The Little Immigrant
by Eva Stern
“NAH! Renestine, cannot you come with the skirt and let me lay it in
your trunk? You are dreaming, dreaming all the time. My child, these
things must be ready by midnight tonight.”
The girl was thirteen years old and her mother was getting her
possessions together to send her to America to join a sister who had
already gone there and was married and now sent to have her little
sister journey to the States, too.
“Oh, Mutterchen, I do not want to go,” burst out Renestine. “I want
to stay with you. I do not want to go.”
“Nah! Kindlein, stay then,” said the mother, keeping her own grief
away from her child.
Just then the door to the little room flew open and three excited
girls of about Renestine's own age or perhaps one or two years older,
bustled themselves inside.
“Why, Renestine, you are not finished packing yet! We are ready and
our trunks are roped and standing at the door for Laaskar to put on the
post-wagon when he drives by on his way to the post-house tonight.”
The speaker stopped confused seeing that Renestine was silent with
no joy in her eyes and the mother sat quietly with flushed checks and
“What has happened?” said the three girls in chorus. “You are not
going to back out, are you?”
Still Renestine did not look up or make any sign that she was
interested in the preparations for her arranged trip. Presently the
mother spoke and her voice trembled.
“Renestine has changed her mind and will remain at home.”
Then the girls broke into a laugh and chided Renestine, saying she
was a baby and would never see the ocean or go to America and ride in
carriages. The mental picture was doing its work. Not ride in carriages
and have pretty clothes and .learn to speak English? That was too much
to refuse. Renestine raised her head, wiped the tears out of her eyes,
brought the skirt neatly folded to her mother and said: “Mutterchen,
finish my trunk. I am going with Yetta, Selma and Polly to America.”
The journey began and Renestine made the voyage over in a sailing
vessel which took six weeks to make her port at Galveston, Texas, in
the early fifties. The girls experienced days of seasickness when they
thought it was better to die than to ride in carriages and were weary
and homesick. But when, at last, they walked again upon land and were
welcomed in Galveston by their relatives, all the melancholy hours were
forgotten. The girls had separated into their different families on
arriving at Houston, but frequently met just as they had before leaving
their home town, and were observing everything with eagerness and
getting their first impressions of America.
One balmy Sunday morning they took a walk and marveled much that
Houston had so many houses and such large ones. While they walked they
chatted and were merry. Finally, they noticed that a great many looked
at them curiously, and some smiled. They were at last spoken to by an
old lady, who reminded them that it was not customary for girls to walk
in the middle of the street. This was a conceit that pleased them, to
walk in the middle of the street just to see people walking on either
side of them.
The ringing of the Sunday morning church bells was a startling sound
and Paula exclaimed, as the three stood still listening: “Oh, listen to
the music box!” Solemnly they walked on and wondered that the world was
so large and full of beautiful things. Itwas a long time before
Renestine realized that they had gone a great distance. “We will return
now,” she said. But when they turned to retrace their steps they found
themselves in a wood of large, dark trees with heavy gray moss dropping
from their branches and a solemn stillness over all. It was growing
dusk, too, and the trees looked ghostly in the falling gloom.
“Do you know which way to go?” asked Yetta.
“Oh, come with me and I will show you,” said Paula.
Trustingly they followed Paula. But the brave girl, after a half
hour's vain effort, had to admit that she was puzzled herself and did
not know how to get out of the wood. Yetta showed the nearness of
tears, but Renestine set to work to extricate themselves. Before she
had decided what to do they all three heard horses' hoofs trampling
down bush-wood and dry twigs not far away. The riders, or whatever it
was, came nearer until the girls saw a young man on horseback, a boy
accompanying him. The horsemen reined in their horses and stopped when
they saw the girls standing before them. The older man, who was about
twenty-eight, asked how they came to be so far in the depth of the
trackless woods. When they had told him, he dismounted, throwing the
reins over his arm and leading his horse, he walked along by the side
of the girls guiding them out of their difficulty; the boy followed on
his horse which carried the saddle-bags containing the personal
belongings of both of them. As they walked many questions were asked
and answered and in a little time the woods were left behind and the.
girls were opening the gate of Renestine's sister's home. The young
rescuer, after seeing them safely disappear in the doorway, got on his
horse again and trotted off to his hotel, the boy following.
SEATED at her work table in her sitting room, Mrs. Bilter was
putting the last stitches in a white Swiss dress that Renestine was to
wear that night to a ball. The puff sleeve close to the shoulder was
the last of the dainty dress to be put on. Mrs. Bilter took eager
pleasure in dressing her pretty sister in the daintiest of gowns. When
she looked up she saw her husband coming through the gate for his noon
dinner. She put down her sewing and moved to meet him on the porch.
“Well, dear, how are you getting on with the ball dress?” For Mr.
Bilter was as interested in his little sister-in-law as his wife was.
“Renestine will have to look her prettiest to-night. There are some
visiting young men in the town and they will be at the ball.”
