Authors: Rochelle Hollander Schwab
David murmured his thanks. Walker turned to him when they’d left the editor’s office. “Let’s go somewhere we can get a drop of refreshment while we talk. There’s a beer cellar favored by
men, if you don’t mind a bit of a walk. None of us care to imbibe under Greeley’s nose. Though walking suits me in any case, as my name might suggest.”
David smiled, falling into step with Walker’s brisk stride. Pfaffs beer cellar, a flight below the lamplit bustle of Broadway, was a cavernous vault, ripe with the mingled odors of lager beer, tobacco smoke and spicy German sausage. Walker led the way to a vacant table, greeting cronies as he went, then ordered tankards of beer and
plates of steaming sauerkraut and frankfurters. David dug into the unfamiliar supper with relish; he’d been too nervous to eat more than a few crackers and an apple during the hours on the train.
Walker lifted his tankard, took a long draught. “Ah, that’s better. I see eye to eye with Greeley on most things, but not his zeal for outlawing Demon Rum.”
David laughed. “I think he’d have a harder time of it than if he tried doing away with Southern slavery.”
“You’re probably right.” Walker sobered. “Well, now you’re here, the first order of business is to arrange a meeting with Frank Leslie. Once that’s done, you’ll have a little time to get situated in New York before work starts on the first issue.” He sliced a frankfurter in two, his round face cheerful once again.
“I hope you’re right,” David said. “About the certainty of my gaining employment, that is. I’m afraid I burned my bridges behind me. My neighbors haven’t forgiven me for aiding the abolitionist cause with the sketch I sent you last winter.”
Walker’s face fell. “I didn’t intend causing you harm. Leslie’s in the market for talented illustrators though. I’m sure he’ll take you on. Your misfortune may well prove a springboard to work more to your liking,” he added, brightening.
The newsman’s optimism was contagious. David set down his tankard and smiled at him. “Well, I’m grateful to you for informing me of the chance in any case, Mr. Walker.”
Walker beamed. “If we’re to be colleagues in the news business, it’s high time we dropped this formality. I’m Zachary. Though my friends mostly call me Zach.”
“And mine, David.”
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
David prayed his trepidation was not in evidence, as Frank Leslie thumbed through his portfolio. The black-bearded editor set the drawings on his desk and leaned back in his chair, eyeing David thoughtfully.
“I’m of two minds, Mr. Carter,” he said, intertwining stubby fingers. “On the one hand, your work’s competent enough. You render your subjects accurately, an important consideration, especially now that the public’s grown accustomed to the verisimilitude of the camera.”
“Thank you, sir,” David murmured, waiting anxiously for the rest of Leslie’s words.
“On the other hand, this is a fledgling operation. By and large, the artists I’m considering are just starting out in life, whereas you, sir, are a man of mature years. Might I venture to guess thirty-five?”
“I’m just past forty,” David said, disconcerted.
Leslie nodded. “You look younger than your years. But my point is borne out all the more. To put it plainly, the amount of recompense I’m able to afford is unlikely to be attractive to a man who’s already established himself in a profession.”
David swallowed, understanding Leslie’s intent. “I’ve grown weary of the practice of law, sir,” he said, praying his voice didn’t reveal his desperation. “What sort of recompense did you have in mind?”
“I’m afraid the most I can manage is six dollars per week.” Leslie looked at David blandly.
No more than a common laborer. David recollected what Zachary had told him about prices in New York and sighed under his breath, watching Leslie’s shrewdly composed face. Clearly, the editor realized he wouldn’t turn down any offer.
“I assume once your publication has turned a profit, salaries will be raised accordingly,” David said at last.
Leslie smiled broadly. “By all means, Mr. Carter. Well, if you’re agreed then, I’m happy to welcome you aboard.”
Leslie’s assessment of the youth of his fellow illustrators had been correct. Of the dozen or so artists contributing sketches to the new weekly, not one was over thirty. Elliot Gareau, one of the few other full-time artists, was a worldly twenty-five. Several contributors were less than half David’s age, such as Arthur Lumley, a student at the National Academy of Design, and Thomas Nast, a brash fifteen-year-old.
