Life among the Lowly
The Property Is Carried Off
The February morning looked gray and drizzling through the window of Uncle Tom’s cabin. It looked on downcast faces, the images of mournful hearts. The little table stood out before the fire, covered with an ironing-cloth; a coarse but clean shirt or two, fresh from the iron, hung on the back of a chair by the fire, and Aunt Chloe had another spread out before her on the table. Carefully she rubbed and ironed every fold and every hem, with the most scrupulous exactness, every now and then raising her hand to her face to wipe off the tears that were coursing down her cheeks.
Tom sat by, with his Testament open on his knee, and his head leaning upon his hand;–but neither spoke. It was yet early, and the children lay all asleep together in their little rude trundle-bed.
Tom, who had, to the full, the gentle, domestic heart, which woe for them! has been a peculiar characteristic of his unhappy race, got up and walked silently to look at his children.
“It’s the last time,” he said.
Aunt Chloe did not answer, only rubbed away over and over on the coarse shirt, already as smooth as hands could make it; and finally setting her iron suddenly down with a despairing plunge, she sat down to the table, and “lifted up her voice and wept.”
“S’pose we must be resigned; but oh Lord! how ken I? If I know’d anything whar you ’s goin’, or how they’d sarve you! Missis says she’ll try and ’deem ye, in a year or two; but Lor! nobody never comes up that goes down thar! They kills ’em! I’ve hearn ’em tell how dey works ’em up on dem ar plantations.”
“There’ll be the same God there, Chloe, that there is here.”
“Well,” said Aunt Chloe, “s’pose dere will; but de Lord lets drefful things happen, sometimes. I don’t seem to get no comfort dat way.”
“I’m in the Lord’s hands,” said Tom; “nothin’ can go no furder than he lets it;–and thar’s _one_ thing I can thank him for. It’s _me_ that’s sold and going down, and not you nur the chil’en. Here you’re safe;–what comes will come only on me; and the Lord, he’ll help me,–I know he will.”
Ah, brave, manly heart,–smothering thine own sorrow, to comfort thy beloved ones! Tom spoke with a thick utterance, and with a bitter choking in his throat,–but he spoke brave and strong.
“Let’s think on our marcies!” he added, tremulously, as if he was quite sure he needed to think on them very hard indeed.
“Marcies!” said Aunt Chloe; “don’t see no marcy in ’t! ’tan’t right! tan’t right it should be so! Mas’r never ought ter left it so that ye _could_ be took for his debts. Ye’ve arnt him all he gets for ye, twice over. He owed ye yer freedom, and ought ter gin ’t to yer years ago. Mebbe he can’t help himself now, but I feel it’s wrong. Nothing can’t beat that ar out o’ me. Sich a faithful crittur as ye’ve been,–and allers sot his business ’fore yer own every way,–and reckoned on him more than yer own wife and chil’en! Them as sells heart’s love and heart’s blood, to get out thar scrapes, de Lord’ll be up to ’em!”
“Chloe! now, if ye love me, ye won’t talk so, when perhaps jest the last time we’ll ever have together! And I’ll tell ye, Chloe, it goes agin me to hear one word agin Mas’r. Wan’t he put in my arms a baby?–it’s natur I should think a heap of him. And he couldn’t be spected to think so much of poor Tom. Mas’rs is used to havin’ all these yer things done for ’em, and nat’lly they don’t think so much on ’t. They can’t be spected to, no way. Set him ’longside of other Mas’rs–who’s had the treatment and livin’ I’ve had? And he never would have let this yer come on me, if he could have seed it aforehand. I know he wouldn’t.”
“Wal, any way, thar’s wrong about it _somewhar_,” said Aunt Chloe, in whom a stubborn sense of justice was a predominant trait; “I can’t jest make out whar ’t is, but thar’s wrong somewhar, I’m _clar_ o’ that.”
“Yer ought ter look up to the Lord above–he’s above all–thar don’t a sparrow fall without him.”
“It don’t seem to comfort me, but I spect it orter,” said Aunt Chloe. “But dar’s no use talkin’; I’ll jes wet up de corn-cake, and get ye one good breakfast, ’cause nobody knows when you’ll get another.”
In order to appreciate the sufferings of the negroes sold south, it must be remembered that all the instinctive affections of that race are peculiarly strong. Their local attachments are very abiding. They are not naturally daring and enterprising, but home-loving and affectionate. Add to this all the terrors with which ignorance invests the unknown, and add to this, again, that selling to the south is set before the negro from childhood as the last severity of punishment. The threat that terrifies more than whipping or torture of any kind is the threat of being sent down river. We have ourselves heard this feeling expressed by them, and seen the unaffected horror with which they will sit in their gossipping hours, and tell frightful stories of that “down river,” which to them is
_“That undiscovered country, from whose bourn No traveller returns.”_*
* A slightly inaccurate quotation from _Hamlet_, Act III, scene I, lines 369-370.
A missionary figure among the fugitives in Canada told us that many of the fugitives confessed themselves to have escaped from comparatively kind masters, and that they were induced to brave the perils of escape, in almost every case, by the desperate horror with which they regarded being sold south,–a doom which was hanging either over themselves or their husbands, their wives or children. This nerves the African, naturally patient, timid and unenterprising, with heroic courage, and leads him to suffer hunger, cold, pain, the perils of the wilderness, and the more dread penalties of recapture.
The simple morning meal now smoked on the table, for Mrs. Shelby had excused Aunt Chloe’s attendance at the great house that morning. The poor soul had expended all her little energies on this farewell feast,–had killed and dressed her choicest chicken, and prepared her corn-cake with scrupulous exactness, just to her husband’s taste, and brought out certain mysterious jars on the mantel-piece, some preserves that were never produced except on extreme occasions.
“Lor, Pete,” said Mose, triumphantly, “han’t we got a buster of a breakfast!” at the same time catching at a fragment of the chicken.
Aunt Chloe gave him a sudden box on the ear. “Thar now! crowing over the last breakfast yer poor daddy’s gwine to have to home!”
“O, Chloe!” said Tom, gently.
“Wal, I can’t help it,” said Aunt Chloe, hiding her face in her apron; “I ’s so tossed about it, it makes me act ugly.”
The boys stood quite still, looking first at their father and then at their mother, while the baby, climbing up her clothes, began an imperious, commanding cry.
“Thar!” said Aunt Chloe, wiping her eyes and taking up the baby; “now I’s done, I hope,–now do eat something. This yer’s my nicest chicken. Thar, boys, ye shall have some, poor critturs! Yer mammy’s been cross to yer.”
The boys needed no second invitation, and went in with great zeal for the eatables; and it was well they did so, as otherwise there would have been very little performed to any purpose by the party.
“Now,” said Aunt Chloe, bustling about after breakfast, “I must put up yer clothes. Jest like as not, he’ll take ’em all away. I know thar ways–mean as dirt, they is! Wal, now, yer flannels for rhumatis is in this corner; so be careful, ’cause there won’t nobody make ye no more. Then here’s yer old shirts, and these yer is new ones. I toed off these yer stockings last night, and put de ball in ’em to mend with. But Lor! who’ll ever mend for ye?” and Aunt Chloe, again overcome, laid her head on the box side, and sobbed. “To think on ’t! no crittur to do for ye, sick or well! I don’t railly think I ought ter be good now!”
The boys, having eaten everything there was on the breakfast-table, began now to take some thought of the case; and, seeing their mother crying, and their father looking very sad, began to whimper and put their hands to their eyes. Uncle Tom had the baby on his knee, and was letting her enjoy herself to the utmost extent, scratching his face and pulling his hair, and occasionally breaking out into clamorous explosions of delight, evidently arising out of her own internal reflections.
“Ay, crow away, poor crittur!” said Aunt Chloe; “ye’ll have to come to it, too! ye’ll live to see yer husband sold, or mebbe be sold yerself; and these yer boys, they’s to be sold, I s’pose, too, jest like as not, when dey gets good for somethin’; an’t no use in niggers havin’ nothin’!”
Here one of the boys called out, “Thar’s Missis a-comin’ in!”
“She can’t do no good; what’s she coming for?” said Aunt Chloe.
Mrs. Shelby entered. Aunt Chloe set a chair for her in a manner decidedly gruff and crusty. She did not seem to notice either the action or the manner. She looked pale and anxious.
“Tom,” she said, “I come to–” and stopping suddenly, and regarding the silent group, she sat down in the chair, and, covering her face with her handkerchief, began to sob.
“Lor, now, Missis, don’t–don’t!” said Aunt Chloe, bursting out in her turn; and for a few moments they all wept in company. And in those tears they all shed together, the high and the lowly, melted away all the heart-burnings and anger of the oppressed. O, ye who visit the distressed, do ye know that everything your money can buy, given with a cold, averted face, is not worth one honest tear shed in real sympathy?
“My good fellow,” said Mrs. Shelby, “I can’t give you anything to do you any good. If I give you money, it will only be taken from you. But I tell you solemnly, and before God, that I will keep trace of you, and bring you back as soon as I can command the money;–and, till then, trust in God!”
Here the boys called out that Mas’r Haley was coming, and then an unceremonious kick pushed open the door. Haley stood there in very ill humor, having ridden hard the night before, and being not at all pacified by his ill success in recapturing his prey.
“Come,” said he, “ye nigger, ye’r ready? Servant, ma’am!” said he, taking off his hat, as he saw Mrs. Shelby.
Aunt Chloe shut and corded the box, and, getting up, looked gruffly on the trader, her tears seeming suddenly turned to sparks of fire.
Tom rose up meekly, to follow his new master, and raised up his heavy box on his shoulder. His wife took the baby in her arms to go with him to the wagon, and the children, still crying, trailed on behind.
Mrs. Shelby, walking up to the trader, detained him for a few moments, talking with him in an earnest manner; and while she was thus talking, the whole family party proceeded to a wagon, that stood ready harnessed at the door. A crowd of all the old and young hands on the place stood gathered around it, to bid farewell to their old associate. Tom had been looked up to, both as a head servant and a Christian teacher, by all the place, and there was much honest sympathy and grief about him, particularly among the women.
“Why, Chloe, you bar it better ’n we do!” said one of the women, who had been weeping freely, noticing the gloomy calmness with which Aunt Chloe stood by the wagon.
“I’s done _my_ tears!” she said, looking grimly at the trader, who was coming up. “I does not feel to cry ’fore dat ar old limb, no how!”
“Get in!” said Haley to Tom, as he strode through the crowd of servants, who looked at him with lowering brows.
Tom got in, and Haley, drawing out from under the wagon seat a heavy pair of shackles, made them fast around each ankle.
A smothered groan of indignation ran through the whole circle, and Mrs. Shelby spoke from the verandah,–“Mr. Haley, I assure you that precaution is entirely unnecessary.”
“Don’ know, ma’am; I’ve lost one five hundred dollars from this yer place, and I can’t afford to run no more risks.”
“What else could she spect on him?” said Aunt Chloe, indignantly, while the two boys, who now seemed to comprehend at once their father’s destiny, clung to her gown, sobbing and groaning vehemently.
“I’m sorry,” said Tom, “that Mas’r George happened to be away.”
George had gone to spend two or three days with a companion on a neighboring estate, and having departed early in the morning, before Tom’s misfortune had been made public, had left without hearing of it.
“Give my love to Mas’r George,” he said, earnestly.
Haley whipped up the horse, and, with a steady, mournful look, fixed to the last on the old place, Tom was whirled away.
Mr. Shelby at this time was not at home. He had sold Tom under the spur of a driving necessity, to get out of the power of a man whom he dreaded,–and his first feeling, after the consummation of the bargain, had been that of relief. But his wife’s expostulations awoke his half-slumbering regrets; and Tom’s manly disinterestedness increased the unpleasantness of his feelings. It was in vain that he said to himself that he had a _right_ to do it,–that everybody did it,–and that some did it without even the excuse of necessity;–he could not satisfy his own feelings; and that he might not witness the unpleasant scenes of the consummation, he had gone on a short business tour up the country, hoping that all would be over before he returned.
Tom and Haley rattled on along the dusty road, whirling past every old familiar spot, until the bounds of the estate were fairly passed, and they found themselves out on the open pike. After they had ridden about a mile, Haley suddenly drew up at the door of a blacksmith’s shop, when, taking out with him a pair of handcuffs, he stepped into the shop, to have a little alteration in them.
“These yer ’s a little too small for his build,” said Haley, showing the fetters, and pointing out to Tom.
“Lor! now, if thar an’t Shelby’s Tom. He han’t sold him, now?” said the smith.
“Yes, he has,” said Haley.
“Now, ye don’t! well, reely,” said the smith, “who’d a thought it! Why, ye needn’t go to fetterin’ him up this yer way. He’s the faithfullest, best crittur–”
“Yes, yes,” said Haley; “but your good fellers are just the critturs to want ter run off. Them stupid ones, as doesn’t care whar they go, and shifless, drunken ones, as don’t care for nothin’, they’ll stick by, and like as not be rather pleased to be toted round; but these yer prime fellers, they hates it like sin. No way but to fetter ’em; got legs,–they’ll use ’em,–no mistake.”
“Well,” said the smith, feeling among his tools, “them plantations down thar, stranger, an’t jest the place a Kentuck nigger wants to go to; they dies thar tol’able fast, don’t they?”
“Wal, yes, tol’able fast, ther dying is; what with the ’climating and one thing and another, they dies so as to keep the market up pretty brisk,” said Haley.
“Wal, now, a feller can’t help thinkin’ it’s a mighty pity to have a nice, quiet, likely feller, as good un as Tom is, go down to be fairly ground up on one of them ar sugar plantations.”
“Wal, he’s got a fa’r chance. I promised to do well by him. I’ll get him in house-servant in some good old family, and then, if he stands the fever and ’climating, he’ll have a berth good as any nigger ought ter ask for.”
“He leaves his wife and chil’en up here, s’pose?”
“Yes; but he’ll get another thar. Lord, thar’s women enough everywhar,” said Haley.
Tom was sitting very mournfully on the outside of the shop while this conversation was going on. Suddenly he heard the quick, short click of a horse’s hoof behind him; and, before he could fairly awake from his surprise, young Master George sprang into the wagon, threw his arms tumultuously round his neck, and was sobbing and scolding with energy.
“I declare, it’s real mean! I don’t care what they say, any of ’em! It’s a nasty, mean shame! If I was a man, they shouldn’t do it,–they should not, _so_!” said George, with a kind of subdued howl.
“O! Mas’r George! this does me good!” said Tom. “I couldn’t bar to go off without seein’ ye! It does me real good, ye can’t tell!” Here Tom made some movement of his feet, and George’s eye fell on the fetters.
“What a shame!” he exclaimed, lifting his hands. “I’ll knock that old fellow down–I will!”
“No you won’t, Mas’r George; and you must not talk so loud. It won’t help me any, to anger him.”
“Well, I won’t, then, for your sake; but only to think of it–isn’t it a shame? They never sent for me, nor sent me any word, and, if it hadn’t been for Tom Lincon, I shouldn’t have heard it. I tell you, I blew ’em up well, all of ’em, at home!”
“That ar wasn’t right, I’m ’feard, Mas’r George.”
“Can’t help it! I say it’s a shame! Look here, Uncle Tom,” said he, turning his back to the shop, and speaking in a mysterious tone, _“I’ve brought you my dollar!”_
“O! I couldn’t think o’ takin’ on ’t, Mas’r George, no ways in the world!” said Tom, quite moved.
“But you _shall_ take it!” said George; “look here–I told Aunt Chloe I’d do it, and she advised me just to make a hole in it, and put a string through, so you could hang it round your neck, and keep it out of sight; else this mean scamp would take it away. I tell ye, Tom, I want to blow him up! it would do me good!”
“No, don’t Mas’r George, for it won’t do _me_ any good.”
“Well, I won’t, for your sake,” said George, busily tying his dollar round Tom’s neck; “but there, now, button your coat tight over it, and keep it, and remember, every time you see it, that I’ll come down after you, and bring you back. Aunt Chloe and I have been talking about it. I told her not to fear; I’ll see to it, and I’ll tease father’s life out, if he don’t do it.”
“O! Mas’r George, ye mustn’t talk so ’bout yer father!”
“Lor, Uncle Tom, I don’t mean anything bad.”
“And now, Mas’r George,” said Tom, “ye must be a good boy; ’member how many hearts is sot on ye. Al’ays keep close to yer mother. Don’t be gettin’ into any of them foolish ways boys has of gettin’ too big to mind their mothers. Tell ye what, Mas’r George, the Lord gives good many things twice over; but he don’t give ye a mother but once. Ye’ll never see sich another woman, Mas’r George, if ye live to be a hundred years old. So, now, you hold on to her, and grow up, and be a comfort to her, thar’s my own good boy,–you will now, won’t ye?”
“Yes, I will, Uncle Tom,” said George seriously.
“And be careful of yer speaking, Mas’r George. Young boys, when they comes to your age, is wilful, sometimes–it is natur they should be. But real gentlemen, such as I hopes you’ll be, never lets fall on words that isn’t ’spectful to thar parents. Ye an’t ’fended, Mas’r George?”
“No, indeed, Uncle Tom; you always did give me good advice.”
“I’s older, ye know,” said Tom, stroking the boy’s fine, curly head with his large, strong hand, but speaking in a voice as tender as a woman’s, “and I sees all that’s bound up in you. O, Mas’r George, you has everything,–l’arnin’, privileges, readin’, writin’,–and you’ll grow up to be a great, learned, good man and all the people on the place and your mother and father’ll be so proud on ye! Be a good Mas’r, like yer father; and be a Christian, like yer mother. ’Member yer Creator in the days o’ yer youth, Mas’r George.”
“I’ll be _real_ good, Uncle Tom, I tell you,” said George. “I’m going to be a _first-rater_; and don’t you be discouraged. I’ll have you back to the place, yet. As I told Aunt Chloe this morning, I’ll build our house all over, and you shall have a room for a parlor with a carpet on it, when I’m a man. O, you’ll have good times yet!”
Haley now came to the door, with the handcuffs in his hands.
“Look here, now, Mister,” said George, with an air of great superiority, as he got out, “I shall let father and mother know how you treat Uncle Tom!”
“You’re welcome,” said the trader.
“I should think you’d be ashamed to spend all your life buying men and women, and chaining them, like cattle! I should think you’d feel mean!” said George.
“So long as your grand folks wants to buy men and women, I’m as good as they is,” said Haley; “‘tan’t any meaner sellin’ on ’em, that ’t is buyin’!”
“I’ll never do either, when I’m a man,” said George; “I’m ashamed, this day, that I’m a Kentuckian. I always was proud of it before;” and George sat very straight on his horse, and looked round with an air, as if he expected the state would be impressed with his opinion.
“Well, good-by, Uncle Tom; keep a stiff upper lip,” said George.
“Good-by, Mas’r George,” said Tom, looking fondly and admiringly at him. “God Almighty bless you! Ah! Kentucky han’t got many like you!” he said, in the fulness of his heart, as the frank, boyish face was lost to his view. Away he went, and Tom looked, till the clatter of his horse’s heels died away, the last sound or sight of his home. But over his heart there seemed to be a warm spot, where those young hands had placed that precious dollar. Tom put up his hand, and held it close to his heart.
“Now, I tell ye what, Tom,” said Haley, as he came up to the wagon, and threw in the handcuffs, “I mean to start fa’r with ye, as I gen’ally do with my niggers; and I’ll tell ye now, to begin with, you treat me fa’r, and I’ll treat you fa’r; I an’t never hard on my niggers. Calculates to do the best for ’em I can. Now, ye see, you’d better jest settle down comfortable, and not be tryin’ no tricks; because nigger’s tricks of all sorts I’m up to, and it’s no use. If niggers is quiet, and don’t try to get off, they has good times with me; and if they don’t, why, it’s thar fault, and not mine.”
Tom assured Haley that he had no present intentions of running off. In fact, the exhortation seemed rather a superfluous one to a man with a great pair of iron fetters on his feet. But Mr. Haley had got in the habit of commencing his relations with his stock with little exhortations of this nature, calculated, as he deemed, to inspire cheerfulness and confidence, and prevent the necessity of any unpleasant scenes.
And here, for the present, we take our leave of Tom, to pursue the fortunes of other characters in our story.
In Which Property Gets into an Improper State of Mind
It was late in a drizzly afternoon that a traveler alighted at the door of a small country hotel, in the village of N—-, in Kentucky. In the barroom he found assembled quite a miscellaneous company, whom stress of weather had driven to harbor, and the place presented the usual scenery of such reunions. Great, tall, raw-boned Kentuckians, attired in hunting-shirts, and trailing their loose joints over a vast extent of territory, with the easy lounge peculiar to the race,–rifles stacked away in the corner, shot-pouches, game-bags, hunting-dogs, and little negroes, all rolled together in the corners,–were the characteristic features in the picture. At each end of the fireplace sat a long-legged gentleman, with his chair tipped back, his hat on his head, and the heels of his muddy boots reposing sublimely on the mantel-piece,–a position, we will inform our readers, decidedly favorable to the turn of reflection incident to western taverns, where travellers exhibit a decided preference for this particular mode of elevating their understandings.
Mine host, who stood behind the bar, like most of his country men, was great of stature, good-natured and loose-jointed, with an enormous shock of hair on his head, and a great tall hat on the top of that.
In fact, everybody in the room bore on his head this characteristic emblem of man’s sovereignty; whether it were felt hat, palm-leaf, greasy beaver, or fine new chapeau, there it reposed with true republican independence. In truth, it appeared to be the characteristic mark of every individual. Some wore them tipped rakishly to one side–these were your men of humor, jolly, free-and-easy dogs; some had them jammed independently down over their noses–these were your hard characters, thorough men, who, when they wore their hats, _wanted_ to wear them, and to wear them just as they had a mind to; there were those who had them set far over back–wide-awake men, who wanted a clear prospect; while careless men, who did not know, or care, how their hats sat, had them shaking about in all directions. The various hats, in fact, were quite a Shakespearean study.
Divers negroes, in very free-and-easy pantaloons, and with no redundancy in the shirt line, were scuttling about, hither and thither, without bringing to pass any very particular results, except expressing a generic willingness to turn over everything in creation generally for the benefit of Mas’r and his guests. Add to this picture a jolly, crackling, rollicking fire, going rejoicingly up a great wide chimney,–the outer door and every window being set wide open, and the calico window-curtain flopping and snapping in a good stiff breeze of damp raw air,–and you have an idea of the jollities of a Kentucky tavern.
Your Kentuckian of the present day is a good illustration of the doctrine of transmitted instincts and peculiarities. His fathers were mighty hunters,–men who lived in the woods, and slept under the free, open heavens, with the stars to hold their candles; and their descendant to this day always acts as if the house were his camp,–wears his hat at all hours, tumbles himself about, and puts his heels on the tops of chairs or mantelpieces, just as his father rolled on the green sward, and put his upon trees and logs,–keeps all the windows and doors open, winter and summer, that he may get air enough for his great lungs,–calls everybody “stranger,” with nonchalant _bonhommie_, and is altogether the frankest, easiest, most jovial creature living.
Into such an assembly of the free and easy our traveller entered. He was a short, thick-set man, carefully dressed, with a round, good-natured countenance, and something rather fussy and particular in his appearance. He was very careful of his valise and umbrella, bringing them in with his own hands, and resisting, pertinaciously, all offers from the various servants to relieve him of them. He looked round the barroom with rather an anxious air, and, retreating with his valuables to the warmest corner, disposed them under his chair, sat down, and looked rather apprehensively up at the worthy whose heels illustrated the end of the mantel-piece, who was spitting from right to left, with a courage and energy rather alarming to gentlemen of weak nerves and particular habits.
“I say, stranger, how are ye?” said the aforesaid gentleman, firing an honorary salute of tobacco-juice in the direction of the new arrival.
“Well, I reckon,” was the reply of the other, as he dodged, with some alarm, the threatening honor.
“Any news?” said the respondent, taking out a strip of tobacco and a large hunting-knife from his pocket.
“Not that I know of,” said the man.
“Chaw?” said the first speaker, handing the old gentleman a bit of his tobacco, with a decidedly brotherly air.
“No, thank ye–it don’t agree with me,” said the little man, edging off.
“Don’t, eh?” said the other, easily, and stowing away the morsel in his own mouth, in order to keep up the supply of tobacco-juice, for the general benefit of society.
The old gentleman uniformly gave a little start whenever his long-sided brother fired in his direction; and this being observed by his companion, he very good-naturedly turned his artillery to another quarter, and proceeded to storm one of the fire-irons with a degree of military talent fully sufficient to take a city.
“What’s that?” said the old gentleman, observing some of the company formed in a group around a large handbill.
“Nigger advertised!” said one of the company, briefly.
Mr. Wilson, for that was the old gentleman’s name, rose up, and, after carefully adjusting his valise and umbrella, proceeded deliberately to take out his spectacles and fix them on his nose; and, this operation being performed, read as follows:
“Ran away from the subscriber, my mulatto boy, George. Said George six feet in height, a very light mulatto, brown curly hair; is very intelligent, speaks handsomely, can read and write, will probably try to pass for a white man, is deeply scarred on his back and shoulders, has been branded in his right hand with the letter H.
“I will give four hundred dollars for him alive, and the same sum for satisfactory proof that he has been _killed.”_
The old gentleman read this advertisement from end to end in a low voice, as if he were studying it.
The long-legged veteran, who had been besieging the fire-iron, as before related, now took down his cumbrous length, and rearing aloft his tall form, walked up to the advertisement and very deliberately spit a full discharge of tobacco-juice on it.
“There’s my mind upon that!” said he, briefly, and sat down again.
“Why, now, stranger, what’s that for?” said mine host.
“I’d do it all the same to the writer of that ar paper, if he was here,” said the long man, coolly resuming his old employment of cutting tobacco. “Any man that owns a boy like that, and can’t find any better way o’ treating on him, _deserves_ to lose him. Such papers as these is a shame to Kentucky; that’s my mind right out, if anybody wants to know!”
“Well, now, that’s a fact,” said mine host, as he made an entry in his book.
“I’ve got a gang of boys, sir,” said the long man, resuming his attack on the fire-irons, “and I jest tells ’em–‘Boys,’ says I,–‘_run_ now! dig! put! jest when ye want to! I never shall come to look after you!’ That’s the way I keep mine. Let ’em know they are free to run any time, and it jest breaks up their wanting to. More ’n all, I’ve got free papers for ’em all recorded, in case I gets keeled up any o’ these times, and they know it; and I tell ye, stranger, there an’t a fellow in our parts gets more out of his niggers than I do. Why, my boys have been to Cincinnati, with five hundred dollars’ worth of colts, and brought me back the money, all straight, time and agin. It stands to reason they should. Treat ’em like dogs, and you’ll have dogs’ works and dogs’ actions. Treat ’em like men, and you’ll have men’s works.” And the honest drover, in his warmth, endorsed this moral sentiment by firing a perfect _feu de joi_ at the fireplace.
“I think you’re altogether right, friend,” said Mr. Wilson; “and this boy described here _is_ a fine fellow–no mistake about that. He worked for me some half-dozen years in my bagging factory, and he was my best hand, sir. He is an ingenious fellow, too: he invented a machine for the cleaning of hemp–a really valuable affair; it’s gone into use in several factories. His master holds the patent of it.”
“I’ll warrant ye,” said the drover, “holds it and makes money out of it, and then turns round and brands the boy in his right hand. If I had a fair chance, I’d mark him, I reckon so that he’d carry it _one_ while.”
“These yer knowin’ boys is allers aggravatin’ and sarcy,” said a coarse-looking fellow, from the other side of the room; “that’s why they gets cut up and marked so. If they behaved themselves, they wouldn’t.”
“That is to say, the Lord made ’em men, and it’s a hard squeeze gettin ’em down into beasts,” said the drover, dryly.
“Bright niggers isn’t no kind of ’vantage to their masters,” continued the other, well entrenched, in a coarse, unconscious obtuseness, from the contempt of his opponent; “what’s the use o’ talents and them things, if you can’t get the use on ’em yourself? Why, all the use they make on ’t is to get round you. I’ve had one or two of these fellers, and I jest sold ’em down river. I knew I’d got to lose ’em, first or last, if I didn’t.”
“Better send orders up to the Lord, to make you a set, and leave out their souls entirely,” said the drover.
Here the conversation was interrupted by the approach of a small one-horse buggy to the inn. It had a genteel appearance, and a well-dressed, gentlemanly man sat on the seat, with a colored servant driving.
The whole party examined the new comer with the interest with which a set of loafers in a rainy day usually examine every newcomer. He was very tall, with a dark, Spanish complexion, fine, expressive black eyes, and close-curling hair, also of a glossy blackness. His well-formed aquiline nose, straight thin lips, and the admirable contour of his finely-formed limbs, impressed the whole company instantly with the idea of something uncommon. He walked easily in among the company, and with a nod indicated to his waiter where to place his trunk, bowed to the company, and, with his hat in his hand, walked up leisurely to the bar, and gave in his name as Henry Butter, Oaklands, Shelby County. Turning, with an indifferent air, he sauntered up to the advertisement, and read it over.
“Jim,” he said to his man, “seems to me we met a boy something like this, up at Beman’s, didn’t we?”
“Yes, Mas’r,” said Jim, “only I an’t sure about the hand.”
“Well, I didn’t look, of course,” said the stranger with a careless yawn. Then walking up to the landlord, he desired him to furnish him with a private apartment, as he had some writing to do immediately.
The landlord was all obsequious, and a relay of about seven negroes, old and young, male and female, little and big, were soon whizzing about, like a covey of partridges, bustling, hurrying, treading on each other’s toes, and tumbling over each other, in their zeal to get Mas’r’s room ready, while he seated himself easily on a chair in the middle of the room, and entered into conversation with the man who sat next to him.
The manufacturer, Mr. Wilson, from the time of the entrance of the stranger, had regarded him with an air of disturbed and uneasy curiosity. He seemed to himself to have met and been acquainted with him somewhere, but he could not recollect. Every few moments, when the man spoke, or moved, or smiled, he would start and fix his eyes on him, and then suddenly withdraw them, as the bright, dark eyes met his with such unconcerned coolness. At last, a sudden recollection seemed to flash upon him, for he stared at the stranger with such an air of blank amazement and alarm, that he walked up to him.
“Mr. Wilson, I think,” said he, in a tone of recognition, and extending his hand. “I beg your pardon, I didn’t recollect you before. I see you remember me,–Mr. Butler, of Oaklands, Shelby County.”
“Ye–yes–yes, sir,” said Mr. Wilson, like one speaking in a dream.
Just then a negro boy entered, and announced that Mas’r’s room was ready.
“Jim, see to the trunks,” said the gentleman, negligently; then addressing himself to Mr. Wilson, he added–“I should like to have a few moments’ conversation with you on business, in my room, if you please.”
Mr. Wilson followed him, as one who walks in his sleep; and they proceeded to a large upper chamber, where a new-made fire was crackling, and various servants flying about, putting finishing touches to the arrangements.
When all was done, and the servants departed, the young man deliberately locked the door, and putting the key in his pocket, faced about, and folding his arms on his bosom, looked Mr. Wilson full in the face.
“George!” said Mr. Wilson.
“Yes, George,” said the young man.
“I couldn’t have thought it!”
“I am pretty well disguised, I fancy,” said the young man, with a smile. “A little walnut bark has made my yellow skin a genteel brown, and I’ve dyed my hair black; so you see I don’t answer to the advertisement at all.”
“O, George! but this is a dangerous game you are playing. I could not have advised you to it.”
“I can do it on my own responsibility,” said George, with the same proud smile.
We remark, _en passant_, that George was, by his father’s side, of white descent. His mother was one of those unfortunates of her race, marked out by personal beauty to be the slave of the passions of her possessor, and the mother of children who may never know a father. From one of the proudest families in Kentucky he had inherited a set of fine European features, and a high, indomitable spirit. From his mother he had received only a slight mulatto tinge, amply compensated by its accompanying rich, dark eye. A slight change in the tint of the skin and the color of his hair had metamorphosed him into the Spanish-looking fellow he then appeared; and as gracefulness of movement and gentlemanly manners had always been perfectly natural to him, he found no difficulty in playing the bold part he had adopted–that of a gentleman travelling with his domestic.
Mr. Wilson, a good-natured but extremely fidgety and cautious old gentleman, ambled up and down the room, appearing, as John Bunyan hath it, “much tumbled up and down in his mind,” and divided between his wish to help George, and a certain confused notion of maintaining law and order: so, as he shambled about, he delivered himself as follows:
“Well, George, I s’pose you’re running away–leaving your lawful master, George–(I don’t wonder at it)–at the same time, I’m sorry, George,–yes, decidedly–I think I must say that, George–it’s my duty to tell you so.”
“Why are you sorry, sir?” said George, calmly.
“Why, to see you, as it were, setting yourself in opposition to the laws of your country.”
“_My_ country!” said George, with a strong and bitter emphasis; “what country have I, but the grave,–and I wish to God that I was laid there!”
“Why, George, no–no–it won’t do; this way of talking is wicked–unscriptural. George, you’ve got a hard master–in fact, he is–well he conducts himself reprehensibly–I can’t pretend to defend him. But you know how the angel commanded Hagar to return to her mistress, and submit herself under the hand;* and the apostle sent back Onesimus to his master.” **
* Gen. 16. The angel bade the pregnant Hagar return to her mistress Sarai, even though Sarai had dealt harshly with her.
** Phil. 1:10. Onesimus went back to his master to become no longer a servant but a “brother beloved.”
“Don’t quote Bible at me that way, Mr. Wilson,” said George, with a flashing eye, “don’t! for my wife is a Christian, and I mean to be, if ever I get to where I can; but to quote Bible to a fellow in my circumstances, is enough to make him give it up altogether. I appeal to God Almighty;–I’m willing to go with the case to Him, and ask Him if I do wrong to seek my freedom.”
“These feelings are quite natural, George,” said the good-natured man, blowing his nose. “Yes, they’re natural, but it is my duty not to encourage ’em in you. Yes, my boy, I’m sorry for you, now; it’s a bad case–very bad; but the apostle says, ‘Let everyone abide in the condition in which he is called.’ We must all submit to the indications of Providence, George,–don’t you see?”
George stood with his head drawn back, his arms folded tightly over his broad breast, and a bitter smile curling his lips.
“I wonder, Mr. Wilson, if the Indians should come and take you a prisoner away from your wife and children, and want to keep you all your life hoeing corn for them, if you’d think it your duty to abide in the condition in which you were called. I rather think that you’d think the first stray horse you could find an indication of Providence–shouldn’t you?”
The little old gentleman stared with both eyes at this illustration of the case; but, though not much of a reasoner, he had the sense in which some logicians on this particular subject do not excel,–that of saying nothing, where nothing could be said. So, as he stood carefully stroking his umbrella, and folding and patting down all the creases in it, he proceeded on with his exhortations in a general way.
“You see, George, you know, now, I always have stood your friend; and whatever I’ve said, I’ve said for your good. Now, here, it seems to me, you’re running an awful risk. You can’t hope to carry it out. If you’re taken, it will be worse with you than ever; they’ll only abuse you, and half kill you, and sell you down the river.”
