IN WHICH PHIL HAS A TALK WITH HIS FATHER,AND REVIEWS HIS PAST HISTORY
“I must go to Chicago, father,”
said I, one evening, after we had been discussing
our domestic relations with more than usual earnestness.
“Why go to Chicago, Philip?
What put that idea into your head?” replied
my father, with a kind of deprecatory smile.
“I don’t feel as though
I could live any longer in this state of doubt and
“Really, Philip, I don’t think you need
worry yourself to that extent.”
“I can’t help it.
I want to know whether my mother is alive or dead.
She may have been in her grave for a year for aught
“Not so bad as that, Philip.
I am sure if anything had happened to her, we should
have heard of it,” added my father, mildly; but
I saw that he had more feeling on the subject than
he chose to manifest.
“It seems to me inhuman and
unnatural to live in this way,” I persisted,
perhaps a little more impatiently than I ought to have
“It is all my fault, my son,” said my
“I don’t think so.”
“Don’t compel me to review
the bitter experience of the past. You know it
“I don’t mean to blame you, father.”
“Certainly it is not your mother’s
fault that an ocean rolls between her and me.”
“I am willing to allow that
it is your fault, and mine too, in a sense different
from what you meant, that our family is still separated.”
I perceived that my father was considerably
affected by what I had said; and as he relapsed into
silence, apparently to give vent to the emotions which
disturbed him, I did not press the subject any further
at that moment. But I felt all that I had said,
and I thought something ought to be done. I was
thoroughly in earnest, and I felt that it would be
my fault if our little family continued to be separated
for a much longer period.
I was nearly sixteen years old; and
into that brief space had been crowded a strange and
varied experience. In order that my readers may
know precisely my relations to the rest of the world,
and understand why I was so deeply moved, I must briefly
review the events of my life. I was born in the
city of St. Louis, though this was a fact which had
been patent to me only a couple of years. I had
attained unto that worldly wisdom which enabled me
to know who my father was; but I was less fortunate
in regard to my mother, whom I could not remember that
I had ever seen, though it was a comfort for me to
know that my baby eyes had gazed into her loving face.
In the burning of the steamer Farringford,
on the upper Missouri, in which my father and mother
and myself-then a child two years old-were
passengers, I had been committed to a raft formed of
a state-room door, and bolstered with pillows to keep
me from rolling off. By an accident this frail
craft was carried away from the burning steamer, then
aground, and I was separated from my father, who, I
grieve to say, was intoxicated at the time, and unable
to do all that he would have accomplished in his sober
senses. At this moment the steamer broke from
the shore, and was carried swiftly down the mighty
river. Parents were thus separated from the helpless
But it was not ordered that this little
one should perish in the cold waters of the great
river in the night and the gloom. An old pioneer,
trapper, and hunter, Matt Rockwood, had picked me up,
and for years had nursed me and cared for me in his
rude log cabin, loving me devotedly, and watching
over me with a woman’s tenderness. For eleven
years I remained in the field and forest, hardened
by the rude life of the pioneer, working hard, and
winning a large experience in dealing with the elements
around me. A well-educated and refined gentleman,
driven from the haunts of civilization by a fancied
wrong, became our neighbor, and was my instructor,
so that I obtained more than a common school education
from him. By the seeming guidings of Providence,
his wife and daughter were sent to him in the wilderness,
and remained there through the season.
My foster-father was killed in an
affray with the Indians. Boy as I was, I went
through a brief campaign with the savages, and my own
rifle had more than once brought down the treacherous
foe. I had faced danger and death, and I had
rescued the daughter of my excellent friend and instructor,
Mr. Gracewood, from the Indians. Ella was then,
and is now, one of my best friends. In the autumn,
leaving the farm and stock to Kit Cruncher, an old
hunter who had been our friend and neighbor for years,
I started for the realms of civilization with Mr. Gracewood
and his family, taking with me the articles found
upon me by the old pioneer when I was rescued from
I had fifteen hundred dollars in cash,
after I had paid my fare to St. Louis-the
worldly wealth of my deceased foster-father. On
the way down I was separated from my friends by an
accident, and did not see them again for several weeks.
But I found a place in the city to learn the carpenter’s
trade, in which I had already made considerable proficiency.
I received six dollars a week for my work when it was
found that I was both able and willing to do nearly
as much as an ordinary journeyman.
By a succession of rather singular
incidents, I discovered that a dissolute, drunken
man about town was my father-which I regarded
at the time as the greatest mishap that could possibly
befall me. But I took him to my boarding-house,
where good-I might even say blessed-Mrs.
