordinary appearance.

The God of Mysteries only can tell what passions worked in the woman's breast then, and during the rest of that fearful night. What deep breathings of hate—what devilish self-incitemen to—what unrelenting, yet swaying resolves—what sanguinary brain-thoughts—what mad, and still clearly defined marking out of fiendish purposes—what of all these raged and whirled in that unhappy creature's soul, will ever stay buried in the darkness of things gone; a darkness which falls alike on the dreadful motives of the murderer, and the purity of hearts filled with abundance of good!


To be continued.1


Notes:

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


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