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

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

Date: November 30, 1846

Whitman Archive ID: per.00291

Source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat, November 30, 1846: 1. Transcribed from digital images of a microfilm reproduction of an original issue. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the fiction, see our statement of editorial policy.

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

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A Moral Tale.


Incidents in Town—and his Adventure at the South.


BY J. R. S. ˙ ˙ ˙ ˙ ˙.



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.


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