Life among the Lowly
The Slave Warehouse
A slave warehouse! Perhaps some of my readers conjure up horrible visions of such a place. They fancy some foul, obscure den, some horrible _Tartarus “informis, ingens, cui lumen ademptum.”_ But no, innocent friend; in these days men have learned the art of sinning expertly and genteelly, so as not to shock the eyes and senses of respectable society. Human property is high in the market; and is, therefore, well fed, well cleaned, tended, and looked after, that it may come to sale sleek, and strong, and shining. A slave-warehouse in New Orleans is a house externally not much unlike many others, kept with neatness; and where every day you may see arranged, under a sort of shed along the outside, rows of men and women, who stand there as a sign of the property sold within.
Then you shall be courteously entreated to call and examine, and shall find an abundance of husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and young children, to be “sold separately, or in lots to suit the convenience of the purchaser;” and that soul immortal, once bought with blood and anguish by the Son of God, when the earth shook, and the rocks rent, and the graves were opened, can be sold, leased, mortgaged, exchanged for groceries or dry goods, to suit the phases of trade, or the fancy of the purchaser.
It was a day or two after the conversation between Marie and Miss Ophelia, that Tom, Adolph, and about half a dozen others of the St. Clare estate, were turned over to the loving kindness of Mr. Skeggs, the keeper of a depot on —- street, to await the auction, next day.
Tom had with him quite a sizable trunk full of clothing, as had most others of them. They were ushered, for the night, into a long room, where many other men, of all ages, sizes, and shades of complexion, were assembled, and from which roars of laughter and unthinking merriment were proceeding.
“Ah, ha! that’s right. Go it, boys,–go it!” said Mr. Skeggs, the keeper. “My people are always so merry! Sambo, I see!” he said, speaking approvingly to a burly negro who was performing tricks of low buffoonery, which occasioned the shouts which Tom had heard.
As might be imagined, Tom was in no humor to join these proceedings; and, therefore, setting his trunk as far as possible from the noisy group, he sat down on it, and leaned his face against the wall.
The dealers in the human article make scrupulous and systematic efforts to promote noisy mirth among them, as a means of drowning reflection, and rendering them insensible to their condition. The whole object of the training to which the negro is put, from the time he is sold in the northern market till he arrives south, is systematically directed towards making him callous, unthinking, and brutal. The slave-dealer collects his gang in Virginia or Kentucky, and drives them to some convenient, healthy place,–often a watering place,–to be fattened. Here they are fed full daily; and, because some incline to pine, a fiddle is kept commonly going among them, and they are made to dance daily; and he who refuses to be merry–in whose soul thoughts of wife, or child, or home, are too strong for him to be gay–is marked as sullen and dangerous, and subjected to all the evils which the ill will of an utterly irresponsible and hardened man can inflict upon him. Briskness, alertness, and cheerfulness of appearance, especially before observers, are constantly enforced upon them, both by the hope of thereby getting a good master, and the fear of all that the driver may bring upon them if they prove unsalable.
“What dat ar nigger doin here?” said Sambo, coming up to Tom, after Mr. Skeggs had left the room. Sambo was a full black, of great size, very lively, voluble, and full of trick and grimace.
“What you doin here?” said Sambo, coming up to Tom, and poking him facetiously in the side. “Meditatin’, eh?”
“I am to be sold at the auction tomorrow!” said Tom, quietly.
“Sold at auction,–haw! haw! boys, an’t this yer fun? I wish’t I was gwine that ar way!–tell ye, wouldn’t I make em laugh? But how is it,–dis yer whole lot gwine tomorrow?” said Sambo, laying his hand freely on Adolph’s shoulder.
“Please to let me alone!” said Adolph, fiercely, straightening himself up, with extreme disgust.
“Law, now, boys! dis yer’s one o’ yer white niggers,–kind o’ cream color, ye know, scented!” said he, coming up to Adolph and snuffing. “O Lor! he’d do for a tobaccer-shop; they could keep him to scent snuff! Lor, he’d keep a whole shope agwine,–he would!”
“I say, keep off, can’t you?” said Adolph, enraged.
“Lor, now, how touchy we is,–we white niggers! Look at us now!” and Sambo gave a ludicrous imitation of Adolph’s manner; “here’s de airs and graces. We’s been in a good family, I specs.”
“Yes,” said Adolph; “I had a master that could have bought you all for old truck!”
“Laws, now, only think,” said Sambo, “the gentlemens that we is!”
“I belonged to the St. Clare family,” said Adolph, proudly.
“Lor, you did! Be hanged if they ar’n’t lucky to get shet of ye. Spects they’s gwine to trade ye off with a lot o’ cracked tea-pots and sich like!” said Sambo, with a provoking grin.
Adolph, enraged at this taunt, flew furiously at his adversary, swearing and striking on every side of him. The rest laughed and shouted, and the uproar brought the keeper to the door.
“What now, boys? Order,–order!” he said, coming in and flourishing a large whip.
All fled in different directions, except Sambo, who, presuming on the favor which the keeper had to him as a licensed wag, stood his ground, ducking his head with a facetious grin, whenever the master made a dive at him.
“Lor, Mas’r, ’tan’t us,–we ’s reglar stiddy,–it’s these yer new hands; they ’s real aggravatin’,–kinder pickin’ at us, all time!”
The keeper, at this, turned upon Tom and Adolph, and distributing a few kicks and cuffs without much inquiry, and leaving general orders for all to be good boys and go to sleep, left the apartment.
While this scene was going on in the men’s sleeping-room, the reader may be curious to take a peep at the corresponding apartment allotted to the women. Stretched out in various attitudes over the floor, he may see numberless sleeping forms of every shade of complexion, from the purest ebony to white, and of all years, from childhood to old age, lying now asleep. Here is a fine bright girl, of ten years, whose mother was sold out yesterday, and who tonight cried herself to sleep when nobody was looking at her. Here, a worn old negress, whose thin arms and callous fingers tell of hard toil, waiting to be sold tomorrow, as a cast-off article, for what can be got for her; and some forty or fifty others, with heads variously enveloped in blankets or articles of clothing, lie stretched around them. But, in a corner, sitting apart from the rest, are two females of a more interesting appearance than common. One of these is a respectably-dressed mulatto woman between forty and fifty, with soft eyes and a gentle and pleasing physiognomy. She has on her head a high-raised turban, made of a gay red Madras handkerchief, of the first quality, her dress is neatly fitted, and of good material, showing that she has been provided for with a careful hand. By her side, and nestling closely to her, is a young girl of fifteen,–her daughter. She is a quadroon, as may be seen from her fairer complexion, though her likeness to her mother is quite discernible. She has the same soft, dark eye, with longer lashes, and her curling hair is of a luxuriant brown. She also is dressed with great neatness, and her white, delicate hands betray very little acquaintance with servile toil. These two are to be sold tomorrow, in the same lot with the St. Clare servants; and the gentleman to whom they belong, and to whom the money for their sale is to be transmitted, is a member of a Christian church in New York, who will receive the money, and go thereafter to the sacrament of his Lord and theirs, and think no more of it.
These two, whom we shall call Susan and Emmeline, had been the personal attendants of an amiable and pious lady of New Orleans, by whom they had been carefully and piously instructed and trained. They had been taught to read and write, diligently instructed in the truths of religion, and their lot had been as happy an one as in their condition it was possible to be. But the only son of their protectress had the management of her property; and, by carelessness and extravagance involved it to a large amount, and at last failed. One of the largest creditors was the respectable firm of B. & Co., in New York. B. & Co. wrote to their lawyer in New Orleans, who attached the real estate (these two articles and a lot of plantation hands formed the most valuable part of it), and wrote word to that effect to New York. Brother B., being, as we have said, a Christian man, and a resident in a free State, felt some uneasiness on the subject. He didn’t like trading in slaves and souls of men,–of course, he didn’t; but, then, there were thirty thousand dollars in the case, and that was rather too much money to be lost for a principle; and so, after much considering, and asking advice from those that he knew would advise to suit him, Brother B. wrote to his lawyer to dispose of the business in the way that seemed to him the most suitable, and remit the proceeds.
The day after the letter arrived in New Orleans, Susan and Emmeline were attached, and sent to the depot to await a general auction on the following morning; and as they glimmer faintly upon us in the moonlight which steals through the grated window, we may listen to their conversation. Both are weeping, but each quietly, that the other may not hear.
“Mother, just lay your head on my lap, and see if you can’t sleep a little,” says the girl, trying to appear calm.
“I haven’t any heart to sleep, Em; I can’t; it’s the last night we may be together!”
“O, mother, don’t say so! perhaps we shall get sold together,–who knows?”
“If ’t was anybody’s else case, I should say so, too, Em,” said the woman; “but I’m so feard of losin’ you that I don’t see anything but the danger.”
“Why, mother, the man said we were both likely, and would sell well.”
Susan remembered the man’s looks and words. With a deadly sickness at her heart, she remembered how he had looked at Emmeline’s hands, and lifted up her curly hair, and pronounced her a first-rate article. Susan had been trained as a Christian, brought up in the daily reading of the Bible, and had the same horror of her child’s being sold to a life of shame that any other Christian mother might have; but she had no hope,–no protection.
“Mother, I think we might do first rate, if you could get a place as cook, and I as chambermaid or seamstress, in some family. I dare say we shall. Let’s both look as bright and lively as we can, and tell all we can do, and perhaps we shall,” said Emmeline.
“I want you to brush your hair all back straight, tomorrow,” said Susan.
“What for, mother? I don’t look near so well, that way.”
“Yes, but you’ll sell better so.”
“I don’t see why!” said the child.
“Respectable families would be more apt to buy you, if they saw you looked plain and decent, as if you wasn’t trying to look handsome. I know their ways better ’n you do,” said Susan.
“Well, mother, then I will.”
“And, Emmeline, if we shouldn’t ever see each other again, after tomorrow,–if I’m sold way up on a plantation somewhere, and you somewhere else,–always remember how you’ve been brought up, and all Missis has told you; take your Bible with you, and your hymn-book; and if you’re faithful to the Lord, he’ll be faithful to you.”
So speaks the poor soul, in sore discouragement; for she knows that tomorrow any man, however vile and brutal, however godless and merciless, if he only has money to pay for her, may become owner of her daughter, body and soul; and then, how is the child to be faithful? She thinks of all this, as she holds her daughter in her arms, and wishes that she were not handsome and attractive. It seems almost an aggravation to her to remember how purely and piously, how much above the ordinary lot, she has been brought up. But she has no resort but to _pray_; and many such prayers to God have gone up from those same trim, neatly-arranged, respectable slave-prisons,–prayers which God has not forgotten, as a coming day shall show; for it is written, “Who causeth one of these little ones to offend, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea.”