“Mr. Wilson, I know all this,” said George. “I _do_ run a risk, but–” he threw open his overcoat, and showed two pistols and a bowie-knife. “There!” he said, “I’m ready for ’em! Down south I never _will_ go. No! if it comes to that, I can earn myself at least six feet of free soil,–the first and last I shall ever own in Kentucky!”
“Why, George, this state of mind is awful; it’s getting really desperate George. I’m concerned. Going to break the laws of your country!”
“My country again! Mr. Wilson, _you_ have a country; but what country have _I_, or any one like me, born of slave mothers? What laws are there for us? We don’t make them,–we don’t consent to them,–we have nothing to do with them; all they do for us is to crush us, and keep us down. Haven’t I heard your Fourth-of-July speeches? Don’t you tell us all, once a year, that governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed? Can’t a fellow _think_, that hears such things? Can’t he put this and that together, and see what it comes to?”
Mr. Wilson’s mind was one of those that may not unaptly be represented by a bale of cotton,–downy, soft, benevolently fuzzy and confused. He really pitied George with all his heart, and had a sort of dim and cloudy perception of the style of feeling that agitated him; but he deemed it his duty to go on talking _good_ to him, with infinite pertinacity.
“George, this is bad. I must tell you, you know, as a friend, you’d better not be meddling with such notions; they are bad, George, very bad, for boys in your condition,–very;” and Mr. Wilson sat down to a table, and began nervously chewing the handle of his umbrella.
“See here, now, Mr. Wilson,” said George, coming up and sitting himself determinately down in front of him; “look at me, now. Don’t I sit before you, every way, just as much a man as you are? Look at my face,–look at my hands,–look at my body,” and the young man drew himself up proudly; “why am I _not_ a man, as much as anybody? Well, Mr. Wilson, hear what I can tell you. I had a father–one of your Kentucky gentlemen–who didn’t think enough of me to keep me from being sold with his dogs and horses, to satisfy the estate, when he died. I saw my mother put up at sheriff’s sale, with her seven children. They were sold before her eyes, one by one, all to different masters; and I was the youngest. She came and kneeled down before old Mas’r, and begged him to buy her with me, that she might have at least one child with her; and he kicked her away with his heavy boot. I saw him do it; and the last that I heard was her moans and screams, when I was tied to his horse’s neck, to be carried off to his place.”
“My master traded with one of the men, and bought my oldest sister. She was a pious, good girl,–a member of the Baptist church,–and as handsome as my poor mother had been. She was well brought up, and had good manners. At first, I was glad she was bought, for I had one friend near me. I was soon sorry for it. Sir, I have stood at the door and heard her whipped, when it seemed as if every blow cut into my naked heart, and I couldn’t do anything to help her; and she was whipped, sir, for wanting to live a decent Christian life, such as your laws give no slave girl a right to live; and at last I saw her chained with a trader’s gang, to be sent to market in Orleans,–sent there for nothing else but that,–and that’s the last I know of her. Well, I grew up,–long years and years,–no father, no mother, no sister, not a living soul that cared for me more than a dog; nothing but whipping, scolding, starving. Why, sir, I’ve been so hungry that I have been glad to take the bones they threw to their dogs; and yet, when I was a little fellow, and laid awake whole nights and cried, it wasn’t the hunger, it wasn’t the whipping, I cried for. No, sir, it was for _my mother_ and _my sisters_,–it was because I hadn’t a friend to love me on earth. I never knew what peace or comfort was. I never had a kind word spoken to me till I came to work in your factory. Mr. Wilson, you treated me well; you encouraged me to do well, and to learn to read and write, and to try to make something of myself; and God knows how grateful I am for it. Then, sir, I found my wife; you’ve seen her,–you know how beautiful she is. When I found she loved me, when I married her, I scarcely could believe I was alive, I was so happy; and, sir, she is as good as she is beautiful. But now what? Why, now comes my master, takes me right away from my work, and my friends, and all I like, and grinds me down into the very dirt! And why? Because, he says, I forgot who I was; he says, to teach me that I am only a nigger! After all, and last of all, he comes between me and my wife, and says I shall give her up, and live with another woman. And all this your laws give him power to do, in spite of God or man. Mr. Wilson, look at it! There isn’t _one_ of all these things, that have broken the hearts of my mother and my sister, and my wife and myself, but your laws allow, and give every man power to do, in Kentucky, and none can say to him nay! Do you call these the laws of _my_ country? Sir, I haven’t any country, anymore than I have any father. But I’m going to have one. I don’t want anything of _your_ country, except to be let alone,–to go peaceably out of it; and when I get to Canada, where the laws will own me and protect me, _that_ shall be my country, and its laws I will obey. But if any man tries to stop me, let him take care, for I am desperate. I’ll fight for my liberty to the last breath I breathe. You say your fathers did it; if it was right for them, it is right for me!”
This speech, delivered partly while sitting at the table, and partly walking up and down the room,–delivered with tears, and flashing eyes, and despairing gestures,–was altogether too much for the good-natured old body to whom it was addressed, who had pulled out a great yellow silk pocket-handkerchief, and was mopping up his face with great energy.
“Blast ’em all!” he suddenly broke out. “Haven’t I always said so–the infernal old cusses! I hope I an’t swearing, now. Well! go ahead, George, go ahead; but be careful, my boy; don’t shoot anybody, George, unless–well–you’d _better_ not shoot, I reckon; at least, I wouldn’t _hit_ anybody, you know. Where is your wife, George?” he added, as he nervously rose, and began walking the room.
“Gone, sir gone, with her child in her arms, the Lord only knows where;–gone after the north star; and when we ever meet, or whether we meet at all in this world, no creature can tell.”
“Is it possible! astonishing! from such a kind family?”
“Kind families get in debt, and the laws of _our_ country allow them to sell the child out of its mother’s bosom to pay its master’s debts,” said George, bitterly.
“Well, well,” said the honest old man, fumbling in his pocket: “I s’pose, perhaps, I an’t following my judgment,–hang it, I _won’t_ follow my judgment!” he added, suddenly; “so here, George,” and, taking out a roll of bills from his pocket-book, he offered them to George.
“No, my kind, good sir!” said George, “you’ve done a great deal for me, and this might get you into trouble. I have money enough, I hope, to take me as far as I need it.”
“No; but you must, George. Money is a great help everywhere;–can’t have too much, if you get it honestly. Take it,–_do_ take it, _now_,–do, my boy!”
“On condition, sir, that I may repay it at some future time, I will,” said George, taking up the money.
“And now, George, how long are you going to travel in this way?–not long or far, I hope. It’s well carried on, but too bold. And this black fellow,–who is he?”
“A true fellow, who went to Canada more than a year ago. He heard, after he got there, that his master was so angry at him for going off that he had whipped his poor old mother; and he has come all the way back to comfort her, and get a chance to get her away.”
“Has he got her?”
“Not yet; he has been hanging about the place, and found no chance yet. Meanwhile, he is going with me as far as Ohio, to put me among friends that helped him, and then he will come back after her.
“Dangerous, very dangerous!” said the old man.
George drew himself up, and smiled disdainfully.
The old gentleman eyed him from head to foot, with a sort of innocent wonder.
“George, something has brought you out wonderfully. You hold up your head, and speak and move like another man,” said Mr. Wilson.
“Because I’m a _freeman_!” said George, proudly. “Yes, sir; I’ve said Mas’r for the last time to any man. _I’m free!”_
“Take care! You are not sure,–you may be taken.”
“All men are free and equal _in the grave_, if it comes to that, Mr. Wilson,” said George.
“I’m perfectly dumb-founded with your boldness!” said Mr. Wilson,–“to come right here to the nearest tavern!”
“Mr. Wilson, it is _so_ bold, and this tavern is so near, that they will never think of it; they will look for me on ahead, and you yourself wouldn’t know me. Jim’s master don’t live in this county; he isn’t known in these parts. Besides, he is given up; nobody is looking after him, and nobody will take me up from the advertisement, I think.”
“But the mark in your hand?”
George drew off his glove, and showed a newly-healed scar in his hand.
“That is a parting proof of Mr. Harris’ regard,” he said, scornfully. “A fortnight ago, he took it into his head to give it to me, because he said he believed I should try to get away one of these days. Looks interesting, doesn’t it?” he said, drawing his glove on again.
“I declare, my very blood runs cold when I think of it,–your condition and your risks!” said Mr. Wilson.
“Mine has run cold a good many years, Mr. Wilson; at present, it’s about up to the boiling point,” said George.
“Well, my good sir,” continued George, after a few moments’ silence, “I saw you knew me; I thought I’d just have this talk with you, lest your surprised looks should bring me out. I leave early tomorrow morning, before daylight; by tomorrow night I hope to sleep safe in Ohio. I shall travel by daylight, stop at the best hotels, go to the dinner-tables with the lords of the land. So, good-by, sir; if you hear that I’m taken, you may know that I’m dead!”
George stood up like a rock, and put out his hand with the air of a prince. The friendly little old man shook it heartily, and after a little shower of caution, he took his umbrella, and fumbled his way out of the room.
George stood thoughtfully looking at the door, as the old man closed it. A thought seemed to flash across his mind. He hastily stepped to it, and opening it, said,
“Mr. Wilson, one word more.”
The old gentleman entered again, and George, as before, locked the door, and then stood for a few moments looking on the floor, irresolutely. At last, raising his head with a sudden effort–“Mr. Wilson, you have shown yourself a Christian in your treatment of me,–I want to ask one last deed of Christian kindness of you.”
“Well, sir,–what you said was true. I _am_ running a dreadful risk. There isn’t, on earth, a living soul to care if I die,” he added, drawing his breath hard, and speaking with a great effort,–“I shall be kicked out and buried like a dog, and nobody’ll think of it a day after,–_only my poor wife!_ Poor soul! she’ll mourn and grieve; and if you’d only contrive, Mr. Wilson, to send this little pin to her. She gave it to me for a Christmas present, poor child! Give it to her, and tell her I loved her to the last. Will you? _Will_ you?” he added, earnestly.
“Yes, certainly–poor fellow!” said the old gentleman, taking the pin, with watery eyes, and a melancholy quiver in his voice.
“Tell her one thing,” said George; “it’s my last wish, if she _can_ get to Canada, to go there. No matter how kind her mistress is,–no matter how much she loves her home; beg her not to go back,–for slavery always ends in misery. Tell her to bring up our boy a free man, and then he won’t suffer as I have. Tell her this, Mr. Wilson, will you?”
“Yes, George. I’ll tell her; but I trust you won’t die; take heart,–you’re a brave fellow. Trust in the Lord, George. I wish in my heart you were safe through, though,–that’s what I do.”
“_Is_ there a God to trust in?” said George, in such a tone of bitter despair as arrested the old gentleman’s words. “O, I’ve seen things all my life that have made me feel that there can’t be a God. You Christians don’t know how these things look to us. There’s a God for you, but is there any for us?”
“O, now, don’t–don’t, my boy!” said the old man, almost sobbing as he spoke; “don’t feel so! There is–there is; clouds and darkness are around about him, but righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. There’s a _God_, George,–believe it; trust in Him, and I’m sure He’ll help you. Everything will be set right,–if not in this life, in another.”
The real piety and benevolence of the simple old man invested him with a temporary dignity and authority, as he spoke. George stopped his distracted walk up and down the room, stood thoughtfully a moment, and then said, quietly,
“Thank you for saying that, my good friend; I’ll _think of that_.”
Select Incident of Lawful Trade
“In Ramah there was a voice heard,–weeping, and lamentation, and great mourning; Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted.” *
* Jer. 31:15.
Mr. Haley and Tom jogged onward in their wagon, each, for a time, absorbed in his own reflections. Now, the reflections of two men sitting side by side are a curious thing,–seated on the same seat, having the same eyes, ears, hands and organs of all sorts, and having pass before their eyes the same objects,–it is wonderful what a variety we shall find in these same reflections!
As, for example, Mr. Haley: he thought first of Tom’s length, and breadth, and height, and what he would sell for, if he was kept fat and in good case till he got him into market. He thought of how he should make out his gang; he thought of the respective market value of certain supposititious men and women and children who were to compose it, and other kindred topics of the business; then he thought of himself, and how humane he was, that whereas other men chained their “niggers” hand and foot both, he only put fetters on the feet, and left Tom the use of his hands, as long as he behaved well; and he sighed to think how ungrateful human nature was, so that there was even room to doubt whether Tom appreciated his mercies. He had been taken in so by “niggers” whom he had favored; but still he was astonished to consider how good-natured he yet remained!
As to Tom, he was thinking over some words of an unfashionable old book, which kept running through his head, again and again, as follows: “We have here no continuing city, but we seek one to come; wherefore God himself is not ashamed to be called our God; for he hath prepared for us a city.” These words of an ancient volume, got up principally by “ignorant and unlearned men,” have, through all time, kept up, somehow, a strange sort of power over the minds of poor, simple fellows, like Tom. They stir up the soul from its depths, and rouse, as with trumpet call, courage, energy, and enthusiasm, where before was only the blackness of despair.
Mr. Haley pulled out of his pocket sundry newspapers, and began looking over their advertisements, with absorbed interest. He was not a remarkably fluent reader, and was in the habit of reading in a sort of recitative half-aloud, by way of calling in his ears to verify the deductions of his eyes. In this tone he slowly recited the following paragraph:
“EXECUTOR’S SALE,–NEGROES!–Agreeably to order of court, will be sold, on Tuesday, February 20, before the Court-house door, in the town of Washington, Kentucky, the following negroes: Hagar, aged 60; John, aged 30; Ben, aged 21; Saul, aged 25; Albert, aged 14. Sold for the benefit of the creditors and heirs of the estate of Jesse Blutchford,
“SAMUEL MORRIS, THOMAS FLINT, _Executors_.”
“This yer I must look at,” said he to Tom, for want of somebody else to talk to.
“Ye see, I’m going to get up a prime gang to take down with ye, Tom; it’ll make it sociable and pleasant like,–good company will, ye know. We must drive right to Washington first and foremost, and then I’ll clap you into jail, while I does the business.”
Tom received this agreeable intelligence quite meekly; simply wondering, in his own heart, how many of these doomed men had wives and children, and whether they would feel as he did about leaving them. It is to be confessed, too, that the naive, off-hand information that he was to be thrown into jail by no means produced an agreeable impression on a poor fellow who had always prided himself on a strictly honest and upright course of life. Yes, Tom, we must confess it, was rather proud of his honesty, poor fellow,–not having very much else to be proud of;–if he had belonged to some of the higher walks of society, he, perhaps, would never have been reduced to such straits. However, the day wore on, and the evening saw Haley and Tom comfortably accommodated in Washington,–the one in a tavern, and the other in a jail.
About eleven o’clock the next day, a mixed throng was gathered around the court-house steps,–smoking, chewing, spitting, swearing, and conversing, according to their respective tastes and turns,–waiting for the auction to commence. The men and women to be sold sat in a group apart, talking in a low tone to each other. The woman who had been advertised by the name of Hagar was a regular African in feature and figure. She might have been sixty, but was older than that by hard work and disease, was partially blind, and somewhat crippled with rheumatism. By her side stood her only remaining son, Albert, a bright-looking little fellow of fourteen years. The boy was the only survivor of a large family, who had been successively sold away from her to a southern market. The mother held on to him with both her shaking hands, and eyed with intense trepidation every one who walked up to examine him.
“Don’t be feard, Aunt Hagar,” said the oldest of the men, “I spoke to Mas’r Thomas ’bout it, and he thought he might manage to sell you in a lot both together.”
“Dey needn’t call me worn out yet,” said she, lifting her shaking hands. “I can cook yet, and scrub, and scour,–I’m wuth a buying, if I do come cheap;–tell em dat ar,–you _tell_ em,” she added, earnestly.
Haley here forced his way into the group, walked up to the old man, pulled his mouth open and looked in, felt of his teeth, made him stand and straighten himself, bend his back, and perform various evolutions to show his muscles; and then passed on to the next, and put him through the same trial. Walking up last to the boy, he felt of his arms, straightened his hands, and looked at his fingers, and made him jump, to show his agility.
“He an’t gwine to be sold widout me!” said the old woman, with passionate eagerness; “he and I goes in a lot together; I ’s rail strong yet, Mas’r and can do heaps o’ work,–heaps on it, Mas’r.”
“On plantation?” said Haley, with a contemptuous glance. “Likely story!” and, as if satisfied with his examination, he walked out and looked, and stood with his hands in his pocket, his cigar in his mouth, and his hat cocked on one side, ready for action.
“What think of ’em?” said a man who had been following Haley’s examination, as if to make up his own mind from it.
“Wal,” said Haley, spitting, “I shall put in, I think, for the youngerly ones and the boy.”
“They want to sell the boy and the old woman together,” said the man.
“Find it a tight pull;–why, she’s an old rack o’ bones,–not worth her salt.”
“You wouldn’t then?” said the man.
“Anybody ’d be a fool ’t would. She’s half blind, crooked with rheumatis, and foolish to boot.”
“Some buys up these yer old critturs, and ses there’s a sight more wear in ’em than a body ’d think,” said the man, reflectively.
“No go, ’t all,” said Haley; “wouldn’t take her for a present,–fact,–I’ve _seen_, now.”
“Wal, ’t is kinder pity, now, not to buy her with her son,–her heart seems so sot on him,–s’pose they fling her in cheap.”
“Them that’s got money to spend that ar way, it’s all well enough. I shall bid off on that ar boy for a plantation-hand;–wouldn’t be bothered with her, no way, not if they’d give her to me,” said Haley.
“She’ll take on desp’t,” said the man.
“Nat’lly, she will,” said the trader, coolly.
The conversation was here interrupted by a busy hum in the audience; and the auctioneer, a short, bustling, important fellow, elbowed his way into the crowd. The old woman drew in her breath, and caught instinctively at her son.
“Keep close to yer mammy, Albert,–close,–dey’ll put us up togedder,” she said.
“O, mammy, I’m feard they won’t,” said the boy.
“Dey must, child; I can’t live, no ways, if they don’t” said the old creature, vehemently.
The stentorian tones of the auctioneer, calling out to clear the way, now announced that the sale was about to commence. A place was cleared, and the bidding began. The different men on the list were soon knocked off at prices which showed a pretty brisk demand in the market; two of them fell to Haley.
“Come, now, young un,” said the auctioneer, giving the boy a touch with his hammer, “be up and show your springs, now.”
“Put us two up togedder, togedder,–do please, Mas’r,” said the old woman, holding fast to her boy.
“Be off,” said the man, gruffly, pushing her hands away; “you come last. Now, darkey, spring;” and, with the word, he pushed the boy toward the block, while a deep, heavy groan rose behind him. The boy paused, and looked back; but there was no time to stay, and, dashing the tears from his large, bright eyes, he was up in a moment.
His fine figure, alert limbs, and bright face, raised an instant competition, and half a dozen bids simultaneously met the ear of the auctioneer. Anxious, half-frightened, he looked from side to side, as he heard the clatter of contending bids,–now here, now there,–till the hammer fell. Haley had got him. He was pushed from the block toward his new master, but stopped one moment, and looked back, when his poor old mother, trembling in every limb, held out her shaking hands toward him.
“Buy me too, Mas’r, for de dear Lord’s sake!–buy me,–I shall die if you don’t!”
“You’ll die if I do, that’s the kink of it,” said Haley,–“no!” And he turned on his heel.
The bidding for the poor old creature was summary. The man who had addressed Haley, and who seemed not destitute of compassion, bought her for a trifle, and the spectators began to disperse.
The poor victims of the sale, who had been brought up in one place together for years, gathered round the despairing old mother, whose agony was pitiful to see.
“Couldn’t dey leave me one? Mas’r allers said I should have one,–he did,” she repeated over and over, in heart-broken tones.
“Trust in the Lord, Aunt Hagar,” said the oldest of the men, sorrowfully.
“What good will it do?” said she, sobbing passionately.
“Mother, mother,–don’t! don’t!” said the boy. “They say you ’s got a good master.”
“I don’t care,–I don’t care. O, Albert! oh, my boy! you ’s my last baby. Lord, how ken I?”
“Come, take her off, can’t some of ye?” said Haley, dryly; “don’t do no good for her to go on that ar way.”
The old men of the company, partly by persuasion and partly by force, loosed the poor creature’s last despairing hold, and, as they led her off to her new master’s wagon, strove to comfort her.
“Now!” said Haley, pushing his three purchases together, and producing a bundle of handcuffs, which he proceeded to put on their wrists; and fastening each handcuff to a long chain, he drove them before him to the jail.
A few days saw Haley, with his possessions, safely deposited on one of the Ohio boats. It was the commencement of his gang, to be augmented, as the boat moved on, by various other merchandise of the same kind, which he, or his agent, had stored for him in various points along shore.
The La Belle Riviere, as brave and beautiful a boat as ever walked the waters of her namesake river, was floating gayly down the stream, under a brilliant sky, the stripes and stars of free America waving and fluttering over head; the guards crowded with well-dressed ladies and gentlemen walking and enjoying the delightful day. All was full of life, buoyant and rejoicing;–all but Haley’s gang, who were stored, with other freight, on the lower deck, and who, somehow, did not seem to appreciate their various privileges, as they sat in a knot, talking to each other in low tones.
“Boys,” said Haley, coming up, briskly, “I hope you keep up good heart, and are cheerful. Now, no sulks, ye see; keep stiff upper lip, boys; do well by me, and I’ll do well by you.”
The boys addressed responded the invariable “Yes, Mas’r,” for ages the watchword of poor Africa; but it’s to be owned they did not look particularly cheerful; they had their various little prejudices in favor of wives, mothers, sisters, and children, seen for the last time,–and though “they that wasted them required of them mirth,” it was not instantly forthcoming.
“I’ve got a wife,” spoke out the article enumerated as “John, aged thirty,” and he laid his chained hand on Tom’s knee,–“and she don’t know a word about this, poor girl!”
“Where does she live?” said Tom.
“In a tavern a piece down here,” said John; “I wish, now, I _could_ see her once more in this world,” he added.
Poor John! It _was_ rather natural; and the tears that fell, as he spoke, came as naturally as if he had been a white man. Tom drew a long breath from a sore heart, and tried, in his poor way, to comfort him.
And over head, in the cabin, sat fathers and mothers, husbands and wives; and merry, dancing children moved round among them, like so many little butterflies, and everything was going on quite easy and comfortable.
“O, mamma,” said a boy, who had just come up from below, “there’s a negro trader on board, and he’s brought four or five slaves down there.”
“Poor creatures!” said the mother, in a tone between grief and indignation.
“What’s that?” said another lady.
“Some poor slaves below,” said the mother.
“And they’ve got chains on,” said the boy.
“What a shame to our country that such sights are to be seen!” said another lady.
“O, there’s a great deal to be said on both sides of the subject,” said a genteel woman, who sat at her state-room door sewing, while her little girl and boy were playing round her. “I’ve been south, and I must say I think the negroes are better off than they would be to be free.”
“In some respects, some of them are well off, I grant,” said the lady to whose remark she had answered. “The most dreadful part of slavery, to my mind, is its outrages on the feelings and affections,–the separating of families, for example.”
“That _is_ a bad thing, certainly,” said the other lady, holding up a baby’s dress she had just completed, and looking intently on its trimmings; “but then, I fancy, it don’t occur often.”
“O, it does,” said the first lady, eagerly; “I’ve lived many years in Kentucky and Virginia both, and I’ve seen enough to make any one’s heart sick. Suppose, ma’am, your two children, there, should be taken from you, and sold?”
“We can’t reason from our feelings to those of this class of persons,” said the other lady, sorting out some worsteds on her lap.
“Indeed, ma’am, you can know nothing of them, if you say so,” answered the first lady, warmly. “I was born and brought up among them. I know they _do_ feel, just as keenly,–even more so, perhaps,–as we do.”
The lady said “Indeed!” yawned, and looked out the cabin window, and finally repeated, for a finale, the remark with which she had begun,–“After all, I think they are better off than they would be to be free.”
“It’s undoubtedly the intention of Providence that the African race should be servants,–kept in a low condition,” said a grave-looking gentleman in black, a clergyman, seated by the cabin door. “‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be,’ the scripture says.” *
* Gen. 9:25. This is what Noah says when he wakes out of drunkenness and realizes that his youngest son, Ham, father of Canaan, has seen him naked.
“I say, stranger, is that ar what that text means?” said a tall man, standing by.
“Undoubtedly. It pleased Providence, for some inscrutable reason, to doom the race to bondage, ages ago; and we must not set up our opinion against that.”
“Well, then, we’ll all go ahead and buy up niggers,” said the man, “if that’s the way of Providence,–won’t we, Squire?” said he, turning to Haley, who had been standing, with his hands in his pockets, by the stove and intently listening to the conversation.
“Yes,” continued the tall man, “we must all be resigned to the decrees of Providence. Niggers must be sold, and trucked round, and kept under; it’s what they’s made for. ’Pears like this yer view ’s quite refreshing, an’t it, stranger?” said he to Haley.
“I never thought on ’t,” said Haley, “I couldn’t have said as much, myself; I ha’nt no larning. I took up the trade just to make a living; if ’tan’t right, I calculated to ’pent on ’t in time, ye know.”
“And now you’ll save yerself the trouble, won’t ye?” said the tall man. “See what ’t is, now, to know scripture. If ye’d only studied yer Bible, like this yer good man, ye might have know’d it before, and saved ye a heap o’ trouble. Ye could jist have said, ’Cussed be’–what’s his name?–‘and ’t would all have come right.’” And the stranger, who was no other than the honest drover whom we introduced to our readers in the Kentucky tavern, sat down, and began smoking, with a curious smile on his long, dry face.
A tall, slender young man, with a face expressive of great feeling and intelligence, here broke in, and repeated the words, “‘All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.’ I suppose,” he added, “_that_ is scripture, as much as ‘Cursed be Canaan.’”
“Wal, it seems quite _as_ plain a text, stranger,” said John the drover, “to poor fellows like us, now;” and John smoked on like a volcano.
The young man paused, looked as if he was going to say more, when suddenly the boat stopped, and the company made the usual steamboat rush, to see where they were landing.
“Both them ar chaps parsons?” said John to one of the men, as they were going out.
The man nodded.
As the boat stopped, a black woman came running wildly up the plank, darted into the crowd, flew up to where the slave gang sat, and threw her arms round that unfortunate piece of merchandise before enumerate–“John, aged thirty,” and with sobs and tears bemoaned him as her husband.
But what needs tell the story, told too oft,–every day told,–of heart-strings rent and broken,–the weak broken and torn for the profit and convenience of the strong! It needs not to be told;–every day is telling it,–telling it, too, in the ear of One who is not deaf, though he be long silent.
The young man who had spoken for the cause of humanity and God before stood with folded arms, looking on this scene. He turned, and Haley was standing at his side. “My friend,” he said, speaking with thick utterance, “how can you, how dare you, carry on a trade like this? Look at those poor creatures! Here I am, rejoicing in my heart that I am going home to my wife and child; and the same bell which is a signal to carry me onward towards them will part this poor man and his wife forever. Depend upon it, God will bring you into judgment for this.”
The trader turned away in silence.
“I say, now,” said the drover, touching his elbow, “there’s differences in parsons, an’t there? ’Cussed be Canaan’ don’t seem to go down with this ’un, does it?”
Haley gave an uneasy growl.
“And that ar an’t the worst on ’t,” said John; “mabbee it won’t go down with the Lord, neither, when ye come to settle with Him, one o’ these days, as all on us must, I reckon.”
Haley walked reflectively to the other end of the boat.
“If I make pretty handsomely on one or two next gangs,” he thought, “I reckon I’ll stop off this yer; it’s really getting dangerous.” And he took out his pocket-book, and began adding over his accounts,–a process which many gentlemen besides Mr. Haley have found a specific for an uneasy conscience.
The boat swept proudly away from the shore, and all went on merrily, as before. Men talked, and loafed, and read, and smoked. Women sewed, and children played, and the boat passed on her way.
One day, when she lay to for a while at a small town in Kentucky, Haley went up into the place on a little matter of business.
Tom, whose fetters did not prevent his taking a moderate circuit, had drawn near the side of the boat, and stood listlessly gazing over the railing. After a time, he saw the trader returning, with an alert step, in company with a colored woman, bearing in her arms a young child. She was dressed quite respectably, and a colored man followed her, bringing along a small trunk. The woman came cheerfully onward, talking, as she came, with the man who bore her trunk, and so passed up the plank into the boat. The bell rung, the steamer whizzed, the engine groaned and coughed, and away swept the boat down the river.
The woman walked forward among the boxes and bales of the lower deck, and, sitting down, busied herself with chirruping to her baby.
Haley made a turn or two about the boat, and then, coming up, seated himself near her, and began saying something to her in an indifferent undertone.
Tom soon noticed a heavy cloud passing over the woman’s brow; and that she answered rapidly, and with great vehemence.
“I don’t believe it,–I won’t believe it!” he heard her say. “You’re jist a foolin’ with me.”
“If you won’t believe it, look here!” said the man, drawing out a paper; “this yer’s the bill of sale, and there’s your master’s name to it; and I paid down good solid cash for it, too, I can tell you,–so, now!”
“I don’t believe Mas’r would cheat me so; it can’t be true!” said the woman, with increasing agitation.
“You can ask any of these men here, that can read writing. Here!” he said, to a man that was passing by, “jist read this yer, won’t you! This yer gal won’t believe me, when I tell her what ’t is.”
“Why, it’s a bill of sale, signed by John Fosdick,” said the man, “making over to you the girl Lucy and her child. It’s all straight enough, for aught I see.”
The woman’s passionate exclamations collected a crowd around her, and the trader briefly explained to them the cause of the agitation.
“He told me that I was going down to Louisville, to hire out as cook to the same tavern where my husband works,–that’s what Mas’r told me, his own self; and I can’t believe he’d lie to me,” said the woman.
“But he has sold you, my poor woman, there’s no doubt about it,” said a good-natured looking man, who had been examining the papers; “he has done it, and no mistake.”
“Then it’s no account talking,” said the woman, suddenly growing quite calm; and, clasping her child tighter in her arms, she sat down on her box, turned her back round, and gazed listlessly into the river.
“Going to take it easy, after all!” said the trader. “Gal’s got grit, I see.”
The woman looked calm, as the boat went on; and a beautiful soft summer breeze passed like a compassionate spirit over her head,–the gentle breeze, that never inquires whether the brow is dusky or fair that it fans. And she saw sunshine sparkling on the water, in golden ripples, and heard gay voices, full of ease and pleasure, talking around her everywhere; but her heart lay as if a great stone had fallen on it. Her baby raised himself up against her, and stroked her cheeks with his little hands; and, springing up and down, crowing and chatting, seemed determined to arouse her. She strained him suddenly and tightly in her arms, and slowly one tear after another fell on his wondering, unconscious face; and gradually she seemed, and little by little, to grow calmer, and busied herself with tending and nursing him.
The child, a boy of ten months, was uncommonly large and strong of his age, and very vigorous in his limbs. Never, for a moment, still, he kept his mother constantly busy in holding him, and guarding his springing activity.
“That’s a fine chap!” said a man, suddenly stopping opposite to him, with his hands in his pockets. “How old is he?”
“Ten months and a half,” said the mother.
The man whistled to the boy, and offered him part of a stick of candy, which he eagerly grabbed at, and very soon had it in a baby’s general depository, to wit, his mouth.
“Rum fellow!” said the man “Knows what’s what!” and he whistled, and walked on. When he had got to the other side of the boat, he came across Haley, who was smoking on top of a pile of boxes.
The stranger produced a match, and lighted a cigar, saying, as he did so,
“Decentish kind o’ wench you’ve got round there, stranger.”
“Why, I reckon she _is_ tol’able fair,” said Haley, blowing the smoke out of his mouth.
“Taking her down south?” said the man.
Haley nodded, and smoked on.
“Plantation hand?” said the man.
“Wal,” said Haley, “I’m fillin’ out an order for a plantation, and I think I shall put her in. They telled me she was a good cook; and they can use her for that, or set her at the cotton-picking. She’s got the right fingers for that; I looked at ’em. Sell well, either way;” and Haley resumed his cigar.
“They won’t want the young ’un on the plantation,” said the man.
“I shall sell him, first chance I find,” said Haley, lighting another cigar.
“S’pose you’d be selling him tol’able cheap,” said the stranger, mounting the pile of boxes, and sitting down comfortably.
“Don’t know ’bout that,” said Haley; “he’s a pretty smart young ’un, straight, fat, strong; flesh as hard as a brick!”
“Very true, but then there’s the bother and expense of raisin’.”
“Nonsense!” said Haley; “they is raised as easy as any kind of critter there is going; they an’t a bit more trouble than pups. This yer chap will be running all around, in a month.”
“I’ve got a good place for raisin’, and I thought of takin’ in a little more stock,” said the man. “One cook lost a young ’un last week,–got drownded in a washtub, while she was a hangin’ out the clothes,–and I reckon it would be well enough to set her to raisin’ this yer.”
Haley and the stranger smoked a while in silence, neither seeming willing to broach the test question of the interview. At last the man resumed:
“You wouldn’t think of wantin’ more than ten dollars for that ar chap, seeing you _must_ get him off yer hand, any how?”
Haley shook his head, and spit impressively.
“That won’t do, no ways,” he said, and began his smoking again.
“Well, stranger, what will you take?”
“Well, now,” said Haley, “I _could_ raise that ar chap myself, or get him raised; he’s oncommon likely and healthy, and he’d fetch a hundred dollars, six months hence; and, in a year or two, he’d bring two hundred, if I had him in the right spot; I shan’t take a cent less nor fifty for him now.”
“O, stranger! that’s rediculous, altogether,” said the man.
“Fact!” said Haley, with a decisive nod of his head.
“I’ll give thirty for him,” said the stranger, “but not a cent more.”
“Now, I’ll tell ye what I will do,” said Haley, spitting again, with renewed decision. “I’ll split the difference, and say forty-five; and that’s the most I will do.”
“Well, agreed!” said the man, after an interval.
“Done!” said Haley. “Where do you land?”
“At Louisville,” said the man.
“Louisville,” said Haley. “Very fair, we get there about dusk. Chap will be asleep,–all fair,–get him off quietly, and no screaming,–happens beautiful,–I like to do everything quietly,–I hates all kind of agitation and fluster.” And so, after a transfer of certain bills had passed from the man’s pocket-book to the trader’s, he resumed his cigar.
It was a bright, tranquil evening when the boat stopped at the wharf at Louisville. The woman had been sitting with her baby in her arms, now wrapped in a heavy sleep. When she heard the name of the place called out, she hastily laid the child down in a little cradle formed by the hollow among the boxes, first carefully spreading under it her cloak; and then she sprung to the side of the boat, in hopes that, among the various hotel-waiters who thronged the wharf, she might see her husband. In this hope, she pressed forward to the front rails, and, stretching far over them, strained her eyes intently on the moving heads on the shore, and the crowd pressed in between her and the child.
