GETTING UP A SUBSCRIPTION SCHOOL
Next morning before daybreak Mr. Wilmot was aroused from a sound slumber by what he thought was the worst noise he had ever heard. He instantly concluded that the house was on fire, and springing up, endeavored to find his clothes, but in the deep darkness of the room such a thing was impossible; so he waited a while and tried to find out what the noise could be.
At last it assumed something of a definite form, and he found it was the voice of a man calling out in thunder-like tones, "Ho, Jebediah! Come out with ye! Do you hear? Are you coming?"
Then followed a long catalogue of names, such as Sam, Joe, Jack, Jim, Ike, Jerry, Nehemiah, Ezariah, Judy, Tilda, Martha, Rachel, Luce and Phema, and at the end of each name was the same list of questions which had preceded that of Jebediah; and ever from the negro quarters came the same response, "Yes, marster, comin'."
By this time all the hens, geese, turkeys and dogs were wide awake and joining their voices in the chorus, made the night, or rather the morning, hideous with their outcries. At last the noise subsided. Silence settled around the house and Wilmot tried to compose himself to sleep. When he again awoke the sun was shining brightly into his room. He arose and dressed himself, but felt in no hurry to see "his host," who had come home, he was sure, and had given such tremendous demonstrations of the strength of his lungs.
Mr. Wilmot finally descended to the sitting room, where the first object which presented itself was a man who was certainly six and a half feet high, and large in proportion. His face was dark and its natural color was increased by a beard of at least four weeks' growth! He had on his head an old slouched hat, from under which a few gray locks were visible. As soon as Wilmot appeared, the uncouth figure advanced toward him, and seizing his hand, gave a grip, which, if continued long, would certainly have crushed every bone! He began with--
"Well, so you are Mr. Wilmot from New York, hey? Of course a red-hot Abolitionist, but I don't care for that if you'll only keep your ideas to yourself and not try to preach your notions to me. I've heard of you before."
"Heard of me, sir?" said Mr. Wilmot in surprise.
"Yes, of you; and why not? Thar's many a man, not as good as you, judging by your looks, has had a hearing in his day; but, however, I haint heard of you by the papers. As I was coming home last night I got along to old man Edson's, and I seen him swarin' and tarin' round so says I, 'Ho, old man, what's the row?' 'Oh,' says he, 'that you, Middleton? Nuff's the row. I've done let my best horse and nigger go off with a man from the free States, who said he's going to your house, and here 'tis after nine and Jim not at home yet. Of course they've put out for the river.' 'Now,' says I, 'don't be a fool, Edson; if that ar chap said he's goin' to my house, he's goin' thar, I'll bet all my land and niggers he's honest. Likely Jim's stopped somewhar. You come along with me and we'll find him.' So we jogged along on the pike till of a sudden we met Prince coming home all alone! This looked dark, but I told Edson to say nothin' and keep on; so we came to Woodburn's fine house, and thar in the cabins we seen a bright light, and heard the niggers larfin like five hundred, and thought we could distinguish Jim Crow's voice; so we crept slyly up to the window and looked in and, sure enough, there was Jim, telling a great yarn about the way you rode and how you got flung onto the gate. It seems he didn't half hitch Prince, who got oneasy like, and started for home. Edson hollered to Jim, who came out and told how he didn't go clear here with you, cause you said you could find the way, and he might go back. Then old man Edson turned right round and said you were a likely man, and he hoped I'd do all I could for you. So that's the way I heard of you; and now welcome to old Kentuck, and welcome to my house, such as it is. It's mighty mean, though, as 'Tempest' says."
Here he turned to Julia, who had just entered the room. Then he went on: "Yes, Tempest raves and tars about the house and can hardly wait till I'm dead before she spends my money in fool fixin's. Devil of a cent she'll get though if she rides as high a horse as she generally does! I'll give it all to 'Sunshine'; yes, I will. She's more gentle-like and comes coaxin' round me, and puttin' her soft arms round my old shaggy neck says, 'Please, pa, if I'll learn to make a nice pudding or pie of Aunt Judy, will you buy us a new looking-glass or rocking chair?' And then 'tisn't in my natur to refuse. Oh, yes; Sunshine is a darling," said he, laying his hand caressingly on Fanny's head, who just at that moment showed her sunny face in the room.