The soft, earnest, quiet moonbeam looks in fixedly, marking the bars of the grated windows on the prostrate, sleeping forms. The mother and daughter are singing together a wild and melancholy dirge, common as a funeral hymn among the slaves:
“O, where is weeping Mary? O, where is weeping Mary? ’Rived in the goodly land. She is dead and gone to Heaven; She is dead and gone to Heaven; ’Rived in the goodly land.”
These words, sung by voices of a peculiar and melancholy sweetness, in an air which seemed like the sighing of earthy despair after heavenly hope, floated through the dark prison rooms with a pathetic cadence, as verse after verse was breathed out:
“O, where are Paul and Silas? O, where are Paul and Silas? Gone to the goodly land. They are dead and gone to Heaven; They are dead and gone to Heaven; ’Rived in the goodly land.”
Sing on poor souls! The night is short, and the morning will part you forever!
But now it is morning, and everybody is astir; and the worthy Mr. Skeggs is busy and bright, for a lot of goods is to be fitted out for auction. There is a brisk lookout on the toilet; injunctions passed around to every one to put on their best face and be spry; and now all are arranged in a circle for a last review, before they are marched up to the Bourse.
Mr. Skeggs, with his palmetto on and his cigar in his mouth, walks around to put farewell touches on his wares.
“How’s this?” he said, stepping in front of Susan and Emmeline. “Where’s your curls, gal?”
The girl looked timidly at her mother, who, with the smooth adroitness common among her class, answers,
“I was telling her, last night, to put up her hair smooth and neat, and not havin’ it flying about in curls; looks more respectable so.”
“Bother!” said the man, peremptorily, turning to the girl; “you go right along, and curl yourself real smart!” He added, giving a crack to a rattan he held in his hand, “And be back in quick time, too!”
“You go and help her,” he added, to the mother. “Them curls may make a hundred dollars difference in the sale of her.”
Beneath a splendid dome were men of all nations, moving to and fro, over the marble pave. On every side of the circular area were little tribunes, or stations, for the use of speakers and auctioneers. Two of these, on opposite sides of the area, were now occupied by brilliant and talented gentlemen, enthusiastically forcing up, in English and French commingled, the bids of connoisseurs in their various wares. A third one, on the other side, still unoccupied, was surrounded by a group, waiting the moment of sale to begin. And here we may recognize the St. Clare servants,–Tom, Adolph, and others; and there, too, Susan and Emmeline, awaiting their turn with anxious and dejected faces. Various spectators, intending to purchase, or not intending, examining, and commenting on their various points and faces with the same freedom that a set of jockeys discuss the merits of a horse.
“Hulloa, Alf! what brings you here?” said a young exquisite, slapping the shoulder of a sprucely-dressed young man, who was examining Adolph through an eye-glass.
“Well! I was wanting a valet, and I heard that St. Clare’s lot was going. I thought I’d just look at his–”
“Catch me ever buying any of St. Clare’s people! Spoilt niggers, every one. Impudent as the devil!” said the other.
“Never fear that!” said the first. “If I get ’em, I’ll soon have their airs out of them; they’ll soon find that they’ve another kind of master to deal with than Monsieur St. Clare. ’Pon my word, I’ll buy that fellow. I like the shape of him.”
“You’ll find it’ll take all you’ve got to keep him. He’s deucedly extravagant!”
“Yes, but my lord will find that he _can’t_ be extravagant with _me_. Just let him be sent to the calaboose a few times, and thoroughly dressed down! I’ll tell you if it don’t bring him to a sense of his ways! O, I’ll reform him, up hill and down,–you’ll see. I buy him, that’s flat!”
Tom had been standing wistfully examining the multitude of faces thronging around him, for one whom he would wish to call master. And if you should ever be under the necessity, sir, of selecting, out of two hundred men, one who was to become your absolute owner and disposer, you would, perhaps, realize, just as Tom did, how few there were that you would feel at all comfortable in being made over to. Tom saw abundance of men,–great, burly, gruff men; little, chirping, dried men; long-favored, lank, hard men; and every variety of stubbed-looking, commonplace men, who pick up their fellow-men as one picks up chips, putting them into the fire or a basket with equal unconcern, according to their convenience; but he saw no St. Clare.
A little before the sale commenced, a short, broad, muscular man, in a checked shirt considerably open at the bosom, and pantaloons much the worse for dirt and wear, elbowed his way through the crowd, like one who is going actively into a business; and, coming up to the group, began to examine them systematically. From the moment that Tom saw him approaching, he felt an immediate and revolting horror at him, that increased as he came near. He was evidently, though short, of gigantic strength. His round, bullet head, large, light-gray eyes, with their shaggy, sandy eyebrows, and stiff, wiry, sun-burned hair, were rather unprepossessing items, it is to be confessed; his large, coarse mouth was distended with tobacco, the juice of which, from time to time, he ejected from him with great decision and explosive force; his hands were immensely large, hairy, sun-burned, freckled, and very dirty, and garnished with long nails, in a very foul condition. This man proceeded to a very free personal examination of the lot. He seized Tom by the jaw, and pulled open his mouth to inspect his teeth; made him strip up his sleeve, to show his muscle; turned him round, made him jump and spring, to show his paces.
“Where was you raised?” he added, briefly, to these investigations.
“In Kintuck, Mas’r,” said Tom, looking about, as if for deliverance.
“What have you done?”
“Had care of Mas’r’s farm,” said Tom.
“Likely story!” said the other, shortly, as he passed on. He paused a moment before Dolph; then spitting a discharge of tobacco-juice on his well-blacked boots, and giving a contemptuous umph, he walked on. Again he stopped before Susan and Emmeline. He put out his heavy, dirty hand, and drew the girl towards him; passed it over her neck and bust, felt her arms, looked at her teeth, and then pushed her back against her mother, whose patient face showed the suffering she had been going through at every motion of the hideous stranger.
The girl was frightened, and began to cry.
“Stop that, you minx!” said the salesman; “no whimpering here,–the sale is going to begin.” And accordingly the sale begun.
Adolph was knocked off, at a good sum, to the young gentlemen who had previously stated his intention of buying him; and the other servants of the St. Clare lot went to various bidders.
“Now, up with you, boy! d’ye hear?” said the auctioneer to Tom.
Tom stepped upon the block, gave a few anxious looks round; all seemed mingled in a common, indistinct noise,–the clatter of the salesman crying off his qualifications in French and English, the quick fire of French and English bids; and almost in a moment came the final thump of the hammer, and the clear ring on the last syllable of the word _“dollars,”_ as the auctioneer announced his price, and Tom was made over.–He had a master!
He was pushed from the block;–the short, bullet-headed man seizing him roughly by the shoulder, pushed him to one side, saying, in a harsh voice, “Stand there, _you!_”
Tom hardly realized anything; but still the bidding went on,–ratting, clattering, now French, now English. Down goes the hammer again,–Susan is sold! She goes down from the block, stops, looks wistfully back,–her daughter stretches her hands towards her. She looks with agony in the face of the man who has bought her,–a respectable middle-aged man, of benevolent countenance.
“O, Mas’r, please do buy my daughter!”
“I’d like to, but I’m afraid I can’t afford it!” said the gentleman, looking, with painful interest, as the young girl mounted the block, and looked around her with a frightened and timid glance.
The blood flushes painfully in her otherwise colorless cheek, her eye has a feverish fire, and her mother groans to see that she looks more beautiful than she ever saw her before. The auctioneer sees his advantage, and expatiates volubly in mingled French and English, and bids rise in rapid succession.
“I’ll do anything in reason,” said the benevolent-looking gentleman, pressing in and joining with the bids. In a few moments they have run beyond his purse. He is silent; the auctioneer grows warmer; but bids gradually drop off. It lies now between an aristocratic old citizen and our bullet-headed acquaintance. The citizen bids for a few turns, contemptuously measuring his opponent; but the bullet-head has the advantage over him, both in obstinacy and concealed length of purse, and the controversy lasts but a moment; the hammer falls,–he has got the girl, body and soul, unless God help her!
Her master is Mr. Legree, who owns a cotton plantation on the Red River. She is pushed along into the same lot with Tom and two other men, and goes off, weeping as she goes.
The benevolent gentleman is sorry; but, then, the thing happens every day! One sees girls and mothers crying, at these sales, _always!_ it can’t be helped, &c.; and he walks off, with his acquisition, in another direction.
Two days after, the lawyer of the Christian firm of B. & Co., New York, send on their money to them. On the reverse of that draft, so obtained, let them write these words of the great Paymaster, to whom they shall make up their account in a future day: _“When he maketh inquisition for blood, he forgetteth not the cry of the humble!”_
The Middle Passage
“Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?”–HAB. 1: 13.
On the lower part of a small, mean boat, on the Red River, Tom sat,–chains on his wrists, chains on his feet, and a weight heavier than chains lay on his heart. All had faded from his sky,–moon and star; all had passed by him, as the trees and banks were now passing, to return no more. Kentucky home, with wife and children, and indulgent owners; St. Clare home, with all its refinements and splendors; the golden head of Eva, with its saint-like eyes; the proud, gay, handsome, seemingly careless, yet ever-kind St. Clare; hours of ease and indulgent leisure,–all gone! and in place thereof, _what_ remains?
It is one of the bitterest apportionments of a lot of slavery, that the negro, sympathetic and assimilative, after acquiring, in a refined family, the tastes and feelings which form the atmosphere of such a place, is not the less liable to become the bond-slave of the coarsest and most brutal,–just as a chair or table, which once decorated the superb saloon, comes, at last, battered and defaced, to the barroom of some filthy tavern, or some low haunt of vulgar debauchery. The great difference is, that the table and chair cannot feel, and the _man_ can; for even a legal enactment that he shall be “taken, reputed, adjudged in law, to be a chattel personal,” cannot blot out his soul, with its own private little world of memories, hopes, loves, fears, and desires.
Mr. Simon Legree, Tom’s master, had purchased slaves at one place and another, in New Orleans, to the number of eight, and driven them, handcuffed, in couples of two and two, down to the good steamer Pirate, which lay at the levee, ready for a trip up the Red River.
Having got them fairly on board, and the boat being off, he came round, with that air of efficiency which ever characterized him, to take a review of them. Stopping opposite to Tom, who had been attired for sale in his best broadcloth suit, with well-starched linen and shining boots, he briefly expressed himself as follows:
Tom stood up.
“Take off that stock!” and, as Tom, encumbered by his fetters, proceeded to do it, he assisted him, by pulling it, with no gentle hand, from his neck, and putting it in his pocket.
Legree now turned to Tom’s trunk, which, previous to this, he had been ransacking, and, taking from it a pair of old pantaloons and dilapidated coat, which Tom had been wont to put on about his stable-work, he said, liberating Tom’s hands from the handcuffs, and pointing to a recess in among the boxes,
“You go there, and put these on.”
Tom obeyed, and in a few moments returned.
