Infomotions, Inc.The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man / Johnson, James Weldon, 1871-1938



Author: Johnson, James Weldon, 1871-1938
Title: The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): negro; piano
Contributor(s): ène, 1817- [Translator]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
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Identifier: etext11012
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Title: The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Author: James Weldon Johnson

Release Date: February 9, 2004 [EBook #11012]

Language: English

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THE

AUTOBIOGRAPHY

OF AN

EX-COLORED MAN


James Weldon Johnson

1912



PREFACE TO THE ORIGINAL EDITION OF 1912


This vivid and startlingly new picture of conditions brought about by
the race question in the United States makes no special plea for
the Negro, but shows in a dispassionate, though sympathetic, manner
conditions as they actually exist between the whites and blacks
to-day. Special pleas have already been made for and against the Negro
in hundreds of books, but in these books either his virtues or his
vices have been exaggerated. This is because writers, in nearly every
instance, have treated the colored American as a whole; each has
taken some one group of the race to prove his case. Not before has a
composite and proportionate presentation of the entire race, embracing
all of its various groups and elements, showing their relations with
each other and to the whites, been made.

It is very likely that the Negroes of the United States have a fairly
correct idea of what the white people of the country think of
them, for that opinion has for a long time been and is still being
constantly stated; but they are themselves more or less a sphinx to
the whites. It is curiously interesting and even vitally important
to know what are the thoughts of ten millions of them concerning the
people among whom they live. In these pages it is as though a veil had
been drawn aside: the reader is given a view of the inner life of the
Negro in America, is initiated into the "freemasonry," as it were, of
the race.

These pages also reveal the unsuspected fact that prejudice against
the Negro is exerting a pressure which, in New York and other large
cities where the opportunity is open, is actually and constantly
forcing an unascertainable number of fair-complexioned colored people
over into the white race.

In this book the reader is given a glimpse behind the scenes of this
race-drama which is being here enacted,--he is taken upon an elevation
where he can catch a bird's-eye view of the conflict which is being
waged.

The Publishers




I


I know that in writing the following pages I am divulging the great
secret of my life, the secret which for some years I have guarded far
more carefully than any of my earthly possessions; and it is a curious
study to me to analyze the motives which prompt me to do it. I feel
that I am led by the same impulse which forces the un-found-out
criminal to take somebody into his confidence, although he knows that
the act is likely, even almost certain, to lead to his undoing. I know
that I am playing with fire, and I feel the thrill which accompanies
that most fascinating pastime; and, back of it all, I think I find
a sort of savage and diabolical desire to gather up all the little
tragedies of my life, and turn them into a practical joke on society.

And, too, I suffer a vague feeling of unsatisfaction, of regret, of
almost remorse, from which I am seeking relief, and of which I shall
speak in the last paragraph of this account.

I was born in a little town of Georgia a few years after the close of
the Civil War. I shall not mention the name of the town, because
there are people still living there who could be connected with this
narrative. I have only a faint recollection of the place of my birth.
At times I can close my eyes and call up in a dreamlike way things
that seem to have happened ages ago in some other world. I can see in
this half vision a little house--I am quite sure it was not a large
one--I can remember that flowers grew in the front yard, and that
around each bed of flowers was a hedge of vari-colored glass bottles
stuck in the ground neck down. I remember that once, while playing
around in the sand, I became curious to know whether or not the
bottles grew as the flowers did, and I proceeded to dig them up to
find out; the investigation brought me a terrific spanking, which
indelibly fixed the incident in my mind. I can remember, too, that
behind the house was a shed under which stood two or three wooden
wash-tubs. These tubs were the earliest aversion of my life, for
regularly on certain evenings I was plunged into one of them and
scrubbed until my skin ached. I can remember to this day the pain
caused by the strong, rank soap's getting into my eyes.

Back from the house a vegetable garden ran, perhaps seventy-five
or one hundred feet; but to my childish fancy it was an endless
territory. I can still recall the thrill of joy, excitement, and
wonder it gave me to go on an exploring expedition through it, to find
the blackberries, both ripe and green, that grew along the edge of the
fence.

I remember with what pleasure I used to arrive at, and stand before, a
little enclosure in which stood a patient cow chewing her cud, how I
would occasionally offer her through the bars a piece of my bread and
molasses, and how I would jerk back my hand in half fright if she made
any motion to accept my offer.

I have a dim recollection of several people who moved in and about
this little house, but I have a distinct mental image of only two:
one, my mother; and the other, a tall man with a small, dark mustache.
I remember that his shoes or boots were always shiny, and that he wore
a gold chain and a great gold watch with which he was always willing
to let me play. My admiration was almost equally divided between the
watch and chain and the shoes. He used to come to the house evenings,
perhaps two or three times a week; and it became my appointed duty
whenever he came to bring him a pair of slippers and to put the shiny
shoes in a particular corner; he often gave me in return for this
service a bright coin, which my mother taught me to promptly drop in
a little tin bank. I remember distinctly the last time this tall man
came to the little house in Georgia; that evening before I went to
bed he took me up in his arms and squeezed me very tightly; my mother
stood behind his chair wiping tears from her eyes. I remember how I
sat upon his knee and watched him laboriously drill a hole through a
ten-dollar gold piece, and then tie the coin around my neck with a
string. I have worn that gold piece around my neck the greater part of
my life, and still possess it, but more than once I have wished that
some other way had been found of attaching it to me besides putting a
hole through it.

On the day after the coin was put around my neck my mother and I
started on what seemed to me an endless journey. I knelt on the seat
and watched through the train window the corn and cotton fields pass
swiftly by until I fell asleep. When I fully awoke, we were being
driven through the streets of a large city--Savannah. I sat up and
blinked at the bright lights. At Savannah we boarded a steamer which
finally landed us in New York. From New York we went to a town in
Connecticut, which became the home of my boyhood.

My mother and I lived together in a little cottage which seemed to
me to be fitted up almost luxuriously; there were horse-hair-covered
chairs in the parlor, and a little square piano; there was a stairway
with red carpet on it leading to a half second story; there were
pictures on the walls, and a few books in a glass-doored case. My
mother dressed me very neatly, and I developed that pride which
well-dressed boys generally have. She was careful about my associates,
and I myself was quite particular. As I look back now I can see that I
was a perfect little aristocrat. My mother rarely went to anyone's
house, but she did sewing, and there were a great many ladies coming
to our cottage. If I was around they would generally call me, and ask
me my name and age and tell my mother what a pretty boy I was. Some of
them would pat me on the head and kiss me.

My mother was kept very busy with her sewing; sometimes she would have
another woman helping her. I think she must have derived a fair income
from her work. I know, too, that at least once each month she received
a letter; I used to watch for the postman, get the letter, and run
to her with it; whether she was busy or not, she would take it and
instantly thrust it into her bosom. I never saw her read one of these
letters. I knew later that they contained money and what was to
her more than money. As busy as she generally was, she found time,
however, to teach me my letters and figures and how to spell a number
of easy words. Always on Sunday evenings she opened the little square
piano and picked out hymns. I can recall now that whenever she
played hymns from the book her _tempo_ was always decidedly _largo_.
Sometimes on other evenings, when she was not sewing, she would play
simple accompaniments to some old Southern songs which she sang. In
these songs she was freer, because she played them by ear. Those
evenings on which she opened the little piano were the happiest hours
of my childhood. Whenever she started toward the instrument, I used to
follow her with all the interest and irrepressible joy that a pampered
pet dog shows when a package is opened in which he knows there is a
sweet bit for him. I used to stand by her side and often interrupt and
annoy her by chiming in with strange harmonies which I found on either
the high keys of the treble or the low keys of the bass. I remember
that I had a particular fondness for the black keys. Always on such
evenings, when the music was over, my mother would sit with me in her
arms, often for a very long time. She would hold me close, softly
crooning some old melody without words, all the while gently stroking
her face against my head; many and many a night I thus fell asleep. I
can see her now, her great dark eyes looking into the fire, to where?
No one knew but her. The memory of that picture has more than once
kept me from straying too far from the place of purity and safety in
which her arms held me.

At a very early age I began to thump on the piano alone, and it was
not long before I was able to pick out a few tunes. When I was seven
years old, I could play by ear all of the hymns and songs that my
mother knew. I had also learned the names of the notes in both clefs,
but I preferred not to be hampered by notes. About this time several
ladies for whom my mother sewed heard me play and they persuaded her
that I should at once be put under a teacher; so arrangements were
made for me to study the piano with a lady who was a fairly good
musician; at the same time arrangements were made for me to study
my books with this lady's daughter. My music teacher had no small
difficulty at first in pinning me down to the notes. If she played my
lesson over for me, I invariably attempted to reproduce the required
sounds without the slightest recourse to the written characters. Her
daughter, my other teacher, also had her worries. She found that, in
reading, whenever I came to words that were difficult or unfamiliar,
I was prone to bring my imagination to the rescue and read from
the picture. She has laughingly told me, since then, that I would
sometimes substitute whole sentences and even paragraphs from what
meaning I thought the illustrations conveyed. She said she not only
was sometimes amused at the fresh treatment I would give an author's
subject, but, when I gave some new and sudden turn to the plot of the
story, often grew interested and even excited in listening to hear
what kind of a denouement I would bring about. But I am sure this was
not due to dullness, for I made rapid progress in both my music and my
books.

And so for a couple of years my life was divided between my music and
my school books. Music took up the greater part of my time. I had
no playmates, but amused myself with games--some of them my own
invention--which could be played alone. I knew a few boys whom I had
met at the church which I attended with my mother, but I had formed no
close friendships with any of them. Then, when I was nine years old,
my mother decided to enter me in the public school, so all at once I
found myself thrown among a crowd of boys of all sizes and kinds;
some of them seemed to me like savages. I shall never forget the
bewilderment, the pain, the heart-sickness, of that first day at
school. I seemed to be the only stranger in the place; every other boy
seemed to know every other boy. I was fortunate enough, however, to be
assigned to a teacher who knew me; my mother made her dresses. She was
one of the ladies who used to pat me on the head and kiss me. She had
the tact to address a few words directly to me; this gave me a certain
sort of standing in the class and put me somewhat at ease.

Within a few days I had made one staunch friend and was on fairly good
terms with most of the boys. I was shy of the girls, and remained so;
even now a word or look from a pretty woman sets me all a-tremble.
This friend I bound to me with hooks of steel in a very simple way. He
was a big awkward boy with a face full of freckles and a head full of
very red hair. He was perhaps fourteen years of age; that is, four or
five years older than any other boy in the class. This seniority was
due to the fact that he had spent twice the required amount of time in
several of the preceding classes. I had not been at school many hours
before I felt that "Red Head"--as I involuntarily called him--and I
were to be friends. I do not doubt that this feeling was strengthened
by the fact that I had been quick enough to see that a big, strong boy
was a friend to be desired at a public school; and, perhaps, in spite
of his dullness, "Red Head" had been able to discern that I could
be of service to him. At any rate there was a simultaneous mutual
attraction.

The teacher had strung the class promiscuously around the walls of the
room for a sort of trial heat for places of rank; when the line was
straightened out, I found that by skillful maneuvering I had placed
myself third and had piloted "Red Head" to the place next to me. The
teacher began by giving us to spell the words corresponding to our
order in the line. "Spell _first_." "Spell _second_." "Spell _third_."
I rattled off: "T-h-i-r-d, third," in a way which said: "Why don't you
give us something hard?" As the words went down the line, I could see
how lucky I had been to get a good place together with an easy word.
As young as I was, I felt impressed with the unfairness of the whole
proceeding when I saw the tailenders going down before _twelfth_ and
_twentieth_, and I felt sorry for those who had to spell such words in
order to hold a low position. "Spell _fourth_." "Red Head," with his
hands clutched tightly behind his back, began bravely: "F-o-r-t-h."
Like a flash a score of hands went up, and the teacher began saying:
"No snapping of fingers, no snapping of fingers." This was the first
word missed, and it seemed to me that some of the scholars were about
to lose their senses; some were dancing up and down on one foot with a
hand above their heads, the fingers working furiously, and joy beaming
all over their faces; others stood still, their hands raised not so
high, their fingers working less rapidly, and their faces expressing
not quite so much happiness; there were still others who did not
move or raise their hands, but stood with great wrinkles on their
foreheads, looking very thoughtful.

The whole thing was new to me, and I did not raise my hand, but slyly
whispered the letter "u" to "Red Head" several times. "Second chance,"
said the teacher. The hands went down and the class became quiet. "Red
Head," his face now red, after looking beseechingly at the ceiling,
then pitiably at the floor, began very haltingly: "F-u--" Immediately
an impulse to raise hands went through the class, but the teacher
checked it, and poor "Red Head," though he knew that each letter he
added only took him farther out of the way, went doggedly on and
finished: "--r-t-h." The hand-raising was now repeated with more
hubbub and excitement than at first. Those who before had not moved a
finger were now waving their hands above their heads. "Red Head" felt
that he was lost. He looked very big and foolish, and some of the
scholars began to snicker. His helpless condition went straight to my
heart, and gripped my sympathies. I felt that if he failed, it would
in some way be my failure. I raised my hand, and, under cover of the
excitement and the teacher's attempts to regain order, I hurriedly
shot up into his ear twice, quite distinctly: "F-o-u-r-t-h,
f-o-u-r-t-h." The teacher tapped on her desk and said: "Third and last
chance." The hands came down, the silence became oppressive. "Red
Head" began: "F--" Since that day I have waited anxiously for many a
turn of the wheel of fortune, but never under greater tension than
when I watched for the order in which those letters would fall from
"Red's" lips--"o-u-r-t-h." A sigh of relief and disappointment went up
from the class. Afterwards, through all our school days, "Red Head"
shared my wit and quickness and I benefited by his strength and dogged
faithfulness.

There were some black and brown boys and girls in the school, and
several of them were in my class. One of the boys strongly attracted
my attention from the first day I saw him. His face was as black as
night, but shone as though it were polished; he had sparkling eyes,
and when he opened his mouth, he displayed glistening white teeth. It
struck me at once as appropriate to call him "Shiny Face," or "Shiny
Eyes," or "Shiny Teeth," and I spoke of him often by one of these
names to the other boys. These terms were finally merged into "Shiny,"
and to that name he answered good-naturedly during the balance of his
public school days.

"Shiny" was considered without question to be the best speller, the
best reader, the best penman--in a word, the best scholar, in the
class. He was very quick to catch anything, but, nevertheless, studied
hard; thus he possessed two powers very rarely combined in one boy. I
saw him year after year, on up into the high school, win the majority
of the prizes for punctuality, deportment, essay writing, and
declamation. Yet it did not take me long to discover that, in spite of
his standing as a scholar, he was in some way looked down upon.

The other black boys and girls were still more looked down upon. Some
of the boys often spoke of them as "niggers." Sometimes on the way
home from school a crowd would walk behind them repeating:

  "_Nigger, nigger, never die,
  Black face and shiny eye_."

On one such afternoon one of the black boys turned suddenly on his
tormentors and hurled a slate; it struck one of the white boys in the
mouth, cutting a slight gash in his lip. At sight of the blood the boy
who had thrown the slate ran, and his companions quickly followed.
We ran after them pelting them with stones until they separated in
several directions. I was very much wrought up over the affair, and
went home and told my mother how one of the "niggers" had struck a boy
with a slate. I shall never forget how she turned on me. "Don't you
ever use that word again," she said, "and don't you ever bother the
colored children at school. You ought to be ashamed of yourself." I
did hang my head in shame, not because she had convinced me that I had
done wrong, but because I was hurt by the first sharp word she had
ever given me.

My school days ran along very pleasantly. I stood well in my studies,
not always so well with regard to my behavior. I was never guilty
of any serious misconduct, but my love of fun sometimes got me into
trouble. I remember, however, that my sense of humor was so sly that
most of the trouble usually fell on the head of the other fellow. My
ability to play on the piano at school exercises was looked upon as
little short of marvelous in a boy of my age. I was not chummy with
many of my mates, but, on the whole, was about as popular as it is
good for a boy to be.

One day near the end of my second term at school the principal came
into our room and, after talking to the teacher, for some reason said:
"I wish all of the white scholars to stand for a moment." I rose with
the others. The teacher looked at me and, calling my name, said: "You
sit down for the present, and rise with the others." I did not quite
understand her, and questioned: "Ma'm?" She repeated, with a softer
tone in her voice: "You sit down now, and rise with the others." I sat
down dazed. I saw and heard nothing. When the others were asked to
rise, I did not know it. When school was dismissed, I went out in a
kind of stupor. A few of the white boys jeered me, saying: "Oh, you're
a nigger too." I heard some black children say: "We knew he was
colored." "Shiny" said to them: "Come along, don't tease him," and
thereby won my undying gratitude. I hurried on as fast as I could, and
had gone some distance before I perceived that "Red Head" was walking
by my side. After a while he said to me: "Le' me carry your books."
I gave him my strap without being able to answer. When we got to my
gate, he said as he handed me my books: "Say, you know my big red
agate? I can't shoot with it any more. I'm going to bring it to school
for you tomorrow." I took my books and ran into the house. As I passed
through the hallway, I saw that my mother was busy with one of her
customers; I rushed up into my own little room, shut the door, and
went quickly to where my looking-glass hung on the wall. For an
instant I was afraid to look, but when I did, I looked long and
earnestly. I had often heard people say to my mother: "What a pretty
boy you have!" I was accustomed to hear remarks about my beauty; but
now, for the first time, I became conscious of it and recognized it.
I noticed the ivory whiteness of my skin, the beauty of my mouth, the
size and liquid darkness of my eyes, and how the long, black lashes
that fringed and shaded them produced an effect that was strangely
fascinating even to me. I noticed the softness and glossiness of my
dark hair that fell in waves over my temples, making my forehead
appear whiter than it really was. How long I stood there gazing at
my image I do not know. When I came out and reached the head of the
stairs, I heard the lady who had been with my mother going out. I ran
downstairs and rushed to where my mother was sitting, with a piece
of work in her hands. I buried my head in her lap and blurted out:
"Mother, mother, tell me, am I a nigger?" I could not see her face,
but I knew the piece of work dropped to the floor and I felt her hands
on my head. I looked up into her face and repeated: "Tell me, mother,
am I a nigger?" There were tears in her eyes and I could see that she
was suffering for me. And then it was that I looked at her critically
for the first time. I had thought of her in a childish way only as the
most beautiful woman in the world; now I looked at her searching for
defects. I could see that her skin was almost brown, that her hair
was not so soft as mine, and that she did differ in some way from the
other ladies who came to the house; yet, even so, I could see that she
was very beautiful, more beautiful than any of them. She must have
felt that I was examining her, for she hid her face in my hair and
said with difficulty: "No, my darling, you are not a nigger." She went
on: "You are as good as anybody; if anyone calls you a nigger, don't
notice them." But the more she talked, the less was I reassured, and I
stopped her by asking: "Well, mother, am I white? Are you white?" She
answered tremblingly: "No, I am not white, but you--your father is one
of the greatest men in the country--the best blood of the South is in
you--" This suddenly opened up in my heart a fresh chasm of misgiving
and fear, and I almost fiercely demanded: "Who is my father? Where is
he?" She stroked my hair and said: "I'll tell you about him some day."
I sobbed: "I want to know now." She answered: "No, not now."

Perhaps it had to be done, but I have never forgiven the woman who
did it so cruelly. It may be that she never knew that she gave me a
sword-thrust that day in school which was years in healing.




II


Since I have grown older I have often gone back and tried to analyze
the change that came into my life after that fateful day in school.
There did come a radical change, and, young as I was, I felt fully
conscious of it, though I did not fully comprehend it. Like my first
spanking, it is one of the few incidents in my life that I can
remember clearly. In the life of everyone there is a limited number of
unhappy experiences which are not written upon the memory, but stamped
there with a die; and in long years after, they can be called up
in detail, and every emotion that was stirred by them can be lived
through anew; these are the tragedies of life. We may grow to include
some of them among the trivial incidents of childhood--a broken toy,
a promise made to us which was not kept, a harsh, heart-piercing
word--but these, too, as well as the bitter experiences and
disappointments of mature years, are the tragedies of life.

And so I have often lived through that hour, that day, that week, in
which was wrought the miracle of my transition from one world into
another; for I did indeed pass into another world. From that time I
looked out through other eyes, my thoughts were colored, my words
dictated, my actions limited by one dominating, all-pervading idea
which constantly increased in force and weight until I finally
realized in it a great, tangible fact.

And this is the dwarfing, warping, distorting influence which operates
upon each and every colored man in the United States. He is forced to
take his outlook on all things, not from the viewpoint of a citizen,
or a man, or even a human being, but from the viewpoint of a _colored_
man. It is wonderful to me that the race has progressed so broadly as
it has, since most of its thought and all of its activity must run
through the narrow neck of this one funnel.

And it is this, too, which makes the colored people of this country,
in reality, a mystery to the whites. It is a difficult thing for
a white man to learn what a colored man really thinks; because,
generally, with the latter an additional and different light must
be brought to bear on what he thinks; and his thoughts are often
influenced by considerations so delicate and subtle that it would be
impossible for him to confess or explain them to one of the opposite
race. This gives to every colored man, in proportion to his
intellectuality, a sort of dual personality; there is one phase of him
which is disclosed only in the freemasonry of his own race. I have
often watched with interest and sometimes with amazement even ignorant
colored men under cover of broad grins and minstrel antics maintain
this dualism in the presence of white men.

I believe it to be a fact that the colored people of this country know
and understand the white people better than the white people know and
understand them.

I now think that this change which came into my life was at first more
subjective than objective. I do not think my friends at school changed
so much toward me as I did toward them. I grew reserved, I might say
suspicious. I grew constantly more and more afraid of laying myself
open to some injury to my feelings or my pride. I frequently saw or
fancied some slight where, I am sure, none was intended. On the other
hand, my friends and teachers were, if anything different, more
considerate of me; but I can remember that it was against this very
attitude in particular that my sensitiveness revolted. "Red" was the
only one who did not so wound me; up to this day I recall with a
swelling heart his clumsy efforts to make me understand that nothing
could change his love for me.

I am sure that at this time the majority of my white schoolmates
did not understand or appreciate any differences between me and
themselves; but there were a few who had evidently received
instructions at home on the matter, and more than once they displayed
their knowledge in word and action. As the years passed, I noticed
that the most innocent and ignorant among the others grew in wisdom.

I myself would not have so clearly understood this difference had it
not been for the presence of the other colored children at school; I
had learned what their status was, and now I learned that theirs was
mine. I had had no particular like or dislike for these black and
brown boys and girls; in fact, with the exception of "Shiny," they had
occupied very little of my thought; but I do know that when the blow
fell, I had a very strong aversion to being classed with them. So I
became something of a solitary. "Red" and I remained inseparable, and
there was between "Shiny" and me a sort of sympathetic bond, but my
intercourse with the others was never entirely free from a feeling of
constraint. I must add, however, that this feeling was confined almost
entirely to my intercourse with boys and girls of about my own age; I
did not experience it with my seniors. And when I grew to manhood, I
found myself freer with elderly white people than with those near my
own age.

I was now about eleven years old, but these emotions and impressions
which I have just described could not have been stronger or more
distinct at an older age. There were two immediate results of my
forced loneliness: I began to find company in books, and greater
pleasure in music. I made the former discovery through a big,
gilt-bound, illustrated copy of the Bible, which used to lie in
splendid neglect on the center table in our little parlor. On top of
the Bible lay a photograph album. I had often looked at the pictures
in the album, and one day, after taking the larger book down and
opening it on the floor, I was overjoyed to find that it contained
what seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of pictures. I looked at
these pictures many times; in fact, so often that I knew the story
of each one without having to read the subject, and then, somehow, I
picked up the thread of history on which are strung the trials and
tribulations of the Hebrew children; this I followed with feverish
interest and excitement. For a long time King David, with Samson a
close second, stood at the head of my list of heroes; he was not
displaced until I came to know Robert the Bruce. I read a good portion
of the Old Testament, all that part treating of wars and rumors of
wars, and then started in on the New. I became interested in the life
of Christ, but became impatient and disappointed when I found that,
notwithstanding the great power he possessed, he did not make use of
it when, in my judgment, he most needed to do so. And so my first
general impression of the Bible was what my later impression has been
of a number of modern books, that the authors put their best work in
the first part, and grew either exhausted or careless toward the end.

After reading the Bible, or those parts which held my attention,
I began to explore the glass-doored bookcase which I have already
mentioned. I found there _Pilgrim's Progress_, Peter Parley's _History
of the United States_, Grimm's _Household Stories, Tales of a
Grandfather_, a bound volume of an old English publication (I think it
was called _The Mirror_), a little volume called _Familiar Science_,
and somebody's _Natural Theology_, which last, of course, I could not
read, but which, nevertheless, I tackled, with the result of gaining a
permanent dislike for all kinds of theology. There were several other
books of no particular name or merit, such as agents sell to people
who know nothing of buying books. How my mother came by this little
library which, considering all things, was so well suited to me I
never sought to know. But she was far from being an ignorant woman and
had herself, very likely, read the majority of these books, though
I do not remember ever seeing her with a book in her hand, with the
exception of the Episcopal Prayer book. At any rate she encouraged in
me the habit of reading, and when I had about exhausted those books in
the little library which interested me, she began to buy books for me.
She also regularly gave me money to buy a weekly paper which was then
very popular for boys.

At this time I went in for music with an earnestness worthy of maturer
years; a change of teachers was largely responsible for this. I began
now to take lessons of the organist of the church which I attended
with my mother; he was a good teacher and quite a thorough musician.
He was so skillful in his instruction and filled me with such
enthusiasm that my progress--these are his words--was marvelous. I
remember that when I was barely twelve years old I appeared on a
program with a number of adults at an entertainment given for some
charitable purpose, and carried off the honors. I did more, I brought
upon myself through the local newspapers the handicapping title of
"infant prodigy."

I can believe that I did astonish my audience, for I never played
the piano like a child; that is, in the "one-two-three" style with
accelerated motion. Neither did I depend upon mere brilliancy of
technique, a trick by which children often surprise their listeners;
but I always tried to interpret a piece of music; I always played with
feeling. Very early I acquired that knack of using the pedals, which
makes the piano a sympathetic, singing instrument, quite a different
thing from the source of hard or blurred sounds it so generally is. I
think this was due not entirely to natural artistic temperament,
but largely to the fact that I did not begin to learn the piano by
counting out exercises, but by trying to reproduce the quaint songs
which my mother used to sing, with all their pathetic turns and
cadences.

Even at a tender age, in playing I helped to express what I felt
by some of the mannerisms which I afterwards observed in great
performers; I had not copied them. I have often heard people speak of
the mannerisms of musicians as affectations adopted for mere effect;
in some cases they may be so; but a true artist can no more play upon
the piano or violin without putting his whole body in accord with the
emotions he is striving to express than a swallow can fly without
being graceful. Often when playing I could not keep the tears which
formed in my eyes from rolling down my cheeks. Sometimes at the end
or even in the midst of a composition, as big a boy as I was, I would
jump from the piano, and throw myself sobbing into my mother's arms.
She, by her caresses and often her tears, only encouraged these fits
of sentimental hysteria. Of course, to counteract this tendency to
temperamental excesses I should have been out playing ball or in
swimming with other boys of my age; but my mother didn't know that.
There was only once when she was really firm with me, making me do
what she considered was best; I did not want to return to school after
the unpleasant episode which I have related, and she was inflexible.

