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About this Item

Title: Fortunes of a Country-Boy; Incidents in Town—and his Adventure at the South. [Composite version]

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

Date: November 16–30, 1846; composite version first published on the Walt Whitman Archive, 2014

Whitman Archive ID: per.00347

Source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat, November 16–30, 1846: multiple pages; composite version first published on the Walt Whitman Archive, 2014. Transcribed from digital images of microfilm copies of original issues. This file is a composite of multiple installments from multiple issues. Please note that we provide this text for the convenience of our readers only; no such text existed or was printed at a single time in the nineteenth century.

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




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A Tale of Long-Island.

FORTUNES OF A COUNTRY-BOY;

Incidents in Town—and his Adventure at the South.1

———

BY J. R. S. ˙ ˙ ˙ ˙ ˙.

———

Chapter I.

ONE bright cool morning in the autumn of 183–, a country market wagon, which also performed the office of stage-coach2 for those whose means or dispositions were humble enough to be satisfied with its rude accommodations, was standing, with the horses harnessed before it, in front of a village inn, on the Long Island turnpike. As the geography of some reader may be at fault to tell the exact whereabouts of this locality, I may as well say, that Long Island is a part of the State of New York, and stretches out into the Atlantic, just south-eastward of the city which is the great emporium of our western world. The most eastern county of the island has many pretty towns and hamlets; the soil is fertile, and the people, though not refined or versed in city life, are very intelligent and hospitable. It was in that eastern county, on the side nearest the sea, that the road ran on which the market-wagon just mentioned was going to traverse. The driver was in the bar-room, taking a glass of liquor.

As the landlord, a sickly-looking, red-nosed man, was just counting out the change for the one dollar bill out of which the price of the brandy was to be taken, a stranger enters upon the scene. He was a robust youth, of about twenty years; and he carried an old black leather valise in his hand, and a coarse overcoat hanging on his arm. The proprietor of the vehicle standing outside, knew, with the tact of his trade, the moment this young man hove in sight, that he probably wished to take passage with him. The stranger walked along the narrow path that bordered the road, with a ligth and springy step; and as he came toward the tavern, the personages who noticed him, thought they saw him brushing something from his eyes—the traces of tears, as it were. Upon the valise which he carried in his hand, was tacked a small card, on which was written, "Franklin Evans."

Reader, I was that youth; and the words just quoted, are the same of the hero of the tale you have now begun to peruse. Flattered shall I feel, if it be interesting enough to lead you on to the conclusion!

"What, Frank, is it you?" said the landlord's wife to me, coming in from an adjoining room at this moment. "Surely you cannot be going from the village? How are all your uncle's folks this morning? Baggage with you, too! Then it must be that you leave us, indeed."

"I am bound for New York," was my brief answer to the somewhat garrulous dame, as I opened the old-fashioned half-door, and entered the house. I threw my valise upon a bench, and my over-coat upon it.

The good landlady's further inquisitiveness was cut short, by my taking the driver out to his wagon, for the purpose of making arrangements and settling the price of my passage. This was soon concluded, and my rather limited stock of travelling gear was safely deposited on the top of some baskets of mutton in the rear of the vehicle.

Upon getting into the waggon, I found that it already had four occupants, whom I had not seen before; as the canvass top had concealed and sheltered them, and they had remained silent during my conversation with the driver and the people of the tavern. Some part of what I learned about these personages, in the course of our journey, I may as well state here.

There was a young man about four or five years older than myself. His name was John Colby. He was a book-keeper in a mercantile establishment in the city, and from his lively, good-tempered face, one might easily judge that fun and frolic were the elements he delighted in. Colby sat on the same seat with myself, and not many minutes passed away before we were on quite sociable terms with one another.

Back of us sat an elderly country woman, who was going to visit a daughter. Her daughter, she took occasion to inform us, had married a very respectable citizen about three months previous, and they now lived in good style in the upper part of a two story house in Broome street. The woman was evidently somewhat deficient in perception of the ridiculous—as she herself was concerned; but still, as she was a woman, and a mother, and her conversation was quite harmless—no one thought of evincing any sign of amusement or annoyance at her rather lengthy disquisitions upon what, to us, were totally uninteresting topics.

At her side was a middle-aged gentleman, named Demaine. He was dressed with such exceeding neatness, that I could not but wonder how he came to ride in so homely a conveyance. Of his character, more will be learned in the subsequent pages.

On the back seat of all, and crowded among a heterogenous mass of 'market truck,' sat a gentleman, the last of my four companions. I could occasionally hear him humming a tune to himself, which was proof that he did not feel in any other than a pleasant mood. He was dressed plainly, though I thought richly; and I understood by my friend, the driver, at one of the stopping places, that his rear passenger had come with him from an obscure village, whence there was no other conveyance, and where he had been for sporting purposes.

The journey on which we were all bound, (each of us was going to New York,) might have been rather monotonous, were it not that after a few miles we most of us allowed the reserve of strangers to melt away, and began to treat one another as familiar acquaintances. My neighbor by the side of the country woman, was the only exception to this. He preserved a stiff pragmatical demeanor, and evidently thought it beneath him to be amused, and quite indecorous to join in the laugh at our little witticisms. Colby and I, however, chatted away, occasionally interchanging a remark with the gentleman on the back seat, whom we found to be quite a fine fellow, according to our notions. Though there was a species of dignity about him which forbade too near an approach of familiarity, there was nothing of that distant haughtiness which characterized our other male passenger.

With the disposition of cheerful hearts, we found a source of pleasure in almost everything. The very slowness and sleepiness of the pace with which our horses jogged along, was the text for many a merry gibe and humorous observation. Entering into the spirit of our gayety, the sportsman in the further seat entertained us with numerous little anecdotes, many of them having reference to scenes and places along the road we were passing. He had, he told us, a fondness for prying into the olden history of this, his native island; a sort of antiquarian taste for the stories and incidents connected with the early settlers, and with the several tribes of Indians who lived in it before the whites came.

Chapter II.

As it was now past noon, we began to feel as though we should be none the worse for our dinner. Accordingly, in good time, our driver drew up at a low-roofed public house,3 and proceeded with great deliberation to ungear his horses, for the purpose of giving them a temporary respite from their labors.

Glad of being able to get out in the open air, and upon our legs once more, myself and Colby (for we had become quite cronies) sprang lightly from the vehicle, and bouncing along the little door yard, felt quite refreshed at stretching our cramped limbs on the low porch which ran along in front of the house, Demaine got out very leisurely, and with a cool disdainful look, stood by the front wheels of the wagon, eyeing the house and the people of the place, some of whom now made their appearance. The country woman also made a movement forward.—She was a fat and somewhat clumsy dame; and we thought the least Demaine could do, would be to offer her some assistance in getting down upon the ground. He stood in such a position himself, that he effectually precluded any one else from offering that assistance. But he continued his contemptuous stare, and paid, apparently, not the least attention to what was going on around him.

Turning around a moment to look at Colby, who called my attention in the room, the next minute my hearing was assailed by a quick clear cry; and upon looking toward the wagon, I saw that the woman had entangled her dress and was on the point of falling. A little longer, and she might have been down upon that part of the vehicle just behind the horses, or even under their feet; and yet Demaine, with his arrogant look, offered her no assistance! I sprang toward her; but before I could reach the place, the antiquary had rapidly jumped out upon the ground, and was safely landing her beside him. The incident was a trifling one; but I don't know that I ever, merely from one item of conduct, took such a dislike to any man as I did to Demaine, from that occurrence.

I thought I noticed during our dinner, that the antiquary regarded Demaine with peculiarly cool and distant demeanor. To us, he was affable and pleasant, and polite in his attentions to the lady; but though not rude, I am sure the same feelings which took root in my own mind, started in his also.



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Upon resuming our journey, the same vivacity and fund of anecdote which had so agreeably entertained us from our companion on the back seat, was again in requisition. I don't know how it was, but I felt confident that the antiquary was more than he seemed. His manners were so simple, and at the same time so free from anything like coarseness, that I said to myself, if I should aspire to be a gentleman, here would be my model. There was nothing in his conduct from which it might be inferred that he wished to demand your respect; on the contrary, he was quite friendly, and talked about plain things in plain language. Yet he had the stamp of superior station, and an indescribable air of something which told us that he would have been quite as much at home, and quite as unassuming, in the parlors of the richest people of the land. In the course of conversation, it came to be mentioned by me, that I was going to the city for the first time since I was a little child, and that I intended making it my future residence. Whether the antiquary was interested in my remarks, or whether he merely spoke from his natural good-will, I do not know; but he addressed me somewhat after this fashion:

"You are taking a dangerous step, young man.—The place in which you are about to fix your abode, is very wicked, and as deceitful as it is wicked.—There will be a thousand vicious temptations besetting you on every side, which the simple method of your country life has led you to know nothing of.—Young men, in our cities, think much more of dress than they do of decent behavior. You will find, when you go among them, that whatever remains of integrity you have, will be laughed and ridiculed out of you. It is considered 'green' not to be up to all kinds of dissipation, and familiar with debauchery and intemperance. And it is the latter which will assail you on every side, and which, if you yield to it, will send you back from the city, a bloated and weak creature, to die among your country friends, and be laid in a premature grave; or which will too soon end your days in some miserable street in the city itself. It is indeed a dangerous step!"4

The kindness of the motives of the speaker, prevented any displeasure I might have felt at being thus addressed by a perfect stranger. Colby whispered to me, that the antiquary was undoubtedly a good fellow, but somewhat too sour in his judgments; which may have been the case, in truth.—The subsequent narration, however, will prove the wisdom of his warning.

