Mr. Blatchford was engaged in discussing some business matter with a gentleman, and did not observe the agitation that Charlie’s entrance had occasioned. The conversation having terminated, the gentleman took up the morning paper, and Mr. Blatchford, noticing Charlie, said, “Ah! you have come, and in good time, too. Wheeler,” he continued, turning to one of the workmen, “I want you to take this boy under your especial charge: give him a seat at your window, and overlook his work.”
At this there was a general uprising of the workmen, who commenced throwing off their caps and aprons. “What is all this for?” asked Mr. Blatchford in astonishment—“why this commotion?”
“We won’t work with niggers!” cried one; “No nigger apprentices!” cried another; and “No niggers—no niggers!” was echoed from all parts of the room.
“Silence!” cried Mr. Blatchford, stamping violently—“silence, every one of you!” As soon as partial order was restored, he turned to Wheeler, and demanded, “What is the occasion of all this tumult—what does it mean?”
“Why, sir, it means just this: the men and boys discovered that you intended to take a nigger apprentice, and have made up their minds if you do they will quit in a body.”
“It cannot be possible,” exclaimed the employer, “that any man or boy in my establishment has room in his heart for such narrow contemptible prejudices. Can it be that you have entered into a conspiracy to deprive an inoffensive child of an opportunity of earning his bread in a respectable manner? Come, let me persuade you—the boy is well-behaved and educated!”
“Damn his behaviour and education!” responded a burly fellow; “let him be a barber or shoe-black—that is all niggers are good for. If he comes, we go—that’s so, ain’t it, boys?”
There was a general response of approval to this appeal; and Mr. Blatchford, seeing the utter uselessness of further parleying, left the room, followed by Charlie and the gentleman with whom he had been conversing.
Mr. Blatchford was placed in a most disagreeable position by this revolt on the part of his workmen; he had just received large orders from some new banks which were commencing operations, and a general disruption of his establishment at that moment would have ruined him. To accede to his workmen’s demands he must do violence to his own conscience; but he dared not sacrifice his business and bring ruin on himself and family, even though he was right.
“What would you do, Burrell?” he asked of the gentleman who had followed them out.
“There is no question as to what you must do. You mustn’t ruin yourself for the sake of your principles. You will have to abandon the lad; the other alternative is not to be thought of for a moment.”
“Well, Charles, you see how it is,” said Mr. Blatchford, reluctantly. Charlie had been standing intently regarding the conversation that concerned him so deeply. His face was pale and his lips quivering with agitation.