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How To Be Happy
by [?]

OLD Mr. Cleveland sat by his comfortable fireside one cold winter’s night. He was a widower, and lived alone on his plantation; that is to say, he was the only white person there; for of negroes, both field hands and house servants, he had enough and to spare. He was a queer old man, this Mr. Cleveland; a man of kind, good feelings, but of eccentric impulses, and blunt and startling manners. You must always let him do everything in his own odd way; just attempt to dictate to him, or even to suggest a certain course, and you would be sure to defeat your wisest designs. He seemed at times possessed by a spirit of opposition, and would often turn right round and oppose a course he had just been vehemently advocating, only because some one else had ventured openly and warmly to approve it.

The night, as I have said, was bitter cold, and would have done honour to a northern latitude, and in addition to this, a violent storm was coming on. The wind blew in fitful gusts, howling and sighing among the huge trees with which the house was surrounded, and then dying away with a melancholy, dirge-like moan. The old tree rubbed their leafless branches against the window panes, and the fowls which had roosted there for the night, were fain to clap their wings, and make prodigious efforts to preserve their equilibrium. Mr. Cleveland grew moody and restless, threw down the book in which he had been reading, kicked one of the andirons till he made the whole blazing fabric tumble down, and finally called, in an impatient tone, his boy Tom.

Tom soon popped his head in at the door, and said, “Yer’s me, sir.”

“Yer’s me, indeed!” exclaimed Mr. Cleveland, “what sort of a way is this to build a fire?”

“I rispec you is bin kick um, sir,” said Tom.

“Hey? What? Well! suppose I did bin kick um, if it had been properly made, it would not have tumbled down. Fix it this minute, sir!”

“I is gwine to fix um now, sir,” said Tom, fumbling at the fire.

“Well! fix it, sir, without having so much to say about it; you had better do more, and say less,” said Mr. Cleveland.

“Yes, sir,” answered Tom.

“You will keep answering me when there is no occasion!” exclaimed Mr. Cleveland; “I just wish I had my stick here, I’d crack the side of your head with it.”

“Yer’s de stick, sir,” said Tom, handing the walking cane out of the corner.

“Put it down, this instant, sir,” said Mr. Cleveland; “how dare you touch my stick without my leave?”

“I bin tink you bin say you bin want um, sir,” said Tom.

“You had better tink about your work, sir, and stop answering me, sir, or I’ll find a way to make you,” said Mr. Cleveland. “Bring in some more light wood, and make the fire, and shut in the window shutters. Do you hear me, sir?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Tom.

“Well, why don’t you answer, if you hear, then? How am I to know when you hear me, if you don’t answer?” said Mr. Cleveland.

“I bin tink you bin tell me for no answer you, sir,” said Tom.

“I said when there was no occasion, boy; that’s what I said,” exclaimed Mr. Cleveland, reaching for his stick.”

“Yes, sir,” said Tom, as he went grinning out of the room.

Mr. Cleveland was, in the main, a very kind master, though somewhat hasty and impatient. Tom and he were for ever sparring, yet neither could have done without the other; and there was something comical about Tom’s disposition which well suited his master’s eccentric and changeable moods. Tom evidently served as a kind of safety valve for his master’s nervous system, and many an explosion of superfluous excitability he had to bear.

On the night in question, Mr. Cleveland was particularly out of sorts. The truth is, he was naturally a generous, warm-hearted man, but in consequence of early disappointment, had lived a solitary life, and was really suffering for the want of objects of affection. His feelings, unsatisfied, unemployed, yet morbidly sensitive, were becoming soured, and his untenanted heart often ached for want of sympathy.