As the afternoon waned, and the sun sank in the west, we drew nigher and nigher to our destination. The increasing number of carriages, the houses closer to one another, and the frequent sight of persons evidently just out from the city for a ride, admonished us that we were on the point of entering the great emporium of our western world.

When at last we came upon the paved streets, I was astonished at the mighty signs of life and business every where around. It was yet sometime ere sunset, and as the day was fine, numbers of people were out, some of them upon business, and many enjoying an afternoon saunter.

The place at which our conveyance stopped was in Brooklyn, near one of the ferries that led over to the opposite side of the river. We dismounted; glad enough to be at the end of our journey, and quite tired with its wearisomeness. Our passengers prepared to go to their several destinations. The antiquary took a little carpet bag in his hand, and politely bidding us adieu, made his way for the boat near by. Demaine was more lengthy in his arrangements. He had not much more to carry than the antiquary, but he called a porter, and engaged him to take it down to the landing. The country woman, also hurried away; eager, no doubt, with parental fondness, to see her child.

Before Colby left me, we spoke for several minutes together. Though we had never seen each other until the morning of that day, a kind of friendship had grown up between us; and as I was in a strange place, with hardly an acquaintance in all its wide limits, it may be imagined I felt in no disposition to dissolve the bands of that friendship. Colby gave me the street and number where I could find him. The place of his business was in Pearl-street; his boarding-house was further up town.

"I shall always be glad to see you," said he, "and as you seem to be unused to the town, perhaps you may find me of some advantage. Call and see me to-morrow."

"You may expect me," I answered, and we parted.

And now I was in the city. Here I had come to seek my fortune. What numbers had fallen in the same attempt!

It may not be amiss to let the reader into the few simple incidents of my former history. My father had been a mechanic, and died when I was some three or four years old only. My poor mother struggled on for a time—what few relations we had being too poor to assist us—and at the age of eleven, she had me apprenticed to a farmer on Long Island, my uncle. It may be imagined with what agony I heard, hardly twelve months after I went to live with my uncle, that the remaining parent had sickened and died also. The cold indifference of the strangers among whom she lived, allowed her to pass even the grim portals of death before they informed me of her illness. She died without the fond pressure of her son's hand, or the soothing of a look from one she loved.

I continued to labor hard, and fare so too; for my uncle was a poor man and his family was large. In the winters, as is customary in that part of the island, I attended school, and thus picked up a scanty of education. The teachers were, however, by no means overburthened with learning themselves; and my acquirements were not such as might make any one envious.

As I approached my nineteenth year, my uncle, who was an honest and worthy man, evidently felt that he was hardly justifiable in keeping me at work in an obscure country town, to the detriment of my future prospects in life. With a liberality therefore, of which many a richer person might be glad to be able to boast, he gave up the two last years of my apprenticeship—and the very two, which perhaps, would have been of more value to him than all the others. He called me to him one day, and addressing me in the kindest terms, informed me, what he felt he ought to do for his brother's child—but which his poverty prevented him from doing. He gave me my choice—whether to go to New York, and see what I could do there for a living, or to remain a while longer with him; not to labor, but to attend school, and perfect myself in some more valuable parts of education. Probably, it would have been far better had I chosen the latter of the two alternatives. But with the anxious and ambitious heart of youth, I immediately d termined upon the former.

The matter thus settled, arrangements were soon made; my little stock of clothes packed up in the old valise already introduced to the reader—and receiving with thankfulness from my uncle a small sum of money, which I felt sure he must have cramped himself to bestow on me, I made my adieus to my aunt and sorrowful cousins, and went my way.—The first day of my leaving home, found me at evening, the reader knows, on the borders of that great city where I was to take up my abode.

Yes, here I had come to seek my fortune! A mere boy, friendless, unprotected, innocent of the ways of the world—without wealth, favor, or wisdom—here I stood at the entrance of the mighty labyrinth, and with hardly any consciousness of the temptations, doubts, and dangers that awaited me there. Thousands had gone before me, and thousands were coming still. Some had attained the envied honors—had reaped distinction—and won princely estate; but how few were they, compared with the numbers of failures! How many had entered on the race, as I now was entering, and in the course of years, faint, tired, and sick at heart, had drawn themselves out, aside from the track, seeking no further bliss than to die. To die! The word is too hard a one for the lip of youth and hope. Let us rather think of those who, bravely stemming the tide, and bearing up nobly against all opposition, have proudly come off victorious—waving in their hands at last, the symbol of triumph and glory.

What should be my fate? Should I be one of the fortunate few? Were not the chances much more against me than they had been against a thousand others, who were the most laggard in the contest? What probability was there, that amid the countless multitude, all striving for the few prizes which Fortune has to bestow, my inexperienced arm should get the better of a million others?

Oh, how good a thing it is that the great God who has placed us in this world—where amid so much that is beautiful, there still exists vast bestowal among men of grief, disappointment, and agony—has planted in our bosoms the great impression, Hope! In the olden years, as we look back to our former life, we feel indeed how vain would have been our strife without the support of this benignant spirit.

To be sure, thousands had gone before me, in the struggle for the envied things of existence, and failed. But many others had met with success. A stout heart, and an active arm where the great levers that might raise up fortune, even for the poor and unfriended Franklin Evans. In our glorious republic, the road was open to all; and, my chance at least, was as good as that of some of those who had began with no better prospects.



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When I arose the next morning, and thought over in my mind what it would be better for me to do first, I saw that it was necessary to provide myself with a boarding house.5 After breakfast I crossed the ferry, and purchasing a paper of one of the newsboys, for a penny, I looked over to the column containing advertisements of the places similar to what I wished. I was surprised to find that every one had the most "airy, delightful location," the very "best accommodations," with "pleasant rooms," and "all the comforts of a home." Some of them informed the reader that there were "no children in the house." These I passed over, determining not to go there; for I loved the lively prattle of children and was not annoyed as some people pretend to be, by their little frailties.

Noting down upon a memorandum several that I thought might suit me, I started on a voyage of discovery. The first place that I called at was in Cliff street. A lean and vinegar faced spinster came to the door, and upon my inquiring for the landlady, ushered me into the parlor, where in a minute or two I was accosted by that personage.—She was as solemn and sour as the spinster, and upon my mentioning my business, gave me to understand that she would be happy to conclude a bargain with me, but on several conditions. I was not to stay out later than 10 o'clock at night—I was to be down at prayers in the morning—I was never to come into the parlor except upon Sundays—and I was always to appear at table with a clean shirt and wristbands. I took my hat, and politely informed the lady that if I thought I should like her terms, I would call again.

I next made a descent upon a house, which in the advertisement was described as offering good conveniences on "very reasonable terms." This I supposed meant that it was a cheap boarding house. The mistress took me up into an open attic, where were arranged beds of all sorts and sizes. She pointed me to a very suspicious looking one, in a corner, which she said was not occupied. She told me I could have that and my meals for three dollars a week, payable punctually every Saturday night. I did not like the look of the woman or the house.—There was too little cleanliness in both; so I made the same remark at parting, as before.

A third and fourth trial were alike unsuccessful. The fifth, I liked the house very well, but upon being informed that all the boarders were men, I determined upon making another trial. I desired to obtain quarters where the society was enlivened with ladies.

Quite tired at length with my repeated disappointments, and more than half suspicious that I was myself somewhat too fastidious, I determined that my next attempt should bring matters to a conclusion. Fortunately, the place I called at had very few of the objections I found with the others. The landlady seemed an intelligent, well-bred woman, and the appearance of the furniture and floors quite cleanly. And here it will perhaps be worth while for me to state, that this item of cleanliness was one which I could not forego, from the effects of my country life. I had been used to see, amid much poverty, the utmost freedom from anything like dirt, dust, or household impurity. And without it, I could not be comfortable in any situation.

I concluded an arrangement with the woman, and told her I should come that very day. I was to have a snug little room in the attic, exclusively for my own use, and was to pay three dollars and a half per week.

Soon after leaving this place, which I gave a good look at when I got outside, lest I might forge it, I went down in Pearl-street to call upon Colby. He was glad to see me, but as it was now the business part of the day, and I saw he had plenty to do, I did not stay more than a few minutes. I gave him the street and number of my new residence, and he engaged to call and see me in the evening, when his employments were over.

Who should I meet, as I was coming up from the ferry after having been over to Brooklyn for my valise, but my friend of the day before, the antiquary. He expressed his pleasure at seeing me by a smile, and a few kind words.

"And how do you like the city?" said he.

"I have hardly had an opportunity of finding out much about it yet sir. But I dare say I shall know more by-and-by."

Too much," he rejoined, shaking his head—"too much, perhaps. There are a thousand things here, my young friend, which no man is the better for knowing."

He paused, and I knew not exactly what reply to make.

"May I ask what you intend doing in New York?" said he, at length.

"I hardly know myself, sir," I answered; "I have come here with the intention of getting employment. What that may be, will depend a good deal upon my luck. I shall not mind much what I turn my hand to, so that I gain an honest living by it, and fair chance of bettering myself as I grow older."

"That is a strange way," said my companion, evidently with some interest. "People are not apt to get any employment worth having in this city, if they come here in the way I understand you to say you come."

"I am determined to do my best. Perhaps," I added, for I thought the antiquary showed quite a friendly disposition—"perhaps, sir, you could suggest something to me in the way of getting a situation?"

