Silas Jackson was a young man to whom many opportunities had come. Had he been a less fortunate boy, as his little world looked at it, he might have spent all his days on the little farm where he was born, much as many of his fellows did. But no, Fortune had marked him for her own, and it was destined that he should be known to fame. He was to know a broader field than the few acres which he and his father worked together, and where he and several brothers and sisters had spent their youth.
Mr. Harold Marston was the instrument of Fate in giving Silas his first introduction to the world. Marston, who prided himself on being, besides a man of leisure, something of a sportsman, was shooting over the fields in the vicinity of the Jackson farm. During the week he spent in the region, needing the services of a likely boy, he came to know and like Silas. Upon leaving, he said, “It’s a pity for a boy as bright as you are to be tied down in this God-forsaken place. How’d you like to go up to the Springs, Si, and work in a hotel?”
The very thought of going to such a place, and to such work, fired the boy’s imagination, although the idea of it daunted him.
“I’d like it powahful well, Mistah Ma’ston,” he replied.
“Well, I’m going up there, and the proprietor of one of the best hotels, the Fountain House, is a very good friend of mine, and I’ll get him to speak to his head waiter in your behalf. You want to get out of here, and see something of the world, and not stay cooped up with nothing livelier than rabbits, squirrels, and quail.”
And so the work was done. The black boy’s ambitions that had only needed an encouraging word had awakened into buoyant life. He looked his destiny squarely in the face, and saw that the great world outside beckoned to him. From that time his dreams were eagle-winged. The farm looked narrower to him, the cabin meaner, and the clods were harder to his feet. He learned to hate the plough that he had followed before in dumb content, and there was no longer joy in the woods he knew and loved. Once, out of pure joy of living, he had gone singing about his work; but now, when he sang, it was because his heart was longing for the city of his dreams, and hope inspired the song.
However, after Mr. Marston had been gone for over two weeks, and nothing had been heard from the Springs, the hope died in Silas’s heart, and he came to believe that his benefactor had forgotten him. And yet he could not return to the old contentment with his mode of life. Mr. Marston was right, and he was “cooped up there with nothing better than rabbits, squirrels, and quail.” The idea had never occurred to him before, but now it struck him with disconcerting force that there was something in him above his surroundings and the labor at which he toiled day by day. He began to see that the cabin was not over clean, and for the first time recognized that his brothers and sisters were positively dirty. He had always looked on it with unconscious eyes before, but now he suddenly developed the capacity for disgust.
When young ‘Lishy, noticing his brother’s moroseness, attributed it to his strong feeling for a certain damsel, Silas turned on him in a fury. Ambition had even driven out all other feelings, and Dely Manly seemed poor and commonplace to the dark swain, who a month before would have gone any length to gain a smile from her. He compared everything and everybody to the glory of what he dreamed the Springs and its inhabitants to be, and all seemed cheap beside.