Life among the Lowly
“Deem not the just by Heaven forgot! Though life its common gifts deny,– Though, with a crushed and bleeding heart, And spurned of man, he goes to die! For God hath marked each sorrowing day, And numbered every bitter tear, And heaven’s long years of bliss shall pay For all his children suffer here.” BRYANT.*
* This poem does not appear in the collected works of William Cullen Bryant, nor in the collected poems of his brother, John Howard Bryant. It was probably copied from a newspaper or magazine.
The longest way must have its close,–the gloomiest night will wear on to a morning. An eternal, inexorable lapse of moments is ever hurrying the day of the evil to an eternal night, and the night of the just to an eternal day. We have walked with our humble friend thus far in the valley of slavery; first through flowery fields of ease and indulgence, then through heart-breaking separations from all that man holds dear. Again, we have waited with him in a sunny island, where generous hands concealed his chains with flowers; and, lastly, we have followed him when the last ray of earthly hope went out in night, and seen how, in the blackness of earthly darkness, the firmament of the unseen has blazed with stars of new and significant lustre.
The morning-star now stands over the tops of the mountains, and gales and breezes, not of earth, show that the gates of day are unclosing.
The escape of Cassy and Emmeline irritated the before surly temper of Legree to the last degree; and his fury, as was to be expected, fell upon the defenceless head of Tom. When he hurriedly announced the tidings among his hands, there was a sudden light in Tom’s eye, a sudden upraising of his hands, that did not escape him. He saw that he did not join the muster of the pursuers. He thought of forcing him to do it; but, having had, of old, experience of his inflexibility when commanded to take part in any deed of inhumanity, he would not, in his hurry, stop to enter into any conflict with him.
Tom, therefore, remained behind, with a few who had learned of him to pray, and offered up prayers for the escape of the fugitives.
When Legree returned, baffled and disappointed, all the long-working hatred of his soul towards his slave began to gather in a deadly and desperate form. Had not this man braved him,–steadily, powerfully, resistlessly,–ever since he bought him? Was there not a spirit in him which, silent as it was, burned on him like the fires of perdition?
“I _hate_ him!” said Legree, that night, as he sat up in his bed; “I _hate_ him! And isn’t he MINE? Can’t I do what I like with him? Who’s to hinder, I wonder?” And Legree clenched his fist, and shook it, as if he had something in his hands that he could rend in pieces.
But, then, Tom was a faithful, valuable servant; and, although Legree hated him the more for that, yet the consideration was still somewhat of a restraint to him.
The next morning, he determined to say nothing, as yet; to assemble a party, from some neighboring plantations, with dogs and guns; to surround the swamp, and go about the hunt systematically. If it succeeded, well and good; if not, he would summon Tom before him, and–his teeth clenched and his blood boiled–_then_ he would break the fellow down, or–there was a dire inward whisper, to which his soul assented.
Ye say that the _interest_ of the master is a sufficient safeguard for the slave. In the fury of man’s mad will, he will wittingly, and with open eye, sell his own soul to the devil to gain his ends; and will he be more careful of his neighbor’s body?
“Well,” said Cassy, the next day, from the garret, as she reconnoitred through the knot-hole, “the hunt’s going to begin again, today!”
Three or four mounted horsemen were curvetting about, on the space in front of the house; and one or two leashes of strange dogs were struggling with the negroes who held them, baying and barking at each other.
The men are, two of them, overseers of plantations in the vicinity; and others were some of Legree’s associates at the tavern-bar of a neighboring city, who had come for the interest of the sport. A more hard-favored set, perhaps, could not be imagined. Legree was serving brandy, profusely, round among them, as also among the negroes, who had been detailed from the various plantations for this service; for it was an object to make every service of this kind, among the negroes, as much of a holiday as possible.
Cassy placed her ear at the knot-hole; and, as the morning air blew directly towards the house, she could overhear a good deal of the conversation. A grave sneer overcast the dark, severe gravity of her face, as she listened, and heard them divide out the ground, discuss the rival merits of the dogs, give orders about firing, and the treatment of each, in case of capture.
Cassy drew back; and, clasping her hands, looked upward, and said, “O, great Almighty God! we are _all_ sinners; but what have _we_ done, more than all the rest of the world, that we should be treated so?”
There was a terrible earnestness in her face and voice, as she spoke.
“If it wasn’t for _you_, child,” she said, looking at Emmeline, “I’d _go_ out to them; and I’d thank any one of them that _would_ shoot me down; for what use will freedom be to me? Can it give me back my children, or make me what I used to be?”
Emmeline, in her child-like simplicity, was half afraid of the dark moods of Cassy. She looked perplexed, but made no answer. She only took her hand, with a gentle, caressing movement.
“Don’t!” said Cassy, trying to draw it away; “you’ll get me to loving you; and I never mean to love anything, again!”
“Poor Cassy!” said Emmeline, “don’t feel so! If the Lord gives us liberty, perhaps he’ll give you back your daughter; at any rate, I’ll be like a daughter to you. I know I’ll never see my poor old mother again! I shall love you, Cassy, whether you love me or not!”
The gentle, child-like spirit conquered. Cassy sat down by her, put her arm round her neck, stroked her soft, brown hair; and Emmeline then wondered at the beauty of her magnificent eyes, now soft with tears.
“O, Em!” said Cassy, “I’ve hungered for my children, and thirsted for them, and my eyes fail with longing for them! Here! here!” she said, striking her breast, “it’s all desolate, all empty! If God would give me back my children, then I could pray.”
“You must trust him, Cassy,” said Emmeline; “he is our Father!”
“His wrath is upon us,” said Cassy; “he has turned away in anger.”
“No, Cassy! He will be good to us! Let us hope in Him,” said Emmeline,–“I always have had hope.”
The hunt was long, animated, and thorough, but unsuccessful; and, with grave, ironic exultation, Cassy looked down on Legree, as, weary and dispirited, he alighted from his horse.
“Now, Quimbo,” said Legree, as he stretched himself down in the sitting-room, “you jest go and walk that Tom up here, right away! The old cuss is at the bottom of this yer whole matter; and I’ll have it out of his old black hide, or I’ll know the reason why!”
Sambo and Quimbo, both, though hating each other, were joined in one mind by a no less cordial hatred of Tom. Legree had told them, at first, that he had bought him for a general overseer, in his absence; and this had begun an ill will, on their part, which had increased, in their debased and servile natures, as they saw him becoming obnoxious to their master’s displeasure. Quimbo, therefore, departed, with a will, to execute his orders.
Tom heard the message with a forewarning heart; for he knew all the plan of the fugitives’ escape, and the place of their present concealment;–he knew the deadly character of the man he had to deal with, and his despotic power. But he felt strong in God to meet death, rather than betray the helpless.
He sat his basket down by the row, and, looking up, said, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit! Thou hast redeemed me, oh Lord God of truth!” and then quietly yielded himself to the rough, brutal grasp with which Quimbo seized him.
“Ay, ay!” said the giant, as he dragged him along; “ye’ll cotch it, now! I’ll boun’ Mas’r’s back ’s up _high!_ No sneaking out, now! Tell ye, ye’ll get it, and no mistake! See how ye’ll look, now, helpin’ Mas’r’s niggers to run away! See what ye’ll get!”
The savage words none of them reached that ear!–a higher voice there was saying, “Fear not them that kill the body, and, after that, have no more that they can do.” Nerve and bone of that poor man’s body vibrated to those words, as if touched by the finger of God; and he felt the strength of a thousand souls in one. As he passed along, the trees and bushes, the huts of his servitude, the whole scene of his degradation, seemed to whirl by him as the landscape by the rushing ear. His soul throbbed,–his home was in sight,–and the hour of release seemed at hand.
“Well, Tom!” said Legree, walking up, and seizing him grimly by the collar of his coat, and speaking through his teeth, in a paroxysm of determined rage, “do you know I’ve made up my mind to KILL YOU?”
“It’s very likely, Mas’r,” said Tom, calmly.
“I _have_,” said Legree, with a grim, terrible calmness, “_done–just–that–thing_, Tom, unless you’ll tell me what you know about these yer gals!”
Tom stood silent.
“D’ye hear?” said Legree, stamping, with a roar like that of an incensed lion. “Speak!”
“_I han’t got nothing to tell, Mas’r_,” said Tom, with a slow, firm, deliberate utterance.
“Do you dare to tell me, ye old black Christian, ye don’t _know_?” said Legree.
Tom was silent.
“Speak!” thundered Legree, striking him furiously. “Do you know anything?”
“I know, Mas’r; but I can’t tell anything. _I can die!_”
Legree drew in a long breath; and, suppressing his rage, took Tom by the arm, and, approaching his face almost to his, said, in a terrible voice, “Hark ’e, Tom!–ye think, ’cause I’ve let you off before, I don’t mean what I say; but, this time, _I’ve made up my mind_, and counted the cost. You’ve always stood it out again’ me: now, _I’ll conquer ye, or kill ye!_–one or t’ other. I’ll count every drop of blood there is in you, and take ’em, one by one, till ye give up!”
Tom looked up to his master, and answered, “Mas’r, if you was sick, or in trouble, or dying, and I could save ye, I’d _give_ ye my heart’s blood; and, if taking every drop of blood in this poor old body would save your precious soul, I’d give ’em freely, as the Lord gave his for me. O, Mas’r! don’t bring this great sin on your soul! It will hurt you more than ’t will me! Do the worst you can, my troubles’ll be over soon; but, if ye don’t repent, yours won’t _never_ end!”