During breakfast Mr. Middleton inquired more particularly into Mr. Wilmot's plans and wishes, and told him there was no doubt that he could obtain a good school in that immediate neighborhood. "Your best way," said he, "will be to write a subscription paper. The people then see what for a fist you write, and half the folks in Kentuck will judge you by that. In the paper you must tell what you know and what you ask to tell it to others. I'll head the list with my two gals and give you a horse to go round with, and I'll bet Tempest, and Sunshine, too, that you'll get a full school afore night."
At the last part of this speech Julia curled her lips and tried to look indignant, while Fanny laughingly said, "Pa, what makes you always bet sister and me, just as though you could sell us like horses? It's bad enough to bet and sell the blacks, I think."
"Ho, ho! So you've got some free State notions already, have you?" said Mr. Middleton. "Well, honey, you're more'n half right, I reckon." So saying, he for the fourth time passed up his coffee cup.
Breakfast being over, he took his young friend to the stable and bade him select for his own use any horse he chose. Mr. Wilmot declined, saying he was not much accustomed to horses; he preferred that Mr. Middleton should choose any horse he pleased.
"Very well," said Mr. Middleton; "from the accounts I have heard of your horsemanship it may be improved; so I reckon I'll not give you a very skeary horse to begin with. Thar's Aleck'll just suit you. He'll not throw you on the gate, for he doesn't trot as fast as a black ant can walk!"
Accordingly Aleck was saddled and bridled and Mr. Wilmot was soon mounted and, with his subscription paper in his pocket, was riding off after subscribers. He was very successful; and when at night he turned his face homeward, he had the names of fifteen scholars and the partial promise of five more.
"Well, my boy, what luck?" said Mr. Middleton, as Wilmot entered the sitting room that evening.
"Very good success," returned Mr. Wilmot; "I am sure of fifteen scholars and have a promise for five more."
"Yes, pretty good," said Mr. Middleton; "fifteen sartin, and five unsartin. Who are the unsartin ones?--old Thornton's?"
Mr. Wilmot replied that he believed it was a Mr. Thornton who had hesitated about signing.
"He'll sign," said Mr. Middleton. "I's thar after you was, and he told me you might put down five for him. I pay for two on 'em. He lives on my premises; and if he doesn't pay up for t'other three, why, he'll jog, that's all."
Mr. Wilmot said he hoped no one would send to school against their wishes.
"Lord, no," rejoined Mr. Middleton; "old Thornton wants to send bad enough, only he's stingy like. Let me see your paper, boy."
Mr. Wilmot handed him the paper, and he went on: "Thar's ten scholars at eight dollars--that makes eighty; then thar's five at eleven dollars, and fifty-five and eighty makes a hundred and thirty-five; then thar's five more at fifteen dollars; five times fifteen; five times five is twenty-five--seventy-five dollars;--seventy-five and a hundred and thirty-five;--five and five is ten, one to seven is eight, eight and three is eleven--two hundred and ten dollars! Why, quite a heap! Of course you've got clothes enough to last a spell, so you can put two hundred out at interest. I'll take it and give you ten per cent."
Mr. Wilmot smiled at seeing his money so carefully disposed of before it was earned, but he merely said, "There's my board to be deducted."
"Your what?" asked Mr. Middleton.
"My board, sir. I have no other means of paying it. I find I can get boarded for a dollar and a half a week."
"The deuce you can," said Mr. Middleton. "Who'll board you for that?"
Mr. Wilmot gave the name of the gentleman, to which Mr. Middleton replied, "I want to know if he will board you so very cheap!"
"Why, yes. Do you think I should pay more?"
"Pay more!" replied Middleton. "Don't be a fool! Why, here's this infernal old shell of a house wants filling up, and thar's heaps of horses and niggers lounging round with nothing to do; then I've plenty of potatoes, bacon and corn meal--and such fare as we have you're welcome to, without a dollar and a half, or even a cent and a half."
Mr. Wilmot remonstrated at receiving so much at Mr. Middleton's hands, but that good man put an end to all further argument by saying, "Do let me act as I like. You see, I've taken a liking to you, and because I see you trying to help yourself, I am willing to try and help you. They say, or Tempest says they say, I'm a rough old bear, and maybe I am; but I'm not all bad; it's a streak o' fat and a streak o' lean; and if I want to do you a kindness, pray let me."