“Take off your boots,” said Mr. Legree.
Tom did so.
“There,” said the former, throwing him a pair of coarse, stout shoes, such as were common among the slaves, “put these on.”
In Tom’s hurried exchange, he had not forgotten to transfer his cherished Bible to his pocket. It was well he did so; for Mr. Legree, having refitted Tom’s handcuffs, proceeded deliberately to investigate the contents of his pockets. He drew out a silk handkerchief, and put it into his own pocket. Several little trifles, which Tom had treasured, chiefly because they had amused Eva, he looked upon with a contemptuous grunt, and tossed them over his shoulder into the river.
Tom’s Methodist hymn-book, which, in his hurry, he had forgotten, he now held up and turned over.
Humph! pious, to be sure. So, what’s yer name,–you belong to the church, eh?”
“Yes, Mas’r,” said Tom, firmly.
“Well, I’ll soon have _that_ out of you. I have none o’ yer bawling, praying, singing niggers on my place; so remember. Now, mind yourself,” he said, with a stamp and a fierce glance of his gray eye, directed at Tom, “_I’m_ your church now! You understand,–you’ve got to be as _I_ say.”
Something within the silent black man answered _No!_ and, as if repeated by an invisible voice, came the words of an old prophetic scroll, as Eva had often read them to him,–“Fear not! for I have redeemed thee. I have called thee by name. Thou art MINE!”
But Simon Legree heard no voice. That voice is one he never shall hear. He only glared for a moment on the downcast face of Tom, and walked off. He took Tom’s trunk, which contained a very neat and abundant wardrobe, to the forecastle, where it was soon surrounded by various hands of the boat. With much laughing, at the expense of niggers who tried to be gentlemen, the articles very readily were sold to one and another, and the empty trunk finally put up at auction. It was a good joke, they all thought, especially to see how Tom looked after his things, as they were going this way and that; and then the auction of the trunk, that was funnier than all, and occasioned abundant witticisms.
This little affair being over, Simon sauntered up again to his property.
“Now, Tom, I’ve relieved you of any extra baggage, you see. Take mighty good care of them clothes. It’ll be long enough ’fore you get more. I go in for making niggers careful; one suit has to do for one year, on my place.”
Simon next walked up to the place where Emmeline was sitting, chained to another woman.
“Well, my dear,” he said, chucking her under the chin, “keep up your spirits.”
The involuntary look of horror, fright and aversion, with which the girl regarded him, did not escape his eye. He frowned fiercely.
“None o’ your shines, gal! you’s got to keep a pleasant face, when I speak to ye,–d’ye hear? And you, you old yellow poco moonshine!” he said, giving a shove to the mulatto woman to whom Emmeline was chained, “don’t you carry that sort of face! You’s got to look chipper, I tell ye!”
“I say, all on ye,” he said retreating a pace or two back, “look at me,–look at me,–look me right in the eye,–_straight_, now!” said he, stamping his foot at every pause.
As by a fascination, every eye was now directed to the glaring greenish-gray eye of Simon.
“Now,” said he, doubling his great, heavy fist into something resembling a blacksmith’s hammer, “d’ye see this fist? Heft it!” he said, bringing it down on Tom’s hand. “Look at these yer bones! Well, I tell ye this yer fist has got as hard as iron _knocking down niggers_. I never see the nigger, yet, I couldn’t bring down with one crack,” said he, bringing his fist down so near to the face of Tom that he winked and drew back. “I don’t keep none o’ yer cussed overseers; I does my own overseeing; and I tell you things _is_ seen to. You’s every one on ye got to toe the mark, I tell ye; quick,–straight,–the moment I speak. That’s the way to keep in with me. Ye won’t find no soft spot in me, nowhere. So, now, mind yerselves; for I don’t show no mercy!”
The women involuntarily drew in their breath, and the whole gang sat with downcast, dejected faces. Meanwhile, Simon turned on his heel, and marched up to the bar of the boat for a dram.
“That’s the way I begin with my niggers,” he said, to a gentlemanly man, who had stood by him during his speech. “It’s my system to begin strong,–just let ’em know what to expect.”
“Indeed!” said the stranger, looking upon him with the curiosity of a naturalist studying some out-of-the-way specimen.
“Yes, indeed. I’m none o’ yer gentlemen planters, with lily fingers, to slop round and be cheated by some old cuss of an overseer! Just feel of my knuckles, now; look at my fist. Tell ye, sir, the flesh on ’t has come jest like a stone, practising on nigger–feel on it.”
The stranger applied his fingers to the implement in question, and simply said,
“‘T is hard enough; and, I suppose,” he added, “practice has made your heart just like it.”
“Why, yes, I may say so,” said Simon, with a hearty laugh. “I reckon there’s as little soft in me as in any one going. Tell you, nobody comes it over me! Niggers never gets round me, neither with squalling nor soft soap,–that’s a fact.”
“You have a fine lot there.”
“Real,” said Simon. “There’s that Tom, they telled me he was suthin’ uncommon. I paid a little high for him, tendin’ him for a driver and a managing chap; only get the notions out that he’s larnt by bein’ treated as niggers never ought to be, he’ll do prime! The yellow woman I got took in on. I rayther think she’s sickly, but I shall put her through for what she’s worth; she may last a year or two. I don’t go for savin’ niggers. Use up, and buy more, ’s my way;-makes you less trouble, and I’m quite sure it comes cheaper in the end;” and Simon sipped his glass.
“And how long do they generally last?” said the stranger.
“Well, donno; ’cordin’ as their constitution is. Stout fellers last six or seven years; trashy ones gets worked up in two or three. I used to, when I fust begun, have considerable trouble fussin’ with ’em and trying to make ’em hold out,–doctorin’ on ’em up when they’s sick, and givin’ on ’em clothes and blankets, and what not, tryin’ to keep ’em all sort o’ decent and comfortable. Law, ’t wasn’t no sort o’ use; I lost money on ’em, and ’t was heaps o’ trouble. Now, you see, I just put ’em straight through, sick or well. When one nigger’s dead, I buy another; and I find it comes cheaper and easier, every way.”
The stranger turned away, and seated himself beside a gentleman, who had been listening to the conversation with repressed uneasiness.
“You must not take that fellow to be any specimen of Southern planters,” said he.
“I should hope not,” said the young gentleman, with emphasis.
“He is a mean, low, brutal fellow!” said the other.
“And yet your laws allow him to hold any number of human beings subject to his absolute will, without even a shadow of protection; and, low as he is, you cannot say that there are not many such.”
“Well,” said the other, “there are also many considerate and humane men among planters.”
“Granted,” said the young man; “but, in my opinion, it is you considerate, humane men, that are responsible for all the brutality and outrage wrought by these wretches; because, if it were not for your sanction and influence, the whole system could not keep foothold for an hour. If there were no planters except such as that one,” said he, pointing with his finger to Legree, who stood with his back to them, “the whole thing would go down like a millstone. It is your respectability and humanity that licenses and protects his brutality.”
“You certainly have a high opinion of my good nature,” said the planter, smiling, “but I advise you not to talk quite so loud, as there are people on board the boat who might not be quite so tolerant to opinion as I am. You had better wait till I get up to my plantation, and there you may abuse us all, quite at your leisure.”
The young gentleman colored and smiled, and the two were soon busy in a game of backgammon. Meanwhile, another conversation was going on in the lower part of the boat, between Emmeline and the mulatto woman with whom she was confined. As was natural, they were exchanging with each other some particulars of their history.
“Who did you belong to?” said Emmeline.
“Well, my Mas’r was Mr. Ellis,–lived on Levee-street. P’raps you’ve seen the house.”
“Was he good to you?” said Emmeline.
“Mostly, till he tuk sick. He’s lain sick, off and on, more than six months, and been orful oneasy. ’Pears like he warnt willin’ to have nobody rest, day or night; and got so curous, there couldn’t nobody suit him. ’Pears like he just grew crosser, every day; kep me up nights till I got farly beat out, and couldn’t keep awake no longer; and cause I got to sleep, one night, Lors, he talk so orful to me, and he tell me he’d sell me to just the hardest master he could find; and he’d promised me my freedom, too, when he died.”
“Had you any friends?” said Emmeline.
“Yes, my husband,–he’s a blacksmith. Mas’r gen’ly hired him out. They took me off so quick, I didn’t even have time to see him; and I’s got four children. O, dear me!” said the woman, covering her face with her hands.
It is a natural impulse, in every one, when they hear a tale of distress, to think of something to say by way of consolation. Emmeline wanted to say something, but she could not think of anything to say. What was there to be said? As by a common consent, they both avoided, with fear and dread, all mention of the horrible man who was now their master.
True, there is religious trust for even the darkest hour. The mulatto woman was a member of the Methodist church, and had an unenlightened but very sincere spirit of piety. Emmeline had been educated much more intelligently,–taught to read and write, and diligently instructed in the Bible, by the care of a faithful and pious mistress; yet, would it not try the faith of the firmest Christian, to find themselves abandoned, apparently, of God, in the grasp of ruthless violence? How much more must it shake the faith of Christ’s poor little ones, weak in knowledge and tender in years!
The boat moved on,–freighted with its weight of sorrow,–up the red, muddy, turbid current, through the abrupt tortuous windings of the Red river; and sad eyes gazed wearily on the steep red-clay banks, as they glided by in dreary sameness. At last the boat stopped at a small town, and Legree, with his party, disembarked.
“The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.” *
* Ps. 74:20.
Trailing wearily behind a rude wagon, and over a ruder road, Tom and his associates faced onward.
In the wagon was seated Simon Legree and the two women, still fettered together, were stowed away with some baggage in the back part of it, and the whole company were seeking Legree’s plantation, which lay a good distance off.
It was a wild, forsaken road, now winding through dreary pine barrens, where the wind whispered mournfully, and now over log causeways, through long cypress swamps, the doleful trees rising out of the slimy, spongy ground, hung with long wreaths of funeral black moss, while ever and anon the loathsome form of the mocassin snake might be seen sliding among broken stumps and shattered branches that lay here and there, rotting in the water.
It is disconsolate enough, this riding, to the stranger, who, with well-filled pocket and well-appointed horse, threads the lonely way on some errand of business; but wilder, drearier, to the man enthralled, whom every weary step bears further from all that man loves and prays for.
So one should have thought, that witnessed the sunken and dejected expression on those dark faces; the wistful, patient weariness with which those sad eyes rested on object after object that passed them in their sad journey.
Simon rode on, however, apparently well pleased, occasionally pulling away at a flask of spirit, which he kept in his pocket.
“I say, _you!_” he said, as he turned back and caught a glance at the dispirited faces behind him. “Strike up a song, boys,–come!”
The men looked at each other, and the “_come_” was repeated, with a smart crack of the whip which the driver carried in his hands. Tom began a Methodist hymn.