“Now’s your time,” said Haley, taking the sleeping child up, and handing him to the stranger. “Don’t wake him up, and set him to crying, now; it would make a devil of a fuss with the gal.” The man took the bundle carefully, and was soon lost in the crowd that went up the wharf.
When the boat, creaking, and groaning, and puffing, had loosed from the wharf, and was beginning slowly to strain herself along, the woman returned to her old seat. The trader was sitting there,–the child was gone!
“Why, why,–where?” she began, in bewildered surprise.
“Lucy,” said the trader, “your child’s gone; you may as well know it first as last. You see, I know’d you couldn’t take him down south; and I got a chance to sell him to a first-rate family, that’ll raise him better than you can.”
The trader had arrived at that stage of Christian and political perfection which has been recommended by some preachers and politicians of the north, lately, in which he had completely overcome every humane weakness and prejudice. His heart was exactly where yours, sir, and mine could be brought, with proper effort and cultivation. The wild look of anguish and utter despair that the woman cast on him might have disturbed one less practised; but he was used to it. He had seen that same look hundreds of times. You can get used to such things, too, my friend; and it is the great object of recent efforts to make our whole northern community used to them, for the glory of the Union. So the trader only regarded the mortal anguish which he saw working in those dark features, those clenched hands, and suffocating breathings, as necessary incidents of the trade, and merely calculated whether she was going to scream, and get up a commotion on the boat; for, like other supporters of our peculiar institution, he decidedly disliked agitation.
But the woman did not scream. The shot had passed too straight and direct through the heart, for cry or tear.
Dizzily she sat down. Her slack hands fell lifeless by her side. Her eyes looked straight forward, but she saw nothing. All the noise and hum of the boat, the groaning of the machinery, mingled dreamily to her bewildered ear; and the poor, dumb-stricken heart had neither cry not tear to show for its utter misery. She was quite calm.
The trader, who, considering his advantages, was almost as humane as some of our politicians, seemed to feel called on to administer such consolation as the case admitted of.
“I know this yer comes kinder hard, at first, Lucy,” said he; “but such a smart, sensible gal as you are, won’t give way to it. You see it’s _necessary_, and can’t be helped!”
“O! don’t, Mas’r, don’t!” said the woman, with a voice like one that is smothering.
“You’re a smart wench, Lucy,” he persisted; “I mean to do well by ye, and get ye a nice place down river; and you’ll soon get another husband,–such a likely gal as you–”
“O! Mas’r, if you _only_ won’t talk to me now,” said the woman, in a voice of such quick and living anguish that the trader felt that there was something at present in the case beyond his style of operation. He got up, and the woman turned away, and buried her head in her cloak.
The trader walked up and down for a time, and occasionally stopped and looked at her.
“Takes it hard, rather,” he soliloquized, “but quiet, tho’;–let her sweat a while; she’ll come right, by and by!”
Tom had watched the whole transaction from first to last, and had a perfect understanding of its results. To him, it looked like something unutterably horrible and cruel, because, poor, ignorant black soul! he had not learned to generalize, and to take enlarged views. If he had only been instructed by certain ministers of Christianity, he might have thought better of it, and seen in it an every-day incident of a lawful trade; a trade which is the vital support of an institution which an American divine* tells us has _“no evils but such as are inseparable from any other relations in social and domestic life_.” But Tom, as we see, being a poor, ignorant fellow, whose reading had been confined entirely to the New Testament, could not comfort and solace himself with views like these. His very soul bled within him for what seemed to him the _wrongs_ of the poor suffering thing that lay like a crushed reed on the boxes; the feeling, living, bleeding, yet immortal _thing_, which American state law coolly classes with the bundles, and bales, and boxes, among which she is lying.
* Dr. Joel Parker of Philadelphia. [Mrs. Stowe’s note.] Presbyterian clergyman (1798-1873), a friend of the Beecher family. Mrs. Stowe attempted unsuccessfully to have this identifying note removed from the stereotype-plate of the first edition.
Tom drew near, and tried to say something; but she only groaned. Honestly, and with tears running down his own cheeks, he spoke of a heart of love in the skies, of a pitying Jesus, and an eternal home; but the ear was deaf with anguish, and the palsied heart could not feel.
Night came on,–night calm, unmoved, and glorious, shining down with her innumerable and solemn angel eyes, twinkling, beautiful, but silent. There was no speech nor language, no pitying voice or helping hand, from that distant sky. One after another, the voices of business or pleasure died away; all on the boat were sleeping, and the ripples at the prow were plainly heard. Tom stretched himself out on a box, and there, as he lay, he heard, ever and anon, a smothered sob or cry from the prostrate creature,–“O! what shall I do? O Lord! O good Lord, do help me!” and so, ever and anon, until the murmur died away in silence.
At midnight, Tom waked, with a sudden start. Something black passed quickly by him to the side of the boat, and he heard a splash in the water. No one else saw or heard anything. He raised his head,–the woman’s place was vacant! He got up, and sought about him in vain. The poor bleeding heart was still, at last, and the river rippled and dimpled just as brightly as if it had not closed above it.
Patience! patience! ye whose hearts swell indignant at wrongs like these. Not one throb of anguish, not one tear of the oppressed, is forgotten by the Man of Sorrows, the Lord of Glory. In his patient, generous bosom he bears the anguish of a world. Bear thou, like him, in patience, and labor in love; for sure as he is God, “the year of his redeemed _shall_ come.”
The trader waked up bright and early, and came out to see to his live stock. It was now his turn to look about in perplexity.
“Where alive is that gal?” he said to Tom.
Tom, who had learned the wisdom of keeping counsel, did not feel called upon to state his observations and suspicions, but said he did not know.
“She surely couldn’t have got off in the night at any of the landings, for I was awake, and on the lookout, whenever the boat stopped. I never trust these yer things to other folks.”
This speech was addressed to Tom quite confidentially, as if it was something that would be specially interesting to him. Tom made no answer.
The trader searched the boat from stem to stern, among boxes, bales and barrels, around the machinery, by the chimneys, in vain.
“Now, I say, Tom, be fair about this yer,” he said, when, after a fruitless search, he came where Tom was standing. “You know something about it, now. Don’t tell me,–I know you do. I saw the gal stretched out here about ten o’clock, and ag’in at twelve, and ag’in between one and two; and then at four she was gone, and you was a sleeping right there all the time. Now, you know something,–you can’t help it.”
“Well, Mas’r,” said Tom, “towards morning something brushed by me, and I kinder half woke; and then I hearn a great splash, and then I clare woke up, and the gal was gone. That’s all I know on ’t.”
The trader was not shocked nor amazed; because, as we said before, he was used to a great many things that you are not used to. Even the awful presence of Death struck no solemn chill upon him. He had seen Death many times,–met him in the way of trade, and got acquainted with him,–and he only thought of him as a hard customer, that embarrassed his property operations very unfairly; and so he only swore that the gal was a baggage, and that he was devilish unlucky, and that, if things went on in this way, he should not make a cent on the trip. In short, he seemed to consider himself an ill-used man, decidedly; but there was no help for it, as the woman had escaped into a state which _never will_ give up a fugitive,–not even at the demand of the whole glorious Union. The trader, therefore, sat discontentedly down, with his little account-book, and put down the missing body and soul under the head of _losses!_
“He’s a shocking creature, isn’t he,–this trader? so unfeeling! It’s dreadful, really!”
“O, but nobody thinks anything of these traders! They are universally despised,–never received into any decent society.”
But who, sir, makes the trader? Who is most to blame? The enlightened, cultivated, intelligent man, who supports the system of which the trader is the inevitable result, or the poor trader himself? You make the public statement that calls for his trade, that debauches and depraves him, till he feels no shame in it; and in what are you better than he?
Are you educated and he ignorant, you high and he low, you refined and he coarse, you talented and he simple?
In the day of a future judgment, these very considerations may make it more tolerable for him than for you.
In concluding these little incidents of lawful trade, we must beg the world not to think that American legislators are entirely destitute of humanity, as might, perhaps, be unfairly inferred from the great efforts made in our national body to protect and perpetuate this species of traffic.
Who does not know how our great men are outdoing themselves, in declaiming against the _foreign_ slave-trade. There are a perfect host of Clarksons and Wilberforces* risen up among us on that subject, most edifying to hear and behold. Trading negroes from Africa, dear reader, is so horrid! It is not to be thought of! But trading them from Kentucky,–that’s quite another thing!
* Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) and William Wilberforce (1759- 1833), English philanthropists and anti-slavery agitators who helped to secure passage of the Emancipation Bill by Parliament in 1833.
The Quaker Settlement
A quiet scene now rises before us. A large, roomy, neatly-painted kitchen, its yellow floor glossy and smooth, and without a particle of dust; a neat, well-blacked cooking-stove; rows of shining tin, suggestive of unmentionable good things to the appetite; glossy green wood chairs, old and firm; a small flag-bottomed rocking-chair, with a patch-work cushion in it, neatly contrived out of small pieces of different colored woollen goods, and a larger sized one, motherly and old, whose wide arms breathed hospitable invitation, seconded by the solicitation of its feather cushions,–a real comfortable, persuasive old chair, and worth, in the way of honest, homely enjoyment, a dozen of your plush or _brochetelle_ drawing-room gentry; and in the chair, gently swaying back and forward, her eyes bent on some fine sewing, sat our fine old friend Eliza. Yes, there she is, paler and thinner than in her Kentucky home, with a world of quiet sorrow lying under the shadow of her long eyelashes, and marking the outline of her gentle mouth! It was plain to see how old and firm the girlish heart was grown under the discipline of heavy sorrow; and when, anon, her large dark eye was raised to follow the gambols of her little Harry, who was sporting, like some tropical butterfly, hither and thither over the floor, she showed a depth of firmness and steady resolve that was never there in her earlier and happier days.
By her side sat a woman with a bright tin pan in her lap, into which she was carefully sorting some dried peaches. She might be fifty-five or sixty; but hers was one of those faces that time seems to touch only to brighten and adorn. The snowy lisse crape cap, made after the strait Quaker pattern,–the plain white muslin handkerchief, lying in placid folds across her bosom,–the drab shawl and dress,–showed at once the community to which she belonged. Her face was round and rosy, with a healthful downy softness, suggestive of a ripe peach. Her hair, partially silvered by age, was parted smoothly back from a high placid forehead, on which time had written no inscription, except peace on earth, good will to men, and beneath shone a large pair of clear, honest, loving brown eyes; you only needed to look straight into them, to feel that you saw to the bottom of a heart as good and true as ever throbbed in woman’s bosom. So much has been said and sung of beautiful young girls, why don’t somebody wake up to the beauty of old women? If any want to get up an inspiration under this head, we refer them to our good friend Rachel Halliday, just as she sits there in her little rocking-chair. It had a turn for quacking and squeaking,–that chair had,–either from having taken cold in early life, or from some asthmatic affection, or perhaps from nervous derangement; but, as she gently swung backward and forward, the chair kept up a kind of subdued “creechy crawchy,” that would have been intolerable in any other chair. But old Simeon Halliday often declared it was as good as any music to him, and the children all avowed that they wouldn’t miss of hearing mother’s chair for anything in the world. For why? for twenty years or more, nothing but loving words, and gentle moralities, and motherly loving kindness, had come from that chair;–head-aches and heart-aches innumerable had been cured there,–difficulties spiritual and temporal solved there,–all by one good, loving woman, God bless her!
“And so thee still thinks of going to Canada, Eliza?” she said, as she was quietly looking over her peaches.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Eliza, firmly. “I must go onward. I dare not stop.”
“And what’ll thee do, when thee gets there? Thee must think about that, my daughter.”
“My daughter” came naturally from the lips of Rachel Halliday; for hers was just the face and form that made “mother” seem the most natural word in the world.
Eliza’s hands trembled, and some tears fell on her fine work; but she answered, firmly,
“I shall do–anything I can find. I hope I can find something.”
“Thee knows thee can stay here, as long as thee pleases,” said Rachel.
“O, thank you,” said Eliza, “but”–she pointed to Harry–“I can’t sleep nights; I can’t rest. Last night I dreamed I saw that man coming into the yard,” she said, shuddering.
“Poor child!” said Rachel, wiping her eyes; “but thee mustn’t feel so. The Lord hath ordered it so that never hath a fugitive been stolen from our village. I trust thine will not be the first.”
The door here opened, and a little short, round, pin-cushiony woman stood at the door, with a cheery, blooming face, like a ripe apple. She was dressed, like Rachel, in sober gray, with the muslin folded neatly across her round, plump little chest.
“Ruth Stedman,” said Rachel, coming joyfully forward; “how is thee, Ruth? she said, heartily taking both her hands.
“Nicely,” said Ruth, taking off her little drab bonnet, and dusting it with her handkerchief, displaying, as she did so, a round little head, on which the Quaker cap sat with a sort of jaunty air, despite all the stroking and patting of the small fat hands, which were busily applied to arranging it. Certain stray locks of decidedly curly hair, too, had escaped here and there, and had to be coaxed and cajoled into their place again; and then the new comer, who might have been five-and-twenty, turned from the small looking-glass, before which she had been making these arrangements, and looked well pleased,–as most people who looked at her might have been,–for she was decidedly a wholesome, whole-hearted, chirruping little woman, as ever gladdened man’s heart withal.
“Ruth, this friend is Eliza Harris; and this is the little boy I told thee of.”
“I am glad to see thee, Eliza,–very,” said Ruth, shaking hands, as if Eliza were an old friend she had long been expecting; “and this is thy dear boy,–I brought a cake for him,” she said, holding out a little heart to the boy, who came up, gazing through his curls, and accepted it shyly.
“Where’s thy baby, Ruth?” said Rachel.
“O, he’s coming; but thy Mary caught him as I came in, and ran off with him to the barn, to show him to the children.”
At this moment, the door opened, and Mary, an honest, rosy-looking girl, with large brown eyes, like her mother’s, came in with the baby.
“Ah! ha!” said Rachel, coming up, and taking the great, white, fat fellow in her arms, “how good he looks, and how he does grow!”
“To be sure, he does,” said little bustling Ruth, as she took the child, and began taking off a little blue silk hood, and various layers and wrappers of outer garments; and having given a twitch here, and a pull there, and variously adjusted and arranged him, and kissed him heartily, she set him on the floor to collect his thoughts. Baby seemed quite used to this mode of proceeding, for he put his thumb in his mouth (as if it were quite a thing of course), and seemed soon absorbed in his own reflections, while the mother seated herself, and taking out a long stocking of mixed blue and white yarn, began to knit with briskness.
“Mary, thee’d better fill the kettle, hadn’t thee?” gently suggested the mother.
Mary took the kettle to the well, and soon reappearing, placed it over the stove, where it was soon purring and steaming, a sort of censer of hospitality and good cheer. The peaches, moreover, in obedience to a few gentle whispers from Rachel, were soon deposited, by the same hand, in a stew-pan over the fire.
Rachel now took down a snowy moulding-board, and, tying on an apron, proceeded quietly to making up some biscuits, first saying to Mary,–“Mary, hadn’t thee better tell John to get a chicken ready?” and Mary disappeared accordingly.
“And how is Abigail Peters?” said Rachel, as she went on with her biscuits.
“O, she’s better,” said Ruth; “I was in, this morning; made the bed, tidied up the house. Leah Hills went in, this afternoon, and baked bread and pies enough to last some days; and I engaged to go back to get her up, this evening.”
“I will go in tomorrow, and do any cleaning there may be, and look over the mending,” said Rachel.
“Ah! that is well,” said Ruth. “I’ve heard,” she added, “that Hannah Stanwood is sick. John was up there, last night,–I must go there tomorrow.”
“John can come in here to his meals, if thee needs to stay all day,” suggested Rachel.
“Thank thee, Rachel; will see, tomorrow; but, here comes Simeon.”
Simeon Halliday, a tall, straight, muscular man, in drab coat and pantaloons, and broad-brimmed hat, now entered.
“How is thee, Ruth?” he said, warmly, as he spread his broad open hand for her little fat palm; “and how is John?”
“O! John is well, and all the rest of our folks,” said Ruth, cheerily.
“Any news, father?” said Rachel, as she was putting her biscuits into the oven.
“Peter Stebbins told me that they should be along tonight, with _friends_,” said Simeon, significantly, as he was washing his hands at a neat sink, in a little back porch.
“Indeed!” said Rachel, looking thoughtfully, and glancing at Eliza.
“Did thee say thy name was Harris?” said Simeon to Eliza, as he reentered.
Rachel glanced quickly at her husband, as Eliza tremulously answered “yes;” her fears, ever uppermost, suggesting that possibly there might be advertisements out for her.
“Mother!” said Simeon, standing in the porch, and calling Rachel out.
“What does thee want, father?” said Rachel, rubbing her floury hands, as she went into the porch.
“This child’s husband is in the settlement, and will be here tonight,” said Simeon.
“Now, thee doesn’t say that, father?” said Rachel, all her face radiant with joy.
“It’s really true. Peter was down yesterday, with the wagon, to the other stand, and there he found an old woman and two men; and one said his name was George Harris; and from what he told of his history, I am certain who he is. He is a bright, likely fellow, too.”
“Shall we tell her now?” said Simeon.
“Let’s tell Ruth,” said Rachel. “Here, Ruth,–come here.”
Ruth laid down her knitting-work, and was in the back porch in a moment.
“Ruth, what does thee think?” said Rachel. “Father says Eliza’s husband is in the last company, and will be here tonight.”
A burst of joy from the little Quakeress interrupted the speech. She gave such a bound from the floor, as she clapped her little hands, that two stray curls fell from under her Quaker cap, and lay brightly on her white neckerchief.
“Hush thee, dear!” said Rachel, gently; “hush, Ruth! Tell us, shall we tell her now?”
“Now! to be sure,–this very minute. Why, now, suppose ’t was my John, how should I feel? Do tell her, right off.”
“Thee uses thyself only to learn how to love thy neighbor, Ruth,” said Simeon, looking, with a beaming face, on Ruth.
“To be sure. Isn’t it what we are made for? If I didn’t love John and the baby, I should not know how to feel for her. Come, now do tell her,–do!” and she laid her hands persuasively on Rachel’s arm. “Take her into thy bed-room, there, and let me fry the chicken while thee does it.”
Rachel came out into the kitchen, where Eliza was sewing, and opening the door of a small bed-room, said, gently, “Come in here with me, my daughter; I have news to tell thee.”
The blood flushed in Eliza’s pale face; she rose, trembling with nervous anxiety, and looked towards her boy.
“No, no,” said little Ruth, darting up, and seizing her hands. “Never thee fear; it’s good news, Eliza,–go in, go in!” And she gently pushed her to the door which closed after her; and then, turning round, she caught little Harry in her arms, and began kissing him.
“Thee’ll see thy father, little one. Does thee know it? Thy father is coming,” she said, over and over again, as the boy looked wonderingly at her.
Meanwhile, within the door, another scene was going on. Rachel Halliday drew Eliza toward her, and said, “The Lord hath had mercy on thee, daughter; thy husband hath escaped from the house of bondage.”
The blood flushed to Eliza’s cheek in a sudden glow, and went back to her heart with as sudden a rush. She sat down, pale and faint.
“Have courage, child,” said Rachel, laying her hand on her head. “He is among friends, who will bring him here tonight.”
“Tonight!” Eliza repeated, “tonight!” The words lost all meaning to her; her head was dreamy and confused; all was mist for a moment.
When she awoke, she found herself snugly tucked up on the bed, with a blanket over her, and little Ruth rubbing her hands with camphor. She opened her eyes in a state of dreamy, delicious languor, such as one who has long been bearing a heavy load, and now feels it gone, and would rest. The tension of the nerves, which had never ceased a moment since the first hour of her flight, had given way, and a strange feeling of security and rest came over her; and as she lay, with her large, dark eyes open, she followed, as in a quiet dream, the motions of those about her. She saw the door open into the other room; saw the supper-table, with its snowy cloth; heard the dreamy murmur of the singing tea-kettle; saw Ruth tripping backward and forward, with plates of cake and saucers of preserves, and ever and anon stopping to put a cake into Harry’s hand, or pat his head, or twine his long curls round her snowy fingers. She saw the ample, motherly form of Rachel, as she ever and anon came to the bedside, and smoothed and arranged something about the bedclothes, and gave a tuck here and there, by way of expressing her good-will; and was conscious of a kind of sunshine beaming down upon her from her large, clear, brown eyes. She saw Ruth’s husband come in,–saw her fly up to him, and commence whispering very earnestly, ever and anon, with impressive gesture, pointing her little finger toward the room. She saw her, with the baby in her arms, sitting down to tea; she saw them all at table, and little Harry in a high chair, under the shadow of Rachel’s ample wing; there were low murmurs of talk, gentle tinkling of tea-spoons, and musical clatter of cups and saucers, and all mingled in a delightful dream of rest; and Eliza slept, as she had not slept before, since the fearful midnight hour when she had taken her child and fled through the frosty starlight.
She dreamed of a beautiful country,–a land, it seemed to her, of rest,–green shores, pleasant islands, and beautifully glittering water; and there, in a house which kind voices told her was a home, she saw her boy playing, free and happy child. She heard her husband’s footsteps; she felt him coming nearer; his arms were around her, his tears falling on her face, and she awoke! It was no dream. The daylight had long faded; her child lay calmly sleeping by her side; a candle was burning dimly on the stand, and her husband was sobbing by her pillow.
The next morning was a cheerful one at the Quaker house. “Mother” was up betimes, and surrounded by busy girls and boys, whom we had scarce time to introduce to our readers yesterday, and who all moved obediently to Rachel’s gentle “Thee had better,” or more gentle “Hadn’t thee better?” in the work of getting breakfast; for a breakfast in the luxurious valleys of Indiana is a thing complicated and multiform, and, like picking up the rose-leaves and trimming the bushes in Paradise, asking other hands than those of the original mother. While, therefore, John ran to the spring for fresh water, and Simeon the second sifted meal for corn-cakes, and Mary ground coffee, Rachel moved gently, and quietly about, making biscuits, cutting up chicken, and diffusing a sort of sunny radiance over the whole proceeding generally. If there was any danger of friction or collision from the ill-regulated zeal of so many young operators, her gentle “Come! come!” or “I wouldn’t, now,” was quite sufficient to allay the difficulty. Bards have written of the cestus of Venus, that turned the heads of all the world in successive generations. We had rather, for our part, have the cestus of Rachel Halliday, that kept heads from being turned, and made everything go on harmoniously. We think it is more suited to our modern days, decidedly.
While all other preparations were going on, Simeon the elder stood in his shirt-sleeves before a little looking-glass in the corner, engaged in the anti-patriarchal operation of shaving. Everything went on so sociably, so quietly, so harmoniously, in the great kitchen,–it seemed so pleasant to every one to do just what they were doing, there was such an atmosphere of mutual confidence and good fellowship everywhere,–even the knives and forks had a social clatter as they went on to the table; and the chicken and ham had a cheerful and joyous fizzle in the pan, as if they rather enjoyed being cooked than otherwise;–and when George and Eliza and little Harry came out, they met such a hearty, rejoicing welcome, no wonder it seemed to them like a dream.
At last, they were all seated at breakfast, while Mary stood at the stove, baking griddle-cakes, which, as they gained the true exact golden-brown tint of perfection, were transferred quite handily to the table.
Rachel never looked so truly and benignly happy as at the head of her table. There was so much motherliness and full-heartedness even in the way she passed a plate of cakes or poured a cup of coffee, that it seemed to put a spirit into the food and drink she offered.
It was the first time that ever George had sat down on equal terms at any white man’s table; and he sat down, at first, with some constraint and awkwardness; but they all exhaled and went off like fog, in the genial morning rays of this simple, overflowing kindness.
This, indeed, was a home,–_home_,–a word that George had never yet known a meaning for; and a belief in God, and trust in his providence, began to encircle his heart, as, with a golden cloud of protection and confidence, dark, misanthropic, pining atheistic doubts, and fierce despair, melted away before the light of a living Gospel, breathed in living faces, preached by a thousand unconscious acts of love and good will, which, like the cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple, shall never lose their reward.
“Father, what if thee should get found out again?” said Simeon second, as he buttered his cake.
“I should pay my fine,” said Simeon, quietly.
“But what if they put thee in prison?”
“Couldn’t thee and mother manage the farm?” said Simeon, smiling.
“Mother can do almost everything,” said the boy. “But isn’t it a shame to make such laws?”
“Thee mustn’t speak evil of thy rulers, Simeon,” said his father, gravely. “The Lord only gives us our worldly goods that we may do justice and mercy; if our rulers require a price of us for it, we must deliver it up.
“Well, I hate those old slaveholders!” said the boy, who felt as unchristian as became any modern reformer.
“I am surprised at thee, son,” said Simeon; “thy mother never taught thee so. I would do even the same for the slaveholder as for the slave, if the Lord brought him to my door in affliction.”
Simeon second blushed scarlet; but his mother only smiled, and said, “Simeon is my good boy; he will grow older, by and by, and then he will be like his father.”
“I hope, my good sir, that you are not exposed to any difficulty on our account,” said George, anxiously.
“Fear nothing, George, for therefore are we sent into the world. If we would not meet trouble for a good cause, we were not worthy of our name.”
“But, for _me_,” said George, “I could not bear it.”
“Fear not, then, friend George; it is not for thee, but for God and man, we do it,” said Simeon. “And now thou must lie by quietly this day, and tonight, at ten o’clock, Phineas Fletcher will carry thee onward to the next stand,–thee and the rest of thy company. The pursuers are hard after thee; we must not delay.”
“If that is the case, why wait till evening?” said George.
“Thou art safe here by daylight, for every one in the settlement is a Friend, and all are watching. It has been found safer to travel by night.”
“A young star! which shone O’er life–too sweet an image, for such glass! A lovely being, scarcely formed or moulded; A rose with all its sweetest leaves yet folded.”
The Mississippi! How, as by an enchanted wand, have its scenes been changed, since Chateaubriand wrote his prose-poetic description of it,* as a river of mighty, unbroken solitudes, rolling amid undreamed wonders of vegetable and animal existence.
* _In Atala; or the Love and Constantcy of Two Savages in the Desert_ (1801) by Francois Auguste Rene, Vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768-1848).
But as in an hour, this river of dreams and wild romance has emerged to a reality scarcely less visionary and splendid. What other river of the world bears on its bosom to the ocean the wealth and enterprise of such another country?–a country whose products embrace all between the tropics and the poles! Those turbid waters, hurrying, foaming, tearing along, an apt resemblance of that headlong tide of business which is poured along its wave by a race more vehement and energetic than any the old world ever saw. Ah! would that they did not also bear along a more fearful freight,–the tears of the oppressed, the sighs of the helpless, the bitter prayers of poor, ignorant hearts to an unknown God–unknown, unseen and silent, but who will yet “come out of his place to save all the poor of the earth!”
The slanting light of the setting sun quivers on the sea-like expanse of the river; the shivery canes, and the tall, dark cypress, hung with wreaths of dark, funereal moss, glow in the golden ray, as the heavily-laden steamboat marches onward.
Piled with cotton-bales, from many a plantation, up over deck and sides, till she seems in the distance a square, massive block of gray, she moves heavily onward to the nearing mart. We must look some time among its crowded decks before we shall find again our humble friend Tom. High on the upper deck, in a little nook among the everywhere predominant cotton-bales, at last we may find him.
Partly from confidence inspired by Mr. Shelby’s representations, and partly from the remarkably inoffensive and quiet character of the man, Tom had insensibly won his way far into the confidence even of such a man as Haley.
At first he had watched him narrowly through the day, and never allowed him to sleep at night unfettered; but the uncomplaining patience and apparent contentment of Tom’s manner led him gradually to discontinue these restraints, and for some time Tom had enjoyed a sort of parole of honor, being permitted to come and go freely where he pleased on the boat.
Ever quiet and obliging, and more than ready to lend a hand in every emergency which occurred among the workmen below, he had won the good opinion of all the hands, and spent many hours in helping them with as hearty a good will as ever he worked on a Kentucky farm.
When there seemed to be nothing for him to do, he would climb to a nook among the cotton-bales of the upper deck, and busy himself in studying over his Bible,–and it is there we see him now.
For a hundred or more miles above New Orleans, the river is higher than the surrounding country, and rolls its tremendous volume between massive levees twenty feet in height. The traveller from the deck of the steamer, as from some floating castle top, overlooks the whole country for miles and miles around. Tom, therefore, had spread out full before him, in plantation after plantation, a map of the life to which he was approaching.
He saw the distant slaves at their toil; he saw afar their villages of huts gleaming out in long rows on many a plantation, distant from the stately mansions and pleasure-grounds of the master;–and as the moving picture passed on, his poor, foolish heart would be turning backward to the Kentucky farm, with its old shadowy beeches,–to the master’s house, with its wide, cool halls, and, near by, the little cabin overgrown with the multiflora and bignonia. There he seemed to see familiar faces of comrades who had grown up with him from infancy; he saw his busy wife, bustling in her preparations for his evening meals; he heard the merry laugh of his boys at their play, and the chirrup of the baby at his knee; and then, with a start, all faded, and he saw again the canebrakes and cypresses and gliding plantations, and heard again the creaking and groaning of the machinery, all telling him too plainly that all that phase of life had gone by forever.
In such a case, you write to your wife, and send messages to your children; but Tom could not write,–the mail for him had no existence, and the gulf of separation was unbridged by even a friendly word or signal.
Is it strange, then, that some tears fall on the pages of his Bible, as he lays it on the cotton-bale, and, with patient finger, threading his slow way from word to word, traces out its promises? Having learned late in life, Tom was but a slow reader, and passed on laboriously from verse to verse. Fortunate for him was it that the book he was intent on was one which slow reading cannot injure,–nay, one whose words, like ingots of gold, seem often to need to be weighed separately, that the mind may take in their priceless value. Let us follow him a moment, as, pointing to each word, and pronouncing each half aloud, he reads,
“Let–not–your–heart–be–troubled. In–my –Father’s–house–are–many–mansions. I–go–to–prepare–a–place–for–you.”
Cicero, when he buried his darling and only daughter, had a heart as full of honest grief as poor Tom’s,–perhaps no fuller, for both were only men;–but Cicero could pause over no such sublime words of hope, and look to no such future reunion; and if he _had_ seen them, ten to one he would not have believed,–he must fill his head first with a thousand questions of authenticity of manuscript, and correctness of translation. But, to poor Tom, there it lay, just what he needed, so evidently true and divine that the possibility of a question never entered his simple head. It must be true; for, if not true, how could he live?
As for Tom’s Bible, though it had no annotations and helps in margin from learned commentators, still it had been embellished with certain way-marks and guide-boards of Tom’s own invention, and which helped him more than the most learned expositions could have done. It had been his custom to get the Bible read to him by his master’s children, in particular by young Master George; and, as they read, he would designate, by bold, strong marks and dashes, with pen and ink, the passages which more particularly gratified his ear or affected his heart. His Bible was thus marked through, from one end to the other, with a variety of styles and designations; so he could in a moment seize upon his favorite passages, without the labor of spelling out what lay between them;–and while it lay there before him, every passage breathing of some old home scene, and recalling some past enjoyment, his Bible seemed to him all of this life that remained, as well as the promise of a future one.
Among the passengers on the boat was a young gentleman of fortune and family, resident in New Orleans, who bore the name of St. Clare. He had with him a daughter between five and six years of age, together with a lady who seemed to claim relationship to both, and to have the little one especially under her charge.
Tom had often caught glimpses of this little girl,–for she was one of those busy, tripping creatures, that can be no more contained in one place than a sunbeam or a summer breeze,–nor was she one that, once seen, could be easily forgotten.
Her form was the perfection of childish beauty, without its usual chubbiness and squareness of outline. There was about it an undulating and aerial grace, such as one might dream of for some mythic and allegorical being. Her face was remarkable less for its perfect beauty of feature than for a singular and dreamy earnestness of expression, which made the ideal start when they looked at her, and by which the dullest and most literal were impressed, without exactly knowing why. The shape of her head and the turn of her neck and bust was peculiarly noble, and the long golden-brown hair that floated like a cloud around it, the deep spiritual gravity of her violet blue eyes, shaded by heavy fringes of golden brown,–all marked her out from other children, and made every one turn and look after her, as she glided hither and thither on the boat. Nevertheless, the little one was not what you would have called either a grave child or a sad one. On the contrary, an airy and innocent playfulness seemed to flicker like the shadow of summer leaves over her childish face, and around her buoyant figure. She was always in motion, always with a half smile on her rosy mouth, flying hither and thither, with an undulating and cloud-like tread, singing to herself as she moved as in a happy dream. Her father and female guardian were incessantly busy in pursuit of her,–but, when caught, she melted from them again like a summer cloud; and as no word of chiding or reproof ever fell on her ear for whatever she chose to do, she pursued her own way all over the boat. Always dressed in white, she seemed to move like a shadow through all sorts of places, without contracting spot or stain; and there was not a corner or nook, above or below, where those fairy footsteps had not glided, and that visionary golden head, with its deep blue eyes, fleeted along.
The fireman, as he looked up from his sweaty toil, sometimes found those eyes looking wonderingly into the raging depths of the furnace, and fearfully and pityingly at him, as if she thought him in some dreadful danger. Anon the steersman at the wheel paused and smiled, as the picture-like head gleamed through the window of the round house, and in a moment was gone again. A thousand times a day rough voices blessed her, and smiles of unwonted softness stole over hard faces, as she passed; and when she tripped fearlessly over dangerous places, rough, sooty hands were stretched involuntarily out to save her, and smooth her path.
Tom, who had the soft, impressible nature of his kindly race, ever yearning toward the simple and childlike, watched the little creature with daily increasing interest. To him she seemed something almost divine; and whenever her golden head and deep blue eyes peered out upon him from behind some dusky cotton-bale, or looked down upon him over some ridge of packages, he half believed that he saw one of the angels stepped out of his New Testament.
Often and often she walked mournfully round the place where Haley’s gang of men and women sat in their chains. She would glide in among them, and look at them with an air of perplexed and sorrowful earnestness; and sometimes she would lift their chains with her slender hands, and then sigh wofully, as she glided away. Several times she appeared suddenly among them, with her hands full of candy, nuts, and oranges, which she would distribute joyfully to them, and then be gone again.
Tom watched the little lady a great deal, before he ventured on any overtures towards acquaintanceship. He knew an abundance of simple acts to propitiate and invite the approaches of the little people, and he resolved to play his part right skilfully. He could cut cunning little baskets out of cherry-stones, could make grotesque faces on hickory-nuts, or odd-jumping figures out of elder-pith, and he was a very Pan in the manufacture of whistles of all sizes and sorts. His pockets were full of miscellaneous articles of attraction, which he had hoarded in days of old for his master’s children, and which he now produced, with commendable prudence and economy, one by one, as overtures for acquaintance and friendship.
The little one was shy, for all her busy interest in everything going on, and it was not easy to tame her. For a while, she would perch like a canary-bird on some box or package near Tom, while busy in the little arts afore-named, and take from him, with a kind of grave bashfulness, the little articles he offered. But at last they got on quite confidential terms.