So it was settled that Mr. Wilmot should remain in Mr. Middleton's family during the winter. To Julia this arrangement gave secret satisfaction. She had from the first liked Mr. Wilmot, and the idea of having him near her all the time was perfectly delightful. She resolved to gain his good opinion, cost what it would. To do this, she knew she must appear to be amiable, and that she determined to do--before him at least. She had also seen enough of him to know that he set a great value upon talent, and she resolved to surprise him with her superior scholarship and ability to learn. She, however, felt some misgivings lest Fanny should rival her in his esteem; but she hoped by negro bribery and various little artifices to deter him from thinking too highly of her sister.
The following Monday, Mr. Wilmot repaired to his schoolroom, where he found assembled all his pupils. It was comparatively easy to arrange them into classes and ere the close of the day the school was pretty generally organized. Weeks passed on and each day the "Yankee schoolmaster" gained in the love of his scholars, and one of them, at least, gained in the affections of the teacher. Julia had adhered to her resolution of appearing amiable and of surprising Mr. Wilmot with her wonderful powers of learning. This last she did to perfection. No lesson was so long but it was readily learned and its substance admirably told in words of her own. She preferred reciting alone and she so far outstripped the others in the length of her lessons, it seemed necessary that she should do so. Mr. Wilmot often wondered at her marvelous capacity for learning so much in so short a space of time, for she never took home her books at night, and she said she had plenty of time for her lessons during school hours.
With Fanny it was just the reverse. She got her lessons at home and played all day at school! Sometimes a reprimand from Mr. Wilmot would bring the tears into her eyes and she would wonder why it was she could not behave and make Mr. Wilmot like her as well as he did Julia. Then she would resolve not to make any more faces at that booby, Bill Jeffrey, for the girls to laugh at, nor to draw any more pictures on her slate of the Dame Sobriety, as she called Julia, and lastly, not to pin any more chalk rags on the boys' coats. But she was a dear lover of fun and her resolutions were soon for gotten. Her lessons, however, were generally well-learned, and well recited; but she could not compete with Julia, neither did she wish to. She often wondered how her sister could learn so long lessons, and, secretly, she had her own suspicions on the subject, but chose to keep them to herself.
Meantime the winter was passing rapidly and, to Mr. Wilmot, very agreeably away. He liked his boarding place much and one of its inmates had almost, without his knowledge, wound herself strongly around his heart. For a time he struggled against it, for his first acquaintance with Julia had not left a very favorable impression on his mind. But since that night she had been perfectly pleasant before him and had given out but one demonstration of her passionate temper.
This was one evening at the supper table. Zuba, a mulatto girl, brought in some preserves and, in passing them, very carelessly spilled them upon Julia's new blue merino. In the anger of the moment Mr. Wilmot and his good opinion were forgotten. Springing up, she gave the girl a blow which sent her half across the room and caused her to drop the dish, which was broken in twenty pieces. At the same time she exclaimed in a loud, angry tone, "Devil take you, Zube!" The loss of the dish elicited a series of oaths from Mr. Middleton, who called his daughter such names as "lucifer match," "volcano," "powder mill," and so forth.
For her father's swearing Julia cared nothing, but it was the sorrowful, disappointed expression of Mr. Wilmot's face which cooled her down. Particularly did she wish to recall what she had done when she saw that Fanny also had received some of the preserves on her merino; but instead of raging like a fury, she arose and quietly wiped it off, and then burst into a loud laugh, which she afterward told her mother was occasioned by the mournful look which Mr. Wilmot's face assumed when he saw that Julia's temper was not dead, but merely covered up with ashes.
From this remark of Fanny's the reader will understand that she was well aware of the part her sister was playing. And she was perfectly satisfied that it should be so, for by this means she occasionally got a pleasant word from Julia. She, however, often wished that Mr. Wilmot could be constantly with her sister, for his presence in the house did not prevent her from expending her wrath upon both Fanny and the blacks.
