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PAGE 2

The Ingrate
by [?]

When Josh was told of his master’s intention, his eyes gleamed with pleasure, and he went to his work with the zest of long hunger. He proved a remarkably apt pupil. He was indefatigable in doing the tasks assigned him. Even Mr. Leckler, who had great faith in his plasterer’s ability, marveled at the speed which he had acquired the three R’s. He did not know that on one of his many trips a free negro had given Josh the rudimentary tools of learning, and that since the slave had been adding to his store of learning by poring over signs and every bit of print that he could spell out. Neither was Josh so indiscreet as to intimate to his benefactor that he had been anticipated in his good intentions.

It was in this way, working and learning, that a year passed away, and Mr. Leckler thought that his object had been accomplished. He could safely trust Josh to protect his own interests, and so he thought that it was quite time that his servant’s education should cease.

“You know, Josh,” he said, “I have already gone against my principles and against the law for your sake, and of course a man can’t stretch his conscience too far, even to help another who’s being cheated; but I reckon you can take care of yourself now.”

“Oh, yes, suh, I reckon I kin,” said Josh.

“And it wouldn’t do for you to be seen with any books about you now.”

“Oh, no, suh, su’t’n’y not.” He didn’t intend to be seen with any books about him.

It was just now that Mr. Leckler saw the good results of all he had done, and his heart was full of a great joy, for Eckley had been building some additions to his house, and sent for Josh to do the plastering for him. The owner admonished his slave, took him over a few examples to freshen his memory, and sent him forth with glee. When the job was done, there was a discrepancy of two dollars in what Mr. Eckley offered for it and the price which accrued from Josh’s measurements. To the employer’s surprise, the black man went over the figures with him and convinced him of the incorrectness of the payment,–and the additional two dollars were turned over.

“Some o’ Leckler’s work,” said Eckley, “teaching a nigger to cipher! Close-fisted old reprobate,–I’ve a mind to have the law on him.” Mr. Leckler heard the story with great glee. “I laid for him that time–the old fox.” But to Mrs. Leckler he said: “You see, my dear wife, my rashness in teaching Josh to figure for himself is vindicated. See what he has saved for himself.”

“What did he save?” asked the little woman indiscreetly.

Her husband blushed and stammered for a moment, and then replied, “Well, of course, it was only twenty cents saved to him, but to a man buying his freedom every cent counts; and after all, it is not the amount, Mrs. Leckler, it’s the principle of the thing.”

“Yes,” said the lady meekly.

II

Unto the body it is easy for the master to say, “Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.” Gyves, chains and fetters will enforce that command. But what master shall say unto the mind, “Here do I set the limit of your acquisition. Pass it not”? Who shall put gyves upon the intellect, or fetter the movement of thought? Joshua Leckler, as custom denominated him, had tasted of the forbidden fruit, and his appetite had grown by what it fed on. Night after night he crouched in his lonely cabin, by the blaze of a fat pine brand, poring over the few books that he had been able to secure and smuggle in. His fellow-servants alternately laughed at him and wondered why he did not take a wife. But Joshua went on his way. He had no time for marrying or for love; other thoughts had taken possession of him. He was being swayed by ambitions other than the mere fathering of slaves for his master. To him his slavery was deep night. What wonder, then, that he should dream, and that through the ivory gate should come to him the forbidden vision of freedom? To own himself, to be master of his hands, feet, of his whole body–something would clutch at his heart as he thought of it; and the breath would come hard between his lips. But he met his master with an impassive face, always silent, always docile; and Mr. Leckler congratulated himself that so valuable and intelligent a slave should be at the same time so tractable. Usually intelligence in a slave meant discontent; but not so with Josh. Who more content than he? He remarked to his wife: “You see, my dear, this is what comes of treating even a nigger right.”