Greenough took care of him, giving to his body the
nursing he needed, and to his spiritual wants the gospel
of Jesus Christ. What my poor father, who had
become the moral and physical wreck of what he had
been before, could not do of his own strength, he
did with the grace and by the help of God-he
abandoned his cups, and became a sober, moral, and
religious man. He attended every service at the
Methodist church, into whose fold Mrs. Greenough had
led him, and where, for two years, he had been a faithful,
consistent, and useful member.
He was employed as the agent of a
very wealthy southern planter, who had large possessions
in St. Louis. He had the care of property worth
hundreds of thousands, and received and disbursed large
sums in rents, repairs, and building. He had
a salary of twenty-four hundred dollars a year, more
than half of which he saved, for we continued to live
at the humble abode of Mrs. Greenough after the dawn
of our prosperity. I had saved nearly all my
wages, and at the opening of my story I was worth,
in my own right, about two thousand dollars, with which,
however, I did not purpose to meddle.
Through all my mishaps I had reached
the flood tide of prosperity. There was only
one thing in the wide world that disturbed me; and
that, at last, almost became a burden to me.
I had a mother whom I had never seen within my remembrance.
She was a beautiful woman, as her miniature in my
possession fully testified, as well as those who had
known her. Mr. Collingsby, her father, had three
children, of whom my mother was the youngest.
He was a wealthy man, and formerly a resident of St.
Louis, from which he had removed, partly on account
of his business, and partly it was said, to avoid
the importunities of my father, who made himself very
disagreeable in his inebriation. He was largely
engaged in railroad and other business enterprises.
My mother was travelling in Europe, with her brother,
and was not expected to return for several years.
That which had become a burden to
me was the desire to see my mother, with the added
longing to have our little family reunited. There
was no good reason why we should longer be separated.
My father was a steady, industrious, Christian man,
who had repented in sackcloth and ashes the errors
of his lifetime. He had written to Mr. Collingsby
several times, but no notice had ever been taken of
his appeals. In vain he assured the father of
his injured wife that he was an altered man; that he
drank no liquor or anything that could intoxicate;
that he was a member in good standing of the Methodist
church, and that he was receiving a handsome salary.
Equally vain was the appeal for his son, whose existence
seemed to be doubted, and was practically denied.
My mother, being beyond the ocean,
could not be a party to this cold and inhuman silence,
as it seemed to me. We were assured by those who
had seen my grandfather that he was aware of the facts
that were known to our friends in St. Louis.
Mr. Lamar, whose acquaintance I had made in the midst
of my mishaps, had seen Mr. Collingsby, and told him
the whole story. The rich man laughed at it,
and declared that it was a trick; that, if he was
a poor man, Farringford would not trouble him.
After this revelation my father refused to write again.
He was sorely grieved and troubled, but he still had
a sense of self-respect which would not permit him
to grovel in the dust before any man.
I had worked at my trade two years
in St. Louis, and considered myself competent to do
all ordinary work in that line. But I worked very
hard, for I was ambitious to do as much as a man.
I was growing, and while I increased in height, I
lost flesh, and was lighter in weight than when I
had left the field and forest. My father thought
I was working too hard, and Mrs. Greenough seconded
the argument with all the force of a woman’s
influence. Still I think I should not have given
up my trade then if my employer had not changed his
business, thus compelling me to seek a new situation.
I had been studying book-keeping for two years, using
all my evenings in this and other studies. I practised
it with my father, who was an accomplished accountant,
until he declared that I was competent to keep any
set of books, either of a merchant or a corporation.
Mr. Clinch, my late employer, closed
up his affairs at the opening of a new year.
I could find nothing to do in the winter; but when
I fretted over my inactivity, my father told me to
improve my handwriting, which, as a carpenter, had
been rather stiff. I took lessons of him, and
as he was a practical business man, I escaped the
vicious habit of flourishing in my writing. He
insisted that I should write a plain, simple, round
hand, which I did. As my fingers became limber,
I made excellent progress, and I was really proud
of my penmanship.
These comparatively idle days were
full of thought, almost all of which related to my
mother. I had made up my mind that something ought
to be done to find her, and inform her of the altered
circumstances of her husband. I was sure, after
reading so often the gentle expression of her countenance
in the picture I had, that she would make us glad as
soon as she was assured of the reformation of the wanderer.
I meant to do something now, even if I had to spend
my two thousand dollars in making a voyage to Europe
to search for her. Her father refused to do anything,
and it was necessary for us to act in our own behalf.
It was not the rich man’s money, as he averred,
that we sought, but only the calm bliss of domestic
happiness, which I knew would come from our reunited