“Jerusalem, my happy home, Name ever dear to me! When shall my sorrows have an end, Thy joys when shall–“*
* “_Jerusalem, my happy home_,” anonymous hymn dating from the latter part of the sixteenth century, sung to the tune of “St. Stephen.” Words derive from St. Augustine’s _Meditations_.
“Shut up, you black cuss!” roared Legree; “did ye think I wanted any o’ yer infernal old Methodism? I say, tune up, now, something real rowdy,–quick!”
One of the other men struck up one of those unmeaning songs, common among the slaves.
“Mas’r see’d me cotch a coon, High boys, high! He laughed to split,–d’ye see the moon, Ho! ho! ho! boys, ho! Ho! yo! hi–e! _oh!”_
The singer appeared to make up the song to his own pleasure, generally hitting on rhyme, without much attempt at reason; and the party took up the chorus, at intervals,
“Ho! ho! ho! boys, ho! High–e–oh! high–e–oh!”
It was sung very boisterouly, and with a forced attempt at merriment; but no wail of despair, no words of impassioned prayer, could have had such a depth of woe in them as the wild notes of the chorus. As if the poor, dumb heart, threatened,–prisoned,–took refuge in that inarticulate sanctuary of music, and found there a language in which to breathe its prayer to God! There was a prayer in it, which Simon could not hear. He only heard the boys singing noisily, and was well pleased; he was making them “keep up their spirits.”
“Well, my little dear,” said he, turning to Emmeline, and laying his hand on her shoulder, “we’re almost home!”
When Legree scolded and stormed, Emmeline was terrified; but when he laid his hand on her, and spoke as he now did, she felt as if she had rather he would strike her. The expression of his eyes made her soul sick, and her flesh creep. Involuntarily she clung closer to the mulatto woman by her side, as if she were her mother.
“You didn’t ever wear ear-rings,” he said, taking hold of her small ear with his coarse fingers.
“No, Mas’r!” said Emmeline, trembling and looking down.
“Well, I’ll give you a pair, when we get home, if you’re a good girl. You needn’t be so frightened; I don’t mean to make you work very hard. You’ll have fine times with me, and live like a lady,–only be a good girl.”
Legree had been drinking to that degree that he was inclining to be very gracious; and it was about this time that the enclosures of the plantation rose to view. The estate had formerly belonged to a gentleman of opulence and taste, who had bestowed some considerable attention to the adornment of his grounds. Having died insolvent, it had been purchased, at a bargain, by Legree, who used it, as he did everything else, merely as an implement for money-making. The place had that ragged, forlorn appearance, which is always produced by the evidence that the care of the former owner has been left to go to utter decay.
What was once a smooth-shaven lawn before the house, dotted here and there with ornamental shrubs, was now covered with frowsy tangled grass, with horseposts set up, here and there, in it, where the turf was stamped away, and the ground littered with broken pails, cobs of corn, and other slovenly remains. Here and there, a mildewed jessamine or honeysuckle hung raggedly from some ornamental support, which had been pushed to one side by being used as a horse-post. What once was a large garden was now all grown over with weeds, through which, here and there, some solitary exotic reared its forsaken head. What had been a conservatory had now no window-shades, and on the mouldering shelves stood some dry, forsaken flower-pots, with sticks in them, whose dried leaves showed they had once been plants.
The wagon rolled up a weedy gravel walk, under a noble avenue of China trees, whose graceful forms and ever-springing foliage seemed to be the only things there that neglect could not daunt or alter,–like noble spirits, so deeply rooted in goodness, as to flourish and grow stronger amid discouragement and decay.
The house had been large and handsome. It was built in a manner common at the South; a wide verandah of two stories running round every part of the house, into which every outer door opened, the lower tier being supported by brick pillars.
But the place looked desolate and uncomfortable; some windows stopped up with boards, some with shattered panes, and shutters hanging by a single hinge,–all telling of coarse neglect and discomfort.
Bits of board, straw, old decayed barrels and boxes, garnished the ground in all directions; and three or four ferocious-looking dogs, roused by the sound of the wagon-wheels, came tearing out, and were with difficulty restrained from laying hold of Tom and his companions, by the effort of the ragged servants who came after them.
“Ye see what ye’d get!” said Legree, caressing the dogs with grim satisfaction, and turning to Tom and his companions. “Ye see what ye’d get, if ye try to run off. These yer dogs has been raised to track niggers; and they’d jest as soon chaw one on ye up as eat their supper. So, mind yerself! How now, Sambo!” he said, to a ragged fellow, without any brim to his hat, who was officious in his attentions. “How have things been going?”
“Fust rate, Mas’r.”
“Quimbo,” said Legree to another, who was making zealous demonstrations to attract his attention, “ye minded what I telled ye?”
“Guess I did, didn’t I?”
These two colored men were the two principal hands on the plantation. Legree had trained them in savageness and brutality as systematically as he had his bull-dogs; and, by long practice in hardness and cruelty, brought their whole nature to about the same range of capacities. It is a common remark, and one that is thought to militate strongly against the character of the race, that the negro overseer is always more tyrannical and cruel than the white one. This is simply saying that the negro mind has been more crushed and debased than the white. It is no more true of this race than of every oppressed race, the world over. The slave is always a tyrant, if he can get a chance to be one.
Legree, like some potentates we read of in history, governed his plantation by a sort of resolution of forces. Sambo and Quimbo cordially hated each other; the plantation hands, one and all, cordially hated them; and, by playing off one against another, he was pretty sure, through one or the other of the three parties, to get informed of whatever was on foot in the place.
Nobody can live entirely without social intercourse; and Legree encouraged his two black satellites to a kind of coarse familiarity with him,–a familiarity, however, at any moment liable to get one or the other of them into trouble; for, on the slightest provocation, one of them always stood ready, at a nod, to be a minister of his vengeance on the other.
As they stood there now by Legree, they seemed an apt illustration of the fact that brutal men are lower even than animals. Their coarse, dark, heavy features; their great eyes, rolling enviously on each other; their barbarous, guttural, half-brute intonation; their dilapidated garments fluttering in the wind,–were all in admirable keeping with the vile and unwholesome character of everything about the place.
“Here, you Sambo,” said Legree, “take these yer boys down to the quarters; and here’s a gal I’ve got for _you_,” said he, as he separated the mulatto woman from Emmeline, and pushed her towards him;–“I promised to bring you one, you know.”
The woman gave a start, and drawing back, said, suddenly,
“O, Mas’r! I left my old man in New Orleans.”
“What of that, you–; won’t you want one here? None o’ your words,–go long!” said Legree, raising his whip.
“Come, mistress,” he said to Emmeline, “you go in here with me.”
A dark, wild face was seen, for a moment, to glance at the window of the house; and, as Legree opened the door, a female voice said something, in a quick, imperative tone. Tom, who was looking, with anxious interest, after Emmeline, as she went in, noticed this, and heard Legree answer, angrily, “You may hold your tongue! I’ll do as I please, for all you!”
Tom heard no more; for he was soon following Sambo to the quarters. The quarters was a little sort of street of rude shanties, in a row, in a part of the plantation, far off from the house. They had a forlorn, brutal, forsaken air. Tom’s heart sunk when he saw them. He had been comforting himself with the thought of a cottage, rude, indeed, but one which he might make neat and quiet, and where he might have a shelf for his Bible, and a place to be alone out of his laboring hours. He looked into several; they were mere rude shells, destitute of any species of furniture, except a heap of straw, foul with dirt, spread confusedly over the floor, which was merely the bare ground, trodden hard by the tramping of innumerable feet.
“Which of these will be mine?” said he, to Sambo, submissively.
“Dunno; ken turn in here, I spose,” said Sambo; “spects thar’s room for another thar; thar’s a pretty smart heap o’ niggers to each on ’em, now; sure, I dunno what I ’s to do with more.”
It was late in the evening when the weary occupants of the shanties came flocking home,–men and women, in soiled and tattered garments, surly and uncomfortable, and in no mood to look pleasantly on new-comers. The small village was alive with no inviting sounds; hoarse, guttural voices contending at the hand-mills where their morsel of hard corn was yet to be ground into meal, to fit it for the cake that was to constitute their only supper. From the earliest dawn of the day, they had been in the fields, pressed to work under the driving lash of the overseers; for it was now in the very heat and hurry of the season, and no means was left untried to press every one up to the top of their capabilities. “True,” says the negligent lounger; “picking cotton isn’t hard work.” Isn’t it? And it isn’t much inconvenience, either, to have one drop of water fall on your head; yet the worst torture of the inquisition is produced by drop after drop, drop after drop, falling moment after moment, with monotonous succession, on the same spot; and work, in itself not hard, becomes so, by being pressed, hour after hour, with unvarying, unrelenting sameness, with not even the consciousness of free-will to take from its tediousness. Tom looked in vain among the gang, as they poured along, for companionable faces. He saw only sullen, scowling, imbruted men, and feeble, discouraged women, or women that were not women,–the strong pushing away the weak,–the gross, unrestricted animal selfishness of human beings, of whom nothing good was expected and desired; and who, treated in every way like brutes, had sunk as nearly to their level as it was possible for human beings to do. To a late hour in the night the sound of the grinding was protracted; for the mills were few in number compared with the grinders, and the weary and feeble ones were driven back by the strong, and came on last in their turn.
“Ho yo!” said Sambo, coming to the mulatto woman, and throwing down a bag of corn before her; “what a cuss yo name?”
“Lucy,” said the woman.
“Wal, Lucy, yo my woman now. Yo grind dis yer corn, and get _my_ supper baked, ye har?”
“I an’t your woman, and I won’t be!” said the woman, with the sharp, sudden courage of despair; “you go ’long!”
“I’ll kick yo, then!” said Sambo, raising his foot threateningly.
“Ye may kill me, if ye choose,–the sooner the better! Wish’t I was dead!” said she.
“I say, Sambo, you go to spilin’ the hands, I’ll tell Mas’r o’ you,” said Quimbo, who was busy at the mill, from which he had viciously driven two or three tired women, who were waiting to grind their corn.
“And, I’ll tell him ye won’t let the women come to the mills, yo old nigger!” said Sambo. “Yo jes keep to yo own row.”
Tom was hungry with his day’s journey, and almost faint for want of food.
“Thar, yo!” said Quimbo, throwing down a coarse bag, which contained a peck of corn; “thar, nigger, grab, take car on ’t,–yo won’t get no more, _dis_ yer week.”
Tom waited till a late hour, to get a place at the mills; and then, moved by the utter weariness of two women, whom he saw trying to grind their corn there, he ground for them, put together the decaying brands of the fire, where many had baked cakes before them, and then went about getting his own supper. It was a new kind of work there,–a deed of charity, small as it was; but it woke an answering touch in their hearts,–an expression of womanly kindness came over their hard faces; they mixed his cake for him, and tended its baking; and Tom sat down by the light of the fire, and drew out his Bible,–for he had need for comfort.
