He's My Friend,
A True Story by
Charley was the son of a young, rich, and beautiful widow, who lived in
one of the splendid up-town hotels of New York city. His mother was a
very busy woman, for she was a manager of the "Children's Retreat," the
"Children's Relief," the "Old Ladies' Mitigation Society," and ever so
many other charities, and these took up so much of her time that her own
poor little half-orphaned Charley was left pretty much to himself; for
Lizzie, his nurse, spent most of her time laughing and talking with the
So Charley amused himself running up and down the stairs, and taking
trips with the elevator man, who was very fond of the bright little
One day Charley wandered down the wide stairs, and along a corridor or
hall. He was throwing up a little ball and catching it as he went. At
the end of the hall he saw through an open door another flight of
stairs, very narrow, and rather dark. It was the stairs for the
"Hallo!" cried Charley, "here are some more stairs," and like the
learned monkey that let nothing escape him on his travels, down the
stairs went the boy on a voyage of discovery.
When he came to the bottom, which was far below the level of the street
outside, he walked along to an open door, and saw something which
dimpled his face all over with smiles; for, standing like a heron on one
leg, leaning against the wall opposite the door, was another boy. He
was twirling a little paper windmill fastened to a stick; his great
black eyes were dancing with glee, and as he laughed he showed two rows
of snow-white even teeth. At a stationary wash-tub was a big woman
washing clothes, and singing softly to herself, "'Way down in ole
Neither of them saw Charley, so, by way of introducing himself, he said,
The woman turned quickly round, and exclaimed, "Why, honey, whar did yer
"I came down stairs; may I come in?" asked Charley, adding, quickly, "I
want to play with that boy."
"Course you can; come right in," said the black woman, for she was
nearly as black as ink, but there was a sweet, honest expression in her
broad face, and a welcoming tone in her voice, which brought Charley
quickly in, with a little laugh, to the side of the other boy.
And he—oh, how black he was! but as clean and neatly dressed as soap
and water and nice clothes could make him, for Juliet, his mother, loved
her little son, and she took good care that his manners were as nice as
his clothes. He held out his hand to Charley, and, making a queer little
bow, said, "How do you do, sir? I hope you are very well." Then he
twisted one leg tighter than ever round the other, and gave a vigorous
twirl to his paper windmill.
"Hey! I like that," said Charley. "Let me try to do it."
"Oh yes," said the other, "but this is the best way—to hold it straight
out, and run fast."
So Charley took the windmill, and both boys went scampering and
galloping round the room, the windmill flying round famously, until the
boys were quite out of breath.
"What's your name?" asked Charley, as they were resting together in a
large old rocking-chair.
"George Washington Johnson. What's your name?"' asked the black boy,
in return, rocking the chair as hard as he could.
"My name is Charley Lee. I like you. Will you be my friend?"
"Oh yes; will you be mine?"
"Yes, and we'll play together every single day."
Just then Juliet went away with a great basket of clothes, to hang them
up in a room where they were quickly dried by steam; and Charley, taking
George's hand, said, "Come up stairs with me, and take a ride in the
What a blissful invitation for George! They tumbled up stairs in their
delightful hurry, ran through the door into the broad hall, to the
elevator, and the moment it appeared, Charley cried out,
"Oh, Mike, open the door; George wants to ride up and down with me;
he's my friend."
"Oh, he's your friend, is he?" said Mike, puckering up his eyes at
George Washington; "and a very pretty color he is, too. Well, step in,
"His name isn't Snowball; it's George Washington," said Charley.
The elevator man laughed, and the two boys got closer together in a
corner, pretending that it was a balloon, and they were sailing up and
down in the air; and there they sat, in a state of perfect happiness.
The two boys never quarrelled. George had a sweet disposition, and was
ready to do anything Charley proposed. They loved each other dearly, and
many were the slices of bread and butter, spread thickly over with
molasses, to which the two friends were treated by the good-natured
washer-woman. They never sat down to eat them; oh no! they capered, and
danced, and burst out laughing when they tumbled over a broomstick or a
bench, and seemed to grow rosier and fatter every day. That is, Charley
grew rosier, and George's smooth black skin grew shinier, which was the
same thing—for him.
The little black boy was often permitted by his mother to go out toward
Fourth Avenue, and run over one of the high arched bridges which covers
the Fourth Avenue Railroad, and he did not think he was doing wrong when
one day he asked Charley to go too.
"Oh yes, I will," he cried, in a great state of delight.
As soon as they arrived at the bridge, they began chasing each other
over it; and then Charley said:
"Oh, George, let's play that we are travellers, hunting for a whale. I
heard my mamma talking about one that was on ex-ex-exedition down by
the river. She said that it was 'most a mile long."
"Goody!" cried George. "What a mons'ous whale!"
So the boys ran down the street toward the East River a long, long way,
and presently they got to some rocks, upon the top of which were a
number of miserable wooden houses called shanties.