Like a strange snatch of heavenly music, heard in the lull of a tempest, this burst of feeling made a moment’s blank pause. Legree stood aghast, and looked at Tom; and there was such a silence, that the tick of the old clock could be heard, measuring, with silent touch, the last moments of mercy and probation to that hardened heart.
It was but a moment. There was one hesitating pause,–one irresolute, relenting thrill,–and the spirit of evil came back, with seven-fold vehemence; and Legree, foaming with rage, smote his victim to the ground.
Scenes of blood and cruelty are shocking to our ear and heart. What man has nerve to do, man has not nerve to hear. What brother-man and brother-Christian must suffer, cannot be told us, even in our secret chamber, it so harrows the soul! And yet, oh my country! these things are done under the shadow of thy laws! O, Christ! thy church sees them, almost in silence!
But, of old, there was One whose suffering changed an instrument of torture, degradation and shame, into a symbol of glory, honor, and immortal life; and, where His spirit is, neither degrading stripes, nor blood, nor insults, can make the Christian’s last struggle less than glorious.
Was he alone, that long night, whose brave, loving spirit was bearing up, in that old shed, against buffeting and brutal stripes?
Nay! There stood by him ONE,–seen by him alone,–“like unto the Son of God.”
The tempter stood by him, too,–blinded by furious, despotic will,–every moment pressing him to shun that agony by the betrayal of the innocent. But the brave, true heart was firm on the Eternal Rock. Like his Master, he knew that, if he saved others, himself he could not save; nor could utmost extremity wring from him words, save of prayers and holy trust.
“He’s most gone, Mas’r,” said Sambo, touched, in spite of himself, by the patience of his victim.
“Pay away, till he gives up! Give it to him!–give it to him!” shouted Legree. “I’ll take every drop of blood he has, unless he confesses!”
Tom opened his eyes, and looked upon his master. “Ye poor miserable critter!” he said, “there ain’t no more ye can do! I forgive ye, with all my soul!” and he fainted entirely away.
“I b’lieve, my soul, he’s done for, finally,” said Legree, stepping forward, to look at him. “Yes, he is! Well, his mouth’s shut up, at last,–that’s one comfort!”
Yes, Legree; but who shall shut up that voice in thy soul? that soul, past repentance, past prayer, past hope, in whom the fire that never shall be quenched is already burning!
Yet Tom was not quite gone. His wondrous words and pious prayers had struck upon the hearts of the imbruted blacks, who had been the instruments of cruelty upon him; and, the instant Legree withdrew, they took him down, and, in their ignorance, sought to call him back to life,–as if _that_ were any favor to him.
“Sartin, we ’s been doin’ a drefful wicked thing!” said Sambo; “hopes Mas’r’ll have to ’count for it, and not we.”
They washed his wounds,–they provided a rude bed, of some refuse cotton, for him to lie down on; and one of them, stealing up to the house, begged a drink of brandy of Legree, pretending that he was tired, and wanted it for himself. He brought it back, and poured it down Tom’s throat.
“O, Tom!” said Quimbo, “we’s been awful wicked to ye!”
“I forgive ye, with all my heart!” said Tom, faintly.
“O, Tom! do tell us who is _Jesus_, anyhow?” said Sambo;–“Jesus, that’s been a standin’ by you so, all this night!–Who is he?”
The word roused the failing, fainting spirit. He poured forth a few energetic sentences of that wondrous One,–his life, his death, his everlasting presence, and power to save.
They wept,–both the two savage men.
“Why didn’t I never hear this before?” said Sambo; “but I do believe!–I can’t help it! Lord Jesus, have mercy on us!”
“Poor critters!” said Tom, “I’d be willing to bar all I have, if it’ll only bring ye to Christ! O, Lord! give me these two more souls, I pray!”
That prayer was answered!
The Young Master
Two days after, a young man drove a light wagon up through the avenue of China trees, and, throwing the reins hastily on the horse’s neck, sprang out and inquired for the owner of the place.
It was George Shelby; and, to show how he came to be there, we must go back in our story.
The letter of Miss Ophelia to Mrs. Shelby had, by some unfortunate accident, been detained, for a month or two, at some remote post-office, before it reached its destination; and, of course, before it was received, Tom was already lost to view among the distant swamps of the Red River.
Mrs. Shelby read the intelligence with the deepest concern; but any immediate action upon it was an impossibility. She was then in attendance on the sick-bed of her husband, who lay delirious in the crisis of a fever. Master George Shelby, who, in the interval, had changed from a boy to a tall young man, was her constant and faithful assistant, and her only reliance in superintending his father’s affairs. Miss Ophelia had taken the precaution to send them the name of the lawyer who did business for the St. Clares; and the most that, in the emergency, could be done, was to address a letter of inquiry to him. The sudden death of Mr. Shelby, a few days after, brought, of course, an absorbing pressure of other interests, for a season.
Mr. Shelby showed his confidence in his wife’s ability, by appointing her sole executrix upon his estates; and thus immediately a large and complicated amount of business was brought upon her hands.
Mrs. Shelby, with characteristic energy, applied herself to the work of straightening the entangled web of affairs; and she and George were for some time occupied with collecting and examining accounts, selling property and settling debts; for Mrs. Shelby was determined that everything should be brought into tangible and recognizable shape, let the consequences to her prove what they might. In the mean time, they received a letter from the lawyer to whom Miss Ophelia had referred them, saying that he knew nothing of the matter; that the man was sold at a public auction, and that, beyond receiving the money, he knew nothing of the affair.
Neither George nor Mrs. Shelby could be easy at this result; and, accordingly, some six months after, the latter, having business for his mother, down the river, resolved to visit New Orleans, in person, and push his inquiries, in hopes of discovering Tom’s whereabouts, and restoring him.
After some months of unsuccessful search, by the merest accident, George fell in with a man, in New Orleans, who happened to be possessed of the desired information; and with his money in his pocket, our hero took steamboat for Red River, resolving to find out and re-purchase his old friend.
He was soon introduced into the house, where he found Legree in the sitting-room.
Legree received the stranger with a kind of surly hospitality,
“I understand,” said the young man, “that you bought, in New Orleans, a boy, named Tom. He used to be on my father’s place, and I came to see if I couldn’t buy him back.”
Legree’s brow grew dark, and he broke out, passionately: “Yes, I did buy such a fellow,–and a h–l of a bargain I had of it, too! The most rebellious, saucy, impudent dog! Set up my niggers to run away; got off two gals, worth eight hundred or a thousand apiece. He owned to that, and, when I bid him tell me where they was, he up and said he knew, but he wouldn’t tell; and stood to it, though I gave him the cussedest flogging I ever gave nigger yet. I b’lieve he’s trying to die; but I don’t know as he’ll make it out.”
“Where is he?” said George, impetuously. “Let me see him.” The cheeks of the young man were crimson, and his eyes flashed fire; but he prudently said nothing, as yet.
“He’s in dat ar shed,” said a little fellow, who stood holding George’s horse.
Legree kicked the boy, and swore at him; but George, without saying another word, turned and strode to the spot.
Tom had been lying two days since the fatal night, not suffering, for every nerve of suffering was blunted and destroyed. He lay, for the most part, in a quiet stupor; for the laws of a powerful and well-knit frame would not at once release the imprisoned spirit. By stealth, there had been there, in the darkness of the night, poor desolated creatures, who stole from their scanty hours’ rest, that they might repay to him some of those ministrations of love in which he had always been so abundant. Truly, those poor disciples had little to give,–only the cup of cold water; but it was given with full hearts.
Tears had fallen on that honest, insensible face,–tears of late repentance in the poor, ignorant heathen, whom his dying love and patience had awakened to repentance, and bitter prayers, breathed over him to a late-found Saviour, of whom they scarce knew more than the name, but whom the yearning ignorant heart of man never implores in vain.
Cassy, who had glided out of her place of concealment, and, by overhearing, learned the sacrifice that had been made for her and Emmeline, had been there, the night before, defying the danger of detection; and, moved by the last few words which the affectionate soul had yet strength to breathe, the long winter of despair, the ice of years, had given way, and the dark, despairing woman had wept and prayed.
When George entered the shed, he felt his head giddy and his heart sick.
“Is it possible,–is it possible?” said he, kneeling down by him. “Uncle Tom, my poor, poor old friend!”
Something in the voice penetrated to the ear of the dying. He moved his head gently, smiled, and said,
“Jesus can make a dying-bed Feel soft as down pillows are.”
Tears which did honor to his manly heart fell from the young man’s eyes, as he bent over his poor friend.
“O, dear Uncle Tom! do wake,–do speak once more! Look up! Here’s Mas’r George,–your own little Mas’r George. Don’t you know me?”
“Mas’r George!” said Tom, opening his eyes, and speaking in a feeble voice; “Mas’r George!” He looked bewildered.
Slowly the idea seemed to fill his soul; and the vacant eye became fixed and brightened, the whole face lighted up, the hard hands clasped, and tears ran down the cheeks.
“Bless the Lord! it is,–it is,–it’s all I wanted! They haven’t forgot me. It warms my soul; it does my heart good! Now I shall die content! Bless the Lord, on my soul!”
“You shan’t die! you _mustn’t_ die, nor think of it! I’ve come to buy you, and take you home,” said George, with impetuous vehemence.