I began my third term, and the days ran along as I have already
indicated. I had been promoted twice, and had managed each time to
pull "Red" along with me. I think the teachers came to consider me
the only hope of his ever getting through school, and I believe they
secretly conspired with me to bring about the desired end. At any
rate, I know it became easier in each succeeding examination for me
not only to assist "Red," but absolutely to do his work. It is
strange how in some things honest people can be dishonest without the
slightest compunction. I knew boys at school who were too honorable
to tell a fib even when one would have been just the right thing, but
could not resist the temptation to assist or receive assistance in an
examination. I have long considered it the highest proof of honesty in
a man to hand his street-car fare to the conductor who had overlooked
it.

One afternoon after school, during my third term, I rushed home in a
great hurry to get my dinner and go to my music teacher's. I was never
reluctant about going there, but on this particular afternoon I
was impetuous. The reason of this was I had been asked to play the
accompaniment for a young lady who was to play a violin solo at a
concert given by the young people of the church, and on this
afternoon we were to have our first rehearsal. At that time playing
accompaniments was the only thing in music I did not enjoy; later this
feeling grew into positive dislike. I have never been a really good
accompanist because my ideas of interpretation were always too
strongly individual. I constantly forced my _accelerandos_ and
_rubatos_ upon the soloist, often throwing the duet entirely out of
gear.

Perhaps the reader has already guessed why I was so willing and
anxious to play the accompaniment to this violin solo; if not--the
violinist was a girl of seventeen or eighteen whom I had first heard
play a short time before on a Sunday afternoon at a special service
of some kind, and who had moved me to a degree which now I can hardly
think of as possible. At present I do not think it was due to her
wonderful playing, though I judge she must have been a very fair
performer, but there was just the proper setting to produce the effect
upon a boy such as I was; the half-dim church, the air of devotion on
the part of the listeners, the heaving tremor of the organ under
the clear wail of the violin, and she, her eyes almost closing, the
escaping strands of her dark hair wildly framing her pale face, and
her slender body swaying to the tones she called forth, all combined
to fire my imagination and my heart with a passion, though boyish, yet
strong and, somehow, lasting. I have tried to describe the scene; if I
have succeeded, it is only half success, for words can only partially
express what I wish to convey. Always in recalling that Sunday
afternoon I am sub-conscious of a faint but distinct fragrance which,
like some old memory-awakening perfume, rises and suffuses my whole
imagination, inducing a state of reverie so airy as just to evade the
powers of expression.

She was my first love, and I loved her as only a boy loves. I dreamed
of her, I built air castles for her, she was the incarnation of each
beautiful heroine I knew; when I played the piano, it was to her, not
even music furnished an adequate outlet for my passion; I bought a new
note-book and, to sing her praises, made my first and last attempts
at poetry. I remember one day at school, after we had given in our
notebooks to have some exercises corrected, the teacher called me to
her desk and said: "I couldn't correct your exercises because I found
nothing in your book but a rhapsody on somebody's brown eyes." I had
passed in the wrong note-book. I don't think I have felt greater
embarrassment in my whole life than I did at that moment. I was
ashamed not only that my teacher should see this nakedness of my
heart, but that she should find out that I had any knowledge of such
affairs. It did not then occur to me to be ashamed of the kind of
poetry I had written.

Of course, the reader must know that all of this adoration was in
secret; next to my great love for this young lady was the dread that
in some way she would find it out. I did not know what some men never
find out, that the woman who cannot discern when she is loved has
never lived. It makes me laugh to think how successful I was in
concealing it all; within a short time after our duet all of
the friends of my dear one were referring to me as her "little
sweetheart," or her "little beau," and she laughingly encouraged it.
This did not entirely satisfy me; I wanted to be taken seriously. I
had definitely made up my mind that I should never love another woman,
and that if she deceived me I should do something desperate--the great
difficulty was to think of something sufficiently desperate--and the
heartless jade, how she led me on!

So I hurried home that afternoon, humming snatches of the violin part
of the duet, my heart beating with pleasurable excitement over the
fact that I was going to be near her, to have her attention placed
directly upon me; that I was going to be of service to her, and in a
way in which I could show myself to advantage--this last consideration
has much to do with cheerful service----. The anticipation produced in
me a sensation somewhat between bliss and fear. I rushed through the
gate, took the three steps to the house at one bound, threw open the
door, and was about to hang my cap on its accustomed peg of the hall
rack when I noticed that that particular peg was occupied by a black
derby hat. I stopped suddenly and gazed at this hat as though I had
never seen an object of its description. I was still looking at it in
open-eyed wonder when my mother, coming out of the parlor into the
hallway, called me and said there was someone inside who wanted to see
me. Feeling that I was being made a party to some kind of mystery,
I went in with her, and there I saw a man standing leaning with one
elbow on the mantel, his back partly turned toward the door. As I
entered, he turned and I saw a tall, handsome, well-dressed gentleman
of perhaps thirty-five; he advanced a step toward me with a smile on
his face. I stopped and looked at him with the same feelings with
which I had looked at the derby hat, except that they were greatly
magnified. I looked at him from head to foot, but he was an absolute
blank to me until my eyes rested on his slender, elegant polished
shoes; then it seemed that indistinct and partly obliterated films
of memory began, at first slowly, then rapidly, to unroll, forming a
vague panorama of my childhood days in Georgia.

My mother broke the spell by calling me by name and saying: "This is
your father."

"Father, father," that was the word which had been to me a source of
doubt and perplexity ever since the interview with my mother on the
subject. How often I had wondered about my father, who he was, what
he was like, whether alive or dead, and, above all, why she would not
tell me about him. More than once I had been on the point of recalling
to her the promise she had made me, but I instinctively felt that she
was happier for not telling me and that I was happier for not being
told; yet I had not the slightest idea what the real truth was.
And here he stood before me, just the kind of looking father I had
wishfully pictured him to be; but I made no advance toward him; I
stood there feeling embarrassed and foolish, not knowing what to say
or do. I am not sure but that he felt pretty much the same. My mother
stood at my side with one hand on my shoulder, almost pushing
me forward, but I did not move. I can well remember the look of
disappointment, even pain, on her face; and I can now understand that
she could expect nothing else but that at the name "father" I should
throw myself into his arms. But I could not rise to this dramatic,
or, better, melodramatic, climax. Somehow I could not arouse any
considerable feeling of need for a father. He broke the awkward
tableau by saying: "Well, boy, aren't you glad to see me?" He
evidently meant the words kindly enough, but I don't know what he
could have said that would have had a worse effect; however, my good
breeding came to my rescue, and I answered: "Yes, sir," and went to
him and offered him my hand. He took my hand into one of his, and,
with the other, stroked my head, saying that I had grown into a fine
youngster. He asked me how old I was; which, of course, he must have
done merely to say something more, or perhaps he did so as a test of
my intelligence. I replied: "Twelve, sir." He then made the trite
observation about the flight of time, and we lapsed into another
awkward pause.

My mother was all in smiles; I believe that was one of the happiest
moments of her life. Either to put me more at ease or to show me off,
she asked me to play something for my father. There is only one
thing in the world that can make music, at all times and under all
circumstances, up to its general standard; that is a hand-organ, or
one of its variations. I went to the piano and played something in
a listless, half-hearted way. I simply was not in the mood. I was
wondering, while playing, when my mother would dismiss me and let me
go; but my father was so enthusiastic in his praise that he touched my
vanity--which was great--and more than that; he displayed that sincere
appreciation which always arouses an artist to his best effort, and,
too, in an unexplainable manner, makes him feel like shedding tears.
I showed my gratitude by playing for him a Chopin waltz with all the
feeling that was in me. When I had finished, my mother's eyes were
glistening with tears; my father stepped across the room, seized me in
his arms, and squeezed me to his breast. I am certain that for that
moment he was proud to be my father. He sat and held me standing
between his knees while he talked to my mother. I, in the mean
time, examined him with more curiosity, perhaps, than politeness. I
interrupted the conversation by asking: "Mother, is he going to stay
with us now?" I found it impossible to frame the word "father"; it
was too new to me; so I asked the question through my mother. Without
waiting for her to speak, my father answered: "I've got to go back to
New York this afternoon, but I'm coming to see you again." I turned
abruptly and went over to my mother, and almost in a whisper reminded
her that I had an appointment which I should not miss; to my pleasant
surprise she said that she would give me something to eat at once so
that I might go. She went out of the room and I began to gather from
off the piano the music I needed. When I had finished, my father, who
had been watching me, asked: "Are you going?" I replied: "Yes, sir,
I've got to go to practice for a concert." He spoke some words of
advice to me about being a good boy and taking care of my mother when
I grew up, and added that he was going to send me something nice from
New York. My mother called, and I said good-bye to him and went out. I
saw him only once after that.

I quickly swallowed down what my mother had put on the table for me,
seized my cap and music, and hurried off to my teacher's house. On the
way I could think of nothing but this new father, where he came from,
where he had been, why he was here, and why he would not stay. In my
mind I ran over the whole list of fathers I had become acquainted with
in my reading, but I could not classify him. The thought did not cross
my mind that he was different from me, and even if it had, the mystery
would not thereby have been explained; for, notwithstanding my changed
relations with most of my schoolmates, I had only a faint knowledge of
prejudice and no idea at all how it ramified and affected our entire
social organism. I felt, however, that there was something about the
whole affair which had to be hid.

When I arrived, I found that she of the brown eyes had been rehearsing
with my teacher and was on the point of leaving. My teacher, with some
expressions of surprise, asked why I was late, and I stammered out the
first deliberate lie of which I have any recollection. I told him that
when I reached home from school, I found my mother quite sick, and
that I had stayed with her awhile before coming. Then unnecessarily
and gratuitously--to give my words force of conviction, I suppose--I
added: "I don't think she'll be with us very long." In speaking these
words I must have been comical; for I noticed that my teacher, instead
of showing signs of anxiety or sorrow, half hid a smile. But how
little did I know that in that lie I was speaking a prophecy!

She of the brown eyes unpacked her violin, and we went through the
duet several times. I was soon lost to all other thoughts in
the delights of music and love. I saw delights of love without
reservation; for at no time of life is love so pure, so delicious, so
poetic, so romantic, as it is in boyhood. A great deal has been said
about the heart of a girl when she' stands "where the brook and river
meet," but what she feels is negative; more interesting is the heart
of a boy when just at the budding dawn of manhood he stands looking
wide-eyed into the long vistas opening before him; when he first
becomes conscious of the awakening and quickening of strange desires
and unknown powers; when what he sees and feels is still shadowy and
mystical enough to be intangible, and, so, more beautiful; when his
imagination is unsullied, and his faith new and whole--then it is that
love wears a halo. The man who has not loved before he was fourteen
has missed a foretaste of Elysium.

When I reached home, it was quite dark and I found my mother without
a light, sitting rocking in a chair, as she so often used to do in my
childhood days, looking into the fire and singing softly to herself. I
nestled close to her, and, with her arms round me, she haltingly told
me who my father was--a great man, a fine gentleman--he loved me and
loved her very much; he was going to make a great man of me: All she
said was so limited by reserve and so colored by her feelings that it
was but half truth; and so I did not yet fully understand.




III


Perhaps I ought not pass on in this narrative without mentioning that
the duet was a great success, so great that we were obliged to respond
with two encores. It seemed to me that life could hold no greater joy
than it contained when I took her hand and we stepped down to the
front of the stage bowing to our enthusiastic audience. When we
reached the little dressing-room, where the other performers were
applauding as wildly as the audience, she impulsively threw both her
arms round me and kissed me, while I struggled to get away.

One day a couple of weeks after my father had been to see us, a wagon
drove up to our cottage loaded with a big box. I was about to tell the
men on the wagon that they had made a mistake, when my mother, acting
darkly wise, told them to bring their load in; she had them unpack the
box, and quickly there was evolved from the boards, paper, and other
packing material a beautiful, brand-new, upright piano. Then she
informed me that it was a present to me from my father. I at once sat
down and ran my fingers over the keys; the full, mellow tone of the
instrument was ravishing. I thought, almost remorsefully, of how I
had left my father; but, even so, there momentarily crossed my mind
a feeling of disappointment that the piano was not a grand. The new
instrument greatly increased the pleasure of my hours of study and
practice at home.

Shortly after this I was made a member of the boys' choir, it being
found that I possessed a clear, strong soprano voice. I enjoyed the
singing very much. About a year later I began the study of the pipe
organ and the theory of music; and before I finished the grammar
school, I had written out several simple preludes for organ which won
the admiration of my teacher, and which he did me the honor to play at
services.

The older I grew, the more thought I gave to the question of my
mother's and my position, and what was our exact relation to the world
in general. My idea of the whole matter was rather hazy. My study of
United States history had been confined to those periods which were
designated in my book as "Discovery," "Colonial," "Revolutionary," and
"Constitutional." I now began to study about the Civil War, but the
story was told in such a condensed and skipping style that I gained
from it very little real information. It is a marvel how children ever
learn any history out of books of that sort. And, too, I began now to
read the newspapers; I often saw articles which aroused my curiosity,
but did not enlighten me. But one day I drew from the circulating
library a book that cleared the whole mystery, a book that I read
with the same feverish intensity with which I had read the old Bible
stories, a book that gave me my first perspective of the life I was
entering; that book was _Uncle Tom's Cabin_.

This work of Harriet Beecher Stowe has been the object of much
unfavorable criticism. It has been assailed, not only as fiction of
the most imaginative sort, but as being a direct misrepresentation.
Several successful attempts have lately been made to displace the book
from Northern school libraries. Its critics would brush it aside with
the remark that there never was a Negro as good as Uncle Tom, nor a
slave-holder as bad as Legree. For my part, I was never an admirer of
Uncle Tom, nor of his type of goodness; but I believe that there were
lots of old Negroes as foolishly good as he; the proof of which is
that they knowingly stayed and worked the plantations that furnished
sinews for the army which was fighting to keep them enslaved. But in
these later years several cases have come to my personal knowledge in
which old Negroes have died and left what was a considerable fortune
to the descendants of their former masters. I do not think it takes
any great stretch of the imagination to believe there was a fairly
large class of slave-holders typified in Legree. And we must also
remember that the author depicted a number of worthless if not vicious
Negroes, and a slave-holder who was as much of a Christian and a
gentleman as it was possible for one in his position to be; that she
pictured the happy, singing, shuffling "darky" as well as the mother
wailing for her child sold "down river."

I do not think it is claiming too much to say that _Uncle Tom's Cabin_
was a fair and truthful panorama of slavery; however that may be, it
opened my eyes as to who and what I was and what my country considered
me; in fact, it gave me my bearing. But there was no shock; I took
the whole revelation in a kind of stoical way. One of the greatest
benefits I derived from reading the book was that I could afterwards
talk frankly with my mother on all the questions which had been
vaguely troubling my mind. As a result, she was entirely freed from
reserve, and often herself brought up the subject, talking of things
directly touching her life and mine and of things which had come down
to her through the "old folks." What she told me interested and even
fascinated me, and, what may seem strange, kindled in me a strong
desire to see the South. She spoke to me quite frankly about herself,
my father, and myself: she, the sewing girl of my father's mother;
he, an impetuous young man home from college; I, the child of this
unsanctioned love. She told me even the principal reason for our
coming north. My father was about to be married to a young lady of
another great Southern family; She did not neglect to add that another
reason for our being in Connecticut was that he intended to give me
an education and make a man of me. In none of her talks did she ever
utter one word of complaint against my father. She always endeavored
to impress upon me how good he had been and still was, and that he was
all to us that custom and the law would allow. She loved him; more,
she worshiped him, and she died firmly believing that he loved her
more than any other woman in the world. Perhaps she was right. Who
knows?

All of these newly awakened ideas and thoughts took the form of a
definite aspiration on the day I graduated from the grammar school.
And what a day that was! The girls in white dresses, with fresh
ribbons in their hair; the boys in new suits and creaky shoes; the
great crowd of parents and friends; the flowers, the prizes and
congratulations, made the day seem to me one of the greatest
importance. I was on the program, and played a piano solo which was
received by the audience with that amount of applause which I had come
to look upon as being only the just due of my talent.

But the real enthusiasm was aroused by "Shiny." He was the principal
speaker of the day, and well did he measure up to the honor. He made a
striking picture, that thin little black boy standing on the platform,
dressed in clothes that did not fit him any too well, his eyes burning
with excitement, his shrill, musical voice vibrating in tones of
appealing defiance, and his black face alight with such great
intelligence and earnestness as to be positively handsome. What were
his thoughts when he stepped forward and looked into that crowd of
faces, all white with the exception of a score or so that were lost to
view? I do not know, but I fancy he felt his loneliness. I think there
must have rushed over him a feeling akin to that of a gladiator tossed
into the arena and bade to fight for his life. I think that solitary
little black figure standing there felt that for the particular time
and place he bore the weight and responsibility of his race; that for
him to fail meant general defeat; but he won, and nobly. His oration
was Wendell Phillips's "Toussaint L'Ouverture," a speech which may now
be classed as rhetorical--even, perhaps, bombastic; but as the words
fell from "Shiny's" lips their effect was magical. How so young an
orator could stir so great enthusiasm was to be wondered at. When, in
the famous peroration, his voice, trembling with suppressed emotion,
rose higher and higher and then rested on the name "Toussaint
L'Ouverture," it was like touching an electric button which loosed the
pent-up feelings of his listeners. They actually rose to him.

I have since known of colored men who have been chosen as class
orators in our leading universities, of others who have played on the
varsity football and baseball teams, of colored speakers who have
addressed great white audiences. In each of these instances I believe
the men were stirred by the same emotions which actuated "Shiny" on
the day of his graduation; and, too, in each case where the efforts
have reached any high standard of excellence they have been followed
by the same phenomenon of enthusiasm. I think the explanation of the
latter lies in what is a basic, though often dormant, principle of the
Anglo-Saxon heart, love of fair play. "Shiny," it is true, was what is
so common in his race, a natural orator; but I doubt that any white
boy of equal talent could have wrought the same effect. The sight of
that boy gallantly waging with puny, black arms so unequal a battle
touched the deep springs in the hearts of his audience, and they were
swept by a wave of sympathy and admiration.

But the effect upon me of "Shiny's" speech was double; I not only
shared the enthusiasm of his audience, but he imparted to me some of
his own enthusiasm. I felt leap within me pride that I was colored;
and I began to form wild dreams of bringing glory and honor to the
Negro race. For days I could talk of nothing else with my mother
except my ambitions to be a great man, a great colored man, to reflect
credit on the race and gain fame for myself. It was not until years
after that I formulated a definite and feasible plan for realizing my
dreams.

I entered the high school with my class, and still continued my study
of the piano, the pipe organ, and the theory of music. I had to
drop out of the boys' choir on account of a changing voice; this
I regretted very much. As I grew older, my love for reading grew
stronger. I read with studious interest everything I could find
relating to colored men who had gained prominence. My heroes had
been King David, then Robert the Bruce; now Frederick Douglass was
enshrined in the place of honor. When I learned that Alexandre Dumas
was a colored man, I re-read _Monte Cristo_ and _The Three Guardsmen_
with magnified pleasure. I lived between my music and books, on the
whole a rather unwholesome life for a boy to lead. I dwelt in a world
of imagination, of dreams and air castles--the kind of atmosphere
that sometimes nourishes a genius, more often men unfitted for the
practical struggles of life. I never played a game of ball, never went
fishing or learned to swim; in fact, the only outdoor exercise in
which I took any interest was skating. Nevertheless, though slender,
I grew well formed and in perfect health. After I entered the high
school, I began to notice the change in my mother's health, which I
suppose had been going on for some years. She began to complain a
little and to cough a great deal; she tried several remedies, and
finally went to see a doctor; but though she was failing in health,
she kept her spirits up. She still did a great deal of sewing, and
in the busy seasons hired two women to help her. The purpose she had
formed of having me go through college without financial worries kept
her at work when she was not fit for it. I was so fortunate as to be
able to organize a class of eight or ten beginners on the piano,
and so start a separate little fund of my own. As the time for my
graduation from the high school grew nearer, the plans for my college
career became the chief subject of our talks. I sent for catalogues
of all the prominent schools in the East and eagerly gathered all the
information I could concerning them from different sources. My mother
told me that my father wanted me to go to Harvard or Yale; she herself
had a half desire for me to go to Atlanta University, and even had me
write for a catalogue of that school. There were two reasons, however,
that inclined her to my father's choice; the first, that at Harvard or
Yale I should be near her; the second, that my father had promised to
pay for a part of my college education.

Both "Shiny" and "Red" came to my house quite often of evenings, and
we used to talk over our plans and prospects for the future. Sometimes
I would play for them, and they seemed to enjoy the music very much.
My mother often prepared sundry Southern dishes for them, which I am
not sure but that they enjoyed more. "Shiny" had an uncle in Amherst,
Mass., and he expected to live with him and work his way through
Amherst College. "Red" declared that he had enough of school and that
after he got his high school diploma, he would get a position in a
bank. It was his ambition to become a banker and he felt sure of
getting the opportunity through certain members of his family.

My mother barely had strength to attend the closing exercises of the
high school when I graduated, and after that day she was seldom out
of bed. She could no longer direct her work, and under the expense of
medicines, doctors, and someone to look after her our college fund
began to diminish rapidly. Many of her customers and some of the
neighbors were very kind, and frequently brought her nourishment of
one kind or another. My mother realized what I did not, that she was
mortally ill, and she had me write a long letter to my father. For
some time past she had heard from him only at irregular intervals;
we never received an answer. In those last days I often sat at her
bedside and read to her until she fell asleep. Sometimes I would leave
the parlor door open and play on the piano, just loud enough for the
music to reach her. This she always enjoyed.

One night, near the end of July, after I had been watching beside her
for some hours, I went into the parlor and, throwing myself into the
big arm chair, dozed off into a fitful sleep. I was suddenly aroused
by one of the neighbors, who had come in to sit with her that night.
She said: "Come to your mother at once." I hurried upstairs, and at
the bedroom door met the woman who was acting as nurse. I noted with
a dissolving heart the strange look of awe on her face. From my
first glance at my mother I discerned the light of death upon her
countenance. I fell upon my knees beside the bed and, burying my face
in the sheets, sobbed convulsively. She died with the fingers of her
left hand entwined in my hair.

I will not rake over this, one of the two sacred sorrows of my life;
nor could I describe the feeling of unutterable loneliness that fell
upon me. After the funeral I went to the house of my music teacher;
he had kindly offered me the hospitality of his home for so long as I
might need it. A few days later I moved my trunk, piano, my music, and
most of my books to his home; the rest of my books I divided between
"Shiny" and "Red." Some of the household effects I gave to "Shiny's"
mother and to two or three of the neighbors who had been kind to us
during my mother's illness; the others I sold. After settling up my
little estate I found that, besides a good supply of clothes, a piano,
some books and trinkets, I had about two hundred dollars in cash.

The question of what I was to do now confronted me. My teacher
suggested a concert tour; but both of us realized that I was too old
to be exploited as an infant prodigy and too young and inexperienced
to go before the public as a finished artist. He, however, insisted
that the people of the town would generously patronize a benefit
concert; so he took up the matter and made arrangements for such an
entertainment. A more than sufficient number of people with musical
and elocutionary talent volunteered their services to make a program.
Among these was my brown-eyed violinist. But our relations were not
the same as they were when we had played our first duet together. A
year or so after that time she had dealt me a crushing blow by getting
married. I was partially avenged, however, by the fact that, though
she was growing more beautiful, she was losing her ability to play the
violin.

I was down on the program for one number. My selection might have
appeared at that particular time as a bit of affectation, but I
considered it deeply appropriate; I played Beethoven's "Sonata
Pathetique." When I sat down at the piano and glanced into the faces
of the several hundreds of people who were there solely on account of
love or sympathy for me, emotions swelled in my heart which enabled me
to play the "Pathetique" as I could never again play it. When the
last tone died away, the few who began to applaud were hushed by the
silence of the others; and for once I played without receiving an
encore.

The benefit yielded me a little more than two hundred dollars, thus
raising my cash capital to about four hundred dollars. I still held
to my determination of going to college; so it was now a question of
trying to squeeze through a year at Harvard or going to Atlanta, where
the money I had would pay my actual expenses for at least two years.
The peculiar fascination which the South held over my imagination and
my limited capital decided me in favor of Atlanta University; so about
the last of September I bade farewell to the friends and scenes of my
boyhood and boarded a train for the South.




IV


The farther I got below Washington, the more disappointed I became
in the appearance of the country. I peered through the car windows,
looking in vain for the luxuriant semi-tropical scenery which I had
pictured in my mind. I did not find the grass so green, nor the
woods so beautiful, nor the flowers so plentiful, as they were in
Connecticut. Instead, the red earth partly covered by tough, scrawny
grass, the muddy, straggling roads, the cottages of unpainted pine
boards, and the clay-daubed huts imparted a "burnt up" impression.
Occasionally we ran through a little white and green village that was
like an oasis in a desert.

When I reached Atlanta, my steadily increasing disappointment was not
lessened. I found it a big, dull, red town. This dull red color of
that part of the South I was then seeing had much, I think, to do with
the extreme depression of my spirits--no public squares, no fountains,
dingy street-cars, and, with the exception of three or four principal
thoroughfares, unpaved streets. It was raining when I arrived and some
of these unpaved streets were absolutely impassable. Wheels sank to
the hubs in red mire, and I actually stood for an hour and watched
four or five men work to save a mule, which had stepped into a deep
sink, from drowning, or, rather, suffocating in the mud. The Atlanta
of today is a new city.

On the train I had talked with one of the Pullman car porters, a
bright young fellow who was himself a student, and told him that I was
going to Atlanta to attend school. I had also asked him to tell me
where I might stop for a day or two until the University opened. He
said I might go with him to the place where he stopped during his
"lay-overs" in Atlanta. I gladly accepted his offer and went with him
along one of those muddy streets until we came to a rather rickety
looking frame house, which we entered. The proprietor of the house
was a big, fat, greasy-looking brown-skin man. When I asked him if he
could give me accommodations, he wanted to know how long I would stay.
I told him perhaps two days, not more than three. In reply he said:
"Oh, dat's all right den," at the same time leading the way up a pair
of creaky stairs. I followed him and the porter to a room, the door of
which the proprietor opened while continuing, it seemed, his remark,
"Oh, dat's all right den," by adding: "You kin sleep in dat cot in de
corner der. Fifty cents, please." The porter interrupted by saying:
"You needn't collect from him now, he's got a trunk." This seemed to
satisfy the man, and he went down, leaving me and my porter friend in
the room. I glanced around the apartment and saw that it contained
a double bed and two cots, two wash-stands, three chairs, and a
time-worn bureau, with a looking-glass that would have made Adonis
appear hideous. I looked at the cot in which I was to sleep and
suspected, not without good reasons, that I should not be the first to
use the sheets and pillow-case since they had last come from the wash.
When I thought of the clean, tidy, comfortable surroundings in which
I had been reared, a wave of homesickness swept over me that made me
feel faint. Had it not been for the presence of my companion, and that
I knew this much of his history--that he was not yet quite twenty,
just three years older than myself, and that he had been fighting his
own way in the world, earning his own living and providing for his own
education since he was fourteen--I should not have been able to stop
the tears that were welling up in my eyes.