My friend looked down upon the ground awhile, and smiling good humoredly as he raised his face, replied,

"Well, Evans, I possibly may do something for you. Look you; I do not wish to conceal that I am somewhat interested in your case. When but a little older than you, I came to this city, in pretty much the same way that you come now. I was not poor, but was without acquaintances, or friends, as you say you are. And though I had money, I received, God knows, but little friendliness from those who might have shown at least some kindness to me: but whose dispositions were not as large as their means, for they were rich. I have, however, lived long enough to do without their friendship, and I don't know what reason there is that I should not give you a helping hand. Perhaps what I may do for you may not be much, and may not cost me any thing. So much more scope for your own exertions, and honor to you if you hew out your fortune for yourself. Here is my card," and he handed it to me: "come to me to-morrow morning at eleven. I am punctual, and shall expect you to be the same; and perhaps you will not regret the chance acquaintance you made in the market-wagon. Good day."

I could hardly return the salutation, so pleased was I at the turn events were taking. To be sure, I did not know the nature of the business my friend would employ me in, but it was employment, and that was the first stepping-stone to the heights that lay above. I looked at the card; upon it was written, "Stephen Lee,— Exchange Place." I carefully deposited it in my breast pocket, and with a lighter step wended on to my new boarding-house.

Whether it was that I had gained confidence since my interview with Mr. Lee, or from some other cause, I felt myself very little abashed at sitting down, for the first time in my life, at dinner with some well-bred ladies and gentlemen. Though many of the observances were somewhat new to me, and one or two of my nearest neighbors plainly saw and felt amused at my unsophisticated conduct in some respects; I believe I came off, upon the whole, with tolerable credit.

I had an opportunity, too, of seeing who were the really well-bred people of the house. For those possessed of the truest politeness will never deign to wound the feelings of one in their company, by showing that they notice his deficiencies, and are entertained at his ignorance and awkwardness. On the contrary, they would rather do like that greatest of rakes, and of gentlemen, George IV.; who, when some court ladies, at tea, simpered at a couple of unfashionable companions for pouring their tea in their saucers, instead of drinking it from their cups, poured his also into the saucer, and thus commended it to his royal lip, that they might not be mortified by the mirth of the rude ones.

At night, Colby, according to his promise, paid me a visit. He was much pleased when I told him of my encounter with Lee, and of his promise to me. He told me, when I showed him the card, that he had frequently heard of that personage, who was a merchant of much reputation and no small wealth. Colby congratulated me on my luck, and jokingly told me, he should not be surprised to see me one day the owner of warehouses and the head of great business.

"But come," said he, "this is dull fun here.—Let us go out and cruise a little, and see what there is going on."

"Agreed," said I. "I shall like it of all things."

So we took our hats and sallied forth from the house.

After strolling up and down one of the most busy streets several times, I became a little more used to the glare of the lamps in the windows, and the clatter and bustle which was going on around me. How bright and happy everything seemed! The shops were filled with the most beautiful and costly wares, and the large, clear glass of the show-windows flashed in the brilliancy of the gas, which displayed their treasures to the passers-by. And the pave was filled with an eager and laughing crowd, jostling along, and each intent on some scheme of pleasure for the evening. I felt confused for a long time with the universal whirl, until at length, as I said, the scene grew a little more accustomed, and I had leisure to think more calmly upon what I saw.

In a little while, Colby asked me if I did not wish to hear some fine music, and drink a glass of wine. I assented, and we entered a beautifully furnished room, around which little tables were placed, where parties were seated drinking and amusing themselves with various games. We took our station at the first vacant seats, and called for our drinks. How delicious everything seemed! The beautiful women—warbling melodies sweeter than ever I had heard before, and the effect of the liquor upon my brain, seemed to lave me in happiness, as it were, from head to foot!

Oh, fatal pleasure! There and then was my first false step after coming in the borders of the city—and so soon after, too! Colby thought not, perhaps, what he was doing—but still he was very much to blame. He knew I was young, fond of society, and inexperienced; and it would have been better for me had he ushered me amid a pest-house, where some deadly contagion was raging in its fury.



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I tremble now as I look back upon the results which have sprung from the conduct of that single night, as from one seed of evil. Over the lapse of ten years I gaze, and the scene comes back to me again in the most vivid reality. I can remember even the colors of the chequer-board, and the appearance of the little table, and the very words of some of the songs that were sung. We drank—not once only, but again and again.

Yes, with a singular distinctness, the whole appearance of the room, and of the men with their hats on and cigars in their mouths, that sat all about, is as plain before my eyes as though it were painted in a picture there. It was all new to me then. A hundred more exciting scenes have passed over my head since, and have left no impression, while this is marked as with a steel pencil upon the tablets of my memory.

I remember being struck with the appearance of one poor fellow in a corner. He probably was not much older than myself; yet his face was bloated, his eyes inflamed, and he leaned back in that state of drowsy drunkenness which it is so disgusting to behold. I presume his companions—those who had made merry with him until he was brought to this stage of degradation—had left him in scorn; and there he sat, or rather supported himself in the corner, not half awake, and the subject of many a gibe and light laugh. Was it not a warning to me? And yet I was not warned.

After a time, some of the white-aproned subordinates of the place came to him, roughly broke his slumbers, and put him forth from the place. Miserable man! Without doubt, he now sleeps the sleep which no jostle can awaken, and which no curl of the lip, or gibe of the scoffer, can start from its dark repose.

Colby saw at length that he had been too heedless with me. Used as he was to the dissipation of city life, he forgot that I was from the country, and never in my life before engaged in such a scene of pleasure.

With some difficulty preserving the steadiness of my peace, as we left the room, I took his arm, and he walked with me toward my residence. Indeed, if he had not done so, I question whether I should have reached it; for my head swam, and the way in the night was somewhat difficult to find. Leaving me at the door, my companion bade me good night, and departed.

I entered, took a light from a number which were left upon a table in the hall for the use of the boarders, and slowly ascended the stairs to my room.—My slumbers were deep and unbroken. So were those of the preceding evening, and yet the nature of each was widely different. The former was the repose of health and innocence—the latter the dull lethargy of drunkenness.

———

Chapter IV.

The reflections which operated in my mind the next morning, are not a sufficiently tempting theme for me to dwell upon. I can hardly say that shame and remorse possessed me to such a degree, as to counterbalance the physical discomfort which weighed painfully upon every part of my frame.

In the course of the forenoon, I visited my antiquarian merchant friend, Mr. Lee. He had not forgotten me, but was as good as his word. His own establishment, he said, already employed a sufficiency of clerks and attendants, whom he could not turn out without doing them injustice. He had made inquiries, and informed me that a Mr. Andrews, a gentleman doing business in Wall street, with whom he was slightly acquainted, might be able to give me a situation.

My patron wrote a note, addressed to Andrews, which I carried to that personage. I found him in a handsome granite edifice, in a back room furnished sumptuously, out of which opened another, fronting on the street. It was a bank. Numerous people were constantly coming and going, upon business; everything was transacted with a quiet easy air, and without much bustle, though I could see that the matters which were discussed involved the value of thousands of dollars.

What conceivable situation Mr. Lee could have had in view for me there, I could not imagine; but I was soon undeceived. Mr. Andrews looked over the note, and called me to him. He was a thin, black eyed, rather delicate-looking man, and had a completely professional appearance. He told me he was a lawyer, and that his connection with the situation in which I saw him did not prevent him from attending to his other avocations. He wanted some one as a kind of clerk, porter and errand boy—three in one—to take care of his office while he was absent. The office was in an upper part of the same street.

I readily agreed to accept the terms which Andrews proposed, and he desired me to commence my duties on the morrow. As I took my departure from the place, who should I see in front, with a quill behind his ear, but my market-wagon acquaintance, Demaine. I accosted him with the salutation of the day, but he made a very slight and cool answer; and as I did not care much about his good will, I went forth without further parley.

Somewhat at a loss what to do with myself, I walked down to Colby's place of business, and made him promise to call upon me again that evening, as he had the preceding one.

"And how have you felt to-day?" said he, smiling mischievously; "you country boys cannot hold up under a few glasses, like us of the city."

I blushed, as I brought to mind the folly I had committed, and internally thought I could never be guilty of it again.

"I know," answered I, "that there are many things in which you will find me rather awkward. But my visit here, to ask you again to-night, proves that I am willing to get knowledge."

Knowledge! Better would it have been for me had I remained in ignorance through the whole course of my life, than attained to such knowledge.

When Colby came in the evening, and we started out to walk as before, I felt determined not to vist the musical drinking-house again. I had always (like most young country fellows,) felt a desire to go to the theatre. And as Colby was willing, we bent our steps to that place of amusement now. On our way we were joined by a third person named Mitchell, a friend of my friend's. I tried to appear as much at ease as possible—though every thing was stranger to me, even than before.

The house was crowded. Beautiful women and elegant men—moustached dandies and lively youth—brilliant fashionables of all varieties, combined to render the scene exhilarating and splendid. And the music from the orchestra, now soft and subdued, now bursting out with notes of thunder—how delicious it glided into the ear! The curtain drew up and the play began. It was one of those flippant affairs, that pretend to give a picture of society and manners among the exclusive. The plot worse than meagre—the truthfulness of the scene a gag, which ought not to have excited aught but ridicule—the most nauseous kind of mock aristocracy tinging the dialogue from beginning to end—yet it was received with applause, and at the conclusion, with vociferous and repeated cheers! The manager had printed upon his bills that London was pleased with it, and that one of the scenes represented life as in the private parlor of an English Duke—with the curtains, carpets, and drapery of the parlor, as good as real! I blushed for the good sense of my countrymen.