“O, Mas’r George, ye’re too late. The Lord’s bought me, and is going to take me home,–and I long to go. Heaven is better than Kintuck.”
“O, don’t die! It’ll kill me!–it’ll break my heart to think what you’ve suffered,–and lying in this old shed, here! Poor, poor fellow!”
“Don’t call me poor fellow!” said Tom, solemnly, “I _have_ been poor fellow; but that’s all past and gone, now. I’m right in the door, going into glory! O, Mas’r George! _Heaven has come!_ I’ve got the victory!–the Lord Jesus has given it to me! Glory be to His name!”
George was awe-struck at the force, the vehemence, the power, with which these broken sentences were uttered. He sat gazing in silence.
Tom grasped his hand, and continued,–“Ye mustn’t, now, tell Chloe, poor soul! how ye found me;–‘t would be so drefful to her. Only tell her ye found me going into glory; and that I couldn’t stay for no one. And tell her the Lord’s stood by me everywhere and al’ays, and made everything light and easy. And oh, the poor chil’en, and the baby;–my old heart’s been most broke for ’em, time and agin! Tell ’em all to follow me–follow me! Give my love to Mas’r, and dear good Missis, and everybody in the place! Ye don’t know! ’Pears like I loves ’em all! I loves every creature everywhar!–it’s nothing _but_ love! O, Mas’r George! what a thing ’t is to be a Christian!”
At this moment, Legree sauntered up to the door of the shed, looked in, with a dogged air of affected carelessness, and turned away.
“The old Satan!” said George, in his indignation. “It’s a comfort to think the devil will pay _him_ for this, some of these days!”
“O, don’t!–oh, ye mustn’t!” said Tom, grasping his hand; “he’s a poor mis’able critter! it’s awful to think on ’t! Oh, if he only could repent, the Lord would forgive him now; but I’m ’feared he never will!”
“I hope he won’t!” said George; “I never want to see _him_ in heaven!”
“Hush, Mas’r George!–it worries me! Don’t feel so! He an’t done me no real harm,–only opened the gate of the kingdom for me; that’s all!”
At this moment, the sudden flush of strength which the joy of meeting his young master had infused into the dying man gave way. A sudden sinking fell upon him; he closed his eyes; and that mysterious and sublime change passed over his face, that told the approach of other worlds.
He began to draw his breath with long, deep inspirations; and his broad chest rose and fell, heavily. The expression of his face was that of a conqueror.
“Who,–who,–who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” he said, in a voice that contended with mortal weakness; and, with a smile, he fell asleep.
George sat fixed with solemn awe. It seemed to him that the place was holy; and, as he closed the lifeless eyes, and rose up from the dead, only one thought possessed him,–that expressed by his simple old friend,–“What a thing it is to be a Christian!”
He turned: Legree was standing, sullenly, behind him.
Something in that dying scene had checked the natural fierceness of youthful passion. The presence of the man was simply loathsome to George; and he felt only an impulse to get away from him, with as few words as possible.
Fixing his keen dark eyes on Legree, he simply said, pointing to the dead, “You have got all you ever can of him. What shall I pay you for the body? I will take it away, and bury it decently.”
“I don’t sell dead niggers,” said Legree, doggedly. “You are welcome to bury him where and when you like.”
“Boys,” said George, in an authoritative tone, to two or three negroes, who were looking at the body, “help me lift him up, and carry him to my wagon; and get me a spade.”
One of them ran for a spade; the other two assisted George to carry the body to the wagon.
George neither spoke to nor looked at Legree, who did not countermand his orders, but stood, whistling, with an air of forced unconcern. He sulkily followed them to where the wagon stood at the door.
George spread his cloak in the wagon, and had the body carefully disposed of in it,–moving the seat, so as to give it room. Then he turned, fixed his eyes on Legree, and said, with forced composure,
“I have not, as yet, said to you what I think of this most atrocious affair;–this is not the time and place. But, sir, this innocent blood shall have justice. I will proclaim this murder. I will go to the very first magistrate, and expose you.”
“Do!” said Legree, snapping his fingers, scornfully. “I’d like to see you doing it. Where you going to get witnesses?–how you going to prove it?–Come, now!”
George saw, at once, the force of this defiance. There was not a white person on the place; and, in all southern courts, the testimony of colored blood is nothing. He felt, at that moment, as if he could have rent the heavens with his heart’s indignant cry for justice; but in vain.
“After all, what a fuss, for a dead nigger!” said Legree.
The word was as a spark to a powder magazine. Prudence was never a cardinal virtue of the Kentucky boy. George turned, and, with one indignant blow, knocked Legree flat upon his face; and, as he stood over him, blazing with wrath and defiance, he would have formed no bad personification of his great namesake triumphing over the dragon.
Some men, however, are decidedly bettered by being knocked down. If a man lays them fairly flat in the dust, they seem immediately to conceive a respect for him; and Legree was one of this sort. As he rose, therefore, and brushed the dust from his clothes, he eyed the slowly-retreating wagon with some evident consideration; nor did he open his mouth till it was out of sight.
Beyond the boundaries of the plantation, George had noticed a dry, sandy knoll, shaded by a few trees; there they made the grave.
“Shall we take off the cloak, Mas’r?” said the negroes, when the grave was ready.
“No, no,–bury it with him! It’s all I can give you, now, poor Tom, and you shall have it.”
They laid him in; and the men shovelled away, silently. They banked it up, and laid green turf over it.
“You may go, boys,” said George, slipping a quarter into the hand of each. They lingered about, however.
“If young Mas’r would please buy us–” said one.
“We’d serve him so faithful!” said the other.
“Hard times here, Mas’r!” said the first. “Do, Mas’r, buy us, please!”
“I can’t!–I can’t!” said George, with difficulty, motioning them off; “it’s impossible!”
The poor fellows looked dejected, and walked off in silence.
“Witness, eternal God!” said George, kneeling on the grave of his poor friend; “oh, witness, that, from this hour, I will do _what one man can_ to drive out this curse of slavery from my land!”
There is no monument to mark the last resting-place of our friend. He needs none! His Lord knows where he lies, and will raise him up, immortal, to appear with him when he shall appear in his glory.
Pity him not! Such a life and death is not for pity! Not in the riches of omnipotence is the chief glory of God; but in self-denying, suffering love! And blessed are the men whom he calls to fellowship with him, bearing their cross after him with patience. Of such it is written, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
An Authentic Ghost Story
For some remarkable reason, ghostly legends were uncommonly rife, about this time, among the servants on Legree’s place.
It was whisperingly asserted that footsteps, in the dead of night, had been heard descending the garret stairs, and patrolling the house. In vain the doors of the upper entry had been locked; the ghost either carried a duplicate key in its pocket, or availed itself of a ghost’s immemorial privilege of coming through the keyhole, and promenaded as before, with a freedom that was alarming.
Authorities were somewhat divided, as to the outward form of the spirit, owing to a custom quite prevalent among negroes,–and, for aught we know, among whites, too,–of invariably shutting the eyes, and covering up heads under blankets, petticoats, or whatever else might come in use for a shelter, on these occasions. Of course, as everybody knows, when the bodily eyes are thus out of the lists, the spiritual eyes are uncommonly vivacious and perspicuous; and, therefore, there were abundance of full-length portraits of the ghost, abundantly sworn and testified to, which, as is often the case with portraits, agreed with each other in no particular, except the common family peculiarity of the ghost tribe,–the wearing of a _white sheet_. The poor souls were not versed in ancient history, and did not know that Shakspeare had authenticated this costume, by telling how
“The sheeted dead Did squeak and gibber in the streets of Rome.” *
* _Hamlet_, Act I, scene 1, lines 115-116
And, therefore, their all hitting upon this is a striking fact in pneumatology, which we recommend to the attention of spiritual media generally.
Be it as it may, we have private reasons for knowing that a tall figure in a white sheet did walk, at the most approved ghostly hours, around the Legree premises,–pass out the doors, glide about the house,–disappear at intervals, and, reappearing, pass up the silent stairway, into that fatal garret; and that, in the morning, the entry doors were all found shut and locked as firm as ever.
Legree could not help overhearing this whispering; and it was all the more exciting to him, from the pains that were taken to conceal it from him. He drank more brandy than usual; held up his head briskly, and swore louder than ever in the daytime; but he had bad dreams, and the visions of his head on his bed were anything but agreeable. The night after Tom’s body had been carried away, he rode to the next town for a carouse, and had a high one. Got home late and tired; locked his door, took out the key, and went to bed.
After all, let a man take what pains he may to hush it down, a human soul is an awful ghostly, unquiet possession, for a bad man to have. Who knows the metes and bounds of it? Who knows all its awful perhapses,–those shudderings and tremblings, which it can no more live down than it can outlive its own eternity! What a fool is he who locks his door to keep out spirits, who has in his own bosom a spirit he dares not meet alone,–whose voice, smothered far down, and piled over with mountains of earthliness, is yet like the forewarning trumpet of doom!
But Legree locked his door and set a chair against it; he set a night-lamp at the head of his bed; and put his pistols there. He examined the catches and fastenings of the windows, and then swore he “didn’t care for the devil and all his angels,” and went to sleep.