More disquieting was the realization that, like young Lumley, the others had all been trained in the arts, either through private instruction or academy study. David was the only one with no formal training whatsoever; his father had refused to pay even the small fee demanded by the drawing master at the academy he’d attended in boyhood.
The worry nagged him even as the staff of
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper
gathered to celebrate the weekly’s first issue. With Christmas ten days off, the atmosphere was doubly festive. Leslie had brought in several bottles of good whiskey, and artists, reporters, engravers and compositors drank to the success of the new venture.
David set down his glass to look over his copy of the paper. He gazed with satisfaction at his sketch of a crowded street scene, holiday shoppers swaddled in scarves and muffs, juggling armloads of parcels as they dodged through horse-drawn traffic. Slowly he studied the other artists’ illustrations: courtroom spectators at a heralded murder trial; Dr. Kane’s expedition of Arctic exploration; a scene from the play
enjoying an extended run at Wallack’s Theatre; and a depiction of defiant free-staters—rifles at the ready—meeting in convention in Topeka, Kansas, drawn from a telegraphed account.
His work was a match for the others, even a trifle livelier than some. Little by little, like a cake of soap left accidentally in the wash basin, David’s anxiety melted away. He folded the newspaper and joined the others in a toast.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
The craze for ice skating had swept New York by winter of 1856, as it had Boston and a dozen other eastern cities. Zachary Walker—who’d become a fast friend—persuaded David to join him one Sunday afternoon for a skating party arranged by a senior
reporter, at his rural home near the village of Harlem.
David sat alongside Zachary on a log at the edge of the pond, fastening his skates to his shoes with trepidation. “I’m afraid I don’t know how to skate. I’ve never been, to tell the truth.”
“It’s not hard. I’ll show you.” Zach beamed with anticipation, his frozen breath puffing out of his round, bewhiskered face.
David smiled nervously. Accepting Zach’s helping hand, he edged onto the ice, already filled with circling skaters from mere tots to gray-bearded grandfathers.
“Don’t lift your feet as if you were walking. You want to glide from one foot to another.” Zach let go of David’s arm, moved smoothly across the pond, circled back in a neat figure eight. David watched the burly newsman skim over the ice with admiration. “It must’ve taken you years to learn to skate like that,” he said, as Zachary glided to a stop.
Zach laughed. “I’m Dutch on my mother’s side. She had us kids skating soon as we could walk.” He grasped David’s arm lightly above the elbow, repeating his instructions as they slowly circled the pond.
“You’ve got it now. Try it on your own.”
David struggled to keep his balance and move as Zach had shown him. Glide with the right foot, glide with the left. He began to enjoy himself. The cold air felt clean and crisp on his face.
“Betcha can’t catch me!” A towheaded boy cut in front of him, chased by a second youngster. David swerved. His feet tangled together and he fell, thrusting his hands out in panic. His palms stung as they slid along the ice.
Shaken, David sat back, one hand automatically probing his head. Zachary appeared at his side. “You all right?”
David nodded, pulling himself up with Zach’s help. Carefully he edged off the ice. A few feet from shore a bonfire had been started, where several women tended a kettle of hot cocoa. He made his way clumsily toward the fire and settled himself on a log.
Zach followed. “Ready to try again?” he asked, as they drained their cups.
“You go ahead. I think I’ll just watch.”
“You weren’t doing badly. Everyone falls when they’re first learning. It’s no reason to give up.”
David smiled apologetically. “I’m a little afraid of hurting my head again. I suppose I’m overly cautious.”
“Your head?” Zach stared quizzically, abruptly nodded. “I remember. You mentioned it on the train when we first met. You didn’t say how you’d been injured.”
“It’s a long story.” No reason not to tell it, David supposed, seeing his friend’s face brighten with interest.
“I was trying to help Mike escape from the Alexandria jail. You remember—my half brother who ran off and became a doctor. My uncle had him jailed after he recaptured him.”
David continued, not waiting for Zachary’s startled nod. “I told you Uncle relented and sold Mike back to my father. Actually, he intended to ship Mike down to Georgia and sell him there. When word got out, a colored man, Ned—a boyhood friend of Mike’s—found a pretext to visit and show him an escape route.