“What’s that?” said one of the woman.
“A Bible,” said Tom.
“Good Lord! han’t seen un since I was in Kentuck.”
“Was you raised in Kentuck?” said Tom, with interest.
“Yes, and well raised, too; never ’spected to come to dis yer!” said the woman, sighing.
“What’s dat ar book, any way?” said the other woman.
“Why, the Bible.”
“Laws a me! what’s dat?” said the woman.
“Do tell! you never hearn on ’t?” said the other woman. “I used to har Missis a readin’ on ’t, sometimes, in Kentuck; but, laws o’ me! we don’t har nothin’ here but crackin’ and swarin’.”
“Read a piece, anyways!” said the first woman, curiously, seeing Tom attentively poring over it.
Tom read,–“Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
“Them’s good words, enough,” said the woman; “who says ’em?”
“The Lord,” said Tom.
“I jest wish I know’d whar to find Him,” said the woman. “I would go; ’pears like I never should get rested again. My flesh is fairly sore, and I tremble all over, every day, and Sambo’s allers a jawin’ at me, ’cause I doesn’t pick faster; and nights it’s most midnight ’fore I can get my supper; and den ’pears like I don’t turn over and shut my eyes, ’fore I hear de horn blow to get up, and at it agin in de mornin’. If I knew whar de Lor was, I’d tell him.”
“He’s here, he’s everywhere,” said Tom.
“Lor, you an’t gwine to make me believe dat ar! I know de Lord an’t here,” said the woman; “‘tan’t no use talking, though. I’s jest gwine to camp down, and sleep while I ken.”
The women went off to their cabins, and Tom sat alone, by the smouldering fire, that flickered up redly in his face.
The silver, fair-browed moon rose in the purple sky, and looked down, calm and silent, as God looks on the scene of misery and oppression,–looked calmly on the lone black man, as he sat, with his arms folded, and his Bible on his knee.
“Is God HERE?” Ah, how is it possible for the untaught heart to keep its faith, unswerving, in the face of dire misrule, and palpable, unrebuked injustice? In that simple heart waged a fierce conflict; the crushing sense of wrong, the foreshadowing, of a whole life of future misery, the wreck of all past hopes, mournfully tossing in the soul’s sight, like dead corpses of wife, and child, and friend, rising from the dark wave, and surging in the face of the half-drowned mariner! Ah, was it easy _here_ to believe and hold fast the great password of Christian faith, that “God IS, and is the REWARDER of them that diligently seek Him”?
Tom rose, disconsolate, and stumbled into the cabin that had been allotted to him. The floor was already strewn with weary sleepers, and the foul air of the place almost repelled him; but the heavy night-dews were chill, and his limbs weary, and, wrapping about him a tattered blanket, which formed his only bed-clothing, he stretched himself in the straw and fell asleep.
In dreams, a gentle voice came over his ear; he was sitting on the mossy seat in the garden by Lake Pontchartrain, and Eva, with her serious eyes bent downward, was reading to him from the Bible; and he heard her read.
“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and the rivers they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee; for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.”
Gradually the words seemed to melt and fade, as in a divine music; the child raised her deep eyes, and fixed them lovingly on him, and rays of warmth and comfort seemed to go from them to his heart; and, as if wafted on the music, she seemed to rise on shining wings, from which flakes and spangles of gold fell off like stars, and she was gone.
Tom woke. Was it a dream? Let it pass for one. But who shall say that that sweet young spirit, which in life so yearned to comfort and console the distressed, was forbidden of God to assume this ministry after death?
It is a beautiful belief, That ever round our head Are hovering, on angel wings, The spirits of the dead.
“And behold, the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power, but they had no comforter.”–ECCL. 4:1
It took but a short time to familiarize Tom with all that was to be hoped or feared in his new way of life. He was an expert and efficient workman in whatever he undertook; and was, both from habit and principle, prompt and faithful. Quiet and peaceable in his disposition, he hoped, by unremitting diligence, to avert from himself at least a portion of the evils of his condition. He saw enough of abuse and misery to make him sick and weary; but he determined to toil on, with religious patience, committing himself to Him that judgeth righteously, not without hope that some way of escape might yet be opened to him.
Legree took a silent note of Tom’s availability. He rated him as a first-class hand; and yet he felt a secret dislike to him,–the native antipathy of bad to good. He saw, plainly, that when, as was often the case, his violence and brutality fell on the helpless, Tom took notice of it; for, so subtle is the atmosphere of opinion, that it will make itself felt, without words; and the opinion even of a slave may annoy a master. Tom in various ways manifested a tenderness of feeling, a commiseration for his fellow-sufferers, strange and new to them, which was watched with a jealous eye by Legree. He had purchased Tom with a view of eventually making him a sort of overseer, with whom he might, at times, intrust his affairs, in short absences; and, in his view, the first, second, and third requisite for that place, was _hardness_. Legree made up his mind, that, as Tom was not hard to his hand, he would harden him forthwith; and some few weeks after Tom had been on the place, he determined to commence the process.
One morning, when the hands were mustered for the field, Tom noticed, with surprise, a new comer among them, whose appearance excited his attention. It was a woman, tall and slenderly formed, with remarkably delicate hands and feet, and dressed in neat and respectable garments. By the appearance of her face, she might have been between thirty-five and forty; and it was a face that, once seen, could never be forgotten,–one of those that, at a glance, seem to convey to us an idea of a wild, painful, and romantic history. Her forehead was high, and her eyebrows marked with beautiful clearness. Her straight, well-formed nose, her finely-cut mouth, and the graceful contour of her head and neck, showed that she must once have been beautiful; but her face was deeply wrinkled with lines of pain, and of proud and bitter endurance. Her complexion was sallow and unhealthy, her cheeks thin, her features sharp, and her whole form emaciated. But her eye was the most remarkable feature,–so large, so heavily black, overshadowed by long lashes of equal darkness, and so wildly, mournfully despairing. There was a fierce pride and defiance in every line of her face, in every curve of the flexible lip, in every motion of her body; but in her eye was a deep, settled night of anguish,–an expression so hopeless and unchanging as to contrast fearfully with the scorn and pride expressed by her whole demeanor.
Where she came from, or who she was, Tom did not know. The first he did know, she was walking by his side, erect and proud, in the dim gray of the dawn. To the gang, however, she was known; for there was much looking and turning of heads, and a smothered yet apparent exultation among the miserable, ragged, half-starved creatures by whom she was surrounded.
“Got to come to it, at last,–glad of it!” said one.
“He! he! he!” said another; “you’ll know how good it is, Misse!”
“We’ll see her work!”
“Wonder if she’ll get a cutting up, at night, like the rest of us!”
“I’d be glad to see her down for a flogging, I’ll bound!” said another.
The woman took no notice of these taunts, but walked on, with the same expression of angry scorn, as if she heard nothing. Tom had always lived among refined, and cultivated people, and he felt intuitively, from her air and bearing, that she belonged to that class; but how or why she could be fallen to those degrading circumstances, he could not tell. The women neither looked at him nor spoke to him, though, all the way to the field, she kept close at his side.
Tom was soon busy at his work; but, as the woman was at no great distance from him, he often glanced an eye to her, at her work. He saw, at a glance, that a native adroitness and handiness made the task to her an easier one than it proved to many. She picked very fast and very clean, and with an air of scorn, as if she despised both the work and the disgrace and humiliation of the circumstances in which she was placed.
In the course of the day, Tom was working near the mulatto woman who had been bought in the same lot with himself. She was evidently in a condition of great suffering, and Tom often heard her praying, as she wavered and trembled, and seemed about to fall down. Tom silently as he came near to her, transferred several handfuls of cotton from his own sack to hers.
“O, don’t, don’t!” said the woman, looking surprised; “it’ll get you into trouble.”
Just then Sambo came up. He seemed to have a special spite against this woman; and, flourishing his whip, said, in brutal, guttural tones, “What dis yer, Luce,–foolin’ a’” and, with the word, kicking the woman with his heavy cowhide shoe, he struck Tom across the face with his whip.
Tom silently resumed his task; but the woman, before at the last point of exhaustion, fainted.
“I’ll bring her to!” said the driver, with a brutal grin. “I’ll give her something better than camphire!” and, taking a pin from his coat-sleeve, he buried it to the head in her flesh. The woman groaned, and half rose. “Get up, you beast, and work, will yer, or I’ll show yer a trick more!”
The woman seemed stimulated, for a few moments, to an unnatural strength, and worked with desperate eagerness.
“See that you keep to dat ar,” said the man, “or yer’ll wish yer’s dead tonight, I reckin!”
“That I do now!” Tom heard her say; and again he heard her say, “O, Lord, how long! O, Lord, why don’t you help us?”
At the risk of all that he might suffer, Tom came forward again, and put all the cotton in his sack into the woman’s.
“O, you mustn’t! you donno what they’ll do to ye!” said the woman.
“I can bar it!” said Tom, “better ’n you;” and he was at his place again. It passed in a moment.
Suddenly, the stranger woman whom we have described, and who had, in the course of her work, come near enough to hear Tom’s last words, raised her heavy black eyes, and fixed them, for a second, on him; then, taking a quantity of cotton from her basket, she placed it in his.
“You know nothing about this place,” she said, “or you wouldn’t have done that. When you’ve been here a month, you’ll be done helping anybody; you’ll find it hard enough to take care of your own skin!”
“The Lord forbid, Missis!” said Tom, using instinctively to his field companion the respectful form proper to the high bred with whom he had lived.
“The Lord never visits these parts,” said the woman, bitterly, as she went nimbly forward with her work; and again the scornful smile curled her lips.
But the action of the woman had been seen by the driver, across the field; and, flourishing his whip, he came up to her.
“What! what!” he said to the woman, with an air of triumph, “You a foolin’? Go along! yer under me now,–mind yourself, or yer’ll cotch it!”
A glance like sheet-lightning suddenly flashed from those black eyes; and, facing about, with quivering lip and dilated nostrils, she drew herself up, and fixed a glance, blazing with rage and scorn, on the driver.
“Dog!” she said, “touch _me_, if you dare! I’ve power enough, yet, to have you torn by the dogs, burnt alive, cut to inches! I’ve only to say the word!”
“What de devil you here for, den?” said the man, evidently cowed, and sullenly retreating a step or two. “Didn’t mean no harm, Misse Cassy!”
“Keep your distance, then!” said the woman. And, in truth, the man seemed greatly inclined to attend to something at the other end of the field, and started off in quick time.
The woman suddenly turned to her work, and labored with a despatch that was perfectly astonishing to Tom. She seemed to work by magic. Before the day was through, her basket was filled, crowded down, and piled, and she had several times put largely into Tom’s. Long after dusk, the whole weary train, with their baskets on their heads, defiled up to the building appropriated to the storing and weighing the cotton. Legree was there, busily conversing with the two drivers.
