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  --  THE TRAGEDY.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER VI.

Hopkins, Pauline E.
Contending Forces



Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Not Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor.

--Gray .

" Thank heaven that is done," said Dora, as she sat down wearily in her mother's large rocker in the cosy kitchen. She had been upstairs the best portion of the day preparing a room for an expected lodger. There had been windows to wash, paint to clean, a carpet to tack down, curtains to hang and furniture to place in position--in short, the thousand and one things to do that are essential to the comfort of the lodger and the good reputation of the house.

"Are you very tired, daughter?" queried her mother, as she glanced with loving pride at the graceful figure before her, at the smooth bands of dark-brown hair, now a little ruffled and disordered, and at the delicate brown face, now somewhat puckered and out of sorts from weariness.


"Well, not very tired, mummy dear; only this continual scrub and dig is not always the cheerful work we would like to think it. Still I don't care as long as the house pays."

The mother sighed as she asked: "Did you give her the front or back square?"

"Oh, I gave her the front square after all. She's too beautiful for that dreary back room I know that it is not business to let a good paying room go under our usual price, but she's a 'steady'; she has the best of references. Father Andrew gives her the best of characters, and so I'll chance getting my money back out of the next cross-grained old bachelor who comes along. See how mercenary I am getting to be since I undertook to direct the fortunes of a lodging-house"; and with a gay laugh the daughter jumped from her seat, every trace of fatigue gone, and grasping her mother about the waist, whirled her around the room to the accompaniment of a sweet, shrill whistle of the latest popular waltz. In the midst of the frolic there came a loud ring of the doorbell, and placing her panting and protesting mother in the rocker just vacated, she vanished; and soon her voice was heard above, as she directed the placing of the luggage of the expected lodger.

The Smith family consisted of the mother, daughter and son. A few years before the

opening of our story the father had died, leaving a delicate wife, a young daughter, and a son just ready to enter college; also a house in a respectable part of the South End of Boston, Mass., with a heavy mortgage upon it. Like many colored men living in large cities, his life had been a continual struggle with poverty and hard work, combined with a desire for advancement for his children, and a clean, self-respecting citizenship for himself. Smith was a free-born Southern Negro--a Virginian. His father had bought himself and married a free woman. After the birth of Henry his mother died; and when his father married again, his aunts brought him to the city of New Bedford, where he had imbibed, along with copious draughts of salt air, an unwavering desire for all the blessings of liberty, and strong notions that a man must depend upon himself in great measure and carve out his own fortune to the best of his ability with such tools as God had furnished him.

Henry Smith's early manhood was spent upon the sea; and when he at last settled in Boston, he could converse about foreign ports and countries with the ease and familiarity of personal knowledge. Possessed of very little education, yet he concealed the fact admirably under a naturally intelligent manner. Soon

after he ceased to follow the sea he married a handsome Mulattress from New Hampshire, and with her help saved a small sum of money--enough to make the first payment on a home; then began the struggle of their lives. The masses of the Negro race find for employment only the most laborious work at the scantiest remuneration. A man, though a skilled mechanic, has the door of the shop closed in his face here among the descendants of the liberty-loving Puritans. The foreign element who come to the shores of America soon learn that there is a class which is called its inferior, and will not work in this or that business if "niggers" are hired; and the master or owner, being neither able nor willing to secure enough of the despised class to fill the places of the white laborers, acquiesces in the general demand, and the poor Negro finds himself banned in almost every kind of employment. Henry Smith had his ambitions; but like all of his meek race, he would not or at least had no desire to contend with the force of prejudice, and quietly took up his little business of repairing old clothes in the same patient spirit of the Jew "old clo'" vender or pawnbroker.