I asked him why it was that the proprietor of the house seemed
unwilling to accommodate me for more than a couple of days. He
informed me that the man ran a lodging house especially for Pullman
porters, and, as their stays in town were not longer than one or two
nights, it would interfere with his arrangements to have anyone
stay longer. He went on to say: "You see this room is fixed up to
accommodate four men at a time. Well, by keeping a sort of table of
trips, in and out, of the men, and working them like checkers, he can
accommodate fifteen or sixteen in each week and generally avoid having
an empty bed. You happen to catch a bed that would have been empty
for a couple of nights." I asked him where he was going to sleep. He
answered: "I sleep in that other cot tonight; tomorrow night I go
out." He went on to tell me that the man who kept the house did
not serve meals, and that if I was hungry, we would go out and get
something to eat.

We went into the street, and in passing the railroad station I hired
a wagon to take my trunk to my lodging place. We passed along until,
finally, we turned into a street that stretched away, up and down
hill, for a mile or two; and here I caught my first sight of colored
people in large numbers. I had seen little squads around the railroad
stations on my way south, but here I saw a street crowded with them.
They filled the shops and thronged the, sidewalks and lined the curb.
I asked my companion if all the colored people in Atlanta lived in
this street. He said they did not and assured me that the ones I saw
were of the lower class. I felt relieved, in spite of the size of the
lower class. The unkempt appearance, the shambling, slouching gait
and loud talk and laughter of these people aroused in me a feeling
of almost repulsion. Only one thing about them awoke a feeling of
interest; that was their dialect. I had read some Negro dialect and
had heard snatches of it on my journey down from Washington; but here
I heard it in all of its fullness and freedom. I was particularly
struck by the way in which it was punctuated by such exclamatory
phrases as "Lawd a mussy!" "G'wan, man!" "Bless ma soul!" "Look heah,
chile!" These people talked and laughed without restraint. In fact,
they talked straight from their lungs and laughed from the pits of
their stomachs. And this hearty laughter was often justified by the
droll humor of some remark. I paused long enough to hear one man say
to another: "Wat's de mattah wid you an' yo' fr'en' Sam?" and the
other came back like a flash: "Ma fr'en'? He ma fr'en'? Man! I'd go to
his funeral jes' de same as I'd go to a minstrel show." I have since
learned that this ability to laugh heartily is, in part, the salvation
of the American Negro; it does much to keep him from going the way of
the Indian.

The business places of the street along which we were passing
consisted chiefly of low bars, cheap dry-goods and notion stores,
barber shops, and fish and bread restaurants. We, at length, turned
down a pair of stairs that led to a basement and I found myself in an
eating-house somewhat better than those I had seen in passing; but
that did not mean much for its excellence. The place was smoky, the
tables were covered with oilcloth, the floor with sawdust, and from
the kitchen came a rancid odor of fish fried over several times, which
almost nauseated me. I asked my companion if this was the place where
we were to eat. He informed me that it was the best place in town
where a colored man could get a meal. I then wanted to know why
somebody didn't open a place where respectable colored people who had
money could be accommodated. He answered: "It wouldn't pay; all
the respectable colored people eat at home, and the few who travel
generally have friends in the towns to which they go, who entertain
them." He added: "Of course, you could go in any place in the city;
they wouldn't know you from white."

I sat down with the porter at one of the tables, but was not hungry
enough to eat with any relish what was put before me. The food was not
badly cooked; but the iron knives and forks needed to be scrubbed, the
plates and dishes and glasses needed to be washed and well dried. I
minced over what I took on my plate while my companion ate. When we
finished, we paid the waiter twenty cents each and went out. We walked
around until the lights of the city were lit. Then the porter said
that he must get to bed and have some rest, as he had not had six
hours' sleep since he left Jersey City. I went back to our lodging
house with him.

When I awoke in the morning, there were, besides my new-found friend,
two other men in the room, asleep in the double bed. I got up and
dressed myself very quietly, so as not to awake anyone. I then drew
from under the pillow my precious roll of greenbacks, took out
a ten-dollar bill, and, very softly unlocking my trunk, put the
remainder, about three hundred dollars, in the inside pocket of a coat
near the bottom, glad of the opportunity to put it unobserved in a
place of safety. When I had carefully locked my trunk, I tiptoed
toward the door with the intention of going out to look for a decent
restaurant where I might get something fit to eat. As I was easing the
door open, my porter friend said with a yawn: "Hello! You're going
out?" I answered him: "Yes." "Oh!" he yawned again, "I guess I've had
enough sleep; wait a minute, I'll go with you." For the instant his
friendship bored and embarrassed me. I had visions of another meal
in the greasy restaurant of the day before. He must have divined my
thoughts, for he went on to say: "I know a woman across town who
takes a few boarders; I think we can go over there and get a good
breakfast." With a feeling of mingled fears and doubts regarding what
the breakfast might be, I waited until he had dressed himself.

When I saw the neat appearance of the cottage we entered, my fears
vanished, and when I saw the woman who kept it, my doubts followed the
same course. Scrupulously clean, in a spotless white apron and colored
head-handkerchief, her round face beaming with motherly kindness, she
was picturesquely beautiful. She impressed me as one broad expanse of
happiness and good nature. In a few minutes she was addressing me as
"chile" and "honey." She made me feel as though I should like to lay
my head on her capacious bosom and go to sleep.

And the breakfast, simple as it was, I could not have had at any
restaurant in Atlanta at any price. There was fried chicken, as it is
fried only in the South, hominy boiled to the consistency where it
could be eaten with a fork, and biscuits so light and flaky that a
fellow with any appetite at all would have no difficulty in disposing
of eight or ten. When I had finished, I felt that I had experienced
the realization of, at least, one of my dreams of Southern life.

During the meal we found out from our hostess, who had two boys in
school, that Atlanta University opened on that very day. I had somehow
mixed my dates. My friend the porter suggested that I go out to the
University at once and offered to walk over and show me the way. We
had to walk because, although the University was not more than
twenty minutes' distance from the center of the city, there were no
street-cars running in that direction. My first sight of the School
grounds made me feel that I was not far from home; here the red hills
had been terraced and covered with green grass; clean gravel walks,
well shaded, led up to the buildings; indeed, it was a bit of New
England transplanted. At the gate my companion said he would bid me
good-by, because it was likely that he would not see me again before
his car went out. He told me that he would make two more trips to
Atlanta and that he would come out and see me; that after his second
trip he would leave the Pullman service for the winter and return
to school in Nashville. We shook hands, I thanked him for all his
kindness, and we said good-by.

I walked up to a group of students and made some inquiries. They
directed me to the president's office in the main building. The
president gave me a cordial welcome; it was more than cordial; he
talked to me, not as the official head of a college, but as though he
were adopting me into what was his large family, personally to look
after my general welfare as well as my education. He seemed especially
pleased with the fact that I had come to them all the way from the
North. He told me that I could have come to the school as soon as I
had reached the city and that I had better move my trunk out at once.
I gladly promised him that I would do so. He then called a boy
and directed him to take me to the matron, and to show me around
afterwards. I found the matron even more motherly than the president
was fatherly. She had me register, which was in effect to sign a
pledge to abstain from the use of intoxicating beverages, tobacco, and
profane language while I was a student in the school. This act caused
me no sacrifice, as, up to that time, I was free from all three
habits. The boy who was with me then showed me about the grounds. I
was especially interested in the industrial building.

The sounding of a bell, he told me, was the signal for the students to
gather in the general assembly hall, and he asked me if I would go. Of
course I would. There were between three and four hundred students
and perhaps all of the teachers gathered in the room. I noticed
that several of the latter were colored. The president gave a talk
addressed principally to newcomers; but I scarcely heard what he said,
I was so much occupied in looking at those around me. They were of all
types and colors, the more intelligent types predominating. The colors
ranged from jet black to pure white, with light hair and eyes. Among
the girls especially there were many so fair that it was difficult to
believe that they had Negro blood in them. And, too, I could not help
noticing that many of the girls, particularly those of the delicate
brown shades, with black eyes and wavy dark hair, were decidedly
pretty. Among the boys many of the blackest were fine specimens of
young manhood, tall, straight, and muscular, with magnificent heads;
these were the kind of boys who developed into the patriarchal
"uncles" of the old slave regime.

When I left the University, it was with the determination to get my
trunk and move out to the school before night. I walked back across
the city with a light step and a light heart. I felt perfectly
satisfied with life for the first time since my mother's death. In
passing the railroad station I hired a wagon and rode with the driver
as far as my stopping-place. I settled with my landlord and went
upstairs to put away several articles I had left out. As soon as
I opened my trunk, a dart of suspicion shot through my heart; the
arrangement of things did not look familiar. I began to dig down
excitedly to the bottom till I reached the coat in which I had
concealed my treasure. My money was gone! Every single bill of it. I
knew it was useless to do so, but I searched through every other coat,
every pair of trousers, every vest, and even each pair of socks. When
I had finished my fruitless search, I sat down dazed and heartsick. I
called the landlord up and informed him of my loss; he comforted me by
saying that I ought to have better sense than to keep money in a trunk
and that he was not responsible for his lodgers' personal effects. His
cooling words brought me enough to my senses to cause me to look and
see if anything else was missing. Several small articles were gone,
among them a black and gray necktie of odd design upon which my heart
was set; almost as much as the loss of my money I felt the loss of my
tie.

After thinking for a while as best I could, I wisely decided to go at
once back to the University and lay my troubles before the president.
I rushed breathlessly back to the school. As I neared the grounds, the
thought came across me, would not my story sound fishy? Would it not
place me in the position of an impostor or beggar? What right had I to
worry these busy people with the results of my carelessness? If the
money could not be recovered, and I doubted that it could, what good
would it do to tell them about it? The shame and embarrassment which
the whole situation gave me caused me to stop at the gate. I paused,
undecided, for a moment; then, turned and slowly retraced my steps,
and so changed the whole course of my life.

If the reader has never been in a strange city without money or
friends, it is useless to try to describe what my feelings were; he
could not understand. If he has been, it is equally useless, for he
understands more than words could convey. When I reached my lodgings,
I found in the room one of the porters who had slept there the night
before. When he heard what misfortune had befallen me, he offered many
words of sympathy and advice. He asked me how much money I had left. I
told him that I had ten or twelve dollars in my pocket. He said: "That
won't last you very long here, and you will hardly be able to find
anything to do in Atlanta. I'll tell you what you do, go down to
Jacksonville and you won't have any trouble to get a job in one of the
big hotels there, or in St. Augustine." I thanked him, but intimated
my doubts of being able to get to Jacksonville on the money I had. He
reassured me by saying: "Oh, that's all right. You express your trunk
on through, and I'll take you down in my closet." I thanked him again,
not knowing then what it was to travel in a Pullman porter's closet.
He put me under a deeper debt of gratitude by lending me fifteen
dollars, which he said I could pay back after I had secured work. His
generosity brought tears to my eyes, and I concluded that, after all,
there were some kind hearts in the world.

I now forgot my troubles in the hurry and excitement of getting my
trunk off in time to catch the train, which went out at seven o'clock.
I even forgot that I hadn't eaten anything since morning. We got a
wagon--the porter went with me--and took my trunk to the express
office. My new friend then told me to come to the station at about a
quarter of seven and walk straight to the car where I should see him
standing, and not to lose my nerve. I found my role not so difficult
to play as I thought it would be, because the train did not leave from
the central station, but from a smaller one, where there were no gates
and guards to pass. I followed directions, and the porter took me on
his car and locked me in his closet. In a few minutes the train pulled
out for Jacksonville.

I may live to be a hundred years old, but I shall never forget the
agonies I suffered that night. I spent twelve hours doubled up in the
porter's basket for soiled linen, not being able to straighten up on
account of the shelves for clean linen just over my head. The air was
hot and suffocating and the smell of damp towels and used linen was
sickening. At each lurch of the car over the none-too-smooth track
I was bumped and bruised against the narrow walls of my narrow
compartment. I became acutely conscious of the fact that I had not
eaten for hours. Then nausea took possession of me, and at one time
I had grave doubts about reaching my destination alive. If I had the
trip to make again, I should prefer to walk.




V


The next morning I got out of the car at Jacksonville with a stiff
and aching body. I determined to ask no more porters, not even my
benefactor, about stopping-places; so I found myself on the street not
knowing where to go. I walked along listlessly until I met a colored
man who had the appearance of a preacher. I asked him if he could
direct me to a respectable boarding-house for colored people. He said
that if I walked along with him in the direction he was going, he
would show me such a place: I turned and walked at his side. He proved
to be a minister, and asked me a great many direct questions about
myself. I answered as many as I saw fit to answer; the others I evaded
or ignored. At length we stopped in front of a frame house, and my
guide informed me that it was the place. A woman was standing in the
doorway, and he called to her saying that he had brought her a new
boarder. I thanked him for his trouble, and after he had urged upon,
me to attend his church while I was in the city, he went on his way.

I went in and found the house neat and not uncomfortable. The parlor
was furnished with cane-bottomed chairs, each of which was adorned
with a white crocheted tidy. The mantel over the fireplace had a
white crocheted cover; a marble-topped center table held a lamp, a
photograph album and several trinkets, each of which was set upon a
white crocheted mat. There was a cottage organ in a corner of the
room, and I noted that the lamp-racks upon it were covered with
white crocheted mats. There was a matting on the floor, but a
white crocheted carpet would not have been out of keeping. I made
arrangements with the landlady for my board and lodging; the amount
was, I think, three dollars and a half a week. She was a rather
fine-looking, stout, brown-skin woman of about forty years of age. Her
husband was a light-colored Cuban, a man about one half her size, and
one whose age could not be guessed from his appearance. He was small
in size, but a handsome black mustache and typical Spanish eyes
redeemed him from insignificance.

I was in time for breakfast, and at the table I had the opportunity
to see my fellow boarders. There were eight or ten of them. Two, as
I afterwards learned, were colored Americans. All of them were cigar
makers and worked in one of the large factories--cigar making is one
trade in which the color line is not drawn. The conversation was
carried on entirely in Spanish, and my ignorance of the language
subjected me more to alarm than embarrassment. I had never heard such
uproarious conversation; everybody talked at once, loud exclamations,
rolling "_carambas_," menacing gesticulations with knives, forks, and
spoons. I looked every moment for the clash of blows. One man was
emphasizing his remarks by flourishing a cup in his hand, seemingly
forgetful of the fact that it was nearly full of hot coffee. He ended
by emptying it over what was, relatively, the only quiet man at the
table excepting myself, bringing from him a volley of language which
made the others appear dumb by comparison. I soon learned that in all
of this clatter of voices and table utensils they were discussing
purely ordinary affairs and arguing about mere trifles, and that not
the least ill feeling was aroused. It was not long before I enjoyed
the spirited chatter and _badinage_ at the table as much as I did my
meals--and the meals were not bad.

I spent the afternoon in looking around the town. The streets were
sandy, but were well-shaded by fine oak trees and far preferable to
the clay roads of Atlanta. One or two public squares with green grass
and trees gave the city a touch of freshness. That night after supper
I spoke to my landlady and her husband about my intentions. They told
me that the big winter hotels would not open within two months. It can
easily be imagined what effect this news had on me. I spoke to them
frankly about my financial condition and related the main fact of my
misfortune in Atlanta. I modestly mentioned my ability to teach music
and asked if there was any likelihood of my being able to get some
scholars. My landlady suggested that I speak to the preacher who had
shown me her house; she felt sure that through his influence I should
be able to get up a class in piano. She added, however, that the
colored people were poor, and that the general price for music lessons
was only twenty-five cents. I noticed that the thought of my teaching
white pupils did not even remotely enter her mind. None of this
information made my prospects look much brighter.

The husband, who up to this time had allowed the woman to do most of
the talking, gave me the first bit of tangible hope; he said that he
could get me a job as a "stripper" in the factory where he worked,
and that if I succeeded in getting some music pupils, I could teach
a couple of them every night, and so make a living until something
better turned up. He went on to say that it would not be a bad thing
for me to stay at the factory and learn my trade as a cigar maker, and
impressed on me that, for a young man knocking about the country, a
trade was a handy thing to have. I determined to accept his offer and
thanked him heartily. In fact, I became enthusiastic, not only because
I saw a way out of my financial troubles, but also because I was eager
and curious over the new experience I was about to enter. I wanted
to know all about the cigar making business. This narrowed the
conversation down to the husband and myself, so the wife went in and
left us talking.

He was what is called a _regalia_ workman, and earned from thirty-five
to forty dollars a week. He generally worked a sixty-dollar job; that
is, he made cigars for which he was paid at the rate of sixty dollars
per thousand. It was impossible for him to make a thousand in a week
because he had to work very carefully and slowly. Each cigar was made
entirely by hand. Each piece of filler and each wrapper had to be
selected with care. He was able to make a bundle of one hundred cigars
in a day, not one of which could be told from the others by any
difference in size or shape, or even by any appreciable difference in
weight. This was the acme of artistic skill in cigar making. Workmen
of this class were rare, never more than three or four in one factory,
and it was never necessary for them to remain out of work. There were
men who made two, three, and four hundred cigars of the cheaper grades
in a day; they had to be very fast in order to make a decent week's
wages. Cigar making was a rather independent trade; the men went to
work when they pleased and knocked off when they felt like doing so.
As a class the workmen were careless and improvident; some very rapid
makers would not work more than three or four days out of the week,
and there were others who never showed up at the factory on Mondays.
"Strippers" were the boys who pulled the long stems from the tobacco
leaves. After they had served at that work for a certain time they
were given tables as apprentices.

All of this was interesting to me; and we drifted along in
conversation until my companion struck the subject nearest his heart,
the independence of Cuba. He was an exile from the island, and a
prominent member of the Jacksonville Junta. Every week sums of money
were collected from juntas all over the country. This money went to
buy arms and ammunition for the insurgents. As the man sat there
nervously smoking his long, "green" cigar, and telling me of the
Gomezes, both the white one and the black one, of Maceo and Bandera,
he grew positively eloquent. He also showed that he was a man of
considerable education and reading. He spoke English excellently, and
frequently surprised me by using words one would hardly expect from
a foreigner. The first one of this class of words he employed almost
shocked me, and I never forgot it; 'twas "ramify." We sat on the
piazza until after ten o'clock. When we arose to go in to bed, it was
with the understanding that I should start in the factory on the next
day.

I began work the next morning seated at a barrel with another boy, who
showed me how to strip the stems from the leaves, to smooth out each
half leaf, and to put the "rights" together in one pile, and the
"lefts" together in another pile on the edge of the barrel. My
fingers, strong and sensitive from their long training, were well
adapted to this kind of work, and within two weeks I was accounted
the fastest "stripper" in the factory. At first the heavy odor of the
tobacco almost sickened me, but when I became accustomed to it, I
liked the smell. I was now earning four dollars a week, and was soon
able to pick up a couple more by teaching a few scholars at night,
whom I had secured through the good offices of the preacher I had met
on my first morning in Jacksonville.

At the end of about three months, through my skill as a "stripper" and
the influence of my landlord, I was advanced to a table and began to
learn my trade; in fact, more than my trade; for I learned not only
to make cigars, but also to smoke, to swear, and to speak Spanish. I
discovered that I had a talent for languages as well as for music.
The rapidity and ease with which I acquired Spanish astonished my
associates. In a short time I was able not only to understand most
of what was said at the table during meals, but to join in the
conversation. I bought a method for learning the Spanish language, and
with the aid of my landlord as a teacher, by constant practice with
my fellow workmen, and by regularly reading the Cuban newspapers and
finally some books of standard Spanish literature which were at the
house, I was able in less than a year to speak like a native. In fact,
it was my pride that I spoke better Spanish than many of the Cuban
workmen at the factory.

After I had been in the factory a little over a year, I was repaid for
all the effort I had put forth to learn Spanish by being selected as
"reader." The "reader" is quite an institution in all cigar factories
which employ Spanish-speaking workmen. He sits in the center of the
large room in which the cigar makers work and reads to them for a
certain number of hours each day all the important news from the
papers and whatever else he may consider would be interesting. He
often selects an exciting novel and reads it in daily installments. He
must, of course, have a good voice, but he must also have a reputation
among the men for intelligence, for being well-posted and having in
his head a stock of varied information. He is generally the final
authority on all arguments which arise, and in a cigar factory these
arguments are many and frequent, ranging from the respective and
relative merits of rival baseball clubs to the duration of the sun's
light and energy--cigar making is a trade in which talk does not
interfere with work. My position as "reader" not only released me from
the rather monotonous work of rolling cigars, and gave me something
more in accord with my tastes, but also added considerably to my
income. I was now earning about twenty-five dollars a week, and was
able to give up my peripatetic method of giving music lessons. I hired
a piano and taught only those who could arrange to take their lessons
where I lived. I finally gave up teaching entirely, as what I made
scarcely paid for my time and trouble. I kept the piano, however, in
order to keep up my own studies, and occasionally I played at some
church concert or other charitable entertainment.

Through my music teaching and my not absolutely irregular attendance
at church, I became acquainted with the best class of colored people
in Jacksonville. This was really my entrance into the race. It was my
initiation into what I have termed the freemasonry of the race. I had
formulated a theory of what it was to be colored; now I was getting
the practice. The novelty of my position caused me to observe and
consider things which, I think, entirely escaped the young men I
associated with; or, at least, were so commonplace to them as not to
attract their attention. And of many of the impressions which came
to me then I have realized the full import only within the past few
years, since I have had a broader knowledge of men and history, and
a fuller comprehension of the tremendous struggle which is going on
between the races in the South.

It is a struggle; for though the black man fights passively, he
nevertheless fights; and his passive resistance is more effective at
present than active resistance could possibly be. He bears the fury of
the storm as does the willow tree.

It is a struggle; for though the white man of the South may be too
proud to admit it, he is, nevertheless, using in the contest his best
energies; he is devoting to it the greater part of his thought and
much of his endeavor. The South today stands panting and almost
breathless from its exertions.

And how the scene of the struggle has shifted! The battle was first
waged over the right of the Negro to be classed as a human being with
a soul; later, as to whether he had sufficient intellect to master
even the rudiments of learning; and today it is being fought out over
his social recognition.

I said somewhere in the early part of this narrative that because the
colored man looked at everything through the prism of his relationship
to society as a _colored_ man, and because most of his mental efforts
ran through the narrow channel bounded by his rights and his wrongs,
it was to be wondered at that he has progressed so broadly as he has.
The same thing may be said of the white man of the South; most of his
mental efforts run through one narrow channel; his life as a man and
a citizen, many of his financial activities, and all of his political
activities are impassably limited by the ever present "Negro
question." I am sure it would be safe to wager that no group of
Southern white men could get together and talk for sixty minutes
without bringing up the "race question." If a Northern white man
happened to be in the group, the time could be safely cut to thirty
minutes. In this respect I consider the conditions of the whites more
to be deplored than that of the blacks. Here, a truly great people, a
people that produced a majority of the great historic Americans from
Washington to Lincoln, now forced to use up its energies in a conflict
as lamentable as it is violent.

I shall give the observations I made in Jacksonville as seen through
the light of after years; and they apply generally to every Southern
community. The colored people may be said to be roughly divided into
three classes, not so much in respect to themselves as in respect to
their relations with the whites. There are those constituting what
might be called the desperate class--the men who work in the lumber
and turpentine camps, the ex-convicts, the bar-room loafers are all in
this class. These men conform to the requirements of civilization much
as a trained lion with low muttered growls goes through his stunts
under the crack of the trainer's whip. They cherish a sullen hatred
for all white men, and they value life as cheap. I have heard more
than one of them say: "I'll go to hell for the first white man that
bothers me." Many who have expressed that sentiment have kept their
word, and it is that fact which gives such prominence to this class;
for in numbers it is only a small proportion of the colored people,
but it often dominates public opinion concerning the whole race.
Happily, this class represents the black people of the South far below
their normal physical and moral condition, but in its increase lies
the possibility of grave dangers. I am sure there is no more urgent
work before the white South, not only for its present happiness, but
for its future safety, than the decreasing of this class of blacks.
And it is not at all a hopeless class; for these men are but the
creatures of conditions, as much so as the slum and criminal elements
of all the great cities of the world are creatures of conditions.
Decreasing their number by shooting and burning them off will not be
successful; for these men are truly desperate, and thoughts of death,
however terrible, have little effect in deterring them from acts the
result of hatred or degeneracy. This class of blacks hate everything
covered by a white skin, and in return they are loathed by the whites.
The whites regard them just about as a man would a vicious mule, a
thing to be worked, driven, and beaten, and killed for kicking.

The second class, as regards the relation between blacks and whites,
comprises the servants, the washerwomen, the waiters, the cooks,
the coachmen, and all who are connected with the whites by domestic
service. These may be generally characterized as simple, kind-hearted,
and faithful; not over-fine in their moral deductions, but intensely
religious, and relatively--such matters can be judged only
relatively--about as honest and wholesome in their lives as any other
grade of society. Any white person is "good" who treats them kindly,
and they love him for that kindness. In return, the white people with
whom they have to do regard them with indulgent affection. They come
into close daily contact with the whites, and may be called the
connecting link between whites and blacks; in fact, it is through them
that the whites know the rest of their colored neighbors. Between this
class of the blacks and the whites there is little or no friction.

The third class is composed of the independent workmen and tradesmen,
and of the well-to-do and educated colored people; and, strange to
say, for a directly opposite reason they are as far removed from the
whites as the members of the first class I mentioned. These people
live in a little world of their own; in fact, I concluded that if a
colored man wanted to separate himself from his white neighbors, he
had but to acquire some money, education, and culture, and to live in
accordance. For example, the proudest and fairest lady in the South
could with propriety--and it is what she would most likely do--go to
the cabin of Aunt Mary, her cook, if Aunt Mary was sick, and minister
to her comfort with her own hands; but if Mary's daughter, Eliza, a
girl who used to run round my lady's kitchen, but who has received an
education and married a prosperous young colored man, were at death's
door, my lady would no more think of crossing the threshold of Eliza's
cottage than she would of going into a bar-room for a drink.

I was walking down the street one day with a young man who was born in
Jacksonville, but had been away to prepare himself for a professional
life. We passed a young white man, and my companion said to me: "You
see that young man? We grew up together; we have played, hunted, and
fished together; we have even eaten and slept together; and now since
I have come back home, he barely speaks to me." The fact that the
whites of the South despise and ill-treat the desperate class of
blacks is not only explainable according to the ancient laws of human
nature, but it is not nearly so serious or important as the fact that
as the progressive colored people advance, they constantly widen the
gulf between themselves and their white neighbors. I think that the
white people somehow feel that colored people who have education and
money, who wear good clothes and live in comfortable houses, are
"putting on airs," that they do these things for the sole purpose of
"spiting the white folks," or are, at best, going through a sort
of monkey-like imitation. Of course, such feelings can only cause
irritation or breed disgust. It seems that the whites have not yet
been able to realize and understand that these people in striving to
better their physical and social surroundings in accordance with their
financial and intellectual progress are simply obeying an impulse
which is common to human nature the world over. I am in grave doubt as
to whether the greater part of the friction in the South is caused by
the whites' having a natural antipathy to Negroes as a race, or an
acquired antipathy to Negroes in certain relations to themselves.
However that may be, there is to my mind no more pathetic side of this
many-sided question than the isolated position into which are forced
the very colored people who most need and who could best appreciate
sympathetic cooperation; and their position grows tragic when the
effort is made to couple them, whether or no, with the Negroes of the
first class I mentioned.