“Dat ar Tom’s gwine to make a powerful deal o’ trouble; kept a puttin’ into Lucy’s basket.–One o’ these yer dat will get all der niggers to feelin’ ’bused, if Masir don’t watch him!” said Sambo.
“Hey-dey! The black cuss!” said Legree. “He’ll have to get a breakin’ in, won’t he, boys?”
Both negroes grinned a horrid grin, at this intimation.
“Ay, ay! Let Mas’r Legree alone, for breakin’ in! De debil heself couldn’t beat Mas’r at dat!” said Quimbo.
“Wal, boys, the best way is to give him the flogging to do, till he gets over his notions. Break him in!”
“Lord, Mas’r’ll have hard work to get dat out o’ him!”
“It’ll have to come out of him, though!” said Legree, as he rolled his tobacco in his mouth.
“Now, dar’s Lucy,–de aggravatinest, ugliest wench on de place!” pursued Sambo.
“Take care, Sam; I shall begin to think what’s the reason for your spite agin Lucy.”
“Well, Mas’r knows she sot herself up agin Mas’r, and wouldn’t have me, when he telled her to.”
“I’d a flogged her into ’t,” said Legree, spitting, “only there’s such a press o’ work, it don’t seem wuth a while to upset her jist now. She’s slender; but these yer slender gals will bear half killin’ to get their own way!”
“Wal, Lucy was real aggravatin’ and lazy, sulkin’ round; wouldn’t do nothin,–and Tom he stuck up for her.”
“He did, eh! Wal, then, Tom shall have the pleasure of flogging her. It’ll be a good practice for him, and he won’t put it on to the gal like you devils, neither.”
“Ho, ho! haw! haw! haw!” laughed both the sooty wretches; and the diabolical sounds seemed, in truth, a not unapt expression of the fiendish character which Legree gave them.
“Wal, but, Mas’r, Tom and Misse Cassy, and dey among ’em, filled Lucy’s basket. I ruther guess der weight ’s in it, Mas’r!”
“_I do the weighing!_” said Legree, emphatically.
Both the drivers again laughed their diabolical laugh.
“So!” he added, “Misse Cassy did her day’s work.”
“She picks like de debil and all his angels!”
“She’s got ’em all in her, I believe!” said Legree; and, growling a brutal oath, he proceeded to the weighing-room.
Slowly the weary, dispirited creatures, wound their way into the room, and, with crouching reluctance, presented their baskets to be weighed.
Legree noted on a slate, on the side of which was pasted a list of names, the amount.
Tom’s basket was weighed and approved; and he looked, with an anxious glance, for the success of the woman he had befriended.
Tottering with weakness, she came forward, and delivered her basket. It was of full weight, as Legree well perceived; but, affecting anger, he said,
“What, you lazy beast! short again! stand aside, you’ll catch it, pretty soon!”
The woman gave a groan of utter despair, and sat down on a board.
The person who had been called Misse Cassy now came forward, and, with a haughty, negligent air, delivered her basket. As she delivered it, Legree looked in her eyes with a sneering yet inquiring glance.
She fixed her black eyes steadily on him, her lips moved slightly, and she said something in French. What it was, no one knew; but Legree’s face became perfectly demoniacal in its expression, as she spoke; he half raised his hand, as if to strike,–a gesture which she regarded with fierce disdain, as she turned and walked away.
“And now,” said Legree, “come here, you Tom. You see, I telled ye I didn’t buy ye jest for the common work; I mean to promote ye, and make a driver of ye; and tonight ye may jest as well begin to get yer hand in. Now, ye jest take this yer gal and flog her; ye’ve seen enough on’t to know how.”
“I beg Mas’r’s pardon,” said Tom; “hopes Mas’r won’t set me at that. It’s what I an’t used to,–never did,–and can’t do, no way possible.”
“Ye’ll larn a pretty smart chance of things ye never did know, before I’ve done with ye!” said Legree, taking up a cowhide, and striking Tom a heavy blow cross the cheek, and following up the infliction by a shower of blows.
“There!” he said, as he stopped to rest; “now, will ye tell me ye can’t do it?”
“Yes, Mas’r,” said Tom, putting up his hand, to wipe the blood, that trickled down his face. “I’m willin’ to work, night and day, and work while there’s life and breath in me; but this yer thing I can’t feel it right to do;–and, Mas’r, I _never_ shall do it,–_never_!”
Tom had a remarkably smooth, soft voice, and a habitually respectful manner, that had given Legree an idea that he would be cowardly, and easily subdued. When he spoke these last words, a thrill of amazement went through every one; the poor woman clasped her hands, and said, “O Lord!” and every one involuntarily looked at each other and drew in their breath, as if to prepare for the storm that was about to burst.
Legree looked stupefied and confounded; but at last burst forth,–“What! ye blasted black beast! tell _me_ ye don’t think it _right_ to do what I tell ye! What have any of you cussed cattle to do with thinking what’s right? I’ll put a stop to it! Why, what do ye think ye are? May be ye think ye’r a gentleman master, Tom, to be a telling your master what’s right, and what ain’t! So you pretend it’s wrong to flog the gal!”
“I think so, Mas’r,” said Tom; “the poor crittur’s sick and feeble; ’t would be downright cruel, and it’s what I never will do, nor begin to. Mas’r, if you mean to kill me, kill me; but, as to my raising my hand agin any one here, I never shall,–I’ll die first!”
Tom spoke in a mild voice, but with a decision that could not be mistaken. Legree shook with anger; his greenish eyes glared fiercely, and his very whiskers seemed to curl with passion; but, like some ferocious beast, that plays with its victim before he devours it, he kept back his strong impulse to proceed to immediate violence, and broke out into bitter raillery.
“Well, here’s a pious dog, at last, let down among us sinners!–a saint, a gentleman, and no less, to talk to us sinners about our sins! Powerful holy critter, he must be! Here, you rascal, you make believe to be so pious,–didn’t you never hear, out of yer Bible, ’Servants, obey yer masters’? An’t I yer master? Didn’t I pay down twelve hundred dollars, cash, for all there is inside yer old cussed black shell? An’t yer mine, now, body and soul?” he said, giving Tom a violent kick with his heavy boot; “tell me!”
In the very depth of physical suffering, bowed by brutal oppression, this question shot a gleam of joy and triumph through Tom’s soul. He suddenly stretched himself up, and, looking earnestly to heaven, while the tears and blood that flowed down his face mingled, he exclaimed,
“No! no! no! my soul an’t yours, Mas’r! You haven’t bought it,–ye can’t buy it! It’s been bought and paid for, by one that is able to keep it;–no matter, no matter, you can’t harm me!”
“I can’t!” said Legree, with a sneer; “we’ll see,–we’ll see! Here, Sambo, Quimbo, give this dog such a breakin’ in as he won’t get over, this month!”
The two gigantic negroes that now laid hold of Tom, with fiendish exultation in their faces, might have formed no unapt personification of powers of darkness. The poor woman screamed with apprehension, and all rose, as by a general impulse, while they dragged him unresisting from the place.
The Quadroon’s Story
And behold the tears of such as are oppressed; and on the side of their oppressors there was power. Wherefore I praised the dead that are already dead more than the living that are yet alive.–ECCL. 4:1.
It was late at night, and Tom lay groaning and bleeding alone, in an old forsaken room of the gin-house, among pieces of broken machinery, piles of damaged cotton, and other rubbish which had there accumulated.
The night was damp and close, and the thick air swarmed with myriads of mosquitos, which increased the restless torture of his wounds; whilst a burning thirst–a torture beyond all others–filled up the uttermost measure of physical anguish.
“O, good Lord! _Do_ look down,–give me the victory!–give me the victory over all!” prayed poor Tom, in his anguish.
A footstep entered the room, behind him, and the light of a lantern flashed on his eyes.
“Who’s there? O, for the Lord’s massy, please give me some water!”
The woman Cassy–for it was she,–set down her lantern, and, pouring water from a bottle, raised his head, and gave him drink. Another and another cup were drained, with feverish eagerness.
“Drink all ye want,” she said; “I knew how it would be. It isn’t the first time I’ve been out in the night, carrying water to such as you.”
“Thank you, Missis,” said Tom, when he had done drinking.
“Don’t call me Missis! I’m a miserable slave, like yourself,–a lower one than you can ever be!” said she, bitterly; “but now,” said she, going to the door, and dragging in a small pallaise, over which she had spread linen cloths wet with cold water, “try, my poor fellow, to roll yourself on to this.”
Stiff with wounds and bruises, Tom was a long time in accomplishing this movement; but, when done, he felt a sensible relief from the cooling application to his wounds.
The woman, whom long practice with the victims of brutality had made familiar with many healing arts, went on to make many applications to Tom’s wounds, by means of which he was soon somewhat relieved.
“Now,” said the woman, when she had raised his head on a roll of damaged cotton, which served for a pillow, “there’s the best I can do for you.”
Tom thanked her; and the woman, sitting down on the floor, drew up her knees, and embracing them with her arms, looked fixedly before her, with a bitter and painful expression of countenance. Her bonnet fell back, and long wavy streams of black hair fell around her singular and melancholy-face.
“It’s no use, my poor fellow!” she broke out, at last, “it’s of no use, this you’ve been trying to do. You were a brave fellow,–you had the right on your side; but it’s all in vain, and out of the question, for you to struggle. You are in the devil’s hands;–he is the strongest, and you must give up!”
Give up! and, had not human weakness and physical agony whispered that, before? Tom started; for the bitter woman, with her wild eyes and melancholy voice, seemed to him an embodiment of the temptation with which he had been wrestling.
“O Lord! O Lord!” he groaned, “how can I give up?”
“There’s no use calling on the Lord,–he never hears,” said the woman, steadily; “there isn’t any God, I believe; or, if there is, he’s taken sides against us. All goes against us, heaven and earth. Everything is pushing us into hell. Why shouldn’t we go?”
Tom closed his eyes, and shuddered at the dark, atheistic words.
“You see,” said the woman, “_you_ don’t know anything about it–I do. I’ve been on this place five years, body and soul, under this man’s foot; and I hate him as I do the devil! Here you are, on a lone plantation, ten miles from any other, in the swamps; not a white person here, who could testify, if you were burned alive,–if you were scalded, cut into inch-pieces, set up for the dogs to tear, or hung up and whipped to death. There’s no law here, of God or man, that can do you, or any one of us, the least good; and, this man! there’s no earthly thing that he’s too good to do. I could make any one’s hair rise, and their teeth chatter, if I should only tell what I’ve seen and been knowing to, here,–and it’s no use resisting! Did I _want_ to live with him? Wasn’t I a woman delicately bred; and he,–God in heaven! what was he, and is he? And yet, I’ve lived with him, these five years, and cursed every moment of my life,–night and day! And now, he’s got a new one,–a young thing, only fifteen, and she brought up, she says, piously. Her good mistress taught her to read the Bible; and she’s brought her Bible here–to hell with her!”–and the woman laughed a wild and doleful laugh, that rung, with a strange, supernatural sound, through the old ruined shed.