Two children were born to this worthy couple--William Jesse Montfort and Dora Grace Montfort. When Willie was seventeen

and Dora twelve their father sickened and died. Thenceforth the burden of the support of the little family fell upon the mother. Willie was preparing to enter college, but he cheerfully gave up his plans and secured a place as bell-boy in one of the fashionable hostelries with which Boston abounds; and soon by his attention to business, his gentlemanly manners, and intelligent understanding of all that was required of him, made himself invaluable to his employers. Twenty dollars a month with board and "tips" was a very respectable showing for a lad of seventeen, and Willie felt himself repaid when he saw the great help and comfort his small earnings gave to his dear mother. Dora was kept at her studies until she was graduated from the high school. Meantime Mrs. Smith, or "Ma" Smith, as she was called by all the young people of her acquaintance, increased their income by letting furnished rooms. The mother and daughter shared the same sleeping-room, and Will declared himself in favor of an attic chamber as being the least desirable for renting purposes. There he established himself in a very comfortable nest, furnished after the fashion dear to all young fellows' hearts, with everything "handy." The only occasions upon which Will and Dora were known to quarrel were the
weekly cleaning days, when the latter would insist on "tidying up Will's room." Then shoes were moved from the mantel and the blacking brushes from the top of the dressing case; collars, cuffs and ties were placed in their proper receptacles, and garments hung in the clothespress. Then Will would scold a good deal because he "couldn't find things," but by the next morning he would have them "handy" again. Many lodgers were obtained through Will's acquaintance with young men at the hotel where he worked, and very soon the mother was able to see that the debt upon the home which she hoped to leave her children, was slowly but surely disappearing. Deep in her heart was the cherished hope that when the mortgage was paid Willie would be free to choose a profession; but they never mentioned among themselves the hope which was cherished in each breast.

As the years rolled slowly by the children saw that their mother could not do as much as formerly; and so by degrees, after Dora had finished school, the burden of the care of the house fell upon her strong young shoulders, and 1896 found her taking full charge, and proving herself to be a woman of ability and the best of managers, husbanding their small income to the best advantage.


With about every avenue for business closed against them, it is surprising that so many families of color manage to live as well as they do and to educate their children and give them a few of the refinements of living,--such as cultivating a musical talent, gratifying a penchant for languages, or for carving, or for any of the arts of a higher civilization, so common among the whites, but supposed to be beyond the reach of a race just released from a degrading bondage. Whatever grace or accomplishment may be the order of the hour, it is copied or practiced among some portion of the colored population. We may well ask ourselves how this is done. Among the white Americans who perform domestic or personal service, how rare it is to meet the brilliant genius of a Frederick Douglass; but with this people it is a common occurrence to find a genius in a profession, trade, or invention, evolved from the rude nurturing received at the hands of a poor father and mother engaged in the lowliest of service, who see not the nobility of their sacrifices in the delight afforded them in watching the unfolding of the bud of promise in their offspring. From the bosom of the earth we take the diamond; pearls from the depth of the sea; from the lowliest walks of life we cull the hope of a future life beyond the perplexing

questions of this present existence. Why should we wonder or question, then, when we see the steady advance of a race overriding the barriers set by prejudice and injustice? Man has said that from lack of means and social caste the Negro shall remain in a position of serfdom all his days, but the mighty working of cause and effect, the mighty unexpected results of the law of evolution, seem to point to a different solution of the Negro question than any worked out by the most fertile brain of the highly cultured Caucasian. Then again, we do not allow for the infusion of white blood, which became pretty generally distributed in the inferior black race during the existence of slavery. Some of this blood, too, was the best in the country. Combinations of plants, or trees, or of any productive living thing, sometimes generate rare specimens of the plant or tree; why not, then, of the genus homo? Surely the Negro race must be productive of some valuable specimens, if only from the infusion which amalgamation with a superior race must eventually bring. This is a mighty question. Today, with all the heated discussions of tariff reform, the parity of gold and silver, the hoarding of giant sums of money by trusts and combinations, still the Negro question will not "down"; it is the most important, the mightiest
in the land, and is quietly assuming greater proportions as it forges its way to the front to take its place shortly as the gravest question in the councils of the nation.

When Dora returned to the kitchen her mother had about finished the preparations for supper. The short winter afternoon had dropped into early twilight. Every alternate night was Will Smith's early night home from the hotel, and the little family always managed to have an inviting tea and to pass a cheerful evening together. Lately another person had attached himself to the Smiths; a fellow-waiter with Will had finally worked himself into the profession of law, and having established himself in business in a down-town office, had put his admiration for Dora into words, and it was understood that in due course of time they would marry.