They went in together and were received by old Aunt Mary, a colored
family servant who was much respected and held in affection by the
“Dinnah jest put on de table, Missus.”
“Has Miss Renestine come home?”
“No'm. I's hasn't seen her; prehaps she's kept in fer not knowin'
Just then Renestine came in, her cheeks rosy and her large black
eyes luminous with the exercise of walking home from school. She
entered the dining-room laughing and sat down next to her
“How were the lessons today, Renestine?” he asked, patting her hand
that lay in his. “Arithmetic right?”
“No trouble at all. Oh, I am so glad that you both had the idea to
send me to school, I love it. I love to be puzzled over a question and
find it out for myself. I love to feel myself gaining knowledge and
understanding many things that used to be dark and incomprehensible to
me and that seem plain now. I rejoice that I am able to think and speak
English,” and Renestine turned her head toward her sister and her eyes
were moist. “You are very good to me, Aldine, and besides you are
spoiling me with all the pretty dresses you make for me.”
“Oh, do come in right after dinner and look at your dress for
to-night. It is just lovely with the little rosebuds around the
shoulders,” said Mrs. Bilter.
It did not take long before the three were admiring the fluffy white
dress and predicting its success at the ball.
Renestine hurried home after school and sat down by the side of her
sister to help sew rosebuds on the flounces of the wide skirt. When the
dress was finished Renestine took it to her room and pinned it up on
the curtains of her bed to look at it and get the effect of it. Then
she got out her little white satin slippers and began the ceremony of
the toilette for the ball.
Carriages were coming and going before the brilliantly lighted
Colonial house owned by the Good Fellowship Club. The colored drivers
sat proud and erect on their boxes and held in their restive horses
while their masters and mistresses alighted. Young dandies in ruffled
shirts and flowered velvet waistcoats came on foot and sprang eagerly
up the steps and vanished through the double doors swung back by
colored attendants. Strains of music reached the street and ceased when
the doors opened and shut and the sound of many voices in conversation
and happy laughter burst upon the ear of the passer-by. Inside, all was
gaiety and animation. Festoons of greens hung from the chandelier of
kerosene lights and garlands and wreaths decorated the walls of the
wide hall and rooms where there was dancing. In the ballroom five
colored musicians were the orchestra and the leader “called out” the
figures of the lancers and quadrilles. “Face your pardners,” he called
out as the square dance was begun. Several sets of four couples were
formed ready for the first strains of the lancers music and the
prompter. “Forward all,” and all the couples advanced to the center.
“Swing your pardners,” “balance corners,” the lady and gentleman faced
to the right and took steps to the music. “Swing,” and they swung
The next figure was the “Grand right and left,” called out by the
prompter and the couples circled around and after a large ring was
formed by taking hands and going first to the right and then to the
left, amid laughter the dance broke up.
Standing near the window on the porch were two young men. They were
smoking cigars and commenting on the guests and the surroundings
“There's a little Queen Esther with her black hair braided and
folded over her shell pink ears. Look at her graceful walk. Do you see
the one I mean?”.asked the taller of the two men.
“Do you mean the one with the rosebuds on her gown?”
“Yes, the very one. She has the most beautiful black eyes I have
“Yes, she is a beautiful girl,” assented his companion.
“Where have I seen her before? I recognize those eyes.”
“You are not captured, are you, Jaffray?”
“Well, I don't know.” And they both laughed. “Let us go inside.”
They threw away their cigars and went in.
“Miss Jewel, Mr. Starr would like to be presented to you, may I
bring him to you?” Renestine looked up and found a friend speaking to
her, but before she could answer the tall stranger was at her friend's
“This is a great pleasure for me,” said the newly introduced guest.
“But, Miss Jewel, it has been an impression of mine since I first saw
you this evening that we have met before. Can you help me settle upon
the place, time and occasion?”
“Why, no,” laughed Renestine, showing two rows of small, white teeth
that enhanced her charm.
“I am sure if we try hard enough we shall soon discover,” Jaffray
said. “May I sit down?” Renestine drew sideways to allow him to draw up
a chair, her hoop skirt spreading her tarlatan flounces some space
“Why, yes, indeed, now that I look at you, the woods, gray moss,
three frightened young ladies; it was in the dusk of evening as I was
riding from McKinney, all of that picture returns,” he put his
forefinger to his lips, and looked down at the floor in deep
For a moment Renestine was silent, then turned rosy red. “Oh, Mr.
Starr, was it you who brought us out of the Wilderness and restored us
to our families? You appeared at the most fortunate moment, we were
really lost,” and she laughed heartily. “You are a stranger here, Mr.
“Not altogether. I have visited here before on business. Where I
live it is lonesome for me and I take my vacations with much the spirit
of a school boy. Shall we dance?”
The “Kiss Waltz” was a great favorite and the opening bars were
beginning, “Hun” Williams, leader of the orchestra, putting a good
swing into it. Renestine and Jaffrey glided with the rhythm of the
music and danced until the last strains closed the tuneful composition.