Well, he slept, for he was tired,–slept soundly. But, finally, there came over his sleep a shadow, a horror, an apprehension of something dreadful hanging over him. It was his mother’s shroud, he thought; but Cassy had it, holding it up, and showing it to him. He heard a confused noise of screams and groanings; and, with it all, he knew he was asleep, and he struggled to wake himself. He was half awake. He was sure something was coming into his room. He knew the door was opening, but he could not stir hand or foot. At last he turned, with a start; the door _was_ open, and he saw a hand putting out his light.
It was a cloudy, misty moonlight, and there he saw it!–something white, gliding in! He heard the still rustle of its ghostly garments. It stood still by his bed;–a cold hand touched his; a voice said, three times, in a low, fearful whisper, “Come! come! come!” And, while he lay sweating with terror, he knew not when or how, the thing was gone. He sprang out of bed, and pulled at the door. It was shut and locked, and the man fell down in a swoon.
After this, Legree became a harder drinker than ever before. He no longer drank cautiously, prudently, but imprudently and recklessly.
There were reports around the country, soon after that he was sick and dying. Excess had brought on that frightful disease that seems to throw the lurid shadows of a coming retribution back into the present life. None could bear the horrors of that sick room, when he raved and screamed, and spoke of sights which almost stopped the blood of those who heard him; and, at his dying bed, stood a stern, white, inexorable figure, saying, “Come! come! come!”
By a singular coincidence, on the very night that this vision appeared to Legree, the house-door was found open in the morning, and some of the negroes had seen two white figures gliding down the avenue towards the high-road.
It was near sunrise when Cassy and Emmeline paused, for a moment, in a little knot of trees near the town.
Cassy was dressed after the manner of the Creole Spanish ladies,–wholly in black. A small black bonnet on her head, covered by a veil thick with embroidery, concealed her face. It had been agreed that, in their escape, she was to personate the character of a Creole lady, and Emmeline that of her servant.
Brought up, from early life, in connection with the highest society, the language, movements and air of Cassy, were all in agreement with this idea; and she had still enough remaining with her, of a once splendid wardrobe, and sets of jewels, to enable her to personate the thing to advantage.
She stopped in the outskirts of the town, where she had noticed trunks for sale, and purchased a handsome one. This she requested the man to send along with her. And, accordingly, thus escorted by a boy wheeling her trunk, and Emmeline behind her, carrying her carpet-bag and sundry bundles, she made her appearance at the small tavern, like a lady of consideration.
The first person that struck her, after her arrival, was George Shelby, who was staying there, awaiting the next boat.
Cassy had remarked the young man from her loophole in the garret, and seen him bear away the body of Tom, and observed with secret exultation, his rencontre with Legree. Subsequently she had gathered, from the conversations she had overheard among the negroes, as she glided about in her ghostly disguise, after nightfall, who he was, and in what relation he stood to Tom. She, therefore, felt an immediate accession of confidence, when she found that he was, like herself, awaiting the next boat.
Cassy’s air and manner, address, and evident command of money, prevented any rising disposition to suspicion in the hotel. People never inquire too closely into those who are fair on the main point, of paying well,–a thing which Cassy had foreseen when she provided herself with money.
In the edge of the evening, a boat was heard coming along, and George Shelby handed Cassy aboard, with the politeness which comes naturally to every Kentuckian, and exerted himself to provide her with a good state-room.
Cassy kept her room and bed, on pretext of illness, during the whole time they were on Red River; and was waited on, with obsequious devotion, by her attendant.
When they arrived at the Mississippi river, George, having learned that the course of the strange lady was upward, like his own, proposed to take a state-room for her on the same boat with himself,–good-naturedly compassionating her feeble health, and desirous to do what he could to assist her.
Behold, therefore, the whole party safely transferred to the good steamer Cincinnati, and sweeping up the river under a powerful head of steam.
Cassy’s health was much better. She sat upon the guards, came to the table, and was remarked upon in the boat as a lady that must have been very handsome.
From the moment that George got the first glimpse of her face, he was troubled with one of those fleeting and indefinite likenesses, which almost every body can remember, and has been, at times, perplexed with. He could not keep himself from looking at her, and watching her perpetually. At table, or sitting at her state-room door, still she would encounter the young man’s eyes fixed on her, and politely withdrawn, when she showed, by her countenance, that she was sensible to the observation.
Cassy became uneasy. She began to think that he suspected something; and finally resolved to throw herself entirely on his generosity, and intrusted him with her whole history.
George was heartily disposed to sympathize with any one who had escaped from Legree’s plantation,–a place that he could not remember or speak of with patience,–and, with the courageous disregard of consequences which is characteristic of his age and state, he assured her that he would do all in his power to protect and bring them through.
The next state-room to Cassy’s was occupied by a French lady, named De Thoux, who was accompanied by a fine little daughter, a child of some twelve summers.
This lady, having gathered, from George’s conversation, that he was from Kentucky, seemed evidently disposed to cultivate his acquaintance; in which design she was seconded by the graces of her little girl, who was about as pretty a plaything as ever diverted the weariness of a fortnight’s trip on a steamboat.
George’s chair was often placed at her state-room door; and Cassy, as she sat upon the guards, could hear their conversation.
Madame de Thoux was very minute in her inquiries as to Kentucky, where she said she had resided in a former period of her life. George discovered, to his surprise, that her former residence must have been in his own vicinity; and her inquiries showed a knowledge of people and things in his vicinity, that was perfectly surprising to him.
“Do you know,” said Madame de Thoux to him, one day, “of any man, in your neighborhood, of the name of Harris?”
“There is an old fellow, of that name, lives not far from my father’s place,” said George. “We never have had much intercourse with him, though.”
“He is a large slave-owner, I believe,” said Madame de Thoux, with a manner which seemed to betray more interest than she was exactly willing to show.
“He is,” said George, looking rather surprised at her manner.
“Did you ever know of his having–perhaps, you may have heard of his having a mulatto boy, named George?”
“O, certainly,–George Harris,–I know him well; he married a servant of my mother’s, but has escaped, now, to Canada.”
“He has?” said Madame de Thoux, quickly. “Thank God!”
George looked a surprised inquiry, but said nothing.
Madame de Thoux leaned her head on her hand, and burst into tears.
“He is my brother,” she said.
“Madame!” said George, with a strong accent of surprise.
“Yes,” said Madame de Thoux, lifting her head, proudly, and wiping her tears, “Mr. Shelby, George Harris is my brother!”
“I am perfectly astonished,” said George, pushing back his chair a pace or two, and looking at Madame de Thoux.
“I was sold to the South when he was a boy,” said she. “I was bought by a good and generous man. He took me with him to the West Indies, set me free, and married me. It is but lately that he died; and I was going up to Kentucky, to see if I could find and redeem my brother.”
“I heard him speak of a sister Emily, that was sold South,” said George.
“Yes, indeed! I am the one,” said Madame de Thoux;–“tell me what sort of a–”
“A very fine young man,” said George, “notwithstanding the curse of slavery that lay on him. He sustained a first rate character, both for intelligence and principle. I know, you see,” he said; “because he married in our family.”
“What sort of a girl?” said Madame de Thoux, eagerly.
“A treasure,” said George; “a beautiful, intelligent, amiable girl. Very pious. My mother had brought her up, and trained her as carefully, almost, as a daughter. She could read and write, embroider and sew, beautifully; and was a beautiful singer.”
“Was she born in your house?” said Madame de Thoux.
“No. Father bought her once, in one of his trips to New Orleans, and brought her up as a present to mother. She was about eight or nine years old, then. Father would never tell mother what he gave for her; but, the other day, in looking over his old papers, we came across the bill of sale. He paid an extravagant sum for her, to be sure. I suppose, on account of her extraordinary beauty.”
George sat with his back to Cassy, and did not see the absorbed expression of her countenance, as he was giving these details.
At this point in the story, she touched his arm, and, with a face perfectly white with interest, said, “Do you know the names of the people he bought her of?”
“A man of the name of Simmons, I think, was the principal in the transaction. At least, I think that was the name on the bill of sale.”
“O, my God!” said Cassy, and fell insensible on the floor of the cabin.
George was wide awake now, and so was Madame de Thoux. Though neither of them could conjecture what was the cause of Cassy’s fainting, still they made all the tumult which is proper in such cases;–George upsetting a wash-pitcher, and breaking two tumblers, in the warmth of his humanity; and various ladies in the cabin, hearing that somebody had fainted, crowded the state-room door, and kept out all the air they possibly could, so that, on the whole, everything was done that could be expected.
Poor Cassy! when she recovered, turned her face to the wall, and wept and sobbed like a child,–perhaps, mother, you can tell what she was thinking of! Perhaps you cannot,–but she felt as sure, in that hour, that God had had mercy on her, and that she should see her daughter,–as she did, months afterwards,–when–but we anticipate.
The rest of our story is soon told. George Shelby, interested, as any other young man might be, by the romance of the incident, no less than by feelings of humanity, was at the pains to send to Cassy the bill of sale of Eliza; whose date and name all corresponded with her own knowledge of facts, and felt no doubt upon her mind as to the identity of her child. It remained now only for her to trace out the path of the fugitives.
Madame de Thoux and she, thus drawn together by the singular coincidence of their fortunes, proceeded immediately to Canada, and began a tour of inquiry among the stations, where the numerous fugitives from slavery are located. At Amherstberg they found the missionary with whom George and Eliza had taken shelter, on their first arrival in Canada; and through him were enabled to trace the family to Montreal.
