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He's My Friend, A True Story by Aunt Fanny

 

Charley was the son of a young, rich, and beautiful widow, who lived in one of the splendid up-town hotels of New York city. His mother was a very busy woman, for she was a manager of the "Children's Retreat," the "Children's Relief," the "Old Ladies' Mitigation Society," and ever so many other charities, and these took up so much of her time that her own poor little half-orphaned Charley was left pretty much to himself; for Lizzie, his nurse, spent most of her time laughing and talking with the other servants.

So Charley amused himself running up and down the stairs, and taking trips with the elevator man, who was very fond of the bright little fellow.

One day Charley wandered down the wide stairs, and along a corridor or hall. He was throwing up a little ball and catching it as he went. At the end of the hall he saw through an open door another flight of stairs, very narrow, and rather dark. It was the stairs for the servants' use.

"Hallo!" cried Charley, "here are some more stairs," and like the learned monkey that let nothing escape him on his travels, down the stairs went the boy on a voyage of discovery.

When he came to the bottom, which was far below the level of the street outside, he walked along to an open door, and saw something which dimpled his face all over with smiles; for, standing like a heron on one leg, leaning against the wall opposite the door, was another boy. He was twirling a little paper windmill fastened to a stick; his great black eyes were dancing with glee, and as he laughed he showed two rows of snow-white even teeth. At a stationary wash-tub was a big woman washing clothes, and singing softly to herself, "'Way down in ole Virginny."

Neither of them saw Charley, so, by way of introducing himself, he said, "Hallo, boy."

The woman turned quickly round, and exclaimed, "Why, honey, whar did yer come from?"

"I came down stairs; may I come in?" asked Charley, adding, quickly, "I want to play with that boy."

"Course you can; come right in," said the black woman, for she was nearly as black as ink, but there was a sweet, honest expression in her broad face, and a welcoming tone in her voice, which brought Charley quickly in, with a little laugh, to the side of the other boy.

And he—oh, how black he was! but as clean and neatly dressed as soap and water and nice clothes could make him, for Juliet, his mother, loved her little son, and she took good care that his manners were as nice as his clothes. He held out his hand to Charley, and, making a queer little bow, said, "How do you do, sir? I hope you are very well." Then he twisted one leg tighter than ever round the other, and gave a vigorous twirl to his paper windmill.

"Hey! I like that," said Charley. "Let me try to do it."

"Oh yes," said the other, "but this is the best way—to hold it straight out, and run fast."

So Charley took the windmill, and both boys went scampering and galloping round the room, the windmill flying round famously, until the boys were quite out of breath.

"What's your name?" asked Charley, as they were resting together in a large old rocking-chair.

"George Washington Johnson. What's your name?"' asked the black boy, in return, rocking the chair as hard as he could.

"My name is Charley Lee. I like you. Will you be my friend?"

"Oh yes; will you be mine?"

"Yes, and we'll play together every single day."

Just then Juliet went away with a great basket of clothes, to hang them up in a room where they were quickly dried by steam; and Charley, taking George's hand, said, "Come up stairs with me, and take a ride in the elevator."

What a blissful invitation for George! They tumbled up stairs in their delightful hurry, ran through the door into the broad hall, to the elevator, and the moment it appeared, Charley cried out,

"Oh, Mike, open the door; George wants to ride up and down with me; he's my friend."

"Oh, he's your friend, is he?" said Mike, puckering up his eyes at George Washington; "and a very pretty color he is, too. Well, step in, Snowball."

"His name isn't Snowball; it's George Washington," said Charley.

The elevator man laughed, and the two boys got closer together in a corner, pretending that it was a balloon, and they were sailing up and down in the air; and there they sat, in a state of perfect happiness.

The two boys never quarrelled. George had a sweet disposition, and was ready to do anything Charley proposed. They loved each other dearly, and many were the slices of bread and butter, spread thickly over with molasses, to which the two friends were treated by the good-natured washer-woman. They never sat down to eat them; oh no! they capered, and danced, and burst out laughing when they tumbled over a broomstick or a bench, and seemed to grow rosier and fatter every day. That is, Charley grew rosier, and George's smooth black skin grew shinier, which was the same thing—for him.

The little black boy was often permitted by his mother to go out toward Fourth Avenue, and run over one of the high arched bridges which covers the Fourth Avenue Railroad, and he did not think he was doing wrong when one day he asked Charley to go too.

"Oh yes, I will," he cried, in a great state of delight.

As soon as they arrived at the bridge, they began chasing each other over it; and then Charley said:

"Oh, George, let's play that we are travellers, hunting for a whale. I heard my mamma talking about one that was on ex-ex-exedition down by the river. She said that it was 'most a mile long."

"Goody!" cried George. "What a mons'ous whale!"

So the boys ran down the street toward the East River a long, long way, and presently they got to some rocks, upon the top of which were a number of miserable wooden houses called shanties.