Throwing a lace scarf about her shoulders, Jaffray led Renestine to the
balcony. The moon was bright as day and the early May dew brought out
the fragrance of the jessamine and clematis climbing over the
They stood for a time without speaking, feeling the spell of the
Southern spring time.
“Is not this solemn beauty? Somehow it hurts, it is so beautiful,”
said Renestine quietly, her large eyes dreamy and full of softness.
“Ah, you have a poet's soul, Miss Jewel. Will you tell me something
of your life? You were not born here?”
They were walking up and down the broad verandah and Renestine was
telling him of the little mother so far away, parted from, perhaps
never to be seen again. She was saying, “At last when the time came to
say good-bye, I clung to my mother's form and in that moment could see
my soul, bared, bruised, wounded and somehow the little girl passed
with that parting and although I was but a few months younger than I am
to-night, I am here just one year, I feel much changed and older.” Her
lids closed and Jaffray did not interrupt. “Mr. Starr, do you know of
any experience more cruel than this parting of parents in Europe with
their children to come to America? I think of it now so often. I think
there cannot be in all life . . . .”
Jaffray saw the tears in those wonderful eyes. “No, Miss Jewel, no.
I know of nothing more humanly cruel! I, too, parted from my beloved
mother and twin sister when a mere lad to cross the ocean to seek my
fortune in America. A lad barely fifteen years of age, I had no idea of
what I was going out to meet in the world when I took my small
belongings and journeyed toward these shores. There were no friends, no
relatives where I was going; all those were being left behind; but the
spirit of adventure possessed me and I wanted more freedom to work out
my destiny in and the parting had to be for me and I cannot tell you
how I have suffered from homesickness for the beloved Mother and good
sister, for the little home in the Rhine village where the terraces of
grapes lay just back of our house; that never is forgotten, no matter
how long one lives. We have a common bond of sympathy, may I hope it
means a tie of friendship?”
She gave him her hand and shortly afterwards he led her back into
the ballroom; but the music could not tempt them to dance again and,
after seeing Renestine with friends, he said good-night and left.
It was near daylight when Jaffray smoked his last cigar and finally
put out the light in his little room in the hotel and went to bed.
Jaffray paid frequent visits to Houston from McKinney, after he met
Miss Jewel. Although Renestine was busy with her school work, her
sister permitted her, like all the young girls, to accept the
attentions of young men who wished to call or who invited her to social
Jaffray was some years older than Renestine and was aware that she
was but a school girl, untutored in the ways of the world, even less
than most girls of her age. But Renestine's modesty, her innocence, her
beauty, appealed to him as no other woman's charms had done and
thoughts of her took possession him. His stuffy little office in
McKinney, in the long, narrow store where general merchandise was
rather irregularly piled around in high wooden boxes, in barrels, and
on shallow shelves, became a prison house and the weeks endless terms
of sentence. It happened that be could not absent himself from duty
oftener than once every month and then only from Friday to Sunday
night. These days of freedom were now prized tenfold more dearly than
if he had had his time free to do as he wished.
Heretofore it had been his dearest wish to employ his spare time
with books, reading and studying to improve his mind and for the
pleasure that books gave him. Now his thoughts refused to concentrate
upon anything but Miss Jewel.
After some weeks of acquaintance there was an exchange of letters
which grew into a long correspondence. Those were happy days for
Jaffray! Eagerly he would look forward to the mail and from the receipt
of each of Renestine's letters to the next he would be in a heaven all
his own. He sent her songs and books of verse; he wrote long and
throbbing letters, and Winter and Spring, Summer and Autumn were just
one long summer day for him with the music of the birds overhead and
the earth a garden of blossoms.
TWO years went by and Renestine had been the bride of Jaffray Starr
three months. Grown into womanhood, she was radiant; happy in her love
and secure in the faith of her choice, she went forth from her sister's
home full of hope and cheer. Renestine had had many suitors, had had
much admiration. She could have become the wife of a young adoring
banker; she had refused to listen to the suit of men of more substance
than her husband; but because of the quiet manliness of Jaffray Starr,
because of his keen intellect, because of his nobility of heart and
generous nature, she gave her heart into his keeping, sure that she had
made no mistake, and set out with him to share his fortune, whatever it
would bring. They had been married and left at once for Jaffray's home
at Jefferson, where he had a position in the County Clerk's office. Now
they were settled and housekeeping. But it was a long, rough journey
they had made from Houston to Jefferson. The railroads had not been
built in that section of the country and travel was done by horse teams
and in covered wagons. Two good colored servants accompanied them; old
Josiah, who drove and took care of the rough work, and his wife;
Caroline, to look after the “Missus” and do the cooking. Bringing out
kettles and pans tucked away in the wagon, Josiah would build a
brushwood fire and Caroline would cook the meals, rations for two weeks
having been provided. When it was time to stop for a meal or to rest
the horses, Josiah would be on the watch for a clear spring of water
along the roadside, would draw up by the side of it and begin
preparations for camping. It was not as much of a hardship as Pullman
travelers would conclude. The wagons were fitted with springs which
gave easily over rough roads and even had a fascination and romance,
and in the cool of the evening when a stretch of smooth road lay before
them it was delicious to feel the soft air blowing into their faces and
to experience the exhilaration of the rapid motion of the wagon. There
were also arrangements for comfortable beds.