George and Eliza had now been five years free. George had found constant occupation in the shop of a worthy machinist, where he had been earning a competent support for his family, which, in the mean time, had been increased by the addition of another daughter.
Little Harry–a fine bright boy–had been put to a good school, and was making rapid proficiency in knowledge.
The worthy pastor of the station, in Amherstberg, where George had first landed, was so much interested in the statements of Madame de Thoux and Cassy, that he yielded to the solicitations of the former, to accompany them to Montreal, in their search,–she bearing all the expense of the expedition.
The scene now changes to a small, neat tenement, in the outskirts of Montreal; the time, evening. A cheerful fire blazes on the hearth; a tea-table, covered with a snowy cloth, stands prepared for the evening meal. In one corner of the room was a table covered with a green cloth, where was an open writing-desk, pens, paper, and over it a shelf of well-selected books.
This was George’s study. The same zeal for self-improvement, which led him to steal the much coveted arts of reading and writing, amid all the toil and discouragements of his early life, still led him to devote all his leisure time to self-cultivation.
At this present time, he is seated at the table, making notes from a volume of the family library he has been reading.
“Come, George,” says Eliza, “you’ve been gone all day. Do put down that book, and let’s talk, while I’m getting tea,–do.”
And little Eliza seconds the effort, by toddling up to her father, and trying to pull the book out of his hand, and install herself on his knee as a substitute.
“O, you little witch!” says George, yielding, as, in such circumstances, man always must.
“That’s right,” says Eliza, as she begins to cut a loaf of bread. A little older she looks; her form a little fuller; her air more matronly than of yore; but evidently contented and happy as woman need be.
“Harry, my boy, how did you come on in that sum, today?” says George, as he laid his hand on his son’s head.
Harry has lost his long curls; but he can never lose those eyes and eyelashes, and that fine, bold brow, that flushes with triumph, as he answers, “I did it, every bit of it, _myself_, father; and _nobody_ helped me!”
“That’s right,” says his father; “depend on yourself, my son. You have a better chance than ever your poor father had.”
At this moment, there is a rap at the door; and Eliza goes and opens it. The delighted–“Why! this you?”–calls up her husband; and the good pastor of Amherstberg is welcomed. There are two more women with him, and Eliza asks them to sit down.
Now, if the truth must be told, the honest pastor had arranged a little programme, according to which this affair was to develop itself; and, on the way up, all had very cautiously and prudently exhorted each other not to let things out, except according to previous arrangement.
What was the good man’s consternation, therefore, just as he had motioned to the ladies to be seated, and was taking out his pocket-handkerchief to wipe his mouth, so as to proceed to his introductory speech in good order, when Madame de Thoux upset the whole plan, by throwing her arms around George’s neck, and letting all out at once, by saying, “O, George! don’t you know me? I’m your sister Emily.”
Cassy had seated herself more composedly, and would have carried on her part very well, had not little Eliza suddenly appeared before her in exact shape and form, every outline and curl, just as her daughter was when she saw her last. The little thing peered up in her face; and Cassy caught her up in her arms, pressed her to her bosom, saying, what, at the moment she really believed, “Darling, I’m your mother!”
In fact, it was a troublesome matter to do up exactly in proper order; but the good pastor, at last, succeeded in getting everybody quiet, and delivering the speech with which he had intended to open the exercises; and in which, at last, he succeeded so well, that his whole audience were sobbing about him in a manner that ought to satisfy any orator, ancient or modern.
They knelt together, and the good man prayed,–for there are some feelings so agitated and tumultuous, that they can find rest only by being poured into the bosom of Almighty love,–and then, rising up, the new-found family embraced each other, with a holy trust in Him, who from such peril and dangers, and by such unknown ways, had brought them together.
The note-book of a missionary, among the Canadian fugitives, contains truth stranger than fiction. How can it be otherwise, when a system prevails which whirls families and scatters their members, as the wind whirls and scatters the leaves of autumn? These shores of refuge, like the eternal shore, often unite again, in glad communion, hearts that for long years have mourned each other as lost. And affecting beyond expression is the earnestness with which every new arrival among them is met, if, perchance, it may bring tidings of mother, sister, child or wife, still lost to view in the shadows of slavery.
Deeds of heroism are wrought here more than those of romance, when defying torture, and braving death itself, the fugitive voluntarily threads his way back to the terrors and perils of that dark land, that he may bring out his sister, or mother, or wife.
One young man, of whom a missionary has told us, twice re-captured, and suffering shameful stripes for his heroism, had escaped again; and, in a letter which we heard read, tells his friends that he is going back a third time, that he may, at last, bring away his sister. My good sir, is this man a hero, or a criminal? Would not you do as much for your sister? And can you blame him?
But, to return to our friends, whom we left wiping their eyes, and recovering themselves from too great and sudden a joy. They are now seated around the social board, and are getting decidedly companionable; only that Cassy, who keeps little Eliza on her lap, occasionally squeezes the little thing, in a manner that rather astonishes her, and obstinately refuses to have her mouth stuffed with cake to the extent the little one desires,–alleging, what the child rather wonders at, that she has got something better than cake, and doesn’t want it.
And, indeed, in two or three days, such a change has passed over Cassy, that our readers would scarcely know her. The despairing, haggard expression of her face had given way to one of gentle trust. She seemed to sink, at once, into the bosom of the family, and take the little ones into her heart, as something for which it long had waited. Indeed, her love seemed to flow more naturally to the little Eliza than to her own daughter; for she was the exact image and body of the child whom she had lost. The little one was a flowery bond between mother and daughter, through whom grew up acquaintanceship and affection. Eliza’s steady, consistent piety, regulated by the constant reading of the sacred word, made her a proper guide for the shattered and wearied mind of her mother. Cassy yielded at once, and with her whole soul, to every good influence, and became a devout and tender Christian.
After a day or two, Madame de Thoux told her brother more particularly of her affairs. The death of her husband had left her an ample fortune, which she generously offered to share with the family. When she asked George what way she could best apply it for him, he answered, “Give me an education, Emily; that has always been my heart’s desire. Then, I can do all the rest.”
On mature deliberation, it was decided that the whole family should go, for some years, to France; whither they sailed, carrying Emmeline with them.
The good looks of the latter won the affection of the first mate of the vessel; and, shortly after entering the port, she became his wife.
George remained four years at a French university, and, applying himself with an unintermitted zeal, obtained a very thorough education.
Political troubles in France, at last, led the family again to seek an asylum in this country.
George’s feelings and views, as an educated man, may be best expressed in a letter to one of his friends.
“I feel somewhat at a loss, as to my future course. True, as you have said to me, I might mingle in the circles of the whites, in this country, my shade of color is so slight, and that of my wife and family scarce perceptible. Well, perhaps, on sufferance, I might. But, to tell you the truth, I have no wish to.
“My sympathies are not for my father’s race, but for my mother’s. To him I was no more than a fine dog or horse: to my poor heart-broken mother I was a _child_; and, though I never saw her, after the cruel sale that separated us, till she died, yet I _know_ she always loved me dearly. I know it by my own heart. When I think of all she suffered, of my own early sufferings, of the distresses and struggles of my heroic wife, of my sister, sold in the New Orleans slave-market,–though I hope to have no unchristian sentiments, yet I may be excused for saying, I have no wish to pass for an American, or to identify myself with them.
“It is with the oppressed, enslaved African race that I cast in my lot; and, if I wished anything, I would wish myself two shades darker, rather than one lighter.
“The desire and yearning of my soul is for an African _nationality_. I want a people that shall have a tangible, separate existence of its own; and where am I to look for it? Not in Hayti; for in Hayti they had nothing to start with. A stream cannot rise above its fountain. The race that formed the character of the Haytiens was a worn-out, effeminate one; and, of course, the subject race will be centuries in rising to anything.
“Where, then, shall I look? On the shores of Africa I see a republic,–a republic formed of picked men, who, by energy and self-educating force, have, in many cases, individually, raised themselves above a condition of slavery. Having gone through a preparatory stage of feebleness, this republic has, at last, become an acknowledged nation on the face of the earth,–acknowledged by both France and England. There it is my wish to go, and find myself a people.
“I am aware, now, that I shall have you all against me; but, before you strike, hear me. During my stay in France, I have followed up, with intense interest, the history of my people in America. I have noted the struggle between abolitionist and colonizationist, and have received some impressions, as a distant spectator, which could never have occurred to me as a participator.
“I grant that this Liberia may have subserved all sorts of purposes, by being played off, in the hands of our oppressors, against us. Doubtless the scheme may have been used, in unjustifiable ways, as a means of retarding our emancipation. But the question to me is, Is there not a God above all man’s schemes? May He not have over-ruled their designs, and founded for us a nation by them?
“In these days, a nation is born in a day. A nation starts, now, with all the great problems of republican life and civilization wrought out to its hand;–it has not to discover, but only to apply. Let us, then, all take hold together, with all our might, and see what we can do with this new enterprise, and the whole splendid continent of Africa opens before us and our children. _Our nation_ shall roll the tide of civilization and Christianity along its shores, and plant there mighty republics, that, growing with the rapidity of tropical vegetation, shall be for all coming ages.
“Do you say that I am deserting my enslaved brethren? I think not. If I forget them one hour, one moment of my life, so may God forget me! But, what can I do for them, here? Can I break their chains? No, not as an individual; but, let me go and form part of a nation, which shall have a voice in the councils of nations, and then we can speak. A nation has a right to argue, remonstrate, implore, and present the cause of its race,–which an individual has not.