“What’s little missy’s name?” said Tom, at last, when he thought matters were ripe to push such an inquiry.
“Evangeline St. Clare,” said the little one, “though papa and everybody else call me Eva. Now, what’s your name?”
“My name’s Tom; the little chil’en used to call me Uncle Tom, way back thar in Kentuck.”
“Then I mean to call you Uncle Tom, because, you see, I like you,” said Eva. “So, Uncle Tom, where are you going?”
“I don’t know, Miss Eva.”
“Don’t know?” said Eva.
“No, I am going to be sold to somebody. I don’t know who.”
“My papa can buy you,” said Eva, quickly; “and if he buys you, you will have good times. I mean to ask him, this very day.”
“Thank you, my little lady,” said Tom.
The boat here stopped at a small landing to take in wood, and Eva, hearing her father’s voice, bounded nimbly away. Tom rose up, and went forward to offer his service in wooding, and soon was busy among the hands.
Eva and her father were standing together by the railings to see the boat start from the landing-place, the wheel had made two or three revolutions in the water, when, by some sudden movement, the little one suddenly lost her balance and fell sheer over the side of the boat into the water. Her father, scarce knowing what he did, was plunging in after her, but was held back by some behind him, who saw that more efficient aid had followed his child.
Tom was standing just under her on the lower deck, as she fell. He saw her strike the water, and sink, and was after her in a moment. A broad-chested, strong-armed fellow, it was nothing for him to keep afloat in the water, till, in a moment or two the child rose to the surface, and he caught her in his arms, and, swimming with her to the boat-side, handed her up, all dripping, to the grasp of hundreds of hands, which, as if they had all belonged to one man, were stretched eagerly out to receive her. A few moments more, and her father bore her, dripping and senseless, to the ladies’ cabin, where, as is usual in cases of the kind, there ensued a very well-meaning and kind-hearted strife among the female occupants generally, as to who should do the most things to make a disturbance, and to hinder her recovery in every way possible.
It was a sultry, close day, the next day, as the steamer drew near to New Orleans. A general bustle of expectation and preparation was spread through the boat; in the cabin, one and another were gathering their things together, and arranging them, preparatory to going ashore. The steward and chambermaid, and all, were busily engaged in cleaning, furbishing, and arranging the splendid boat, preparatory to a grand entree.
On the lower deck sat our friend Tom, with his arms folded, and anxiously, from time to time, turning his eyes towards a group on the other side of the boat.
There stood the fair Evangeline, a little paler than the day before, but otherwise exhibiting no traces of the accident which had befallen her. A graceful, elegantly-formed young man stood by her, carelessly leaning one elbow on a bale of cotton while a large pocket-book lay open before him. It was quite evident, at a glance, that the gentleman was Eva’s father. There was the same noble cast of head, the same large blue eyes, the same golden-brown hair; yet the expression was wholly different. In the large, clear blue eyes, though in form and color exactly similar, there was wanting that misty, dreamy depth of expression; all was clear, bold, and bright, but with a light wholly of this world: the beautifully cut mouth had a proud and somewhat sarcastic expression, while an air of free-and-easy superiority sat not ungracefully in every turn and movement of his fine form. He was listening, with a good-humored, negligent air, half comic, half contemptuous, to Haley, who was very volubly expatiating on the quality of the article for which they were bargaining.
“All the moral and Christian virtues bound in black Morocco, complete!” he said, when Haley had finished. “Well, now, my good fellow, what’s the damage, as they say in Kentucky; in short, what’s to be paid out for this business? How much are you going to cheat me, now? Out with it!”
“Wal,” said Haley, “if I should say thirteen hundred dollars for that ar fellow, I shouldn’t but just save myself; I shouldn’t, now, re’ly.”
“Poor fellow!” said the young man, fixing his keen, mocking blue eye on him; “but I suppose you’d let me have him for that, out of a particular regard for me.”
“Well, the young lady here seems to be sot on him, and nat’lly enough.”
“O! certainly, there’s a call on your benevolence, my friend. Now, as a matter of Christian charity, how cheap could you afford to let him go, to oblige a young lady that’s particular sot on him?”
“Wal, now, just think on ’t,” said the trader; “just look at them limbs,–broad-chested, strong as a horse. Look at his head; them high forrads allays shows calculatin niggers, that’ll do any kind o’ thing. I’ve, marked that ar. Now, a nigger of that ar heft and build is worth considerable, just as you may say, for his body, supposin he’s stupid; but come to put in his calculatin faculties, and them which I can show he has oncommon, why, of course, it makes him come higher. Why, that ar fellow managed his master’s whole farm. He has a strornary talent for business.”
“Bad, bad, very bad; knows altogether too much!” said the young man, with the same mocking smile playing about his mouth. “Never will do, in the world. Your smart fellows are always running off, stealing horses, and raising the devil generally. I think you’ll have to take off a couple of hundred for his smartness.”
“Wal, there might be something in that ar, if it warnt for his character; but I can show recommends from his master and others, to prove he is one of your real pious,–the most humble, prayin, pious crittur ye ever did see. Why, he’s been called a preacher in them parts he came from.”
“And I might use him for a family chaplain, possibly,” added the young man, dryly. “That’s quite an idea. Religion is a remarkably scarce article at our house.”
“You’re joking, now.”
“How do you know I am? Didn’t you just warrant him for a preacher? Has he been examined by any synod or council? Come, hand over your papers.”
If the trader had not been sure, by a certain good-humored twinkle in the large eye, that all this banter was sure, in the long run, to turn out a cash concern, he might have been somewhat out of patience; as it was, he laid down a greasy pocket-book on the cotton-bales, and began anxiously studying over certain papers in it, the young man standing by, the while, looking down on him with an air of careless, easy drollery.
“Papa, do buy him! it’s no matter what you pay,” whispered Eva, softly, getting up on a package, and putting her arm around her father’s neck. “You have money enough, I know. I want him.”
“What for, pussy? Are you going to use him for a rattle-box, or a rocking-horse, or what?
“I want to make him happy.”
“An original reason, certainly.”
Here the trader handed up a certificate, signed by Mr. Shelby, which the young man took with the tips of his long fingers, and glanced over carelessly.
“A gentlemanly hand,” he said, “and well spelt, too. Well, now, but I’m not sure, after all, about this religion,” said he, the old wicked expression returning to his eye; “the country is almost ruined with pious white people; such pious politicians as we have just before elections,–such pious goings on in all departments of church and state, that a fellow does not know who’ll cheat him next. I don’t know, either, about religion’s being up in the market, just now. I have not looked in the papers lately, to see how it sells. How many hundred dollars, now, do you put on for this religion?”
“You like to be jokin, now,” said the trader; “but, then, there’s _sense_ under all that ar. I know there’s differences in religion. Some kinds is mis’rable: there’s your meetin pious; there’s your singin, roarin pious; them ar an’t no account, in black or white;–but these rayly is; and I’ve seen it in niggers as often as any, your rail softly, quiet, stiddy, honest, pious, that the hull world couldn’t tempt ’em to do nothing that they thinks is wrong; and ye see in this letter what Tom’s old master says about him.”
“Now,” said the young man, stooping gravely over his book of bills, “if you can assure me that I really can buy _this_ kind of pious, and that it will be set down to my account in the book up above, as something belonging to me, I wouldn’t care if I did go a little extra for it. How d’ye say?”
“Wal, raily, I can’t do that,” said the trader. “I’m a thinkin that every man’ll have to hang on his own hook, in them ar quarters.”
“Rather hard on a fellow that pays extra on religion, and can’t trade with it in the state where he wants it most, an’t it, now?” said the young man, who had been making out a roll of bills while he was speaking. “There, count your money, old boy!” he added, as he handed the roll to the trader.
“All right,” said Haley, his face beaming with delight; and pulling out an old inkhorn, he proceeded to fill out a bill of sale, which, in a few moments, he handed to the young man.
“I wonder, now, if I was divided up and inventoried,” said the latter as he ran over the paper, “how much I might bring. Say so much for the shape of my head, so much for a high forehead, so much for arms, and hands, and legs, and then so much for education, learning, talent, honesty, religion! Bless me! there would be small charge on that last, I’m thinking. But come, Eva,” he said; and taking the hand of his daughter, he stepped across the boat, and carelessly putting the tip of his finger under Tom’s chin, said, good-humoredly, “Look-up, Tom, and see how you like your new master.”
Tom looked up. It was not in nature to look into that gay, young, handsome face, without a feeling of pleasure; and Tom felt the tears start in his eyes as he said, heartily, “God bless you, Mas’r!”
“Well, I hope he will. What’s your name? Tom? Quite as likely to do it for your asking as mine, from all accounts. Can you drive horses, Tom?”
“I’ve been allays used to horses,” said Tom. “Mas’r Shelby raised heaps of ’em.”
“Well, I think I shall put you in coachy, on condition that you won’t be drunk more than once a week, unless in cases of emergency, Tom.”
Tom looked surprised, and rather hurt, and said, “I never drink, Mas’r.”
“I’ve heard that story before, Tom; but then we’ll see. It will be a special accommodation to all concerned, if you don’t. Never mind, my boy,” he added, good-humoredly, seeing Tom still looked grave; “I don’t doubt you mean to do well.”
“I sartin do, Mas’r,” said Tom.
“And you shall have good times,” said Eva. “Papa is very good to everybody, only he always will laugh at them.”
“Papa is much obliged to you for his recommendation,” said St. Clare, laughing, as he turned on his heel and walked away.
Of Tom’s New Master, and Various Other Matters
Since the thread of our humble hero’s life has now become interwoven with that of higher ones, it is necessary to give some brief introduction to them.
Augustine St. Clare was the son of a wealthy planter of Louisiana. The family had its origin in Canada. Of two brothers, very similar in temperament and character, one had settled on a flourishing farm in Vermont, and the other became an opulent planter in Louisiana. The mother of Augustine was a Huguenot French lady, whose family had emigrated to Louisiana during the days of its early settlement. Augustine and another brother were the only children of their parents. Having inherited from his mother an exceeding delicacy of constitution, he was, at the instance of physicians, during many years of his boyhood, sent to the care of his uncle in Vermont, in order that his constitution might be strengthened by the cold of a more bracing climate.
In childhood, he was remarkable for an extreme and marked sensitiveness of character, more akin to the softness of woman than the ordinary hardness of his own sex. Time, however, overgrew this softness with the rough bark of manhood, and but few knew how living and fresh it still lay at the core. His talents were of the very first order, although his mind showed a preference always for the ideal and the aesthetic, and there was about him that repugnance to the actual business of life which is the common result of this balance of the faculties. Soon after the completion of his college course, his whole nature was kindled into one intense and passionate effervescence of romantic passion. His hour came,–the hour that comes only once; his star rose in the horizon,–that star that rises so often in vain, to be remembered only as a thing of dreams; and it rose for him in vain. To drop the figure,–he saw and won the love of a high-minded and beautiful woman, in one of the northern states, and they were affianced. He returned south to make arrangements for their marriage, when, most unexpectedly, his letters were returned to him by mail, with a short note from her guardian, stating to him that ere this reached him the lady would be the wife of another. Stung to madness, he vainly hoped, as many another has done, to fling the whole thing from his heart by one desperate effort. Too proud to supplicate or seek explanation, he threw himself at once into a whirl of fashionable society, and in a fortnight from the time of the fatal letter was the accepted lover of the reigning belle of the season; and as soon as arrangements could be made, he became the husband of a fine figure, a pair of bright dark eyes, and a hundred thousand dollars; and, of course, everybody thought him a happy fellow.
The married couple were enjoying their honeymoon, and entertaining a brilliant circle of friends in their splendid villa, near Lake Pontchartrain, when, one day, a letter was brought to him in _that_ well-remembered writing. It was handed to him while he was in full tide of gay and successful conversation, in a whole room-full of company. He turned deadly pale when he saw the writing, but still preserved his composure, and finished the playful warfare of badinage which he was at the moment carrying on with a lady opposite; and, a short time after, was missed from the circle. In his room, alone, he opened and read the letter, now worse than idle and useless to be read. It was from her, giving a long account of a persecution to which she had been exposed by her guardian’s family, to lead her to unite herself with their son: and she related how, for a long time, his letters had ceased to arrive; how she had written time and again, till she became weary and doubtful; how her health had failed under her anxieties, and how, at last, she had discovered the whole fraud which had been practised on them both. The letter ended with expressions of hope and thankfulness, and professions of undying affection, which were more bitter than death to the unhappy young man. He wrote to her immediately:
“I have received yours,–but too late. I believed all I heard. I was desperate. _I am married_, and all is over. Only forget,–it is all that remains for either of us.”
And thus ended the whole romance and ideal of life for Augustine St. Clare. But the _real_ remained,–the _real_, like the flat, bare, oozy tide-mud, when the blue sparkling wave, with all its company of gliding boats and white-winged ships, its music of oars and chiming waters, has gone down, and there it lies, flat, slimy, bare,–exceedingly real.
Of course, in a novel, people’s hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it; and in a story this is very convenient. But in real life we do not die when all that makes life bright dies to us. There is a most busy and important round of eating, drinking, dressing, walking, visiting, buying, selling, talking, reading, and all that makes up what is commonly called _living_, yet to be gone through; and this yet remained to Augustine. Had his wife been a whole woman, she might yet have done something–as woman can–to mend the broken threads of life, and weave again into a tissue of brightness. But Marie St. Clare could not even see that they had been broken. As before stated, she consisted of a fine figure, a pair of splendid eyes, and a hundred thousand dollars; and none of these items were precisely the ones to minister to a mind diseased.
When Augustine, pale as death, was found lying on the sofa, and pleaded sudden sick-headache as the cause of his distress, she recommended to him to smell of hartshorn; and when the paleness and headache came on week after week, she only said that she never thought Mr. St. Clare was sickly; but it seems he was very liable to sick-headaches, and that it was a very unfortunate thing for her, because he didn’t enjoy going into company with her, and it seemed odd to go so much alone, when they were just married. Augustine was glad in his heart that he had married so undiscerning a woman; but as the glosses and civilities of the honeymoon wore away, he discovered that a beautiful young woman, who has lived all her life to be caressed and waited on, might prove quite a hard mistress in domestic life. Marie never had possessed much capability of affection, or much sensibility, and the little that she had, had been merged into a most intense and unconscious selfishness; a selfishness the more hopeless, from its quiet obtuseness, its utter ignorance of any claims but her own. From her infancy, she had been surrounded with servants, who lived only to study her caprices; the idea that they had either feelings or rights had never dawned upon her, even in distant perspective. Her father, whose only child she had been, had never denied her anything that lay within the compass of human possibility; and when she entered life, beautiful, accomplished, and an heiress, she had, of course, all the eligibles and non-eligibles of the other sex sighing at her feet, and she had no doubt that Augustine was a most fortunate man in having obtained her. It is a great mistake to suppose that a woman with no heart will be an easy creditor in the exchange of affection. There is not on earth a more merciless exactor of love from others than a thoroughly selfish woman; and the more unlovely she grows, the more jealously and scrupulously she exacts love, to the uttermost farthing. When, therefore, St. Clare began to drop off those gallantries and small attentions which flowed at first through the habitude of courtship, he found his sultana no way ready to resign her slave; there were abundance of tears, poutings, and small tempests, there were discontents, pinings, upbraidings. St. Clare was good-natured and self-indulgent, and sought to buy off with presents and flatteries; and when Marie became mother to a beautiful daughter, he really felt awakened, for a time, to something like tenderness.
St. Clare’s mother had been a woman of uncommon elevation and purity of character, and he gave to his child his mother’s name, fondly fancying that she would prove a reproduction of her image. The thing had been remarked with petulant jealousy by his wife, and she regarded her husband’s absorbing devotion to the child with suspicion and dislike; all that was given to her seemed so much taken from herself. From the time of the birth of this child, her health gradually sunk. A life of constant inaction, bodily and mental,–the friction of ceaseless ennui and discontent, united to the ordinary weakness which attended the period of maternity,–in course of a few years changed the blooming young belle into a yellow faded, sickly woman, whose time was divided among a variety of fanciful diseases, and who considered herself, in every sense, the most ill-used and suffering person in existence.
There was no end of her various complaints; but her principal forte appeared to lie in sick-headache, which sometimes would confine her to her room three days out of six. As, of course, all family arrangements fell into the hands of servants, St. Clare found his menage anything but comfortable. His only daughter was exceedingly delicate, and he feared that, with no one to look after her and attend to her, her health and life might yet fall a sacrifice to her mother’s inefficiency. He had taken her with him on a tour to Vermont, and had persuaded his cousin, Miss Ophelia St. Clare, to return with him to his southern residence; and they are now returning on this boat, where we have introduced them to our readers.
And now, while the distant domes and spires of New Orleans rise to our view, there is yet time for an introduction to Miss Ophelia.
Whoever has travelled in the New England States will remember, in some cool village, the large farmhouse, with its clean-swept grassy yard, shaded by the dense and massive foliage of the sugar maple; and remember the air of order and stillness, of perpetuity and unchanging repose, that seemed to breathe over the whole place. Nothing lost, or out of order; not a picket loose in the fence, not a particle of litter in the turfy yard, with its clumps of lilac bushes growing up under the windows. Within, he will remember wide, clean rooms, where nothing ever seems to be doing or going to be done, where everything is once and forever rigidly in place, and where all household arrangements move with the punctual exactness of the old clock in the corner. In the family “keeping-room,” as it is termed, he will remember the staid, respectable old book-case, with its glass doors, where Rollin’s History,* Milton’s Paradise Lost, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and Scott’s Family Bible,** stand side by side in decorous order, with multitudes of other books, equally solemn and respectable. There are no servants in the house, but the lady in the snowy cap, with the spectacles, who sits sewing every afternoon among her daughters, as if nothing ever had been done, or were to be done,–she and her girls, in some long-forgotten fore part of the day, “_did up the work_,” and for the rest of the time, probably, at all hours when you would see them, it is “_done up_.” The old kitchen floor never seems stained or spotted; the tables, the chairs, and the various cooking utensils, never seem deranged or disordered; though three and sometimes four meals a day are got there, though the family washing and ironing is there performed, and though pounds of butter and cheese are in some silent and mysterious manner there brought into existence.
* _The Ancient History_, ten volumes (1730-1738), by the French historian Charles Rollin (1661-1741).
** _Scott’s Family Bible_ (1788-1792), edited with notes by the English Biblical commentator, Thomas Scott (1747-1821).
On such a farm, in such a house and family, Miss Ophelia had spent a quiet existence of some forty-five years, when her cousin invited her to visit his southern mansion. The eldest of a large family, she was still considered by her father and mother as one of “the children,” and the proposal that she should go to _Orleans_ was a most momentous one to the family circle. The old gray-headed father took down Morse’s Atlas* out of the book-case, and looked out the exact latitude and longitude; and read Flint’s Travels in the South and West,** to make up his own mind as to the nature of the country.
* _The Cerographic Atlas of the United States_ (1842-1845), by Sidney Edwards Morse (1794-1871), son of the geographer, Jedidiah Morse, and brother of the painter-inventor, Samuel F. B. Morse.
** _Recollections of the Last Ten Years_ (1826) by Timothy Flint (1780-1840), missionary of Presbyterianism to the trans-Allegheny West.
The good mother inquired, anxiously, “if Orleans wasn’t an awful wicked place,” saying, “that it seemed to her most equal to going to the Sandwich Islands, or anywhere among the heathen.”
It was known at the minister’s and at the doctor’s, and at Miss Peabody’s milliner shop, that Ophelia St. Clare was “talking about” going away down to Orleans with her cousin; and of course the whole village could do no less than help this very important process of _talking about_ the matter. The minister, who inclined strongly to abolitionist views, was quite doubtful whether such a step might not tend somewhat to encourage the southerners in holding on to their slaves; while the doctor, who was a stanch colonizationist, inclined to the opinion that Miss Ophelia ought to go, to show the Orleans people that we don’t think hardly of them, after all. He was of opinion, in fact, that southern people needed encouraging. When however, the fact that she had resolved to go was fully before the public mind, she was solemnly invited out to tea by all her friends and neighbors for the space of a fortnight, and her prospects and plans duly canvassed and inquired into. Miss Moseley, who came into the house to help to do the dress-making, acquired daily accessions of importance from the developments with regard to Miss Ophelia’s wardrobe which she had been enabled to make. It was credibly ascertained that Squire Sinclare, as his name was commonly contracted in the neighborhood, had counted out fifty dollars, and given them to Miss Ophelia, and told her to buy any clothes she thought best; and that two new silk dresses, and a bonnet, had been sent for from Boston. As to the propriety of this extraordinary outlay, the public mind was divided,–some affirming that it was well enough, all things considered, for once in one’s life, and others stoutly affirming that the money had better have been sent to the missionaries; but all parties agreed that there had been no such parasol seen in those parts as had been sent on from New York, and that she had one silk dress that might fairly be trusted to stand alone, whatever might be said of its mistress. There were credible rumors, also, of a hemstitched pocket-handkerchief; and report even went so far as to state that Miss Ophelia had one pocket-handkerchief with lace all around it,–it was even added that it was worked in the corners; but this latter point was never satisfactorily ascertained, and remains, in fact, unsettled to this day.
Miss Ophelia, as you now behold her, stands before you, in a very shining brown linen travelling-dress, tall, square-formed, and angular. Her face was thin, and rather sharp in its outlines; the lips compressed, like those of a person who is in the habit of making up her mind definitely on all subjects; while the keen, dark eyes had a peculiarly searching, advised movement, and travelled over everything, as if they were looking for something to take care of.
All her movements were sharp, decided, and energetic; and, though she was never much of a talker, her words were remarkably direct, and to the purpose, when she did speak.
In her habits, she was a living impersonation of order, method, and exactness. In punctuality, she was as inevitable as a clock, and as inexorable as a railroad engine; and she held in most decided contempt and abomination anything of a contrary character.
The great sin of sins, in her eyes,–the sum of all evils,–was expressed by one very common and important word in her vocabulary–“shiftlessness.” Her finale and ultimatum of contempt consisted in a very emphatic pronunciation of the word “shiftless;” and by this she characterized all modes of procedure which had not a direct and inevitable relation to accomplishment of some purpose then definitely had in mind. People who did nothing, or who did not know exactly what they were going to do, or who did not take the most direct way to accomplish what they set their hands to, were objects of her entire contempt,–a contempt shown less frequently by anything she said, than by a kind of stony grimness, as if she scorned to say anything about the matter.
As to mental cultivation,–she had a clear, strong, active mind, was well and thoroughly read in history and the older English classics, and thought with great strength within certain narrow limits. Her theological tenets were all made up, labelled in most positive and distinct forms, and put by, like the bundles in her patch trunk; there were just so many of them, and there were never to be any more. So, also, were her ideas with regard to most matters of practical life,–such as housekeeping in all its branches, and the various political relations of her native village. And, underlying all, deeper than anything else, higher and broader, lay the strongest principle of her being–conscientiousness. Nowhere is conscience so dominant and all-absorbing as with New England women. It is the granite formation, which lies deepest, and rises out, even to the tops of the highest mountains.
Miss Ophelia was the absolute bond-slave of the “_ought_.” Once make her certain that the “path of duty,” as she commonly phrased it, lay in any given direction, and fire and water could not keep her from it. She would walk straight down into a well, or up to a loaded cannon’s mouth, if she were only quite sure that there the path lay. Her standard of right was so high, so all-embracing, so minute, and making so few concessions to human frailty, that, though she strove with heroic ardor to reach it, she never actually did so, and of course was burdened with a constant and often harassing sense of deficiency;–this gave a severe and somewhat gloomy cast to her religious character.
But, how in the world can Miss Ophelia get along with Augustine St. Clare,–gay, easy, unpunctual, unpractical, sceptical,–in short,–walking with impudent and nonchalant freedom over every one of her most cherished habits and opinions?
To tell the truth, then, Miss Ophelia loved him. When a boy, it had been hers to teach him his catechism, mend his clothes, comb his hair, and bring him up generally in the way he should go; and her heart having a warm side to it, Augustine had, as he usually did with most people, monopolized a large share of it for himself, and therefore it was that he succeeded very easily in persuading her that the “path of duty” lay in the direction of New Orleans, and that she must go with him to take care of Eva, and keep everything from going to wreck and ruin during the frequent illnesses of his wife. The idea of a house without anybody to take care of it went to her heart; then she loved the lovely little girl, as few could help doing; and though she regarded Augustine as very much of a heathen, yet she loved him, laughed at his jokes, and forbore with his failings, to an extent which those who knew him thought perfectly incredible. But what more or other is to be known of Miss Ophelia our reader must discover by a personal acquaintance.
There she is, sitting now in her state-room, surrounded by a mixed multitude of little and big carpet-bags, boxes, baskets, each containing some separate responsibility which she is tying, binding up, packing, or fastening, with a face of great earnestness.
“Now, Eva, have you kept count of your things? Of course you haven’t,–children never do: there’s the spotted carpet-bag and the little blue band-box with your best bonnet,–that’s two; then the India rubber satchel is three; and my tape and needle box is four; and my band-box, five; and my collar-box; and that little hair trunk, seven. What have you done with your sunshade? Give it to me, and let me put a paper round it, and tie it to my umbrella with my shade;–there, now.”
“Why, aunty, we are only going up home;–what is the use?”
“To keep it nice, child; people must take care of their things, if they ever mean to have anything; and now, Eva, is your thimble put up?”
“Really, aunty, I don’t know.”
“Well, never mind; I’ll look your box over,–thimble, wax, two spools, scissors, knife, tape-needle; all right,–put it in here. What did you ever do, child, when you were coming on with only your papa. I should have thought you’d a lost everything you had.”
“Well, aunty, I did lose a great many; and then, when we stopped anywhere, papa would buy some more of whatever it was.”
“Mercy on us, child,–what a way!”
“It was a very easy way, aunty,” said Eva.
“It’s a dreadful shiftless one,” said aunty.
“Why, aunty, what’ll you do now?” said Eva; “that trunk is too full to be shut down.”
“It _must_ shut down,” said aunty, with the air of a general, as she squeezed the things in, and sprung upon the lid;–still a little gap remained about the mouth of the trunk.
“Get up here, Eva!” said Miss Ophelia, courageously; “what has been done can be done again. This trunk has _got to be_ shut and locked–there are no two ways about it.”
And the trunk, intimidated, doubtless, by this resolute statement, gave in. The hasp snapped sharply in its hole, and Miss Ophelia turned the key, and pocketed it in triumph.
“Now we’re ready. Where’s your papa? I think it time this baggage was set out. Do look out, Eva, and see if you see your papa.”
“O, yes, he’s down the other end of the gentlemen’s cabin, eating an orange.”
“He can’t know how near we are coming,” said aunty; “hadn’t you better run and speak to him?”
“Papa never is in a hurry about anything,” said Eva, “and we haven’t come to the landing. Do step on the guards, aunty. Look! there’s our house, up that street!”
The boat now began, with heavy groans, like some vast, tired monster, to prepare to push up among the multiplied steamers at the levee. Eva joyously pointed out the various spires, domes, and way-marks, by which she recognized her native city.
“Yes, yes, dear; very fine,” said Miss Ophelia. “But mercy on us! the boat has stopped! where is your father?”
And now ensued the usual turmoil of landing–waiters running twenty ways at once–men tugging trunks, carpet-bags, boxes–women anxiously calling to their children, and everybody crowding in a dense mass to the plank towards the landing.
Miss Ophelia seated herself resolutely on the lately vanquished trunk, and marshalling all her goods and chattels in fine military order, seemed resolved to defend them to the last.
“Shall I take your trunk, ma’am?” “Shall I take your baggage?” “Let me ’tend to your baggage, Missis?” “Shan’t I carry out these yer, Missis?” rained down upon her unheeded. She sat with grim determination, upright as a darning-needle stuck in a board, holding on her bundle of umbrella and parasols, and replying with a determination that was enough to strike dismay even into a hackman, wondering to Eva, in each interval, “what upon earth her papa could be thinking of; he couldn’t have fallen over, now,–but something must have happened;”–and just as she had begun to work herself into a real distress, he came up, with his usually careless motion, and giving Eva a quarter of the orange he was eating, said,
“Well, Cousin Vermont, I suppose you are all ready.”
“I’ve been ready, waiting, nearly an hour,” said Miss Ophelia; “I began to be really concerned about you.
“That’s a clever fellow, now,” said he. “Well, the carriage is waiting, and the crowd are now off, so that one can walk out in a decent and Christian manner, and not be pushed and shoved. Here,” he added to a driver who stood behind him, “take these things.”
“I’ll go and see to his putting them in,” said Miss Ophelia.
“O, pshaw, cousin, what’s the use?” said St. Clare.
“Well, at any rate, I’ll carry this, and this, and this,” said Miss Ophelia, singling out three boxes and a small carpet-bag.
“My dear Miss Vermont, positively you mustn’t come the Green Mountains over us that way. You must adopt at least a piece of a southern principle, and not walk out under all that load. They’ll take you for a waiting-maid; give them to this fellow; he’ll put them down as if they were eggs, now.”
Miss Ophelia looked despairingly as her cousin took all her treasures from her, and rejoiced to find herself once more in the carriage with them, in a state of preservation.
“Where’s Tom?” said Eva.
“O, he’s on the outside, Pussy. I’m going to take Tom up to mother for a peace-offering, to make up for that drunken fellow that upset the carriage.”
“O, Tom will make a splendid driver, I know,” said Eva; “he’ll never get drunk.”
The carriage stopped in front of an ancient mansion, built in that odd mixture of Spanish and French style, of which there are specimens in some parts of New Orleans. It was built in the Moorish fashion,–a square building enclosing a court-yard, into which the carriage drove through an arched gateway. The court, in the inside, had evidently been arranged to gratify a picturesque and voluptuous ideality. Wide galleries ran all around the four sides, whose Moorish arches, slender pillars, and arabesque ornaments, carried the mind back, as in a dream, to the reign of oriental romance in Spain. In the middle of the court, a fountain threw high its silvery water, falling in a never-ceasing spray into a marble basin, fringed with a deep border of fragrant violets. The water in the fountain, pellucid as crystal, was alive with myriads of gold and silver fishes, twinkling and darting through it like so many living jewels. Around the fountain ran a walk, paved with a mosaic of pebbles, laid in various fanciful patterns; and this, again, was surrounded by turf, smooth as green velvet, while a carriage-drive enclosed the whole. Two large orange-trees, now fragrant with blossoms, threw a delicious shade; and, ranged in a circle round upon the turf, were marble vases of arabesque sculpture, containing the choicest flowering plants of the tropics. Huge pomegranate trees, with their glossy leaves and flame-colored flowers, dark-leaved Arabian jessamines, with their silvery stars, geraniums, luxuriant roses bending beneath their heavy abundance of flowers, golden jessamines, lemon-scented verbenum, all united their bloom and fragrance, while here and there a mystic old aloe, with its strange, massive leaves, sat looking like some old enchanter, sitting in weird grandeur among the more perishable bloom and fragrance around it.
The galleries that surrounded the court were festooned with a curtain of some kind of Moorish stuff, and could be drawn down at pleasure, to exclude the beams of the sun. On the whole, the appearance of the place was luxurious and romantic.
As the carriage drove in, Eva seemed like a bird ready to burst from a cage, with the wild eagerness of her delight.
“O, isn’t it beautiful, lovely! my own dear, darling home!” she said to Miss Ophelia. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
“‘T is a pretty place,” said Miss Ophelia, as she alighted; “though it looks rather old and heathenish to me.”
Tom got down from the carriage, and looked about with an air of calm, still enjoyment. The negro, it must be remembered, is an exotic of the most gorgeous and superb countries of the world, and he has, deep in his heart, a passion for all that is splendid, rich, and fanciful; a passion which, rudely indulged by an untrained taste, draws on them the ridicule of the colder and more correct white race.
St. Clare, who was in heart a poetical voluptuary, smiled as Miss Ophelia made her remark on his premises, and, turning to Tom, who was standing looking round, his beaming black face perfectly radiant with admiration, he said,
“Tom, my boy, this seems to suit you.”
“Yes, Mas’r, it looks about the right thing,” said Tom.
All this passed in a moment, while trunks were being hustled off, hackman paid, and while a crowd, of all ages and sizes,–men, women, and children,–came running through the galleries, both above and below to see Mas’r come in. Foremost among them was a highly-dressed young mulatto man, evidently a very _distingue_ personage, attired in the ultra extreme of the mode, and gracefully waving a scented cambric handkerchief in his hand.
This personage had been exerting himself, with great alacrity, in driving all the flock of domestics to the other end of the verandah.
“Back! all of you. I am ashamed of you,” he said, in a tone of authority. “Would you intrude on Master’s domestic relations, in the first hour of his return?”
All looked abashed at this elegant speech, delivered with quite an air, and stood huddled together at a respectful distance, except two stout porters, who came up and began conveying away the baggage.
Owing to Mr. Adolph’s systematic arrangements, when St. Clare turned round from paying the hackman, there was nobody in view but Mr. Adolph himself, conspicuous in satin vest, gold guard-chain, and white pants, and bowing with inexpressible grace and suavity.
“Ah, Adolph, is it you?” said his master, offering his hand to him; “how are you, boy?” while Adolph poured forth, with great fluency, an extemporary speech, which he had been preparing, with great care, for a fortnight before.
“Well, well,” said St. Clare, passing on, with his usual air of negligent drollery, “that’s very well got up, Adolph. See that the baggage is well bestowed. I’ll come to the people in a minute;” and, so saying, he led Miss Ophelia to a large parlor that opened on the verandah.
While this had been passing, Eva had flown like a bird, through the porch and parlor, to a little boudoir opening likewise on the verandah.
A tall, dark-eyed, sallow woman, half rose from a couch on which she was reclining.
“Mamma!” said Eva, in a sort of a rapture, throwing herself on her neck, and embracing her over and over again.
“That’ll do,–take care, child,–don’t, you make my head ache,” said the mother, after she had languidly kissed her.
St. Clare came in, embraced his wife in true, orthodox, husbandly fashion, and then presented to her his cousin. Marie lifted her large eyes on her cousin with an air of some curiosity, and received her with languid politeness. A crowd of servants now pressed to the entry door, and among them a middle-aged mulatto woman, of very respectable appearance, stood foremost, in a tremor of expectation and joy, at the door.
“O, there’s Mammy!” said Eva, as she flew across the room; and, throwing herself into her arms, she kissed her repeatedly.
This woman did not tell her that she made her head ache, but, on the contrary, she hugged her, and laughed, and cried, till her sanity was a thing to be doubted of; and when released from her, Eva flew from one to another, shaking hands and kissing, in a way that Miss Ophelia afterwards declared fairly turned her stomach.
“Well!” said Miss Ophelia, “you southern children can do something that _I_ couldn’t.”
“What, now, pray?” said St. Clare.
“Well, I want to be kind to everybody, and I wouldn’t have anything hurt; but as to kissing–”
“Niggers,” said St. Clare, “that you’re not up to,–hey?”
“Yes, that’s it. How can she?”