Dora lighted the lamps, drew the curtains, and looked about the cosy kitchen with a satisfaction which might well be pardoned, for even in palatial homes a more inviting nest could not be found. The table was carefully spread with a nicely ironed cloth of spotless white, red-bordered napkins lay at each plate, a good quality of plated silverware mingled with the plain, inexpensive white ware in which the meal was to be served. Ma Smith, in her neat

calico dress and long white apron, busied herself in making the tea and coffee and seeing that the delicate muffins were browned to just the right turn, while Dora busied herself in putting the finishing touches to a house dress for her mother.

"Well, Dora," said her mother, as she bustled about the room, "does the young woman seem pleased with your arrangements? I am sure she ought to after all the labor you spent on that room."

"She says she is greatly pleased with everything. Say, ma, she's got a typewriter, and she says she picks up a good living at home with it. Talk about your beauties! my, but she's the prettiest creature I ever saw! I expect all the men in this house will be crazy over her."

"Yes, dear," replied her mother with a quiet laugh; "you don't want John making eyes at her, do you?"

Dora laughed as she said: "I'd just drop John P. Langley if I thought he admired any woman more than he did me. But really, ma, you won't be able to keep from loving her; she has the sweetest and saddest face I ever saw. I have read of the woman with a story written on her face, but I never believed it anything but a fairy tale. You'll believe me when you see her and talk with her."


"There are the boys," said her mother, as the sound of voices reached their ears, together with the closing of the front door and great stamping of feet to brush away the snow. The next moment the door opened, and two young men entered the cheerful room, and with jest and laugh bade the two women good evening.

Will Smith was tall and finely formed, with features almost perfectly chiseled, and a complexion the color of an almond shell. His hair was black and curly, with just a tinge of crispness to denote the existence of Negro blood. His eyes were dark and piercing as an eagle's. Ladies of high position followed his tall form with admiring glances as he moved about his duties at the hotel, and wondered that so much manly beauty should be wasted upon an inferior race.

John Langley, his companion, was shorter in stature and very fair in complexion. His hair was dark and had no indication of Negro blood in its waves; his features were of the Caucasian cut. He possessed a gentle refinement of manner, apt to take well with the opposite sex; but to a reader of character, the strong manhood and honesty of purpose which existed in Will Smith were lacking in John Langley. He was a North Carolinian--a descendant of slaves and Southern "crackers." We might call this

a bad mixture--the combination of the worst features of a dominant race with an enslaved race; and in some measure John Langley would bear out the unfavorable supposition upon close acquaintance. Many of his young friends did not care for him because he developed a revengeful trait of character. He liked his ease, and enjoyed indulging himself in every luxury that his modest means would allow. He had, moreover, a carefully concealed strain of sensuality in his nature, which as yet had never been aroused to an overindulgence in illegitimate and questionable pleasures; and with it all he had a mercenary streak, which made love of money his great passion. He possessed great political acumen and was strong in debate, which attracted a certain class of politicians around him. These attributes, combined with the practice of his profession, might eventually make or mar his fortunes in the untried future that stretched before him.

Seated at the pleasant tea table, the gay laugh and jolly joke went round, and even Ma Smith forgot her years and contributed her share of mirth to the general good time.

"Talking about funny things happening," said Ma Smith, "your grandfather, Will, was a comical genius. You know that I have told you there were fourteen in our family--all

girls, and very near each other in age. When your aunts, Fanny and Lottie, began to receive company there was a great time to keep it from father for awhile. Mother was heart and hand with the girls and wanted to see them have a pleasant time, but father did not like it. Your grandfather worked hard and at night was very tired, so the dear old man would go to bed soon after his supper and pipe. Then was the girls' time. A fire was made in the parlor, which was at the front of the house, a good distance away from father's room, and by the time the young man arrived to make his call the old gentleman was generally sound asleep. One night, however, things did not work so well. In those days we had large open fireplaces; stoves did not come in until I was about five years old. I can see that low-ceiled parlor now with its brick hearth and brass andirons holding the glowing logs, the flames crackling and shooting upward, the firelight dancing and shining on the little cupboard doors on each side of the chimney. There was a rag carpet on the floor--your grandmother made her own carpets from rags; and our floors were covered with large handmade rag mats, for no housekeeper was counted much who did not have a large supply of such things. There were china figures on the mantel, and vases
filled with golden-rod gathered the summer before. The furniture was mahogany, polished until you could see your face in any part of it. There was a red cloth on the table which stood between the two windows, and in the center of it was a large astral lamp trimmed about the edges with long crystal pendants, which we children called diamonds. We thought nothing could be more elegant than that lamp. It was a wedding present to your grandmother."