“If Europe ever becomes a grand council of free nations,–as I trust in God it will,–if, there, serfdom, and all unjust and oppressive social inequalities, are done away; and if they, as France and England have done, acknowledge our position,–then, in the great congress of nations, we will make our appeal, and present the cause of our enslaved and suffering race; and it cannot be that free, enlightened America will not then desire to wipe from her escutcheon that bar sinister which disgraces her among nations, and is as truly a curse to her as to the enslaved.
“But, you will tell me, our race have equal rights to mingle in the American republic as the Irishman, the German, the Swede. Granted, they have. We _ought_ to be free to meet and mingle,–to rise by our individual worth, without any consideration of caste or color; and they who deny us this right are false to their own professed principles of human equality. We ought, in particular, to be allowed _here_. We have _more_ than the rights of common men;–we have the claim of an injured race for reparation. But, then, _I do not want it_; I want a country, a nation, of my own. I think that the African race has peculiarities, yet to be unfolded in the light of civilization and Christianity, which, if not the same with those of the Anglo-Saxon, may prove to be, morally, of even a higher type.
“To the Anglo-Saxon race has been intrusted the destinies of the world, during its pioneer period of struggle and conflict. To that mission its stern, inflexible, energetic elements, were well adapted; but, as a Christian, I look for another era to arise. On its borders I trust we stand; and the throes that now convulse the nations are, to my hope, but the birth-pangs of an hour of universal peace and brotherhood.
“I trust that the development of Africa is to be essentially a Christian one. If not a dominant and commanding race, they are, at least, an affectionate, magnanimous, and forgiving one. Having been called in the furnace of injustice and oppression, they have need to bind closer to their hearts that sublime doctrine of love and forgiveness, through which alone they are to conquer, which it is to be their mission to spread over the continent of Africa.
“In myself, I confess, I am feeble for this,–full half the blood in my veins is the hot and hasty Saxon; but I have an eloquent preacher of the Gospel ever by my side, in the person of my beautiful wife. When I wander, her gentler spirit ever restores me, and keeps before my eyes the Christian calling and mission of our race. As a Christian patriot, as a teacher of Christianity, I go to _my country_,–my chosen, my glorious Africa!–and to her, in my heart, I sometimes apply those splendid words of prophecy: ’Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee; _I_ will make thee an eternal excellence, a joy of many generations!’
“You will call me an enthusiast: you will tell me that I have not well considered what I am undertaking. But I have considered, and counted the cost. I go to _Liberia_, not as an Elysium of romance, but as to _a field of work_. I expect to work with both hands,–to work _hard_; to work against all sorts of difficulties and discouragements; and to work till I die. This is what I go for; and in this I am quite sure I shall not be disappointed.
“Whatever you may think of my determination, do not divorce me from your confidence; and think that, in whatever I do, I act with a heart wholly given to my people.
George, with his wife, children, sister and mother, embarked for Africa, some few weeks after. If we are not mistaken, the world will yet hear from him there.
Of our other characters we have nothing very particular to write, except a word relating to Miss Ophelia and Topsy, and a farewell chapter, which we shall dedicate to George Shelby.
Miss Ophelia took Topsy home to Vermont with her, much to the surprise of the grave deliberative body whom a New Englander recognizes under the term “_Our folks_.” “Our folks,” at first, thought it an odd and unnecessary addition to their well-trained domestic establishment; but, so thoroughly efficient was Miss Ophelia in her conscientious endeavor to do her duty by her _élève_, that the child rapidly grew in grace and in favor with the family and neighborhood. At the age of womanhood, she was, by her own request, baptized, and became a member of the Christian church in the place; and showed so much intelligence, activity and zeal, and desire to do good in the world, that she was at last recommended, and approved as a missionary to one of the stations in Africa; and we have heard that the same activity and ingenuity which, when a child, made her so multiform and restless in her developments, is now employed, in a safer and wholesomer manner, in teaching the children of her own country.
P.S.–It will be a satisfaction to some mother, also, to state, that some inquiries, which were set on foot by Madame de Thoux, have resulted recently in the discovery of Cassy’s son. Being a young man of energy, he had escaped, some years before his mother, and been received and educated by friends of the oppressed in the north. He will soon follow his family to Africa.
George Shelby had written to his mother merely a line, stating the day that she might expect him home. Of the death scene of his old friend he had not the heart to write. He had tried several times, and only succeeded in half choking himself; and invariably finished by tearing up the paper, wiping his eyes, and rushing somewhere to get quiet.
There was a pleased bustle all though the Shelby mansion, that day, in expectation of the arrival of young Mas’r George.
Mrs. Shelby was seated in her comfortable parlor, where a cheerful hickory fire was dispelling the chill of the late autumn evening. A supper-table, glittering with plate and cut glass, was set out, on whose arrangements our former friend, old Chloe, was presiding.
Arrayed in a new calico dress, with clean, white apron, and high, well-starched turban, her black polished face glowing with satisfaction, she lingered, with needless punctiliousness, around the arrangements of the table, merely as an excuse for talking a little to her mistress.
“Laws, now! won’t it look natural to him?” she said. “Thar,–I set his plate just whar he likes it round by the fire. Mas’r George allers wants de warm seat. O, go way!–why didn’t Sally get out de _best_ tea-pot,–de little new one, Mas’r George got for Missis, Christmas? I’ll have it out! And Missis has heard from Mas’r George?” she said, inquiringly.
“Yes, Chloe; but only a line, just to say he would be home tonight, if he could,–that’s all.”
“Didn’t say nothin’ ’bout my old man, s’pose?” said Chloe, still fidgeting with the tea-cups.
“No, he didn’t. He did not speak of anything, Chloe. He said he would tell all, when he got home.”
“Jes like Mas’r George,–he’s allers so ferce for tellin’ everything hisself. I allers minded dat ar in Mas’r George. Don’t see, for my part, how white people gen’lly can bar to hev to write things much as they do, writin’ ’s such slow, oneasy kind o’ work.”
Mrs. Shelby smiled.
“I’m a thinkin’ my old man won’t know de boys and de baby. Lor’! she’s de biggest gal, now,–good she is, too, and peart, Polly is. She’s out to the house, now, watchin’ de hoe-cake. I ’s got jist de very pattern my old man liked so much, a bakin’. Jist sich as I gin him the mornin’ he was took off. Lord bless us! how I felt, dat ar morning!”
Mrs. Shelby sighed, and felt a heavy weight on her heart, at this allusion. She had felt uneasy, ever since she received her son’s letter, lest something should prove to be hidden behind the veil of silence which he had drawn.
“Missis has got dem bills?” said Chloe, anxiously.
“‘Cause I wants to show my old man dem very bills de _perfectioner_ gave me. ‘And,’ say he, ‘Chloe, I wish you’d stay longer.’ ‘Thank you, Mas’r,’ says I, ‘I would, only my old man’s coming home, and Missis,–she can’t do without me no longer.’ There’s jist what I telled him. Berry nice man, dat Mas’r Jones was.”
Chloe had pertinaciously insisted that the very bills in which her wages had been paid should be preserved, to show her husband, in memorial of her capability. And Mrs. Shelby had readily consented to humor her in the request.
“He won’t know Polly,–my old man won’t. Laws, it’s five year since they tuck him! She was a baby den,–couldn’t but jist stand. Remember how tickled he used to be, cause she would keep a fallin’ over, when she sot out to walk. Laws a me!”
The rattling of wheels now was heard.
“Mas’r George!” said Aunt Chloe, starting to the window.
Mrs. Shelby ran to the entry door, and was folded in the arms of her son. Aunt Chloe stood anxiously straining her eyes out into the darkness.
“O, _poor_ Aunt Chloe!” said George, stopping compassionately, and taking her hard, black hand between both his; “I’d have given all my fortune to have brought him with me, but he’s gone to a better country.”
There was a passionate exclamation from Mrs. Shelby, but Aunt Chloe said nothing.
The party entered the supper-room. The money, of which Chloe was so proud, was still lying on the table.
“Thar,” said she, gathering it up, and holding it, with a trembling hand, to her mistress, “don’t never want to see nor hear on ’t again. Jist as I knew ’t would be,–sold, and murdered on dem ar’ old plantations!”
Chloe turned, and was walking proudly out of the room. Mrs. Shelby followed her softly, and took one of her hands, drew her down into a chair, and sat down by her.
“My poor, good Chloe!” said she.
Chloe leaned her head on her mistress’ shoulder, and sobbed out, “O Missis! ’scuse me, my heart’s broke,–dat’s all!”
“I know it is,” said Mrs. Shelby, as her tears fell fast; “and _I_ cannot heal it, but Jesus can. He healeth the broken hearted, and bindeth up their wounds.”
There was a silence for some time, and all wept together. At last, George, sitting down beside the mourner, took her hand, and, with simple pathos, repeated the triumphant scene of her husband’s death, and his last messages of love.
About a month after this, one morning, all the servants of the Shelby estate were convened together in the great hall that ran through the house, to hear a few words from their young master.
To the surprise of all, he appeared among them with a bundle of papers in his hand, containing a certificate of freedom to every one on the place, which he read successively, and presented, amid the sobs and tears and shouts of all present.
Many, however, pressed around him, earnestly begging him not to send them away; and, with anxious faces, tendering back their free papers.