In the farce which followed, one of the characters was a wild hoyden of a girl. It was done very agreeably by one of the actresses, whose beauty excited my admiration to no small degree. So much indeed was I fascinated with her, that I expressed my opinion in prodigious terms. I vowed that if I could see her, side by side, and speak to her, I would give the world. Mitchell, the one who made the third of our party, listened to me for some time with a kind of sober surprise; and then, giving a wink to Colby, told me he was acquainted with the actress who had pleased me so much, and would introduce me to her that very evening, if I desired. I thanked him a thousand times.

In the interval between the acts, my eyes were attracted by the figure of a young gentleman in the stage-box, (we sat in the pit,) who seemed to me a perfect pattern of perfection in his dress and manners—in fact, a gentleman of the highest order. I saw Mitchell looking at him also.

"Do you know him?" said I.

"Yes," he answered.

"A fine looking fellow," said I.

He assented.

When the play was over, we went out. Along by the theatre, there were the glaring gas lights of several fashionable refrectories.

"Gentlemen," said our companion, "suppose we go down here, and get some oysters."

We agreed, and down we went.

While waiting in our little box, Mitchell called one of the men in attendance:

"John, bring us a bottle of Port."

The wine was brought.

"Mr. Evans," said Mitchell to me, "do you know I have a fancy always to be served by a particular individual in this refectory? Just notice the man's face, now, and tell me what you think of my taste."

When the waiter came again, in obedience to our companion's call, he held him in talk several minutes about some trivial details respecting the cooking of the articles we had ordered. When he went out, I looked up in Mitchell's face—

"Why," said I, "that—that—that man is the very fellow!"

"What very fellow?"

"He is the picture of the gentleman we saw in the boxes at the theatre!"

"I dare say he is the person; in fact, I know he is."

I changed the subject, and we finished our oysters.

"And now," said Mitchell to me, "if your friend Colby will wait here five minutes, I will introduce you to the actress."

My mistake in regard to the fashionable gentleman, had taught me a lesson, and my country life had taught me also to keep better hours. So I would have excused myself, but Mitchell seemed anxious that I should go with him.

"It's but a step," said he.

So we walked round the block, into a dirty alley leading to the rear of the theatre. Mitchell told me he had the entree there (to the theatre, I mean, not the alley) and in we walked.

I pass over my stares of wonder, and my running aslant dungeon walls, castles, and canvas palaces. We reached an open space, on one side, where there were quite a number of persons idling. At a little table sat a woman, eating some cheese and thick bread, and drinking at intervals from a dingy pewter mug, filled with beer. She was coarse—her eyes had that sickly bleared appearance, which results from the constant glitter of strong light upon them; her complexion was an oily brown, now quite mottled with paint, and her feet and ancles were encased in thick ill-blacked shoes.

Mitchell went up to the table, (I leaning on his arm,) and engaged in chit chat with the delectable creature. He introduced me. I was thunderstruck! She was my charmer, the hoyden in the farce! Her voice was coarse and masculine, and her manners on a par with her voice.

After ten minute's conversation, we bade the lady good night, and wended our way back to Colby, whom we found waiting for us. Neither myself nor Mitchell alluded to the subject, and Colby, no doubt understanding how matters stood, did not mention it either.

The occurrences of the night, I may as well confess, taught me to question the reality of many things I afterward saw; and reflect that, though to appearance they were showy, they might prove, upon trial, as coarse as the ating-house waiter, or the blear-eyed actress. I lost also, some of that reverence, and that awkward sense of inferiority, which most country-folk, when they take up their abode in this brick-and-pine Babel, so frequently show—and which, by the way, is as amusing to the observers, as it is unfair to themselves.



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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.6

"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.



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Yet was the tempest a terrible one. Widows, left with a narrow competence; young children; sick people, whose cases were hopeless, but who might languish on for many years; sailors, away upon the ocean; fishermen, whose earnings were scant and dearly bought; mechanics; young men just commencing business; economical doctors and clergymen in their novitiate; all these, and hundreds more, had either deposited sums of money in the institution, or were sufferers by its bankruptcy in other ways. Many lost their all. There was one woman, a widow, an energetic country trader, the mother of a large family, which she supported by her business habits, who had come to the city with what was for her quite a large sum—all she was worth, and some borrowed funds besides. Her intent was to purchase a heavy stock of goods, for sale the subsequent season. For security, she had her money placed in the vaults of the institution—and lost every cent!

It would be almost an endless effort to tell who was injured. All classes, all ranks, all occupations, felt more or less of the withering blight.7

But the tempest blew over at last. The two men who had provoked it, went out still among their fellow-men, with forms erect, and with smooth smiles. He of the dark eye was just finishing, a few miles from the city, a palace-like residence, of great size and beauty. Now he had it furnished with the most sumptuous luxury. Cost and pains were not spared, until Desire had no further room for wishing. Here this rich man settled himself; and here, when he had become a little used to his grandeur, so that it did not sit awkwardly upon him, he determined to give a superb entertainment.—Preparations were accordingly made; scientific cooks were engaged; foreign delicacies purchased, and the most exquisite dishes prepared.

The hour and the company arrived; and the master of the feast looked around with a smile, as each one seated himself at his appointed place.—They ate, and drank, and made merry. Delight, and Friendliness, and Content, seemed the presiding spirits of the banquet.

After awhile, when their glasses were filled with rich wine, it was proposed that they should have a toast. So a benevolent-looking elderly gentleman rose, and after speaking a few minutes, to the purport that he felt sure those present would all cordially join him, he raised his glass aloft—his example being followed by the others, and said—

"Even-handed laws—which, in our glorious republic, dispense to all impartially their due."

When the revellers heard this sentiment, they clinked their glasses together, and raised a peal which made the lofty ceiling ring again. Then a second, and then a third—which was a louder and a gladder peal than either of the others.

And at the same moment that the echoes died away, there was, about a mile off, a human soul writhing in its final struggle. It was that of the poor drunkard Dennis, who stole the loaf in his hunger, and had been sent to expiate his crime in toil and imprisonment. The dissipation of years had made him weak; and he could not bear up against the exposure, joined with hard work. But his task maker was merciless; and as long as the wretched man could stand, he was kept laboring.—At last, he fell very ill. Who would medicine a rascally jail-bird? He went on from bad to worse, and was soon in a dying condition.

Before the splendid dinner party returned to their homes that night, the corpse of the convicted thief lay cold and clayey upon the prison floor.



———

Chapter VI.

After I had been a while in my situation at Mr. Lee's store, I thought I might safely indulge myself in adding a little to my expenses. I made improvements both in my style of living, and in my dress—The new boarding-house in which I took my quarters, was in the upper part of the town. Colby came to see me quite often, as usual. The reader, probably by this time, has gained no small insight into the character of my friend. He was by no means a bad man; and yet his early habits, and giving way to temptation, had brought him to be anything else but a fit companion for a country youth, just beginning life in the city.

One morning, while I was attending to my usual duties in the counting room,8 a stranger with a dark and swarthy complexion, came in and asked for Mr. Lee. He was not in at the time; and thinking that the business of the dark faced personage was very likely some trifling affair, I told him that my employer was away, but would probably return in half an hour, or less. The stranger paused a moment with a troubled expression upon his countenance; then drew from his breast-pocket a couple of sealed documents, and handed them to me.

"Give these papers," said he, "to your employer, the moment he arrives. They are of more consequence than you know, and I would that I could have delivered them to his own hands."

"I will do as you desire," said I, laying the papers up in a little partition on the desk.

The stranger told his name as Bourne. I knew that my employer had had large dealings with him, and frequently sent letters to him, and once or twice had despatched his most confidential clerks on personal missions to him. One of these had been described to me by a fellow clerk—who represented Mr. Bourne's residence as filled with comfort and hospitality. And Mr. Lee had partly engaged that on the next occasion, which demanded such an agency, I should be sent on it.

A few minutes afterwards, I learned from one of my fellow-clerks, that Mr. Lee had gone out that morning, leaving word that he would not be back till the close of the day. I thought of the stranger's parting injunction; but he was gone some time, and could not be informed how the fact really was. After all, perhaps the documents might be of no weighty moment, and I reflected no more upon the subject.

On my way down from dinner, Colby met me in the street.

"This is lucky," he exclaimed, seizing me by the hand. "We have made up a fine party for the play to-night, and you must promise to be one of us."

"With pleasure," was my reply; "nothing could please me more."

So it was arranged, that when the hour arrived, they should call upon me, and we would all go together.

We did not close our store as early as usual that evening, in consequence of our employer's absence. Though doing an extensive business, he was a man very careful of the details, and was in the practice of being in his counting-room until the last moment. We waited therefore until the very evening, and the neighbors all around had shut up, and left us quite solitary. As the porter was making the usual arrangements of closing, Mr. Lee returned. He looked around him a moment, remarked that he did not know as his presence there was necessary, and was on the point of departing. So selfish was I, that though at that moment the remembrance of the swarthy stranger, and his letters, came to my mind, I debated a moment whether I should give them to Mr. Lee, as that would detain us some minutes longer. I was in haste to get home, that I might be ready in time for our visit to the theatre. Happily, however, duty triumphed.

"I had nearly forgotten, sir," said I, "these papers were left here this morning, by a man who desired that you might get them as soon as possible."