Geese, pigs, chickens, and a forlorn, starved-looking dog were poking
about for something to eat. Near by was a great heap of coal ashes. Some
bad-looking boys were raking the ashes up into a sort of mound on top of
the heap; but a moment after, they ran away to see an organ-grinder and
a monkey which had come upon the rocks. Charley and George would have
run too, had not their ears caught the sound of a stifled piteous
mewing, which seemed to issue out of the very middle of the ash heap.
"What's that?" asked both boys at once.
"Mew! me—ew!" came again from the ashes.
"It's a cat!" exclaimed Charley; "and it is inside of those ashes. I do
believe those boys thought it was dead, and buried it. Let's hurry and
dig it out."
Charley and George worked hard, but they had nothing but their hands to
work with, and they threw the ashes all over their clothes; but the
piteous mewing came quicker and louder, and in a few moments the gray
head of a live kitten popped out of the ashes; then two gray paws, and
soon the whole kitten was liberated.
"Oh, you poor little thing!" said Charley, trying with soft pats to get
the ashes out of its fur, while George took out of his pocket a queer
little pocket-handkerchief, six inches square, with A B C all round the
edge, and a portrait of his great namesake in the middle, and said, in a
tender tone, "Here, poor kitty, let me wipe your nose; don't cry any
more;" and he wiped it so softly that it really seemed to comfort the
afflicted little creature.
"Let's run home with it," said Charley.
"And give it some milk," said George.
"And wash it clean," said Charley.
"And dry it in the steam-room," said George.
No sooner said than done. Charley carried the kitten one block, and then
George the next, and so on in turn, until at last they got back to the
hotel, and rushed down into the laundry, where Juliet was beginning to
feel worried at their long absence.
"La sakes!" she cried, when she saw the plight they were in, "whar have
you ben gone? Why, you look jes like ole Bobby de ash-man. Whar you get
dat ar cat? Why, George Washington! you's a disgrace to your raisin'!
How you spec' I'se gwine' to make you look genteel if you cum home dat
"Oh," said George, rolling his eyes at his mother—"oh, we've had such
s'prising 'wenters; we went to see a whale."
"Whale! is dat what you call a whale?" said Juliet, pointing to the poor
little kitten, which he was hugging tight to his breast.
Then Charley spoke up, and when Juliet had heard of the "surprising
adventures," she was sorry she had been the least bit cross with the
kind-hearted little fellows. To make up for it, she gave the kitten a
saucer of warm milk, and taking off the soiled clothes of the boys, and
washing their faces and hands, she put two funny little night-gowns upon
them, and popped them into her bed, which was in a little room next to
the laundry. Then she caught up their clothes—for there was no time to
be lost—and popped them into a tub of hot water, with plenty of soap,
and in ten minutes they were just as clean as soap, water, and hard
rubbing could make them.
Then she wrung them out with a will, shook them out with a flourish, and
running into the steam-room, hung them upon a horse—a clothes-horse, of
course. In ten minutes more they were dry enough to iron, and she
polished them with the hot and heavy irons at such a rate that they
fairly shone, and she shone too.
When the boys were called, and Juliet put on their clothes again, they
looked cleaner, brighter, and happier than ever.
The kitten was adopted as a friend too, and had soon shook and licked
itself clean, and it lived a very comfortable life down in the laundry.
One day, for a wonder, Charley's mother staid at home. She was expecting
a call from her lawyer, Judge Spencer, upon some business. When he came
he had a long talk with Charley.
Presently Charley said: "I want to tell you something. I've a friend;
his name is George."
"Only one friend?" asked the Judge, laughing.
"But he's my 'tic'lar friend," explained Charley. "May I bring him to
see you? He's real nice."
"Does he live in the hotel?" asked Charley's mother, who had never heard
"Oh yes," replied Charley, "and he and I have a love-aly kitten—we
take care of it."
"Well, bring him in—the kitten too," said the good Judge; "that is, if
your mother consents."
"Oh, certainly," said Mrs. Lee.
So Charley rushed down the narrow stairs, and found George playing with
the kitten, and looking as neat and clean as a new pin.
"Come, George, come up with me to mamma's parlor. Judge Spencer is
there; he wants to see you, and the kitten too."
They went up stairs, and softly opening the door of the parlor, and
holding George's hand tightly, Charley walked quickly up to the Judge
and said, "Here's my friend; he can't help being black!"
For one moment astonishment kept Charley's mamma and the Judge silent.
Then the good man held out his hand to the black boy, and taking Charley
on his knee kissed him tenderly. That warm, loving kiss told Charley
that the Judge understood it all. His face grew radiant, his eyes rested
affectionately on his friend, and then he leaned toward George, and put
the beloved kitten in his arms. "You hold it now," he said.
With a cautionary wave of his hand, the Judge prevented Mrs. Lee from
reproving Charley for his choice of a friend; then he sent them into the
next room, and had a long talk with the widow, the result of which was
that, after inquiring about George, and finding how good his "raisin'"
was, as Juliet called it, Charley was still permitted to play with him.
And to this very day (for all this has happened within a few months) if
you ask Charley Lee who George Washington Johnson is, he will answer at
once, "He's my friend."