The Open Question by Elizabeth Robins (1898), Chapter 3
NATURALLY so clannish a woman as Mrs. Gano had not let the years go by without much solicitude on behalf of her orphan grandchild. After the death of her eldest son, Mrs. Gano wrote to his mother-in-law, Mrs. Tallmadge, asking her to send the little orphan to his father's people, or else appoint a time when Mrs. Gano might come to Boston and bring her grandson home. The reply came from Mr. Tallmadge, showing how deeply he and his wife had resented Mrs. Gano's behavior on the marriage of her son. Mr. Tallmadge wrote that his daughter on her death-bed had committed the infant to the care of her own mother, and that Ethan Gano himself had sent his son North under the protection of Mrs. Tallmadge. He had broken with his own family, and held no communication with them. It was plain what his wishes were with reference to his son. And the Tallmadges might be depended upon to make good their right to the custody of the child. Several spirited letters were exchanged, and then silence till the close of the war and the news of Mrs. Tallmadge's death. Mrs. Gano then made another attempt to get possession of the boy, but finding his grandfather as resolute as ever to keep him in Boston, she proposed a journey thither. This apparent prompting of natural affection could not decently be thwarted, although Mr. Tallmadge understood perfectly the suspicion and anxiety as to the way the orphan was being brought up, that secured the Tallmadges the honor of a visit from Mrs. Gano.
She declined to make the house in Ashburton Place her headquarters, "having already," she wrote, "engaged an
apartment at the Tremont House," Mr. Tallmadge smiled, understanding perfectly.
But if he contemplated with serenity the descent of Mrs. Gano upon Ashburton Place, not so his unmarried daughter and house-keeper, Hannah Tallmadge. With nervous misgiving she looked forward to the coming of this hereditary foe, who, moreover, had the blackest designs upon her darling Ethan. Still, Hannah Tallmadge was a most Christian soul. Short of giving up Ethan, she would do all in her power to exhibit a hospitable and forgiving spirit in the approaching trial. She would do what she could to curb her father's uncompromising bluntness of speech, and would keep him off dangerous topics. It occurred to her that the mere sight of Uncle Tom's Cabin on the parlor table might rouse angry passions. She was in the act of putting that work into the bookcase, when her father, observing her suspiciously, asked:
"What are you doing?"
"Just putting this away."
"Leave it on the table. It is the only work of fiction I have ever been able to read. Leave it on the table.
Nevertheless, next day, in a moment of nervousness induced by the news that a strange lady was getting out of a carriage at their door, Miss Hannah dropped Uncle Tom behind the horse-hair sofa-cushion.
"Where is Ethan?" said her father, turning suddenly form the window.
"I'll go and bring him," replied Miss Hannah, and she left the room with haste.
A few moments, and the door opened again. Mrs. Gano came in with an air that seemed to Aaron Tallmadge suspiciously gracious. She paused for just that decisive but infinitesimal moment of first impression, as she took the measure of the spare figure standing on guard in the middle of his prim New England parlor.
"Mr. Tallmadge?" inquired Mrs. Gano, suavely.
He offered his hand, and then pushed a straight-backed
horse-hair chair a little nearer the fire. In the mere speaking of her name his twang made instant attack upon the Southerner's nerves. It passed through the man's mind presently that Mrs. Gano's voice was disagreeable reminiscent of a runaway slave he had once befriended.
"I have just seen my grandson's face at an upper window." She looked round eagerly. "Ah!"
The door had opened very slowly. One eye and half a little dark head were put doubtfully in.
"Come here, Ethan!" said his grandfather.
The child disappeared altogether.
Mr. Tallmadge went out into the hall, and presently reappeared leading Ethan in. He hung back, dropping his curly head, and shooting an occasional look at the newcomer; but since she did not fly at him in the objectionable way of visitors, he allowed himself to be brought by degrees up to the strange lady's chair.
She did not even say "How do you do?" She stooped and kissed him silently. He stared at her with great melancholy eyes, backed away, and stood by his grandfather's side.
"I am afraid he is not strong," said Mrs. Gano, a little huskily.
"He has been singularly free from childish ailments--an occasional cold--"
"Of course, in this trying climate."