“Ned’s a carpenter. He helped build the jail and knew the ceiling of Mike’s cell was really nothing but plaster. So Mike could break into the attic and climb out a window there. It took courage on Ned’s part to help him that way.”
How did you—?”
“I was to meet Mike with a buggy once he let himself out the window. We planned to smuggle him onto a British ship, get him out of the country.”
“That must have taken courage on
David shook his head. “I’ve never been known for courage, I’m afraid. I didn’t have any choice. Dad was distraught worrying over Mike as it was. If Uncle had sold him South, he might never have recovered.
“Our plan misfired though. Tell the truth, I don’t remember what happened, just what I’ve been told. The last thing I remember is waiting down the street from the jail till the night watchman had gone by.
“I’d driven the buggy up to the jail where Mike was to let himself down to the street with a rope he’d made of his bedding. I’d climbed out of the buggy to watch him, was standing alongside it. God knows why.
“Anyway, we were surprised by the watchman. He fired a warning shot and spooked the horse. It bolted. I was hit by the buggy and thrown backwards, striking my head on the cobblestones.”
David held his hands out to the fire to warm them. “You know my father’s a doctor. The jailer sent for him. Dad told me afterward the shattered bits of skull bone were pressing on my brain so the only way to save my life was to cut out the fractured section. He didn’t dare do it himself. Instead he persuaded the jailer to move Mike from his cell so he could operate.”
Zach whistled. “Right there in the jail?”
David nodded. “Dad had brought his medical kit, so Mike had the instruments he needed.”
“Still.” Zach shook his head wonderingly. “He must be a good doctor.”
Zach waited a moment. “You were still unconscious?”
“Thank God! My uncle arrived next morning before I’d come to. Mike had sutured my scalp back in place, but apparently there was still a lot of blood.” David shuddered involuntarily. “Uncle took one look and leaped to the conclusion Mike had killed me.”
Zach stared at him, spellbound.
“When I came to my senses, he was holding his revolver to Mike’s head, threatening to shoot him in retaliation.”
“Of course I was pretty groggy, but I remember Dad and the jailer trying to reason with him. Dad was pleading that Mike was his son too, which just infuriated Uncle more.
“Thank God I was able to attract his attention before he could carry out his threat. When he saw I was alive, he came to his senses and agreed to sell Mike back to Dad.”
“Well,” Zach said after a pause, “at least it ended well.”
David nodded. “Mike and Dad were reconciled, after all those years. Dad and I’ve been closer too, matter of fact.”
At least he’s doing his best not to let me know I’m a disappointment. He dismissed the thought, gazed at the pond.
“It’s pretty cold just sitting here, Zach.” David pulled his cap securely down on his head and stood, balancing gingerly on the skates. “Suppose you show me how to stop with these things on.”
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
After a few shaky months, the trickle of subscribers to
grew. By spring it seemed the brainchild of the swarthy, energetic publisher might yet prove a success.
By spring, too, Leslie’s pages were filled with reports of violence over the issue of slavery. On May 19
, after a fiery anti-slavery speech, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner was attacked in the Senate chamber by South Carolina Representative, Preston Brooks, and beaten senseless with a cane.
In Kansas, where free state and pro-slavery legislatures contested for recognition, seven hundred pro-slavery men mounted a raid on Lawrence, killing one resident and burning stores, hotels and newspaper offices. Armed marauders, led by fiery abolitionist John Brown, seized five pro-slavery settlers in retaliation, splitting their skulls with broadswords.
Newsboys cried out the latest bloodshed as David and fellow artist Elliot Gareau turned off Nassau Street’s “newspaper row” in the direction of Pfaff’s to meet Zachary and two companions from the
both bachelors as were Zach and Elliot. They hurried downstairs to the beer hall, pausing an instant for their eyes to adjust to the dim, smoky room.
“The free staters in Kansas say Brown’s a hero,” Dick Potter, a fervent abolitionist, was saying as David and Elliot joined them. “It’s true. He has the Lord’s strength in his sword.” David sighed, wishing they could talk of something else for once. Dick turned on him. “You disagree?”
“I just don’t see how bloodshed is going to change anyone’s mind about slavery,” David said mildly.