Mr. Lee took them, and opened them. The very moment he began to read, I could see that he was deeply interested. After finishing one, he perused the other with the same eagerness. And then a second time, with a slower and more careful manner, he read over both the letters again, from beginning to end.

"It's a lucky thing, Evans," said he, "that you did not miss giving me these. Not for half my fortune would I have been without them this very evening."

He then explained to me, that he had of late been engaged in some mercantile speculations at the south, which proved a failure. Some traders with whom he had intercourse there, were becoming alarmed, and demanded certain moneys, or their value, which Mr. Lee was bound to pay; but which it had been the understanding, were to remain uncalled for, for several months yet. A statement of this sudden demand was forwarded by Mr. Lee's agent, with a sorrowful acknowledgement that he had not the wherewithal to meet it, and asking directions for his conduct. The swarthy southerner, who was a planter, come to the north on business, was going to leave the city the next morning, at an early hour, and prompt action was therefore necessary.

Mr. Lee immediately sat down and wrote to his agent, directing where and how he could obtain the needed funds. He enjoined him to pay the liabilities the moment they were called for, as he would rather be at the expense of them twice over, than have his reputation and fair name as a merchant put in danger. Having made up and endorsed his reply, he gave it into my hands, with the address of the planter, who was to take it on, telling me to call at his hotel in the course of the evening, and place it in his hands. I promised to do so, of course, and went home to my supper.

As it was now quite in the evening, I had hardly finished my meal before my companions came, according to arrangement, to take me with them to the play. I debated a little while whether I had not better postpone my evening's enjoyment, as I had the planter's letter to carry. But I feared they would suspect that I did not like their companionship; and determined, in my own mind, to go out between some of the earlier acts of the piece, and convey my message.

I went to the theatre. We enjoyed ourselves highly, for the performances were creditable, and each of us naturally fond of that species of amusement, and moreover in great spirits. As the first piece was one I had long wished to see acted, I concluded not to go until that was finished. Then there was to come a dance, which one of my companions praised so highly that I was determined to stay and see that also. And then the intermission was so very short that, before I knew it, the curtain was up, and the actors on in the after-piece. Feeling that I was not doing right, I made a bold push, and bade my companions good night, if I should not see them again, telling them that I had some business to transact for my employer. They laughed at me, stating the improbability of such a thing, at that time of night. If ever there was anything that annoyed me, it was to be suspected of trying to sneak out from the truth by a kind of back-door, as it were. Accordingly, when they promised that if I would wait until the end of the first act, they would all go with me, I sat down again by them. I knew I was culpable, and yet I had not resolution of mind enough to break away.

We went from the theatre. On our way to the hotel, we were to pass one of our favorite drinking-places, where, as we came off against the entrance, we heard the inmates stamping and applauding at a great rate. There was evidently something more than usual going on, so one of our party insisted that we should step in and have a look.

"Only one moment," said he, "and then we will walk on with Evans."

But the moment stretched on to minutes, and the minutes to almost half an hour; at the end of which time we were snugly seated round a table, imbibing fragrant liquors through long glass tubes. And with the contents of the first glass, came a total disregard of anything but the pleasure of drink. Forgetful of my duty—of my employer's honor, and the crisis which would turn against him, if I continued sitting there a little while longer, I drank, and drank, and drank; until, as the night advanced, lost to the slightest vestige of remembrance with regard to the pacquet, I was the wildest and the most exhilarated of the party.

What fire burnt in my brain! I laughed, and with garrulous tongue entertained those about me with silly stories, which the quantity of liquor they had taken, alone prevented them from being nauseated with. All around us were the scenes which belonged to such a place, and which I have partially described before. The music went on, but we heard it no longer. The people talked and the dice rattled, but we heeded them not.

A wretched scene! Half-a-dozen men, just entering the busy scenes of life, not one of us over twenty five years, and there we were, benumbing our faculties, and confirming ourselves in practices which ever too surely bring the scorn of the world and disgrace to their miserable victims! It is a terrible sight, I have often thought since, to see young men beginning their walk upon this fatal journey!



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Chapter 7.

There is no need that I should pause here to dwell on my meeting with my benefactor Lee, and the shame with which I acknowledged my guilt, and gave him back his letter. But great as was my fault, I was hardly prepared for his storm of anger. I did not know how much he valued his good name among the mercantile world, or I might have been better prepared for it. He had jealously guarded his professional honor, as the apple of his eye; and now there was no escape. The mails to the distant place were very irregular; and besides, a letter to that town where his agent resided, would not reach it in time, now, if there were no impediment.

Though conscious of my remissness, the irritability, which was one of the results of late habits, caused me in the course of our interview, to attempt an excuse for my conduct. High words arose—in the end I was insolent, and Mr. Lee bade me leave the place and never enter it again! I departed, telling him he should be obeyed.

Dearly, during that day, and many subsequent ones, did I repent my folly. How often did I curse that miserable weakness of my mind, which led me to yield to the slightest opening of temptation!

And what was to be done now, for a living? Some employment must be had—I could not starve. Though my salary had been quite liberal, I had spent every cent, and with the exception of a small sum, due me on a back account, I owned not a dollar in the world. I took the first chance that offered. I accidently learned that the proprietor of a second rate hotel, where I had in times past been in the habit of going, was in want of a bar-keeper. I made application for the place, and, after some demur, was accepted. But the scenes which I witnessed there, and the duties my situation obliged me to perform, were not pleasant: and at the end of a fortnight I left my place.

During my avocations there, I saw many an occurrence, which had I possessed true judgement, might have served as a sufficent warning to me.—There was one of the customers at our bar, quite a small boy, who came almost every evening with a little jug, which he got filled with brandy. I never asked the child—but I knew the principal part of his story from his actions. He had an intemperate parent! Their dwelling was nigh the tavern. I had occasion, two or three times, to show some little kindness to the boy, when he was rudely treated by the inmates of our place.

One evening, when I had a respite from employment, I amused myself by my favorite recreation, the theatre. As I was returning quite late, and was passing through a narrow, dirty street, a boy asked me for a few pennies, in a piteous tone. He said he wanted them to buy bread. I thought the voice was familiar—and scanning the lad's features, discovered my little acquaintance who had so often brought the jug. Of late, however, I had missed his accustomed visits to the bar. I spoke kindly to him—and the poor fellow, no doubt unaccustomed to such treatment, burst into tears. More and more interested, I inquired of him what distress had sent him forth at that hour; and he acknowledged that, instead of wanting the pennies to buy bread, he wished to purchase liquor—and for his mother!

"I don't know what ails her," said the little wretch, "but she acts more strange to-night, than I ever saw her before."

"Where does she live?" said I.

"Not a block off," answered the boy. "Would'nt you just come and see her, sir? She has been sick for a long time."

I thought it no wonder, when, as the child turned on before, to show me the way, I caught sight of the little red jug, under his jacket. He led me up a dirty rickety stoop, into a dark entry of the same description; and it was not without considerable risk of my personal safety, that I arrived at last at the door of a room in the attic, where, he said, his mother was lying. He opened the door and we entered. Never before had I been in so miserable a place.—The furniture of the apartment, what there was of it, would have been scouted from a negro hovel.—The bed in which the woman herself lay in one corner, was a filthy thing of feathers and soiled rags. Another corner was tenanted by a little girl, the sister of the boy who had conducted me: she was asleep. There was no fire—hardly any light; for the flickering of a half-burned tallow candle on the hearth-stone, only served to cast shadowy hues around, making the place drearier and still more desolate. I stood and looked upon the scene—then, approaching the woman, I gazed down upon her, and the very first glance I gave in her face, saw that she was dying! Horror-struck, I stepped away from the bed, and for several minutes was silent and motionless with awe.

Every little while, the woman would turn uneasily, and raise herself somewhat from the bed, and look about—oftenest looking at the spot where her girl slumbered. My little guide crouched down close by my feet—it may be that the knowledge of the presence of death was upon him. Again the woman raised herself—then sank wearily back again, her faint groans sounding through the apartment. Poor creature! She was very wretched—and no doubt she had been as guilty as she was wretched; and thoughts of remorse might be the cause of that restlessness which I saw depicted in her countenance. But amid all her agony—amid the dark remembrances that came trooping up there, like fiends in the silence of midnight, to torment her—amid her doubts and fears about the Dim Beyond—amid faintness, and thirstiness, and pain—one controlling thought was mightier than all the rest—motherly love. She called in a hoarse whisper,

"Mary!"

There was no answer. A second time she called, and sank down her head, and held very still, to listen if she was heard. The quiet, regular breathing of the sleeping girl, was the only sound that broke that terrible stillness—for we were mute with dread. Again, the whisper sounded out with even a ghastlier tone than before,

"My daughter!"

The hoarse sound seemed to be reechoed from other voices. It was as if around the room, and peering down from the upper corners of the wall, the death-stricken outcast fancied she saw faces, bodiless, and working with strange grins of mockery. She sat up in the bed—horror giving her strength—and stared wildly about. I was half petrified as her look was directed toward me, and the child at my feet. I stood as still as a statue. With a feeble hand, she drew from its place, the rag-heap used for her pillow; she tightened and bound it with her trembling fingers—I looking on in wonder the while—and then she threw it toward me! I half shrieked with fear.

The woman was plainly losing her senses, as the dread moment came nigh.

"Oh, Jack!" she exclaimed, as she saw her boy near me, "come to your poor mother!"

I raised the child, and bade him obey her. He was frightened at her fearful wildness, and crept toward the bed with trembling steps.

"Dear boy, lean to my face!" she said.

