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The Garies and Their Friends
Frank J. Webb
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Pages (PDF): 369
Publication Date: 1857
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Tells the story of two families: Clarence Garie, a wealthy white planter and slaveholder in Georgia, and his common-law wife Emily, his mulatto slave mistress; and a free working-class black family in Philadelphia, headed by Charles and Ellen Ellis. This was the second novel by an African American to be published and the first to portray the daily lives of free blacks in the North. It was published in London and did not receive much attention in the United States until new editions were published in 1969 and 1997.
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It was at the close of an afternoon in May, that a party might have been seen gathered around a table covered with all those delicacies that, in the household of a rich Southern planter, are regarded as almost necessaries of life. In the centre stood a dish of ripe strawberries, their plump red sides peeping through the covering of white sugar that had been plentifully sprinkled over them. Geeche limes, almost drowned in their own rich syrup, temptingly displayed their bronze-coloured forms just above the rim of the glass that contained them. Opposite, and as if to divert the gaze from lingering too long over their luscious beauty, was a dish of peaches preserved in brandy, a never-failing article in a Southern matron's catalogues of sweets. A silver basket filled with a variety of cakes was in close proximity to a plate of corn-flappers, which were piled upon it like a mountain, and from the brown tops of which trickled tiny rivulets of butter. All these dainties, mingling their various odours with the aroma of the tea and fine old java that came steaming forth from the richly chased silver pots, could not fail to produce a very appetising effect.
There was nothing about Mr. Garie, the gentleman who sat at the head of the table, to attract more than ordinary attention. He had the ease of manner usual with persons whose education and associations have been of a highly refined character, and his countenance, on the whole, was pleasing, and indicative of habitual good temper.
Opposite to him, and presiding at the tea-tray, sat a lady of marked beauty. The first thing that would have attracted attention on seeing her were her gloriously dark eyes. They were not entirely black, but of that seemingly changeful hue so often met with in persons of African extraction, which deepens and lightens with every varying emotion. Hers wore a subdued expression that sank into the heart and at once riveted those who saw her. Her hair, of jetty black, was arranged in braids; and through her light-brown complexion the faintest tinge of carmine was visible. As she turned to take her little girl from the arms of the servant, she displayed a fine profile and perfectly moulded form. No wonder that ten years before, when she was placed upon the auction-block at Savanah, she had brought so high a price. Mr. Garie had paid two thousand dollars for her, and was the envy of all the young bucks in the neighbourhood who had competed with him at the sale. Captivated by her beauty, he had esteemed himself fortunate in becoming her purchaser; and as time developed the goodness of her heart, and her mind enlarged through the instructions he assiduously gave her, he found the connection that might have been productive of many evils, had proved a boon to both; for whilst the astonishing progress she made in her education proved her worthy of the pains he took to instruct her, she returned threefold the tenderness and affection he lavished upon her.
The little girl in her arms, and the boy at her side, showed no trace whatever of African origin. The girl had the chestnut hair and blue eyes of her father; but the boy had inherited the black hair and dark eyes of his mother. The critically learned in such matters, knowing his parentage, might have imagined they could detect the evidence of his mother's race, by the slightly mezzo-tinto expression of his eyes, and the rather African fulness of his lips; but the casual observer would have passed him by without dreaming that a drop of negro blood coursed through his veins. His face was expressive of much intelligence, and he now seemed to listen with an earnest interest to the conversation that was going on between his father and a dark-complexioned gentleman who sat beside him.
"And so you say, Winston, that they never suspected you were coloured?"
"I don't think they had the remotest idea of such a thing. At least, if they did, they must have conquered their prejudices most effectually, for they treated me with the most distinguished consideration. Old Mr. Priestly was like a father to me; and as for his daughter Clara and her aunt, they were politeness embodied. The old gentleman was so much immersed in business, that he was unable to bestow much attention upon me; so he turned me over to Miss Clara to be shown the lions. We went to the opera, the theatre, to museums, concerts, and I can't tell where all. The Sunday before I left I accompanied her to church, and after service, as we were coming out, she introduced me to Miss Van Cote and her mamma. Mrs. Van Cote was kind enough to invite me to her grand ball."
"And did you go?" interrupted Mr. Garie.
"Of course, I did—and what is more, as old Mr. Priestly has given up balls, he begged me to escort Clara and her aunt."
"Well, Winston, that is too rich," exclaimed Mr. Garie, slapping his hand on the table, and laughing till he was red in the face; "too good, by Jove! Oh! I can't keep that. I must write to them, and say I forgot to mention in my note of introduction that you were a coloured gentleman. The old man will swear till everything turns blue; and as for Clara, what will become of her? A Fifth-avenue belle escorted to church and to balls by a coloured gentleman!" Here Mr. Garie indulged in another burst of laughter so side-shaking and merry, that the contagion spread even to the little girl in Mrs. Garie's arms, who almost choked herself with the tea her mother was giving her, and who had to be hustled and shaken for some time before she could be brought round again.
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