Word had gone ahead that Jaffray was bringing home a bride and the
people were alert to give her welcome. Jaffray never realized how much
he was thought of until he came back a Benedict. Homes were thrown open
to him and his young wife with offers to remain as long as they would,
and all .kinds of propositions made for their comfort and welfare.
“No, thank you, John or Tom or Buck,” he would reply, kindly but
firmly. “We shall go to the hotel until we can arrange a home. I have
already rented a house and it won't take us long to get settled.”
Nor did it. In a few weeks Jaffray and Renestine were occupying a
small house, not far from the river that skirted the town, with Josiah
and Caroline in charge.
“I do not see how anything can be prettier,” said Renestine one day
after they had been in their home about a week. She had just finished
looping the pretty Swiss curtains at the windows of their living room.
“I really do not,” she continued, stepping back, her finger tips
together, her head quizzically on one side. “Nothing can be sweeter or
prettier than our home. Jaffray, have you noticed how dainty the chintz
furniture is and how well it goes with the walls? I think I deserve
commendation for that wall paper, Jaffray.”
“Indeed, you do, my darling,” returned Jaffray, pulling solemnly at
his pipe and looking half amused, half serious, at his young wife. “Are
you quite sure the pattern is large enough?” he said, laughing.
“Oh, you ungrateful man, you are making fun of me, I do believe.
Come into the dining-room and have dinner. Caroline is just bringing it
Arm in arm, they stepped into a long, narrow room which went the
width of the house, only excepting a little room off the main bedroom
which was used for a dressing room.
The house consisted of a living room, a small hall and across from
the living room, the bedroom. Back of the little room was a small porch
and detached from the house, but connected by a covered walk, was the
kitchen. The dining-room was a foot below the two front rooms, the
kitchen joining it by the covered passage way. They could never explain
why the dining-room was so arranged, but concluded that the owner had
added it on at a later time. It was cosy and comfortable and became
attractive under the deft fingers of Renestine. The little covered
porch in front of the house was screened by running vines from the gaze
of the street.
“Now for my book shelf!” exclaimed Jaffray, after he had smoked his
afternoon pipe. “You must help me arrange them, Renestine. No real home
without books, little girl.”
Josiah brought in the large drygoods box, which he opened, and
together Jaffray and Renestine took out the books, dusted them and
placed them on the shelves built in one side of the wall. Among them
Moore, Pope, History of the United States, Josephus, Irving's Life
of Washington. It was late when the last one had been put away, and
they were glad enough to rest in their rockers on the porch in the
THE day was hot and sultry. The chinaberry trees gave out their
sweet flower fragrance, almost too sweet to breathe freely in, while
their lacy leaves scarcely stirred. A great shady one grew in the
corner of the paling-fence around the yard and close to the two-room
living quarters for the negro servants. Aunt Caroline sat in the door
combing her wiry hair with a curry comb, a jagged piece of broken
mirror in her lap to guide her in her hairdressing; close by were a
couple of rush-bottom chairs set face to face and holding across their
seats a pillow with a mosquito netting pulled tight across the top of
the backs. Every once in a while Aunt Caroline would twist her neck in
the direction of the improvised bed and, finding nothing stirring,
would resume her hair-brushing.
“Oh, Aunt Caroline,” rushed out of the air and a two-year-old little
girl threw herself heavily against the old servant's knees, nearly
dashing her toilet articles to the ground. Aunt Caroline started,
raised her curry brush over her head and shook it hard at the child.
“My lands,” she said, in a low voice. “Whar you come from and making
all dat noise and your sister lying dar asleep. Ain't you never swine
to renembar what I's al'ays tellin' yer, not ter brash up against one
like out de Sperrit world and nearly scare yer old mammy ter deth?
Ennyhow yer look tired; come heah in my lap and le' me rock yer.”
“May I have your looking glass, then, Aunt Caroline?”
“Look out, chile, you'll cut yerself! No. I's got to lay dis up on
de shelf for mahself. Dis no lookin' glass fer a white chile. Now you
come heah and get in my lap dis minute.”
The child, tired from play and romping around, lifted her arms to be
taken up into her dear old mammy's lap. With her curlv head pressed
against Aunt Caroline's breast, she fell asleep in a little while and
was resting there long after Aunt Caroline had stopped tilting her
chair forward and backward—a way quite familiar to Southern nurses in
lulling children to sleep. In a little while she had succumbed to the
silent noon hour herself.
“Looka heah, nigger. What you mean holden dat chile in yer lap and
you fast ter sleep? Wake up. Yer heah? Miss Tiny is comin!” Josiah
shoved his brogan over Aunt Caroline's thinly shod foot and she jerked
her head up with a start.