"Oh, we find our climate does very well."
"No doubt, in the case of those to the manner born. This child is singularly like his father."
"He reminds us constantly of his mother."
"Is it possible? I assure you I feel, as I look at him, that I have dreamed these twenty years, and that my son is standing there before me."
"You don't say!" remarked the child's grandfather, unmoved. "Everybody here considers him so like the Tallmadges."
Mrs. Gano, with unflattering eyes on the head of the house, gave an incredulous cough. She seemed on the
point of expressing more indubitably some further thought, looked at the boy, softened suddenly, and smiled at the grave little face.
"You know who I am?"
He shook his brown curls. A shadow crossed the woman's face.
"Is he never told anything of his father's people?"
"He is very young yet to take an interest in folks he hasn't seen."
"He is nearly six."
"I should have thought an intelligent child of six might have been told that his grandmother--"
"Not six yet, madam. Of course, when he is older--"
He made a gesture indicating a liberal policy.
"When he is older you will have no objection, I suppose, to his making a visit to his father's people?"
"No objection whatever to a visit, madam."
"How soon should you consider such a move expedient?"
"Ah, that depends," replied the wry gentleman--"depends so much on circumstances."
"What kind of circumstances?" she inquired, stiffly.
His look and tone said unmistakably, "Depends on your behavior, madam." "Depends on the child's health and-- Run away and play, Ethan," he said.
As the little boy closed the door: "Then you do admit he is delicate?"
Mrs. Gano spoke more coldly than when Ethan had been there to hear.
"I admit the need to consider the health of all children, and secondary only to that, their education."
"What are your views as to Ethan's schooling?"
"I shall expect him to go through the regular mill, as I did: a good primary school, then the preparatory at Andover, then Harvard."
The woman felt a certain fainting of purpose at the cut-and-dried programme presented in that dry manner by the
dry old man. It was a "regular mill," and who could tell if the sensitive, fragile little Gano was the stuff to stand these machine-made processes?
"I don't believe, myself," said Mr. Tallmadge, with decision, "haphazard, shilly-shally ways of raising children, and leaving it to them to see what they'll take to."
"I have little experience of shilly-shally methods," replied his visitor.
"If you leave it to boys to decide, what they take to is mischief nine times out of ten."
"I think you may make your mind easy about my grandson."
Mr. Tallmadge looked at her in silence for a moment; then suddenly: "Yes, yes; he'll turn out all right." He nodded, as if to say, "Trust me to see to that!" "My experience is, if you want a boy do to a particular thing, set that aim before him at the start. That's the way I was raised; that's the way I propose to raise my grandson."
There was a slight pause.
"And in what form of religious faith?"
"We are all members of the Presbyterian Church." It was said as though it had been in obedience to an edict of the Everlasting from the foundation of the world. "You will appreciate the necessity of having my grandson raised under my own eye when I tell you it is my intention that; after he gets through Harvard, he shall succeed to the editorship of my paper."
"My grandson edit an Abolitionist paper?"
Mr. Tallmadge blinked in a slightly nervous fashion, but answered, steadfastly:
"Abolition is abolished, madam; it has served its end. Ethan will naturally fall heir to my property and my profession."
"Ethan is his father's heir of all--heir to a man who gave his life at Bull Run for our rights, not for the abolition of them."
"Abolition was right, and is law, by the sanction of the God of battles."
Mrs. Gano rose from her chair; the door opened, and in came Miss Hannah. Whether it was chance, or whether she had been waiting outside for the psychological moment, certainly her entrance was opportune. She went through her greeting with a flustered civility that, by its own extreme nervousness, made the situation she had broken in upon seem calm to the point of commonplace. Mrs. Gano found herself trying to put Miss Hannah at her ease.
The tall, thin spinster, with her smooth gray hair and anxious manner, must have been more than double the age of Ethan's mother.
Supper would be ready in twenty minutes.
"Of course," she said, "you will stay? Ethan has just been asking if he mayn't sit up a little later to-night."