“We don’t want to be no freer than we are. We’s allers had all we wanted. We don’t want to leave de ole place, and Mas’r and Missis, and de rest!”
“My good friends,” said George, as soon as he could get a silence, “there’ll be no need for you to leave me. The place wants as many hands to work it as it did before. We need the same about the house that we did before. But, you are now free men and free women. I shall pay you wages for your work, such as we shall agree on. The advantage is, that in case of my getting in debt, or dying,–things that might happen,–you cannot now be taken up and sold. I expect to carry on the estate, and to teach you what, perhaps, it will take you some time to learn,–how to use the rights I give you as free men and women. I expect you to be good, and willing to learn; and I trust in God that I shall be faithful, and willing to teach. And now, my friends, look up, and thank God for the blessing of freedom.”
An aged, partriarchal negro, who had grown gray and blind on the estate, now rose, and, lifting his trembling hand said, “Let us give thanks unto the Lord!” As all kneeled by one consent, a more touching and hearty _Te Deum_ never ascended to heaven, though borne on the peal of organ, bell and cannon, than came from that honest old heart.
On rising, another struck up a Methodist hymn, of which the burden was,
“The year of Jubilee is come,– Return, ye ransomed sinners, home.”
“One thing more,” said George, as he stopped the congratulations of the throng; “you all remember our good old Uncle Tom?”
George here gave a short narration of the scene of his death, and of his loving farewell to all on the place, and added,
“It was on his grave, my friends, that I resolved, before God, that I would never own another slave, while it was possible to free him; that nobody, through me, should ever run the risk of being parted from home and friends, and dying on a lonely plantation, as he died. So, when you rejoice in your freedom, think that you owe it to that good old soul, and pay it back in kindness to his wife and children. Think of your freedom, every time you see UNCLE TOM’S CABIN; and let it be a memorial to put you all in mind to follow in his steps, and be honest and faithful and Christian as he was.”
The writer has often been inquired of, by correspondents from different parts of the country, whether this narrative is a true one; and to these inquiries she will give one general answer.
The separate incidents that compose the narrative are, to a very great extent, authentic, occurring, many of them, either under her own observation, or that of her personal friends. She or her friends have observed characters the counterpart of almost all that are here introduced; and many of the sayings are word for word as heard herself, or reported to her.
The personal appearance of Eliza, the character ascribed to her, are sketches drawn from life. The incorruptible fidelity, piety and honesty, of Uncle Tom, had more than one development, to her personal knowledge. Some of the most deeply tragic and romantic, some of the most terrible incidents, have also their parallels in reality. The incident of the mother’s crossing the Ohio river on the ice is a well-known fact. The story of “old Prue,” in the second volume, was an incident that fell under the personal observation of a brother of the writer, then collecting-clerk to a large mercantile house, in New Orleans. From the same source was derived the character of the planter Legree. Of him her brother thus wrote, speaking of visiting his plantation, on a collecting tour; “He actually made me feel of his fist, which was like a blacksmith’s hammer, or a nodule of iron, telling me that it was ‘calloused with knocking down niggers.’ When I left the plantation, I drew a long breath, and felt as if I had escaped from an ogre’s den.”
That the tragical fate of Tom, also, has too many times had its parallel, there are living witnesses, all over our land, to testify. Let it be remembered that in all southern states it is a principle of jurisprudence that no person of colored lineage can testify in a suit against a white, and it will be easy to see that such a case may occur, wherever there is a man whose passions outweigh his interests, and a slave who has manhood or principle enough to resist his will. There is, actually, nothing to protect the slave’s life, but the _character_ of the master. Facts too shocking to be contemplated occasionally force their way to the public ear, and the comment that one often hears made on them is more shocking than the thing itself. It is said, “Very likely such cases may now and then occur, but they are no sample of general practice.” If the laws of New England were so arranged that a master could _now and then_ torture an apprentice to death, would it be received with equal composure? Would it be said, “These cases are rare, and no samples of general practice”? This injustice is an _inherent_ one in the slave system,–it cannot exist without it.
The public and shameless sale of beautiful mulatto and quadroon girls has acquired a notoriety, from the incidents following the capture of the Pearl. We extract the following from the speech of Hon. Horace Mann, one of the legal counsel for the defendants in that case. He says: “In that company of seventy-six persons, who attempted, in 1848, to escape from the District of Columbia in the schooner Pearl, and whose officers I assisted in defending, there were several young and healthy girls, who had those peculiar attractions of form and feature which connoisseurs prize so highly. Elizabeth Russel was one of them. She immediately fell into the slave-trader’s fangs, and was doomed for the New Orleans market. The hearts of those that saw her were touched with pity for her fate. They offered eighteen hundred dollars to redeem her; and some there were who offered to give, that would not have much left after the gift; but the fiend of a slave-trader was inexorable. She was despatched to New Orleans; but, when about half way there, God had mercy on her, and smote her with death. There were two girls named Edmundson in the same company. When about to be sent to the same market, an older sister went to the shambles, to plead with the wretch who owned them, for the love of God, to spare his victims. He bantered her, telling what fine dresses and fine furniture they would have. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that may do very well in this life, but what will become of them in the next?’ They too were sent to New Orleans; but were afterwards redeemed, at an enormous ransom, and brought back.” Is it not plain, from this, that the histories of Emmeline and Cassy may have many counterparts?
Justice, too, obliges the author to state that the fairness of mind and generosity attributed to St. Clare are not without a parallel, as the following anecdote will show. A few years since, a young southern gentleman was in Cincinnati, with a favorite servant, who had been his personal attendant from a boy. The young man took advantage of this opportunity to secure his own freedom, and fled to the protection of a Quaker, who was quite noted in affairs of this kind. The owner was exceedingly indignant. He had always treated the slave with such indulgence, and his confidence in his affection was such, that he believed he must have been practised upon to induce him to revolt from him. He visited the Quaker, in high anger; but, being possessed of uncommon candor and fairness, was soon quieted by his arguments and representations. It was a side of the subject which he never had heard,–never had thought on; and he immediately told the Quaker that, if his slave would, to his own face, say that it was his desire to be free, he would liberate him. An interview was forthwith procured, and Nathan was asked by his young master whether he had ever had any reason to complain of his treatment, in any respect.
“No, Mas’r,” said Nathan; “you’ve always been good to me.”
“Well, then, why do you want to leave me?”
“Mas’r may die, and then who get me?–I’d rather be a free man.”
After some deliberation, the young master replied, “Nathan, in your place, I think I should feel very much so, myself. You are free.”
He immediately made him out free papers; deposited a sum of money in the hands of the Quaker, to be judiciously used in assisting him to start in life, and left a very sensible and kind letter of advice to the young man. That letter was for some time in the writer’s hands.
The author hopes she has done justice to that nobility, generosity, and humanity, which in many cases characterize individuals at the South. Such instances save us from utter despair of our kind. But, she asks any person, who knows the world, are such characters _common_, anywhere?
For many years of her life, the author avoided all reading upon or allusion to the subject of slavery, considering it as too painful to be inquired into, and one which advancing light and civilization would certainly live down. But, since the legislative act of 1850, when she heard, with perfect surprise and consternation, Christian and humane people actually recommending the remanding escaped fugitives into slavery, as a duty binding on good citizens,–when she heard, on all hands, from kind, compassionate and estimable people, in the free states of the North, deliberations and discussions as to what Christian duty could be on this head,–she could only think, These men and Christians cannot know what slavery is; if they did, such a question could never be open for discussion. And from this arose a desire to exhibit it in a _living dramatic reality_. She has endeavored to show it fairly, in its best and its worst phases. In its _best_ aspect, she has, perhaps, been successful; but, oh! who shall say what yet remains untold in that valley and shadow of death, that lies the other side?
To you, generous, noble-minded men and women, of the South,–you, whose virtue, and magnanimity and purity of character, are the greater for the severer trial it has encountered,–to you is her appeal. Have you not, in your own secret souls, in your own private conversings, felt that there are woes and evils, in this accursed system, far beyond what are here shadowed, or can be shadowed? Can it be otherwise? Is _man_ ever a creature to be trusted with wholly irresponsible power? And does not the slave system, by denying the slave all legal right of testimony, make every individual owner an irresponsible despot? Can anybody fail to make the inference what the practical result will be? If there is, as we admit, a public sentiment among you, men of honor, justice and humanity, is there not also another kind of public sentiment among the ruffian, the brutal and debased? And cannot the ruffian, the brutal, the debased, by slave law, own just as many slaves as the best and purest? Are the honorable, the just, the high-minded and compassionate, the majority anywhere in this world?
The slave-trade is now, by American law, considered as piracy. But a slave-trade, as systematic as ever was carried on on the coast of Africa, is an inevitable attendant and result of American slavery. And its heart-break and its horrors, can they be told?
The writer has given only a faint shadow, a dim picture, of the anguish and despair that are, at this very moment, riving thousands of hearts, shattering thousands of families, and driving a helpless and sensitive race to frenzy and despair. There are those living who know the mothers whom this accursed traffic has driven to the murder of their children; and themselves seeking in death a shelter from woes more dreaded than death. Nothing of tragedy can be written, can be spoken, can be conceived, that equals the frightful reality of scenes daily and hourly acting on our shores, beneath the shadow of American law, and the shadow of the cross of Christ.