For some days after the affair of the preserves, Mr. Wilmot was somewhat cool in his manner toward Julia, who had discernment enough to attribute the change to the right cause. Earnestly did she desire to win back his esteem, and she accordingly cast about for some method by which she could undo what she had done. She could think of no way except to acknowledge her error to Mr. Wilmot and promise to do better in the future. So one evening when her father, mother and Fanny were absent, and she was alone with him, she adroitly led the conversation to the circumstance of her spoiled merino. She acknowledged that it was very unamiable and unladylike to manifest such passionate feelings, said she knew she had a quick temper, but she tried hard to govern it; and if Mr. Wilmot would, as her teacher and friend, aid her by his advice and influence, she was sure she would in time succeed. So nicely did she manage each part of her confession that Mr. Wilmot was thoroughly deceived. He believed her perfectly sincere, and greatly admired what he thought to be her frank, confiding disposition.
From that time she was dearer to him than ever and Julia, again sure of his esteem, placed a double guard upon her temper, and in his presence was the very "pink" of amiability! Affairs were gliding smoothly on, when the family received a visit from a gentleman, whom Julia would rather not have seen. This was Mr. Miller, whom we have mentioned as having taught in that neighborhood the winter before. Mr. Wilmot found him in the sitting room one night, on his return from school. When the young men were introduced they regarded each other a moment in silence, then their hands were cordially extended, and the words, "Richard Wilmot," "Joseph Miller," were simultaneously uttered.
It seems that, years before, they had been roommates and warmly attached friends in the Academy of Canandaigua, New York, and now, after the lapse of ten years, they met for the first time far off in Kentucky. A long conversation followed, relative to what had occurred to each since the bright June morning when they parted with so much regret in the old academic halls of Canandaigua.
At length Mr. Miller said: "Richard, what has become of that sister of yours, of whose marvelous beauty you used to tell us boys such big stories?"
"My sister Kate," said Mr. Wilmot, "is at present at school in New Haven."
"And is she still as beautiful as you used to try to make us think she was?" asked Mr. Miller.
"I will show you her likeness," returned Wilmot, "and you can judge for yourself."
So saying, he drew from his pocket a richly cased daguerreotype, and handed it to Mr. Miller. It was a face of uncommon beauty which met Mr. Miller's eye, and he gazed enraptured on the surpassing loveliness of the picture. At last he passed it to Fanny, who was eagerly waiting for it, and then turning to Wilmot, he said, "Yes, Richard, she has the handsomest face I ever saw."
"And the handsomest face I ever saw with one exception," said Mr. Wilmot, glancing admiringly toward Julia. Mr. Miller followed the direction of his eyes and as he saw the brilliant beauty of Julia, he sighed for fear his young friend might or had already become entangled in her dark meshes.
Just then Fanny exclaimed, "Oh, how handsome; look mother--Julia, isn't she perfectly beautiful!" And then she added, "But, Mr. Wilmot, is she as good as she is beautiful?"
"How absurd," said Julia hastily; "just as though one cannot be handsome and good too."
"I didn't say they couldn't, sister," said Fanny; "but I thought--yes, I'm sure she looks a little selfish!"
"Upon my word you're very polite," said Julia. "Mr. Wilmot will doubtless feel complimented by what you say of his sister."
"Never mind, Fanny," said Mr. Wilmot; "never mind; you are more of a physiognomist than I thought you were, for Kate's great fault is being too selfish; but she will overcome that in time, I think."
"Oh, I am sure so," quickly rejoined Fanny, regretting her words and anxious to do away with any unfavorable impression she might have made. So she went up to Mr. Wilmot and laying her hand on his shoulder, said, "I am sorry if I said anything bad of your sister. She is very beautiful and I think I should love her very much. Do you think she will ever come to Kentucky?"
"I hardly think she will," said Mr. Wilmot; "but I think you would like her, and I am sure she would love you. I often write to her about my two Kentucky sisters."
"Oh, do you," said Fanny, clapping her white, dimpled hands, "do you really call us both sisters? And do you tell her how much handsomer Julia is than I am, and how much more she knows?"
"And how much more does she know?" said Mr. Miller, who was always interested in whatever Fanny said.
"Oh, she knows a 'heap' more than I do," said Fanny, "I fear I haven't improved much since you left, for Mr. Wilmot is so very indulgent that he never scolds when my lessons are but half-learned, but consoles himself, I suppose, with Julia's great long yarns."