This latter class of colored people are well-disposed towards the
whites, and always willing to meet them more than halfway. They,
however, feel keenly any injustice or gross discrimination, and
generally show their resentment. The effort is sometimes made to
convey the impression that the better class of colored people fight
against riding in "Jim Crow" cars because they want to ride with white
people or object to being with humbler members of their own race. The
truth is they object to the humiliation of being forced to ride in
a _particular_ car, aside from the fact that that car is distinctly
inferior, and that they are required to pay full first-class fare. To
say that the whites are forced to ride in the superior car is less
than a joke. And, too, odd as it may sound, refined colored people get
no more pleasure out of riding with offensive Negroes than anybody
else would get.

I can realize more fully than I could years ago that the position of
the advanced element of the colored race is often very trying. They
are the ones among the blacks who carry the entire weight of the race
question; it worries the others very little, and I believe the only
thing which at times sustains them is that they know that they are in
the right. On the other hand, this class of colored people get a good
deal of pleasure out of life; their existence is far from being one
long groan about their condition. Out of a chaos of ignorance and
poverty they have evolved a social life of which they need not be
ashamed. In cities where the professional and well-to-do class is
large they have formed society--society as discriminating as the
actual conditions will allow it to be; I should say, perhaps, society
possessing discriminating tendencies which become rules as fast
as actual conditions allow. This statement will, I know, sound
preposterous, even ridiculous, to some persons; but as this class of
colored people is the least known of the race it is not surprising.
These social circles are connected throughout the country, and a
person in good standing in one city is readily accepted in another.
One who is on the outside will often find it a difficult matter to
get in. I know personally of one case in which money to the extent of
thirty or forty thousand dollars and a fine house, not backed up by
a good reputation, after several years of repeated effort, failed
to gain entry for the possessor. These people have their dances
and dinners and card parties, their musicals, and their literary
societies. The women attend social affairs dressed in good taste, and
the men in dress suits which they own; and the reader will make a
mistake to confound these entertainments with the "Bellman's Balls"
and "Whitewashers' Picnics" and "Lime-kiln Clubs" with which the
humorous press of the country illustrates "Cullud Sassiety."

Jacksonville, when I was there, was a small town, and the number of
educated and well-to-do colored people was small; so this society
phase of life did not equal what I have since seen in Boston,
Washington, Richmond, and Nashville; and it is upon what I have more
recently seen in these cities that I have made the observations just
above. However, there were many comfortable and pleasant homes in
Jacksonville to which I was often invited. I belonged to the literary
society--at which we generally discussed the race question--and
attended all of the church festivals and other charitable
entertainments. In this way I passed three years which were not at all
the least enjoyable of my life. In fact, my joy took such an exuberant
turn that I fell in love with a young school teacher and began to have
dreams of matrimonial bliss; but another turn in the course of my life
brought these dreams to an end.

I do not wish to mislead my readers into thinking that I led a life
in Jacksonville which would make copy for the hero of a Sunday-school
library book. I was a hail fellow well met with all of the workmen
at the factory, most of whom knew little and cared less about social
distinctions. From their example I learned to be careless about money,
and for that reason I constantly postponed and finally abandoned
returning to Atlanta University. It seemed impossible for me to save
as much as two hundred dollars. Several of the men at the factory were
my intimate friends, and I frequently joined them in their pleasures.
During the summer months we went almost every Monday on an excursion
to a seaside resort called Pablo Beach. These excursions were always
crowded. There was a dancing pavilion, a great deal of drinking, and
generally a fight or two to add to the excitement. I also contracted
the cigar maker's habit of riding around in a hack on Sunday
afternoons. I sometimes went with my cigar maker friends to public
balls that were given at a large hall on one of the main streets. I
learned to take a drink occasionally and paid for quite a number that
my friends took; but strong liquors never appealed to my appetite. I
drank them only when the company I was in required it, and suffered
for it afterwards. On the whole, though I was a bit wild, I can't
remember that I ever did anything disgraceful, or, as the usual
standard for young men goes, anything to forfeit my claim to
respectability.

At one of the first public balls I attended I saw the Pullman car
porter who had so kindly assisted me in getting to Jacksonville. I
went immediately to one of my factory friends and borrowed fifteen
dollars with which to repay the loan my benefactor had made me. After
I had given him the money, and was thanking him, I noticed that he
wore what was, at least, an exact duplicate of my lamented black and
gray tie. It was somewhat worn, but distinct enough for me to trace
the same odd design which had first attracted my eye. This was enough
to arouse my strongest suspicions, but whether it was sufficient for
the law to take cognizance of I did not consider. My astonishment and
the ironical humor of the situation drove everything else out of my
mind.

These balls were attended by a great variety of people. They were
generally given by the waiters of some one of the big hotels, and were
often patronized by a number of hotel guests who came to "see the
sights." The crowd was always noisy, but good-natured; there was much
quadrille-dancing, and a strong-lunged man called figures in a voice
which did not confine itself to the limits of the hall. It is not
worth the while for me to describe in detail how these people acted;
they conducted themselves in about the same manner as I have seen
other people at similar balls conduct themselves. When one has seen
something of the world and human nature, one must conclude, after all,
that between people in like stations of life there is very little
difference the world over.

However, it was at one of these balls that I first saw the cake-walk.
There was a contest for a gold watch, to be awarded to the hotel
head-waiter receiving the greatest number of votes. There was some
dancing while the votes were being counted. Then the floor was cleared
for the cake-walk. A half-dozen guests from some of the hotels took
seats on the stage to act as judges, and twelve or fourteen couples
began to walk for a sure enough, highly decorated cake, which was in
plain evidence. The spectators crowded about the space reserved for
the contestants and watched them with interest and excitement. The
couples did not walk round in a circle, but in a square, with the men
on the inside. The fine points to be considered were the bearing of
the men, the precision with which they turned the corners, the grace
of the women, and the ease with which they swung around the pivots.
The men walked with stately and soldierly step, and the women with
considerable grace. The judges arrived at their decision by a process
of elimination. The music and the walk continued for some minutes;
then both were stopped while the judges conferred; when the walk began
again, several couples were left out. In this way the contest was
finally narrowed down to three or four couples. Then the excitement
became intense; there was much partisan cheering as one couple or
another would execute a turn in extra elegant style. When the cake
was finally awarded, the spectators were about evenly divided between
those who cheered the winners and those who muttered about the
unfairness of the judges. This was the cake-walk in its original
form, and it is what the colored performers on the theatrical stage
developed into the prancing movements now known all over the world,
and which some Parisian critics pronounced the acme of poetic motion.

There are a great many colored people who are ashamed of the
cake-walk, but I think they ought to be proud of it. It is my opinion
that the colored people of this country have done four things which
refute the oft-advanced theory that they are an absolutely inferior
race, which demonstrate that they have originality and artistic
conception, and, what is more, the power of creating that which can
influence and appeal universally. The first two of these are the Uncle
Remus stories, collected by Joel Chandler Harris, and the Jubilee
songs, to which the Fisk singers made the public and the skilled
musicians of both America and Europe listen. The other two are ragtime
music and the cake-walk. No one who has traveled can question the
world-conquering influence of ragtime, and I do not think it would be
an exaggeration to say that in Europe the United States is popularly
known better by ragtime than by anything else it has produced in a
generation. In Paris they call it American music. The newspapers have
already told how the practice of intricate cake-walk steps has taken
up the time of European royalty and nobility. These are lower forms of
art, but they give evidence of a power that will some day be applied
to the higher forms. In this measure, at least, and aside from the
number of prominent individuals the colored people of the United
States have produced, the race has been a world influence; and all of
the Indians between Alaska and Patagonia haven't done as much.

Just when I was beginning to look upon Jacksonville as my permanent
home and was beginning to plan about marrying the young school
teacher, raising a family, and working in a cigar factory the rest of
my life, for some reason, which I do not now remember, the factory at
which I worked was indefinitely shut down. Some of the men got work
in other factories in town; some decided to go to Key West and Tampa,
others made up their minds to go to New York for work. All at once a
desire like a fever seized me to see the North again and I cast my lot
with those bound for New York.




VI


We steamed up into New York Harbor late one afternoon in spring. The
last efforts of the sun were being put forth in turning the waters of
the bay to glistening gold; the green islands on either side, in spite
of their warlike mountings, looked calm and peaceful; the buildings of
the town shone out in a reflected light which gave the city an air of
enchantment; and, truly, it is an enchanted spot. New York City is the
most fatally fascinating thing in America. She sits like a great witch
at the gate of the country, showing her alluring white face and
hiding her crooked hands and feet under the folds of her wide
garments--constantly enticing thousands from far within, and tempting
those who come from across the seas to go no farther. And all these
become the victims of her caprice. Some she at once crushes beneath
her cruel feet; others she condemns to a fate like that of galley
slaves; a few she favors and fondles, riding them high on the bubbles
of fortune; then with a sudden breath she blows the bubbles out and
laughs mockingly as she watches them fall.

Twice I had passed through it, but this was really my first visit to
New York; and as I walked about that evening, I began to feel the
dread power of the city; the crowds, the lights, the excitement, the
gaiety, and all its subtler stimulating influences began to take
effect upon me. My blood ran quicker and I felt that I was just
beginning to live. To some natures this stimulant of life in a great
city becomes a thing as binding and necessary as opium is to one
addicted to the habit. It becomes their breath of life; they cannot
exist outside of it; rather than be deprived of it they are content to
suffer hunger, want, pain, and misery; they would not exchange even a
ragged and wretched condition among the great crowd for any degree of
comfort away from it.

As soon as we landed, four of us went directly to a lodging house in
Twenty-seventh Street, just west of Sixth Avenue. The house was run
by a short, stout mulatto man, who was exceedingly talkative and
inquisitive. In fifteen minutes he not only knew the history of
the past life of each one of us, but had a clearer idea of what
we intended to do in the future than we ourselves. He sought this
information so much with an air of being very particular as to whom he
admitted into his house that we tremblingly answered every question
that he asked. When we had become located, we went out and got supper,
then walked around until about ten o'clock. At that hour we met a
couple of young fellows who lived in New York and were known to one of
the members of our party. It was suggested we go to a certain place
which was known by the proprietor's name. We turned into one of the
cross streets and mounted the stoop of a house in about the middle of
a block between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. One of the young men whom
we had met rang a bell, and a man on the inside cracked the door a
couple of inches; then opened it and let us in. We found ourselves in
the hallway of what had once been a residence. The front parlor had
been converted into a bar, and a half-dozen or so well-dressed men
were in the room. We went in and after a general introduction had
several rounds of beer. In the back parlor a crowd was sitting and
standing around the walls of the room watching an exciting and noisy
game of pool. I walked back and joined this crowd to watch the game,
and principally to get away from the drinking party. The game was
really interesting, the players being quite expert, and the excitement
was heightened by the bets which were being made on the result. At
times the antics and remarks of both players and spectators were
amusing. When, at a critical point, a player missed a shot, he was
deluged, by those financially interested in his making it, with a
flood of epithets synonymous with "chump"; While from the others
he would be jeered by such remarks as "Nigger, dat cue ain't no
hoe-handle." I noticed that among this class of colored men the word
"nigger" was freely used in about the same sense as the word "fellow,"
and sometimes as a term of almost endearment; but I soon learned that
its use was positively and absolutely prohibited to white men.

I stood watching this pool game until I was called by my friends, who
were still in the bar-room, to go upstairs. On the second floor there
were two large rooms. From the hall I looked into the one on the
front. There was a large, round table in the center, at which five
or six men were seated playing poker. The air and conduct here were
greatly in contrast to what I had just seen in the pool-room; these
men were evidently the aristocrats of the place; they were well,
perhaps a bit flashily, dressed and spoke in low modulated voices,
frequently using the word "gentlemen"; in fact, they seemed to be
practicing a sort of Chesterfieldian politeness towards each other. I
was watching these men with a great deal of interest and some degree
of admiration when I was again called by the members of our party, and
I followed them on to the back room. There was a door-keeper at this
room, and we were admitted only after inspection. When we got inside,
I saw a crowd of men of all ages and kinds grouped about an old
billiard table, regarding some of whom, in supposing them to be white,
I made no mistake. At first I did not know what these men were doing;
they were using terms that were strange to me. I could hear only a
confusion of voices exclaiming: "Shoot the two!" "Shoot the four!"
"Fate me! Fate me!" "I've got you fated!" "Twenty-five cents he don't
turn!" This was the ancient and terribly fascinating game of
dice, popularly known as "craps." I myself had played pool in
Jacksonville--it is a favorite game among cigar makers--and I had seen
others play cards; but here was something new. I edged my way in to
the table and stood between one of my new-found New York friends and a
tall, slender, black fellow, who was making side bets while the dice
were at the other end of the table. My companion explained to me the
principles of the game; and they are so simple that they hardly need
to be explained twice. The dice came around the table until they
reached the man on the other side of the tall, black fellow. He lost,
and the latter said: "Gimme the bones." He threw a dollar on the table
and said: "Shoot the dollar." His style of play was so strenuous that
he had to be allowed plenty of room. He shook the dice high above his
head, and each time he threw them on the table, he emitted a grunt
such as men give when they are putting forth physical exertion with a
rhythmic regularity. He frequently whirled completely around on his
heels, throwing the dice the entire length of the table, and talking
to them as though they were trained animals. He appealed to them in
short singsong phrases. "Come, dice," he would say. "Little Phoebe,"
"Little Joe," "'Way down yonder in the cornfield." Whether these
mystic incantations were efficacious or not I could not say, but, at
any rate, his luck was great, and he had what gamblers term "nerve."
"Shoot the dollar!" "Shoot the two!" "Shoot the four!" "Shoot the
eight!" came from his lips as quickly as the dice turned to his
advantage. My companion asked me if I had ever played. I told him no.
He said that I ought to try my luck: that everybody won at first. The
tall man at my side was waving his arms in the air, exclaiming: "Shoot
the sixteen!" "Shoot the sixteen!" "Fate me!" Whether it was my
companion's suggestion or some latent dare-devil strain in my blood
which suddenly sprang into activity I do not know; but with a thrill
of excitement which went through my whole body I threw a twenty-dollar
bill on the table and said in a trembling voice: "I fate you."

I could feel that I had gained the attention and respect of everybody
in the room, every eye was fixed on me, and the widespread question,
"Who is he?" went around. This was gratifying to a certain sense of
vanity of which I have never been able to rid myself, and I felt that
it was worth the money even if I lost. The tall man, with a whirl on
his heels and a double grunt, threw the dice; four was the number
which turned up. This is considered as a hard "point" to make. He
redoubled his contortions and his grunts and his pleadings to the
dice; but on his third or fourth throw the fateful seven turned up,
and I had won. My companion and all my friends shouted to me to follow
up my luck. The fever was on me. I seized the dice. My hands were so
hot that the bits of bone felt like pieces of ice. I shouted as loudly
as I could: "Shoot it all!" but the blood was tingling so about my
ears that I could not hear my own voice. I was soon "fated." I threw
the dice--sevens--I had won. "Shoot it all!" I cried again. There was
a pause; the stake was more than one man cared to or could cover. I
was finally "fated" by several men taking each a part of it. I then
threw the dice again. Seven. I had won. "Shoot it all!" I shouted
excitedly. After a short delay I was "fated." Again I rolled the dice.
Eleven. Again I won. My friends now surrounded me and, much against
my inclination, forced me to take down all of the money except five
dollars. I tried my luck once more, and threw some small "point" which
failed to make, and the dice passed on to the next man.

In less than three minutes I had won more than two hundred dollars, a
sum which afterwards cost me dearly. I was the hero of the moment and
was soon surrounded by a group of men who expressed admiration for my
"nerve" and predicted for me a brilliant future as a gambler. Although
at the time I had no thought of becoming a gambler, I felt proud of my
success. I felt a bit ashamed, too, that I had allowed my friends to
persuade me to take down my money so soon. Another set of men also got
around me and begged me for twenty-five or fifty cents to put them
back into the game. I gave each of them something. I saw that several
of them had on linen dusters, and as I looked about, I noticed that
there were perhaps a dozen men in the room similarly clad. I asked the
fellow who had been my prompter at the dice table why they dressed
in such a manner. He told me that men who had lost all the money and
jewelry they possessed, frequently, in an effort to recoup their
losses, would gamble away all their outer clothing and even their
shoes; and that the proprietor kept on hand a supply of linen dusters
for all who were so unfortunate. My informant went on to say that
sometimes a fellow would become almost completely dressed and then,
by a turn of the dice, would be thrown back into a state of
semi-nakedness. Some of them were virtually prisoners and unable
to get into the streets for days at a time. They ate at the lunch
counter, where their credit was good so long as they were fair
gamblers and did not attempt to jump their debts, and they slept
around in chairs. They importuned friends and winners to put them back
in the game, and kept at it until fortune again smiled on them. I
laughed heartily at this, not thinking the day was coming which would
find me in the same ludicrous predicament.

On passing downstairs I was told that the third and top floor of the
house was occupied by the proprietor. When we passed through the bar,
I treated everybody in the room--and that was no small number, for
eight or ten had followed us down. Then our party went out. It was now
about half past twelve, but my nerves were at such a tension that I
could not endure the mere thought of going to bed. I asked if there
was no other place to which we could go; our guides said yes, and
suggested that we go to the "Club." We went to Sixth Avenue, walked
two blocks, and turned to the west into another street. We stopped in
front of a house with three stories and a basement. In the basement
was a Chinese chop-suey restaurant. There was a red lantern at the
iron gate to the area way, inside of which the Chinaman's name was
printed. We went up the steps of the stoop, rang the bell, and were
admitted without any delay. From the outside the house bore a rather
gloomy aspect, the windows being absolutely dark, but within, it was a
veritable house of mirth. When we had passed through a small vestibule
and reached the hallway, we heard mingled sounds of music and
laughter, the clink of glasses, and the pop of bottles. We went into
the main room and I was little prepared for what I saw. The brilliancy
of the place, the display of diamond rings, scarf-pins, ear-rings, and
breast-pins, the big rolls of money that were brought into evidence
when drinks were paid for, and the air of gaiety that pervaded the
place, all completely dazzled and dazed me. I felt positively giddy,
and it was several minutes before I was able to make any clear and
definite observations.

We at length secured places at a table in a corner of the room and,
as soon as we could attract the attention of one of the busy waiters,
ordered a round of drinks. When I had somewhat collected my senses, I
realized that in a large back room into which the main room opened,
there was a young fellow singing a song, accompanied on the piano by a
short, thickset, dark man. After each verse he did some dance steps,
which brought forth great applause and a shower of small coins at his
feet. After the singer had responded to a rousing encore, the stout
man at the piano began to run his fingers up and down the keyboard.
This he did in a manner which indicated that he was master of a good
deal of technique. Then he began to play; and such playing! I stopped
talking to listen. It was music of a kind I had never heard before.
It was music that demanded physical response, patting of the feet,
drumming of the fingers, or nodding of the head in time with the beat.
The barbaric harmonies, the audacious resolutions, often consisting of
an abrupt jump from one key to another, the intricate rhythms in which
the accents fell in the most unexpected places, but in which the
beat was never lost, produced a most curious effect. And, too, the
player--the dexterity of his left hand in making rapid octave runs
and jumps was little short of marvelous; and with his right hand he
frequently swept half the keyboard with clean-cut chromatics which he
fitted in so nicely as never to fail to arouse in his listeners a sort
of pleasant surprise at the accomplishment of the feat.

This was ragtime music, then a novelty in New York, and just growing
to be a rage, which has not yet subsided. It was originated in the
questionable resorts about Memphis and St. Louis by Negro piano
players who knew no more of the theory of music than they did of the
theory of the universe, but were guided by natural musical instinct
and talent. It made its way to Chicago, where it was popular some time
before it reached New York. These players often improvised crude and,
at times, vulgar words to fit the melodies. This was the beginning of
the ragtime song. Several of these improvisations were taken down by
white men, the words slightly altered, and published under the names
of the arrangers. They sprang into immediate popularity and earned
small fortunes, of which the Negro originators got only a few dollars.
But I have learned that since that time a number of colored men, of
not only musical talent, but training, are writing out their own
melodies and words and reaping the reward of their work. I have
learned also that they have a large number of white imitators and
adulterators.

American musicians, instead of investigating ragtime, attempt to
ignore it, or dismiss it with a contemptuous word. But that has always
been the course of scholasticism in every branch of art. Whatever new
thing the people like is pooh-poohed; whatever is popular is spoken
of as not worth the while. The fact is, nothing great or enduring,
especially in music, has ever sprung full-fledged and unprecedented
from the brain of any master; the best that he gives to the world he
gathers from the hearts of the people, and runs it through the alembic
of his genius. In spite of the bans which musicians and music teachers
have placed upon it, the people still demand and enjoy ragtime. One
thing cannot be denied; it is music which possesses at least one
strong element of greatness: it appeals universally; not only the
American, but the English, the French, and even the German people find
delight in it. In fact, there is not a corner of the civilized world
in which it is not known, and this proves its originality; for if it
were an imitation, the people of Europe, anyhow, would not have
found it a novelty. Anyone who doubts that there is a peculiar
heel-tickling, smile-provoking, joy-awakening charm in ragtime needs
only to hear a skillful performer play the genuine article to be
convinced. I believe that it has its place as well as the music which
draws from us sighs and tears.

I became so interested in both the music and the player that I left
the table where I was sitting, and made my way through the hall into
the back room, where I could see as well as hear. I talked to the
piano-player between the musical numbers and found out that he was
just a natural musician, never having taken a lesson in his life. Not
only could he play almost anything he heard, but he could accompany
singers in songs he had never heard. He had, by ear alone, composed
some pieces, several of which he played over for me; each of them was
properly proportioned and balanced. I began to wonder what this man
with such a lavish natural endowment would have done had he been
trained. Perhaps he wouldn't have done anything at all; he might have
become, at best, a mediocre imitator of the great masters in what they
have already done to a finish, or one of the modern innovators who
strive after originality by seeing how cleverly they can dodge about
through the rules of harmony and at the same time avoid melody. It
is certain that he would not have been so delightful as he was in
ragtime.

I sat by, watching and listening to this man until I was dragged
away by my friends. The place was now almost deserted; only a few
stragglers hung on, and they were all the, worse for drink. My friends
were well up in this class. We passed into the street; the lamps were
pale against the sky; day was just breaking. We went home and got into
bed. I fell into a fitful sort of sleep, with ragtime music ringing
continually in my ears.




VII


I shall take advantage of this pause in my narrative to describe more
closely the "Club" spoken of in the latter part of the preceding
chapter--to describe it as I afterwards came to know it, as an
habitue. I shall do this not only because of the direct influence it
had on my life, but also because it was at that time the most famous
place of its kind in New York, and was well known to both white and
colored people of certain classes.

I have already stated that in the basement of the house there was a
Chinese restaurant. The Chinaman who kept it did an exceptionally good
business; for chop-suey was a favorite dish among the frequenters of
the place. It is a food that, somehow, has the power of absorbing
alcoholic liquors that have been taken into the stomach. I have
heard men claim that they could sober up on chop-suey. Perhaps that
accounted, in some degree, for its popularity. On the main floor there
were two large rooms: a parlor about thirty feet in length, and a
large, square back room into which the parlor opened. The floor of the
parlor was carpeted; small tables and chairs were arranged about the
room; the windows were draped with lace curtains, and the walls were
literally covered with photographs or lithographs of every colored
man in America who had ever "done anything." There were pictures of
Frederick Douglass and of Peter Jackson, of all the lesser lights
of the prize-fighting ring, of all the famous jockeys and the stage
celebrities, down to the newest song and dance team. The most of these
photographs were autographed and, in a sense, made a really valuable
collection. In the back room there was a piano, and tables were placed
around the wall. The floor was bare and the center was left vacant for
singers, dancers, and others who entertained the patrons. In a closet
in this room which jutted out into the hall the proprietor kept
his buffet. There was no open bar, because the place had no liquor
license. In this back room the tables were sometimes pushed aside, and
the floor given over to general dancing. The front room on the next
floor was a sort of private party room; a back room on the same floor
contained no furniture and was devoted to the use of new and ambitious
performers. In this room song and dance teams practiced their steps,
acrobatic teams practiced their tumbles, and many other kinds of
"acts" rehearsed their "turns." The other rooms of the house were used
as sleeping-apartments.

No gambling was allowed, and the conduct of the place was surprisingly
orderly. It was, in short, a center of colored Bohemians and sports.
Here the great prize fighters were wont to come, the famous jockeys,
the noted minstrels, whose names and faces were familiar on every
bill-board in the country; and these drew a multitude of those
who love to dwell in the shadow of greatness. There were then no
organizations giving performances of such order as are now given by
several colored companies; that was because no manager could imagine
that audiences would pay to see Negro performers in any other role
than that of Mississippi River roustabouts; but there was lots of
talent and ambition. I often heard the younger and brighter men
discussing the time when they would compel the public to recognize
that they could do something more than grin and cut pigeon-wings.

Sometimes one or two of the visiting stage professionals, after being
sufficiently urged, would go into the back room and take the places
of the regular amateur entertainers, but they were very sparing with
these favors, and the patrons regarded them as special treats. There
was one man, a minstrel, who, whenever he responded to a request
to "do something," never essayed anything below a reading from
Shakespeare. How well he read I do not know, but he greatly impressed
me; and I can say that at least he had a voice which strangely stirred
those who heard it. Here was a man who made people laugh at the size
of his mouth, while he carried in his heart a burning ambition to be a
tragedian; and so after all he did play a part in a tragedy.

These notables of the ring, the turf, and the stage, drew to the place
crowds of admirers, both white and colored. Whenever one of them came
in, there were awe-inspired whispers from those who knew him by sight,
in which they enlightened those around them as to his identity, and
hinted darkly at their great intimacy with the noted one. Those who
were on terms of approach immediately showed their privilege over
others less fortunate by gathering around their divinity. I was, at
first, among those who dwelt in darkness. Most of these celebrities I
had never heard of. This made me an object of pity among many of my
new associates. I soon learned, however, to fake a knowledge for the
benefit of those who were greener than I; and, finally, I became
personally acquainted with the majority of the famous personages who
came to the "Club."

A great deal of money was spent here, so many of the patrons were men
who earned large sums. I remember one night a dapper little brown-skin
fellow was pointed out to me and I was told that he was the most
popular jockey of the day, and that he earned $12,000 a year. This
latter statement I couldn't doubt, for with my own eyes I saw him
spending at about thirty times that rate. For his friends and those
who were introduced to him he bought nothing but wine--in sporting
circles, "wine" means champagne--and paid for it at five dollars
a quart. He sent a quart to every table in the place with his
compliments; and on the table at which he and his party were seated
there were more than a dozen bottles. It was the custom at the "Club"
for the waiter not to remove the bottles when champagne was being
drunk until the party had finished. There were reasons for this;
it advertised the brand of wine, it advertised that the party was
drinking wine, and advertised how much they had bought. This jockey
had won a great race that day, and he was rewarding his admirers for
the homage they paid him, all of which he accepted with a fine air of
condescension.