"Ethan!" Potent conjuration! Mrs. Gano had not come all this way to look after her grandson's welfare and be turned back by a fanatical outbreak on the part of a bigoted Abolitionist. No, and if plain speaking was to be the order of the day, Mr. Tallmadge should not do it all. He had it his own way, however, in the long grace with which he prefaced supper, a performance that sounded in Mrs. Gano's ears aggressively Presbyterian. It appeared at that meal that Miss Hannah was disposed to be indulgent to her little nephew, and that he was devoted to her. He talked very little, and what he had to say he confided in a whisper to his aunt. But as he ate, he stared unceasingly with great gloomy eyes at his grandmother. She saw with deep misgiving that he was permitted to make the same meal as his elders. He declined to share his aunt's decoction of "shells," as she quaintly called cocoa, and joined his grandparents in a large cup of coffee. He bolted down quantities of that moist and leaden Boston brown bread which Mrs. Gano regarded with amazement and alarm, and he seemed to share the New England taste for beans and bacon, a fare which, in the visitor's mind, ranked with the "hog and hominy" of the hard-working plantation blacks; but to place such food before a little delicate child!
After supper his aunt took him on her lap, and, while Mr. Tallmadge and his guest skirted dangerous topics with stately politeness, Miss Tallmadge, in the corner by the fire, was softly repeating nursery rhymes to the little Ethan. Others might have been struck by the picture of the gaunt, childless woman and her ready assumption of the mother rôle; Mrs. Gano was vaguely conscious of a kind of remissness in herself in having omitted to tell her own children a word about little Nannie Etticott or Cock Robin. In all her life of maternal solicitude she had never once mentioned "Hey-diddle-diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle," or even hinted at the existence of "the Little Man who had a little gun." Presently, in the midst of Mr. Tallmadge's remarks upon the beauties of Boston Common, Mrs. Gano caught the child's more and more insistent demand for some joy which Miss Tallmadge was minded to withhold. In spite of "Sh! sh!" more and more shrill came the iteration:
"Nwingy Tat! Nwingy Tat!"
In his fervor Ethan had dragged the stern, unyielding horse-hair cushion off the end of the sofa, revealing two volumes hidden behind it.
Mrs. Gano seemed not to regret this diversion. Helping the child to restore the sofa-cushion, she took up the books. As she read the title her look darkened. She put the work down as if it burned her fingers.
"A great, bad book," she said.
"What is that?" asked Mr. Tallmadge.
Mrs. Gano jerked her head without answering.
"What say?" persisted the old man, with his hand to his ear.
" Uncle Tom's Cabin," said Miss Tallmadge, trying to speak lightly.
"A very uncommon woman, Mrs. Stowe," said Mr. Tallmadge, firmly; "very uncommon, indeed."
"Let us hope so," ejaculated Mrs. Gano, half to herself.
"Eh?" inquired Mr. Tallmadge, with gruff suspicion. "What say?"
"I was granting her uncommonness, and hoping it wouldn't get commoner."
"H'm! It could hardly be expected, I suppose, that you should think well of--"
"No; I can't be expected to think well of a woman who is not content with getting a whole nation by the ears, but she must interfere between husband and wife, and--"
"What say?" inquired Mr. Tallmadge, with corrugated brows and hand to his deaf ear. "I'm talking about Harriet Beecher Stowe."
"So am I," said Mrs. Gano. "I only hope she'll be content with the mischief she's done already, and not rush into print with her espousal of Lady Byron's wrongs."
"I haven't heard that Mrs. Beecher Stowe had any such intention. As a friend of the family, from Lymon down--"
"As a friend of the family, you ought to warn them in time to curb her propensity for attending to other people's affairs. Uncommon! Yes, an uncommon busybody."
"I think, madam, you are misinformed," said Mr. Tallmadge, with dignity.
"I know more about Harriet Beecher Stowe than most people--though she never has set foot in the South--and I know she's a busybody. I also know she has less excuse than some women. The spring I met my sister, Mrs. Paget, in Covington, before I met the Stowes, I used to look out and see a man trudging about the hills in front of my windows with a basket on his arm. 'Who is that?' I asked. 'That's Professor Stowe,' they said; and we all wondered what he had in the basket. I said he was botanizing; Mrs. Paget said the basket was too big for that: he must be looking for kail, or dock, or dandelion greens for dinner. By-and-by we heard he had twins in the basket, and was taking them about for an airing. The Stowes were very poor, too, and what with that and twins, Harriet B. ought to have found enough to do at home."
