And all three laughed in such an ecstasy of glee that Frowenfeld looked back, saw them, and knew forthwith that his good name was gone. The three gentlemen, with tears of merriment still in their eyes, reached a corner and disappeared.
“Mister,” said a child, trotting along under Frowenfeld’s elbow,—the odd English of the New Orleans street-urchin was at that day just beginning to be heard—“Mister, dey got some blood on de back of you’ hade!”
But Frowenfeld hurried on groaning with mental anguish.
UNKINDEST CUT OF ALL
It was the year 1804. The world was trembling under the tread of the dread Corsican. It was but now that he had tossed away the whole Valley of the Mississippi, dropping it overboard as a little sand from a balloon, and Christendom in a pale agony of suspense was watching the turn of his eye; yet when a gibbering black fool here on the edge of civilization merely swings a pine-knot, the swinging of that pine-knot becomes to Joseph Frowenfeld, student of man, a matter of greater moment than the destination of the Boulogne Flotilla. For it now became for the moment the foremost necessity of his life to show, to that minute fraction of the earth’s population which our terror misnames “the world,” that a man may leap forth hatless and bleeding from the house of a New Orleans quadroon into the open street and yet be pure white within. Would it answer to tell the truth? Parts of that truth he was pledged not to tell; and even if he could tell it all it was incredible—bore all the features of a flimsy lie.
“Mister,” repeated the same child who had spoken before, reinforced by another under the other elbow, “dey got some blood on de back of you’ hade.”
And the other added the suggestion:
“Dey got one drug-sto’, yondah.”
Frowenfeld groaned again. The knock had been a hard one, the ground and sky went round not a little, but he retained withal a white-hot process of thought that kept before him his hopeless inability to explain. He was coffined alive. The world (so-called) would bury him in utter loathing, and write on his headstone the one word—hypocrite. And he should lie there and helplessly contemplate Honore pushing forward those purposes which he had begun to hope he was to have had the honor of furthering. But instead of so doing he would now be the by-word of the street.
“Mister,” interposed the child once more, spokesman this time for a dozen blacks and whites of all sizes trailing along before and behind, “dey got some blood on de back of you’ hade.”
* * * * *