The poor lad speechlessly obeyed the injunction. The girl slept on. And now the dying woman lay, her mouth partly open, drawing in the breath at intervals with a convulsive movement of the jaws.—Her face was livid, and covered with large drops of sweat, and her eyes turned upward. It was evident that she struggled with the Grim Messenger.

To me, the fearful novelty of the scene almost took away all power of speech or action. What I have narrated was done in the space of but few seconds. Indeed, I was not in the room, from first to last, more than ten or twelve minutes. The woman's arm, numb as it was getting to be, wound itself around her child, and pressed him closer.—Something like a smile—a most deathly one—settled upon her features. She tried to speak—but just then her sinking powers forbade the effort. It seemed from her looks and faint gestures, that she would have had the boy rouse his sister, and bring her there also. Then she probably felt conscious how very short were her moments, and how she might die ere the drowsy child could be fully awakened. Her pallid lips moved—just moved, and that was all.

"Father in Heaven!" was the slight thin sound, "hallowed be thy name—thy will be done on earth as in heaven—forgive us of our trespasses as—"

A ghastly rattle shook the repentant sinner's neck.

"Forgive us our trespasses—"

There was a choking gush, as of wind and water in the throat.

"Forgive us—"

Her head turned slowly, and fell on its side with a kind of leaden sound; her arm relaxed its hold; and the guilty creature lay there a corpse—her last prayer smothered in its utterance, and her immortal part starting from its now useless tabernacle, to waft itself on the journey for the Strange Land.



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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 compfort—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,9 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.



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Whether Mrs. Conway returned my admiration, and whether she would have accepted the offer of my hand, had I been in a fit condition to give it, I cannot say. The probability is, however, that in our intercourse the same current of events took place which I have described in my own case. In the first stages, she no doubt acted the part of a most unqualified coquet. But in our subsequent meetings, she may have been touched by the ardency of my love, which was more intense, than that I had borne the creole.

As I gazed on the widow's bewitching beauty—her soft sunny complexion, and her mild eyes—as I listened to her conversation, charming for itself alone, and doubly so from the musical tones it flowed in—I felt myself steeped indeed in the extacy of passion.

One day, I had been visiting the widow, and pouring into her ears some of those wild thoughts and protestations which wine and love can generate. The beauty listened complacently, for when was homage distasteful to a woman? All of a sudden, a capricious thought entered her brain.

"Come!" said she to me, "I wonder if you would prove, by something more tangible than words, the reality of all this fine sentiment?"

"If there is anything, lady, you wish done," I replied, "that mortal man can do, I will attempt it."

And I spoke with an energy that showed my mind.

"In a stroll I took two or three days since," continued the widow, "I saw a fine boy of some eight or nine years old. They told me he belonged to you, or to your friend, Mr. Bourne, which is the same thing. Now I fancy I should like just such a little fellow to be my page, after the fashion of the damsels of old."

"What was his name?" asked I.

"They called him Louis," was her answer.

The widow waited for an answer several moments in vain.

"How soon gallantry cools when its labor or its money is required!" she said at length, with a contemptuous smile.

"Forgive me, lady, it is not that," and I spoke very earnestly, "it is not that. Ask of me something else. There are reasons," added I, in a quick and confused voice, "reasons why I may not mention why that request must be denied. But some other surely will do as well. There are many children among the slaves, and you shall have your choice of them all."

The widow knew the reasons I alluded to full well.

"My choice is made," she replied, calmly and coolly; "it was but an idle notion, and I have done wrong to trouble you with it."

"I beg you," rejoined I, "let some other take the boy's place in your wish."

"Speak no more about it, sir;" the lady answered, in a tone as if intended to cut short the suject; "it is not worth your while to think of a silly woman's whims. Though I don't know, indeed, which are worse—false words, or foolish fancies. I beg you, speak no more about it."

But I did speak further about it. I entreated her to select some other, any dozen others, instead of Louis. Her answer was still the same.

Those who have read the preceeding chapters of this narrative, and who know the great failing which has attended me from my very outset of life—weakness of resolution, and liability to be led by others—can conceive the result of this interview. Before I left the widow I promised to comply with her request about the boy.

Louis was sent to his new mistress. Before the time of his departure, Margaret was observed to have several long and close interviews with him.—What the subject of those interviews was, they knew.

At length came the capstones of the misfortunes of Margaret. Rumors floated to her ear of preparations for an intended divorce between myself and her, and a marriage in prospect of the widow and me. The latter part of the story was an addition of the busy tongue of common report.

As I sometimes look back at this period of my life, I think with more regret and dissatisfaction upon it, than upon any other portion of my conduct.—My early follies were the result of inexperience in the ways of the world, and of the errors of impulse; hardly any of them but have some excuse. They were either committed or begun when I was under the influence of liquor, and lost the control of my faculties; or we forced upon me by circumstances, and might be attributed to the great failing I have before alluded to—weakness of resolution. But my acts during the few weeks I resided at Bourne's, were done more in the method of deliberate and premeditated folly. I had my eyes open, and still went on, as though I were blindfolded.

And I sometimes think I can trace the outset of all these frailties, as well as all the calamities that have befallen me in my life, to that fatal night when Colby drew me into the drinking place; where, amid music and gayety, the first step in my downward road was taken.



———

Chapter X.

While matters were in the situation described in the last few paragraphs, a danger was preparing, that threatened destruction not only to the love of myself and the widow, but to our lives, and the lives of the whole family and neighborhood. One of those epidemical diseases that prevail in the South made its appearance, and began to sread in all directions. Alarm and consternation fell on the people. Beginning at first with striking down a man here and there, the fearful Plague Spirit, after a time, became as it were insatiate in his demands.

At the first appearance of the scourge, Mrs. Conway would have flown back to her native north. I, however, to whom her presence had become very dear, represented the evil as far less than rumor attempted to make it. I smiled at her terrors, and though my own heart accused me of untruth, I told the widow that there was little danger.

Thus she remained in fancied security, until it was too late. When the real facts could no longer be kept from her knowledge, it was quite as dangerous to leave as to remain. And yet, so deeply seated was this woman's love of admiration, that she really forgave me for deceiving her, in consideration of the motive that led me to be guilty of it.

One of the last places where the sickness came, was the village near Bourne's plantation. It was a place of not much travel, and being in a more than ordinarily healthy location, its inhabitants had flattered themselves with a hope of escaping the pestilence which desolated their fellow towns. Vain were there hopes. One day authentic information was brought to the planter, that the disease had made its appearance there; and, unfortunately for him, its first stroke was levelled at a poor family whose house stood near the confines of his estate.—He was advised to be very cautious, and furthermore enjoined by his medical attendant, who sent the information just mentioned, that fear and anxiety concerning the matter were precisely the things that would bring about the result most dreaded.

All this was kept from Mrs. Conway's ears. I already began to blame myself for my deceit. I took every earthly means to guard her from the dangers that surrounded the place, and never allowed her to hear aught that might produce in her mind those disturbed thoughts which the physician deprecated. New to the climate, and more liable than a native to its deleterious influences, I knew she would stand but little chance of recovery, if once attacked by the dreaded malady.

But amid the general alarm and precaution, there was one person who paid small heed to either. That person was the deserted Margaret. She cared little about bodily danger, for she pined in a deeper rooted sorrow, and not only pined, but with feelings of one much injured, she fostered in her soul the desire of retribution on her injurer. Me, she could not bring herself to regard with any other passion than fondness; but her rival was hated with as deep a loathing, as ever swelled the soul of a jealous woman.

When she heard of the epidemic, her first thought was a desire that the widow would be one of its victims. When the news was brought that it had broken out in our immediate neighborhood, she arranged in her mind a scheme, subtle and worthy the brain whence it sprung—a scheme of revenge. The whole of the thoughts and conduct of the woman, though at the time unknown to me, were afterward fixed too firmly in my knowledge and my memory.

The next day, Louis, came to the planter's house on some errand for his mistress. Whether that errand required the child's personal attention or not, I cannot say; but for a long time the boy was closeted with her in her apartment. As he left the place, there flashed in his eye a spice of lurking devil, which spoke him to be not a slack partaker of mischief.

Down one of the winding-lanes of Bourne's plantation, that very afternoon, two figures were slowly walking. One was a lady, passing beautiful; the other was a boy, a fine-looking child, his cheeks tinged with a slight color, betraying though feebly his taint of African blood. The lady was Mrs. Conway, the boy, her attendant Louis.

"It is pleasant," said the widow, "to get once more a taste of the open air; I have been cooped up so long, that it comes to me like something strange and unwonted."

The boy walked on near her in silence.

"Dou you not think, Lewy, we are strangely kept in by Mr. Bourne's and Mr. Evans's whims? It was but the other day the latter told me not to stir out of the house to a distance on any account. You don't have robbers here, I hope?"

"I never knew of one about the place, in all my life," answered the child.

"And this sickness," said the lady, "what a fearful thing if it should appear among us! They say, boy, such as I, coming from another clime, stand a double danger from it."



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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!



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Midnight hung its curtains round about the planter's dwelling. Sleep and Repose were there with their pleasant ministerings, and Silence, the handmaiden of both. In the chamber of the sick one there was a lamp, sending forth its feeble beams, and looking as if it were about to gasp its last gasp, ominous emblem of the life that lay flickering near. From the bed which held the beautiful sufferer, sounded breathings faint but regular. There was no nurse or watcher there, for the physician had said it was of no importance, and all were worn out with their long-continued attending upon the invalid. Even I myself had sunk into a deep sleep at the door of the room, exhausted nature refusing to allow any further demand upon her powers.