"Nwingy Tat! Nwingy Tat!"
"Sh!" said his aunt.
" Mus' sing it," answered Ethan, in the only distinct words his grandmother had heard form his lips.
"What is it?" she asked, more interested in Ethan's infant tastes than even in Mrs. Stowe's enormities.
"It's that foolish little rhyme, 'The New England Cat,' replied Miss Hannah.
"I don't know it," said Mrs. Gano.
"Ethan likes it for some unknown reason. When he had scarlet-fever last year--"
She stopped, seeing the sudden change in Mrs. Gano's face.
"We had an epidemic of it," said Mr. Tallmadge, as though that fact lessened the danger. "Ethan came out of it famously--didn't you, my little man?"
"Nwingy Tat!" said Ethan.
"Oh yes, he came out all right," said Miss Hannah; "but before the crisis I sat up with him at night, and I sang 'The New England Cat' to him till I nearly died of it. Through sheer exhaustion my voice would get weaker and weaker, till it seemed to die too natural a death for him to notice. But the moment I stopped he would start up and say feverishly, 'Nwingy Tat!" It was the only thing that quieted him."
Mrs. Gano might have been supposed to regard this passion for New England cats as a depraved taste on the part of a Gano, but she said, graciously:
"Let me add my petition to Ethan's. I would like to hear his favorite song."
Perhaps in the dim recessed of her mind she and some formless idea of learning this lyric.
"It's not a song," said Miss Hannah, hurriedly. "Come, child, it's time you went to bed."
"Nwingy Tat, first," said Ethan, firmly.
"Oh, hum it for the child!" said Mr. Tallmadge, impatiently.
Miss Hannah's face took on a dull-red hue, but obediently she began in a thin, sweet little voice:
"'There was an old New England cat,
New England cat, New England cat--
There was an old New England cat went out to seek her prey.
"'She chased a mouse from house to house,
From house to house, from house to house--
She chased a mouse form house to house upon the Sabbath day.
"'The parson so astonished was,
Astonished was, astonished was--
The parson so astonished was to see--the cat profanes!
"'He took his book and threw it down,
And threw it down, and threw it down--
He took his book and threw it down, and bound the cat in chains.'"
Mrs. Gano was as "astonished" at this performance as "the parson." Ethan nodded a grave encore.
Whereat they all laughed with the best humor in the world, and Ethan was carried off to bed.
Mrs. Gano, under plea of weariness from travel, made her "good-nights" at the same time, arranging to return to Ashburton Place the next day.
She wakened early the following morning. Reviewing the events of the evening before, and having now dispassionate regard to the object of her visit, she registered a vow that no provocation upon earth should induce her another time to touch upon any vexed question. The opinions of these Tallmadges were not apparently to be altered any more than her own were. If she were going to wring any concession out of them with reference to Ethan, she must walk warily, he must appeal more to their sense of justice and family feeling. She was in their power. It was theirs to dictate terms. A new situation for Sarah C. Gano, but she would make the best of it.
When she arrived at Ashburton Place before ten o'clock, Miss Hannah was just leaving the house.
" Oh!" she said, as nervous people will, as though you had pinched them.
"Good-morning!" Mrs. Gano bowed urbanely.
"Good-morning! We understood you couldn't go out before the afternoon."
"Yes, I can never count on being fit for much in the morning; but to-day I am abroad early. Shall I find the child?"
She made a motion towards the house.
"Ethan has just gone to school. Pa took him to-day."
"Oh! And you are going to walk?"
"No--y-yes--a little way."
Miss Tallmadge's embarrassment seemed to rouse in Mrs. Gano's breast a sentiment to which it was commonly a stranger. She was curious. Ought she not to know something about this woman who stood in the relation of mother to Ethan? What was her life like? What were her interest?
"I have always heard," the visitor said, as they walked along Somerset, and through Beacon to Tremont Street--"always heard what admirable house keepers the New England women are. Do you do your own marketing?"