St. Clare laughed, as he went into the passage. “Halloa, here, what’s to pay out here? Here, you all–Mammy, Jimmy, Polly, Sukey–glad to see Mas’r?” he said, as he went shaking hands from one to another. “Look out for the babies!” he added, as he stumbled over a sooty little urchin, who was crawling upon all fours. “If I step upon anybody, let ’em mention it.”
There was an abundance of laughing and blessing Mas’r, as St. Clare distributed small pieces of change among them.
“Come, now, take yourselves off, like good boys and girls,” he said; and the whole assemblage, dark and light, disappeared through a door into a large verandah, followed by Eva, who carried a large satchel, which she had been filling with apples, nuts, candy, ribbons, laces, and toys of every description, during her whole homeward journey.
As St. Clare turned to go back his eye fell upon Tom, who was standing uneasily, shifting from one foot to the other, while Adolph stood negligently leaning against the banisters, examining Tom through an opera-glass, with an air that would have done credit to any dandy living.
“Puh! you puppy,” said his master, striking down the opera glass; “is that the way you treat your company? Seems to me, Dolph,” he added, laying his finger on the elegant figured satin vest that Adolph was sporting, “seems to me that’s _my_ vest.”
“O! Master, this vest all stained with wine; of course, a gentleman in Master’s standing never wears a vest like this. I understood I was to take it. It does for a poor nigger-fellow, like me.”
And Adolph tossed his head, and passed his fingers through his scented hair, with a grace.
“So, that’s it, is it?” said St. Clare, carelessly. “Well, here, I’m going to show this Tom to his mistress, and then you take him to the kitchen; and mind you don’t put on any of your airs to him. He’s worth two such puppies as you.”
“Master always will have his joke,” said Adolph, laughing. “I’m delighted to see Master in such spirits.”
“Here, Tom,” said St. Clare, beckoning.
Tom entered the room. He looked wistfully on the velvet carpets, and the before unimagined splendors of mirrors, pictures, statues, and curtains, and, like the Queen of Sheba before Solomon, there was no more spirit in him. He looked afraid even to set his feet down.
“See here, Marie,” said St. Clare to his wife, “I’ve bought you a coachman, at last, to order. I tell you, he’s a regular hearse for blackness and sobriety, and will drive you like a funeral, if you want. Open your eyes, now, and look at him. Now, don’t say I never think about you when I’m gone.”
Marie opened her eyes, and fixed them on Tom, without rising.
“I know he’ll get drunk,” she said.
“No, he’s warranted a pious and sober article.”
“Well, I hope he may turn out well,” said the lady; “it’s more than I expect, though.”
“Dolph,” said St. Clare, “show Tom down stairs; and, mind yourself,” he added; “remember what I told you.”
Adolph tripped gracefully forward, and Tom, with lumbering tread, went after.
“He’s a perfect behemoth!” said Marie.
“Come, now, Marie,” said St. Clare, seating himself on a stool beside her sofa, “be gracious, and say something pretty to a fellow.”
“You’ve been gone a fortnight beyond the time,” said the lady, pouting.
“Well, you know I wrote you the reason.”
“Such a short, cold letter!” said the lady.
“Dear me! the mail was just going, and it had to be that or nothing.”
“That’s just the way, always,” said the lady; “always something to make your journeys long, and letters short.”
“See here, now,” he added, drawing an elegant velvet case out of his pocket, and opening it, “here’s a present I got for you in New York.”
It was a daguerreotype, clear and soft as an engraving, representing Eva and her father sitting hand in hand.
Marie looked at it with a dissatisfied air.
“What made you sit in such an awkward position?” she said.
“Well, the position may be a matter of opinion; but what do you think of the likeness?”
“If you don’t think anything of my opinion in one case, I suppose you wouldn’t in another,” said the lady, shutting the daguerreotype.
“Hang the woman!” said St. Clare, mentally; but aloud he added, “Come, now, Marie, what do you think of the likeness? Don’t be nonsensical, now.”
“It’s very inconsiderate of you, St. Clare,” said the lady, “to insist on my talking and looking at things. You know I’ve been lying all day with the sick-headache; and there’s been such a tumult made ever since you came, I’m half dead.”
“You’re subject to the sick-headache, ma’am!” said Miss Ophelia, suddenly rising from the depths of the large arm-chair, where she had sat quietly, taking an inventory of the furniture, and calculating its expense.
“Yes, I’m a perfect martyr to it,” said the lady.
“Juniper-berry tea is good for sick-headache,” said Miss Ophelia; “at least, Auguste, Deacon Abraham Perry’s wife, used to say so; and she was a great nurse.”
“I’ll have the first juniper-berries that get ripe in our garden by the lake brought in for that special purpose,” said St. Clare, gravely pulling the bell as he did so; “meanwhile, cousin, you must be wanting to retire to your apartment, and refresh yourself a little, after your journey. Dolph,” he added, “tell Mammy to come here.” The decent mulatto woman whom Eva had caressed so rapturously soon entered; she was dressed neatly, with a high red and yellow turban on her head, the recent gift of Eva, and which the child had been arranging on her head. “Mammy,” said St. Clare, “I put this lady under your care; she is tired, and wants rest; take her to her chamber, and be sure she is made comfortable,” and Miss Ophelia disappeared in the rear of Mammy.
Tom’s Mistress and Her Opinions
“And now, Marie,” said St. Clare, “your golden days are dawning. Here is our practical, business-like New England cousin, who will take the whole budget of cares off your shoulders, and give you time to refresh yourself, and grow young and handsome. The ceremony of delivering the keys had better come off forthwith.”
This remark was made at the breakfast-table, a few mornings after Miss Ophelia had arrived.
“I’m sure she’s welcome,” said Marie, leaning her head languidly on her hand. “I think she’ll find one thing, if she does, and that is, that it’s we mistresses that are the slaves, down here.”
“O, certainly, she will discover that, and a world of wholesome truths besides, no doubt,” said St. Clare.
“Talk about our keeping slaves, as if we did it for our _convenience_,” said Marie. “I’m sure, if we consulted _that_, we might let them all go at once.”
Evangeline fixed her large, serious eyes on her mother’s face, with an earnest and perplexed expression, and said, simply, “What do you keep them for, mamma?”
“I don’t know, I’m sure, except for a plague; they are the plague of my life. I believe that more of my ill health is caused by them than by any one thing; and ours, I know, are the very worst that ever anybody was plagued with.”
“O, come, Marie, you’ve got the blues, this morning,” said St. Clare. “You know ’t isn’t so. There’s Mammy, the best creature living,–what could you do without her?”
“Mammy is the best I ever knew,” said Marie; “and yet Mammy, now, is selfish–dreadfully selfish; it’s the fault of the whole race.”
“Selfishness _is_ a dreadful fault,” said St. Clare, gravely.
“Well, now, there’s Mammy,” said Marie, “I think it’s selfish of her to sleep so sound nights; she knows I need little attentions almost every hour, when my worst turns are on, and yet she’s so hard to wake. I absolutely am worse, this very morning, for the efforts I had to make to wake her last night.”
“Hasn’t she sat up with you a good many nights, lately, mamma?” said Eva.
“How should you know that?” said Marie, sharply; “she’s been complaining, I suppose.”
“She didn’t complain; she only told me what bad nights you’d had,–so many in succession.”
“Why don’t you let Jane or Rosa take her place, a night or two,” said St. Clare, “and let her rest?”
“How can you propose it?” said Marie. “St. Clare, you really are inconsiderate. So nervous as I am, the least breath disturbs me; and a strange hand about me would drive me absolutely frantic. If Mammy felt the interest in me she ought to, she’d wake easier,–of course, she would. I’ve heard of people who had such devoted servants, but it never was _my_ luck;” and Marie sighed.
Miss Ophelia had listened to this conversation with an air of shrewd, observant gravity; and she still kept her lips tightly compressed, as if determined fully to ascertain her longitude and position, before she committed herself.
“Now, Mammy has a _sort_ of goodness,” said Marie; “she’s smooth and respectful, but she’s selfish at heart. Now, she never will be done fidgeting and worrying about that husband of hers. You see, when I was married and came to live here, of course, I had to bring her with me, and her husband my father couldn’t spare. He was a blacksmith, and, of course, very necessary; and I thought and said, at the time, that Mammy and he had better give each other up, as it wasn’t likely to be convenient for them ever to live together again. I wish, now, I’d insisted on it, and married Mammy to somebody else; but I was foolish and indulgent, and didn’t want to insist. I told Mammy, at the time, that she mustn’t ever expect to see him more than once or twice in her life again, for the air of father’s place doesn’t agree with my health, and I can’t go there; and I advised her to take up with somebody else; but no–she wouldn’t. Mammy has a kind of obstinacy about her, in spots, that everybody don’t see as I do.”
“Has she children?” said Miss Ophelia.
“Yes; she has two.”
“I suppose she feels the separation from them?”
“Well, of course, I couldn’t bring them. They were little dirty things–I couldn’t have them about; and, besides, they took up too much of her time; but I believe that Mammy has always kept up a sort of sulkiness about this. She won’t marry anybody else; and I do believe, now, though she knows how necessary she is to me, and how feeble my health is, she would go back to her husband tomorrow, if she only could. I _do_, indeed,” said Marie; “they are just so selfish, now, the best of them.”
“It’s distressing to reflect upon,” said St. Clare, dryly.
Miss Ophelia looked keenly at him, and saw the flush of mortification and repressed vexation, and the sarcastic curl of the lip, as he spoke.
“Now, Mammy has always been a pet with me,” said Marie. “I wish some of your northern servants could look at her closets of dresses,–silks and muslins, and one real linen cambric, she has hanging there. I’ve worked sometimes whole afternoons, trimming her caps, and getting her ready to go to a party. As to abuse, she don’t know what it is. She never was whipped more than once or twice in her whole life. She has her strong coffee or her tea every day, with white sugar in it. It’s abominable, to be sure; but St. Clare will have high life below-stairs, and they every one of them live just as they please. The fact is, our servants are over-indulged. I suppose it is partly our fault that they are selfish, and act like spoiled children; but I’ve talked to St. Clare till I am tired.”
“And I, too,” said St. Clare, taking up the morning paper.
Eva, the beautiful Eva, had stood listening to her mother, with that expression of deep and mystic earnestness which was peculiar to her. She walked softly round to her mother’s chair, and put her arms round her neck.
“Well, Eva, what now?” said Marie.
“Mamma, couldn’t I take care of you one night–just one? I know I shouldn’t make you nervous, and I shouldn’t sleep. I often lie awake nights, thinking–”
“O, nonsense, child–nonsense!” said Marie; “you are such a strange child!”
“But may I, mamma? I think,” she said, timidly, “that Mammy isn’t well. She told me her head ached all the time, lately.”
“O, that’s just one of Mammy’s fidgets! Mammy is just like all the rest of them–makes such a fuss about every little headache or finger-ache; it’ll never do to encourage it–never! I’m principled about this matter,” said she, turning to Miss Ophelia; “you’ll find the necessity of it. If you encourage servants in giving way to every little disagreeable feeling, and complaining of every little ailment, you’ll have your hands full. I never complain myself–nobody knows what I endure. I feel it a duty to bear it quietly, and I do.”
Miss Ophelia’s round eyes expressed an undisguised amazement at this peroration, which struck St. Clare as so supremely ludicrous, that he burst into a loud laugh.
“St. Clare always laughs when I make the least allusion to my ill health,” said Marie, with the voice of a suffering martyr. “I only hope the day won’t come when he’ll remember it!” and Marie put her handkerchief to her eyes.
Of course, there was rather a foolish silence. Finally, St. Clare got up, looked at his watch, and said he had an engagement down street. Eva tripped away after him, and Miss Ophelia and Marie remained at the table alone.
“Now, that’s just like St. Clare!” said the latter, withdrawing her handkerchief with somewhat of a spirited flourish when the criminal to be affected by it was no longer in sight. “He never realizes, never can, never will, what I suffer, and have, for years. If I was one of the complaining sort, or ever made any fuss about my ailments, there would be some reason for it. Men do get tired, naturally, of a complaining wife. But I’ve kept things to myself, and borne, and borne, till St. Clare has got in the way of thinking I can bear anything.”
Miss Ophelia did not exactly know what she was expected to answer to this.
While she was thinking what to say, Marie gradually wiped away her tears, and smoothed her plumage in a general sort of way, as a dove might be supposed to make toilet after a shower, and began a housewifely chat with Miss Ophelia, concerning cupboards, closets, linen-presses, store-rooms, and other matters, of which the latter was, by common understanding, to assume the direction,–giving her so many cautious directions and charges, that a head less systematic and business-like than Miss Ophelia’s would have been utterly dizzied and confounded.
“And now,” said Marie, “I believe I’ve told you everything; so that, when my next sick turn comes on, you’ll be able to go forward entirely, without consulting me;–only about Eva,–she requires watching.”
“She seems to be a good child, very,” said Miss Ophelia; “I never saw a better child.”
“Eva’s peculiar,” said her mother, “very. There are things about her so singular; she isn’t like me, now, a particle;” and Marie sighed, as if this was a truly melancholy consideration.
Miss Ophelia in her own heart said, “I hope she isn’t,” but had prudence enough to keep it down.
“Eva always was disposed to be with servants; and I think that well enough with some children. Now, I always played with father’s little negroes–it never did me any harm. But Eva somehow always seems to put herself on an equality with every creature that comes near her. It’s a strange thing about the child. I never have been able to break her of it. St. Clare, I believe, encourages her in it. The fact is, St. Clare indulges every creature under this roof but his own wife.”
Again Miss Ophelia sat in blank silence.
“Now, there’s no way with servants,” said Marie, “but to _put them down_, and keep them down. It was always natural to me, from a child. Eva is enough to spoil a whole house-full. What she will do when she comes to keep house herself, I’m sure I don’t know. I hold to being _kind_ to servants–I always am; but you must make ’em _know their place_. Eva never does; there’s no getting into the child’s head the first beginning of an idea what a servant’s place is! You heard her offering to take care of me nights, to let Mammy sleep! That’s just a specimen of the way the child would be doing all the time, if she was left to herself.”
“Why,” said Miss Ophelia, bluntly, “I suppose you think your servants are human creatures, and ought to have some rest when they are tired.”
“Certainly, of course. I’m very particular in letting them have everything that comes convenient,–anything that doesn’t put one at all out of the way, you know. Mammy can make up her sleep, some time or other; there’s no difficulty about that. She’s the sleepiest concern that ever I saw; sewing, standing, or sitting, that creature will go to sleep, and sleep anywhere and everywhere. No danger but Mammy gets sleep enough. But this treating servants as if they were exotic flowers, or china vases, is really ridiculous,” said Marie, as she plunged languidly into the depths of a voluminous and pillowy lounge, and drew towards her an elegant cut-glass vinaigrette.
“You see,” she continued, in a faint and lady-like voice, like the last dying breath of an Arabian jessamine, or something equally ethereal, “you see, Cousin Ophelia, I don’t often speak of myself. It isn’t my _habit_; ’t isn’t agreeable to me. In fact, I haven’t strength to do it. But there are points where St. Clare and I differ. St. Clare never understood me, never appreciated me. I think it lies at the root of all my ill health. St. Clare means well, I am bound to believe; but men are constitutionally selfish and inconsiderate to woman. That, at least, is my impression.”
Miss Ophelia, who had not a small share of the genuine New England caution, and a very particular horror of being drawn into family difficulties, now began to foresee something of this kind impending; so, composing her face into a grim neutrality, and drawing out of her pocket about a yard and a quarter of stocking, which she kept as a specific against what Dr. Watts asserts to be a personal habit of Satan when people have idle hands, she proceeded to knit most energetically, shutting her lips together in a way that said, as plain as words could, “You needn’t try to make me speak. I don’t want anything to do with your affairs,”–in fact, she looked about as sympathizing as a stone lion. But Marie didn’t care for that. She had got somebody to talk to, and she felt it her duty to talk, and that was enough; and reinforcing herself by smelling again at her vinaigrette, she went on.
“You see, I brought my own property and servants into the connection, when I married St. Clare, and I am legally entitled to manage them my own way. St. Clare had his fortune and his servants, and I’m well enough content he should manage them his way; but St. Clare will be interfering. He has wild, extravagant notions about things, particularly about the treatment of servants. He really does act as if he set his servants before me, and before himself, too; for he lets them make him all sorts of trouble, and never lifts a finger. Now, about some things, St. Clare is really frightful–he frightens me–good-natured as he looks, in general. Now, he has set down his foot that, come what will, there shall not be a blow struck in this house, except what he or I strike; and he does it in a way that I really dare not cross him. Well, you may see what that leads to; for St. Clare wouldn’t raise his hand, if every one of them walked over him, and I–you see how cruel it would be to require me to make the exertion. Now, you know these servants are nothing but grown-up children.”
“I don’t know anything about it, and I thank the Lord that I don’t!” said Miss Ophelia, shortly.
“Well, but you will have to know something, and know it to your cost, if you stay here. You don’t know what a provoking, stupid, careless, unreasonable, childish, ungrateful set of wretches they are.”
Marie seemed wonderfully supported, always, when she got upon this topic; and she now opened her eyes, and seemed quite to forget her languor.
“You don’t know, and you can’t, the daily, hourly trials that beset a housekeeper from them, everywhere and every way. But it’s no use to complain to St. Clare. He talks the strangest stuff. He says we have made them what they are, and ought to bear with them. He says their faults are all owing to us, and that it would be cruel to make the fault and punish it too. He says we shouldn’t do any better, in their place; just as if one could reason from them to us, you know.”
“Don’t you believe that the Lord made them of one blood with us?” said Miss Ophelia, shortly.
“No, indeed not I! A pretty story, truly! They are a degraded race.”
“Don’t you think they’ve got immortal souls?” said Miss Ophelia, with increasing indignation.
“O, well,” said Marie, yawning, “that, of course–nobody doubts that. But as to putting them on any sort of equality with us, you know, as if we could be compared, why, it’s impossible! Now, St. Clare really has talked to me as if keeping Mammy from her husband was like keeping me from mine. There’s no comparing in this way. Mammy couldn’t have the feelings that I should. It’s a different thing altogether,–of course, it is,–and yet St. Clare pretends not to see it. And just as if Mammy could love her little dirty babies as I love Eva! Yet St. Clare once really and soberly tried to persuade me that it was my duty, with my weak health, and all I suffer, to let Mammy go back, and take somebody else in her place. That was a little too much even for _me_ to bear. I don’t often show my feelings, I make it a principle to endure everything in silence; it’s a wife’s hard lot, and I bear it. But I did break out, that time; so that he has never alluded to the subject since. But I know by his looks, and little things that he says, that he thinks so as much as ever; and it’s so trying, so provoking!”
Miss Ophelia looked very much as if she was afraid she should say something; but she rattled away with her needles in a way that had volumes of meaning in it, if Marie could only have understood it.
“So, you just see,” she continued, “what you’ve got to manage. A household without any rule; where servants have it all their own way, do what they please, and have what they please, except so far as I, with my feeble health, have kept up government. I keep my cowhide about, and sometimes I do lay it on; but the exertion is always too much for me. If St. Clare would only have this thing done as others do–”
“And how’s that?”
“Why, send them to the calaboose, or some of the other places to be flogged. That’s the only way. If I wasn’t such a poor, feeble piece, I believe I should manage with twice the energy that St. Clare does.”
“And how does St. Clare contrive to manage?” said Miss Ophelia. “You say he never strikes a blow.”
“Well, men have a more commanding way, you know; it is easier for them; besides, if you ever looked full in his eye, it’s peculiar,–that eye,–and if he speaks decidedly, there’s a kind of flash. I’m afraid of it, myself; and the servants know they must mind. I couldn’t do as much by a regular storm and scolding as St. Clare can by one turn of his eye, if once he is in earnest. O, there’s no trouble about St. Clare; that’s the reason he’s no more feeling for me. But you’ll find, when you come to manage, that there’s no getting along without severity,–they are so bad, so deceitful, so lazy.”
“The old tune,” said St. Clare, sauntering in. “What an awful account these wicked creatures will have to settle, at last, especially for being lazy! You see, cousin,” said he, as he stretched himself at full length on a lounge opposite to Marie, “it’s wholly inexcusable in them, in the light of the example that Marie and I set them,–this laziness.”
“Come, now, St. Clare, you are too bad!” said Marie.
“Am I, now? Why, I thought I was talking good, quite remarkably for me. I try to enforce your remarks, Marie, always.”
“You know you meant no such thing, St. Clare,” said Marie.
“O, I must have been mistaken, then. Thank you, my dear, for setting me right.”
“You do really try to be provoking,” said Marie.
“O, come, Marie, the day is growing warm, and I have just had a long quarrel with Dolph, which has fatigued me excessively; so, pray be agreeable, now, and let a fellow repose in the light of your smile.”
“What’s the matter about Dolph?” said Marie. “That fellow’s impudence has been growing to a point that is perfectly intolerable to me. I only wish I had the undisputed management of him a while. I’d bring him down!”
“What you say, my dear, is marked with your usual acuteness and good sense,” said St. Clare. “As to Dolph, the case is this: that he has so long been engaged in imitating my graces and perfections, that he has, at last, really mistaken himself for his master; and I have been obliged to give him a little insight into his mistake.”
“How?” said Marie.
“Why, I was obliged to let him understand explicitly that I preferred to keep _some_ of my clothes for my own personal wearing; also, I put his magnificence upon an allowance of cologne-water, and actually was so cruel as to restrict him to one dozen of my cambric handkerchiefs. Dolph was particularly huffy about it, and I had to talk to him like a father, to bring him round.”
“O! St. Clare, when will you learn how to treat your servants? It’s abominable, the way you indulge them!” said Marie.
“Why, after all, what’s the harm of the poor dog’s wanting to be like his master; and if I haven’t brought him up any better than to find his chief good in cologne and cambric handkerchiefs, why shouldn’t I give them to him?”
“And why haven’t you brought him up better?” said Miss Ophelia, with blunt determination.
“Too much trouble,–laziness, cousin, laziness,–which ruins more souls than you can shake a stick at. If it weren’t for laziness, I should have been a perfect angel, myself. I’m inclined to think that laziness is what your old Dr. Botherem, up in Vermont, used to call the ‘essence of moral evil.’ It’s an awful consideration, certainly.”
“I think you slaveholders have an awful responsibility upon you,” said Miss Ophelia. “I wouldn’t have it, for a thousand worlds. You ought to educate your slaves, and treat them like reasonable creatures,–like immortal creatures, that you’ve got to stand before the bar of God with. That’s my mind,” said the good lady, breaking suddenly out with a tide of zeal that had been gaining strength in her mind all the morning.
“O! come, come,” said St. Clare, getting up quickly; “what do you know about us?” And he sat down to the piano, and rattled a lively piece of music. St. Clare had a decided genius for music. His touch was brilliant and firm, and his fingers flew over the keys with a rapid and bird-like motion, airy, and yet decided. He played piece after piece, like a man who is trying to play himself into a good humor. After pushing the music aside, he rose up, and said, gayly, “Well, now, cousin, you’ve given us a good talk and done your duty; on the whole, I think the better of you for it. I make no manner of doubt that you threw a very diamond of truth at me, though you see it hit me so directly in the face that it wasn’t exactly appreciated, at first.”
“For my part, I don’t see any use in such sort of talk,” said Marie. “I’m sure, if anybody does more for servants than we do, I’d like to know who; and it don’t do ’em a bit good,–not a particle,–they get worse and worse. As to talking to them, or anything like that, I’m sure I have talked till I was tired and hoarse, telling them their duty, and all that; and I’m sure they can go to church when they like, though they don’t understand a word of the sermon, more than so many pigs,–so it isn’t of any great use for them to go, as I see; but they do go, and so they have every chance; but, as I said before, they are a degraded race, and always will be, and there isn’t any help for them; you can’t make anything of them, if you try. You see, Cousin Ophelia, I’ve tried, and you haven’t; I was born and bred among them, and I know.”
Miss Ophelia thought she had said enough, and therefore sat silent. St. Clare whistled a tune.
“St. Clare, I wish you wouldn’t whistle,” said Marie; “it makes my head worse.”
“I won’t,” said St. Clare. “Is there anything else you wouldn’t wish me to do?”
“I wish you _would_ have some kind of sympathy for my trials; you never have any feeling for me.”
“My dear accusing angel!” said St. Clare.
“It’s provoking to be talked to in that way.”
“Then, how will you be talked to? I’ll talk to order,–any way you’ll mention,–only to give satisfaction.”
A gay laugh from the court rang through the silken curtains of the verandah. St. Clare stepped out, and lifting up the curtain, laughed too.
“What is it?” said Miss Ophelia, coming to the railing.
There sat Tom, on a little mossy seat in the court, every one of his button-holes stuck full of cape jessamines, and Eva, gayly laughing, was hanging a wreath of roses round his neck; and then she sat down on his knee, like a chip-sparrow, still laughing.
“O, Tom, you look so funny!”
Tom had a sober, benevolent smile, and seemed, in his quiet way, to be enjoying the fun quite as much as his little mistress. He lifted his eyes, when he saw his master, with a half-deprecating, apologetic air.
“How can you let her?” said Miss Ophelia.
“Why not?” said St. Clare.
“Why, I don’t know, it seems so dreadful!”
“You would think no harm in a child’s caressing a large dog, even if he was black; but a creature that can think, and reason, and feel, and is immortal, you shudder at; confess it, cousin. I know the feeling among some of you northerners well enough. Not that there is a particle of virtue in our not having it; but custom with us does what Christianity ought to do,–obliterates the feeling of personal prejudice. I have often noticed, in my travels north, how much stronger this was with you than with us. You loathe them as you would a snake or a toad, yet you are indignant at their wrongs. You would not have them abused; but you don’t want to have anything to do with them yourselves. You would send them to Africa, out of your sight and smell, and then send a missionary or two to do up all the self-denial of elevating them compendiously. Isn’t that it?”
“Well, cousin,” said Miss Ophelia, thoughtfully, “there may be some truth in this.”
“What would the poor and lowly do, without children?” said St. Clare, leaning on the railing, and watching Eva, as she tripped off, leading Tom with her. “Your little child is your only true democrat. Tom, now is a hero to Eva; his stories are wonders in her eyes, his songs and Methodist hymns are better than an opera, and the traps and little bits of trash in his pocket a mine of jewels, and he the most wonderful Tom that ever wore a black skin. This is one of the roses of Eden that the Lord has dropped down expressly for the poor and lowly, who get few enough of any other kind.”
“It’s strange, cousin,” said Miss Ophelia, “one might almost think you were a _professor_, to hear you talk.”
“A professor?” said St. Clare.
“Yes; a professor of religion.”
“Not at all; not a professor, as your town-folks have it; and, what is worse, I’m afraid, not a _practiser_, either.”
“What makes you talk so, then?”
“Nothing is easier than talking,” said St. Clare. “I believe Shakespeare makes somebody say, ’I could sooner show twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow my own showing.’* Nothing like division of labor. My forte lies in talking, and yours, cousin, lies in doing.”
* _The Merchant of Venice_, Act 1, scene 2, lines 17-18.
In Tom’s external situation, at this time, there was, as the world says, nothing to complain of Little Eva’s fancy for him–the instinctive gratitude and loveliness of a noble nature–had led her to petition her father that he might be her especial attendant, whenever she needed the escort of a servant, in her walks or rides; and Tom had general orders to let everything else go, and attend to Miss Eva whenever she wanted him,–orders which our readers may fancy were far from disagreeable to him. He was kept well dressed, for St. Clare was fastidiously particular on this point. His stable services were merely a sinecure, and consisted simply in a daily care and inspection, and directing an under-servant in his duties; for Marie St. Clare declared that she could not have any smell of the horses about him when he came near her, and that he must positively not be put to any service that would make him unpleasant to her, as her nervous system was entirely inadequate to any trial of that nature; one snuff of anything disagreeable being, according to her account, quite sufficient to close the scene, and put an end to all her earthly trials at once. Tom, therefore, in his well-brushed broadcloth suit, smooth beaver, glossy boots, faultless wristbands and collar, with his grave, good-natured black face, looked respectable enough to be a Bishop of Carthage, as men of his color were, in other ages.
Then, too, he was in a beautiful place, a consideration to which his sensitive race was never indifferent; and he did enjoy with a quiet joy the birds, the flowers, the fountains, the perfume, and light and beauty of the court, the silken hangings, and pictures, and lustres, and statuettes, and gilding, that made the parlors within a kind of Aladdin’s palace to him.
If ever Africa shall show an elevated and cultivated race,–and come it must, some time, her turn to figure in the great drama of human improvement.–life will awake there with a gorgeousness and splendor of which our cold western tribes faintly have conceived. In that far-off mystic land of gold, and gems, and spices, and waving palms, and wondrous flowers, and miraculous fertility, will awake new forms of art, new styles of splendor; and the negro race, no longer despised and trodden down, will, perhaps, show forth some of the latest and most magnificent revelations of human life. Certainly they will, in their gentleness, their lowly docility of heart, their aptitude to repose on a superior mind and rest on a higher power, their childlike simplicity of affection, and facility of forgiveness. In all these they will exhibit the highest form of the peculiarly _Christian life_, and, perhaps, as God chasteneth whom he loveth, he hath chosen poor Africa in the furnace of affliction, to make her the highest and noblest in that kingdom which he will set up, when every other kingdom has been tried, and failed; for the first shall be last, and the last first.
Was this what Marie St. Clare was thinking of, as she stood, gorgeously dressed, on the verandah, on Sunday morning, clasping a diamond bracelet on her slender wrist? Most likely it was. Or, if it wasn’t that, it was something else; for Marie patronized good things, and she was going now, in full force,–diamonds, silk, and lace, and jewels, and all,–to a fashionable church, to be very religious. Marie always made a point to be very pious on Sundays. There she stood, so slender, so elegant, so airy and undulating in all her motions, her lace scarf enveloping her like a mist. She looked a graceful creature, and she felt very good and very elegant indeed. Miss Ophelia stood at her side, a perfect contrast. It was not that she had not as handsome a silk dress and shawl, and as fine a pocket-handkerchief; but stiffness and squareness, and bolt-uprightness, enveloped her with as indefinite yet appreciable a presence as did grace her elegant neighbor; not the grace of God, however,–that is quite another thing!
“Where’s Eva?” said Marie.
“The child stopped on the stairs, to say something to Mammy.”
And what was Eva saying to Mammy on the stairs? Listen, reader, and you will hear, though Marie does not.
“Dear Mammy, I know your head is aching dreadfully.”
“Lord bless you, Miss Eva! my head allers aches lately. You don’t need to worry.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re going out; and here,”–and the little girl threw her arms around her,–“Mammy, you shall take my vinaigrette.”
“What! your beautiful gold thing, thar, with them diamonds! Lor, Miss, ’t wouldn’t be proper, no ways.”
“Why not? You need it, and I don’t. Mamma always uses it for headache, and it’ll make you feel better. No, you shall take it, to please me, now.”
“Do hear the darlin talk!” said Mammy, as Eva thrust it into her bosom, and kissing her, ran down stairs to her mother.
“What were you stopping for?”
“I was just stopping to give Mammy my vinaigrette, to take to church with her.”
“Eva” said Marie, stamping impatiently,–“your gold vinaigrette to _Mammy!_ When will you learn what’s _proper_? Go right and take it back this moment!”
Eva looked downcast and aggrieved, and turned slowly.
“I say, Marie, let the child alone; she shall do as she pleases,” said St. Clare.
“St. Clare, how will she ever get along in the world?” said Marie.
“The Lord knows,” said St. Clare, “but she’ll get along in heaven better than you or I.”
“O, papa, don’t,” said Eva, softly touching his elbow; “it troubles mother.”
“Well, cousin, are you ready to go to meeting?” said Miss Ophelia, turning square about on St. Clare.
“I’m not going, thank you.”
“I do wish St. Clare ever would go to church,” said Marie; “but he hasn’t a particle of religion about him. It really isn’t respectable.”
“I know it,” said St. Clare. “You ladies go to church to learn how to get along in the world, I suppose, and your piety sheds respectability on us. If I did go at all, I would go where Mammy goes; there’s something to keep a fellow awake there, at least.”
“What! those shouting Methodists? Horrible!” said Marie.
“Anything but the dead sea of your respectable churches, Marie. Positively, it’s too much to ask of a man. Eva, do you like to go? Come, stay at home and play with me.”
“Thank you, papa; but I’d rather go to church.”
“Isn’t it dreadful tiresome?” said St. Clare.
“I think it is tiresome, some,” said Eva, “and I am sleepy, too, but I try to keep awake.”
“What do you go for, then?”
“Why, you know, papa,” she said, in a whisper, “cousin told me that God wants to have us; and he gives us everything, you know; and it isn’t much to do it, if he wants us to. It isn’t so very tiresome after all.”
“You sweet, little obliging soul!” said St. Clare, kissing her; “go along, that’s a good girl, and pray for me.”
“Certainly, I always do,” said the child, as she sprang after her mother into the carriage.
St. Clare stood on the steps and kissed his hand to her, as the carriage drove away; large tears were in his eyes.
“O, Evangeline! rightly named,” he said; “hath not God made thee an evangel to me?”
So he felt a moment; and then he smoked a cigar, and read the Picayune, and forgot his little gospel. Was he much unlike other folks?
“You see, Evangeline,” said her mother, “it’s always right and proper to be kind to servants, but it isn’t proper to treat them _just_ as we would our relations, or people in our own class of life. Now, if Mammy was sick, you wouldn’t want to put her in your own bed.”
“I should feel just like it, mamma,” said Eva, “because then it would be handier to take care of her, and because, you know, my bed is better than hers.”
Marie was in utter despair at the entire want of moral perception evinced in this reply.
“What can I do to make this child understand me?” she said.
“Nothing,” said Miss Ophelia, significantly.
Eva looked sorry and disconcerted for a moment; but children, luckily, do not keep to one impression long, and in a few moments she was merrily laughing at various things which she saw from the coach-windows, as it rattled along.
“Well, ladies,” said St. Clare, as they were comfortably seated at the dinner-table, “and what was the bill of fare at church today?”
“O, Dr. G—- preached a splendid sermon,” said Marie. “It was just such a sermon as you ought to hear; it expressed all my views exactly.”
“It must have been very improving,” said St. Clare. “The subject must have been an extensive one.”
“Well, I mean all my views about society, and such things,” said Marie. “The text was, ‘He hath made everything beautiful in its season;’ and he showed how all the orders and distinctions in society came from God; and that it was so appropriate, you know, and beautiful, that some should be high and some low, and that some were born to rule and some to serve, and all that, you know; and he applied it so well to all this ridiculous fuss that is made about slavery, and he proved distinctly that the Bible was on our side, and supported all our institutions so convincingly. I only wish you’d heard him.”
“O, I didn’t need it,” said St. Clare. “I can learn what does me as much good as that from the Picayune, any time, and smoke a cigar besides; which I can’t do, you know, in a church.”
“Why,” said Miss Ophelia, “don’t you believe in these views?”