“Bless mah soul!” She looked around with a frightened appearance at
the chairs with the mosquito netting over them and two blue gray eyes
were looking up into hers and a little fist was being devoured.
“Here you are with the children,” said a low, sweet voice. “I've
wondered if Lola was with you. Has the baby been asleep a long time,
“Yes'm. She jest now waken up. Ain't she purty, Miss Tiny? Just look
at her little face looken like a cherub's. She shore is a buiful chile.
Looks a hole lot like you wid her big eyes, on'y dey gray 'stead of
“Let me take Lola from you and you lift the baby and bring her to
“Yes'm.” Aunt Caroline didn't lose an opportunity, however, to turn
around to remark to Josiah, who was hoeing not far away, “Yer, Josiah,
you jes come heah, suh, and tote dis chile up to de house. She too
hebby fer de Missus. You lubbering black nigger, you jes good fer
nothin' nohow and doan you eber stamp on my foot agin! Go long, Miss
Tiny, we will bring up de chillens!”
Jaffray was home for midday dinner. “I've bought a nurse girl for
you, Renestine. Here is the bill of sale,” he said, handing a light
blue paper to her. Renestine read: “A copper colored girl,” etc. When
they were seated at the table Jaffray said: “I felt like a mean
creature when I paid the money for that girl, but I knew we needed a
nurse girl. Aunt Caroline can't cook and care any longer for the
children too, so what was to be done? This slavery system is frightful,
and mark my words, Renestine, the day will come when the darkies will
be free. Where I was born on the Rhine, no one would believe for a
moment that I would buy a human being. They would hate me as I hate
myself for bartering in human flesh.”
“I know, I know, Jaffray. I remember when my sister used to send
Josiah out in the morning to work, he would come back in the evening
with his pay that he had earned in the blacksmith shop and give it to
her, and Aunt Caroline would bring her money, too, that she had made by
a hard day's, washing and ironing. Oh, yes, it is all wrong and
dreadful, but we will treat them well and wait for the day to set them
“It will not be long now. There are all sorts of rumors about
Lincoln doing this 'and that.”
“You mean about setting the negroes free?”
“But how? People will not just let them walk away!
“Walk away! Oh, little woman, if it could be brought around that way
the threatening clouds would not be so dark ahead! 'Just walk away.'
The President is offering to find a way out. One is to 'compensate'
owners out of Government funds for the release of their slaves; another
is sending them to some warm country for colonization. Of course, he
would ask Congress for an appropriation for this.”
For long hours they sat reading the latest news in the day's paper
and discussing the war reports with a very solemn foreboding of coming
WHEN the Civil War broke out the women of the South blanched with
the terrible ordeal before them, but never for one moment doubted but
that their beloved ones would come out of it all victorious. To them it
was not conceivable that a cause so plainly one of individual rights
could be lost. Sacrifice upon sacrifice was cheerfully made, even
gloried in by these wonderful women of the South in 1861 and to the
bitter end. Delicately nurtured women denied themselves comforts,
sleep, food and drink; they were reduced to personal hardships which
were met and borne with a sublime fortitude.
When it was all over those families which had possessed wealth and
culture were in the grip of poverty, and it was then that the spirit of
Southern womanhood showed its divine strength. Facing family troubles
with the courage of noble resignation, those women who had been
educated—some abroad—and accomplished, became school teachers at five
dollars a month for a pupil, and many a woman to-day bears gratitude in
her heart for the sweet influence of these school teachers, which has
gone with her into every clime, into every condition, and proved an
unfailing guide to the uplands and the heights. Many became
seamstresses, some governesses and others traveling companions. But
wherever these gentlewoman went they carried refinement and ideals.
The heroism of the Southern women in the Civil War is an Epic in
Renestine was the mother now of three little daughters. Jaffray had
gone to Mexico to buy up horses, saddles and commissaries for the army.
Caroline and Josiah were her bodyguards and, faithful servants, they
saved her little anxieties and looked after the welfare of the
Renestine made their little shoes by shaping cloth after their worn
ones and sewing them together with pieces of soft cardboard for soles.
She made coffee by drying beets, and flour by drying potatoes. Her
practical little head was resourceful for any emergency. She felt sad
at the separation from her husband, and her large black eyes were
mournful but not tearful. To be and doing was her spirit. In spare
moments she sat down to her tambourine to do crewel work on a tapestry
picture. It was a large subject—The bard Ossian playing his harp to
Malvino. Ossian seated on the front of some brown rocks, Malvino seated
before him, her hands folded across his knees, full of tender regard
for the gentle musician. This work was her pastime and recreation. She
selected the worsteds and worked her needle out and in, shading and
coloring and outlining with the skill of an artist in paints. Three
years she worked on this picture, almost to the end of the war, almost
as long as Penelope worked on her task awaiting Ulysses' return.