Besides the people I have just been describing, there was at the place
almost every night one or two parties of white people, men and women,
who were out sight-seeing, or slumming. They generally came in cabs;
some of them would stay only for a few minutes, while others sometimes
stayed until morning. There was also another set of white people who
came frequently; it was made up of variety performers and others who
delineated "darky characters"; they came to get their imitations first
hand from the Negro entertainers they saw there.

There was still another set of white patrons, composed of women; these
were not occasional visitors, but five or six of them were regular
habituees. When I first saw them, I was not sure that they were white.
In the first place, among the many colored women who came to the
"Club" there were several just as fair; and, secondly, I always saw
these women in company with colored men. They were all good-looking
and well-dressed, and seemed to be women of some education. One of
these in particular attracted my attention; she was an exceedingly
beautiful woman of perhaps thirty-five; she had glistening
copper-colored hair, very white skin, and eyes very much like Du
Maurier's conception of Trilby's "twin gray stars." When I came to
know her, I found that she was a woman of considerable culture; she
had traveled in Europe, spoke French, and played the piano well. She
was always dressed elegantly, but in absolute good taste. She always
came to the "Club" in a cab, and was soon joined by a well-set-up,
very black young fellow. He was always faultlessly dressed; one of the
most exclusive tailors in New York made his clothes, and he wore a
number of diamonds in about as good taste as they could be worn in by
a man. I learned that she paid for his clothes and his diamonds. I
learned, too, that he was not the only one of his kind. More that I
learned would be better suited to a book on social phenomena than to a
narrative of my life.

This woman was known at the "Club" as the rich widow. She went by a
very aristocratic-sounding name, which corresponded to her appearance.
I shall never forget how hard it was for me to get over my feelings
of surprise, perhaps more than surprise, at seeing her with her black
companion; somehow I never exactly enjoyed the sight. I have devoted
so much time to this pair, the "widow" and her companion, because it
was through them that another decided turn was brought about in my
life.




VIII


On the day following our night at the "Club" we slept until late in
the afternoon; so late that beginning search for work was entirely out
of the question. This did not cause me much worry, for I had more than
three hundred dollars, and New York had impressed me as a place where
there was lots of money and not much difficulty in getting it. It is
needless to inform my readers that I did not long hold this opinion.
We got out of the house about dark, went to a restaurant on Sixth
Avenue and ate something, then walked around for a couple of hours.
I finally suggested that we visit the same places we had been in
the night before. Following my suggestion, we started first to the
gambling house. The man on the door let us in without any question; I
accredited this to my success of the night before. We went straight
to the "crap" room, and I at once made my way to a table, where I was
rather flattered by the murmur of recognition which went around. I
played in up and down luck for three or four hours; then, worn with
nervous excitement, quit, having lost about fifty dollars. But I was
so strongly possessed with the thought that I would make up my losses
the next time I played that I left the place with a light heart.

When we got into the street our party was divided against itself; two
were for going home at once and getting to bed. They gave as a reason
that we were to get up early and look for jobs. I think the real
reason was that they had each lost several dollars in the game. I
lived to learn that in the world of sport all men win alike, but lose
differently; and so gamblers are rated, not by the way in which they
win, but by the way in which they lose. Some men lose with a careless
smile, recognizing that losing is a part of the game; others curse
their luck and rail at fortune; and others, still, lose sadly; after
each such experience they are swept by a wave of reform; they resolve
to stop gambling and be good. When in this frame of mind it would take
very little persuasion to lead them into a prayer-meeting. Those in
the first class are looked upon with admiration; those in the second
class are merely commonplace; while those in the third are regarded
with contempt. I believe these distinctions hold good in all the
ventures of life. After some minutes one of my friends and I succeeded
in convincing the other two that a while at the "Club" would put us
all in better spirits; and they consented to go, on our promise not
to stay longer than an hour. We found the place crowded, and the same
sort of thing going on which we had seen the night before. I took a
seat at once by the side of the piano player, and was soon lost
to everything except the novel charm of the music. I watched the
performer with the idea of catching the trick, and during one of his
intermissions I took his place at the piano and made an attempt to
imitate him, but even my quick ear and ready fingers were unequal to
the task on first trial.

We did not stay at the "Club" very long, but went home to bed in order
to be up early the next day. We had no difficulty in finding work, and
my third morning in New York found me at a table rolling cigars. I
worked steadily for some weeks, at the same time spending my earnings
between the "crap" game and the "Club." Making cigars became more and
more irksome to me; perhaps my more congenial work as a "reader" had
unfitted me for work at the table. And, too, the late hours I was
keeping made such a sedentary occupation almost beyond the powers of
will and endurance. I often found it hard to keep my eyes open and
sometimes had to get up and move around to keep from falling asleep.
I began to miss whole days from the factory, days on which I was
compelled to stay at home and sleep.

My luck at the gambling table was varied; sometimes I was fifty to a
hundred dollars ahead, and at other times I had to borrow money from
my fellow workmen to settle my room rent and pay for my meals. Each
night after leaving the dice game I went to the "Club" to hear the
music and watch the gaiety. If I had won, this was in accord with my
mood; if I had lost, it made me forget. I at last realized that making
cigars for a living and gambling for a living could not both be
carried on at the same time, and I resolved to give up the cigar
making. This resolution led me into a life which held me bound more
than a year. During that period my regular time for going to bed was
somewhere between four and six o'clock in the mornings. I got up late
in the afternoons, walked about a little, then went to the gambling
house or the "Club." My New York was limited to ten blocks; the
boundaries were Sixth Avenue from Twenty-third to Thirty-third
Streets, with the cross streets one block to the west. Central Park
was a distant forest, and the lower part of the city a foreign land.
I look back upon the life I then led with a shudder when I think what
would have been had I not escaped it. But had I not escaped it, I
should have been no more unfortunate than are many young colored men
who come to New York. During that dark period I became acquainted with
a score of bright, intelligent young fellows who had come up to the
great city with high hopes and ambitions and who had fallen under the
spell of this under life, a spell they could not throw off. There
was one popularly known as "the doctor"; he had had two years in the
Harvard Medical School, but here he was, living this gas-light life,
his will and moral sense so enervated and deadened that it was
impossible for him to break away. I do not doubt that the same thing
is going on now, but I have sympathy rather than censure for these
victims, for I know how easy it is to slip into a slough from which it
takes a herculean effort to leap.

I regret that I cannot contrast my views of life among colored people
of New York; but the truth is, during my entire stay in this city I
did not become acquainted with a single respectable family. I knew
that there were several colored men worth a hundred or so thousand
dollars each, and some families who proudly dated their free ancestry
back a half-dozen generations. I also learned that in Brooklyn there
lived quite a large colony in comfortable homes which they owned; but
at no point did my life come in contact with theirs.

In my gambling experiences I passed through all the states and
conditions that a gambler is heir to. Some days found me able to peel
ten and twenty-dollar bills from a roll, and others found me clad in a
linen duster and carpet slippers. I finally caught up another method
of earning money, and so did not have to depend entirely upon the
caprices of fortune at the gaming table. Through continually listening
to the music at the "Club," and through my own previous training, my
natural talent and perseverance, I developed into a remarkable player
of ragtime; indeed, I had the name at that time of being the best
ragtime-player in New York. I brought all my knowledge of classic
music to bear and, in so doing, achieved some novelties which pleased
and even astonished my listeners. It was I who first made ragtime
transcriptions of familiar classic selections. I used to play
Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" in a manner that never failed to arouse
enthusiasm among the patrons of the "Club." Very few nights passed
during which I was not asked to play it. It was no secret that
the great increase in slumming visitors was due to my playing. By
mastering ragtime I gained several things: first of all, I gained
the title of professor. I was known as "the professor" as long as I
remained in that world. Then, too, I gained the means of earning a
rather fair livelihood. This work took up much of my time and kept me
almost entirely away from the gambling table. Through it I also gained
a friend who was the means by which I escaped from this lower world.
And, finally, I secured a wedge which has opened to me more doors and
made me a welcome guest than my playing of Beethoven and Chopin could
ever have done.

The greater part of the money I now began to earn came through the
friend to whom I alluded in the foregoing paragraph. Among the other
white "slummers" there came into the "Club" one night a clean-cut,
slender, but athletic-looking man, who would have been taken for a
youth had it not been for the tinge of gray about his temples. He was
clean-shaven and had regular features, and all of his movements bore
the indefinable but unmistakable stamp of culture. He spoke to no one,
but sat languidly puffing cigarettes and sipping a glass of beer. He
was the center of a great deal of attention; all of the old-timers
were wondering who he was. When I had finished playing, he called a
waiter and by him sent me a five-dollar bill. For about a month after
that he was at the "Club" one or two nights each week, and each time
after I had played, he gave me five dollars. One night he sent for me
to come to his table; he asked me several questions about myself; then
told me that he had an engagement which he wanted me to fill. He gave
me a card containing his address and asked me to be there on a certain
night.

I was on hand promptly and found that he was giving a dinner in his
own apartments to a party of ladies and gentlemen and that I was
expected to furnish the musical entertainment. When the grave,
dignified man at the door let me in, the place struck me as being
almost dark, my eyes had been so accustomed to the garish light of the
"Club." He took my coat and hat, bade me take a seat, and went to tell
his master that I had come. When my eyes were adjusted to the soft
light, I saw that I was in the midst of elegance and luxury in a
degree such as I had never seen; but not the elegance which makes
one ill at ease. As I sank into a great chair, the subdued tone, the
delicately sensuous harmony of my surroundings, drew from me a deep
sigh of relief and comfort. How long the man was gone I do not know,
but I was startled by a voice saying: "Come this way, if you please,
sir," and I saw him standing by my chair. I had been asleep; and I
awoke very much confused and a little ashamed, because I did not know
how many times he may have called me. I followed him through into the
dining-room, where the butler was putting the finishing touches to a
table which already looked like a big jewel. The doorman turned me
over to the butler, and I passed with the butler on back to where
several waiters were busy polishing and assorting table utensils.
Without being asked whether I was hungry or not, I was placed at a
table and given something to eat. Before I had finished eating, I
heard the laughter and talk of the guests who were arriving. Soon
afterwards I was called in to begin my work.

I passed in to where the company was gathered and went directly to the
piano. According to a suggestion from the host, I began with
classic music. During the first number there was absolute quiet and
appreciative attention, and when I had finished, I was given a round
of generous applause. After that the talk and the laughter began to
grow until the music was only an accompaniment to the chatter. This,
however, did not disconcert me as it once would have done, for I had
become accustomed to playing in the midst of uproarious noise. As the
guests began to pay less attention to me, I was enabled to pay more to
them. There were about a dozen of them. The men ranged in appearance
from a girlish-looking youth to a big grizzled man whom everybody
addressed as "Judge." None of the women appeared to be under thirty,
but each of them struck me as being handsome. I was not long in
finding out that they were all decidedly blase. Several of the women
smoked cigarettes, and with a careless grace which showed they were
used to the habit. Occasionally a "Damn it!" escaped from the lips
of some one of them, but in such a charming way as to rob it of all
vulgarity. The most notable thing which I observed was that the
reserve of the host increased in direct proportion with the hilarity
of his guests. I thought that there was something going wrong which
displeased him. I afterwards learned that it was his habitual manner
on such occasions. He seemed to take cynical delight in watching
and studying others indulging in excess. His guests were evidently
accustomed to his rather non-participating attitude, for it did not
seem in any degree to dampen their spirits.

When dinner was served, the piano was moved and the door left open, so
that the company might hear the music while eating. At a word from the
host I struck up one of my liveliest ragtime pieces. The effect was
surprising, perhaps even to the host; the ragtime music came very near
spoiling the party so far as eating the dinner was concerned. As soon
as I began, the conversation suddenly stopped. It was a pleasure to me
to watch the expression of astonishment and delight that grew on the
faces of everybody. These were people--and they represented a large
class--who were ever expecting to find happiness in novelty, each day
restlessly exploring and exhausting every resource of this great city
that might possibly furnish a new sensation or awaken a fresh emotion,
and who were always grateful to anyone who aided them in their quest.
Several of the women left the table and gathered about the piano. They
watched my fingers and asked what kind of music it was that I was
playing, where I had learned it, and a host of other questions. It
was only by being repeatedly called back to the table that they were
induced to finish their dinner. When the guests arose, I struck up my
ragtime transcription of Mendelssohn's "Wedding March," playing
it with terrific chromatic octave runs in the bass. This raised
everybody's spirits to the highest point of gaiety, and the whole
company involuntarily and unconsciously did an impromptu cake-walk.
From that time on until the time of leaving they kept me so busy that
my arms ached. I obtained a little respite when the girlish-looking
youth and one or two of the ladies sang several songs, but after each
of these it was "back to ragtime."

In leaving, the guests were enthusiastic in telling the host that
he had furnished them the most unusual entertainment they had ever
enjoyed. When they had gone, my millionaire friend--for he was
reported to be a millionaire--said to me with a smile: "Well, I have
given them something they've never had before." After I had put on my
coat and was ready to leave, he made me take a glass of wine; he then
gave me a cigar and twenty dollars in bills. He told me that he would
give me lots of work, his only stipulation being that I should not
play any engagements such as I had just filled for him, except by his
instructions. I readily accepted the proposition, for I was sure that
I could not be the loser by such a contract. I afterwards played for
him at many dinners and parties of one kind or another. Occasionally
he "loaned" me to some of his friends. And, too, I often played for
him alone at his apartments. At such times he was quite a puzzle to me
until I became accustomed to his manners. He would sometimes sit for
three or four hours hearing me play, his eyes almost closed, making
scarcely a motion except to light a fresh cigarette, and never
commenting one way or another on the music. At first I sometimes
thought he had fallen asleep and would pause in playing. The stopping
of the music always aroused him enough to tell me to play this or
that; and I soon learned that my task was not to be considered
finished until he got up from his chair and said: "That will do."
The man's powers of endurance in listening often exceeded mine in
performing--yet I am not sure that he was always listening. At times
I became so oppressed with fatigue and sleepiness that it took almost
superhuman effort to keep my fingers going; in fact, I believe I
sometimes did so while dozing. During such moments this man sitting
there so mysteriously silent, almost hid in a cloud of heavy-scented
smoke, filled me with a sort of unearthly terror. He seemed to be some
grim, mute, but relentless tyrant, possessing over me a supernatural
power which he used to drive me on mercilessly to exhaustion. But
these feelings came very rarely; besides, he paid me so liberally I
could forget much. There at length grew between us a familiar and warm
relationship, and I am sure he had a decided personal liking for me.
On my part, I looked upon him at that time as about all a man could
wish to be.


The "Club" still remained my headquarters, and when I was not playing
for my good patron, I was generally to be found there. However, I no
longer depended on playing at the "Club" to earn my living; I rather
took rank with the visiting celebrities and, occasionally, after being
sufficiently urged, would favor my old and new admirers with a number
or two. I say, without any egotistic pride, that among my admirers
were several of the best-looking women who frequented the place, and
who made no secret of the fact that they admired me as much as they
did my playing. Among these was the "widow"; indeed, her attentions
became so marked that one of my friends warned me to beware of her
black companion, who was generally known as a "bad man." He said
there was much more reason to be careful because the pair had lately
quarreled and had not been together at the "Club" for some nights.
This warning greatly impressed me and I resolved to stop the affair
before it should go any further; but the woman was so beautiful that
my native gallantry and delicacy would not allow me to repulse her; my
finer feelings entirely overcame my judgment. The warning also opened
my eyes sufficiently to see that though my artistic temperament and
skill made me interesting and attractive to the woman, she was, after
all, using me only to excite the jealousy of her companion and revenge
herself upon him. It was this surly, black despot who held sway over
her deepest emotions.

One night, shortly afterwards, I went into the "Club" and saw the
"widow" sitting at a table in company with another woman. She at once
beckoned for me to come to her. I went, knowing that I was committing
worse than folly. She ordered a quart of champagne and insisted that
I sit down and drink with her. I took a chair on the opposite side of
the table and began to sip a glass of the wine. Suddenly I noticed by
an expression on the "widow's" face that something had occurred.

I instinctively glanced around and saw that her companion had just
entered. His ugly look completely frightened me. My back was turned to
him, but by watching the "widow's" eyes I judged that he was pacing
back and forth across the room. My feelings were far from being
comfortable; I expected every moment to feel a blow on my head. She,
too, was very nervous; she was trying hard to appear unconcerned, but
could not succeed in hiding her real feelings. I decided that it was
best to get out of such a predicament even at the expense of appearing
cowardly, and I made a motion to rise. Just as I partly turned in my
chair, I saw the black fellow approaching; he walked directly to our
table and leaned over. The "widow" evidently feared he was going to
strike her, and she threw back her head. Instead of striking her he
whipped out a revolver and fired; the first shot went straight into
her throat. There were other shots fired, but how many I do not know;
for the first knowledge I had of my surroundings and actions was that
I was rushing through the chop-suey restaurant into the street. Just
which streets I followed when I got outside I do not know, but I think
I must have gone towards Eighth Avenue, then down towards Twenty-third
Street and across towards Fifth Avenue. I traveled, not by sight, but
instinctively. I felt like one fleeing in a horrible nightmare.

How long and far I walked I cannot tell; but on Fifth Avenue, under a
light, I passed a cab containing a solitary occupant, who called to
me, and I recognized the voice and face of my millionaire friend. He
stopped the cab and asked: "What on earth are you doing strolling in
this part of the town?" For answer I got into the cab and related to
him all that had happened. He reassured me by saying that no charge of
any kind could be brought against me; then added: "But of course you
don't want to be mixed up in such an affair." He directed the driver
to turn around and go into the park, and then went on to say: "I
decided last night that I'd go to Europe tomorrow. I think I'll take
you along instead of Walter." Walter was his valet. It was settled
that I should go to his apartments for the rest of the night and sail
with him in the morning.

We drove around through the park, exchanging only an occasional word.
The cool air somewhat calmed my nerves and I lay back and closed my
eyes; but still I could see that beautiful white throat with the ugly
wound. The jet of blood pulsing from it had placed an indelible red
stain on my memory.




IX


I did not feel at ease until the ship was well out of New York harbor;
and, notwithstanding the repeated reassurances of my millionaire
friend and my own knowledge of the facts in the case, I somehow
could not rid myself of the sentiment that I was, in a great degree,
responsible for the "widow's" tragic end. We had brought most of the
morning papers aboard with us, but my great fear of seeing my name in
connection with the killing would not permit me to read the accounts,
although, in one of the papers, I did look at the picture of the
victim, which did not in the least resemble her. This morbid state of
mind, together with sea-sickness, kept me miserable for three or four
days. At the end of that time my spirits began to revive, and I took
an interest in the ship, my fellow passengers, and the voyage in
general. On the second or third day out we passed several spouting
whales, but I could not arouse myself to make the effort to go to the
other side of the ship to see them. A little later we ran in close
proximity to a large iceberg. I was curious enough to get up and look
at it, and I was fully repaid for my pains. The sun was shining full
upon it, and it glistened like a mammoth diamond, cut with a million
facets. As we passed, it constantly changed its shape; at each
different angle of vision it assumed new and astonishing forms of
beauty. I watched it through a pair of glasses, seeking to verify
my early conception of an iceberg--in the geographies of my grammar
school days the pictures of icebergs always included a stranded polar
bear, standing desolately upon one of the snowy crags. I looked
for the bear, but if he was there, he refused to put himself on
exhibition.

It was not, however, until the morning that we entered the harbor of
Havre that I was able to shake off my gloom. Then the strange sights,
the chatter in an unfamiliar tongue, and the excitement of landing
and passing the customs officials caused me to forget completely the
events of a few days before. Indeed, I grew so lighthearted that when
I caught my first sight of the train which was to take us to Paris,
I enjoyed a hearty laugh. The toy-looking engine, the stuffy little
compartment cars, with tiny, old-fashioned wheels, struck me as being
extremely funny. But before we reached Paris my respect for our train
rose considerably. I found that the "tiny" engine made remarkably fast
time, and that the old-fashioned wheels ran very smoothly. I even
began to appreciate the "stuffy" cars for their privacy. As I watched
the passing scenery from the car window, it seemed too beautiful to be
real. The bright-colored houses against the green background impressed
me as the work of some idealistic painter. Before we arrived in Paris,
there was awakened in my heart a love for France which continued to
grow stronger, a love which to-day makes that country for me the one
above all others to be desired.

We rolled into the station Saint Lazare about four o'clock in
the afternoon and drove immediately to the Hotel Continental. My
benefactor, humoring my curiosity and enthusiasm, which seemed to
please him very much, suggested that we take a short walk before
dinner. We stepped out of the hotel and turned to the right into the
rue de Rivoli. When the vista of the Place de la Concorde and the
Champs Elysees suddenly burst on me, I could hardly credit my own
eyes. I shall attempt no such supererogatory task as a description
of Paris. I wish only to give briefly the impressions which that
wonderful city made upon me. It impressed me as the perfect and
perfectly beautiful city; and even after I had been there for some
time, and seen not only its avenues and palaces, but its most squalid
alleys and hovels, this impression was not weakened. Paris became for
me a charmed spot, and whenever I have returned there, I have fallen
under the spell, a spell which compels admiration for all of its
manners and customs and justification of even its follies and sins.

We walked a short distance up the Champs Elysees and sat for a while
in chairs along the sidewalk, watching the passing crowds on foot and
in carriages. It was with reluctance that I went back to the hotel for
dinner. After dinner we went to one of the summer theatres, and after
the performance my friend took me to a large cafe on one of the Grands
Boulevards. Here it was that I had my first glimpse of the French life
of popular literature, so different from real French life. There were
several hundred people, men and women, in the place drinking, smoking,
talking, and listening to the music. My millionaire friend and I took
seats at a table, where we sat smoking and watching the crowd. It
was not long before we were joined by two or three good-looking,
well-dressed young women. My friend talked to them in French and
bought drinks for the whole party. I tried to recall my high-school
French, but the effort availed me little. I could stammer out a few
phrases, but, very naturally, could not understand a word that was
said to me. We stayed at the cafe a couple of hours, then went back to
the hotel. The next day we spent several hours in the shops and at
the tailor's. I had no clothes except what I had been able to gather
together at my benefactor's apartments the night before we sailed. He
bought me the same kind of clothes which he himself wore, and that
was the best; and he treated me in every way as he dressed me, as an
equal, not as a servant. In fact, I don't think anyone could have
guessed that such a relation existed. My duties were light and few,
and he was a man full of life and vigor, who rather enjoyed doing
things for himself. He kept me supplied with money far beyond what
ordinary wages would have amounted to. For the first two weeks we were
together almost constantly, seeing the sights, sights old to him, but
from which he seemed to get new pleasure in showing them to me. During
the day we took in the places of interest, and at night the theatres
and cafes. This sort of life appealed to me as ideal, and I asked him
one day how long he intended to stay in Paris. He answered: "Oh, until
I get tired of it." I could not understand how that could ever happen.
As it was, including several short trips to the Mediterranean, to
Spain, to Brussels, and to Ostend, we did remain there fourteen or
fifteen months. We stayed at the Hotel Continental about two months
of this time. Then my millionaire took apartments, hired a piano, and
lived almost the same life he lived in New York. He entertained a
great deal, some of the parties being a good deal more blase than the
New York ones. I played for the guests at all of them with an effect
which to relate would be but a tiresome repetition to the reader. I
played not only for the guests, but continued, as I used to do in New
York, to play often for the host when he was alone. This man of the
world, who grew weary of everything and was always searching for
something new, appeared never to grow tired of my music; he seemed
to take it as a drug. He fell into a habit which caused me no little
annoyance; sometimes he would come in during the early hours of the
morning and, finding me in bed asleep, would wake me up and ask me to
play something. This, so far as I can remember, was my only hardship
during my whole stay with him in Europe.

After the first few weeks spent in sight-seeing I had a great deal of
time left to myself; my friend was often I did not know where. When
not with him, I spent the day nosing about all the curious nooks and
corners of Paris; of this I never grew tired. At night I usually went
to some theatre, but always ended up at the big cafe on the Grands
Boulevards. I wish the reader to know that it was not alone the gaiety
which drew me there; aside from that I had a laudable purpose. I had
purchased an English-French conversational dictionary, and I went
there every night to take a language lesson. I used to get three or
four of the young women who frequented the place at a table and buy
beer and cigarettes for them. In return I received my lesson. I got
more than my money's worth, for they actually compelled me to speak
the language. This, together with reading the papers every day,
enabled me within a few months to express myself fairly well, and,
before I left Paris, to have more than an ordinary command of French.
Of course, every person who goes to Paris could not dare to learn
French in this manner, but I can think of no easier or quicker way of
doing it. The acquiring of another foreign language awoke me to the
fact that with a little effort I could secure an added accomplishment
as fine and as valuable as music; so I determined to make myself as
much of a linguist as possible. I bought a Spanish newspaper every
day in order to freshen my memory of that language, and, for French,
devised what was, so far as I knew, an original system of study. I
compiled a list which I termed "Three hundred necessary words." These
I thoroughly committed to memory, also the conjugation of the verbs
which were included in the list. I studied these words over and over,
much as children of a couple of generations ago studied the alphabet.
I also practiced a set of phrases like the following: "How?" "What did
you say?" "What does the word ---- mean?" "I understand all you say
except ----." "Please repeat." "What do you call ----?" "How do you
say ----?" These I called my working sentences. In an astonishingly
short time I reached the point where the language taught itself--where
I learned to speak merely by speaking. This point is the place which
students taught foreign languages in our schools and colleges find
great difficulty in reaching. I think the main trouble is that
they learn too much of a language at a time. A French child with a
vocabulary of two hundred words can express more spoken ideas than
a student of French can with a knowledge of two thousand. A small
vocabulary, the smaller the better, which embraces the common,
everyday-used ideas, thoroughly mastered, is the key to a language.
When that much is acquired the vocabulary can be increased simply by
talking. And it is easy. Who cannot commit three hundred words to
memory? Later I tried my method, if I may so term it, with German, and
found that it worked in the same way.

I spent a good many evenings at the Opera. The music there made me
strangely reminiscent of my life in Connecticut; it was an atmosphere
in which I caught a fresh breath of my boyhood days and early youth.
Generally, in the morning after I had attended a performance, I would
sit at the piano and for a couple of hours play the music which I used
to play in my mother's little parlor.