“Who,–I? You know I’m such a graceless dog that these religious aspects of such subjects don’t edify me much. If I was to say anything on this slavery matter, I would say out, fair and square, ‘We’re in for it; we’ve got ’em, and mean to keep ’em,–it’s for our convenience and our interest;’ for that’s the long and short of it,–that’s just the whole of what all this sanctified stuff amounts to, after all; and I think that it will be intelligible to everybody, everywhere.”
“I do think, Augustine, you are so irreverent!” said Marie. “I think it’s shocking to hear you talk.”
“Shocking! it’s the truth. This religious talk on such matters,–why don’t they carry it a little further, and show the beauty, in its season, of a fellow’s taking a glass too much, and sitting a little too late over his cards, and various providential arrangements of that sort, which are pretty frequent among us young men;–we’d like to hear that those are right and godly, too.”
“Well,” said Miss Ophelia, “do you think slavery right or wrong?”
“I’m not going to have any of your horrid New England directness, cousin,” said St. Clare, gayly. “If I answer that question, I know you’ll be at me with half a dozen others, each one harder than the last; and I’m not a going to define my position. I am one of the sort that lives by throwing stones at other people’s glass houses, but I never mean to put up one for them to stone.”
“That’s just the way he’s always talking,” said Marie; “you can’t get any satisfaction out of him. I believe it’s just because he don’t like religion, that he’s always running out in this way he’s been doing.”
“Religion!” said St. Clare, in a tone that made both ladies look at him. “Religion! Is what you hear at church, religion? Is that which can bend and turn, and descend and ascend, to fit every crooked phase of selfish, worldly society, religion? Is that religion which is less scrupulous, less generous, less just, less considerate for man, than even my own ungodly, worldly, blinded nature? No! When I look for a religion, I must look for something above me, and not something beneath.”
“Then you don’t believe that the Bible justifies slavery,” said Miss Ophelia.
“The Bible was my _mother’s_ book,” said St. Clare. “By it she lived and died, and I would be very sorry to think it did. I’d as soon desire to have it proved that my mother could drink brandy, chew tobacco, and swear, by way of satisfying me that I did right in doing the same. It wouldn’t make me at all more satisfied with these things in myself, and it would take from me the comfort of respecting her; and it really is a comfort, in this world, to have anything one can respect. In short, you see,” said he, suddenly resuming his gay tone, “all I want is that different things be kept in different boxes. The whole frame-work of society, both in Europe and America, is made up of various things which will not stand the scrutiny of any very ideal standard of morality. It’s pretty generally understood that men don’t aspire after the absolute right, but only to do about as well as the rest of the world. Now, when any one speaks up, like a man, and says slavery is necessary to us, we can’t get along without it, we should be beggared if we give it up, and, of course, we mean to hold on to it,–this is strong, clear, well-defined language; it has the respectability of truth to it; and, if we may judge by their practice, the majority of the world will bear us out in it. But when he begins to put on a long face, and snuffle, and quote Scripture, I incline to think he isn’t much better than he should be.”
“You are very uncharitable,” said Marie.
“Well,” said St. Clare, “suppose that something should bring down the price of cotton once and forever, and make the whole slave property a drug in the market, don’t you think we should soon have another version of the Scripture doctrine? What a flood of light would pour into the church, all at once, and how immediately it would be discovered that everything in the Bible and reason went the other way!”
“Well, at any rate,” said Marie, as she reclined herself on a lounge, “I’m thankful I’m born where slavery exists; and I believe it’s right,–indeed, I feel it must be; and, at any rate, I’m sure I couldn’t get along without it.”
“I say, what do you think, Pussy?” said her father to Eva, who came in at this moment, with a flower in her hand.
“What about, papa?”
“Why, which do you like the best,–to live as they do at your uncle’s, up in Vermont, or to have a house-full of servants, as we do?”
“O, of course, our way is the pleasantest,” said Eva.
“Why so?” said St. Clare, stroking her head.
“Why, it makes so many more round you to love, you know,” said Eva, looking up earnestly.
“Now, that’s just like Eva,” said Marie; “just one of her odd speeches.”
“Is it an odd speech, papa?” said Eva, whisperingly, as she got upon his knee.
“Rather, as this world goes, Pussy,” said St. Clare. “But where has my little Eva been, all dinner-time?”
“O, I’ve been up in Tom’s room, hearing him sing, and Aunt Dinah gave me my dinner.”
“Hearing Tom sing, hey?”
“O, yes! he sings such beautiful things about the New Jerusalem, and bright angels, and the land of Canaan.”
“I dare say; it’s better than the opera, isn’t it?”
“Yes, and he’s going to teach them to me.”
“Singing lessons, hey?–you _are_ coming on.”
“Yes, he sings for me, and I read to him in my Bible; and he explains what it means, you know.”
“On my word,” said Marie, laughing, “that is the latest joke of the season.”
“Tom isn’t a bad hand, now, at explaining Scripture, I’ll dare swear,” said St. Clare. “Tom has a natural genius for religion. I wanted the horses out early, this morning, and I stole up to Tom’s cubiculum there, over the stables, and there I heard him holding a meeting by himself; and, in fact, I haven’t heard anything quite so savory as Tom’s prayer, this some time. He put in for me, with a zeal that was quite apostolic.”
“Perhaps he guessed you were listening. I’ve heard of that trick before.”
“If he did, he wasn’t very polite; for he gave the Lord his opinion of me, pretty freely. Tom seemed to think there was decidedly room for improvement in me, and seemed very earnest that I should be converted.”
“I hope you’ll lay it to heart,” said Miss Ophelia.
“I suppose you are much of the same opinion,” said St. Clare. “Well, we shall see,–shan’t we, Eva?”
The Freeman’s Defence
There was a gentle bustle at the Quaker house, as the afternoon drew to a close. Rachel Halliday moved quietly to and fro, collecting from her household stores such needments as could be arranged in the smallest compass, for the wanderers who were to go forth that night. The afternoon shadows stretched eastward, and the round red sun stood thoughtfully on the horizon, and his beams shone yellow and calm into the little bed-room where George and his wife were sitting. He was sitting with his child on his knee, and his wife’s hand in his. Both looked thoughtful and serious and traces of tears were on their cheeks.
“Yes, Eliza,” said George, “I know all you say is true. You are a good child,–a great deal better than I am; and I will try to do as you say. I’ll try to act worthy of a free man. I’ll try to feel like a Christian. God Almighty knows that I’ve meant to do well,–tried hard to do well,–when everything has been against me; and now I’ll forget all the past, and put away every hard and bitter feeling, and read my Bible, and learn to be a good man.”
“And when we get to Canada,” said Eliza, “I can help you. I can do dress-making very well; and I understand fine washing and ironing; and between us we can find something to live on.”
“Yes, Eliza, so long as we have each other and our boy. O! Eliza, if these people only knew what a blessing it is for a man to feel that his wife and child belong to _him_! I’ve often wondered to see men that could call their wives and children _their own_ fretting and worrying about anything else. Why, I feel rich and strong, though we have nothing but our bare hands. I feel as if I could scarcely ask God for any more. Yes, though I’ve worked hard every day, till I am twenty-five years old, and have not a cent of money, nor a roof to cover me, nor a spot of land to call my own, yet, if they will only let me alone now, I will be satisfied,–thankful; I will work, and send back the money for you and my boy. As to my old master, he has been paid five times over for all he ever spent for me. I don’t owe him anything.”
“But yet we are not quite out of danger,” said Eliza; “we are not yet in Canada.”
“True,” said George, “but it seems as if I smelt the free air, and it makes me strong.”
At this moment, voices were heard in the outer apartment, in earnest conversation, and very soon a rap was heard on the door. Eliza started and opened it.
Simeon Halliday was there, and with him a Quaker brother, whom he introduced as Phineas Fletcher. Phineas was tall and lathy, red-haired, with an expression of great acuteness and shrewdness in his face. He had not the placid, quiet, unworldly air of Simeon Halliday; on the contrary, a particularly wide-awake and _au fait_ appearance, like a man who rather prides himself on knowing what he is about, and keeping a bright lookout ahead; peculiarities which sorted rather oddly with his broad brim and formal phraseology.
“Our friend Phineas hath discovered something of importance to the interests of thee and thy party, George,” said Simeon; “it were well for thee to hear it.”
“That I have,” said Phineas, “and it shows the use of a man’s always sleeping with one ear open, in certain places, as I’ve always said. Last night I stopped at a little lone tavern, back on the road. Thee remembers the place, Simeon, where we sold some apples, last year, to that fat woman, with the great ear-rings. Well, I was tired with hard driving; and, after my supper I stretched myself down on a pile of bags in the corner, and pulled a buffalo over me, to wait till my bed was ready; and what does I do, but get fast asleep.”
“With one ear open, Phineas?” said Simeon, quietly.
“No; I slept, ears and all, for an hour or two, for I was pretty well tired; but when I came to myself a little, I found that there were some men in the room, sitting round a table, drinking and talking; and I thought, before I made much muster, I’d just see what they were up to, especially as I heard them say something about the Quakers. ‘So,’ says one, ‘they are up in the Quaker settlement, no doubt,’ says he. Then I listened with both ears, and I found that they were talking about this very party. So I lay and heard them lay off all their plans. This young man, they said, was to be sent back to Kentucky, to his master, who was going to make an example of him, to keep all niggers from running away; and his wife two of them were going to run down to New Orleans to sell, on their own account, and they calculated to get sixteen or eighteen hundred dollars for her; and the child, they said, was going to a trader, who had bought him; and then there was the boy, Jim, and his mother, they were to go back to their masters in Kentucky. They said that there were two constables, in a town a little piece ahead, who would go in with ’em to get ’em taken up, and the young woman was to be taken before a judge; and one of the fellows, who is small and smooth-spoken, was to swear to her for his property, and get her delivered over to him to take south. They’ve got a right notion of the track we are going tonight; and they’ll be down after us, six or eight strong. So now, what’s to be done?”
The group that stood in various attitudes, after this communication, were worthy of a painter. Rachel Halliday, who had taken her hands out of a batch of biscuit, to hear the news, stood with them upraised and floury, and with a face of the deepest concern. Simeon looked profoundly thoughtful; Eliza had thrown her arms around her husband, and was looking up to him. George stood with clenched hands and glowing eyes, and looking as any other man might look, whose wife was to be sold at auction, and son sent to a trader, all under the shelter of a Christian nation’s laws.
“What _shall_ we do, George?” said Eliza faintly.
“I know what _I_ shall do,” said George, as he stepped into the little room, and began examining pistols.
“Ay, ay,” said Phineas, nodding his head to Simeon; “thou seest, Simeon, how it will work.”
“I see,” said Simeon, sighing; “I pray it come not to that.”
“I don’t want to involve any one with or for me,” said George. “If you will lend me your vehicle and direct me, I will drive alone to the next stand. Jim is a giant in strength, and brave as death and despair, and so am I.”
“Ah, well, friend,” said Phineas, “but thee’ll need a driver, for all that. Thee’s quite welcome to do all the fighting, thee knows; but I know a thing or two about the road, that thee doesn’t.”
“But I don’t want to involve you,” said George.
“Involve,” said Phineas, with a curious and keen expression of face, “When thee does involve me, please to let me know.”
“Phineas is a wise and skilful man,” said Simeon. “Thee does well, George, to abide by his judgment; and,” he added, laying his hand kindly on George’s shoulder, and pointing to the pistols, “be not over hasty with these,–young blood is hot.”
“I will attack no man,” said George. “All I ask of this country is to be let alone, and I will go out peaceably; but,”–he paused, and his brow darkened and his face worked,–“I’ve had a sister sold in that New Orleans market. I know what they are sold for; and am I going to stand by and see them take my wife and sell her, when God has given me a pair of strong arms to defend her? No; God help me! I’ll fight to the last breath, before they shall take my wife and son. Can you blame me?”
“Mortal man cannot blame thee, George. Flesh and blood could not do otherwise,” said Simeon. “Woe unto the world because of offences, but woe unto them through whom the offence cometh.”
“Would not even you, sir, do the same, in my place?”
“I pray that I be not tried,” said Simeon; “the flesh is weak.”
“I think my flesh would be pretty tolerable strong, in such a case,” said Phineas, stretching out a pair of arms like the sails of a windmill. “I an’t sure, friend George, that I shouldn’t hold a fellow for thee, if thee had any accounts to settle with him.”
“If man should _ever_ resist evil,” said Simeon, “then George should feel free to do it now: but the leaders of our people taught a more excellent way; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God; but it goes sorely against the corrupt will of man, and none can receive it save they to whom it is given. Let us pray the Lord that we be not tempted.”
“And so _I_ do,” said Phineas; “but if we are tempted too much–why, let them look out, that’s all.”
“It’s quite plain thee wasn’t born a Friend,” said Simeon, smiling. “The old nature hath its way in thee pretty strong as yet.”
To tell the truth, Phineas had been a hearty, two-fisted backwoodsman, a vigorous hunter, and a dead shot at a buck; but, having wooed a pretty Quakeress, had been moved by the power of her charms to join the society in his neighborhood; and though he was an honest, sober, and efficient member, and nothing particular could be alleged against him, yet the more spiritual among them could not but discern an exceeding lack of savor in his developments.
“Friend Phineas will ever have ways of his own,” said Rachel Halliday, smiling; “but we all think that his heart is in the right place, after all.”
“Well,” said George, “isn’t it best that we hasten our flight?”
“I got up at four o’clock, and came on with all speed, full two or three hours ahead of them, if they start at the time they planned. It isn’t safe to start till dark, at any rate; for there are some evil persons in the villages ahead, that might be disposed to meddle with us, if they saw our wagon, and that would delay us more than the waiting; but in two hours I think we may venture. I will go over to Michael Cross, and engage him to come behind on his swift nag, and keep a bright lookout on the road, and warn us if any company of men come on. Michael keeps a horse that can soon get ahead of most other horses; and he could shoot ahead and let us know, if there were any danger. I am going out now to warn Jim and the old woman to be in readiness, and to see about the horse. We have a pretty fair start, and stand a good chance to get to the stand before they can come up with us. So, have good courage, friend George; this isn’t the first ugly scrape that I’ve been in with thy people,” said Phineas, as he closed the door.
“Phineas is pretty shrewd,” said Simeon. “He will do the best that can be done for thee, George.”
“All I am sorry for,” said George, “is the risk to you.”
“Thee’ll much oblige us, friend George, to say no more about that. What we do we are conscience bound to do; we can do no other way. And now, mother,” said he, turning to Rachel, “hurry thy preparations for these friends, for we must not send them away fasting.”
And while Rachel and her children were busy making corn-cake, and cooking ham and chicken, and hurrying on the _et ceteras_ of the evening meal, George and his wife sat in their little room, with their arms folded about each other, in such talk as husband and wife have when they know that a few hours may part them forever.
“Eliza,” said George, “people that have friends, and houses, and lands, and money, and all those things _can’t_ love as we do, who have nothing but each other. Till I knew you, Eliza, no creature had loved me, but my poor, heart-broken mother and sister. I saw poor Emily that morning the trader carried her off. She came to the corner where I was lying asleep, and said, ’Poor George, your last friend is going. What will become of you, poor boy?’ And I got up and threw my arms round her, and cried and sobbed, and she cried too; and those were the last kind words I got for ten long years; and my heart all withered up, and felt as dry as ashes, till I met you. And your loving me,–why, it was almost like raising one from the dead! I’ve been a new man ever since! And now, Eliza, I’ll give my last drop of blood, but they _shall not_ take you from me. Whoever gets you must walk over my dead body.”
“O, Lord, have mercy!” said Eliza, sobbing. “If he will only let us get out of this country together, that is all we ask.”
“Is God on their side?” said George, speaking less to his wife than pouring out his own bitter thoughts. “Does he see all they do? Why does he let such things happen? And they tell us that the Bible is on their side; certainly all the power is. They are rich, and healthy, and happy; they are members of churches, expecting to go to heaven; and they get along so easy in the world, and have it all their own way; and poor, honest, faithful Christians,–Christians as good or better than they,–are lying in the very dust under their feet. They buy ’em and sell ’em, and make trade of their heart’s blood, and groans and tears,–and God _lets_ them.”
“Friend George,” said Simeon, from the kitchen, “listen to this Psalm; it may do thee good.”
George drew his seat near the door, and Eliza, wiping her tears, came forward also to listen, while Simeon read as follows:
“But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well-nigh slipped. For I was envious of the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They are not in trouble like other men, neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore, pride compasseth them as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than heart could wish. They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression; they speak loftily. Therefore his people return, and the waters of a full cup are wrung out to them, and they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High?”
“Is not that the way thee feels, George?”
“It is so indeed,” said George,–“as well as I could have written it myself.”
“Then, hear,” said Simeon: “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me until I went unto the sanctuary of God. Then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places, thou castedst them down to destruction. As a dream when one awaketh, so, oh Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image. Nevertheless I am continually with thee; thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me by thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory. It is good for me to draw near unto God. I have put my trust in the Lord God.” *
* Ps. 73, “The End of the Wicked contrasted with that of the Righteous.”
The words of holy trust, breathed by the friendly old man, stole like sacred music over the harassed and chafed spirit of George; and after he ceased, he sat with a gentle and subdued expression on his fine features.
“If this world were all, George,” said Simeon, “thee might, indeed, ask where is the Lord? But it is often those who have least of all in this life whom he chooseth for the kingdom. Put thy trust in him and, no matter what befalls thee here, he will make all right hereafter.”
If these words had been spoken by some easy, self-indulgent exhorter, from whose mouth they might have come merely as pious and rhetorical flourish, proper to be used to people in distress, perhaps they might not have had much effect; but coming from one who daily and calmly risked fine and imprisonment for the cause of God and man, they had a weight that could not but be felt, and both the poor, desolate fugitives found calmness and strength breathing into them from it.
And now Rachel took Eliza’s hand kindly, and led the way to the supper-table. As they were sitting down, a light tap sounded at the door, and Ruth entered.
“I just ran in,” she said, “with these little stockings for the boy,–three pair, nice, warm woollen ones. It will be so cold, thee knows, in Canada. Does thee keep up good courage, Eliza?” she added, tripping round to Eliza’s side of the table, and shaking her warmly by the hand, and slipping a seed-cake into Harry’s hand. “I brought a little parcel of these for him,” she said, tugging at her pocket to get out the package. “Children, thee knows, will always be eating.”
“O, thank you; you are too kind,” said Eliza.
“Come, Ruth, sit down to supper,” said Rachel.
“I couldn’t, any way. I left John with the baby, and some biscuits in the oven; and I can’t stay a moment, else John will burn up all the biscuits, and give the baby all the sugar in the bowl. That’s the way he does,” said the little Quakeress, laughing. “So, good-by, Eliza; good-by, George; the Lord grant thee a safe journey;” and, with a few tripping steps, Ruth was out of the apartment.
A little while after supper, a large covered-wagon drew up before the door; the night was clear starlight; and Phineas jumped briskly down from his seat to arrange his passengers. George walked out of the door, with his child on one arm and his wife on the other. His step was firm, his face settled and resolute. Rachel and Simeon came out after them.
“You get out, a moment,” said Phineas to those inside, “and let me fix the back of the wagon, there, for the women-folks and the boy.”
“Here are the two buffaloes,” said Rachel. “Make the seats as comfortable as may be; it’s hard riding all night.”
Jim came out first, and carefully assisted out his old mother, who clung to his arm, and looked anxiously about, as if she expected the pursuer every moment.
“Jim, are your pistols all in order?” said George, in a low, firm voice.
“Yes, indeed,” said Jim.
“And you’ve no doubt what you shall do, if they come?”
“I rather think I haven’t,” said Jim, throwing open his broad chest, and taking a deep breath. “Do you think I’ll let them get mother again?”
During this brief colloquy, Eliza had been taking her leave of her kind friend, Rachel, and was handed into the carriage by Simeon, and, creeping into the back part with her boy, sat down among the buffalo-skins. The old woman was next handed in and seated and George and Jim placed on a rough board seat front of them, and Phineas mounted in front.
“Farewell, my friends,” said Simeon, from without.
“God bless you!” answered all from within.
And the wagon drove off, rattling and jolting over the frozen road.
There was no opportunity for conversation, on account of the roughness of the way and the noise of the wheels. The vehicle, therefore, rumbled on, through long, dark stretches of woodland,–over wide dreary plains,–up hills, and down valleys,–and on, on, on they jogged, hour after hour. The child soon fell asleep, and lay heavily in his mother’s lap. The poor, frightened old woman at last forgot her fears; and, even Eliza, as the night waned, found all her anxieties insufficient to keep her eyes from closing. Phineas seemed, on the whole, the briskest of the company, and beguiled his long drive with whistling certain very unquaker-like songs, as he went on.
But about three o’clock George’s ear caught the hasty and decided click of a horse’s hoof coming behind them at some distance and jogged Phineas by the elbow. Phineas pulled up his horses, and listened.
“That must be Michael,” he said; “I think I know the sound of his gallop;” and he rose up and stretched his head anxiously back over the road.
A man riding in hot haste was now dimly descried at the top of a distant hill.
“There he is, I do believe!” said Phineas. George and Jim both sprang out of the wagon before they knew what they were doing. All stood intensely silent, with their faces turned towards the expected messenger. On he came. Now he went down into a valley, where they could not see him; but they heard the sharp, hasty tramp, rising nearer and nearer; at last they saw him emerge on the top of an eminence, within hail.
“Yes, that’s Michael!” said Phineas; and, raising his voice, “Halloa, there, Michael!”
“Phineas! is that thee?”
“Yes; what news–they coming?”
“Right on behind, eight or ten of them, hot with brandy, swearing and foaming like so many wolves.”
And, just as he spoke, a breeze brought the faint sound of galloping horsemen towards them.
“In with you,–quick, boys, _in!_” said Phineas. “If you must fight, wait till I get you a piece ahead.” And, with the word, both jumped in, and Phineas lashed the horses to a run, the horseman keeping close beside them. The wagon rattled, jumped, almost flew, over the frozen ground; but plainer, and still plainer, came the noise of pursuing horsemen behind. The women heard it, and, looking anxiously out, saw, far in the rear, on the brow of a distant hill, a party of men looming up against the red-streaked sky of early dawn. Another hill, and their pursuers had evidently caught sight of their wagon, whose white cloth-covered top made it conspicuous at some distance, and a loud yell of brutal triumph came forward on the wind. Eliza sickened, and strained her child closer to her bosom; the old woman prayed and groaned, and George and Jim clenched their pistols with the grasp of despair. The pursuers gained on them fast; the carriage made a sudden turn, and brought them near a ledge of a steep overhanging rock, that rose in an isolated ridge or clump in a large lot, which was, all around it, quite clear and smooth. This isolated pile, or range of rocks, rose up black and heavy against the brightening sky, and seemed to promise shelter and concealment. It was a place well known to Phineas, who had been familiar with the spot in his hunting days; and it was to gain this point he had been racing his horses.
“Now for it!” said he, suddenly checking his horses, and springing from his seat to the ground. “Out with you, in a twinkling, every one, and up into these rocks with me. Michael, thee tie thy horse to the wagon, and drive ahead to Amariah’s and get him and his boys to come back and talk to these fellows.”
In a twinkling they were all out of the carriage.
“There,” said Phineas, catching up Harry, “you, each of you, see to the women; and run, _now_ if you ever _did_ run!”
They needed no exhortation. Quicker than we can say it, the whole party were over the fence, making with all speed for the rocks, while Michael, throwing himself from his horse, and fastening the bridle to the wagon, began driving it rapidly away.
“Come ahead,” said Phineas, as they reached the rocks, and saw in the mingled starlight and dawn, the traces of a rude but plainly marked foot-path leading up among them; “this is one of our old hunting-dens. Come up!”
Phineas went before, springing up the rocks like a goat, with the boy in his arms. Jim came second, bearing his trembling old mother over his shoulder, and George and Eliza brought up the rear. The party of horsemen came up to the fence, and, with mingled shouts and oaths, were dismounting, to prepare to follow them. A few moments’ scrambling brought them to the top of the ledge; the path then passed between a narrow defile, where only one could walk at a time, till suddenly they came to a rift or chasm more than a yard in breadth, and beyond which lay a pile of rocks, separate from the rest of the ledge, standing full thirty feet high, with its sides steep and perpendicular as those of a castle. Phineas easily leaped the chasm, and sat down the boy on a smooth, flat platform of crisp white moss, that covered the top of the rock.
“Over with you!” he called; “spring, now, once, for your lives!” said he, as one after another sprang across. Several fragments of loose stone formed a kind of breast-work, which sheltered their position from the observation of those below.
“Well, here we all are,” said Phineas, peeping over the stone breast-work to watch the assailants, who were coming tumultuously up under the rocks. “Let ’em get us, if they can. Whoever comes here has to walk single file between those two rocks, in fair range of your pistols, boys, d’ye see?”
“I do see,” said George! “and now, as this matter is ours, let us take all the risk, and do all the fighting.”
“Thee’s quite welcome to do the fighting, George,” said Phineas, chewing some checkerberry-leaves as he spoke; “but I may have the fun of looking on, I suppose. But see, these fellows are kinder debating down there, and looking up, like hens when they are going to fly up on to the roost. Hadn’t thee better give ’em a word of advice, before they come up, just to tell ’em handsomely they’ll be shot if they do?”
The party beneath, now more apparent in the light of the dawn, consisted of our old acquaintances, Tom Loker and Marks, with two constables, and a posse consisting of such rowdies at the last tavern as could be engaged by a little brandy to go and help the fun of trapping a set of niggers.
“Well, Tom, yer coons are farly treed,” said one.
“Yes, I see ’em go up right here,” said Tom; “and here’s a path. I’m for going right up. They can’t jump down in a hurry, and it won’t take long to ferret ’em out.”
“But, Tom, they might fire at us from behind the rocks,” said Marks. “That would be ugly, you know.”
“Ugh!” said Tom, with a sneer. “Always for saving your skin, Marks! No danger! niggers are too plaguy scared!”
“I don’t know why I _shouldn’t_ save my skin,” said Marks. “It’s the best I’ve got; and niggers _do_ fight like the devil, sometimes.”
At this moment, George appeared on the top of a rock above them, and, speaking in a calm, clear voice, said,
“Gentlemen, who are you, down there, and what do you want?”
“We want a party of runaway niggers,” said Tom Loker. “One George Harris, and Eliza Harris, and their son, and Jim Selden, and an old woman. We’ve got the officers, here, and a warrant to take ’em; and we’re going to have ’em, too. D’ye hear? An’t you George Harris, that belongs to Mr. Harris, of Shelby county, Kentucky?”
“I am George Harris. A Mr. Harris, of Kentucky, did call me his property. But now I’m a free man, standing on God’s free soil; and my wife and my child I claim as mine. Jim and his mother are here. We have arms to defend ourselves, and we mean to do it. You can come up, if you like; but the first one of you that comes within the range of our bullets is a dead man, and the next, and the next; and so on till the last.”
“O, come! come!” said a short, puffy man, stepping forward, and blowing his nose as he did so. “Young man, this an’t no kind of talk at all for you. You see, we’re officers of justice. We’ve got the law on our side, and the power, and so forth; so you’d better give up peaceably, you see; for you’ll certainly have to give up, at last.”
“I know very well that you’ve got the law on your side, and the power,” said George, bitterly. “You mean to take my wife to sell in New Orleans, and put my boy like a calf in a trader’s pen, and send Jim’s old mother to the brute that whipped and abused her before, because he couldn’t abuse her son. You want to send Jim and me back to be whipped and tortured, and ground down under the heels of them that you call masters; and your laws _will_ bear you out in it,–more shame for you and them! But you haven’t got us. We don’t own your laws; we don’t own your country; we stand here as free, under God’s sky, as you are; and, by the great God that made us, we’ll fight for our liberty till we die.”
George stood out in fair sight, on the top of the rock, as he made his declaration of independence; the glow of dawn gave a flush to his swarthy cheek, and bitter indignation and despair gave fire to his dark eye; and, as if appealing from man to the justice of God, he raised his hand to heaven as he spoke.
If it had been only a Hungarian youth, now bravely defending in some mountain fastness the retreat of fugitives escaping from Austria into America, this would have been sublime heroism; but as it was a youth of African descent, defending the retreat of fugitives through America into Canada, of course we are too well instructed and patriotic to see any heroism in it; and if any of our readers do, they must do it on their own private responsibility. When despairing Hungarian fugitives make their way, against all the search-warrants and authorities of their lawful government, to America, press and political cabinet ring with applause and welcome. When despairing African fugitives do the same thing,–it is–what _is_ it?
Be it as it may, it is certain that the attitude, eye, voice, manner, of the speaker for a moment struck the party below to silence. There is something in boldness and determination that for a time hushes even the rudest nature. Marks was the only one who remained wholly untouched. He was deliberately cocking his pistol, and, in the momentary silence that followed George’s speech, he fired at him.
“Ye see ye get jist as much for him dead as alive in Kentucky,” he said coolly, as he wiped his pistol on his coat-sleeve.
George sprang backward,–Eliza uttered a shriek,–the ball had passed close to his hair, had nearly grazed the cheek of his wife, and struck in the tree above.
“It’s nothing, Eliza,” said George, quickly.
“Thee’d better keep out of sight, with thy speechifying,” said Phineas; “they’re mean scamps.”
“Now, Jim,” said George, “look that your pistols are all right, and watch that pass with me. The first man that shows himself I fire at; you take the second, and so on. It won’t do, you know, to waste two shots on one.”
“But what if you don’t hit?”
“I _shall_ hit,” said George, coolly.
“Good! now, there’s stuff in that fellow,” muttered Phineas, between his teeth.
The party below, after Marks had fired, stood, for a moment, rather undecided.
“I think you must have hit some on ’em,” said one of the men. “I heard a squeal!”
“I’m going right up for one,” said Tom. “I never was afraid of niggers, and I an’t going to be now. Who goes after?” he said, springing up the rocks.
George heard the words distinctly. He drew up his pistol, examined it, pointed it towards that point in the defile where the first man would appear.
One of the most courageous of the party followed Tom, and, the way being thus made, the whole party began pushing up the rock,–the hindermost pushing the front ones faster than they would have gone of themselves. On they came, and in a moment the burly form of Tom appeared in sight, almost at the verge of the chasm.
George fired,–the shot entered his side,–but, though wounded, he would not retreat, but, with a yell like that of a mad bull, he was leaping right across the chasm into the party.
“Friend,” said Phineas, suddenly stepping to the front, and meeting him with a push from his long arms, “thee isn’t wanted here.”
Down he fell into the chasm, crackling down among trees, bushes, logs, loose stones, till he lay bruised and groaning thirty feet below. The fall might have killed him, had it not been broken and moderated by his clothes catching in the branches of a large tree; but he came down with some force, however,–more than was at all agreeable or convenient.
“Lord help us, they are perfect devils!” said Marks, heading the retreat down the rocks with much more of a will than he had joined the ascent, while all the party came tumbling precipitately after him,–the fat constable, in particular, blowing and puffing in a very energetic manner.
“I say, fellers,” said Marks, “you jist go round and pick up Tom, there, while I run and get on to my horse to go back for help,–that’s you;” and, without minding the hootings and jeers of his company, Marks was as good as his word, and was soon seen galloping away.
“Was ever such a sneaking varmint?” said one of the men; “to come on his business, and he clear out and leave us this yer way!”
“Well, we must pick up that feller,” said another. “Cuss me if I much care whether he is dead or alive.”
The men, led by the groans of Tom, scrambled and crackled through stumps, logs and bushes, to where that hero lay groaning and swearing with alternate vehemence.
“Ye keep it agoing pretty loud, Tom,” said one. “Ye much hurt?”
“Don’t know. Get me up, can’t ye? Blast that infernal Quaker! If it hadn’t been for him, I’d a pitched some on ’em down here, to see how they liked it.”
With much labor and groaning, the fallen hero was assisted to rise; and, with one holding him up under each shoulder, they got him as far as the horses.
“If you could only get me a mile back to that ar tavern. Give me a handkerchief or something, to stuff into this place, and stop this infernal bleeding.”
George looked over the rocks, and saw them trying to lift the burly form of Tom into the saddle. After two or three ineffectual attempts, he reeled, and fell heavily to the ground.
“O, I hope he isn’t killed!” said Eliza, who, with all the party, stood watching the proceeding.
“Why not?” said Phineas; “serves him right.”
“Because after death comes the judgment,” said Eliza.
“Yes,” said the old woman, who had been groaning and praying, in her Methodist fashion, during all the encounter, “it’s an awful case for the poor crittur’s soul.”
“On my word, they’re leaving him, I do believe,” said Phineas.
It was true; for after some appearance of irresolution and consultation, the whole party got on their horses and rode away. When they were quite out of sight, Phineas began to bestir himself.
“Well, we must go down and walk a piece,” he said. “I told Michael to go forward and bring help, and be along back here with the wagon; but we shall have to walk a piece along the road, I reckon, to meet them. The Lord grant he be along soon! It’s early in the day; there won’t be much travel afoot yet a while; we an’t much more than two miles from our stopping-place. If the road hadn’t been so rough last night, we could have outrun ’em entirely.”
As the party neared the fence, they discovered in the distance, along the road, their own wagon coming back, accompanied by some men on horseback.
“Well, now, there’s Michael, and Stephen and Amariah,” exclaimed Phineas, joyfully. “Now we _are_ made–as safe as if we’d got there.”
“Well, do stop, then,” said Eliza, “and do something for that poor man; he’s groaning dreadfully.”
“It would be no more than Christian,” said George; “let’s take him up and carry him on.”
“And doctor him up among the Quakers!” said Phineas; “pretty well, that! Well, I don’t care if we do. Here, let’s have a look at him;” and Phineas, who in the course of his hunting and backwoods life had acquired some rude experience of surgery, kneeled down by the wounded man, and began a careful examination of his condition.
“Marks,” said Tom, feebly, “is that you, Marks?”
“No; I reckon ’tan’t friend,” said Phineas. “Much Marks cares for thee, if his own skin’s safe. He’s off, long ago.”
“I believe I’m done for,” said Tom. “The cussed sneaking dog, to leave me to die alone! My poor old mother always told me ’t would be so.”
“La sakes! jist hear the poor crittur. He’s got a mammy, now,” said the old negress. “I can’t help kinder pityin’ on him.”
“Softly, softly; don’t thee snap and snarl, friend,” said Phineas, as Tom winced and pushed his hand away. “Thee has no chance, unless I stop the bleeding.” And Phineas busied himself with making some off-hand surgical arrangements with his own pocket-handkerchief, and such as could be mustered in the company.
“You pushed me down there,” said Tom, faintly.
“Well if I hadn’t thee would have pushed us down, thee sees,” said Phineas, as he stooped to apply his bandage. “There, there,–let me fix this bandage. We mean well to thee; we bear no malice. Thee shall be taken to a house where they’ll nurse thee first rate, well as thy own mother could.”
Tom groaned, and shut his eyes. In men of his class, vigor and resolution are entirely a physical matter, and ooze out with the flowing of the blood; and the gigantic fellow really looked piteous in his helplessness.