Geese, pigs, chickens, and a forlorn, starved-looking dog were poking about for something to eat. Near by was a great heap of coal ashes. Some bad-looking boys were raking the ashes up into a sort of mound on top of the heap; but a moment after, they ran away to see an organ-grinder and a monkey which had come upon the rocks. Charley and George would have run too, had not their ears caught the sound of a stifled piteous mewing, which seemed to issue out of the very middle of the ash heap.

"What's that?" asked both boys at once.

"Mew! me—ew!" came again from the ashes.

"It's a cat!" exclaimed Charley; "and it is inside of those ashes. I do believe those boys thought it was dead, and buried it. Let's hurry and dig it out."

Charley and George worked hard, but they had nothing but their hands to work with, and they threw the ashes all over their clothes; but the piteous mewing came quicker and louder, and in a few moments the gray head of a live kitten popped out of the ashes; then two gray paws, and soon the whole kitten was liberated.

"Oh, you poor little thing!" said Charley, trying with soft pats to get the ashes out of its fur, while George took out of his pocket a queer little pocket-handkerchief, six inches square, with A B C all round the edge, and a portrait of his great namesake in the middle, and said, in a tender tone, "Here, poor kitty, let me wipe your nose; don't cry any more;" and he wiped it so softly that it really seemed to comfort the afflicted little creature.

"Let's run home with it," said Charley.

"And give it some milk," said George.

"And wash it clean," said Charley.

"And dry it in the steam-room," said George.

No sooner said than done. Charley carried the kitten one block, and then George the next, and so on in turn, until at last they got back to the hotel, and rushed down into the laundry, where Juliet was beginning to feel worried at their long absence.

"La sakes!" she cried, when she saw the plight they were in, "whar have you ben gone? Why, you look jes like ole Bobby de ash-man. Whar you get dat ar cat? Why, George Washington! you's a disgrace to your raisin'! How you spec' I'se gwine' to make you look genteel if you cum home dat ar way?"

"Oh," said George, rolling his eyes at his mother—"oh, we've had such s'prising 'wenters; we went to see a whale."

"Whale! is dat what you call a whale?" said Juliet, pointing to the poor little kitten, which he was hugging tight to his breast.

Then Charley spoke up, and when Juliet had heard of the "surprising adventures," she was sorry she had been the least bit cross with the kind-hearted little fellows. To make up for it, she gave the kitten a saucer of warm milk, and taking off the soiled clothes of the boys, and washing their faces and hands, she put two funny little night-gowns upon them, and popped them into her bed, which was in a little room next to the laundry. Then she caught up their clothes—for there was no time to be lost—and popped them into a tub of hot water, with plenty of soap, and in ten minutes they were just as clean as soap, water, and hard rubbing could make them.

Then she wrung them out with a will, shook them out with a flourish, and running into the steam-room, hung them upon a horse—a clothes-horse, of course. In ten minutes more they were dry enough to iron, and she polished them with the hot and heavy irons at such a rate that they fairly shone, and she shone too.

When the boys were called, and Juliet put on their clothes again, they looked cleaner, brighter, and happier than ever.

The kitten was adopted as a friend too, and had soon shook and licked itself clean, and it lived a very comfortable life down in the laundry.

One day, for a wonder, Charley's mother staid at home. She was expecting a call from her lawyer, Judge Spencer, upon some business. When he came he had a long talk with Charley.

Presently Charley said: "I want to tell you something. I've a friend; his name is George."

"Only one friend?" asked the Judge, laughing.

"But he's my 'tic'lar friend," explained Charley. "May I bring him to see you? He's real nice."

"Does he live in the hotel?" asked Charley's mother, who had never heard of him.

"Oh yes," replied Charley, "and he and I have a love-aly kitten—we take care of it."

"Well, bring him in—the kitten too," said the good Judge; "that is, if your mother consents."

"Oh, certainly," said Mrs. Lee.

So Charley rushed down the narrow stairs, and found George playing with the kitten, and looking as neat and clean as a new pin.

"Come, George, come up with me to mamma's parlor. Judge Spencer is there; he wants to see you, and the kitten too."

They went up stairs, and softly opening the door of the parlor, and holding George's hand tightly, Charley walked quickly up to the Judge and said, "Here's my friend; he can't help being black!"

For one moment astonishment kept Charley's mamma and the Judge silent. Then the good man held out his hand to the black boy, and taking Charley on his knee kissed him tenderly. That warm, loving kiss told Charley that the Judge understood it all. His face grew radiant, his eyes rested affectionately on his friend, and then he leaned toward George, and put the beloved kitten in his arms. "You hold it now," he said.

With a cautionary wave of his hand, the Judge prevented Mrs. Lee from reproving Charley for his choice of a friend; then he sent them into the next room, and had a long talk with the widow, the result of which was that, after inquiring about George, and finding how good his "raisin'" was, as Juliet called it, Charley was still permitted to play with him. And to this very day (for all this has happened within a few months) if you ask Charley Lee who George Washington Johnson is, he will answer at once, "He's my friend."