Horace could read, a rarity for a young Black man, even more so for a former slave. He was purchased as a toddler to provide companionship for Spencer Redburn’s young son, Jonathan. Redburn was a widowed multimillionaire who made his early money in the fur trade. The pelt of beavers built his Skylark Hotel, New York’s finest, complete with running water. The family occupied an entire floor in the hotel where he raised the boys. Nannies and tutors taught Jonathan and Horace to read and write, and the boys challenged each other in the skills of arithmetic, French and Latin.
Inseparable playmates, they could sometimes be found playing hide-and-seek with the hotel staff, or with Jonathan’s father. “Ready or not, here I come!” Spencer would call out, pretending to search high and low. A giggle from Horace or Jonathan, and Spencer would pull back a curtain. “Got you!” he’d say.
“Oh, sir, let us hide again!” Horace would plead.
“Yes, please, Father,” Jonathan would say, laughing. “Another round!”
Their favorite game was stealing apples. They’d sneak the fruit from the kitchen, roll the apples down the long hotel hallways, and bat them with sticks in creative games of croquet. They used Latin to conspire against the adults by waging battles behind chairs and camping under tables. When scolded or trundled off to bed or frightening an imaginary foe, their call to arms was, “Sic semper tyrannis! Thus always to tyrants!”
“Adiuva me,” Jonathan would shout as he lashed out with his wooden sword. “Help me, Horace! The tyrant is upon us!”
By the time the boys turned nine, Jonathan was due for boarding school and college, and although the state of New York had outlawed slavery six years earlier, Horace had remained on as part of the family. The sting of reality was that Horace would not be joining his friend at school.
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