The other party now came up. The seats were taken out of the wagon. The buffalo-skins, doubled in fours, were spread all along one side, and four men, with great difficulty, lifted the heavy form of Tom into it. Before he was gotten in, he fainted entirely. The old negress, in the abundance of her compassion, sat down on the bottom, and took his head in her lap. Eliza, George and Jim, bestowed themselves, as well as they could, in the remaining space and the whole party set forward.
“What do you think of him?” said George, who sat by Phineas in front.
“Well it’s only a pretty deep flesh-wound; but, then, tumbling and scratching down that place didn’t help him much. It has bled pretty freely,–pretty much drained him out, courage and all,–but he’ll get over it, and may be learn a thing or two by it.”
“I’m glad to hear you say so,” said George. “It would always be a heavy thought to me, if I’d caused his death, even in a just cause.”
“Yes,” said Phineas, “killing is an ugly operation, any way they’ll fix it,–man or beast. I’ve seen a buck that was shot down and a dying, look that way on a feller with his eye, that it reely most made a feller feel wicked for killing on him; and human creatures is a more serious consideration yet, bein’, as thy wife says, that the judgment comes to ’em after death. So I don’t know as our people’s notions on these matters is too strict; and, considerin’ how I was raised, I fell in with them pretty considerably.”
“What shall you do with this poor fellow?” said George.
“O, carry him along to Amariah’s. There’s old Grandmam Stephens there,–Dorcas, they call her,–she’s most an amazin’ nurse. She takes to nursing real natural, and an’t never better suited than when she gets a sick body to tend. We may reckon on turning him over to her for a fortnight or so.”
A ride of about an hour more brought the party to a neat farmhouse, where the weary travellers were received to an abundant breakfast. Tom Loker was soon carefully deposited in a much cleaner and softer bed than he had ever been in the habit of occupying. His wound was carefully dressed and bandaged, and he lay languidly opening and shutting his eyes on the white window-curtains and gently-gliding figures of his sick room, like a weary child. And here, for the present, we shall take our leave of one party.
Miss Ophelia’s Experiences and Opinions
Our friend Tom, in his own simple musings, often compared his more fortunate lot, in the bondage into which he was cast, with that of Joseph in Egypt; and, in fact, as time went on, and he developed more and more under the eye of his master, the strength of the parallel increased.
St. Clare was indolent and careless of money. Hitherto the providing and marketing had been principally done by Adolph, who was, to the full, as careless and extravagant as his master; and, between them both, they had carried on the dispersing process with great alacrity. Accustomed, for many years, to regard his master’s property as his own care, Tom saw, with an uneasiness he could scarcely repress, the wasteful expenditure of the establishment; and, in the quiet, indirect way which his class often acquire, would sometimes make his own suggestions.
St. Clare at first employed him occasionally; but, struck with his soundness of mind and good business capacity, he confided in him more and more, till gradually all the marketing and providing for the family were intrusted to him.
“No, no, Adolph,” he said, one day, as Adolph was deprecating the passing of power out of his hands; “let Tom alone. You only understand what you want; Tom understands cost and come to; and there may be some end to money, bye and bye if we don’t let somebody do that.”
Trusted to an unlimited extent by a careless master, who handed him a bill without looking at it, and pocketed the change without counting it, Tom had every facility and temptation to dishonesty; and nothing but an impregnable simplicity of nature, strengthened by Christian faith, could have kept him from it. But, to that nature, the very unbounded trust reposed in him was bond and seal for the most scrupulous accuracy.
With Adolph the case had been different. Thoughtless and self-indulgent, and unrestrained by a master who found it easier to indulge than to regulate, he had fallen into an absolute confusion as to _meum tuum_ with regard to himself and his master, which sometimes troubled even St. Clare. His own good sense taught him that such a training of his servants was unjust and dangerous. A sort of chronic remorse went with him everywhere, although not strong enough to make any decided change in his course; and this very remorse reacted again into indulgence. He passed lightly over the most serious faults, because he told himself that, if he had done his part, his dependents had not fallen into them.
Tom regarded his gay, airy, handsome young master with an odd mixture of fealty, reverence, and fatherly solicitude. That he never read the Bible; never went to church; that he jested and made free with any and every thing that came in the way of his wit; that he spent his Sunday evenings at the opera or theatre; that he went to wine parties, and clubs, and suppers, oftener than was at all expedient,–were all things that Tom could see as plainly as anybody, and on which he based a conviction that “Mas’r wasn’t a Christian;”–a conviction, however, which he would have been very slow to express to any one else, but on which he founded many prayers, in his own simple fashion, when he was by himself in his little dormitory. Not that Tom had not his own way of speaking his mind occasionally, with something of the tact often observable in his class; as, for example, the very day after the Sabbath we have described, St. Clare was invited out to a convivial party of choice spirits, and was helped home, between one and two o’clock at night, in a condition when the physical had decidedly attained the upper hand of the intellectual. Tom and Adolph assisted to get him composed for the night, the latter in high spirits, evidently regarding the matter as a good joke, and laughing heartily at the rusticity of Tom’s horror, who really was simple enough to lie awake most of the rest of the night, praying for his young master.
“Well, Tom, what are you waiting for?” said St. Clare, the next day, as he sat in his library, in dressing-gown and slippers. St. Clare had just been entrusting Tom with some money, and various commissions. “Isn’t all right there, Tom?” he added, as Tom still stood waiting.
“I’m ’fraid not, Mas’r,” said Tom, with a grave face.
St. Clare laid down his paper, and set down his coffee-cup, and looked at Tom.
“Why Tom, what’s the case? You look as solemn as a coffin.”
“I feel very bad, Mas’r. I allays have thought that Mas’r would be good to everybody.”
“Well, Tom, haven’t I been? Come, now, what do you want? There’s something you haven’t got, I suppose, and this is the preface.”
“Mas’r allays been good to me. I haven’t nothing to complain of on that head. But there is one that Mas’r isn’t good to.”
“Why, Tom, what’s got into you? Speak out; what do you mean?”
“Last night, between one and two, I thought so. I studied upon the matter then. Mas’r isn’t good to _himself_.”
Tom said this with his back to his master, and his hand on the door-knob. St. Clare felt his face flush crimson, but he laughed.
“O, that’s all, is it?” he said, gayly.
“All!” said Tom, turning suddenly round and falling on his knees. “O, my dear young Mas’r; I’m ’fraid it will be _loss of all–all_–body and soul. The good Book says, ’it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder!’ my dear Mas’r!”
Tom’s voice choked, and the tears ran down his cheeks.
“You poor, silly fool!” said St. Clare, with tears in his own eyes. “Get up, Tom. I’m not worth crying over.”
But Tom wouldn’t rise, and looked imploring.
“Well, I won’t go to any more of their cursed nonsense, Tom,” said St. Clare; “on my honor, I won’t. I don’t know why I haven’t stopped long ago. I’ve always despised _it_, and myself for it,–so now, Tom, wipe up your eyes, and go about your errands. Come, come,” he added, “no blessings. I’m not so wonderfully good, now,” he said, as he gently pushed Tom to the door. “There, I’ll pledge my honor to you, Tom, you don’t see me so again,” he said; and Tom went off, wiping his eyes, with great satisfaction.
“I’ll keep my faith with him, too,” said St. Clare, as he closed the door.
And St. Clare did so,–for gross sensualism, in any form, was not the peculiar temptation of his nature.
But, all this time, who shall detail the tribulations manifold of our friend Miss Ophelia, who had begun the labors of a Southern housekeeper?
There is all the difference in the world in the servants of Southern establishments, according to the character and capacity of the mistresses who have brought them up.
South as well as north, there are women who have an extraordinary talent for command, and tact in educating. Such are enabled, with apparent ease, and without severity, to subject to their will, and bring into harmonious and systematic order, the various members of their small estate,–to regulate their peculiarities, and so balance and compensate the deficiencies of one by the excess of another, as to produce a harmonious and orderly system.
Such a housekeeper was Mrs. Shelby, whom we have already described; and such our readers may remember to have met with. If they are not common at the South, it is because they are not common in the world. They are to be found there as often as anywhere; and, when existing, find in that peculiar state of society a brilliant opportunity to exhibit their domestic talent.
Such a housekeeper Marie St. Clare was not, nor her mother before her. Indolent and childish, unsystematic and improvident, it was not to be expected that servants trained under her care should not be so likewise; and she had very justly described to Miss Ophelia the state of confusion she would find in the family, though she had not ascribed it to the proper cause.
The first morning of her regency, Miss Ophelia was up at four o’clock; and having attended to all the adjustments of her own chamber, as she had done ever since she came there, to the great amazement of the chambermaid, she prepared for a vigorous onslaught on the cupboards and closets of the establishment of which she had the keys.
The store-room, the linen-presses, the china-closet, the kitchen and cellar, that day, all went under an awful review. Hidden things of darkness were brought to light to an extent that alarmed all the principalities and powers of kitchen and chamber, and caused many wonderings and murmurings about “dese yer northern ladies” from the domestic cabinet.
Old Dinah, the head cook, and principal of all rule and authority in the kitchen department, was filled with wrath at what she considered an invasion of privilege. No feudal baron in _Magna Charta_ times could have more thoroughly resented some incursion of the crown.
Dinah was a character in her own way, and it would be injustice to her memory not to give the reader a little idea of her. She was a native and essential cook, as much as Aunt Chloe,–cooking being an indigenous talent of the African race; but Chloe was a trained and methodical one, who moved in an orderly domestic harness, while Dinah was a self-taught genius, and, like geniuses in general, was positive, opinionated and erratic, to the last degree.
Like a certain class of modern philosophers, Dinah perfectly scorned logic and reason in every shape, and always took refuge in intuitive certainty; and here she was perfectly impregnable. No possible amount of talent, or authority, or explanation, could ever make her believe that any other way was better than her own, or that the course she had pursued in the smallest matter could be in the least modified. This had been a conceded point with her old mistress, Marie’s mother; and “Miss Marie,” as Dinah always called her young mistress, even after her marriage, found it easier to submit than contend; and so Dinah had ruled supreme. This was the easier, in that she was perfect mistress of that diplomatic art which unites the utmost subservience of manner with the utmost inflexibility as to measure.
Dinah was mistress of the whole art and mystery of excuse-making, in all its branches. Indeed, it was an axiom with her that the cook can do no wrong; and a cook in a Southern kitchen finds abundance of heads and shoulders on which to lay off every sin and frailty, so as to maintain her own immaculateness entire. If any part of the dinner was a failure, there were fifty indisputably good reasons for it; and it was the fault undeniably of fifty other people, whom Dinah berated with unsparing zeal.
But it was very seldom that there was any failure in Dinah’s last results. Though her mode of doing everything was peculiarly meandering and circuitous, and without any sort of calculation as to time and place,–though her kitchen generally looked as if it had been arranged by a hurricane blowing through it, and she had about as many places for each cooking utensil as there were days in the year,–yet, if one would have patience to wait her own good time, up would come her dinner in perfect order, and in a style of preparation with which an epicure could find no fault.
It was now the season of incipient preparation for dinner. Dinah, who required large intervals of reflection and repose, and was studious of ease in all her arrangements, was seated on the kitchen floor, smoking a short, stumpy pipe, to which she was much addicted, and which she always kindled up, as a sort of censer, whenever she felt the need of an inspiration in her arrangements. It was Dinah’s mode of invoking the domestic Muses.
Seated around her were various members of that rising race with which a Southern household abounds, engaged in shelling peas, peeling potatoes, picking pin-feathers out of fowls, and other preparatory arrangements,–Dinah every once in a while interrupting her meditations to give a poke, or a rap on the head, to some of the young operators, with the pudding-stick that lay by her side. In fact, Dinah ruled over the woolly heads of the younger members with a rod of iron, and seemed to consider them born for no earthly purpose but to “save her steps,” as she phrased it. It was the spirit of the system under which she had grown up, and she carried it out to its full extent.
Miss Ophelia, after passing on her reformatory tour through all the other parts of the establishment, now entered the kitchen. Dinah had heard, from various sources, what was going on, and resolved to stand on defensive and conservative ground,–mentally determined to oppose and ignore every new measure, without any actual observable contest.
The kitchen was a large brick-floored apartment, with a great old-fashioned fireplace stretching along one side of it,–an arrangement which St. Clare had vainly tried to persuade Dinah to exchange for the convenience of a modern cook-stove. Not she. No Puseyite,* or conservative of any school, was ever more inflexibly attached to time-honored inconveniences than Dinah.
* Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882), champion of the orthodoxy of revealed religion, defender of the Oxford movement, and Regius professor of Hebrew and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford.
When St. Clare had first returned from the north, impressed with the system and order of his uncle’s kitchen arrangements, he had largely provided his own with an array of cupboards, drawers, and various apparatus, to induce systematic regulation, under the sanguine illusion that it would be of any possible assistance to Dinah in her arrangements. He might as well have provided them for a squirrel or a magpie. The more drawers and closets there were, the more hiding-holes could Dinah make for the accommodation of old rags, hair-combs, old shoes, ribbons, cast-off artificial flowers, and other articles of _vertu_, wherein her soul delighted.
When Miss Ophelia entered the kitchen Dinah did not rise, but smoked on in sublime tranquillity, regarding her movements obliquely out of the corner of her eye, but apparently intent only on the operations around her.
Miss Ophelia commenced opening a set of drawers.
“What is this drawer for, Dinah?” she said.
“It’s handy for most anything, Missis,” said Dinah. So it appeared to be. From the variety it contained, Miss Ophelia pulled out first a fine damask table-cloth stained with blood, having evidently been used to envelop some raw meat.
“What’s this, Dinah? You don’t wrap up meat in your mistress’ best table-cloths?”
“O Lor, Missis, no; the towels was all a missin’–so I jest did it. I laid out to wash that a,–that’s why I put it thar.”
“Shif’less!” said Miss Ophelia to herself, proceeding to tumble over the drawer, where she found a nutmeg-grater and two or three nutmegs, a Methodist hymn-book, a couple of soiled Madras handkerchiefs, some yarn and knitting-work, a paper of tobacco and a pipe, a few crackers, one or two gilded china-saucers with some pomade in them, one or two thin old shoes, a piece of flannel carefully pinned up enclosing some small white onions, several damask table-napkins, some coarse crash towels, some twine and darning-needles, and several broken papers, from which sundry sweet herbs were sifting into the drawer.
“Where do you keep your nutmegs, Dinah?” said Miss Ophelia, with the air of one who prayed for patience.
“Most anywhar, Missis; there’s some in that cracked tea-cup, up there, and there’s some over in that ar cupboard.”
“Here are some in the grater,” said Miss Ophelia, holding them up.
“Laws, yes, I put ’em there this morning,–I likes to keep my things handy,” said Dinah. “You, Jake! what are you stopping for! You’ll cotch it! Be still, thar!” she added, with a dive of her stick at the criminal.
“What’s this?” said Miss Ophelia, holding up the saucer of pomade.
“Laws, it’s my har _grease_;–I put it thar to have it handy.”
“Do you use your mistress’ best saucers for that?”
“Law! it was cause I was driv, and in sich a hurry;–I was gwine to change it this very day.”
“Here are two damask table-napkins.”
“Them table-napkins I put thar, to get ’em washed out, some day.”
“Don’t you have some place here on purpose for things to be washed?”
“Well, Mas’r St. Clare got dat ar chest, he said, for dat; but I likes to mix up biscuit and hev my things on it some days, and then it an’t handy a liftin’ up the lid.”
“Why don’t you mix your biscuits on the pastry-table, there?”
“Law, Missis, it gets sot so full of dishes, and one thing and another, der an’t no room, noway–”
“But you should _wash_ your dishes, and clear them away.”
“Wash my dishes!” said Dinah, in a high key, as her wrath began to rise over her habitual respect of manner; “what does ladies know ’bout work, I want to know? When ’d Mas’r ever get his dinner, if I vas to spend all my time a washin’ and a puttin’ up dishes? Miss Marie never telled me so, nohow.”
“Well, here are these onions.”
“Laws, yes!” said Dinah; “thar _is_ whar I put ’em, now. I couldn’t ’member. Them ’s particular onions I was a savin’ for dis yer very stew. I’d forgot they was in dat ar old flannel.”
Miss Ophelia lifted out the sifting papers of sweet herbs.
“I wish Missis wouldn’t touch dem ar. I likes to keep my things where I knows whar to go to ’em,” said Dinah, rather decidedly.
“But you don’t want these holes in the papers.”
“Them ’s handy for siftin’ on ’t out,” said Dinah.
“But you see it spills all over the drawer.”
“Laws, yes! if Missis will go a tumblin’ things all up so, it will. Missis has spilt lots dat ar way,” said Dinah, coming uneasily to the drawers. “If Missis only will go up stars till my clarin’ up time comes, I’ll have everything right; but I can’t do nothin’ when ladies is round, a henderin’. You, Sam, don’t you gib the baby dat ar sugar-bowl! I’ll crack ye over, if ye don’t mind!”
“I’m going through the kitchen, and going to put everything in order, _once_, Dinah; and then I’ll expect you to _keep_ it so.”
“Lor, now! Miss Phelia; dat ar an’t no way for ladies to do. I never did see ladies doin’ no sich; my old Missis nor Miss Marie never did, and I don’t see no kinder need on ’t;” and Dinah stalked indignantly about, while Miss Ophelia piled and sorted dishes, emptied dozens of scattering bowls of sugar into one receptacle, sorted napkins, table-cloths, and towels, for washing; washing, wiping, and arranging with her own hands, and with a speed and alacrity which perfectly amazed Dinah.
“Lor now! if dat ar de way dem northern ladies do, dey an’t ladies, nohow,” she said to some of her satellites, when at a safe hearing distance. “I has things as straight as anybody, when my clarin’ up times comes; but I don’t want ladies round, a henderin’, and getting my things all where I can’t find ’em.”
To do Dinah justice, she had, at irregular periods, paroxyms of reformation and arrangement, which she called “clarin’ up times,” when she would begin with great zeal, and turn every drawer and closet wrong side outward, on to the floor or tables, and make the ordinary confusion seven-fold more confounded. Then she would light her pipe, and leisurely go over her arrangements, looking things over, and discoursing upon them; making all the young fry scour most vigorously on the tin things, and keeping up for several hours a most energetic state of confusion, which she would explain to the satisfaction of all inquirers, by the remark that she was a “clarin’ up.” “She couldn’t hev things a gwine on so as they had been, and she was gwine to make these yer young ones keep better order;” for Dinah herself, somehow, indulged the illusion that she, herself, was the soul of order, and it was only the _young uns_, and the everybody else in the house, that were the cause of anything that fell short of perfection in this respect. When all the tins were scoured, and the tables scrubbed snowy white, and everything that could offend tucked out of sight in holes and corners, Dinah would dress herself up in a smart dress, clean apron, and high, brilliant Madras turban, and tell all marauding “young uns” to keep out of the kitchen, for she was gwine to have things kept nice. Indeed, these periodic seasons were often an inconvenience to the whole household; for Dinah would contract such an immoderate attachment to her scoured tin, as to insist upon it that it shouldn’t be used again for any possible purpose,–at least, till the ardor of the “clarin’ up” period abated.
Miss Ophelia, in a few days, thoroughly reformed every department of the house to a systematic pattern; but her labors in all departments that depended on the cooperation of servants were like those of Sisyphus or the Danaides. In despair, she one day appealed to St. Clare.
“There is no such thing as getting anything like a system in this family!”
“To be sure, there isn’t,” said St. Clare.
“Such shiftless management, such waste, such confusion, I never saw!”
“I dare say you didn’t.”
“You would not take it so coolly, if you were housekeeper.”
“My dear cousin, you may as well understand, once for all, that we masters are divided into two classes, oppressors and oppressed. We who are good-natured and hate severity make up our minds to a good deal of inconvenience. If we _will keep_ a shambling, loose, untaught set in the community, for our convenience, why, we must take the consequence. Some rare cases I have seen, of persons, who, by a peculiar tact, can produce order and system without severity; but I’m not one of them,–and so I made up my mind, long ago, to let things go just as they do. I will not have the poor devils thrashed and cut to pieces, and they know it,–and, of course, they know the staff is in their own hands.”
“But to have no time, no place, no order,–all going on in this shiftless way!”
“My dear Vermont, you natives up by the North Pole set an extravagant value on time! What on earth is the use of time to a fellow who has twice as much of it as he knows what to do with? As to order and system, where there is nothing to be done but to lounge on the sofa and read, an hour sooner or later in breakfast or dinner isn’t of much account. Now, there’s Dinah gets you a capital dinner,–soup, ragout, roast fowl, dessert, ice-creams and all,–and she creates it all out of chaos and old night down there, in that kitchen. I think it really sublime, the way she manages. But, Heaven bless us! if we are to go down there, and view all the smoking and squatting about, and hurryscurryation of the preparatory process, we should never eat more! My good cousin, absolve yourself from that! It’s more than a Catholic penance, and does no more good. You’ll only lose your own temper, and utterly confound Dinah. Let her go her own way.”
“But, Augustine, you don’t know how I found things.”
“Don’t I? Don’t I know that the rolling-pin is under her bed, and the nutmeg-grater in her pocket with her tobacco,–that there are sixty-five different sugar-bowls, one in every hole in the house,–that she washes dishes with a dinner-napkin one day, and with a fragment of an old petticoat the next? But the upshot is, she gets up glorious dinners, makes superb coffee; and you must judge her as warriors and statesmen are judged, _by her success_.”
“But the waste,–the expense!”
“O, well! Lock everything you can, and keep the key. Give out by driblets, and never inquire for odds and ends,–it isn’t best.”
“That troubles me, Augustine. I can’t help feeling as if these servants were not _strictly honest_. Are you sure they can be relied on?”
Augustine laughed immoderately at the grave and anxious face with which Miss Ophelia propounded the question.
“O, cousin, that’s too good,–_honest!_–as if that’s a thing to be expected! Honest!–why, of course, they arn’t. Why should they be? What upon earth is to make them so?”
“Why don’t you instruct?”
“Instruct! O, fiddlestick! What instructing do you think I should do? I look like it! As to Marie, she has spirit enough, to be sure, to kill off a whole plantation, if I’d let her manage; but she wouldn’t get the cheatery out of them.”
“Are there no honest ones?”
“Well, now and then one, whom Nature makes so impracticably simple, truthful and faithful, that the worst possible influence can’t destroy it. But, you see, from the mother’s breast the colored child feels and sees that there are none but underhand ways open to it. It can get along no other way with its parents, its mistress, its young master and missie play-fellows. Cunning and deception become necessary, inevitable habits. It isn’t fair to expect anything else of him. He ought not to be punished for it. As to honesty, the slave is kept in that dependent, semi-childish state, that there is no making him realize the rights of property, or feel that his master’s goods are not his own, if he can get them. For my part, I don’t see how they _can_ be honest. Such a fellow as Tom, here, is,–is a moral miracle!”
“And what becomes of their souls?” said Miss Ophelia.
“That isn’t my affair, as I know of,” said St. Clare; “I am only dealing in facts of the present life. The fact is, that the whole race are pretty generally understood to be turned over to the devil, for our benefit, in this world, however it may turn out in another!”
“This is perfectly horrible!” said Miss Ophelia; “you ought to be ashamed of yourselves!”
“I don’t know as I am. We are in pretty good company, for all that,” said St. Clare, “as people in the broad road generally are. Look at the high and the low, all the world over, and it’s the same story,–the lower class used up, body, soul and spirit, for the good of the upper. It is so in England; it is so everywhere; and yet all Christendom stands aghast, with virtuous indignation, because we do the thing in a little different shape from what they do it.”
“It isn’t so in Vermont.”
“Ah, well, in New England, and in the free States, you have the better of us, I grant. But there’s the bell; so, Cousin, let us for a while lay aside our sectional prejudices, and come out to dinner.”
As Miss Ophelia was in the kitchen in the latter part of the afternoon, some of the sable children called out, “La, sakes! thar’s Prue a coming, grunting along like she allers does.”
A tall, bony colored woman now entered the kitchen, bearing on her head a basket of rusks and hot rolls.
“Ho, Prue! you’ve come,” said Dinah.
Prue had a peculiar scowling expression of countenance, and a sullen, grumbling voice. She set down her basket, squatted herself down, and resting her elbows on her knees said,
“O Lord! I wish’t I ’s dead!”
“Why do you wish you were dead?” said Miss Ophelia.
“I’d be out o’ my misery,” said the woman, gruffly, without taking her eyes from the floor.
“What need you getting drunk, then, and cutting up, Prue?” said a spruce quadroon chambermaid, dangling, as she spoke, a pair of coral ear-drops.
The woman looked at her with a sour surly glance.
“Maybe you’ll come to it, one of these yer days. I’d be glad to see you, I would; then you’ll be glad of a drop, like me, to forget your misery.”
“Come, Prue,” said Dinah, “let’s look at your rusks. Here’s Missis will pay for them.”
Miss Ophelia took out a couple of dozen.
“Thar’s some tickets in that ar old cracked jug on the top shelf,” said Dinah. “You, Jake, climb up and get it down.”
“Tickets,–what are they for?” said Miss Ophelia.
“We buy tickets of her Mas’r, and she gives us bread for ’em.”
“And they counts my money and tickets, when I gets home, to see if I ’s got the change; and if I han’t, they half kills me.”
“And serves you right,” said Jane, the pert chambermaid, “if you will take their money to get drunk on. That’s what she does, Missis.”
“And that’s what I _will_ do,–I can’t live no other ways,–drink and forget my misery.”
“You are very wicked and very foolish,” said Miss Ophelia, “to steal your master’s money to make yourself a brute with.”
“It’s mighty likely, Missis; but I will do it,–yes, I will. O Lord! I wish I ’s dead, I do,–I wish I ’s dead, and out of my misery!” and slowly and stiffly the old creature rose, and got her basket on her head again; but before she went out, she looked at the quadroon girl, who still stood playing with her ear-drops.
“Ye think ye’re mighty fine with them ar, a frolickin’ and a tossin’ your head, and a lookin’ down on everybody. Well, never mind,–you may live to be a poor, old, cut-up crittur, like me. Hope to the Lord ye will, I do; then see if ye won’t drink,–drink,–drink,–yerself into torment; and sarve ye right, too–ugh!” and, with a malignant howl, the woman left the room.
“Disgusting old beast!” said Adolph, who was getting his master’s shaving-water. “If I was her master, I’d cut her up worse than she is.”
“Ye couldn’t do that ar, no ways,” said Dinah. “Her back’s a far sight now,–she can’t never get a dress together over it.”
“I think such low creatures ought not to be allowed to go round to genteel families,” said Miss Jane. “What do you think, Mr. St. Clare?” she said, coquettishly tossing her head at Adolph.
It must be observed that, among other appropriations from his master’s stock, Adolph was in the habit of adopting his name and address; and that the style under which he moved, among the colored circles of New Orleans, was that of _Mr. St. Clare_.
“I’m certainly of your opinion, Miss Benoir,” said Adolph.
Benoir was the name of Marie St. Clare’s family, and Jane was one of her servants.
“Pray, Miss Benoir, may I be allowed to ask if those drops are for the ball, tomorrow night? They are certainly bewitching!”
“I wonder, now, Mr. St. Clare, what the impudence of you men will come to!” said Jane, tossing her pretty head ’til the ear-drops twinkled again. “I shan’t dance with you for a whole evening, if you go to asking me any more questions.”
“O, you couldn’t be so cruel, now! I was just dying to know whether you would appear in your pink tarletane,” said Adolph.
“What is it?” said Rosa, a bright, piquant little quadroon who came skipping down stairs at this moment.
“Why, Mr. St. Clare’s so impudent!”
“On my honor,” said Adolph, “I’ll leave it to Miss Rosa now.”
“I know he’s always a saucy creature,” said Rosa, poising herself on one of her little feet, and looking maliciously at Adolph. “He’s always getting me so angry with him.”
“O! ladies, ladies, you will certainly break my heart, between you,” said Adolph. “I shall be found dead in my bed, some morning, and you’ll have it to answer for.”
“Do hear the horrid creature talk!” said both ladies, laughing immoderately.
“Come,–clar out, you! I can’t have you cluttering up the kitchen,” said Dinah; “in my way, foolin’ round here.”
“Aunt Dinah’s glum, because she can’t go to the ball,” said Rosa.
“Don’t want none o’ your light-colored balls,” said Dinah; “cuttin’ round, makin’ b’lieve you’s white folks. Arter all, you’s niggers, much as I am.”
“Aunt Dinah greases her wool stiff, every day, to make it lie straight,” said Jane.
“And it will be wool, after all,” said Rosa, maliciously shaking down her long, silky curls.
“Well, in the Lord’s sight, an’t wool as good as har, any time?” said Dinah. “I’d like to have Missis say which is worth the most,–a couple such as you, or one like me. Get out wid ye, ye trumpery,–I won’t have ye round!”
Here the conversation was interrupted in a two-fold manner. St. Clare’s voice was heard at the head of the stairs, asking Adolph if he meant to stay all night with his shaving-water; and Miss Ophelia, coming out of the dining-room, said,
“Jane and Rosa, what are you wasting your time for, here? Go in and attend to your muslins.”
Our friend Tom, who had been in the kitchen during the conversation with the old rusk-woman, had followed her out into the street. He saw her go on, giving every once in a while a suppressed groan. At last she set her basket down on a doorstep, and began arranging the old, faded shawl which covered her shoulders.
“I’ll carry your basket a piece,” said Tom, compassionately.
“Why should ye?” said the woman. “I don’t want no help.”
“You seem to be sick, or in trouble, or somethin’,” said Tom.
“I an’t sick,” said the woman, shortly.
“I wish,” said Tom, looking at her earnestly,–“I wish I could persuade you to leave off drinking. Don’t you know it will be the ruin of ye, body and soul?”
“I knows I’m gwine to torment,” said the woman, sullenly. “Ye don’t need to tell me that ar. I ’s ugly, I ’s wicked,–I ’s gwine straight to torment. O, Lord! I wish I ’s thar!”
Tom shuddered at these frightful words, spoken with a sullen, impassioned earnestness.
“O, Lord have mercy on ye! poor crittur. Han’t ye never heard of Jesus Christ?”
“Jesus Christ,–who’s he?”
“Why, he’s _the Lord_,” said Tom.
“I think I’ve hearn tell o’ the Lord, and the judgment and torment. I’ve heard o’ that.”
“But didn’t anybody ever tell you of the Lord Jesus, that loved us poor sinners, and died for us?”
“Don’t know nothin’ ’bout that,” said the woman; “nobody han’t never loved me, since my old man died.”
“Where was you raised?” said Tom.
“Up in Kentuck. A man kept me to breed chil’en for market, and sold ’em as fast as they got big enough; last of all, he sold me to a speculator, and my Mas’r got me o’ him.”
“What set you into this bad way of drinkin’?”
“To get shet o’ my misery. I had one child after I come here; and I thought then I’d have one to raise, cause Mas’r wasn’t a speculator. It was de peartest little thing! and Missis she seemed to think a heap on ’t, at first; it never cried,–it was likely and fat. But Missis tuck sick, and I tended her; and I tuck the fever, and my milk all left me, and the child it pined to skin and bone, and Missis wouldn’t buy milk for it. She wouldn’t hear to me, when I telled her I hadn’t milk. She said she knowed I could feed it on what other folks eat; and the child kinder pined, and cried, and cried, and cried, day and night, and got all gone to skin and bones, and Missis got sot agin it and she said ’t wan’t nothin’ but crossness. She wished it was dead, she said; and she wouldn’t let me have it o’ nights, cause, she said, it kept me awake, and made me good for nothing. She made me sleep in her room; and I had to put it away off in a little kind o’ garret, and thar it cried itself to death, one night. It did; and I tuck to drinkin’, to keep its crying out of my ears! I did,–and I will drink! I will, if I do go to torment for it! Mas’r says I shall go to torment, and I tell him I’ve got thar now!”
“O, ye poor crittur!” said Tom, “han’t nobody never telled ye how the Lord Jesus loved ye, and died for ye? Han’t they telled ye that he’ll help ye, and ye can go to heaven, and have rest, at last?”
“I looks like gwine to heaven,” said the woman; “an’t thar where white folks is gwine? S’pose they’d have me thar? I’d rather go to torment, and get away from Mas’r and Missis. I had _so_,” she said, as with her usual groan, she got her basket on her head, and walked sullenly away.
Tom turned, and walked sorrowfully back to the house. In the court he met little Eva,–a crown of tuberoses on her head, and her eyes radiant with delight.
“O, Tom! here you are. I’m glad I’ve found you. Papa says you may get out the ponies, and take me in my little new carriage,” she said, catching his hand. “But what’s the matter Tom?–you look sober.”
“I feel bad, Miss Eva,” said Tom, sorrowfully. “But I’ll get the horses for you.”
“But do tell me, Tom, what is the matter. I saw you talking to cross old Prue.”
Tom, in simple, earnest phrase, told Eva the woman’s history. She did not exclaim or wonder, or weep, as other children do. Her cheeks grew pale, and a deep, earnest shadow passed over her eyes. She laid both hands on her bosom, and sighed heavily.
Miss Ophelia’s Experiences and Opinions Continued
“Tom, you needn’t get me the horses. I don’t want to go,” she said.
“Why not, Miss Eva?”
“These things sink into my heart, Tom,” said Eva,–“they sink into my heart,” she repeated, earnestly. “I don’t want to go;” and she turned from Tom, and went into the house.
A few days after, another woman came, in old Prue’s place, to bring the rusks; Miss Ophelia was in the kitchen.
“Lor!” said Dinah, “what’s got Prue?”
“Prue isn’t coming any more,” said the woman, mysteriously.
“Why not?” said Dinah, “she an’t dead, is she?”
“We doesn’t exactly know. She’s down cellar,” said the woman, glancing at Miss Ophelia.
After Miss Ophelia had taken the rusks, Dinah followed the woman to the door.
“What _has_ got Prue, any how?” she said.
The woman seemed desirous, yet reluctant, to speak, and answered, in low, mysterious tone.
“Well, you mustn’t tell nobody, Prue, she got drunk agin,–and they had her down cellar,–and thar they left her all day,–and I hearn ’em saying that the _flies had got to her_,–and _she’s dead_!”
Dinah held up her hands, and, turning, saw close by her side the spirit-like form of Evangeline, her large, mystic eyes dilated with horror, and every drop of blood driven from her lips and cheeks.
“Lor bless us! Miss Eva’s gwine to faint away! What go us all, to let her har such talk? Her pa’ll be rail mad.”
“I shan’t faint, Dinah,” said the child, firmly; “and why shouldn’t I hear it? It an’t so much for me to hear it, as for poor Prue to suffer it.”
“_Lor sakes_! it isn’t for sweet, delicate young ladies, like you,–these yer stories isn’t; it’s enough to kill ’em!”
Eva sighed again, and walked up stairs with a slow and melancholy step.
Miss Ophelia anxiously inquired the woman’s story. Dinah gave a very garrulous version of it, to which Tom added the particulars which he had drawn from her that morning.
“An abominable business,–perfectly horrible!” she exclaimed, as she entered the room where St. Clare lay reading his paper.
“Pray, what iniquity has turned up now?” said he.