"Did you have kerosene in those days, ma?" asked Dora.

"Lord bless you, no; we burned whale oil or sperm oil in that lamp. Poor people used candles. Your grandmother used to save her fat and clarify it and mix it with beeswax to harden it, and we made our candles every week as regularly as we did the family cooking. Sometimes there was danger of the supply of oil giving out in the stores, and then oil cost a great deal of money; that never lasted long, however, and in a few weeks some New Bedford whaler would be in port with a large cargo of whale oil, and then there would be a big supply selling cheap."

"I don't see how you got along without stoves and things," observed Dora; "baking day must have been a terror."

"We had tin kitchens and Dutch ovens. We never had any trouble."


"What's a tin kitchen?" asked John.

"It's an oven made of tin, for roasting meat. It stood on four legs about a foot from the floor, and had a place for a charcoal fire at the back, and a chimney to carry off the smoke. The front fastened by a hasp to the back and could be let down to put the food on the little grate inside. It was a very convenient arrangement, and I wish I had one this minute. A Dutch oven was very much like our iron kettles which we use for boiling; there was a grate inside to hold the food."

"It must have been a great nuisance keeping house under such circumstances."

"Well, what became of the young man that particular evening, ma?" chimed in Will.

"This night father was restless and did not retire with his usual promptness, and we had only just got him out of the way when the expected caller arrived. However, everything went on very well, and you may be sure that there was much peeping and giggling on the part of the half-grown sisters who were denied the great privilege of the parlor and company as yet. Your grandmother sat in the kitchen knitting and trying to keep the younger children in order, when to her consternation the door opened and in walked father. 'Elizabeth,' said he, 'I hear a man's voice in the parlor.

What's the trouble?' Poor mother tried to explain, and murmured something about a gentleman calling on Fanny. 'A man,' roared father, 'calling on my daughter!' and the first thing we knew, he seized the bucket of water from the kitchen dresser--we had wells in those days, and a bucket of water always stood on the dresser--and started for the parlor and flung the door open. Without speaking to the astonished occupants of the room, he stalked to the fireplace and deliberately poured the water upon the blazing wood; then he turned to the caller and said: 'Young man, if you have a home, go to it; this is no half-way house for the accommodation of young squirts. Fanny,' he said, turning to your aunt, 'you go to bed, and don't let this thing occur again.' The young man left as quickly as possible, and poor Fanny retired to her room greatly mortified."

"That's good discipline for girls," said John with a laugh. "If we had more fathers after that stamp, we fellows would get better wives."

"And we girls better husbands," chimed in Dora. "Still, I pity poor Aunt Fanny."

"The fellow wasn't much or he'd have stuck, and not been driven off that way. I'd have made the old gentleman like me in spite of himself if I had meant business," said Will. "Oh, by the by, did your new lodger come, Dora?"


"Yes; and, Will, I never met anyone so beautiful in all my life. You'll be fascinated when you meet her."

"That's you all over, Dora; all your swans generally turn out geese. I'll bet you a new pair of Easter gloves that she's a rank old maid with false teeth, bald head, hair on her upper lip"--

"All right, Will Smith, all right. Just wait until you see her! I'll wager a new pair of embroidered silk suspenders that you're over head and ears in love with her long before that time."

"I'll hold the stakes," cried John.

They rose from the table now, and John said, with a tender glance at Dora: "I thought some one would enjoy seeing the 'Old Homestead.' It's at the Boston Theatre tonight; don't you want to go, Dora?" Dora's eyes sparkled as he held the two tickets before her.

"Get your things on, Dora; you've just time to reach the theatre before the curtain rises," said her brother.

In a little while the house was quiet, and the mother and son settled down to the enjoyment of a quiet evening together.


  --  THE TRAGEDY.   Table of Contents     CHAPTER VI.