One night I went to hear _Faust_. I got into my seat just as the
lights went down for the first act. At the end of the act I noticed
that my neighbor on the left was a young girl. I cannot describe her
either as to feature, or color of her hair, or of her eyes; she was so
young, so fair, so ethereal, that I felt to stare at her would be a
violation; yet I was distinctly conscious of her beauty. During the
intermission she spoke English in a low voice to a gentleman and a
lady who sat in the seats to her left, addressing them as father and
mother. I held my program as though studying it, but listened to catch
every sound of her voice. Her observations on the performance and the
audience were so fresh and naive as to be almost amusing. I gathered
that she was just out of school, and that this was her first trip to
Paris. I occasionally stole a glance at her, and each time I did so my
heart leaped into my throat. Once I glanced beyond to the gentleman
who sat next to her. My glance immediately turned into a stare. Yes,
there he was, unmistakably, my father! looking hardly a day older than
when I had seen him some ten years before. What a strange coincidence!
What should I say to him? What would he say to me? Before I had
recovered from my first surprise, there came another shock in the
realization that the beautiful, tender girl at my side was my sister.
Then all the springs of affection in my heart, stopped since my
mother's death, burst out in fresh and terrible torrents, and I could
have fallen at her feet and worshiped her. They were singing the
second act, but I did not hear the music. Slowly the desolate
loneliness of my position became clear to me. I knew that I could not
speak, but I would have given a part of my life to touch her hand with
mine and call her "sister." I sat through the opera until I could
stand it no longer. I felt that I was suffocating. Valentine's love
seemed like mockery, and I felt an almost uncontrollable impulse to
rise up and scream to the audience: "Here, here in your very midst, is
a tragedy, a real tragedy!" This impulse grew so strong that I became
afraid of myself, and in the darkness of one of the scenes I stumbled
out of the theatre. I walked aimlessly about for an hour or so, my
feelings divided between a desire to weep and a desire to curse. I
finally took a cab and went from cafe to cafe, and for one of the very
few times in my life drank myself into a stupor.

It was unwelcome news for me when my benefactor--I could not think of
him as employer--informed me that he was at last tired of Paris. This
news gave me, I think, a passing doubt as to his sanity. I had enjoyed
life in Paris, and, taking all things into consideration, enjoyed it
wholesomely. One thing which greatly contributed to my enjoyment was
the fact that I was an American. Americans are immensely popular in
Paris; and this is not due solely to the fact that they spend lots of
money there, for they spend just as much or more in London, and in
the latter city they are merely tolerated because they do spend. The
Londoner seems to think that Americans are people whose only claim to
be classed as civilized is that they have money, and the regrettable
thing about that is that the money is not English. But the French
are more logical and freer from prejudices than the British; so the
difference of attitude is easily explained. Only once in Paris did I
have cause to blush for my American citizenship. I had become quite
friendly with a young man from Luxemburg whom I had met at the big
cafe. He was a stolid, slow-witted fellow, but, as we say, with a
heart of gold. He and I grew attached to each other and were together
frequently. He was a great admirer of the United States and never grew
tired of talking to me about the country and asking for information.
It was his intention to try his fortune there some day. One night
he asked me in a tone of voice which indicated that he expected an
authoritative denial of an ugly rumor: "Did they really burn a man
alive in the United States?" I never knew what I stammered out to him
as an answer. I should have felt relieved if I could even have said to
him: "Well, only one."

When we arrived in London, my sadness at leaving Paris was turned into
despair. After my long stay in the French capital, huge, ponderous,
massive London seemed to me as ugly a thing as man could contrive to
make. I thought of Paris as a beauty spot on the face of the earth,
and of London as a big freckle. But soon London's massiveness, I might
say its very ugliness, began to impress me. I began to experience that
sense of grandeur which one feels when he looks at a great mountain or
a mighty river. Beside London Paris becomes a toy, a pretty plaything.
And I must own that before I left the world's metropolis I discovered
much there that was beautiful. The beauty in and about London is
entirely different from that in and about Paris; and I could not but
admit that the beauty of the French city seemed hand-made, artificial,
as though set up for the photographer's camera, everything nicely
adjusted so as not to spoil the picture; while that of the English
city was rugged, natural, and fresh.

How these two cities typify the two peoples who built them! Even the
sound of their names expresses a certain racial difference. Paris is
the concrete expression of the gaiety, regard for symmetry, love of
art, and, I might well add, of the morality of the French
people. London stands for the conservatism, the solidarity, the
utilitarianism, and, I might well add, the hypocrisy of the
Anglo-Saxon. It may sound odd to speak of the morality of the French,
if not of the hypocrisy of the English; but this seeming paradox
impresses me as a deep truth. I saw many things in Paris which were
immoral according to English standards, but the absence of hypocrisy,
the absence of the spirit to do the thing if it might only be done in
secret, robbed these very immoralities of the damning influence of the
same evils in London. I have walked along the terrace cafes of Paris
and seen hundreds of men and women sipping their wine and beer,
without observing a sign of drunkenness. As they drank, they chatted
and laughed and watched the passing crowds; the drinking seemed to be
a secondary thing. This I have witnessed, not only in the cafes along
the Grands Boulevards, but in the out-of-the-way places patronized by
the working classes. In London I have seen in the "pubs" men and women
crowded in stuffy little compartments, drinking seemingly only for the
pleasure of swallowing as much as they could hold. I have seen there
women from eighteen to eighty, some in tatters, and some clutching
babes in their arms, drinking the heavy English ales and whiskies
served to them by women. In the whole scene, not one ray of
brightness, not one flash of gaiety, only maudlin joviality or grim
despair. And I have thought, if some men and women will drink--and it
is certain that some will--is it not better that they do so under the
open sky, in the fresh air, than huddled together in some close, smoky
room? There is a sort of frankness about the evils of Paris which robs
them of much of the seductiveness of things forbidden, and with that
frankness goes a certain cleanliness of thought belonging to things
not hidden. London will do whatever Paris does, provided exterior
morals are not shocked. As a result, Paris has the appearance only of
being the more immoral city. The difference may be summed up in this:
Paris practices its sins as lightly as it does its religion, while
London practices both very seriously.

I should not neglect to mention what impressed me most forcibly during
my stay in London. It was not St. Paul's nor the British Museum nor
Westminster Abbey. It was nothing more or less than the simple phrase
"Thank you," or sometimes more elaborated, "Thank you very kindly,
sir." I was continually surprised by the varied uses to which it was
put; and, strange to say, its use as an expression of politeness
seemed more limited than any other. One night I was in a cheap
music hall and accidentally bumped into a waiter who was carrying a
tray-load of beer, almost bringing him to several shillings' worth of
grief. To my amazement he righted himself and said: "Thank ye, sir,"
and left me wondering whether he meant that he thanked me for not
completely spilling his beer, or that he would thank me for keeping
out of his way.

I also found cause to wonder upon what ground the English accuse
Americans of corrupting the language by introducing slang words. I
think I heard more and more different kinds of slang during my few
weeks' stay in London than in my whole "tenderloin" life in New York.
But I suppose the English feel that the language is theirs, and that
they may do with it as they please without at the same time allowing
that privilege to others.

My millionaire was not so long in growing tired of London as of Paris.
After a stay of six or eight weeks we went across into Holland.
Amsterdam was a great surprise to me. I had always thought of Venice
as the city of canals; it had never entered my mind that I should find
similar conditions in a Dutch town. I don't suppose the comparison
goes far beyond the fact that there are canals in both cities--I
have never seen Venice--but Amsterdam struck me as being extremely
picturesque. From Holland we went to Germany, where we spent five or
six months, most of the time in Berlin. I found Berlin more to my
taste than London, and occasionally I had to admit that in some things
it was superior to Paris.

In Berlin I especially enjoyed the orchestral concerts, and I attended
a large number of them. I formed the acquaintance of a good many
musicians, several of whom spoke of my playing in high terms. It was
in Berlin that my inspiration was renewed.

One night my millionaire entertained a party of men composed of
artists, musicians, writers, and, for aught I know, a count or
two. They drank and smoked a great deal, talked art and music, and
discussed, it seemed to me, everything that ever entered man's mind.
I could only follow the general drift of what they were saying. When
they discussed music, it was more interesting to me; for then some
fellow would run excitedly to the piano and give a demonstration of
his opinions, and another would follow quickly, doing the same. In
this way, I learned that, regardless of what his specialty might
be, every man in the party was a musician. I was at the same time
impressed with the falsity of the general idea that Frenchmen are
excitable and emotional, and that Germans are calm and phlegmatic.
Frenchmen are merely gay and never overwhelmed by their emotions. When
they talk loud and fast, it is merely talk, while Germans get worked
up and red in the face when sustaining an opinion, and in heated
discussions are likely to allow their emotions to sweep them off their
feet.

My millionaire planned, in the midst of the discussion on music, to
have me play the "new American music" and astonish everybody present.
The result was that I was more astonished than anyone else. I went to
the piano and played the most intricate ragtime piece I knew. Before
there was time for anybody to express an opinion on what I had done, a
big bespectacled, bushy-headed man rushed over, and, shoving me out
of the chair, exclaimed: "Get up! Get up!" He seated himself at the
piano, and, taking the theme of my ragtime, played it through first
in straight chords; then varied and developed it through every known
musical form. I sat amazed. I had been turning classic music into
ragtime, a comparatively easy task; and this man had taken ragtime and
made it classic. The thought came across me like a flash--It can be
done, why can't I do it? From that moment my mind was made up. I
clearly saw the way of carrying out the ambition I had formed when a
boy.

I now lost interest in our trip. I thought: "Here I am a man, no
longer a boy, and what am I doing but wasting my time and abusing my
talent? What use am I making of my gifts? What future have I before me
following my present course?" These thoughts made me feel remorseful
and put me in a fever to get to work, to begin to do something. Of
course I know now that I was not wasting time; that there was nothing
I could have done at that age which would have benefited me more than
going to Europe as I did. The desire to begin work grew stronger each
day. I could think of nothing else. I made up my mind to go back into
the very heart of the South, to live among the people, and drink in my
inspiration firsthand. I gloated over the immense amount of material
I had to work with, not only modern ragtime, but also the old slave
songs--material which no one had yet touched.

The more decided and anxious I became to return to the United States,
the more I dreaded the ordeal of breaking with my millionaire. Between
this peculiar man and me there had grown a very strong bond of
affection, backed up by a debt which each owed to the other. He had
taken me from a terrible life in New York and, by giving me the
opportunity of traveling and of coming in contact with the people with
whom he associated, had made me a polished man of the world. On the
other hand, I was his chief means of disposing of the thing which
seemed to sum up all in life that he dreaded--time. As I remember him
now, I can see that time was what he was always endeavoring to escape,
to bridge over, to blot out; and it is not strange that some years
later he did escape it forever, by leaping into eternity.

For some weeks I waited for just the right moment in which to tell my
patron of my decision. Those weeks were a trying time to me. I felt
that I was playing the part of a traitor to my best friend. At length,
one day he said to me: "Well, get ready for a long trip; we are going
to Egypt, and then to Japan." The temptation was for an instant almost
overwhelming, but I summoned determination enough to say: "I don't
think I want to go." "What!" he exclaimed, "you want to go back to
your dear Paris? You still think that the only spot on earth? Wait
until you see Cairo and Tokyo, you may change your mind." "No," I
stammered, "it is not because I want to go back to Paris. I want to go
back to the United States." He wished to know my reason, and I told
him, as best I could, my dreams, my ambition, and my decision. While
I was talking, he watched me with a curious, almost cynical, smile
growing on his lips. When I had finished he put his hand on my
shoulder--this was the first physical expression of tender regard he
had ever shown me--and looking at me in a big-brotherly way, said: "My
boy, you are by blood, by appearance, by education, and by tastes a
white man. Now, why do you want to throw your life away amidst the
poverty and ignorance, in the hopeless struggle, of the black people
of the United States? Then look at the terrible handicap you are
placing on yourself by going home and working as a Negro composer;
you can never be able to get the hearing for your work which it might
deserve. I doubt that even a white musician of recognized ability
could succeed there by working on the theory that American music
should be based on Negro themes. Music is a universal art; anybody's
music belongs to everybody; you can't limit it to race or country.
Now, if you want to become a composer, why not stay right here in
Europe? I will put you under the best teachers on the Continent. Then
if you want to write music on Negro themes, why, go ahead and do it."

We talked for some time on music and the race question. On the latter
subject I had never before heard him express any opinion. Between him
and me no suggestion of racial differences had ever come up. I found
that he was a man entirely free from prejudice, but he recognized
that prejudice was a big stubborn entity which had to be taken into
account. He went on to say: "This idea you have of making a Negro out
of yourself is nothing more than a sentiment; and you do not realize
the fearful import of what you intend to do. What kind of a Negro
would you make now, especially in the South? If you had remained
there, or perhaps even in your club in New York, you might have
succeeded very well; but now you would be miserable. I can imagine no
more dissatisfied human being than an educated, cultured, and refined
colored man in the United States. I have given more study to the race
question in the United States than you may suppose, and I sympathize
with the Negroes there; but what's the use? I can't right their
wrongs, and neither can you; they must do that themselves. They are
unfortunate in having wrongs to right, and you would be foolish to
take their wrongs unnecessarily on your shoulders. Perhaps some day,
through study and observation, you will come to see that evil is
a force, and, like the physical and chemical forces, we cannot
annihilate it; we may only change its form. We light upon one evil and
hit it with all the might of our civilization, but only succeed in
scattering it into a dozen other forms. We hit slavery through a great
civil war. Did we destroy it? No, we only changed it into hatred
between sections of the country: in the South, into political
corruption and chicanery, the degradation of the blacks through
peonage, unjust laws, unfair and cruel treatment; and the degradation
of the whites by their resorting to these practices, the paralyzation
of the public conscience, and the ever over-hanging dread of what the
future may bring. Modern civilization hit ignorance of the masses
through the means of popular education. What has it done but turn
ignorance into anarchy, socialism, strikes, hatred between poor and
rich, and universal discontent? In like manner, modern philanthropy
hit at suffering and disease through asylums and hospitals; it
prolongs the sufferers' lives, it is true, but is, at the same time,
sending down strains of insanity and weakness into future generations.
My philosophy of life is this: make yourself as happy as possible, and
try to make those happy whose lives come in touch with yours; but to
attempt to right the wrongs and ease the sufferings of the world in
general is a waste of effort. You had just as well try to bail the
Atlantic by pouring the water into the Pacific."

This tremendous flow of serious talk from a man I was accustomed to
see either gay or taciturn so surprised and overwhelmed me that I
could not frame a reply. He left me thinking over what he had said.
Whatever was the soundness of his logic or the moral tone of his
philosophy, his argument greatly impressed me. I could see, in spite
of the absolute selfishness upon which it was based, that there was
reason and common sense in it. I began to analyze my own motives, and
found that they, too, were very largely mixed with selfishness. Was it
more a desire to help those I considered my people, or more a desire
to distinguish myself, which was leading me back to the United States?
That is a question I have never definitely answered.

For several weeks longer I was in a troubled state of mind. Added to
the fact that I was loath to leave my good friend was the weight of
the question he had aroused in my mind, whether I was not making a
fatal mistake. I suffered more than one sleepless night during that
time. Finally, I settled the question on purely selfish grounds, in
accordance with my millionaire's philosophy. I argued that music
offered me a better future than anything else I had any knowledge of,
and, in opposition to my friend's opinion, that I should have greater
chances of attracting attention as a colored composer than as a white
one. But I must own that I also felt stirred by an unselfish desire
to voice all the joys and sorrows, the hopes and ambitions, of the
American Negro, in classic musical form.

When my mind was fully made up, I told my friend. He asked me when I
intended to start. I replied that I would do so at once. He then asked
me how much money I had. I told him that I had saved several hundred
dollars out of sums he had given me. He gave me a check for five
hundred dollars, told me to write to him in care of his Paris bankers
if I ever needed his help, wished me good luck, and bade me good-by.
All this he did almost coldly; and I often wondered whether he was in
a hurry to get rid of what he considered a fool, or whether he was
striving to hide deeper feelings.

And so I separated from the man who was, all in all, the best friend I
ever had, except my mother, the man who exerted the greatest influence
ever brought into my life, except that exerted by my mother. My
affection for him was so strong, my recollections of him are so
distinct, he was such a peculiar and striking character, that I could
easily fill several chapters with reminiscences of him; but for fear
of tiring the reader I shall go on with my narration.

I decided to go to Liverpool and take ship for Boston. I still had an
uneasy feeling about returning to New York; and in a few days I found
myself aboard ship headed for home.




X


Among the first of my fellow-passengers of whom I took any particular
notice was a tall, broad-shouldered, almost gigantic, colored man.
His dark-brown face was clean-shaven; he was well-dressed and bore a
decidedly distinguished air. In fact, if he was not handsome, he at
least compelled admiration for his fine physical proportions. He
attracted general attention as he strode the deck in a sort of
majestic loneliness. I became curious to know who he was and
determined to strike up an acquaintance with him at the first
opportune moment. The chance came a day or two later. He was sitting
in the smoking-room, with a cigar, which had gone out, in his mouth,
reading a novel. I sat down beside him and, offering him a fresh
cigar, said: "You don't mind my telling you something unpleasant, do
you?" He looked at me with a smile, accepted the proffered cigar,
and replied in a voice which comported perfectly with his size and
appearance: "I think my curiosity overcomes any objections I might
have." "Well," I said, "have you noticed that the man who sat at your
right in the saloon during the first meal has not sat there since?" He
frowned slightly without answering my question. "Well," I continued,
"he asked the steward to remove him; and not only that, he attempted
to persuade a number of the passengers to protest against your
presence in the dining-saloon." The big man at my side took a long
draw from his cigar, threw his head back, and slowly blew a great
cloud of smoke toward the ceiling. Then turning to me he said: "Do you
know, I don't object to anyone's having prejudices so long as those
prejudices don't interfere with my personal liberty. Now, the man you
are speaking of had a perfect right to change his seat if I in any way
interfered with his appetite or his digestion. I should have no reason
to complain if he removed to the farthest corner of the saloon, or
even if he got off the ship; but when his prejudice attempts to move
_me_ one foot, one inch, out of the place where I am comfortably
located, then I object." On the word "object" he brought his great
fist down on the table in front of us with such a crash that
everyone in the room turned to look. We both covered up the slight
embarrassment with a laugh and strolled out on the deck.

We walked the deck for an hour or more, discussing different phases
of the Negro question. In referring to the race I used the personal
pronoun "we"; my companion made no comment about it, nor evinced any
surprise, except to raise his eyebrows slightly the first time he
caught the significance of the word. He was the broadest-minded
colored man I have ever talked with on the Negro question. He even
went so far as to sympathize with and offer excuses for some white
Southern points of view. I asked him what were his main reasons for
being so hopeful. He replied: "In spite of all that is written, said,
and done, this great, big, incontrovertible fact stands out--the Negro
is progressing, and that disproves all the arguments in the world
that he is incapable of progress. I was born in slavery, and at
emancipation was set adrift a ragged, penniless bit of humanity. I
have seen the Negro in every grade, and I know what I am talking
about. Our detractors point to the increase of crime as evidence
against us; certainly we have progressed in crime as in other things;
what less could be expected? And yet, in this respect, we are far from
the point which has been reached by the more highly civilized white
race. As we continue to progress, crime among us will gradually lose
much of its brutal, vulgar, I might say healthy, aspect, and become
more delicate, refined, and subtle. Then it will be less shocking and
noticeable, although more dangerous to society." Then dropping his
tone of irony, he continued with some show of eloquence: "But, above
all, when I am discouraged and disheartened, I have this to fall back
on: if there is a principle of right in the world, which finally
prevails, and I believe that there is; if there is a merciful but
justice-loving God in heaven, and I believe that there is, we shall
win; for we have right on our side, while those who oppose us can
defend themselves by nothing in the moral law, nor even by anything in
the enlightened thought of the present age."

For several days, together with other topics, we discussed the race
problem, not only of the United States, but as it affected native
Africans and Jews. Finally, before we reached Boston, our conversation
had grown familiar and personal. I had told him something of my past
and much about my intentions for the future. I learned that he was a
physician, a graduate of Howard University, Washington, and had done
post-graduate work in Philadelphia; and this was his second trip
abroad to attend professional courses. He had practiced for some years
in the city of Washington, and though he did not say so, I gathered
that his practice was a lucrative one. Before we left the ship, he
had made me promise that I would stop two or three days in Washington
before going on south.

We put up at a hotel in Boston for a couple of days and visited
several of my new friend's acquaintances; they were all people of
education and culture and, apparently, of means. I could not help
being struck by the great difference between them and the same class
of colored people in the South. In speech and thought they were
genuine Yankees. The difference was especially noticeable in their
speech. There was none of that heavy-tongued enunciation which
characterizes even the best-educated colored people of the South. It
is remarkable, after all, what an adaptable creature the Negro is.
I have seen the black West Indian gentleman in London, and he is in
speech and manners a perfect Englishman. I have seen natives of Haiti
and Martinique in Paris, and they are more Frenchy than a Frenchman.
I have no doubt that the Negro would make a good Chinaman, with
exception of the pigtail.

My stay in Washington, instead of being two or three days, was two or
three weeks. This was my first visit to the national capital, and
I was, of course, interested in seeing the public buildings and
something of the working of the government; but most of my time I
spent with the doctor among his friends and acquaintances. The social
phase of life among colored people is more developed in Washington
than in any other city in the country. This is on account of the large
number of individuals earning good salaries and having a reasonable
amount of leisure time to draw from. There are dozens of physicians
and lawyers, scores of school teachers, and hundreds of clerks in the
departments. As to the colored department clerks, I think it fair to
say that in educational equipment they average above the white clerks
of the same grade; for, whereas a colored college graduate will seek
such a job, the white university man goes into one of the many higher
vocations which are open to him.

In a previous chapter I spoke of social life among colored people; so
there is no need to take it up again here. But there is one thing
I did not mention: among Negroes themselves there is the peculiar
inconsistency of a color question. Its existence is rarely admitted
and hardly ever mentioned; it may not be too strong a statement to say
that the greater portion of the race is unconscious of its influence;
yet this influence, though silent, is constant. It is evidenced most
plainly in marriage selection; thus the black men generally marry
women fairer than themselves; while, on the other hand, the dark
women of stronger mental endowment are very often married to
light-complexioned men; the effect is a tendency toward lighter
complexions, especially among the more active elements in the race.
Some might claim that this is a tacit admission of colored people
among themselves of their own inferiority judged by the color line. I
do not think so. What I have termed an inconsistency is, after all,
most natural; it is, in fact, a tendency in accordance with what might
be called an economic necessity. So far as racial differences go, the
United States puts a greater premium on color, or, better, lack of
color, than upon anything else in the world. To paraphrase, "Have a
white skin, and all things else may be added unto you." I have seen
advertisements in newspapers for waiters, bell-boys, or elevator men,
which read: "Light-colored man wanted." It is this tremendous pressure
which the sentiment of the country exerts that is operating on the
race. There is involved not only the question of higher opportunity,
but often the question of earning a livelihood; and so I say it is not
strange, but a natural tendency. Nor is it any more a sacrifice of
self-respect that a black man should give to his children every
advantage he can which complexion of the skin carries than that the
new or vulgar rich should purchase for their children the advantages
which ancestry, aristocracy, and social position carry. I once heard a
colored man sum it up in these words: "It's no disgrace to be black,
but it's often very inconvenient."

Washington shows the Negro not only at his best, but also at his
worst. As I drove around with the doctor, he commented rather harshly
on those of the latter class which we saw. He remarked: "You see those
lazy, loafing, good-for-nothing darkies; they're not worth digging
graves for; yet they are the ones who create impressions of the race
for the casual observer. It's because they are always in evidence on
the street corners, while the rest of us are hard at work, and
you know a dozen loafing darkies make a bigger crowd and a worse
impression in this country than fifty white men of the same class. But
they ought not to represent the race. We are the race, and the race
ought to be judged by us, not by them. Every race and every nation
should be judged by the best it has been able to produce, not by the
worst."

The recollection of my stay in Washington is a pleasure to me now.
In company with the doctor I visited Howard University, the public
schools, the excellent colored hospital, with which he was in some
way connected, if I remember correctly, and many comfortable and even
elegant homes. It was with some reluctance that I continued my journey
south. The doctor was very kind in giving me letters to people in
Richmond and Nashville when I told him that I intended to stop in
both of these cities. In Richmond a man who was then editing a very
creditable colored newspaper gave me a great deal of his time and made
my stay there of three or four days very pleasant. In Nashville
I spent a whole day at Fisk University, the home of the "Jubilee
Singers," and was more than repaid for my time. Among my letters of
introduction was one to a very prosperous physician. He drove me about
the city and introduced me to a number of people. From Nashville I
went to Atlanta, where I stayed long enough to gratify an old desire
to see Atlanta University again. I then continued my journey to Macon.

During the trip from Nashville to Atlanta I went into the
smoking-compartment of the car to smoke a cigar. I was traveling in a
Pullman, not because of an abundance of funds, but because through my
experience with my millionaire a certain amount of comfort and luxury
had become a necessity to me whenever it was obtainable. When I
entered the car, I found only a couple of men there; but in a
half-hour there were half a dozen or more. From the general
conversation I learned that a fat Jewish-looking man was a cigar
manufacturer, and was experimenting in growing Havana tobacco in
Florida; that a slender bespectacled young man was from Ohio and
a professor in some State institution in Alabama; that a
white-mustached, well-dressed man was an old Union soldier who had
fought through the Civil War; and that a tall, raw-boned, red-faced
man, who seemed bent on leaving nobody in ignorance of the fact that
he was from Texas, was a cotton planter.

In the North men may ride together for hours in a "smoker" and unless
they are acquainted with each other never exchange a word; in the
South men thrown together in such manner are friends in fifteen
minutes. There is always present a warm-hearted cordiality which will
melt down the most frigid reserve. It may be because Southerners are
very much like Frenchmen in that they must talk; and not only must
they talk, but they must express their opinions.

The talk in the car was for a while miscellaneous--on the weather,
crops, business prospects; the old Union soldier had invested capital
in Atlanta, and he predicted that that city would soon be one of the
greatest in the country. Finally the conversation drifted to politics;
then, as a natural sequence, turned upon the Negro question.

In the discussion of the race question the diplomacy of the Jew was
something to be admired; he had the faculty of agreeing with everybody
without losing his allegiance to any side. He knew that to sanction
Negro oppression would be to sanction Jewish oppression and would
expose him to a shot along that line from the old soldier, who stood
firmly on the ground of equal rights and opportunity to all men; long
traditions and business instincts told him when in Rome to act as a
Roman. Altogether his position was a delicate one, and I gave him
credit for the skill he displayed in maintaining it. The young
professor was apologetic. He had had the same views as the G.A.R. man;
but a year in the South had opened his eyes, and he had to confess
that the problem could hardly be handled any better than it was being
handled by the Southern whites. To which the G.A.R. man responded
somewhat rudely that he had spent ten times as many years in the South
as his young friend and that he could easily understand how holding a
position in a State institution in Alabama would bring about a change
of views. The professor turned very red and had very little more to
say. The Texan was fierce, eloquent, and profane in his argument, and,
in a lower sense, there was a direct logic in what he said, which was
convincing; it was only by taking higher ground, by dealing in what
Southerners call "theories," that he could be combated. Occasionally
some one of the several other men in the "smoker" would throw in a
remark to reinforce what he said, but he really didn't need any help;
he was sufficient in himself.