"And are Julia's lessons so very long?" asked Mr. Miller.
"Yes, sir," replied Fanny. "It is the wonder of all the girls how she manages to commit so much to memory in so short a time, for she never brings home her books and she spends two-thirds of her time, during school hours, in writing something on a sheet of foolscap. We girls have our own suspicions about that paper, for when her lesson is very hard we notice that she is unusually confined to her notes."
Here Julia angrily exclaimed, "Fanny, what do you mean? Do you intend to insinuate that I write my lesson down and then read it?"
"Fire and fury," said Mr. Middleton, who had been an attentive listener, "what's all this about? Tempest, do you write down your task? Good reason why you don't bring home your books. Speak, girl, quick--are you guilty of such meanness?"
Julia burst into tears, and said: "No, father, I am not; and I think it too bad that I should be suspected of such a thing, when I am trying to do as well as I can."
"I think so too," said Mr. Wilmot, whose sympathies were all with Julia.
Mr. Miller thought otherwise, but he said nothing. Julia had never been a favorite with him. He understood her character perfectly well and he felt grieved that his friend should be so deceived in her. Perhaps Julia read something of what was passing in his mind; for she felt very uneasy for fear he might tell Mr. Wilmot something unfavorable of her. Nor was she mistaken in her conjectures, for after the young men had retired for the night, their conversation naturally enough turned upon the family and the two girls, both of whom Mr. Wilmot spoke of in the highest terms. Mr. Miller agreed with him as long as his remarks were confined to Fanny, but when he came to speak of Julia, and of her superior beauty, intellect and agreeable manners, he ventured to disagree with him.
Said he, "As to Julia's beauty, there can be but one opinion, for she is very handsome; but the interior of the casket does not correspond with the exterior; she is as false as fair. Then, as to her intellect, I never thought it greatly superior to Fanny's. To be sure, she has a way of showing off all she does know, while Fanny is more retiring."
Here Mr. Wilmot spoke of the faculty she possessed for learning so long lessons. "Even your favorite Fanny," said he, "admitted that."
"True," returned Mr. Miller, "but have you forgotten the notes? Do you not think there may be something in that?"
"Is it possible," said Mr. Wilmot, rather warmly, "is it possible you think the high-souled Julia capable of such meanness? You do not know her as well as I do, if you think she would stoop to such deception. You shall go to school with me tomorrow, and then you can see for yourself."
"Yes, I will do so," said Mr. Miller, and then as he saw Mr. Wilmot seemed somewhat excited, he changed the conversation, which had been heard by other ears. Adjoining the room of Mr. Wilmot was a long dark closet, the door of which opened into the apartment of Julia and Fanny. This closet was used for a kind of lumber room, in which were stored promiscuously old barrels, trunks, hats, boots and so forth. It originally had a window, but the glass had long been broken and its place supplied by a large board, which failed to keep out the wind and rain, so that during the winter season the closet was a cold, cheerless place.
But on the night of which we were speaking, it contained a novel piece of lumber. Crouched behind an old barrel sat Julia, listening eagerly to the conversation between her teacher and Mr. Miller. When it ceased she arose from her dark hiding place and muttered to herself: "So you'll see, will you? You old torment! I wish the Old Scratch had got you before you ever came here. If I dared to I'd--but no, I wouldn't do that, bad as I am. However, I'll cheat you for once, you hateful limb! But what shall I do?"
She indeed was in a dilemma; but she had often boasted that she never yet was in so straitened a spot that she could not devise some means of extricating herself, and she relied on the Master she served to aid her in this difficulty. She never brought her books home and as the reader will ere this have surmised, she was in the daily habit of writing a sketch of her lesson on foolscap, and then reading it off. When school first commenced she had asked the privilege of sitting in her seat while reciting and by this means she could hold the paper under her desk and thus avoid Mr. Wilmot's suspicion. Her lessons for the next day were unusually long and hard, and as Mr. Miller would be present, she dared not resort to her usual artifice, particularly after what had been said about her "notes." She knew she never could learn all that long lesson in school hours, neither would she fail of having it for anything. What could she do? For some time she sat by the dying embers, with her dark face buried in her hands, revolving in her mind the best scheme by which to outwit Mr. Miller.
