“A True Story” (reprinted; from Youth’s Companion, March 23, 1865, pp. 46-47)
Many years since a gentleman, recently graduated from Yale College, opened a boarding school for boys and young men. Being very peculiarly qualified, both by nature and education, for this position, he was eminently successful in it. Many of those whom he fitted for college and for various mercantile pursuits are now filling stations of honor and usefulness all over the United States. He chose as the location of his school, a very beautiful village, lying on the sea shore for its southern border, and on the bank of a lovely river for its eastern. Here he purchased a large and elegant dwelling, surrounded by exterior grounds abounding in choice fruit.
There was one respect in which this institution was rather peculiar for a boy’s boarding school, and that was, in the quality of the table. The instructor determined that the boys should enjoy every luxury of which he himself partook. The region abounded with choice game, his own place with delicious fruit, and the mouth of the river with the finest oysters. All these delicacies, on account of their profusion, and their distance from any large market, were obtained at so cheap a rate as seems incredible, in these days of war prices and easy railroad communications with large cities. The neighboring farmers, too, found the big boarding-school the best market for their poultry and choice produce. I mention this fact of the luxurious table, because, although trifling in itself, it has an important bearing upon my story.
This was long before the South had inaugurated the present diabolical rebellion. It was even before there had arisen any special jealousy, on their part, of the Northern freemen. Educational facilities were then, as they have ever been, exceedingly meagre in the slaveholding States, and all their learning was acquired at the North. Thus this gentleman’s house was filled with boys and young men from the extreme South. At one time there were among them as many as four or five who were sons or nephews of the governors of various Southern States. You know we have all had sad proofs of the malign influence of slavery upon the character, habits and feelings of those reared under its baleful shadows. It was not strange, therefore, that these boys should exhibit ungoverned minds, and a haughty impatience of opposition among each other. As respects their preceptor—he possessed that rare combination of qualities that compelled his pupils to unite affection and fear in a peculiar manner.
A prize for excelling in some special department of study was offered by the teacher. Its attainment was accounted a very high honor by the boys, and their ambitious spirits were intensely aroused to secure it. Three or four were straining every nerve, having distanced all the others. But it could be obtained by only one, and the preceptor delivered it to him to whom in justice it belonged. Of course the two or three other close competitors were bitterly disappointed, and one of them in particular. He manifested comparatively little of it outwardly, and no one had any conception of the bitterness that rankled in his heart.
Professing to have lost his appetite, he refused to eat. As he was evidently not ill, his kind teacher tried hard to tempt him with nice articles of diet; all in vain. He went almost without
food during the remainder of the term, now near its close; and of course such abstemiousness would naturally tell upon his appearance.
On the re-assembling of the school he did not return, as he was expected to do. No explanation was given, and the teacher wondered in silence. His surprise was no wise diminished after an interview with the lad’s mother, who was a haughty Southern matron, belonging to the class who have rendered themselves very conspicuous during the horrors of the last three years.
She appeared strangely, said her son was well, gave no reason why he failed to return to school according to agreement; but simply announced that he was not coming back, and then made this very singular and unlooked-for suggestion:
“Mr. L., as respects your table—do you not think it would be judicious for you sometimes to purchase a hock of beef, and have a soup made of it? That would certainly be cheap, and it would fill the boys.”
Mr. L. was so much confused at this, that he knew not how to reply, nor what the lady could possibly mean. He bowed himself out of her presence, repeating in soliloquy, “Hock of beef! fill the boys with watery soup! Am I not constantly filling them with roast turkeys, roast oysters, and every delicacy?” But wonder as he would, no solution offered, and he could only let the ridiculous affair drop in silence, when some time after a friend from the South said to him, in alluding to the boy, “Have you any idea of the trick he played upon his mother? I think you ought to be apprized of it, and I shall tell you. After he missed the prize, he was so greatly chagrined that he fully determined that he would no longer be seen in the school. How to effect this he was at a loss, as his friends would inevitably send him back, at the next term.
“At last his plan was formed. He adopted a course of starvation, so when he reached home he was perfectly ravenous, and to his fond mother’s astonished inquiries he declared that the boys of your school were absolutely starved, so terribly insufficient was the food provided. Of course, his looks and acts fully persuaded his horrified mother of the truth of the outrageous story, and not only prevented her sending the poor martyr back, but induced her to deter all others from coming whom she could influence, and this absurd story is greatly injuring your school in that region. I should not dare have them know that I had told you.[”]
Thus the mystery was out, and the pointed allusion to “filling the boys” with broth fully explained, although the kind hint was not acted upon.
Many years passed. The preceptor had long since relinquished his school, in the full tide of its prosperity; for he felt himself divinely summoned to the sacred work of the Gospel ministry, and dared not continue in a secular employment. Sad accounts came through the papers of the conflagration of a steamboat upon Southern waters. Many perished in the waters; but what was Mr. L’s astonishment to learn that this very boy, now a man, from whom he had not heard in many years, had encountered death in the following extraordinary manner! He escaped from the burning boat on a bale of cotton. Then he floated away from the lurid wreck unharmed by devouring fire or whelming waters, but for so long a time before he was discovered that he actually perished of simple and absolute starvation.—Chronicle.