In the course of a short time the controversy narrowed itself down
to an argument between the old soldier and the Texan. The latter
maintained hotly that the Civil War was a criminal mistake on the part
of the North and that the humiliation which the South suffered during
Reconstruction could never be forgotten. The Union man retorted just
as hotly that the South was responsible for the war and that the
spirit of unforgetfulness on its part was the greatest cause of
present friction; that it seemed to be the one great aim of the South
to convince the North that the latter made a mistake in fighting to
preserve the Union and liberate the slaves. "Can you imagine," he went
on to say, "what would have been the condition of things eventually if
there had been no war, and the South had been allowed to follow its
course? Instead of one great, prosperous country with nothing before
it but the conquests of peace, a score of petty republics, as in
Central and South America, wasting their energies in war with each
other or in revolutions."

"Well," replied the Texan, "anything--no country at all--is better
than having niggers over you. But anyhow, the war was fought and the
niggers were freed; for it's no use beating around the bush, the
niggers, and not the Union, was the cause of it; and now do you
believe that all the niggers on earth are worth the good white blood
that was spilt? You freed the nigger and you gave him the ballot, but
you couldn't make a citizen out of him. He don't know what he's voting
for, and we buy 'em like so many hogs. You're giving 'em education,
but that only makes slick rascals out of 'em."

"Don't fancy for a moment," said the Northern man, "that you have any
monopoly in buying ignorant votes. The same thing is done on a larger
scale in New York and Boston, and in Chicago and San Francisco; and
they are not black votes either. As to education's making the Negro
worse, you might just as well tell me that religion does the same
thing. And, by the way, how many educated colored men do you know
personally?"

The Texan admitted that he knew only one, and added that he was in
the penitentiary. "But," he said, "do you mean to claim, ballot or
no ballot, education or no education, that niggers are the equals of
white men?"

"That's not the question," answered the other, "but if the Negro is so
distinctly inferior, it is a strange thing to me that it takes such
tremendous effort on the part of the white man to make him realize it,
and to keep him in the same place into which inferior men naturally
fall. However, let us grant for sake of argument that the Negro is
inferior in every respect to the white man; that fact only increases
our moral responsibility in regard to our actions toward him.
Inequalities of numbers, wealth, and power, even of intelligence and
morals, should make no difference in the essential rights of men."

"If he's inferior and weaker, and is shoved to the wall, that's his
own look-out," said the Texan. "That's the law of nature; and he's
bound to go to the wall; for no race in the world has ever been able
to stand competition with the Anglo-Saxon. The Anglo-Saxon race has
always been and always will be the masters of the world, and the
niggers in the South ain't going to change all the records of
history."

"My friend," said the old soldier slowly, "if you have studied
history, will you tell me, as confidentially between white men, what
the Anglo-Saxon has ever done?"

The Texan was too much astonished by the question to venture any
reply.

His opponent continued: "Can you name a single one of the great
fundamental and original intellectual achievements which have
raised man in the scale of civilization that may be credited to the
Anglo-Saxon? The art of letters, of poetry, of music, of sculpture, of
painting, of the drama, of architecture; the science of mathematics,
of astronomy, of philosophy, of logic, of physics, of chemistry, the
use of the metals, and the principles of mechanics, were all invented
or discovered by darker and what we now call inferior races and
nations. We have carried many of these to their highest point of
perfection, but the foundation was laid by others. Do you know the
only original contribution to civilization we can claim is what we
have done in steam and electricity and in making implements of war
more deadly? And there we worked largely on principles which we did
not discover. Why, we didn't even originate the religion we use. We
are a great race, the greatest in the world today, but we ought to
remember that we are standing on a pile of past races, and enjoy our
position with a little less show of arrogance. We are simply having
our turn at the game, and we were a long time getting to it. After
all, racial supremacy is merely a matter of dates in history. The man
here who belongs to what is, all in all, the greatest race the world
ever produced, is almost ashamed to own it. If the Anglo-Saxon is
the source of everything good and great in the human race from
the beginning, why wasn't the German forest the birthplace of
civilization, rather than the valley of the Nile?"

The Texan was somewhat disconcerted, for the argument had passed a
little beyond his limits, but he swung it back to where he was sure of
his ground by saying: "All that may be true, but it hasn't got much to
do with us and the niggers here in the South. We've got 'em here,
and we've got 'em to live with, and it's a question of white man or
nigger, no middle ground. You want us to treat niggers as equals. Do
you want to see 'em sitting around in our parlors? Do you want to see
a mulatto South? To bring it right home to you, would you let your
daughter marry a nigger?"

"No, I wouldn't consent to my daughter's marrying a nigger, but that
doesn't prevent my treating a black man fairly. And I don't see what
fair treatment has to do with niggers sitting around in your parlors;
they can't come there unless they're invited. Out of all the white men
I know, only a hundred or so have the privilege of sitting around in
my parlor. As to the mulatto South, if you Southerners have one boast
that is stronger than another, it is your women; you put them on a
pinnacle of purity and virtue and bow down in a chivalric worship
before them; yet you talk and act as though, should you treat the
Negro fairly and take the anti-inter-marriage laws off your statute
books, these same women would rush into the arms of black lovers and
husbands. It's a wonder to me that they don't rise up and resent the
insult."

"Colonel," said the Texan, as he reached into his handbag and brought
out a large flask of whisky, "you might argue from now until hell
freezes over, and you might convince me that you're right, but you'll
never convince me that I'm wrong. All you say sounds very good, but
it's got nothing to do with facts. You can say what men ought to be,
but they ain't that; so there you are. Down here in the South we're up
against facts, and we're meeting 'em like facts. We don't believe the
nigger is or ever will be the equal of the white man, and we ain't
going to treat him as an equal; I'll be damned if we will. Have a
drink." Everybody except the professor partook of the generous Texan's
flask, and the argument closed in a general laugh and good feeling.

I went back into the main part of the car with the conversation on my
mind. Here I had before me the bald, raw, naked aspects of the race
question in the South; and, in consideration of the step I was just
taking, it was far from encouraging. The sentiments of the Texan--and
he expressed the sentiments of the South--fell upon me like a chill. I
was sick at heart. Yet I must confess that underneath it all I felt a
certain sort of admiration for the man who could not be swayed from
what he held as his principles. Contrasted with him, the young Ohio
professor was indeed a pitiable character. And all along, in spite of
myself, I have been compelled to accord the same kind of admiration to
the Southern white man for the manner in which he defends not only his
virtues, but his vices. He knows that, judged by a high standard, he
is narrow and prejudiced, that he is guilty of unfairness, oppression,
and cruelty, but this he defends as stoutly as he would his better
qualities. This same spirit obtains in a great degree among the
blacks; they, too, defend their faults and failings. This they
generally do whenever white people are concerned. And yet among
themselves they are their own most merciless critics. I have never
heard the race so terribly arraigned as I have by colored speakers to
strictly colored audiences. It is the spirit of the South to defend
everything belonging to it. The North is too cosmopolitan and tolerant
for such a spirit. If you should say to an Easterner that Paris is a
gayer city than New York, he would be likely to agree with you, or
at least to let you have your own way; but to suggest to a South
Carolinian that Boston is a nicer city to live in than Charleston
would be to stir his greatest depths of argument and eloquence.

But to-day, as I think over that smoking-car argument, I can see it
in a different light. The Texan's position does not render things
so hopeless, for it indicates that the main difficulty of the race
question does not lie so much in the actual condition of the blacks as
it does in the mental attitude of the whites; and a mental attitude,
especially one not based on truth, can be changed more easily than
actual conditions. That is to say, the burden of the question is not
that the whites are struggling to save ten million despondent and
moribund people from sinking into a hopeless slough of ignorance,
poverty, and barbarity in their very midst, but that they are
unwilling to open certain doors of opportunity and to accord certain
treatment to ten million aspiring, education-and-property-acquiring
people. In a word, the difficulty of the problem is not so much due to
the facts presented as to the hypothesis assumed for its solution. In
this it is similar to the problem of the solar system. By a complex,
confusing, and almost contradictory mathematical process, by the use
of zigzags instead of straight lines, the earth can be proved to be
the center of things celestial; but by an operation so simple that it
can be comprehended by a schoolboy, its position can be verified
among the other worlds which revolve about the sun, and its movements
harmonized with the laws of the universe. So, when the white race
assumes as a hypothesis that it is the main object of creation and
that all things else are merely subsidiary to its well-being,
sophism, subterfuge, perversion of conscience, arrogance, injustice,
oppression, cruelty, sacrifice of human blood, all are required to
maintain the position, and its dealings with other races become
indeed a problem, a problem which, if based on a hypothesis of common
humanity, could be solved by the simple rules of justice.

When I reached Macon, I decided to leave my trunk and all my surplus
belongings, to pack my bag, and strike out into the interior. This
I did; and by train, by mule and ox-cart, I traveled through many
counties. This was my first real experience among rural colored
people, and all that I saw was interesting to me; but there was a
great deal which does not require description at my hands; for log
cabins and plantations and dialect-speaking "darkies" are perhaps
better known in American literature than any other single picture of
our national life. Indeed, they form an ideal and exclusive literary
concept of the American Negro to such an extent that it is almost
impossible to get the reading public to recognize him in any other
setting; so I shall endeavor to avoid giving the reader any already
overworked and hackneyed descriptions. This generally accepted
literary ideal of the American Negro constitutes what is really an
obstacle in the way of the thoughtful and progressive element of
the race. His character has been established as a happy-go-lucky,
laughing, shuffling, banjo-picking being, and the reading public has
not yet been prevailed upon to take him seriously. His efforts
to elevate himself socially are looked upon as a sort of absurd
caricature of "white civilization." A novel dealing with colored
people who lived in respectable homes and amidst a fair degree of
culture and who naturally acted "just like white folks" would be taken
in a comic-opera sense. In this respect the Negro is much in the
position of a great comedian who gives up the lighter roles to play
tragedy. No matter how well he may portray the deeper passions,
the public is loath to give him up in his old character; they even
conspire to make him a failure in serious work, in order to force him
back into comedy. In the same respect, the public is not too much
to be blamed, for great comedians are far more scarce than mediocre
tragedians; every amateur actor is a tragedian. However, this very
fact constitutes the opportunity of the future Negro novelist and poet
to give the country something new and unknown, in depicting the life,
the ambitions, the struggles, and the passions of those of their race
who are striving to break the narrow limits of traditions. A beginning
has already been made in that remarkable book by Dr. Du Bois, _The
Souls of Black Folk_.

Much, too, that I saw while on this trip, in spite of my enthusiasm,
was disheartening. Often I thought of what my millionaire had said to
me, and wished myself back in Europe. The houses in which I had to
stay were generally uncomfortable, sometimes worse. I often had to
sleep in a division or compartment with several other people. Once or
twice I was not so fortunate as to find divisions; everybody slept
on pallets on the floor. Frequently I was able to lie down and
contemplate the stars which were in their zenith. The food was at
times so distasteful and poorly cooked that I could not eat it. I
remember that once I lived for a week or more on buttermilk, on
account of not being able to stomach the fat bacon, the rank
turnip-tops, and the heavy damp mixture of meal, salt, and water which
was called corn bread. It was only my ambition to do the work which I
had planned that kept me steadfast to my purpose. Occasionally I would
meet with some signs of progress and uplift in even one of these
back-wood settlements--houses built of boards, with windows, and
divided into rooms; decent food, and a fair standard of living. This
condition was due to the fact that there was in the community some
exceptionally capable Negro farmer whose thrift served as an example.
As I went about among these dull, simple people--the great majority
of them hard working, in their relations with the whites submissive,
faithful, and often affectionate, negatively content with their
lot--and contrasted them with those of the race who had been quickened
by the forces of thought, I could not but appreciate the logic of the
position held by those Southern leaders who have been bold enough to
proclaim against the education of the Negro. They are consistent in
their public speech with Southern sentiment and desires. Those public
men of the South who have not been daring or heedless enough to
defy the ideals of twentieth-century civilization and of modern
humanitarianism and philanthropy, find themselves in the embarrassing
situation of preaching one thing and praying for another. They are in
the position of the fashionable woman who is compelled by the laws of
polite society to say to her dearest enemy: "How happy I am to see
you!"

And yet in this respect how perplexing is Southern character; for, in
opposition to the above, it may be said that the claim of the Southern
whites that they love the Negro better than the Northern whites do is
in a manner true. Northern white people love the Negro in a sort of
abstract way, as a race; through a sense of justice, charity, and
philanthropy, they will liberally assist in his elevation. A number of
them have heroically spent their lives in this effort (and just here I
wish to say that when the colored people reach the monument-building
stage, they should not forget the men and women who went South after
the war and founded schools for them). Yet, generally speaking, they
have no particular liking for individuals of the race. Southern white
people despise the Negro as a race, and will do nothing to aid in his
elevation as such; but for certain individuals they have a strong
affection, and are helpful to them in many ways. With these individual
members of the race they live on terms of the greatest intimacy; they
entrust to them their children, their family treasures, and their
family secrets; in trouble they often go to them for comfort
and counsel; in sickness they often rely upon their care. This
affectionate relation between the Southern whites and those blacks
who come into close touch with them has not been overdrawn even in
fiction.

This perplexity of Southern character extends even to the intermixture
of the races. That is spoken of as though it were dreaded worse than
smallpox, leprosy, or the plague. Yet, when I was in Jacksonville, I
knew several prominent families there with large colored branches,
which went by the same name and were known and acknowledged as blood
relatives. And what is more, there seemed to exist between these
black brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts a decidedly friendly
feeling.

I said above that Southern whites would do nothing for the Negro as
a race. I know the South claims that it has spent millions for
the education of the blacks, and that it has of its own free will
shouldered this awful burden. It seems to be forgetful of the fact
that these millions have been taken from the public tax funds for
education, and that the law of political economy which recognizes the
land owner as the one who really pays the taxes is not tenable. It
would be just as reasonable for the relatively few land owners of
Manhattan to complain that they had to stand the financial burden of
the education of the thousands and thousands of children whose parents
pay rent for tenements and flats. Let the millions of producing and
consuming Negroes be taken out of the South, and it would be quickly
seen how much less of public funds there would be to appropriate for
education or any other purpose.

In thus traveling about through the country I was sometimes amused
on arriving at some little railroad-station town to be taken for and
treated as a white man, and six hours later, when it was learned that
I was stopping at the house of the colored preacher or school teacher,
to note the attitude of the whole town change. At times this led even
to embarrassment. Yet it cannot be so embarrassing for a colored man
to be taken for white as for a white man to be taken for colored; and
I have heard of several cases of the latter kind.

All this while I was gathering material for work, jotting down in my
note-book themes and melodies, and trying to catch the spirit of the
Negro in his relatively primitive state. I began to feel the necessity
of hurrying so that I might get back to some city like Nashville to
begin my compositions and at the same time earn at least a living
by teaching and performing before my funds gave out. At the last
settlement in which I stopped I found a mine of material. This was due
to the fact that "big meeting" was in progress. "Big meeting" is an
institution something like camp-meeting, the difference being that it
is held in a permanent church, and not in a temporary structure. All
the churches of some one denomination--of course, either Methodist or
Baptist--in a county, or, perhaps, in several adjoining counties, are
closed, and the congregations unite at some centrally located church
for a series of meetings lasting a week. It is really a social as well
as a religious function. The people come in great numbers, making the
trip, according to their financial status, in buggies drawn by sleek,
fleet-footed mules, in ox-carts, or on foot. It was amusing to see
some of the latter class trudging down the hot and dusty road, with
their shoes, which were brand-new, strung across their shoulders. When
they got near the church, they sat on the side of the road and, with
many grimaces, tenderly packed their feet into those instruments of
torture. This furnished, indeed, a trying test of their religion. The
famous preachers come from near and far and take turns in warning
sinners of the day of wrath. Food, in the form of those two Southern
luxuries, fried chicken and roast pork, is plentiful, and no one need
go hungry. On the opening Sunday the women are immaculate in starched
stiff white dresses adorned with ribbons, either red or blue. Even a
great many of the men wear streamers of vari-colored ribbons in the
buttonholes of their coats. A few of them carefully cultivate a
forelock of hair by wrapping it in twine, and on such festive
occasions decorate it with a narrow ribbon streamer. Big meetings
afford a fine opportunity to the younger people to meet each other
dressed in their Sunday clothes, and much rustic courting, which is as
enjoyable as any other kind, is indulged in.

This big meeting which I was lucky enough to catch was particularly
well attended; the extra large attendance was due principally to two
attractions, a man by the name of John Brown, who was renowned as the
most powerful preacher for miles around; and a wonderful leader of
singing, who was known as "Singing Johnson." These two men were a
study and a revelation to me. They caused me to reflect upon how great
an influence their types have been in the development of the Negro
in America. Both these types are now looked upon generally with
condescension or contempt by the progressive element among the colored
people; but it should never be forgotten that it was they who led the
race from paganism and kept it steadfast to Christianity through all
the long, dark years of slavery.

John Brown was a jet-black man of medium size, with a strikingly
intelligent head and face, and a voice like an organ peal. He preached
each night after several lesser lights had successively held the
pulpit during an hour or so. As far as subject-matter is concerned,
all of the sermons were alike: each began with the fall of man, ran
through various trials and tribulations of the Hebrew children, on
to the redemption by Christ, and ended with a fervid picture of the
judgment day and the fate of the damned. But John Brown possessed
magnetism and an imagination so free and daring that he was able to
carry through what the other preachers would not attempt. He knew all
the arts and tricks of oratory, the modulation of the voice to almost
a whisper, the pause for effect, the rise through light, rapid-fire
sentences to the terrific, thundering outburst of an electrifying
climax. In addition, he had the intuition of a born theatrical
manager. Night after night this man held me fascinated. He convinced
me that, after all, eloquence consists more in the manner of saying
than in what is said. It is largely a matter of tone pictures.

The most striking example of John Brown's magnetism and imagination
was his "heavenly march"; I shall never forget how it impressed
me when I heard it. He opened his sermon in the usual way; then,
proclaiming to his listeners that he was going to take them on the
heavenly march, he seized the Bible under his arm and began to pace up
and down the pulpit platform. The congregation immediately began with
their feet a tramp, tramp, tramp, in time with the preacher's march
in the pulpit, all the while singing in an undertone a hymn about
marching to Zion. Suddenly he cried: "Halt!" Every foot stopped with
the precision of a company of well-drilled soldiers, and the singing
ceased. The morning star had been reached. Here the preacher described
the beauties of that celestial body. Then the march, the tramp, tramp,
tramp, and the singing were again taken up. Another "Halt!" They
had reached the evening star. And so on, past the sun and moon--the
intensity of religious emotion all the time increasing--along the
milky way, on up to the gates of heaven. Here the halt was longer,
and the preacher described at length the gates and walls of the New
Jerusalem. Then he took his hearers through the pearly gates, along
the golden streets, pointing out the glories of the city, pausing
occasionally to greet some patriarchal members of the church,
well-known to most of his listeners in life, who had had "the tears
wiped from their eyes, were clad in robes of spotless white, with
crowns of gold upon their heads and harps within their hands," and
ended his march before the great white throne. To the reader this may
sound ridiculous, but listened to under the circumstances, it was
highly and effectively dramatic. I was a more or less sophisticated
and non-religious man of the world, but the torrent of the preacher's
words, moving with the rhythm and glowing with the eloquence of
primitive poetry, swept me along, and I, too, felt like joining in the
shouts of "Amen! Hallelujah!"

John Brown's powers in describing the delights of heaven were no
greater than those in depicting the horrors of hell. I saw great,
strapping fellows trembling and weeping like children at the
"mourners' bench." His warnings to sinners were truly terrible. I
shall never forget one expression that he used, which for originality
and aptness could not be excelled. In my opinion, it is more graphic
and, for us, far more expressive than St. Paul's "It is hard to
kick against the pricks." He struck the attitude of a pugilist and
thundered out: "Young man, your arm's too short to box with God!"

Interesting as was John Brown to me, the other man, "Singing Johnson,"
was more so. He was a small, dark-brown, one-eyed man, with a clear,
strong, high-pitched voice, a leader of singing, a maker of songs, a
man who could improvise at the moment lines to fit the occasion. Not
so striking a figure as John Brown, but, at "big meetings," equally
important. It is indispensable to the success of the singing, when
the congregation is a large one made up of people from different
communities, to have someone with a strong voice who knows just what
hymn to sing and when to sing it, who can pitch it in the right key,
and who has all the leading lines committed to memory. Sometimes it
devolves upon the leader to "sing down" a long-winded or uninteresting
speaker. Committing to memory the leading lines of all the Negro
spiritual songs is no easy task, for they run up into the hundreds.
But the accomplished leader must know them all, because the
congregation sings only the refrains and repeats; every ear in the
church is fixed upon him, and if he becomes mixed in his lines or
forgets them, the responsibility falls directly on his shoulders.

For example, most of these hymns are constructed to be sung in the
following manner:

  Leader. _Swing low, sweet chariot._
  Congregation. _Coming for to carry me home._
  Leader. _Swing low, sweet chariot._
  Congregation. _Coming for to carry me home._
  Leader. _I look over yonder, what do I see?_
  Congregation. _Coming for to carry me home._
  Leader. _Two little angels coming after me._
  Congregation. _Coming for to carry me home...._

The solitary and plaintive voice of the leader is answered by a sound
like the roll of the sea, producing a most curious effect.

In only a few of these songs do the leader and the congregation start
off together. Such a song is the well-known "Steal away to Jesus."

The leader and the congregation begin with part-singing:

  _Steal away, steal away,
  Steal away to Jesus;
  Steal away, steal away home,
  I ain't got long to stay here._

Then the leader alone or the congregation in unison:

  _My Lord he calls me,
  He calls me by the thunder,
  The trumpet sounds within-a my soul._

Then all together:

  _I ain't got long to stay here._

The leader and the congregation again take up the opening refrain;
then the leader sings three more leading lines alone, and so on almost
_ad infinitum_. It will be seen that even here most of the work falls
upon the leader, for the congregation sings the same lines over and
over, while his memory and ingenuity are taxed to keep the songs
going.

Generally the parts taken up by the congregation are sung in a
three-part harmony, the women singing the soprano and a transposed
tenor, the men with high voices singing the melody, and those with
low voices a thundering bass. In a few of these songs, however, the
leading part is sung in unison by the whole congregation, down to
the last line, which is harmonized. The effect of this is intensely
thrilling. Such a hymn is "Go down, Moses." It stirs the heart like a
trumpet call.

"Singing Johnson" was an ideal leader, and his services were in great
demand. He spent his time going about the country from one church
to another. He received his support in much the same way as the
preachers--part of a collection, food and lodging. All of his leisure
time he devoted to originating new words and melodies and new lines
for old songs. He always sang with his eyes--or, to be more exact, his
eye--closed, indicating the _tempo_ by swinging his head to and fro.
He was a great judge of the proper hymn to sing at a particular
moment; and I noticed several times, when the preacher reached a
certain climax, or expressed a certain sentiment, that Johnson broke
in with a line or two of some appropriate hymn. The speaker understood
and would pause until the singing ceased.

As I listened to the singing of these songs, the wonder of their
production grew upon me more and more. How did the men who originated
them manage to do it? The sentiments are easily accounted for; they
are mostly taken from the Bible; but the melodies, where did they come
from? Some of them so weirdly sweet, and others so wonderfully strong.
Take, for instance, "Go down, Moses." I doubt that there is a stronger
theme in the whole musical literature of the world. And so many of
these songs contain more than mere melody; there is sounded in them
that elusive undertone, the note in music which is not heard with the
ears. I sat often with the tears rolling down my cheeks and my heart
melted within me. Any musical person who has never heard a Negro
congregation under the spell of religious fervor sing these old songs
has missed one of the most thrilling emotions which the human heart
may experience. Anyone who without shedding tears can listen to
Negroes sing "Nobody knows de trouble I see, Nobody knows but Jesus"
must indeed have a heart of stone.

As yet, the Negroes themselves do not fully appreciate these old slave
songs. The educated classes are rather ashamed of them and prefer to
sing hymns from books. This feeling is natural; they are still too
close to the conditions under which the songs were produced; but
the day will come when this slave music will be the most treasured
heritage of the American Negro.

At the close of the "big meeting" I left the settlement where it was
being held, full of enthusiasm. I was in that frame of mind which, in
the artistic temperament, amounts to inspiration. I was now ready and
anxious to get to some place where I might settle down to work, and
give expression to the ideas which were teeming in my head; but I
strayed into another deviation from my path of life as I had it marked
out, which led me upon an entirely different road. Instead of going
to the nearest and most convenient railroad station, I accepted the
invitation of a young man who had been present the closing Sunday at
the meeting to drive with him some miles farther to the town in which
he taught school, and there take the train. My conversation with
this young man as we drove along through the country was
extremely interesting. He had been a student in one of the Negro
colleges--strange coincidence, in the very college, as I learned
through him, in which "Shiny" was now a professor. I was, of course,
curious to hear about my boyhood friend; and had it not been vacation
time, and that I was not sure that I should find him, I should have
gone out of my way to pay him a visit; but I determined to write to
him as soon as the school opened. My companion talked to me about his
work among the people, of his hopes and his discouragements. He was
tremendously in earnest; I might say, too much so. In fact, it may
be said that the majority of intelligent colored people are, in some
degree, too much in earnest over the race question. They assume and
carry so much that their progress is at times impeded and they are
unable to see things in their proper proportions. In many instances a
slight exercise of the sense of humor would save much anxiety of soul.
Anyone who marks the general tone of editorials in colored newspapers
is apt to be impressed with this idea. If the mass of Negroes took
their present and future as seriously as do the most of their leaders,
the race would be in no mental condition to sustain the terrible
pressure which it undergoes; it would sink of its own weight. Yet it
must be acknowledged that in the making of a race overseriousness is
a far lesser failing than its reverse, and even the faults resulting
from it lean toward the right.

We drove into the town just before dark. As we passed a large,
unpainted church, my companion pointed it out as the place where he
held his school. I promised that I would go there with him the next
morning and visit awhile. The town was of that kind which hardly
requires or deserves description; a straggling line of brick and
wooden stores on one side of the railroad track and some cottages of
various sizes on the other side constituted about the whole of it. The
young school teacher boarded at the best house in the place owned by
a colored man. It was painted, had glass windows, contained "store
bought" furniture, an organ, and lamps with chimneys. The owner held a
job of some kind on the railroad. After supper it was not long before
everybody was sleepy. I occupied the room with the school teacher. In
a few minutes after we got into the room he was in bed and asleep; but
I took advantage of the unusual luxury of a lamp which gave light, and
sat looking over my notes and jotting down some ideas which were still
fresh in my mind. Suddenly I became conscious of that sense of alarm
which is always aroused by the sound of hurrying footsteps on the
silence of the night. I stopped work and looked at my watch. It was
after eleven. I listened, straining every nerve to hear above the
tumult of my quickening pulse. I caught the murmur of voices, then
the gallop of a horse, then of another and another. Now thoroughly
alarmed, I woke my companion, and together we both listened. After a
moment he put out the light and softly opened the window-blind, and we
cautiously peeped out. We saw men moving in one direction, and from
the mutterings we vaguely caught the rumor that some terrible crime
had been committed. I put on my coat and hat. My friend did all in his
power to dissuade me from venturing out, but it was impossible for me
to remain in the house under such tense excitement. My nerves would
not have stood it. Perhaps what bravery I exercised in going out was
due to the fact that I felt sure my identity as a colored man had not
yet become known in the town.