In the meantime Jaftray paid short visits to his family and made
them as comfortable for periods of his absence as he had it in his
power to do. Texas was too far away to be the theatre of battles during
the conflict, so that no real harassing of the families by the invading
Northern soldiers took place, but her people suffered privations and
danger just as much as her sister states and perhaps more after the war
was over and the reconstruction period set in.
In 1870 the town of Jefferson was thrown into a panic by the murder
one night of a “carpet-bagger.” Carpet-bagger was a name given to those
men who came into Southern towns after the war to stir up the people,
and particularly the darkies, against the authorities. It was necessary
for Washington to send troops to Jefferson to restore order.
A stockade was built up on the hill near the new home of Jaffray,
for he had found his first little house too small for his growing
family, and into this stockade some of Jefferson's prominent citizens
were thrown and kept until they could prove their innocence of the
charges brought against them, namely, that they had knowledge of the
murder of the carpet-bagger. Those were trying days. Jaffray had
returned from Mexico in impaired health, which had been caused by the
impure drinking water in the country and also the intense heat there.
The doctors told him he had to take a long rest.
Things were going badly in the town, military law was established
and all men found implicated in the disturbance were drastically
punished. The war bad reduced the prosperous store holder to penury,
there was little money left to circulate among the people and Jefferson
was demoralized in its business, civic and social life.
General Buell, commanding the military occupation, asked as a favor
to be put up at Jaffray's house, as it was one of the largest in the
town and near the camp. Jaffray consented. So General Buell and his
wife came to live with Renestine and Jaffray, and afterwards one or two
other officers and their wives joined General Buell. This was a
courageous thing for Jaffray to have done, for, with the spirit
existing in the town at that critical time, not many residents would
harbor the Yankees. It was so dangerous that one night, when the
General wished to retire to his rooms across the broad hall, he turned
to Jaffray and said:
“Jaffray, put out the lamps before I cross over.”
Kerosene lamps were in use and Jaffray put out the light before the
officer walked from the sitting room across to his own rooms. In
politics Jaffray was a Republican and he had the courage to live up to
his convictions in a community that was enraged against Lincoln and his
party. But the Republicans stood for free men, whatever color or creed,
and Jaffray championed their doctrines. For him humanity, justice and
liberty was the breath of his nostrils. This passion for men's rights
he had inherited from a long line of ancestors reaching back into the
mists of “In the beginning.” He was an Israelite.
Renestine was glad to accept this change in their lives, as she
realized that Jaffray's affairs were not prosperous and with the
assistance of her servants she could help him very well, particularly
as he was not in robust health. Whatever situation faced her she met it
with high courage and a spirit to do. Their devotion was deep and with
their little family they were happy and contented. Sorrow had not
spared them, however, for their baby daughter bad contracted whooping
cough and died a few months before. Jaffray grieved deeply for the
little child and Renestine was almost overcome. But she straightened up
herb beautiful head, like a flower after the storm has passed, and
comforted her husband.
JAFFRAY was now Postmaster of Jefferson. he city had resumed its
normal life and gained in population and wealth. The streets were
filled with wagons loaded with bales of cotton brought from as far away
as 250 miles by ox teams, which took three weeks.
Jefferson was at the head of navigation on an arm of the Red River.
Steamboats came up once or twice a week and the cotton was shipped to
New Orleans and from that city to the mills in the East. When the boats
arrived the scene on the levee was a very animated one. Negroes would
fix large bill hooks into the bagging around the cotton bales and load
them into drays. Some of them worked singing, as sailors do when they
haul and pull.
Sometimes the captains of the larger steamboats would issue
invitations to the families for a soiree, when the excitement would
fill society for days. The ladies would dress in their silks and laces
and the men spruce up in their frock coats and flowered waistcoats and
cross the gang plank into the kerosene-lighted steamboats and dance
until morning. Those were red letter days for Jefferson. As a matter of
etiquette, when the steamboat was loaded and about to start back,
everybody would be at the levee to wave good-bye. The side paddle would
turn and the hospitable captain would be up in the pilot house, waving
his cap in return until the churning side-wheel carried him around the
New houses were dotting the town here and there, some of them large
and handsome with spacious grounds. Kerosene oil lamps were put up to
light the streets and an “Opera House” was built, where many a stock
company came to play in tragedy or comedy. Shakespeare's plays were the
favorites of the community and Jaffray and Renestine went often to the
theatre, accompanied by their two daughters, who were in their advanced
school-day years and able to appreciate it. There were two little sons
added to their family circle; they remained asleep in their trundle
beds with old Aunt Caroline watching over them, as she had watched over
the little daughters. Josiah had died right after the war was over, but
he lived to see his people freed and schools opened where they could be
taught to read and write—a precious privilege. He had said to Aunt
Caroline just before his last illness: “Thanks be to God that He has
set the colored folks free, but thanks be to Him mosen for gibbin' me a
good marsa and missus who gibs me my close, my vittles and my me'cine.”