Tom folded his hands; all was darkness and horror.
“O Jesus! Lord Jesus! have you quite forgot us poor critturs?” burst forth, at last;–“help, Lord, I perish!”
The woman sternly continued:
“And what are these miserable low dogs you work with, that you should suffer on their account? Every one of them would turn against you, the first time they got a chance. They are all of ’em as low and cruel to each other as they can be; there’s no use in your suffering to keep from hurting them.”
“Poor critturs!” said Tom,–“what made ’em cruel?–and, if I give out, I shall get used to ’t, and grow, little by little, just like ’em! No, no, Missis! I’ve lost everything,–wife, and children, and home, and a kind Mas’r,–and he would have set me free, if he’d only lived a week longer; I’ve lost everything in _this_ world, and it’s clean gone, forever,–and now I _can’t_ lose Heaven, too; no, I can’t get to be wicked, besides all!”
“But it can’t be that the Lord will lay sin to our account,” said the woman; “he won’t charge it to us, when we’re forced to it; he’ll charge it to them that drove us to it.”
“Yes,” said Tom; “but that won’t keep us from growing wicked. If I get to be as hard-hearted as that ar’ Sambo, and as wicked, it won’t make much odds to me how I come so; it’s the bein’ so,–that ar’s what I’m a dreadin’.”
The woman fixed a wild and startled look on Tom, as if a new thought had struck her; and then, heavily groaning, said,
“O God a’ mercy! you speak the truth! O–O–O!”–and, with groans, she fell on the floor, like one crushed and writhing under the extremity of mental anguish.
There was a silence, a while, in which the breathing of both parties could be heard, when Tom faintly said, “O, please, Missis!”
The woman suddenly rose up, with her face composed to its usual stern, melancholy expression.
“Please, Missis, I saw ’em throw my coat in that ar’ corner, and in my coat-pocket is my Bible;–if Missis would please get it for me.”
Cassy went and got it. Tom opened, at once, to a heavily marked passage, much worn, of the last scenes in the life of Him by whose stripes we are healed.
“If Missis would only be so good as read that ar’,–it’s better than water.”
Cassy took the book, with a dry, proud air, and looked over the passage. She then read aloud, in a soft voice, and with a beauty of intonation that was peculiar, that touching account of anguish and of glory. Often, as she read, her voice faltered, and sometimes failed her altogether, when she would stop, with an air of frigid composure, till she had mastered herself. When she came to the touching words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” she threw down the book, and, burying her face in the heavy masses of her hair, she sobbed aloud, with a convulsive violence.
Tom was weeping, also, and occasionally uttering a smothered ejaculation.
“If we only could keep up to that ar’!” said Tom;–“it seemed to come so natural to him, and we have to fight so hard for ’t! O Lord, help us! O blessed Lord Jesus, do help us!”
“Missis,” said Tom, after a while, “I can see that, some how, you’re quite ’bove me in everything; but there’s one thing Missis might learn even from poor Tom. Ye said the Lord took sides against us, because he lets us be ’bused and knocked round; but ye see what come on his own Son,–the blessed Lord of Glory,–wan’t he allays poor? and have we, any on us, yet come so low as he come? The Lord han’t forgot us,–I’m sartin’ o’ that ar’. If we suffer with him, we shall also reign, Scripture says; but, if we deny Him, he also will deny us. Didn’t they all suffer?–the Lord and all his? It tells how they was stoned and sawn asunder, and wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, and was destitute, afflicted, tormented. Sufferin’ an’t no reason to make us think the Lord’s turned agin us; but jest the contrary, if only we hold on to him, and doesn’t give up to sin.”
“But why does he put us where we can’t help but sin?” said the woman.
“I think we _can_ help it,” said Tom.
“You’ll see,” said Cassy; “what’ll you do? Tomorrow they’ll be at you again. I know ’em; I’ve seen all their doings; I can’t bear to think of all they’ll bring you to;–and they’ll make you give out, at last!”
“Lord Jesus!” said Tom, “you _will_ take care of my soul? O Lord, do!–don’t let me give out!”
“O dear!” said Cassy; “I’ve heard all this crying and praying before; and yet, they’ve been broken down, and brought under. There’s Emmeline, she’s trying to hold on, and you’re trying,–but what use? You must give up, or be killed by inches.”
“Well, then, I _will_ die!” said Tom. “Spin it out as long as they can, they can’t help my dying, some time!–and, after that, they can’t do no more. I’m clar, I’m set! I _know_ the Lord’ll help me, and bring me through.”
The woman did not answer; she sat with her black eyes intently fixed on the floor.
“May be it’s the way,” she murmured to herself; “but those that _have_ given up, there’s no hope for them!–none! We live in filth, and grow loathsome, till we loathe ourselves! And we long to die, and we don’t dare to kill ourselves!–No hope! no hope! no hope?–this girl now,–just as old as I was!
“You see me now,” she said, speaking to Tom very rapidly; “see what I am! Well, I was brought up in luxury; the first I remember is, playing about, when I was a child, in splendid parlors,–when I was kept dressed up like a doll, and company and visitors used to praise me. There was a garden opening from the saloon windows; and there I used to play hide-and-go-seek, under the orange-trees, with my brothers and sisters. I went to a convent, and there I learned music, French and embroidery, and what not; and when I was fourteen, I came out to my father’s funeral. He died very suddenly, and when the property came to be settled, they found that there was scarcely enough to cover the debts; and when the creditors took an inventory of the property, I was set down in it. My mother was a slave woman, and my father had always meant to set me free; but he had not done it, and so I was set down in the list. I’d always known who I was, but never thought much about it. Nobody ever expects that a strong, healthy man is going to die. My father was a well man only four hours before he died;–it was one of the first cholera cases in New Orleans. The day after the funeral, my father’s wife took her children, and went up to her father’s plantation. I thought they treated me strangely, but didn’t know. There was a young lawyer who they left to settle the business; and he came every day, and was about the house, and spoke very politely to me. He brought with him, one day, a young man, whom I thought the handsomest I had ever seen. I shall never forget that evening. I walked with him in the garden. I was lonesome and full of sorrow, and he was so kind and gentle to me; and he told me that he had seen me before I went to the convent, and that he had loved me a great while, and that he would be my friend and protector;–in short, though he didn’t tell me, he had paid two thousand dollars for me, and I was his property,–I became his willingly, for I loved him. Loved!” said the woman, stopping. “O, how I _did_ love that man! How I love him now,–and always shall, while I breathe! He was so beautiful, so high, so noble! He put me into a beautiful house, with servants, horses, and carriages, and furniture, and dresses. Everything that money could buy, he gave me; but I didn’t set any value on all that,–I only cared for him. I loved him better than my God and my own soul, and, if I tried, I couldn’t do any other way from what he wanted me to.
“I wanted only one thing–I did want him to _marry_ me. I thought, if he loved me as he said he did, and if I was what he seemed to think I was, he would be willing to marry me and set me free. But he convinced me that it would be impossible; and he told me that, if we were only faithful to each other, it was marriage before God. If that is true, wasn’t I that man’s wife? Wasn’t I faithful? For seven years, didn’t I study every look and motion, and only live and breathe to please him? He had the yellow fever, and for twenty days and nights I watched with him. I alone,–and gave him all his medicine, and did everything for him; and then he called me his good angel, and said I’d saved his life. We had two beautiful children. The first was a boy, and we called him Henry. He was the image of his father,–he had such beautiful eyes, such a forehead, and his hair hung all in curls around it; and he had all his father’s spirit, and his talent, too. Little Elise, he said, looked like me. He used to tell me that I was the most beautiful woman in Louisiana, he was so proud of me and the children. He used to love to have me dress them up, and take them and me about in an open carriage, and hear the remarks that people would make on us; and he used to fill my ears constantly with the fine things that were said in praise of me and the children. O, those were happy days! I thought I was as happy as any one could be; but then there came evil times. He had a cousin come to New Orleans, who was his particular friend,–he thought all the world of him;–but, from the first time I saw him, I couldn’t tell why, I dreaded him; for I felt sure he was going to bring misery on us. He got Henry to going out with him, and often he would not come home nights till two or three o’clock. I did not dare say a word; for Henry was so high spirited, I was afraid to. He got him to the gaming-houses; and he was one of the sort that, when he once got a going there, there was no holding back. And then he introduced him to another lady, and I saw soon that his heart was gone from me. He never told me, but I saw it,–I knew it, day after day,–I felt my heart breaking, but I could not say a word! At this, the wretch offered to buy me and the children of Henry, to clear off his gambling debts, which stood in the way of his marrying as he wished;–and _he sold us_. He told me, one day, that he had business in the country, and should be gone two or three weeks. He spoke kinder than usual, and said he should come back; but it didn’t deceive me. I knew that the time had come; I was just like one turned into stone; I couldn’t speak, nor shed a tear. He kissed me and kissed the children, a good many times, and went out. I saw him get on his horse, and I watched him till he was quite out of sight; and then I fell down, and fainted.
“Then _he_ came, the cursed wretch! he came to take possession. He told me that he had bought me and my children; and showed me the papers. I cursed him before God, and told him I’d die sooner than live with him.”
“‘Just as you please,’ said he; ‘but, if you don’t behave reasonably, I’ll sell both the children, where you shall never see them again.’ He told me that he always had meant to have me, from the first time he saw me; and that he had drawn Henry on, and got him in debt, on purpose to make him willing to sell me. That he got him in love with another woman; and that I might know, after all that, that he should not give up for a few airs and tears, and things of that sort.