One of the long windows was partly open, and only a thin piece of gauze was between the ground to which it led, and the room. At that window appeared, time and again, two bright small orbs, fixed, and yet rolling in fire. Ever and anon they would draw back into the shadow; then again they would peer inwardly upon the room, their direction ever being to the bed whereon the sick one lay.

It was wrong to say that couch had no watcher! Three long hours did those glittering things, which were human eyes, continue to keep the vigils of that noiseless spot. Three long hours, while hardly a motion, except the swaying back and forth, before spoken of, disturbed the constancy of their gaze, or a sound broke the solemn stillness.

In the deep hour of that night the widow awoke; and as she awoke, her blood, for the first time during five days, coursed through veins that did not throb with loathsome heart. Then she knew that she should live.

All around was motionless and soundless, and the lady felt glad that it was so; for her heart was in that mood of blissful calm to which the least jar produces pain.

"Thank God!" sounded in a low murmur from her tongue; "thank God! I shall not die!"

The sounds came faintly; but faint as they were, they sank into ears beside those of the speaker. They sank and pierced, with a dagger's sharpness, the soul of Margaret, the creole; for she it was, whose eyes had been during those long three hours almost winkless at the room window.

And was her rival, then, to get well once more? And were all her late hopes to vanish? That pale-browed northerner married to him she loved? Never should the sun rise upon that marriage!

Horrid purposes lighted up the creole's eyes as she softly put aside the curtains, and stepped into the room. With a stealthy pace she drew near to the sick woman's bed. One moment she paused. The widow lay there, still very beautiful, and calm as a sleeping infant. As Margaret approached, the invalid turned and looked at her a moment, but it was plain she knew her not, and probably thought her to be some hired attendant.

Still nearer and nearer came the wrtched female: and now she stands by the very bedside. Unconscious yet, the lady is quiet and composed—fearing nothing and suspecting nothing. An instant more and her throat is clutched by a pair of tight-working hands. Startled with terror, she would shriek but cannot. What torture fills her heart! She turns, and struggles and writhes; but those deadly fingers loosen not their grasp.

The murderess presses upon her. Poor lady! Her soul feels very sick, as in one little minute whole troops of remembrances, and thoughts, and dreads, come over her. She grows fainter and fainter. Her struggles become less energetic, and her convulsive writhings cease. Still those terrible hands release not. Their suffocating span is continued yet for several minutes.

And now, no longer is it necessary that Margaret should keep her hold; that last faint gurgle tells the consummation of the fell design. Her deed is done. Her revenge triumphs!

Like some ghost condemned to wander on earth for actions done there, a figure stalked about the garden and the grounds near by, during the remainder of that night. Bright stars shone down, and the cool breeze swept by; but the Shape heeded them not, walking swiftly on in zigzag directions, apparently without any particular point of destination. Sometimes stretching off down a lane, and stopping by the fence, and leaning thereon, and looking at the cattle that lay doubled on the grass reposing: and sometimes standing like a marble statue, motionless, and gazing vacantly for a long time in the bodiless air: these were the freaks of the strange figure.

It was the murderess who wandered there and thus. And as the first streak of light appeared in the east, she started like the guilty thing she was, and returned to her abiding place.

Chapter X.

Upon the distraction which filled my breast, when it was found in the morning that the widow had died—and the burial of the body—and the cunning smoothess of the Creole during the intervening time—I shall bestow no more than this passing mention. Whether any suspicions of foul play were as yet aroused in the breasts of other persons, is more than I can say. As far as I was concerned, however, I had not the most distant idea of the kind; and taking all things into reflection, the likelihood is that no one thought Mrs. Conway's death, under the circumstances, aught more than was to have been expected.

But guilt has a vital power, which gives it life, until it is held up to scorn. It happened so in this case. Louis, the former page of Margaret, was taken sick with the same disease of which the widow was supposed to have died. Strangely enough, when the Creole plotted with the boy to entice his mistress into the infected cottage (for that occurrence was the result of design,) she did not think how the danger would be shared by Louis too. Her soul had strained its gaze with the single purpose of revenge; and she saw not each incidental effect. Thus it is with evil intentions. The bad are always short-sighted: in the plots they form, and the manœuvres they engage in, some little thing or other escapes their view, and proves, after a while, to be a seed of punishment and remorse.

Again the curtains of darkness hung around the planter's dwelling; and again had the balancing point of the sickness arrived for a sufferer there.—That sufferer was little Louis. He had left the house of the overseer, and now lived at his old abode. There was the same breathlessness and the same want of movement, as on the preceding occasion; but instead of the sick room being almost deserted, as in the former case, many persons waited there. Perhaps they had become more callous to fear, because it was not a new thing; perhaps it was, that they thought the influences of a sick child's apartment more gentle and less dangerous than the former one. Margaret stood in a position so quiet, and with eyes so stony in their gaze, that she seemed like one entranced. On the result of the pending sleep of her favorite, it seemed as if her reason and her life were wavering.

At last the slumberer awoke. The Creole shrieked! for it was plain Louis but aroused himself for a moment, to sink shortly in that deep senselessness which knows no waking here on earth. He shifted himself uneasily on his bed. A film came over Margaret's eyes—a film of fear and agony; and when it passed off and left her sight clear, she saw lying before her, the quiet ghastly corpse of the only being who had ever truly loved her.

Those who were present felt awed at her terrible grief. She screamed aloud, and threw her arms around the boy, and pressed his forehead to her lips. She called him by all the old endearing epithets, and seemed crazed with her sense of desperate sorrow. The wild exclamations that started from her mouth, the listeners heard with wonder.

"Do not go!" she said, looking on the inanimate form of the boy. "Do not go. The pleasant days are not all past. If you leave me, my heart will crack!"

Then in a whisper:

"O, never tell me of her kindness. Lead her into the hut I say. She is a witch, and can steal hearts."

She passed, and looked intently at some phantom before her.

"Why, how long she sleeps! She shall sleep longer, though, and deeper, after to-night. Softly! softly! softly!"

The heart strings were too much wrought, and the Creole sank heavily down upon the floor, in a fit. Those who stood by looked strangely into each other's faces, but no one spoke.

It was evident that something wrong had been done, and weighed heavily on the wretched woman's mind. Her words, her strange gestures, could not but have a meaning to them. Gossipping tongues, once started upon such matters, are not easily put to rest; and before long the dark rumor came to Mr. Phillips's ear that his kinswoman had been murdered.

The overseer, whatever might have been his deficiencies, was a shrewd clear-headed man, and in ferreting out a mystery, had few equals. He worked with sagacity, and allowed no incident to escape him, small or large. As might be expected, he soon discovered enough to make his surmises a positive belief.

Many of what the people would have called trifles, were noted down by this man; and the sum of these trifles presented an array dangerous enough to warrant the suspicion of even the most incredulous. The strange appearance of Mr. Conway's body was remembered—how the bed was all disordered, as if from a violent struggle—the livid spots upon her neck—the open window—and the tracks of some person's feet from the grounds without, through the room—even the fact that Margaret's couch had the next morning borne no sign of occupancy the preceding night—were hunted out by the indefatigable overseer. Many other minor and corroborating incidents were also brought to light—the whole making the case of the suspected woman a dark one indeed.

Mr. Phillips applied to the proper authorities for a warrant, and had Margaret lodged in prison, as one who, at the very least, was involved in deep clouds of suspicion.

In the meantime, I myself was as one petrified. Never in all my life did I receive such a shock, as when authentic information was first brought me of the charge against the Creole! I could not join the overseer in efforts to worm out the facts of the case; neither could I do aught to screen the murderess of one whom I had so loved. I shut myself up in my room for several days, waiting the conclusion of all these horrible circumstances.

Let me hasten toward that conclusion. I have already dwelt long enough, and too long, on this part of my history. And I feel glad that I have arrived at the end of the chapter, for my mind revolts at the ideas the narration of these things has already called up in most disagreeable distinctness.

The overseer continued his investigation, but he might as well have spared himself the trouble. From some train of motives which the great Heart-Viewer alone can fathom, the Creole soon after sent for Phillips and myself, and made a full confession. Upon her story as she told it me, and her own acknowledgment, I have given many of the incidents in the preceding two chapters, which, at the time they took place, were of course totally unknown to me. That very night she committed suicide in her cell. I never saw her again.



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Chapter XI.

Under any circumstances, I should have now desired to return to New York, forthwith. But this return was hastened by my receiving a letter from Mr. Lee's oldest and most confidential employee, conveying peremptory orders from my kind benefactor to make all speed back—for he was very ill, and it was not improbable he might die.

Thinking over what had taken place, as I prepared for my journey back to New York, I sometimes fancied I had been in a dream. The events were so strange—and my own conduct, in respect to some of them, so very unreasonable, that I could hardly bring myself to acknowledge their reality.—Bourne was loth to part with me. Our short friendship had been in many ways pleasant to us both.—It was seldom, indeed, that his retirement was enlivened with the voice of a stranger, or his lonesome hours made glad by the company of one he loved.

I had hardly arrived in the city, and was at my home there, before a messenger came with a most urgent request that I would visit Mr. Lee. I went, and found him quite as sick as was reported. He knew me at once, however, and rose in his bed to give me a cordial shake of the hand.

"The reason I sent for you," said he, "is to prepare you for an evidence that, notwithstanding what has passed between us in days gone by, I have indeed thought proper to bestow upon you a portion of that wealth, which it has been my honest pride to gain."