I went out and, following the drift, reached the railroad station.
There was gathered there a crowd of men, all white, and others were
steadily arriving, seemingly from all the surrounding country. How
did the news spread so quickly? I watched these men moving under
the yellow glare of the kerosene lamps about the station, stern,
comparatively silent, all of them armed, some of them in boots and
spurs; fierce, determined men. I had come to know the type well,
blond, tall, and lean, with ragged mustache and beard, and glittering
gray eyes. At the first suggestion of daylight they began to disperse
in groups, going in several directions. There was no extra noise or
excitement, no loud talking, only swift, sharp words of command given
by those who seemed to be accepted as leaders by mutual understanding.
In fact, the impression made upon me was that everything was being
done in quite an orderly manner. In spite of so many leaving, the
crowd around the station continued to grow; at sunrise there were
a great many women and children. By this time I also noticed some
colored people; a few seemed to be going about customary tasks;
several were standing on the outskirts of the crowd; but the gathering
of Negroes usually seen in such towns was missing.

Before noon they brought him in. Two horsemen rode abreast; between
them, half dragged, the poor wretch made his way through the dust. His
hands were tied behind him, and ropes around his body were fastened to
the saddle horns of his double guard. The men who at midnight had been
stern and silent were now emitting that terror-instilling sound known
as the "rebel yell." A space was quickly cleared in the crowd, and a
rope placed about his neck, when from somewhere came the suggestion,
"Burn him!" It ran like an electric current. Have you ever witnessed
the transformation of human beings into savage beasts? Nothing can be
more terrible. A railroad tie was sunk into the ground, the rope was
removed, and a chain brought and securely coiled around the victim and
the stake. There he stood, a man only in form and stature, every sign
of degeneracy stamped upon his countenance. His eyes were dull
and vacant, indicating not a single ray of thought. Evidently the
realization of his fearful fate had robbed him of whatever reasoning
power he had ever possessed. He was too stunned and stupefied even to
tremble. Fuel was brought from everywhere, oil, the torch; the flames
crouched for an instant as though to gather strength, then leaped up
as high as their victim's head. He squirmed, he writhed, strained at
his chains, then gave out cries and groans that I shall always hear.
The cries and groans were choked off by the fire and smoke; but his
eyes, bulging from their sockets, rolled from side to side, appealing
in vain for help. Some of the crowd yelled and cheered, others seemed
appalled at what they had done, and there were those who turned
away sickened at the sight. I was fixed to the spot where I stood,
powerless to take my eyes from what I did not want to see.

It was over before I realized that time had elapsed. Before I could
make myself believe that what I saw was really happening, I was
looking at a scorched post, a smoldering fire, blackened bones,
charred fragments sifting down through coils of chain; and the smell
of burnt flesh--human flesh--was in my nostrils.

I walked a short distance away and sat down in order to clear my dazed
mind. A great wave of humiliation and shame swept over me. Shame that
I belonged to a race that could be so dealt with; and shame for my
country, that it, the great example of democracy to the world, should
be the only civilized, if not the only state on earth, where a human
being would be burned alive. My heart turned bitter within me. I could
understand why Negroes are led to sympathize with even their worst
criminals and to protect them when possible. By all the impulses of
normal human nature they can and should do nothing less.

Whenever I hear protests from the South that it should be left alone
to deal with the Negro question, my thoughts go back to that scene of
brutality and savagery. I do not see how a people that can find in its
conscience any excuse whatever for slowly burning to death a human
being, or for tolerating such an act, can be entrusted with the
salvation of a race. Of course, there are in the South men of liberal
thought who do not approve lynching, but I wonder how long they will
endure the limits which are placed upon free speech. They still cower
and tremble before "Southern opinion." Even so late as the recent
Atlanta riot those men who were brave enough to speak a word in behalf
of justice and humanity felt called upon, by way of apology, to
preface what they said with a glowing rhetorical tribute to the
Anglo-Saxon's superiority and to refer to the "great and impassable
gulf" between the races "fixed by the Creator at the foundation of the
world." The question of the relative qualities of the two races is
still an open one. The reference to the "great gulf" loses force in
face of the fact that there are in this country perhaps three or four
million people with the blood of both races in their veins; but I fail
to see the pertinency of either statement subsequent to the beating
and murdering of scores of innocent people in the streets of a
civilized and Christian city.

The Southern whites are in many respects a great people. Looked at
from a certain point of view, they are picturesque. If one will put
oneself in a romantic frame of mind, one can admire their notions
of chivalry and bravery and justice. In this same frame of mind an
intelligent man can go to the theatre and applaud the impossible hero,
who with his single sword slays everybody in the play except the
equally impossible heroine. So can an ordinary peace-loving citizen
sit by a comfortable fire and read with enjoyment of the bloody deeds
of pirates and the fierce brutality of Vikings. This is the way in
which we gratify the old, underlying animal instincts and passions;
but we should shudder with horror at the mere idea of such practices
being realities in this day of enlightened and humanitarianized
thought. The Southern whites are not yet living quite in the present
age; many of their general ideas hark back to a former century,
some of them to the Dark Ages. In the light of other days they are
sometimes magnificent. Today they are often cruel and ludicrous.

How long I sat with bitter thoughts running through my mind I do not
know; perhaps an hour or more. When I decided to get up and go back to
the house, I found that I could hardly stand on my feet. I was as weak
as a man who had lost blood. However, I dragged myself along, with the
central idea of a general plan well fixed in my mind. I did not find
my school teacher friend at home, so I did not see him again. I
swallowed a few mouthfuls of food, packed my bag, and caught the
afternoon train.

When I reached Macon, I stopped only long enough to get the main part
of my luggage and to buy a ticket for New York.


All along the journey I was occupied in debating with myself the step
which I had decided to take. I argued that to forsake one's race to
better one's condition was no less worthy an action than to forsake
one's country for the same purpose. I finally made up my mind that I
would neither disclaim the black race nor claim the white race; but
that I would change my name, raise a mustache, and let the world take
me for what it would; that it was not necessary for me to go about
with a label of inferiority pasted across my forehead. All the while
I understood that it was not discouragement or fear or search for a
larger field of action and opportunity that was driving me out of the
Negro race. I knew that it was shame, unbearable shame. Shame at being
identified with a people that could with impunity be treated worse
than animals. For certainly the law would restrain and punish the
malicious burning alive of animals.

So once again I found myself gazing at the towers of New York and
wondering what future that city held in store for me.




XI


I have now reached that part of my narrative where I must be brief and
touch only on important facts; therefore the reader must make up his
mind to pardon skips and jumps and meager details.

When I reached New York, I was completely lost. I could not have felt
more a stranger had I been suddenly dropped into Constantinople. I
knew not where to turn or how to strike out. I was so oppressed by
a feeling of loneliness that the temptation to visit my old home in
Connecticut was well-nigh irresistible. I reasoned, however, that
unless I found my old music teacher, I should be, after so many
years of absence, as much of a stranger there as in New York; and,
furthermore, that in view of the step which I had decided to take,
such a visit would be injudicious. I remembered, too, that I had some
property there in the shape of a piano and a few books, but decided
that it would not be worth what it might cost me to take possession.

By reason of the fact that my living expenses in the South had been
very small, I still had nearly four hundred dollars of my capital
left. In contemplation of this, my natural and acquired Bohemian
tastes asserted themselves, and I decided to have a couple of weeks'
good time before worrying seriously about the future. I went to Coney
Island and the other resorts, took in the pre-season shows along
Broadway, and ate at first-class restaurants; but I shunned the old
Sixth Avenue district as though it were pest-infected. My few days of
pleasure made appalling inroads upon what cash I had, and caused me
to see that it required a good deal of money to live in New York as I
wished to live and that I should have to find, very soon, some more or
less profitable employment. I was sure that unknown, without friends
or prestige, it would be useless to try to establish myself as a
teacher of music; so I gave that means of earning a livelihood
scarcely any consideration. And even had I considered it possible to
secure pupils, as I then felt, I should have hesitated about taking up
a work in which the chances for any considerable financial success are
necessarily so small. I had made up my mind that since I was not going
to be a Negro, I would avail myself of every possible opportunity to
make a white man's success; and that, if it can be summed up in any
one word, means "money."

I watched the "want" columns in the newspapers and answered a number
of advertisements, but in each case found the positions were such as I
could not fill or did not want. I also spent several dollars for "ads"
which brought me no replies. In this way I came to know the hopes and
disappointments of a large and pitiable class of humanity in this
great city, the people who look for work through the newspapers.
After some days of this sort of experience I concluded that the main
difficulty with me was that I was not prepared for what I wanted to
do. I then decided upon a course which, for an artist, showed an
uncommon amount of practical sense and judgment. I made up my mind to
enter a business college. I took a small room, ate at lunch counters,
in order to economize, and pursued my studies with the zeal that I
have always been able to put into any work upon which I set my heart.
Yet, in spite of all my economy, when I had been at the school for
several months, my funds gave out completely. I reached the point
where I could not afford sufficient food for each day. In this plight
I was glad to get, through one of the teachers, a job as an ordinary
clerk in a downtown wholesale house. I did my work faithfully, and
received a raise of salary before I expected it. I even managed to
save a little money out of my modest earnings. In fact, I began then
to contract the money fever, which later took strong possession of me.
I kept my eyes open, watching for a chance to better my condition. It
finally came in the form of a position with a house which was at the
time establishing a South American department. My knowledge of Spanish
was, of course, the principal cause of my good luck; and it did more
for me: it placed me where the other clerks were practically put out
of competition with me. I was not slow in taking advantage of the
opportunity to make myself indispensable to the firm.

What an interesting and absorbing game is money-making! After each
deposit at my savings-bank I used to sit and figure out, all over
again, my principal and interest, and make calculations on what the
increase would be in such and such time. Out of this I derived a great
deal of pleasure. I denied myself as much as possible in order to
swell my savings. As much as I enjoyed smoking, I limited myself to an
occasional cigar, and that was generally of a variety which in my old
days at the "Club" was known as a "Henry Mud." Drinking I cut out
altogether, but that was no great sacrifice.

The day on which I was able to figure up a thousand dollars marked
an epoch in my life. And this was not because I had never before had
money. In my gambling days and while I was with my millionaire I
handled sums running high up into the hundreds; but they had come to
me like fairy godmother's gifts, and at a time when my conception of
money was that it was made only to spend. Here, on the other hand, was
a thousand dollars which I had earned by days of honest and patient
work, a thousand dollars which I had carefully watched grow from
the first dollar; and I experienced, in owning them, a pride and
satisfaction which to me was an entirely new sensation. As my capital
went over the thousand-dollar mark, I was puzzled to know what to do
with it, how to put it to the most advantageous use. I turned down
first one scheme and then another, as though they had been devised
for the sole purpose of gobbling up my money. I finally listened to a
friend who advised me to put all I had in New York real estate; and
under his guidance I took equity in a piece of property on which stood
a rickety old tenement-house. I did not regret following this friend's
advice, for in something like six months I disposed of my equity for
more than double my investment. From that time on I devoted myself to
the study of New York real estate and watched for opportunities to
make similar investments. In spite of two or three speculations which
did not turn out well, I have been remarkably successful. Today I am
the owner and part-owner of several flat-houses. I have changed my
place of employment four times since returning to New York, and each
change has been a decided advancement. Concerning the position which I
now hold I shall say nothing except that it pays extremely well.

As my outlook on the world grew brighter, I began to mingle in the
social circles of the men with whom I came in contact; and gradually,
by a process of elimination, I reached a grade of society of no small
degree of culture. My appearance was always good and my ability to
play on the piano, especially ragtime, which was then at the height of
its vogue, made me a welcome guest. The anomaly of my social position
often appealed strongly to my sense of humor. I frequently smiled
inwardly at some remark not altogether complimentary to people of
color; and more than once I felt like declaiming: "I am a colored man.
Do I not disprove the theory that one drop of Negro blood renders a
man unfit?" Many a night when I returned to my room after an enjoyable
evening, I laughed heartily over what struck me as the capital joke I
was playing.

Then I met her, and what I had regarded as a joke was gradually
changed into the most serious question of my life. I first saw her
at a musical which was given one evening at a house to which I was
frequently invited. I did not notice her among the other guests before
she came forward and sang two sad little songs. When she began, I was
out in the hallway, where many of the men were gathered; but with the
first few notes I crowded with others into the doorway to see who the
singer was. When I saw the girl, the surprise which I had felt at the
first sound of her voice was heightened; she was almost tall and quite
slender, with lustrous yellow hair and eyes so blue as to appear
almost black. She was as white as a lily, and she was dressed in
white. Indeed, she seemed to me the most dazzlingly white thing I had
ever seen. But it was not her delicate beauty which attracted me most;
it was her voice, a voice which made one wonder how tones of such
passionate color could come from so fragile a body.

I determined that when the program was over, I would seek an
introduction to her; but at the moment, instead of being the easy
man of the world, I became again the bashful boy of fourteen, and my
courage failed me. I contented myself with hovering as near her as
politeness would permit; near enough to hear her voice, which in
conversation was low, yet thrilling, like the deeper middle tones of a
flute. I watched the men gather round her talking and laughing in an
easy manner, and wondered how it was possible for them to do it. But
destiny, my special destiny, was at work. I was standing near, talking
with affected gaiety to several young ladies, who, however, must have
remarked my preoccupation; for my second sense of hearing was alert to
what was being said by the group of which the girl in white was the
center, when I heard her say: "I think his playing of Chopin is
exquisite." And one of my friends in the group replied: "You haven't
met him? Allow me----" Then turning to me, "Old man, when you have a
moment I wish you to meet Miss ----." I don't know what she said to me
or what I said to her. I can remember that I tried to be clever, and
experienced a growing conviction that I was making myself appear more
and more idiotic. I am certain, too, that, in spite of my Italian-like
complexion, I was as red as a beet.

Instead of taking the car, I walked home. I needed the air and
exercise as a sort of sedative. I am not sure whether my troubled
condition of mind was due to the fact that I had been struck by love
or to the feeling that I had made a bad impression upon her.

As the weeks went by, and when I had met her several more times, I
came to know that I was seriously in love; and then began for me days
of worry, for I had more than the usual doubts and fears of a young
man in love to contend with.

Up to this time I had assumed and played my role as a white man with a
certain degree of nonchalance, a carelessness as to the outcome, which
made the whole thing more amusing to me than serious; but now I ceased
to regard "being a white man" as a sort of practical joke. My acting
had called for mere external effects. Now I began to doubt my ability
to play the part. I watched her to see if she was scrutinizing me, to
see if she was looking for anything in me which made me differ
from the other men she knew. In place of an old inward feeling of
superiority over many of my friends I began to doubt myself. I began
even to wonder if I really was like the men I associated with; if
there was not, after all, an indefinable something which marked a
difference.

But, in spite of my doubts and timidity, my affair progressed, and I
finally felt sufficiently encouraged to decide to ask her to marry
me. Then began the hardest struggle of my life, whether to ask her to
marry me under false colors or to tell her the whole truth. My sense
of what was exigent made me feel there was no necessity of saying
anything; but my inborn sense of honor rebelled at even indirect
deception in this case. But however much I moralized on the question,
I found it more and more difficult to reach the point of confession.
The dread that I might lose her took possession of me each time I
sought to speak, and rendered it impossible for me to do so. That
moral courage requires more than physical courage is no mere poetic
fancy. I am sure I should have found it easier to take the place of a
gladiator, no matter how fierce the Numidian lion, than to tell that
slender girl that I had Negro blood in my veins. The fact which I had
at times wished to cry out, I now wished to hide forever.

During this time we were drawn together a great deal by the mutual
bond of music. She loved to hear me play Chopin and was herself far
from being a poor performer of his compositions. I think I carried
her every new song that was published which I thought suitable to her
voice, and played the accompaniment for her. Over these songs we were
like two innocent children with new toys. She had never been anything
but innocent; but my innocence was a transformation wrought by my love
for her, love which melted away my cynicism and whitened my sullied
soul and gave me back the wholesome dreams of my boyhood.

My artistic temperament also underwent an awakening. I spent many
hours at my piano, playing over old and new composers. I also wrote
several little pieces in a more or less Chopinesque style, which I
dedicated to her. And so the weeks and months went by. Often words of
love trembled on my lips, but I dared not utter them, because I knew
they would have to be followed by other words which I had not the
courage to frame. There might have been some other woman in my set
whom I could have fallen in love with and asked to marry me without a
word of explanation; but the more I knew this girl, the less could I
find it in my heart to deceive her. And yet, in spite of this specter
that was constantly looming up before me, I could never have believed
that life held such happiness as was contained in those dream days of
love.

One Saturday afternoon, in early June, I was coming up Fifth Avenue,
and at the corner of Twenty-third Street I met her. She had been
shopping. We stopped to chat for a moment, and I suggested that we
spend half an hour at the Eden Musee. We were standing leaning on the
rail in front of a group of figures, more interested in what we had to
say to each other than in the group, when my attention became fixed
upon a man who stood at my side studying his catalogue. It took me
only an instant to recognize in him my old friend "Shiny." My first
impulse was to change my position at once. As quick as a flash I
considered all the risks I might run in speaking to him, and most
especially the delicate question of introducing him to her. I confess
that in my embarrassment and confusion I felt small and mean. But
before I could decide what to do, he looked around at me and, after an
instant, quietly asked: "Pardon me; but isn't this----?" The nobler
part in me responded to the sound of his voice and I took his hand in a
hearty clasp. Whatever fears I had felt were quickly banished, for he
seemed, at a glance, to divine my situation, and let drop no word that
would have aroused suspicion as to the truth. With a slight misgiving
I presented him to her and was again relieved of fear. She received
the introduction in her usual gracious manner, and without the least
hesitancy or embarrassment joined in the conversation. An amusing part
about the introduction was that I was upon the point of introducing
him as "Shiny," and stammered a second or two before I could recall
his name. We chatted for some fifteen minutes. He was spending his
vacation north, with the intention of doing four or six weeks' work in
one of the summer schools; he was also going to take a bride back with
him in the fall. He asked me about myself, but in so diplomatic a
way that I found no difficulty in answering him. The polish of his
language and he unpedantic manner in which he revealed his culture
greatly impressed her; and after we had left the Musee she showed it
by questioning me about him. I was surprised at the amount of
interest a refined black man could arouse. Even after changes in the
conversation she reverted several times to the subject of "Shiny."
Whether it was more than mere curiosity I could not tell, but I was
convinced that she herself knew very little about prejudice.

Just why it should have done so I do not know, but somehow the "Shiny"
incident gave me encouragement and confidence to cast the die of my
fate. I reasoned, however, that since I wanted to marry her only, and
since it concerned her alone, I would divulge my secret to no one
else, not even her parents.

One evening, a few days afterwards, at her home we were going over
some new songs and compositions when she asked me, as she often did,
to play the Thirteenth Nocturne. When I began, she drew a chair near
to my right and sat leaning with her elbow on the end of the piano,
her chin resting on her hand, and her eyes reflecting the emotions
which the music awoke in her. An impulse which I could not control
rushed over me, a wave of exultation, the music under my fingers
sank almost to a whisper, and calling her for the first time by her
Christian name, but without daring to look at her, I said: "I love
you, I love you, I love you." My fingers were trembling so that I
ceased playing. I felt her hand creep to mine, and when I looked at
her, her eyes were glistening with tears. I understood, and could
scarcely resist the longing to take her in my arms; but I remembered,
remembered that which has been the sacrificial altar of so much
happiness--Duty; and bending over her hand in mine, I said: "Yes, I
love you; but there is something more, too, that I must tell you."
Then I told her, in what words I do not know, the truth. I felt her
hand grow cold, and when I looked up, she was gazing at me with a
wild, fixed stare as though I was some object she had never seen.
Under the strange light in her eyes I felt that I was growing black
and thick-featured and crimp-haired. She appeared not to have
comprehended what I had said. Her lips trembled and she attempted to
say something to me, but the words stuck in her throat. Then, dropping
her head on the piano, she began to weep with great sobs that shook
her frail body. I tried to console her, and blurted out incoherent
words of love, but this seemed only to increase her distress, and when
I left her, she was still weeping.

When I got into the street, I felt very much as I did the night after
meeting my father and sister at the opera in Paris, even a similar
desperate inclination to get drunk; but my self-control was stronger.
This was the only time in my life that I ever felt absolute regret at
being colored, that I cursed the drops of African blood in my veins
and wished that I were really white. When I reached my rooms, I sat
and smoked several cigars while I tried to think out the significance
of what had occurred. I reviewed the whole history of our
acquaintance, recalled each smile she had given me, each word she had
said to me that nourished my hope. I went over the scene we had just
gone through, trying to draw from it what was in my favor and what was
against me. I was rewarded by feeling confident that she loved me, but
I could not estimate what was the effect upon her of my confession. At
last, nervous and unhappy, I wrote her a letter, which I dropped into
the mail-box before going to bed, in which I said:

  I understand, understand even better than you, and so
  I suffer even more than you. But why should either of us
  suffer for what neither of us is to blame for? If there is
  any blame, it belongs to me and I can only make the old,
  yet strongest plea that can be offered, I love you; and I
  know that my love, my great love, infinitely overbalances
  that blame and blots it out. What is it that stands in the
  way of our happiness? It is not what you feel or what I
  feel; it is not what you are or what I am. It is what others
  feel and are. But, oh! is that a fair price? In all the
  endeavors and struggles of life, in all our strivings and
  longings, there is only one thing worth seeking, only one
  thing worth winning, and that is love. It is not always
  found; but when it is, there is nothing in all the world for
  which it can be profitably exchanged.

The second morning after, I received a note from her which stated
briefly that she was going up into New Hampshire to spend the summer
with relatives there. She made no reference to what had passed between
us; nor did she say exactly when she would leave the city. The note
contained no single word that gave me any clue to her feelings. I
could gather hope only from the fact that she had written at all.
On the same evening, with a degree of trepidation which rendered me
almost frightened, I went to her house.

I met her mother, who told me that she had left for the country that
very afternoon. Her mother treated me in her usual pleasant manner,
which fact greatly reassured me; and I left the house with a vague
sense of hope stirring in my breast, which sprang from the conviction
that she had not yet divulged my secret. But that hope did not remain
with me long. I waited one, two, three weeks, nervously examining my
mail every day, looking for some word from her. All of the letters
received by me seemed so insignificant, so worthless, because there
was none from her. The slight buoyancy of spirit which I had felt
gradually dissolved into gloomy heart-sickness. I became preoccupied;
I lost appetite, lost sleep, and lost ambition. Several of my friends
intimated to me that perhaps I was working too hard.

She stayed away the whole summer. I did not go to the house, but saw
her father at various times, and he was as friendly as ever. Even
after I knew that she was back in town, I did not go to see her. I
determined to wait for some word or sign. I had finally taken refuge
and comfort in my pride, pride which, I suppose, I came by naturally
enough.

The first time I saw her after her return was one night at the
theatre. She and her mother sat in company with a young man whom I
knew slightly, not many seats away from me. Never did she appear more
beautiful; and yet, it may have been my fancy, she seemed a trifle
paler, and there was a suggestion of haggardness in her countenance.
But that only heightened her beauty; the very delicacy of her charm
melted down the strength of my pride. My situation made me feel weak
and powerless, like a man trying with his bare hands to break the iron
bars of his prison cell. When the performance was over, I hurried out
and placed myself where, unobserved, I could see her as she passed
out. The haughtiness of spirit in which I had sought relief was all
gone, and I was willing and ready to undergo any humiliation.

Shortly afterward we met at a progressive card party, and during the
evening we were thrown together at one of the tables as partners. This
was really our first meeting since the eventful night at her house.
Strangely enough, in spite of our mutual nervousness, we won every
trick of the game, and one of our opponents jokingly quoted the old
saw: "Lucky at cards, unlucky in love." Our eyes met and I am sure
that in the momentary glance my whole soul went out to her in one
great plea. She lowered her eyes and uttered a nervous little laugh.
During the rest of the game I fully merited the unexpressed and
expressed abuse of my various partners; for my eyes followed her
wherever she was and I played whatever card my fingers happened to
touch.

Later in the evening she went to the piano and began to play very
softly, as to herself, the opening bars of the Thirteenth Nocturne. I
felt that the psychic moment of my life had come, a moment which, if
lost, could never be called back; and, in as careless a manner as I
could assume, I sauntered over to the piano and stood almost bending
over her. She continued playing, but, in a voice that was almost a
whisper, she called me by my Christian name and said: "I love you, I
love you, I love you." I took her place at the piano and played the
Nocturne in a manner that silenced the chatter of the company both in
and out of the room, involuntarily closing it with the major triad.

We were married the following spring, and went to Europe for several
months. It was a double joy for me to be in France again under such
conditions.

First there came to us a little girl, with hair and eyes dark like
mine, but who is growing to have ways like her mother. Two years later
there came a boy, who has my temperament, but is fair like his mother,
a little golden-headed god, with a face and head that would have
delighted the heart of an old Italian master. And this boy, with his
mother's eyes and features, occupies an inner sanctuary of my heart;
for it was for him that she gave all; and that is the second sacred
sorrow of my life.

The few years of our married life were supremely happy, and perhaps
she was even happier than I; for after our marriage, in spite of all
the wealth of her love which she lavished upon me, there came a new
dread to haunt me, a dread which I cannot explain and which was
unfounded, but one that never left me. I was in constant fear that she
would discover in me some shortcoming which she would unconsciously
attribute to my blood rather than to a failing of human nature. But
no cloud ever came to mar our life together; her loss to me is
irreparable. My children need a mother's care, but I shall never marry
again. It is to my children that I have devoted my life. I no longer
have the same fear for myself of my secret's being found out, for
since my wife's death I have gradually dropped out of social life;
but there is nothing I would not suffer to keep the brand from being
placed upon them.

It is difficult for me to analyze my feelings concerning my present
position in the world. Sometimes it seems to me that I have never
really been a Negro, that I have been only a privileged spectator of
their inner life; at other times I feel that I have been a coward,
a deserter, and I am possessed by a strange longing for my mother's
people.

Several years ago I attended a great meeting in the interest of
Hampton Institute at Carnegie Hall. The Hampton students sang the old
songs and awoke memories that left me sad. Among the speakers were
R.C. Ogden, ex-Ambassador Choate, and Mark Twain; but the greatest
interest of the audience was centered in Booker T. Washington, and not
because he so much surpassed the others in eloquence, but because of
what he represented with so much earnestness and faith. And it is
this that all of that small but gallant band of colored men who are
publicly fighting the cause of their race have behind them. Even those
who oppose them know that these men have the eternal principles of
right on their side, and they will be victors even though they should
go down in defeat. Beside them I feel small and selfish. I am an
ordinarily successful white man who has made a little money. They are
men who are making history and a race. I, too, might have taken part
in a work so glorious.

My love for my children makes me glad that I am what I am and keeps me
from desiring to be otherwise; and yet, when I sometimes open a little
box in which I still keep my fast yellowing manuscripts, the only
tangible remnants of a vanished dream, a dead ambition, a sacrificed
talent, I cannot repress the thought that, after all, I have chosen
the lesser part, that I have sold my birthright for a mess of pottage.





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