"Yes; but always earlier."
"This is a good time for shopping, before the crowded mid-day. I must look for a shawl of some kind."
"I would be glad to show you the best place for such things, but to-day I--I have a most important engagement."
She paused near a stationer's. On the right a staircase led from the street to the floor above. Several ladies bustled past, nodding good-morning to Miss Tallmadge, and disappearing up these stairs. Mrs. Gano's keen eyes explored the precincts. A small placard in the entry stated in white letters on lacquered tin: "Ladies' Domestic Philanthropic Society (Colored Registry Office).
"H'm! she said, not seeming to see the nervous hand seeking farewell. "Colored! What color?"
"I suppose you would say black."
Miss Tallmadge had drawn herself up.
"I should probably say negro. But I've heard they like
to call themselves colored. Seems a curious taste. Always suggests variegated to me."
"That is not how we mean it," said Miss Tallmadge solemnly, making way for more ladies who swarmed up the staircase. "We are a little group of people working on purely humanitarian principles, finding succor and employment for the destitute, thrown out of work by--"
"Yes; we know by whom." Then, with a misleading geniality: "This idea of restitution seems to me very right and proper."
Miss Tallmadge's face betrayed perplexity. A shivering little quadroon girl crept up the stairs behind a coal-black old man.
"It is too difficult, perhaps, to make plain our point of view," said Miss Hannah, with quiet dignity, "otherwise I should feel it my duty while you are in Boston to show you--"
"Have you the right," interrupted her visitor, "to bring a stranger to these colored meetings?"
"I have frequently brought a friend. Perhaps--" Miss Hannah's good face brightened. "We don't discuss politics, and perhaps if you could see something of the pains we take to befriend and find homes for these poor creatures--"
"I am ready to attend the meetings," announced Mrs. Gano, tightening her bonnet-strings. "It sounds like a sensible institution. We had the best cooks, the only well-trained servants in America. They must be a godsend here in the North."
She remembered, as she mounted the stairs behind Miss Hannah, that her hostess had not provided 16 Ashburton Place with any of these "colored" joys, and she reflected that she had not yet seen a darky since her arrival except the old man and little girl on in front of them.
A clock struck ten as Miss Tallmadge hurriedly led the way up the second flight to the registry-office. When she caught up to the old negro, the domestic philanthropist applied her handkerchief to her nose.
The society's room was unexpectedly spacious, furnished with a desk fronting a goodly assemblage of ladies seated in rows upon rows of cane chairs. On the right a space was railed off, and set close with empty wooden benches. Miss Tallmadge explained in a whisper that "the candidates" were kept in an adjoining room till a later stage in the proceedings. As for the domestic philanthropists, there were so many of them that there was some difficulty in finding Mrs. Gano a seat. As the late-comers settled themselves, a thin, hard-featured lady with a dogged manner took her place at the desk. This action moved the D.P.'s to a faint flutter of applause. The President laid down some papers, drew off her gloves, folded her hands, and invoked a blessing.
"And now, ladies, we will proceed to business."
She read a report. At the end she characterized it as highly satisfactory, considering the wellnigh superhuman difficulties in the way of the object of the society. She gave an unflattering account of the extravagance, filth, and idleness cultivated in servants by the Southern régime. She told of thrifty New England housewives' experience with highly recommended Southern cooks--stories that moved the domestic philanthropists to open expressions of horror. No one denied colored women knew how to cook, but they were lazy and dirty beyond measure, and required the markets of the whole world to supply their inordinate wants. As for what they threw away, it would feed a city-full! To Miss Hannah's evident relief, Mrs. Gano nodded and whispered:
"True as Gospel-- that much of it."
"Still," the President pointed out, "philanthropy must bear with these evils; philanthropy must find these outcasts homes. What can be expected of poor down-trodden slaves? called on to suffer every ignominy, torn from their children, quivering under the lash, bought and sold like dumb-driven cattle! Out of compassion for these fellow-creatures who are, like ourselves, children of God--His latter-day martyrs--we have met here this morning
to bring succor and to offer service. Daughter, call in the candidates."