"Sir," said I, "what reason can you have for such favor toward one who is to you almost a stranger?"

"My own fancy, Evans," he answered, "my own whim, perhaps. But we are not strangers.—And I have always taken blame to myself, that I did not watch over you with a more fatherly care, when you were first thrown, as it were by the hand of Providence, under my charge."

"Indeed, sir," said I, agitated and affected almost to tears, by the old man's kindness, "I did not expect this."

"No matter," said he, "I have made inquiries from time to time about you, though you knew it not, and have kept the track of your course of life. I feel assured that your wild days are over—that experience has taught you wisdom, and that the means that I shall place at your command will not be put to improper uses."

The sick merchant raised himself, and, propped against his pillow, enjoined me to listen a few minutes, and he would briefly relate the story of his life—and why it was that in his old age, he was alone in the world, without family or intimates. I shall give his story in my own words.

Stephen Lee, at an early age, received from his father a sufficient capital to enable him to start himself in business, in the mercantile profession. Though he was ambitious, he was prudent, and soon sailed on the forward and brilliant track of success. Fascinated by the charms and accomplishments of a young female cousin, he paid his addresses to her, and they were shortly married.

For several months happiness seemed hovering over them, and all prospects were fair for a life of cloudless content. A year elapsed, and Lee's wife bore him a son. The delighted father now thought that the measure of his joy was full. A few days after her confinement, there began to be a strange lassitude about the young merchant's wife—her health was as good as is ordinary in such cases, but as the time passed, her countenance grew more pallid and sickly and her eyes lost their lustre. The physician could give no satisfactory account of all this; and Lee himself for some time was in the dark also. But too soon did the fatal truth come to his knowledge, that his wife was an habitual gin-drinker!

Lee, though shocked at this disgusting fact, imagined at first, that the habit had been formed by using drink as a stimulus to keep up her power of body in her sickness. But it was not so. During the time that had intervened between their marriage, the miserable woman, for very shame, had desisted from the practice. But a single taste revived the old appetite in all its strength.

It happened one day, when the infant was some ten weeks old, that the mother, stupified by excess of liquor, let her babe fall against some projecting article of furniture, and it received a blow from which it never recovered. In the course of the week, the child died, and though the physician never stated the exact cause of its death, it was well understood that the fall from the arms of its drunken mother had been that cause.

Two or three years passed on. Another infant was born to Lee—but it met with a fate not much better than the first. Its death came from neglect and ill nursing.

And the mother—the lovely and educated wife, with whom the merchant had expected to see so much happiness, she was a drunkard. She lingered not long, however, to bear witness to her own and her husband's shame. She sank into the grave the victim of intemperance.

It was many years before Lee recovered his former tone of character. Naturally cheerful, however, he could not long remain that gloomy being which his misfortunes had for a time made him. He was fond of sporting, and loved the country, which he frequently visited. He loved, too, the old traditions and reminiscences of the earlier part of our American history, to which he gave up a considerable portion of his leisure. Thus, and in the affairs of his trade, which he still kept on, he had made life pass as evenly and pleasantly as he could.

"You say you are a stranger," he said to me, before I left him, "but you are not half so much so as the rest of the world. My nearest relatives, who were never friendly to me in life, have long since been laid in the grave; and I can make no better disposition of my profits than to give them to one whom I feel confident will not be unwilling to use some part thereof, for suppressing the fearful fiend Intemperance, that has brought such wo upon us both!"

I mused, as I left the place, upon the singular notion if the old man, in remembering me thus. Of course, it was anything but unpleasant to me that I should inherit a respectable competency; and yet I could not help wondering at the method of it.

Not many days elapsed before Lee died, and was laid away to his repose. His will, though the theme of much grumbling to some far distant connections, could not be gainsayed, and I came into possession of the property left me.

So, at an age which was hardly upon the middle verge of life, I found myself possessed of a comfortable property; and, as the term is, 'unincumbered' person—which means that I had no wife to love me, no children to please me, and to be the recipients of my own affection, and no domestic hearth around which we might gather, as the centre of joy and delight. My constitution, notwithstanding the heavy draughts made upon its powers by my youthful dissipations, might yet last me the appointed term of years, and without more than a moderate quantity of the physical ills that man is heir to.

I do not intend to relate the occurrences of my after life. Indeed, were I so disposed, it would be impossible; for I have brought the chain of events down almost to the very day when the reader will be perusing my story. True, several years have passed since my Virginia visit, which resulted so disastrous to those with whom I was brought in contact; but the tenor of action has flowed on so smoothly since then, that I have little to tell which would be interesting.

There is one person, however, who has figured in these columns, on whom I would bestow a paragraph before I close. I allude to my old friend, Colby.

As I was passing one day along a street on the eastern side of the city, my course was impeded by a crowd, gathered around a loafer, who was cutting up his antics in the street. It was Colby, my early intimate, the tempter who had led me aside from the paths of soberness.

As it is the usage of story tellers to give some passing notice of all who have figured in their columns, before those lines are brought to a close, I will here follow the custom; though the small number of such persons, apart from the I, who have been the hero of the tale, will render the task an easy one.

My country relations were not forgotten by me in my good fortune. The worthy uncle, who had kindly housed and fed me when I was quite too small to make him any repayment for that service, received in his old age the means to render his life more easy and happy. My cousins too had no reason to be sorry for the good will which they had ever shown toward me. I was never the person to forget a friend, or leave unrequited a favor, when I had the payment of it in my power.

Demaine, I have never been able to light upon more than once or twice, and therefore cannot fully say, what are his fortunes. Probably, however, he is to be numbered among those hundreds of men in New York, whose god is fashion and dress; and who, are miserable out sight of their 'genteel' acquaintances,' in the ball-room or the public promenade.—Such fellows are as far removed from true gentlemen, as the gilded sun, in stage melo-dramas, from the genuine source of light himself.

I hear now and then from Bourne. Things are going on in the old way.

Andrews, my old master, died of grief at the failure of some stock-jobbing operations, wherein a cunning fellow-broker overreached him. His immense possessions, after his death, were found to be as fallacious as the basis on which they had been reared.

Boarding-houses are no more patronized by me. The distaste I formed for them in my memorable search for quarters, when I first came to New York, was never entirely done away with. The comforts of a home are to be had in very few of these places; and I have often thought that the cheerless method of their accommodations drives many a young man to the bar-room, or to some other place of public resort, whence the road to habits of intoxication is but too easy. Indeed, the thought has long been entertained by me, that this matter is not sufficiently appreciated. I would advise every young man to marry as soon as possible, and have a home of his own.

Reader! I have brought my narrative quite to an end. I may be presumptuous to flatter myself that it has been of much amusement to you, though I have had that partly in view. Partly—but not wholly. For I have desired, amid the path we have travelled together, and which is now at an end—that a few seeds of wholesome instruction might be dropped at the same time.


Notes:

1. In his revision to the story of Franklin Evans, Whitman omitted the temperance frame and much of the content having to do with alcohol and temperance. He also revised the title to reflect the story's shift to a more general piece of sensational fiction. For a discussion of this and other revisions, see Stephanie Blalock and Nicole Gray, "Introduction to Franklin Evans and 'Fortunes of a Country-Boy.'" For a complete list of revisions (not including changes to punctuation), see Thomas L. Brasher, ed., The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 124–239. [back]

2. The stagecoach was a horse-drawn vehicle that transported passengers or parcels on a regular schedule. [back]

3. A public house could refer to a pub or tavern; or an inn that provided travelers with food, drink, and lodging. [back]

4. Although Whitman's notebooks and his later poetry often celebrate the city and urban life, Franklin Evans and "Fortunes of a Country-Boy" reveal some anti-urban sentiments, which were characteristic of temperance fiction. Other early fiction titles by Whitman that compare urban and rural living or express uncertainty about the vices or the rapid growth associated with urban areas include "The Tomb-Blossoms," "The Boy-Lover," and "Dumb Kate.—An Early Death." For an explanation of anti-urbanism and the expansion of Whitman's New York in the 1840s, see Christopher Castiglia and Glenn Hendler's introduction to Franklin Evans, or The Inebriate: A Tale of the Times (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2007), xiii–xxiv. [back]

5. Boarding houses flourished in New York City in the mid-nineteenth century. In an article titled "New York Boarding Houses," published in the New York Aurora on March, 18, 1842, Whitman estimated that "half the inhabitants of the city hire accommodations at these houses," and noted that "if we were called upon to describe the universal Yankee nation in laconic terms, we should say, they are 'a boarding people.'" Whitman himself stayed a a number of different boarding houses during the early 1840s: see David Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Random House, 1996), 84. For a discussion of the ways in which boarding houses acted as sites of fellowship and association for young men like Franklin Evans, see Castiglia and Hendler, introduction to Franklin Evans, xx–xxi. [back]

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

7. This scam, juxtaposed with the story of Dennis's poverty and theft on a much smaller scale, might be a reference to the aftermath of Andrew Jackson's banking policies and the Panic of 1837, which ushered in a Free Banking era that destabilized financial institutions for several years. It is also comparable to the tendency of other sensationalist writers of the time to criticize elitism in the form of corrupt bankers and lawyers. See Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America, 86–7. [back]

8. The counting-room was a room in commercial establishments dedicated to book-keeping, accounts, or correspondence. [back]

9. "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 Castiglia and Hendler note in the introduction to their edition of Franklin Evans, it was not commonly used in Virginia (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, may have used the ambiguity of "creole" to downplay the significance of race 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]


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