At last she rose up and a malicious smile of exultation passed over her features. She looked at the clock and saw it was already half-past ten, and then stealing softly to the bedside where Fanny lay quietly sleeping, she bent down and assured herself that her sister really was unconscious of her movements. She then hastily threw on her overshoes, cloak and hood and stealing noiselessly down the stairs, was soon in the open air alone in the darkness of the night. Just as she shut the door of the house, the watch dog, Tiger, came bounding furiously toward her with an angry growl. She silenced the fierce animal by saying, "Down, Tiger--poor Tige--don't you know me?" After quieting the dog, she proceeded on her strange errand, which was to obtain her books from the schoolhouse, which was more than half a mile distant.
The mud, which was very deep, was not more than half frozen, and at each step she sank into a mixture of mud, snow and ice. Still she kept fearlessly on, till at last she found herself in the midst of the thick woods. Here her courage somewhat failed her, for she called to mind all the stories she had ever heard of runaways, who were said to walk abroad at this dark hour of the night. Once she thought she saw the giant form of a negro standing in her path, but it proved to be a black stump, and she was about laughing at her fears, when her ear detected the sound of a light, rapid tread coming toward her. Almost paralyzed with terror, she stood perfectly still and listened for the sound to be repeated, but all was silent, and again she went on her way, and soon reached the school house.
But here a new difficulty presented itself. The house was locked and the key was in Mr. Wilmot's pocket; but the old adage, "where there's a will, there's a way," came into her mind, so she felt around on the half frozen ground till she found a long rail, which she placed against a window; then climbing up, she raised the sash, and in a moment was in the schoolroom. The atmosphere of the room was still comfortable and she stopped for a moment at the stove to warm her benumbed fingers, then groping her way to her desk, she easily found her books and made her way out of the house in the same manner that she had entered.
Just as she reached the ground a large, dark object sprang toward her and two glittering eyes looked up into her face. She uttered a loud shriek and was answered by a low whine, which she instantly recognized as belonging to Tiger. "Why, Tiger," she exclaimed, "how you frightened me! What did you follow me for?" It seems Tiger had thought there must be something wrong, or his mistress would not be out at this unreasonable hour, so he had followed on after her. She was noways displeased at this, for she liked not the idea of again going alone through the wood, but with Tiger for a companion she went fearlessly on and reached home just an hour after she had left it.
On entering her room she struck a light and then tried to warm her chilled limbs over a few faint coals which still glimmered on the hearth; but there was no wood in the room and she dared not go for any, so she sat down with her cloak still around her, and for four long hours studied as she had never done before in all her life. At the end of that time her lessons were very nearly learned, and sick with cold and fatigue, she threw aside her books and prepared for bed.
Her movements awoke Fanny, who, on seeing her sister up at that late hour of the night, started with surprise, and exclaimed, "What is it, Julia? What is the matter?" Julia immediately extinguished the light, lest her sister should discover the books and then said, "Nothing, Fanny, nothing; only I have the toothache, and I got up for the camphor, but I cannot find the bottle anywhere."
"The camphor is downstairs," said Fanny, "but I will go for it if you wish me to. Does your tooth ache very much?"
"Yes, rather," said Julia, and her kind-hearted sister arose and found her way in the dark downstairs to her mother's room.
"What in thunder's come now?" called out Mr. Middleton. "'Pears like somebody's been tousing round the house all night."
"It's only I, father," said Fanny. "Julia has the toothache, and I am after the camphor bottle."
"Oh, it's you, Sunshine, is it? The camphire's on the mantletry. Be keerful and not break it, honey."
While Fanny was after the camphor, Julia arose, and seizing her books, threw them hastily into her bureau drawer. She then sprang back into bed and when Fanny came in she was making a very appropriate moaning on account of her aching tooth!
"How cold you are, sister," said Fanny; "let me warm my shawl and put it around you."
"You can't warm it, for their is neither fire nor wood," said Julia; "and besides, my tooth is much better now."
So Fanny lay down by her sister, and the two, purity and guilt, were soon fast asleep, side by side, and the angel of innocence spread his broad wing protectingly over the yellow locks of the one, while a serpent lay coiled in the dark tresses of the other.