The relation of the household servants to the Southern family was
that of trust and affection after their liberation. In advanced years,
like old Aunt Caroline, the younger servants saved them unnecessary
steps and their days were happy and peaceful.
Near the home which Renestine and Jaffrav occupied almost touching
the porch was a huge oak tree spreading wide shade around it. Here the
children played; or, if it was a rainy day, they carried their precious
dolls and drums into the latticed summer house built for ornamentation
and use in very hot weather, where woodbine and honeysuckle ran along
its diamond-shaped walls and hung thick and colorful in great waves.
Jaffray loved his home and spared nothing that would make it
comfortable and attractive.
His days were very arduous now, as he had to learn the methods of a
government position. It appealed to him, though, for it was a pursuit
which required reading up on rules, laws and regulations, and his bent
was for books and instruction from them. While his days passed in
attending to the business of the Post Office, his nights were given to
study and self-improvement. He was never satisfied with what he
achieved; to learn and to know more and more was his ruling passion.
Many citizens now called upon him for advice. He would be asked to
speak when a new building was opened or a public movement was on foot.
They knew him to be generous and full of civic pride. He belonged to
the Board of Aldermen and at one time was offered the office of Mayor.
He had the confidence and respect of all the inhabitants of the town
and his politeness and gentleness were the qualifications which made
them love him.
He was a tall, spare figure, with black, well-set eyes, black hair,
now showing thin at the temples and somewhat bald; he had a short black
beard and moustache and his carriage was upright and dignified. He
could be stern, even severe, when things aroused his anger, and nothing
could touch his temper quicker than underhand dealings or a mean act.
But his whole being was steeped with love of his kind and sympathy with
In the early days of Jefferson he and a friend bought a deed for a
cemetery and presented it to the Jewish community. His home was opened
to social and political gatherings where his friends were sure of a
warm welcome. Renestine was always the center of attraction of these
social affairs. She was proud of her husband and flushed with happiness
when she saw him surrounded by admiring groups of men.
At this time a new influence came into their lives. It was a fine
old Frenchman, who had drifted down to Jefferson from Alabama, where he
had been a professor of piano teaching. His name was D'Archais, and by
degrees they learned his history. But the immediate result of their
meeting was to give their two little daughters, now eight and ten years
old, to him to be instructed in music.
The history of this new friend was a romantic one. During the time
of Louis Philippe he left Paris. His property and title had been taken
by the revolutionists for he was an aristocrat, a Count, and he found
that he was safer with the ocean between him and his beloved Paris.
He landed in Mobile, Alabama, and used his accomplishments of
painting and music as a means of gaining a livelihood. For many years
he worked in his profession and accumulated enough to lay aside. This
he invested in cotton which was destroyed in a warehouse by fire. It
was hard, but he began all over again and in the meantime married a
widow with a daughter. This step-daughter won his complete affection,
and when she married he devoted himself to her two children, a girl and
a boy. It was because of these two children that he came to Jefferson,
where they were then living.
The music teacher was 70 years old when he came into the lives of
Jaffray and Renestine; a polished, grand old man of kingly soul and
manners. The little daughters quickly learned to love their dear old
teacher and all his life time he was their dear friend.
Jaffray was much impressed by this gentle nobleman and was glad to
have the privilege of his friendship for himself and his family. He
found that he was easily tired in these days and welcomed nightfall
when he could sit on the porch in the twilight of summer and feel the
peace of evening creep on apace. Often Mr. D'Archais would join him and
chat about travel and the fall and rise of political parties in France.
“I left France after the fall of Louis Philippe,” he said, “and came
to America. My property was confiscated and I arrived here penniless. A
friend of mine had gone to Mobile, Alabama, some years before, and I
resolved to follow him. I began life over again and took a position in
a young ladies' academy there to teach piano. I had taken lessons from
renowned musicians in Paris, the same as taught Napoleon's sister,
Pauline, and this was my only means now of making a living.
“I did very well, lived comfortably and saved a little besides, so
that when the war broke out I had invested in cotton which was in a
warehouse waiting to be sold. A large fire destroyed the warehouse with
its contents, leaving me penniless once more, as there was not a dollar
of insurance on it.
“In the meantime my friend had died leaving his family—wife and
daughter—in my care. I decided to carry out his wish on his deathbed
and married his wife soon after. His daughter became my joy and
happiness. She was docile, ma foi, so perfect, that in a few years,
when she married, I was irreconcilable.” Here the music master would
stop, let his face drop into his big, white, soft hands for a moment
and then go on with his story. “She died three years after her
marriage, leaving two children, a boy and a girl. These children were
adopted by people here in this state and I followed. Jefferson was
recommended to me as a good place to begin a class in music. I am not
sorry I came as I have made friends and in my old age I can look
forward to peace and a few devoted pupils to brighten the days.” Many
times during his recital he would exclaim: “Mon Dieu, mon dieu, I have
seen many trials and tribulations.”
Jaffray was always sorry to see Mr. D'Archais leave; his personality
and story were romantic and picturesque. Long into the shadows of the
night he would sit watching the stars come out one by one, thinking of
the troublous life of the nobleman and simple music teacher.