A young lady rose, wiped away a sympathetic tear, crossed behind the wooden bar, and opened a door. The President meanwhile opened a reticule, took out a bottle of lavender-water, and poured a few drops on her handkerchief. Through the open door presently appeared the old negro, the little quadroon girl (evidently ill), and a great strapping mulatto woman. Mrs. Gano kept looking for the rest, while the trio huddled together like sheep in the farthest corner, until "daughter" indicated that benches were to be sat upon.
"Do they come in threes?" Mrs. Gano whispered to Miss Tallmadge.
"This is all there are this time."
"The President opened a large ledger, dipped and poised a pen, and nodded to "daughter." Daughter bent down and spoke to the old man. He got up trembling, and followed the young lady out behind the bar to the little open space in front of the desk. The look on his face was not the look negroes commonly wore when mounting the block in Southern slave-markets. It was more like the look that would come into their faces when they were knocked down to some notoriously hard master.
"What is your name?"
"Jes' Jake, mehm. F'om Henderson's."
"Oh, I have a letter about you." She looked about among her papers. "Yes, here; I will tabulate this and see what we can do for you. You may come to the next meeting."
He hobbled a step or two away in a dazed fashion, when a piercing shriek rang across the room. He started as if a lash had been laid across his back. The little quadroon girl was standing up, holding out two shaking arms to him. The old man blinked.
"I swar I ain't leabin' yo', Till. I gwine t' wait by de do'."
But the little girl flew forward, climbing benches and creeping under the bar. She had nearly reached the old man when the President, leaning forward, said:
"Are you not the girl I sent to Mrs. Parsons's as general servant?"
"Yes, mehm," said the candidate, taking tight hold of the old man's coat.
"I have a very bad account of you."
"Yes, mehm." The old man took her hand.
"She ain't berry well, mehm, since we come t' Bosting. Mebbe she'll be better able by'm-by t' go where dere ain't eleben chillen and so much snow ter shubbel."
"You look anything but strong," said the President. "I'll try to find you an easier place. They all want easier places," she said, over her shoulder, to the domestic philanthropists.
"Hush! Hush! I'll tell de lady, honey, ef yer don' take an' cry."
But the President was motioning the other candidate forward. The old man stood hesitating, and then began shakily:
"It 'ud be mighty kin', mehm, ef yo' could get Till an' me de same place."
"The same place!" echoed the President, sharply.
"Y--yes, mehm," faltered the old man, backing timidly; "or anyways places close togedder, mehm, please, mehm."
"That's seldom possible."
The little quadroon wept audibly. The old man patted her arm feebly.
"I--I disremember it myself, but Till, yere, she says I tol' 'er down Georgy dat up yere in Bosing dey didn't nebber made de chilluns go one way an' de ole folks anudder."
"We'll do what we can."
"Thank yo', mehm."
And they went out.
The President made an entry in the ledger.
"The old grandfather is said to be an invaluable hand at polishing plate," she said, with a sardonic look at her fellow philanthropists. "Any one who wishes may see his credentials after the meeting. Daughter, I called the next candidate."
"I have told her, ma."
"Come forward!" commanded the President.
The big mulatto woman wriggled about, and then got up, frightfully embarrassed, and by dint of kindly urging from "daughter" and the President, she was finally landed in front of the desk.
"Now," said the President, fixing the woman through her spectacles, "where have you resided?"
This question was repeated three times and in three forms.
"Oh, w'ere I libs? Up Corn Alley."
"But before you lived in Corn Alley, where did you come from?"
"Where did the Jacksons live?"
"On de hill."
She thought deeply, and then looked up, grinning and silent.
"What State?" asked the President, with a haggard air.
"Yes, Georgia or Alabama?"
"No, mehm. It was Keziah wus f'om Alabammy."
"What is your name?"
She squirmed with an elephantine coquetry.
"Your last name?"
"Are you married?"
"Huh! Yes, mehm," she chuckled.
"What was your husband's name?"
"Have you been married more than once?"
"Huh! Yes, mehm." She bridled and twisted. "Six or seben times."
"As Vice-President," said a white-haired woman, standing up suddenly near the desk, "I suggest that it would be a more practical investment of our time if we confine ourselves to finding out what the candidates could do."