“What now? why, those folks have whipped Prue to death!” said Miss Ophelia, going on, with great strength of detail, into the story, and enlarging on its most shocking particulars.
“I thought it would come to that, some time,” said St. Clare, going on with his paper.
“Thought so!–an’t you going to _do_ anything about it?” said Miss Ophelia. “Haven’t you got any _selectmen_, or anybody, to interfere and look after such matters?”
“It’s commonly supposed that the _property_ interest is a sufficient guard in these cases. If people choose to ruin their own possessions, I don’t know what’s to be done. It seems the poor creature was a thief and a drunkard; and so there won’t be much hope to get up sympathy for her.”
“It is perfectly outrageous,–it is horrid, Augustine! It will certainly bring down vengeance upon you.”
“My dear cousin, I didn’t do it, and I can’t help it; I would, if I could. If low-minded, brutal people will act like themselves, what am I to do? they have absolute control; they are irresponsible despots. There would be no use in interfering; there is no law that amounts to anything practically, for such a case. The best we can do is to shut our eyes and ears, and let it alone. It’s the only resource left us.”
“How can you shut your eyes and ears? How can you let such things alone?”
“My dear child, what do you expect? Here is a whole class,–debased, uneducated, indolent, provoking,–put, without any sort of terms or conditions, entirely into the hands of such people as the majority in our world are; people who have neither consideration nor self-control, who haven’t even an enlightened regard to their own interest,–for that’s the case with the largest half of mankind. Of course, in a community so organized, what can a man of honorable and humane feelings do, but shut his eyes all he can, and harden his heart? I can’t buy every poor wretch I see. I can’t turn knight-errant, and undertake to redress every individual case of wrong in such a city as this. The most I can do is to try and keep out of the way of it.”
St. Clare’s fine countenance was for a moment overcast; he said,
“Come, cousin, don’t stand there looking like one of the Fates; you’ve only seen a peep through the curtain,–a specimen of what is going on, the world over, in some shape or other. If we are to be prying and spying into all the dismals of life, we should have no heart to anything. ’T is like looking too close into the details of Dinah’s kitchen;” and St. Clare lay back on the sofa, and busied himself with his paper.
Miss Ophelia sat down, and pulled out her knitting-work, and sat there grim with indignation. She knit and knit, but while she mused the fire burned; at last she broke out–“I tell you, Augustine, I can’t get over things so, if you can. It’s a perfect abomination for you to defend such a system,–that’s _my_ mind!”
“What now?” said St. Clare, looking up. “At it again, hey?”
“I say it’s perfectly abominable for you to defend such a system!” said Miss Ophelia, with increasing warmth.
“_I_ defend it, my dear lady? Who ever said I did defend it?” said St. Clare.
“Of course, you defend it,–you all do,–all you Southerners. What do you have slaves for, if you don’t?”
“Are you such a sweet innocent as to suppose nobody in this world ever does what they don’t think is right? Don’t you, or didn’t you ever, do anything that you did not think quite right?”
“If I do, I repent of it, I hope,” said Miss Ophelia, rattling her needles with energy.
“So do I,” said St. Clare, peeling his orange; “I’m repenting of it all the time.”
“What do you keep on doing it for?”
“Didn’t you ever keep on doing wrong, after you’d repented, my good cousin?”
“Well, only when I’ve been very much tempted,” said Miss Ophelia.
“Well, I’m very much tempted,” said St. Clare; “that’s just my difficulty.”
“But I always resolve I won’t and I try to break off.”
“Well, I have been resolving I won’t, off and on, these ten years,” said St. Clare; “but I haven’t, some how, got clear. Have you got clear of all your sins, cousin?”
“Cousin Augustine,” said Miss Ophelia, seriously, and laying down her knitting-work, “I suppose I deserve that you should reprove my short-comings. I know all you say is true enough; nobody else feels them more than I do; but it does seem to me, after all, there is some difference between me and you. It seems to me I would cut off my right hand sooner than keep on, from day to day, doing what I thought was wrong. But, then, my conduct is so inconsistent with my profession, I don’t wonder you reprove me.”
“O, now, cousin,” said Augustine, sitting down on the floor, and laying his head back in her lap, “don’t take on so awfully serious! You know what a good-for-nothing, saucy boy I always was. I love to poke you up,–that’s all,–just to see you get earnest. I do think you are desperately, distressingly good; it tires me to death to think of it.”
“But this is a serious subject, my boy, Auguste,” said Miss Ophelia, laying her hand on his forehead.
“Dismally so,” said he; “and I–well, I never want to talk seriously in hot weather. What with mosquitos and all, a fellow can’t get himself up to any very sublime moral flights; and I believe,” said St. Clare, suddenly rousing himself up, “there’s a theory, now! I understand now why northern nations are always more virtuous than southern ones,–I see into that whole subject.”
“O, Augustine, you are a sad rattle-brain!”
“Am I? Well, so I am, I suppose; but for once I will be serious, now; but you must hand me that basket of oranges;–you see, you’ll have to ‘stay me with flagons and comfort me with apples,’ if I’m going to make this effort. Now,” said Augustine, drawing the basket up, “I’ll begin: When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for a fellow to hold two or three dozen of his fellow-worms in captivity, a decent regard to the opinions of society requires–”
“I don’t see that you are growing more serious,” said Miss Ophelia.
“Wait,–I’m coming on,–you’ll hear. The short of the matter is, cousin,” said he, his handsome face suddenly settling into an earnest and serious expression, “on this abstract question of slavery there can, as I think, be but one opinion. Planters, who have money to make by it,–clergymen, who have planters to please,–politicians, who want to rule by it,–may warp and bend language and ethics to a degree that shall astonish the world at their ingenuity; they can press nature and the Bible, and nobody knows what else, into the service; but, after all, neither they nor the world believe in it one particle the more. It comes from the devil, that’s the short of it;–and, to my mind, it’s a pretty respectable specimen of what he can do in his own line.”
Miss Ophelia stopped her knitting, and looked surprised, and St. Clare, apparently enjoying her astonishment, went on.
“You seem to wonder; but if you will get me fairly at it, I’ll make a clean breast of it. This cursed business, accursed of God and man, what is it? Strip it of all its ornament, run it down to the root and nucleus of the whole, and what is it? Why, because my brother Quashy is ignorant and weak, and I am intelligent and strong,–because I know how, and _can_ do it,–therefore, I may steal all he has, keep it, and give him only such and so much as suits my fancy. Whatever is too hard, too dirty, too disagreeable, for me, I may set Quashy to doing. Because I don’t like work, Quashy shall work. Because the sun burns me, Quashy shall stay in the sun. Quashy shall earn the money, and I will spend it. Quashy shall lie down in every puddle, that I may walk over dry-shod. Quashy shall do my will, and not his, all the days of his mortal life, and have such chance of getting to heaven, at last, as I find convenient. This I take to be about what slavery _is_. I defy anybody on earth to read our slave-code, as it stands in our law-books, and make anything else of it. Talk of the _abuses_ of slavery! Humbug! The _thing itself_ is the essence of all abuse! And the only reason why the land don’t sink under it, like Sodom and Gomorrah, is because it is _used_ in a way infinitely better than it is. For pity’s sake, for shame’s sake, because we are men born of women, and not savage beasts, many of us do not, and dare not,–we would _scorn_ to use the full power which our savage laws put into our hands. And he who goes the furthest, and does the worst, only uses within limits the power that the law gives him.”
St. Clare had started up, and, as his manner was when excited, was walking, with hurried steps, up and down the floor. His fine face, classic as that of a Greek statue, seemed actually to burn with the fervor of his feelings. His large blue eyes flashed, and he gestured with an unconscious eagerness. Miss Ophelia had never seen him in this mood before, and she sat perfectly silent.
“I declare to you,” said he, suddenly stopping before his cousin “(It’s no sort of use to talk or to feel on this subject), but I declare to you, there have been times when I have thought, if the whole country would sink, and hide all this injustice and misery from the light, I would willingly sink with it. When I have been travelling up and down on our boats, or about on my collecting tours, and reflected that every brutal, disgusting, mean, low-lived fellow I met, was allowed by our laws to become absolute despot of as many men, women and children, as he could cheat, steal, or gamble money enough to buy,–when I have seen such men in actual ownership of helpless children, of young girls and women,–I have been ready to curse my country, to curse the human race!”
“Augustine! Augustine!” said Miss Ophelia, “I’m sure you’ve said enough. I never, in my life, heard anything like this, even at the North.”
“At the North!” said St. Clare, with a sudden change of expression, and resuming something of his habitual careless tone. “Pooh! your northern folks are cold-blooded; you are cool in everything! You can’t begin to curse up hill and down as we can, when we get fairly at it.”
“Well, but the question is,” said Miss Ophelia.
“O, yes, to be sure, the _question is_,–and a deuce of a question it is! How came _you_ in this state of sin and misery? Well, I shall answer in the good old words you used to teach me, Sundays. I came so by ordinary generation. My servants were my father’s, and, what is more, my mother’s; and now they are mine, they and their increase, which bids fair to be a pretty considerable item. My father, you know, came first from New England; and he was just such another man as your father,–a regular old Roman,–upright, energetic, noble-minded, with an iron will. Your father settled down in New England, to rule over rocks and stones, and to force an existence out of Nature; and mine settled in Louisiana, to rule over men and women, and force existence out of them. My mother,” said St. Clare, getting up and walking to a picture at the end of the room, and gazing upward with a face fervent with veneration, “_she was divine!_ Don’t look at me so!–you know what I mean! She probably was of mortal birth; but, as far as ever I could observe, there was no trace of any human weakness or error about her; and everybody that lives to remember her, whether bond or free, servant, acquaintance, relation, all say the same. Why, cousin, that mother has been all that has stood between me and utter unbelief for years. She was a direct embodiment and personification of the New Testament,–a living fact, to be accounted for, and to be accounted for in no other way than by its truth. O, mother! mother!” said St. Clare, clasping his hands, in a sort of transport; and then suddenly checking himself, he came back, and seating himself on an ottoman, he went on:
“My brother and I were twins; and they say, you know, that twins ought to resemble each other; but we were in all points a contrast. He had black, fiery eyes, coal-black hair, a strong, fine Roman profile, and a rich brown complexion. I had blue eyes, golden hair, a Greek outline, and fair complexion. He was active and observing, I dreamy and inactive. He was generous to his friends and equals, but proud, dominant, overbearing, to inferiors, and utterly unmerciful to whatever set itself up against him. Truthful we both were; he from pride and courage, I from a sort of abstract ideality. We loved each other about as boys generally do,–off and on, and in general;–he was my father’s pet, and I my mother’s.
“There was a morbid sensitiveness and acuteness of feeling in me on all possible subjects, of which he and my father had no kind of understanding, and with which they could have no possible sympathy. But mother did; and so, when I had quarreled with Alfred, and father looked sternly on me, I used to go off to mother’s room, and sit by her. I remember just how she used to look, with her pale cheeks, her deep, soft, serious eyes, her white dress,–she always wore white; and I used to think of her whenever I read in Revelations about the saints that were arrayed in fine linen, clean and white. She had a great deal of genius of one sort and another, particularly in music; and she used to sit at her organ, playing fine old majestic music of the Catholic church, and singing with a voice more like an angel than a mortal woman; and I would lay my head down on her lap, and cry, and dream, and feel,–oh, immeasurably!–things that I had no language to say!
“In those days, this matter of slavery had never been canvassed as it has now; nobody dreamed of any harm in it.
“My father was a born aristocrat. I think, in some preexistent state, he must have been in the higher circles of spirits, and brought all his old court pride along with him; for it was ingrain, bred in the bone, though he was originally of poor and not in any way of noble family. My brother was begotten in his image.
“Now, an aristocrat, you know, the world over, has no human sympathies, beyond a certain line in society. In England the line is in one place, in Burmah in another, and in America in another; but the aristocrat of all these countries never goes over it. What would be hardship and distress and injustice in his own class, is a cool matter of course in another one. My father’s dividing line was that of color. _Among his equals_, never was a man more just and generous; but he considered the negro, through all possible gradations of color, as an intermediate link between man and animals, and graded all his ideas of justice or generosity on this hypothesis. I suppose, to be sure, if anybody had asked him, plump and fair, whether they had human immortal souls, he might have hemmed and hawed, and said yes. But my father was not a man much troubled with spiritualism; religious sentiment he had none, beyond a veneration for God, as decidedly the head of the upper classes.
“Well, my father worked some five hundred negroes; he was an inflexible, driving, punctilious business man; everything was to move by system,–to be sustained with unfailing accuracy and precision. Now, if you take into account that all this was to be worked out by a set of lazy, twaddling, shiftless laborers, who had grown up, all their lives, in the absence of every possible motive to learn how to do anything but ‘shirk,’ as you Vermonters say, and you’ll see that there might naturally be, on his plantation, a great many things that looked horrible and distressing to a sensitive child, like me.
“Besides all, he had an overseer,–great, tall, slab-sided, two-fisted renegade son of Vermont–(begging your pardon),–who had gone through a regular apprenticeship in hardness and brutality and taken his degree to be admitted to practice. My mother never could endure him, nor I; but he obtained an entire ascendency over my father; and this man was the absolute despot of the estate.
“I was a little fellow then, but I had the same love that I have now for all kinds of human things,–a kind of passion for the study of humanity, come in what shape it would. I was found in the cabins and among the field-hands a great deal, and, of course, was a great favorite; and all sorts of complaints and grievances were breathed in my ear; and I told them to mother, and we, between us, formed a sort of committee for a redress of grievances. We hindered and repressed a great deal of cruelty, and congratulated ourselves on doing a vast deal of good, till, as often happens, my zeal overacted. Stubbs complained to my father that he couldn’t manage the hands, and must resign his position. Father was a fond, indulgent husband, but a man that never flinched from anything that he thought necessary; and so he put down his foot, like a rock, between us and the field-hands. He told my mother, in language perfectly respectful and deferential, but quite explicit, that over the house-servants she should be entire mistress, but that with the field-hands he could allow no interference. He revered and respected her above all living beings; but he would have said it all the same to the virgin Mary herself, if she had come in the way of his system.
“I used sometimes to hear my mother reasoning cases with him,–endeavoring to excite his sympathies. He would listen to the most pathetic appeals with the most discouraging politeness and equanimity. ‘It all resolves itself into this,’ he would say; ‘must I part with Stubbs, or keep him? Stubbs is the soul of punctuality, honesty, and efficiency,–a thorough business hand, and as humane as the general run. We can’t have perfection; and if I keep him, I must sustain his administration as a _whole_, even if there are, now and then, things that are exceptionable. All government includes some necessary hardness. General rules will bear hard on particular cases.’ This last maxim my father seemed to consider a settler in most alleged cases of cruelty. After he had said _that_, he commonly drew up his feet on the sofa, like a man that has disposed of a business, and betook himself to a nap, or the newspaper, as the case might be.
“The fact is my father showed the exact sort of talent for a statesman. He could have divided Poland as easily as an orange, or trod on Ireland as quietly and systematically as any man living. At last my mother gave up, in despair. It never will be known, till the last account, what noble and sensitive natures like hers have felt, cast, utterly helpless, into what seems to them an abyss of injustice and cruelty, and which seems so to nobody about them. It has been an age of long sorrow of such natures, in such a hell-begotten sort of world as ours. What remained for her, but to train her children in her own views and sentiments? Well, after all you say about training, children will grow up substantially what they _are_ by nature, and only that. From the cradle, Alfred was an aristocrat; and as he grew up, instinctively, all his sympathies and all his reasonings were in that line, and all mother’s exhortations went to the winds. As to me, they sunk deep into me. She never contradicted, in form, anything my father said, or seemed directly to differ from him; but she impressed, burnt into my very soul, with all the force of her deep, earnest nature, an idea of the dignity and worth of the meanest human soul. I have looked in her face with solemn awe, when she would point up to the stars in the evening, and say to me, ’See there, Auguste! the poorest, meanest soul on our place will be living, when all these stars are gone forever,–will live as long as God lives!’
“She had some fine old paintings; one, in particular, of Jesus healing a blind man. They were very fine, and used to impress me strongly. ‘See there, Auguste,’ she would say; ‘the blind man was a beggar, poor and loathsome; therefore, he would not heal him _afar off!_ He called him to him, and put _his hands on him!_ Remember this, my boy.’ If I had lived to grow up under her care, she might have stimulated me to I know not what of enthusiasm. I might have been a saint, reformer, martyr,–but, alas! alas! I went from her when I was only thirteen, and I never saw her again!”
St. Clare rested his head on his hands, and did not speak for some minutes. After a while, he looked up, and went on:
“What poor, mean trash this whole business of human virtue is! A mere matter, for the most part, of latitude and longitude, and geographical position, acting with natural temperament. The greater part is nothing but an accident! Your father, for example, settles in Vermont, in a town where all are, in fact, free and equal; becomes a regular church member and deacon, and in due time joins an Abolition society, and thinks us all little better than heathens. Yet he is, for all the world, in constitution and habit, a duplicate of my father. I can see it leaking out in fifty different ways,–just the same strong, overbearing, dominant spirit. You know very well how impossible it is to persuade some of the folks in your village that Squire Sinclair does not feel above them. The fact is, though he has fallen on democratic times, and embraced a democratic theory, he is to the heart an aristocrat, as much as my father, who ruled over five or six hundred slaves.”
Miss Ophelia felt rather disposed to cavil at this picture, and was laying down her knitting to begin, but St. Clare stopped her.
“Now, I know every word you are going to say. I do not say they _were_ alike, in fact. One fell into a condition where everything acted against the natural tendency, and the other where everything acted for it; and so one turned out a pretty wilful, stout, overbearing old democrat, and the other a wilful, stout old despot. If both had owned plantations in Louisiana, they would have been as like as two old bullets cast in the same mould.”
“What an undutiful boy you are!” said Miss Ophelia.
“I don’t mean them any disrespect,” said St. Clare. “You know reverence is not my forte. But, to go back to my history:
“When father died, he left the whole property to us twin boys, to be divided as we should agree. There does not breathe on God’s earth a nobler-souled, more generous fellow, than Alfred, in all that concerns his equals; and we got on admirably with this property question, without a single unbrotherly word or feeling. We undertook to work the plantation together; and Alfred, whose outward life and capabilities had double the strength of mine, became an enthusiastic planter, and a wonderfully successful one.
“But two years’ trial satisfied me that I could not be a partner in that matter. To have a great gang of seven hundred, whom I could not know personally, or feel any individual interest in, bought and driven, housed, fed, worked like so many horned cattle, strained up to military precision,–the question of how little of life’s commonest enjoyments would keep them in working order being a constantly recurring problem,–the necessity of drivers and overseers,–the ever-necessary whip, first, last, and only argument,–the whole thing was insufferably disgusting and loathsome to me; and when I thought of my mother’s estimate of one poor human soul, it became even frightful!
“It’s all nonsense to talk to me about slaves _enjoying_ all this! To this day, I have no patience with the unutterable trash that some of your patronizing Northerners have made up, as in their zeal to apologize for our sins. We all know better. Tell me that any man living wants to work all his days, from day-dawn till dark, under the constant eye of a master, without the power of putting forth one irresponsible volition, on the same dreary, monotonous, unchanging toil, and all for two pairs of pantaloons and a pair of shoes a year, with enough food and shelter to keep him in working order! Any man who thinks that human beings can, as a general thing, be made about as comfortable that way as any other, I wish he might try it. I’d buy the dog, and work him, with a clear conscience!”
“I always have supposed,” said Miss Ophelia, “that you, all of you, approved of these things, and thought them _right_–according to Scripture.”
“Humbug! We are not quite reduced to that yet. Alfred who is as determined a despot as ever walked, does not pretend to this kind of defence;–no, he stands, high and haughty, on that good old respectable ground, _the right of the strongest_; and he says, and I think quite sensibly, that the American planter is ‘only doing, in another form, what the English aristocracy and capitalists are doing by the lower classes;’ that is, I take it, _appropriating_ them, body and bone, soul and spirit, to their use and convenience. He defends both,–and I think, at least, _consistently_. He says that there can be no high civilization without enslavement of the masses, either nominal or real. There must, he says, be a lower class, given up to physical toil and confined to an animal nature; and a higher one thereby acquires leisure and wealth for a more expanded intelligence and improvement, and becomes the directing soul of the lower. So he reasons, because, as I said, he is born an aristocrat;–so I don’t believe, because I was born a democrat.”
“How in the world can the two things be compared?” said Miss Ophelia. “The English laborer is not sold, traded, parted from his family, whipped.”
“He is as much at the will of his employer as if he were sold to him. The slave-owner can whip his refractory slave to death,–the capitalist can starve him to death. As to family security, it is hard to say which is the worst,–to have one’s children sold, or see them starve to death at home.”
“But it’s no kind of apology for slavery, to prove that it isn’t worse than some other bad thing.”
“I didn’t give it for one,–nay, I’ll say, besides, that ours is the more bold and palpable infringement of human rights; actually buying a man up, like a horse,–looking at his teeth, cracking his joints, and trying his paces and then paying down for him,–having speculators, breeders, traders, and brokers in human bodies and souls,–sets the thing before the eyes of the civilized world in a more tangible form, though the thing done be, after all, in its nature, the same; that is, appropriating one set of human beings to the use and improvement of another without any regard to their own.”
“I never thought of the matter in this light,” said Miss Ophelia.
“Well, I’ve travelled in England some, and I’ve looked over a good many documents as to the state of their lower classes; and I really think there is no denying Alfred, when he says that his slaves are better off than a large class of the population of England. You see, you must not infer, from what I have told you, that Alfred is what is called a hard master; for he isn’t. He is despotic, and unmerciful to insubordination; he would shoot a fellow down with as little remorse as he would shoot a buck, if he opposed him. But, in general, he takes a sort of pride in having his slaves comfortably fed and accommodated.
“When I was with him, I insisted that he should do something for their instruction; and, to please me, he did get a chaplain, and used to have them catechized Sunday, though, I believe, in his heart, that he thought it would do about as much good to set a chaplain over his dogs and horses. And the fact is, that a mind stupefied and animalized by every bad influence from the hour of birth, spending the whole of every week-day in unreflecting toil, cannot be done much with by a few hours on Sunday. The teachers of Sunday-schools among the manufacturing population of England, and among plantation-hands in our country, could perhaps testify to the same result, _there and here_. Yet some striking exceptions there are among us, from the fact that the negro is naturally more impressible to religious sentiment than the white.”
“Well,” said Miss Ophelia, “how came you to give up your plantation life?”
“Well, we jogged on together some time, till Alfred saw plainly that I was no planter. He thought it absurd, after he had reformed, and altered, and improved everywhere, to suit my notions, that I still remained unsatisfied. The fact was, it was, after all, the THING that I hated–the using these men and women, the perpetuation of all this ignorance, brutality and vice,–just to make money for me!
“Besides, I was always interfering in the details. Being myself one of the laziest of mortals, I had altogether too much fellow-feeling for the lazy; and when poor, shiftless dogs put stones at the bottom of their cotton-baskets to make them weigh heavier, or filled their sacks with dirt, with cotton at the top, it seemed so exactly like what I should do if I were they, I couldn’t and wouldn’t have them flogged for it. Well, of course, there was an end of plantation discipline; and Alf and I came to about the same point that I and my respected father did, years before. So he told me that I was a womanish sentimentalist, and would never do for business life; and advised me to take the bank-stock and the New Orleans family mansion, and go to writing poetry, and let him manage the plantation. So we parted, and I came here.”
“But why didn’t you free your slaves?”
“Well, I wasn’t up to that. To hold them as tools for money-making, I could not;–have them to help spend money, you know, didn’t look quite so ugly to me. Some of them were old house-servants, to whom I was much attached; and the younger ones were children to the old. All were well satisfied to be as they were.” He paused, and walked reflectively up and down the room.
“There was,” said St. Clare, “a time in my life when I had plans and hopes of doing something in this world, more than to float and drift. I had vague, indistinct yearnings to be a sort of emancipator,–to free my native land from this spot and stain. All young men have had such fever-fits, I suppose, some time,–but then–”
“Why didn’t you?” said Miss Ophelia;–“you ought not to put your hand to the plough, and look back.”
“O, well, things didn’t go with me as I expected, and I got the despair of living that Solomon did. I suppose it was a necessary incident to wisdom in us both; but, some how or other, instead of being actor and regenerator in society, I became a piece of driftwood, and have been floating and eddying about, ever since. Alfred scolds me, every time we meet; and he has the better of me, I grant,–for he really does something; his life is a logical result of his opinions and mine is a contemptible _non sequitur_.”
“My dear cousin, can you be satisfied with such a way of spending your probation?”
“Satisfied! Was I not just telling you I despised it? But, then, to come back to this point,–we were on this liberation business. I don’t think my feelings about slavery are peculiar. I find many men who, in their hearts, think of it just as I do. The land groans under it; and, bad as it is for the slave, it is worse, if anything, for the master. It takes no spectacles to see that a great class of vicious, improvident, degraded people, among us, are an evil to us, as well as to themselves. The capitalist and aristocrat of England cannot feel that as we do, because they do not mingle with the class they degrade as we do. They are in our homes; they are the associates of our children, and they form their minds faster than we can; for they are a race that children always will cling to and assimilate with. If Eva, now, was not more angel than ordinary, she would be ruined. We might as well allow the small-pox to run among them, and think our children would not take it, as to let them be uninstructed and vicious, and think our children will not be affected by that. Yet our laws positively and utterly forbid any efficient general educational system, and they do it wisely, too; for, just begin and thoroughly educate one generation, and the whole thing would be blown sky high. If we did not give them liberty, they would take it.”
“And what do you think will be the end of this?” said Miss Ophelia.
“I don’t know. One thing is certain,–that there is a mustering among the masses, the world over; and there is a _dies iræ_ coming on, sooner or later. The same thing is working in Europe, in England, and in this country. My mother used to tell me of a millennium that was coming, when Christ should reign, and all men should be free and happy. And she taught me, when I was a boy, to pray, ‘thy kingdom come.’ Sometimes I think all this sighing, and groaning, and stirring among the dry bones foretells what she used to tell me was coming. But who may abide the day of His appearing?”
“Augustine, sometimes I think you are not far from the kingdom,” said Miss Ophelia, laying down her knitting, and looking anxiously at her cousin.
“Thank you for your good opinion, but it’s up and down with me,–up to heaven’s gate in theory, down in earth’s dust in practice. But there’s the teabell,–do let’s go,–and don’t say, now, I haven’t had one downright serious talk, for once in my life.”
At table, Marie alluded to the incident of Prue. “I suppose you’ll think, cousin,” she said, “that we are all barbarians.”
“I think that’s a barbarous thing,” said Miss Ophelia, “but I don’t think you are all barbarians.”
“Well, now,” said Marie, “I know it’s impossible to get along with some of these creatures. They are so bad they ought not to live. I don’t feel a particle of sympathy for such cases. If they’d only behave themselves, it would not happen.”
“But, mamma,” said Eva, “the poor creature was unhappy; that’s what made her drink.”
“O, fiddlestick! as if that were any excuse! I’m unhappy, very often. I presume,” she said, pensively, “that I’ve had greater trials than ever she had. It’s just because they are so bad. There’s some of them that you cannot break in by any kind of severity. I remember father had a man that was so lazy he would run away just to get rid of work, and lie round in the swamps, stealing and doing all sorts of horrid things. That man was caught and whipped, time and again, and it never did him any good; and the last time he crawled off, though he couldn’t but just go, and died in the swamp. There was no sort of reason for it, for father’s hands were always treated kindly.”
“I broke a fellow in, once,” said St. Clare, “that all the overseers and masters had tried their hands on in vain.”
“You!” said Marie; “well, I’d be glad to know when _you_ ever did anything of the sort.”
“Well, he was a powerful, gigantic fellow,–a native-born African; and he appeared to have the rude instinct of freedom in him to an uncommon degree. He was a regular African lion. They called him Scipio. Nobody could do anything with him; and he was sold round from overseer to overseer, till at last Alfred bought him, because he thought he could manage him. Well, one day he knocked down the overseer, and was fairly off into the swamps. I was on a visit to Alf’s plantation, for it was after we had dissolved partnership. Alfred was greatly exasperated; but I told him that it was his own fault, and laid him any wager that I could break the man; and finally it was agreed that, if I caught him, I should have him to experiment on. So they mustered out a party of some six or seven, with guns and dogs, for the hunt. People, you know, can get up as much enthusiasm in hunting a man as a deer, if it is only customary; in fact, I got a little excited myself, though I had only put in as a sort of mediator, in case he was caught.
“Well, the dogs bayed and howled, and we rode and scampered, and finally we started him. He ran and bounded like a buck, and kept us well in the rear for some time; but at last he got caught in an impenetrable thicket of cane; then he turned to bay, and I tell you he fought the dogs right gallantly. He dashed them to right and left, and actually killed three of them with only his naked fists, when a shot from a gun brought him down, and he fell, wounded and bleeding, almost at my feet. The poor fellow looked up at me with manhood and despair both in his eye. I kept back the dogs and the party, as they came pressing up, and claimed him as my prisoner. It was all I could do to keep them from shooting him, in the flush of success; but I persisted in my bargain, and Alfred sold him to me. Well, I took him in hand, and in one fortnight I had him tamed down as submissive and tractable as heart could desire.”
“What in the world did you do to him?” said Marie.
“Well, it was quite a simple process. I took him to my own room, had a good bed made for him, dressed his wounds, and tended him myself, until he got fairly on his feet again. And, in process of time, I had free papers made out for him, and told him he might go where he liked.”
“And did he go?” said Miss Ophelia.
“No. The foolish fellow tore the paper in two, and absolutely refused to leave me. I never had a braver, better fellow,–trusty and true as steel. He embraced Christianity afterwards, and became as gentle as a child. He used to oversee my place on the lake, and did it capitally, too. I lost him the first cholera season. In fact, he laid down his life for me. For I was sick, almost to death; and when, through the panic, everybody else fled, Scipio worked for me like a giant, and actually brought me back into life again. But, poor fellow! he was taken, right after, and there was no saving him. I never felt anybody’s loss more.”
Eva had come gradually nearer and nearer to her father, as he told the story,–her small lips apart, her eyes wide and earnest with absorbing interest.
As he finished, she suddenly threw her arms around his neck, burst into tears, and sobbed convulsively.
“Eva, dear child! what is the matter?” said St. Clare, as the child’s small frame trembled and shook with the violence of her feelings. “This child,” he added, “ought not to hear any of this kind of thing,–she’s nervous.”
“No, papa, I’m not nervous,” said Eva, controlling herself, suddenly, with a strength of resolution singular in such a child. “I’m not nervous, but these things _sink into my heart_.”
“What do you mean, Eva?”
“I can’t tell you, papa, I think a great many thoughts. Perhaps some day I shall tell you.”
“Well, think away, dear,–only don’t cry and worry your papa,” said St. Clare, “Look here,–see what a beautiful peach I have got for you.”
Eva took it and smiled, though there was still a nervous twiching about the corners of her mouth.
“Come, look at the gold-fish,” said St. Clare, taking her hand and stepping on to the verandah. A few moments, and merry laughs were heard through the silken curtains, as Eva and St. Clare were pelting each other with roses, and chasing each other among the alleys of the court.
There is danger that our humble friend Tom be neglected amid the adventures of the higher born; but, if our readers will accompany us up to a little loft over the stable, they may, perhaps, learn a little of his affairs. It was a decent room, containing a bed, a chair, and a small, rough stand, where lay Tom’s Bible and hymn-book; and where he sits, at present, with his slate before him, intent on something that seems to cost him a great deal of anxious thought.
The fact was, that Tom’s home-yearnings had become so strong that he had begged a sheet of writing-paper of Eva, and, mustering up all his small stock of literary attainment acquired by Mas’r George’s instructions, he conceived the bold idea of writing a letter; and he was busy now, on his slate, getting out his first draft. Tom was in a good deal of trouble, for the forms of some of the letters he had forgotten entirely; and of what he did remember, he did not know exactly which to use. And while he was working, and breathing very hard, in his earnestness, Eva alighted, like a bird, on the round of his chair behind him, and peeped over his shoulder.
“O, Uncle Tom! what funny things you _are_ making, there!”
“I’m trying to write to my poor old woman, Miss Eva, and my little chil’en,” said Tom, drawing the back of his hand over his eyes; “but, some how, I’m feard I shan’t make it out.”
“I wish I could help you, Tom! I’ve learnt to write some. Last year I could make all the letters, but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten.”
So Eva put her golden head close to his, and the two commenced a grave and anxious discussion, each one equally earnest, and about equally ignorant; and, with a deal of consulting and advising over every word, the composition began, as they both felt very sanguine, to look quite like writing.
“Yes, Uncle Tom, it really begins to look beautiful,” said Eva, gazing delightedly on it. “How pleased your wife’ll be, and the poor little children! O, it’s a shame you ever had to go away from them! I mean to ask papa to let you go back, some time.”
“Missis said that she would send down money for me, as soon as they could get it together,” said Tom. “I’m ’spectin, she will. Young Mas’r George, he said he’d come for me; and he gave me this yer dollar as a sign;” and Tom drew from under his clothes the precious dollar.
“O, he’ll certainly come, then!” said Eva. “I’m so glad!”
“And I wanted to send a letter, you know, to let ’em know whar I was, and tell poor Chloe that I was well off,–cause she felt so drefful, poor soul!”
“I say Tom!” said St. Clare’s voice, coming in the door at this moment.
Tom and Eva both started.
“What’s here?” said St. Clare, coming up and looking at the slate.
“O, it’s Tom’s letter. I’m helping him to write it,” said Eva; “isn’t it nice?”
“I wouldn’t discourage either of you,” said St. Clare, “but I rather think, Tom, you’d better get me to write your letter for you. I’ll do it, when I come home from my ride.”
“It’s very important he should write,” said Eva, “because his mistress is going to send down money to redeem him, you know, papa; he told me they told him so.”
St. Clare thought, in his heart, that this was probably only one of those things which good-natured owners say to their servants, to alleviate their horror of being sold, without any intention of fulfilling the expectation thus excited. But he did not make any audible comment upon it,–only ordered Tom to get the horses out for a ride.
Tom’s letter was written in due form for him that evening, and safely lodged in the post-office.
Miss Ophelia still persevered in her labors in the housekeeping line. It was universally agreed, among all the household, from Dinah down to the youngest urchin, that Miss Ophelia was decidedly “curis,”–a term by which a southern servant implies that his or her betters don’t exactly suit them.
The higher circle in the family–to wit, Adolph, Jane and Rosa–agreed that she was no lady; ladies never keep working about as she did,–that she had no _air_ at all; and they were surprised that she should be any relation of the St. Clares. Even Marie declared that it was absolutely fatiguing to see Cousin Ophelia always so busy. And, in fact, Miss Ophelia’s industry was so incessant as to lay some foundation for the complaint. She sewed and stitched away, from daylight till dark, with the energy of one who is pressed on by some immediate urgency; and then, when the light faded, and the work was folded away, with one turn out came the ever-ready knitting-work, and there she was again, going on as briskly as ever. It really was a labor to see her.