In the Autumn Jaffray took to his bed utterly worn out and grew very
ill, so ill that the family doctor felt a great deal of concern about
his symptoms. He instructed that Jaffray be kept very quiet on a low
diet and stimulants, to be given every few hours. This treatment
benefited Jaffray so that he was able to sit up in a favorite arm chair
now and then and listen to Charles Dickens' story, “Our Mutual Friend,”
then running as a serial in Harper's Magazine, read to him by his
little gray-eyed daughter now ten years old.
At the close of the reading one morning he said: “What a great man!
I'd rather die to-day and leave behind me the fame of Charles Dickens
than live to be a hundred years old.”
Much encouraged by Jaffray's condition, Renestine took fresh hope
and went about her daily occupation with more energy. She knew
Jaffray's tender affection for his children and when on his good days
he had been made comfortable in his big arm chair the two young
daughters, Lola and Ena, and their little brothers, Lester, Andrew and
Frank, were allowed to come into his room and be near him, the infant
son Frank resting in his arms, Lola standing by like a little mother
watching over them all.
Other days he would look out of the window and watch the big oak
tree standing near, with its leaves turning brown, shaking in the wind.
Winter was turning the vines on the summer house into lifeless twists
of runners and bending the rose hushes until the petals were strewn
about the ground.
It was not until the first week in November that Renestine noticed
that Jaffray was not as strong as usual. He kept to his bed now
altogether, and his great heart seemed to speak to her of what was
uppermost there—the parting; after only thirteen years of wedded life
the end had come. His little Queen Esther with the rosebuds on her
In his last moments he said to a friend: “What does it matter
whether a man lives a little longer or not? It is only the loved ones
he leaves that matter.”
At his death the city closed the places of business by proclamation
of the Mayor, and the long line of followers at his bier to the little
cemetery he had given testified to the love his fellow men bore him.
Renestine was crushed. Her five children were to be lived for, of
course, but how could she face the long years before her? She was
young, inexperienced, unused to the world and its ways. She was
overwhelmed by her fate. The assets of a generous man at his death are
debts and some friends. Had it not been for the advice and devotion of
a few friends, Renestine would have gone down in the black waters that
were now surging around her. The Post Office was looked after until she
could find strength in body and mind to assume the duties of Post
Mistress to which she was appointed. When she entered the door that
first morning it was as a broken spirit without any idea of what she
was about to undertake. The task was serious and exacting, she
realized, but how to grasp its thousand details? Her master would be
the U. S. Government, an uncompromising, stern and bloodless one.
Not many years before, this little woman was an immigrant child,
landing with timid step on strange soil. To-day she was ushered into
the important office of Government Mail and Money matters, one of the
most responsible positions in the country.
With her usual courage and determination to learn, Renestine set
about the long figures of quarterly returns and register reports, money
order and stamp reports, making up and distributing mail, prompt
deliveries and sending out of mail. Her pride in her new life responded
to the demands made upon her and she went forward. Unafraid now, for
she had a grasp of the difficulties, she bent her work. She pored over
her monthly and quarterly returns in the quiet of night, and over and
over again she wrote and figured until she understood and could make
them out correctly. She was encouraged by her friends, and complimented
by the bankers and merchants in the city for her successful efforts.
The first year was a long trial to Renestine. Her children were
young and needed her care and guidance as well as the new occupation.
But the little mother was all the busier when she returned home in the
evening. With a divine strength to perform and serve, she labored.
The education of each child was followed patiently, eagerly,
unceasingly, by her. Music and languages, besides the fundamentals,
were to be given to each.
The bodies were clothed by her flying fingers at night. What a boon
ready-to-wear would have been to this little mother. Not a boy's
garment could be had unless it was the handiwork of the household.
One evening, many years afterward, Renestine returned to her home
with her sixteenth commission in her hand. She had served the public of
Jefferson faithfully and efficiently and the people had honored her.
During these years her elder daughter had married but only lived a year
after her marriage. This was another searing sorrow and for many days
seemed to consume her. Now her second daughter was about to become the
wife of a noble man who had long wished to wed her and take her back
with him to make their home in New York City.
This evening she sat in the midst of her little family and recalled
many scenes of her life. She was still a young woman, forty-eight, and
she intended sending her resignation to Washington. She was about to
leave Jefferson and follow her daughter to New York where there were
better opportunities for the advancement of her three sons.
The following day she went with her prospective son-in-law and her
daughter to pay a farewell visit to Mr. D'Archais at his little
two-roomed house. The old man rose with his arms outstretched to meet
them and his “little girl” was soon enclosed in them. On parting he
turned to her soon-to-be husband and said:
“Make her happy. Make my little girl happy,” and held his hand
affectionately in his own.
So it was that Renestine, the little immigrant girl, became a superb
woman of deeds, a wonderful American mother whose grandchildren have
fought in this last war to win democracy for the world!