"Do you wish me to register this woman as Yellow Sal?" inquired the President, severely.
"Put her down as Sarah Yellow," advised the Vice-President, and resumed her seat.
This passage seemed to unhinge the candidate. The question of what she could do found her relapsed into speechlessness. Even its repetition elicited only twistings and spasmodic grinnings.
"Come, come," said the President, wearily. "You are a strong, able-bodied woman; you at least can do a good day's work at something. Now, the question is, what?"
Yellow Sal only moved her massive shoulders with an air of conscious power.
"Did you cook?"
" Cook? No, mehm."
She smiled in a superior fashion.
She twisted a piece of her calico gown.
"Were you the laundress?"
" Me? No, mehm. Bet an' Sabina done de washin'."
"Well, and you? Were you nurse?"
The down-trodden one shook her head.
"Nebber could abide with chillen."
"Well, what did you do?"
The President leaned in a threating attitude over the desk.
"Huh! Me, mehm? Me--w'y," speaking soothingly,
"Lor bress yo' soul, mehm, I done kep' de flies off'n ole missis."
Miss Hannah's hope of the possible good effects of the meeting upon her guest was more than justified. Mrs. Gano returned to Ashburton Place in a distinctly cheerful frame of mind.
Whether Mr. Tallmadge, too, had begun the day with vows of peace, he certainly bore himself toward his unwelcome visitor with no little consideration and courtesy. Mrs. Gano was forced to admit to herself a growing respect, an unwillng admiration even, for her old enemy. The only outward and visible sign of this change of heart was made manifest after the departure of the one other visitor that evening brought to Ashburton Place. Mr. Tallmadge had not only prevented Mr. Garrison from speaking of the war, but he had headed the conversation off every time it approached any topic of the day that bore upon the South. When the door closed behind him Mrs. Gano turned to her host and said, formally:
"I appreciate your desire not to have these questions raised in my presence; but I see that in one regard you misapprehend me. I agree with your visitor as to the undesirablility of slavery."
"You, madam?" She bowed.
"My objection is almost solely on the score of its evil effects on the superior race. Still, slavery was an institution we had inherited, and in which our social and industrial life was rooted. One part of a free country had no right to dictate to another part. The South would have freed her slaves herself in due time."
Mr. Tallmadge was unable to repress an incredulous smile.
"Slaves were once held in the North," his guest reminded him, drawing herself up. "If the African had been able to live in this terrible climate, New England would not so soon have seen the iniquity of slavery. The
South, on wider grounds, was coming to the same conclusion. The war only precipitated with bloodshed and disaster that which, if left to right itself, would have been done without such awful squandering of blood and gold."
Mr. Tallmadge shook his head.
"I cannot agree wiht you, madam. Violent uprooting is the only way to clear the ground of certain noxious growths."
"Ah, you think you've cleared and ground--by inflicting the duties of citizenship all in an instant upon a barbarian horde? You are more of an optimist even than you friends."
"What friends are you quoting?"
"Your Harriet Beecher Stowe, for instance. Even in the full tide of her romantic enthusiasm she can find no better use for the idealized ex-slave than to ship him to Liberia. This, too, after educating him--sending him for four years to a French university." She smiled. "But since you and I may not meet again, all I wish to point out before I go is that you need not count me as an advocate fo slavery."
"Before you go?" he began, hesitating.
"I am needed at home," she said. "I shall not remain in Boston longer than is necessary ot secure you agreement to Ethan's coming to us for a visit."
"I have already said, madam--"
"I should not feel the object of my journey attained unless the date were fixed."
They stood looking at each other.
It will never be known how much Mr. Tallmadge's readiness to restore Mrs. Gano to the bosom of her family influenced his views at this juncture. He turned away and considered, wiht one foot on the fender and chin-whisker in hand.
"This next summer," he said, "I have promised to take Ethan to my brother's place in the White Mountains."
"Then the summer after this."
"Yes; the summer after he could come, if he were well."
"If he were ill, I would come to see him."
"When does his vacation begin?"
"About the middle of June."
"If he is well, you will send him to us the third week?"
They shook hands solemnly.
End Chapter 3
Available since September 1998