And now, men and women of America, is this a thing to be trifled with, apologized for, and passed over in silence? Farmers of Massachusetts, of New Hampshire, of Vermont, of Connecticut, who read this book by the blaze of your winter-evening fire,–strong-hearted, generous sailors and ship-owners of Maine,–is this a thing for you to countenance and encourage? Brave and generous men of New York, farmers of rich and joyous Ohio, and ye of the wide prairie states,–answer, is this a thing for you to protect and countenance? And you, mothers of America,–you who have learned, by the cradles of your own children, to love and feel for all mankind,–by the sacred love you bear your child; by your joy in his beautiful, spotless infancy; by the motherly pity and tenderness with which you guide his growing years; by the anxieties of his education; by the prayers you breathe for his soul’s eternal good;–I beseech you, pity the mother who has all your affections, and not one legal right to protect, guide, or educate, the child of her bosom! By the sick hour of your child; by those dying eyes, which you can never forget; by those last cries, that wrung your heart when you could neither help nor save; by the desolation of that empty cradle, that silent nursery,–I beseech you, pity those mothers that are constantly made childless by the American slave-trade! And say, mothers of America, is this a thing to be defended, sympathized with, passed over in silence?
Do you say that the people of the free state have nothing to do with it, and can do nothing? Would to God this were true! But it is not true. The people of the free states have defended, encouraged, and participated; and are more guilty for it, before God, than the South, in that they have not the apology of education or custom.
If the mothers of the free states had all felt as they should, in times past, the sons of the free states would not have been the holders, and, proverbially, the hardest masters of slaves; the sons of the free states would not have connived at the extension of slavery, in our national body; the sons of the free states would not, as they do, trade the souls and bodies of men as an equivalent to money, in their mercantile dealings. There are multitudes of slaves temporarily owned, and sold again, by merchants in northern cities; and shall the whole guilt or obloquy of slavery fall only on the South?
Northern men, northern mothers, northern Christians, have something more to do than denounce their brethren at the South; they have to look to the evil among themselves.
But, what can any individual do? Of that, every individual can judge. There is one thing that every individual can do,–they can see to it that _they feel right_. An atmosphere of sympathetic influence encircles every human being; and the man or woman who _feels_ strongly, healthily and justly, on the great interests of humanity, is a constant benefactor to the human race. See, then, to your sympathies in this matter! Are they in harmony with the sympathies of Christ? or are they swayed and perverted by the sophistries of worldly policy?
Christian men and women of the North! still further,–you have another power; you can _pray!_ Do you believe in prayer? or has it become an indistinct apostolic tradition? You pray for the heathen abroad; pray also for the heathen at home. And pray for those distressed Christians whose whole chance of religious improvement is an accident of trade and sale; from whom any adherence to the morals of Christianity is, in many cases, an impossibility, unless they have given them, from above, the courage and grace of martyrdom.
But, still more. On the shores of our free states are emerging the poor, shattered, broken remnants of families,–men and women, escaped, by miraculous providences from the surges of slavery,–feeble in knowledge, and, in many cases, infirm in moral constitution, from a system which confounds and confuses every principle of Christianity and morality. They come to seek a refuge among you; they come to seek education, knowledge, Christianity.
What do you owe to these poor unfortunates, oh Christians? Does not every American Christian owe to the African race some effort at reparation for the wrongs that the American nation has brought upon them? Shall the doors of churches and school-houses be shut upon them? Shall states arise and shake them out? Shall the church of Christ hear in silence the taunt that is thrown at them, and shrink away from the helpless hand that they stretch out; and, by her silence, encourage the cruelty that would chase them from our borders? If it must be so, it will be a mournful spectacle. If it must be so, the country will have reason to tremble, when it remembers that the fate of nations is in the hands of One who is very pitiful, and of tender compassion.
Do you say, “We don’t want them here; let them go to Africa”?
That the providence of God has provided a refuge in Africa, is, indeed, a great and noticeable fact; but that is no reason why the church of Christ should throw off that responsibility to this outcast race which her profession demands of her.
To fill up Liberia with an ignorant, inexperienced, half-barbarized race, just escaped from the chains of slavery, would be only to prolong, for ages, the period of struggle and conflict which attends the inception of new enterprises. Let the church of the north receive these poor sufferers in the spirit of Christ; receive them to the educating advantages of Christian republican society and schools, until they have attained to somewhat of a moral and intellectual maturity, and then assist them in their passage to those shores, where they may put in practice the lessons they have learned in America.
There is a body of men at the north, comparatively small, who have been doing this; and, as the result, this country has already seen examples of men, formerly slaves, who have rapidly acquired property, reputation, and education. Talent has been developed, which, considering the circumstances, is certainly remarkable; and, for moral traits of honesty, kindness, tenderness of feeling,–for heroic efforts and self-denials, endured for the ransom of brethren and friends yet in slavery,–they have been remarkable to a degree that, considering the influence under which they were born, is surprising.
The writer has lived, for many years, on the frontier-line of slave states, and has had great opportunities of observation among those who formerly were slaves. They have been in her family as servants; and, in default of any other school to receive them, she has, in many cases, had them instructed in a family school, with her own children. She has also the testimony of missionaries, among the fugitives in Canada, in coincidence with her own experience; and her deductions, with regard to the capabilities of the race, are encouraging in the highest degree.
The first desire of the emancipated slave, generally, is for _education_. There is nothing that they are not willing to give or do to have their children instructed, and, so far as the writer has observed herself, or taken the testimony of teachers among them, they are remarkably intelligent and quick to learn. The results of schools, founded for them by benevolent individuals in Cincinnati, fully establish this.
The author gives the following statement of facts, on the authority of Professor C. E. Stowe, then of Lane Seminary, Ohio, with regard to emancipated slaves, now resident in Cincinnati; given to show the capability of the race, even without any very particular assistance or encouragement.
The initial letters alone are given. They are all residents of Cincinnati.
“B—-. Furniture maker; twenty years in the city; worth ten thousand dollars, all his own earnings; a Baptist.
“C—-. Full black; stolen from Africa; sold in New Orleans; been free fifteen years; paid for himself six hundred dollars; a farmer; owns several farms in Indiana; Presbyterian; probably worth fifteen or twenty thousand dollars, all earned by himself.
“K—-. Full black; dealer in real estate; worth thirty thousand dollars; about forty years old; free six years; paid eighteen hundred dollars for his family; member of the Baptist church; received a legacy from his master, which he has taken good care of, and increased.
“G—-. Full black; coal dealer; about thirty years old; worth eighteen thousand dollars; paid for himself twice, being once defrauded to the amount of sixteen hundred dollars; made all his money by his own efforts–much of it while a slave, hiring his time of his master, and doing business for himself; a fine, gentlemanly fellow.
“W—-. Three-fourths black; barber and waiter; from Kentucky; nineteen years free; paid for self and family over three thousand dollars; deacon in the Baptist church.
“G. D—-. Three-fourths black; white-washer; from Kentucky; nine years free; paid fifteen hundred dollars for self and family; recently died, aged sixty; worth six thousand dollars.”
Professor Stowe says, “With all these, except G—-, I have been, for some years, personally acquainted, and make my statements from my own knowledge.”
The writer well remembers an aged colored woman, who was employed as a washerwoman in her father’s family. The daughter of this woman married a slave. She was a remarkably active and capable young woman, and, by her industry and thrift, and the most persevering self-denial, raised nine hundred dollars for her husband’s freedom, which she paid, as she raised it, into the hands of his master. She yet wanted a hundred dollars of the price, when he died. She never recovered any of the money.
These are but few facts, among multitudes which might be adduced, to show the self-denial, energy, patience, and honesty, which the slave has exhibited in a state of freedom.
And let it be remembered that these individuals have thus bravely succeeded in conquering for themselves comparative wealth and social position, in the face of every disadvantage and discouragement. The colored man, by the law of Ohio, cannot be a voter, and, till within a few years, was even denied the right of testimony in legal suits with the white. Nor are these instances confined to the State of Ohio. In all states of the Union we see men, but yesterday burst from the shackles of slavery, who, by a self-educating force, which cannot be too much admired, have risen to highly respectable stations in society. Pennington, among clergymen, Douglas and Ward, among editors, are well known instances.
If this persecuted race, with every discouragement and disadvantage, have done thus much, how much more they might do if the Christian church would act towards them in the spirit of her Lord!
This is an age of the world when nations are trembling and convulsed. A mighty influence is abroad, surging and heaving the world, as with an earthquake. And is America safe? Every nation that carries in its bosom great and unredressed injustice has in it the elements of this last convulsion.
For what is this mighty influence thus rousing in all nations and languages those groanings that cannot be uttered, for man’s freedom and equality?
O, Church of Christ, read the signs of the times! Is not this power the spirit of Him whose kingdom is yet to come, and whose will to be done on earth as it is in heaven?
But who may abide the day of his appearing? “for that day shall burn as an oven: and he shall appear as a swift witness against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, and that _turn aside the stranger in his right_: and he shall break in pieces the oppressor.”
Are not these dread words for a nation bearing in her bosom so mighty an injustice? Christians! every time that you pray that the kingdom of Christ may come, can you forget that prophecy associates, in dread fellowship, the _day of vengeance_ with the year of his redeemed?
A day of grace is yet held out to us. Both North and South have been guilty before God; and the _Christian church_ has a heavy account to answer. Not by combining together, to protect injustice and cruelty, and making a common capital of sin, is this Union to be saved,–but by repentance, justice and mercy; for, not surer is the eternal law by which the millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law, by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!