“I gave up, for my hands were tied. He had my children;–whenever I resisted his will anywhere, he would talk about selling them, and he made me as submissive as he desired. O, what a life it was! to live with my heart breaking, every day,–to keep on, on, on, loving, when it was only misery; and to be bound, body and soul, to one I hated. I used to love to read to Henry, to play to him, to waltz with him, and sing to him; but everything I did for this one was a perfect drag,–yet I was afraid to refuse anything. He was very imperious, and harsh to the children. Elise was a timid little thing; but Henry was bold and high-spirited, like his father, and he had never been brought under, in the least, by any one. He was always finding fault, and quarrelling with him; and I used to live in daily fear and dread. I tried to make the child respectful;–I tried to keep them apart, for I held on to those children like death; but it did no good. _He sold both those children_. He took me to ride, one day, and when I came home, they were nowhere to be found! He told me he had sold them; he showed me the money, the price of their blood. Then it seemed as if all good forsook me. I raved and cursed,–cursed God and man; and, for a while, I believe, he really was afraid of me. But he didn’t give up so. He told me that my children were sold, but whether I ever saw their faces again, depended on him; and that, if I wasn’t quiet, they should smart for it. Well, you can do anything with a woman, when you’ve got her children. He made me submit; he made me be peaceable; he flattered me with hopes that, perhaps, he would buy them back; and so things went on, a week or two. One day, I was out walking, and passed by the calaboose; I saw a crowd about the gate, and heard a child’s voice,–and suddenly my Henry broke away from two or three men who were holding him, and ran, screaming, and caught my dress. They came up to him, swearing dreadfully; and one man, whose face I shall never forget, told him that he wouldn’t get away so; that he was going with him into the calaboose, and he’d get a lesson there he’d never forget. I tried to beg and plead,–they only laughed; the poor boy screamed and looked into my face, and held on to me, until, in tearing him off, they tore the skirt of my dress half away; and they carried him in, screaming ’Mother! mother! mother!’ There was one man stood there seemed to pity me. I offered him all the money I had, if he’d only interfere. He shook his head, and said that the boy had been impudent and disobedient, ever since he bought him; that he was going to break him in, once for all. I turned and ran; and every step of the way, I thought that I heard him scream. I got into the house; ran, all out of breath, to the parlor, where I found Butler. I told him, and begged him to go and interfere. He only laughed, and told me the boy had got his deserts. He’d got to be broken in,–the sooner the better; ’what did I expect?’ he asked.
“It seemed to me something in my head snapped, at that moment. I felt dizzy and furious. I remember seeing a great sharp bowie-knife on the table; I remember something about catching it, and flying upon him; and then all grew dark, and I didn’t know any more,–not for days and days.
“When I came to myself, I was in a nice room,–but not mine. An old black woman tended me; and a doctor came to see me, and there was a great deal of care taken of me. After a while, I found that he had gone away, and left me at this house to be sold; and that’s why they took such pains with me.
“I didn’t mean to get well, and hoped I shouldn’t; but, in spite of me the fever went off and I grew healthy, and finally got up. Then, they made me dress up, every day; and gentlemen used to come in and stand and smoke their cigars, and look at me, and ask questions, and debate my price. I was so gloomy and silent, that none of them wanted me. They threatened to whip me, if I wasn’t gayer, and didn’t take some pains to make myself agreeable. At length, one day, came a gentleman named Stuart. He seemed to have some feeling for me; he saw that something dreadful was on my heart, and he came to see me alone, a great many times, and finally persuaded me to tell him. He bought me, at last, and promised to do all he could to find and buy back my children. He went to the hotel where my Henry was; they told him he had been sold to a planter up on Pearl River; that was the last that I ever heard. Then he found where my daughter was; an old woman was keeping her. He offered an immense sum for her, but they would not sell her. Butler found out that it was for me he wanted her; and he sent me word that I should never have her. Captain Stuart was very kind to me; he had a splendid plantation, and took me to it. In the course of a year, I had a son born. O, that child!–how I loved it! How just like my poor Henry the little thing looked! But I had made up my mind,–yes, I had. I would never again let a child live to grow up! I took the little fellow in my arms, when he was two weeks old, and kissed him, and cried over him; and then I gave him laudanum, and held him close to my bosom, while he slept to death. How I mourned and cried over it! and who ever dreamed that it was anything but a mistake, that had made me give it the laudanum? but it’s one of the few things that I’m glad of, now. I am not sorry, to this day; he, at least, is out of pain. What better than death could I give him, poor child! After a while, the cholera came, and Captain Stuart died; everybody died that wanted to live,–and I,–I, though I went down to death’s door,–_I lived!_ Then I was sold, and passed from hand to hand, till I grew faded and wrinkled, and I had a fever; and then this wretch bought me, and brought me here,–and here I am!”
The woman stopped. She had hurried on through her story, with a wild, passionate utterance; sometimes seeming to address it to Tom, and sometimes speaking as in a soliloquy. So vehement and overpowering was the force with which she spoke, that, for a season, Tom was beguiled even from the pain of his wounds, and, raising himself on one elbow, watched her as she paced restlessly up and down, her long black hair swaying heavily about her, as she moved.
“You tell me,” she said, after a pause, “that there is a God,–a God that looks down and sees all these things. May be it’s so. The sisters in the convent used to tell me of a day of judgment, when everything is coming to light;–won’t there be vengeance, then!
“They think it’s nothing, what we suffer,–nothing, what our children suffer! It’s all a small matter; yet I’ve walked the streets when it seemed as if I had misery enough in my one heart to sink the city. I’ve wished the houses would fall on me, or the stones sink under me. Yes! and, in the judgment day, I will stand up before God, a witness against those that have ruined me and my children, body and soul!
“When I was a girl, I thought I was religious; I used to love God and prayer. Now, I’m a lost soul, pursued by devils that torment me day and night; they keep pushing me on and on–and I’ll do it, too, some of these days!” she said, clenching her hand, while an insane light glanced in her heavy black eyes. “I’ll send him where he belongs,–a short way, too,–one of these nights, if they burn me alive for it!” A wild, long laugh rang through the deserted room, and ended in a hysteric sob; she threw herself on the floor, in convulsive sobbing and struggles.
In a few moments, the frenzy fit seemed to pass off; she rose slowly, and seemed to collect herself.
“Can I do anything more for you, my poor fellow?” she said, approaching where Tom lay; “shall I give you some more water?”
There was a graceful and compassionate sweetness in her voice and manner, as she said this, that formed a strange contrast with the former wildness.
Tom drank the water, and looked earnestly and pitifully into her face.
“O, Missis, I wish you’d go to him that can give you living waters!”
“Go to him! Where is he? Who is he?” said Cassy.
“Him that you read of to me,–the Lord.”
“I used to see the picture of him, over the altar, when I was a girl,” said Cassy, her dark eyes fixing themselves in an expression of mournful reverie; “but, _he isn’t here!_ there’s nothing here, but sin and long, long, long despair! O!” She laid her hand on her breast and drew in her breath, as if to lift a heavy weight.
Tom looked as if he would speak again; but she cut him short, with a decided gesture.
“Don’t talk, my poor fellow. Try to sleep, if you can.” And, placing water in his reach, and making whatever little arrangements for his comforts she could, Cassy left the shed.
“And slight, withal, may be the things that bring Back on the heart the weight which it would fling Aside forever; it may be a sound, A flower, the wind, the ocean, which shall wound,– Striking the electric chain wherewith we’re darkly bound.” CHILDE HAROLD’S PILGRIMAGE, CAN. 4.
The sitting-room of Legree’s establishment was a large, long room, with a wide, ample fireplace. It had once been hung with a showy and expensive paper, which now hung mouldering, torn and discolored, from the damp walls. The place had that peculiar sickening, unwholesome smell, compounded of mingled damp, dirt and decay, which one often notices in close old houses. The wall-paper was defaced, in spots, by slops of beer and wine; or garnished with chalk memorandums, and long sums footed up, as if somebody had been practising arithmetic there. In the fireplace stood a brazier full of burning charcoal; for, though the weather was not cold, the evenings always seemed damp and chilly in that great room; and Legree, moreover, wanted a place to light his cigars, and heat his water for punch. The ruddy glare of the charcoal displayed the confused and unpromising aspect of the room,–saddles, bridles, several sorts of harness, riding-whips, overcoats, and various articles of clothing, scattered up and down the room in confused variety; and the dogs, of whom we have before spoken, had encamped themselves among them, to suit their own taste and convenience.
Legree was just mixing himself a tumbler of punch, pouring his hot water from a cracked and broken-nosed pitcher, grumbling, as he did so,
“Plague on that Sambo, to kick up this yer row between me and the new hands! The fellow won’t be fit to work for a week, now,–right in the press of the season!”
“Yes, just like you,” said a voice, behind his chair. It was the woman Cassy, who had stolen upon his soliloquy.
“Hah! you she-devil! you’ve come back, have you?”
“Yes, I have,” she said, coolly; “come to have my own way, too!”
“You lie, you jade! I’ll be up to my word. Either behave yourself, or stay down to the quarters, and fare and work with the rest.”
“I’d rather, ten thousand times,” said the woman, “live in the dirtiest hole at the quarters, than be under your hoof!”
“But you _are_ under my hoof, for all that,” said he, turning upon her, with a savage grin; “that’s one comfort. So, sit down here on my knee, my dear, and hear to reason,” said he, laying hold on her wrist.
“Simon Legree, take care!” said the woman, with a sharp flash of her eye, a glance so wild and insane in its light as to be almost appalling. “You’re afraid of me, Simon,” she said, deliberately; “and you’ve reason to be! But be careful, for I’ve got the devil in me!”
The last words she whispered in a hissing tone, close to his ear.
“Get out! I believe, to my soul, you have!” said Legree, pushing her from him, and looking uncomfortably at her. “After all, Cassy,” he said, “why can’t you be friends with me, as you used to?”
“Used to!” said she, bitterly. She stopped short,–a word of choking feelings, rising in her heart, kept her silent.
Cassy had always kept over Legree the kind of influence that a strong, impassioned woman can ever keep over the most brutal man; but, of late, she had grown more and more irritable and restless, under the hideous yoke of her servitude, and her irritability, at times, broke out into raving insanity; and this liability made her a sort of object of dread to Legree, who had that superstitious horror of insane persons which is common to coarse and uninstructed minds. When Legree brought Emmeline to the house, all the smouldering embers of womanly feeling flashed up in the worn heart of Cassy, and she took part with the girl; and a fierce quarrel ensued between her and Legree. Legree, in a fury, swore she should be put to field service, if she would not be peaceable. Cassy, with proud scorn, declared she _would_ go to the field. And she worked there one day, as we have described, to show how perfectly she scorned the threat.
Legree was secretly uneasy, all day; for Cassy had an influence over him from which he could not free himself. When she presented her basket at the scales, he had hoped for some concession, and addressed her in a sort of half conciliatory, half scornful tone; and she had answered with the bitterest contempt.
The outrageous treatment of poor Tom had roused her still more; and she had followed Legree to the house, with no particular intention, but to upbraid him for his brutality.
“I wish, Cassy,” said Legree, “you’d behave yourself decently.”
“_You_ talk about behaving decently! And what have you been doing?–you, who haven’t even sense enough to keep from spoiling one of your best hands, right in the most pressing season, just for your devilish temper!”
“I was a fool, it’s a fact, to let any such brangle come up,” said Legree; “but, when the boy set up his will, he had to be broke in.”
“I reckon you won’t break _him_ in!”
“Won’t I?” said Legree, rising, passionately. “I’d like to know if I won’t? He’ll be the first nigger that ever came it round me! I’ll break every bone in his body, but he _shall_ give up!”
Just then the door opened, and Sambo entered. He came forward, bowing, and holding out something in a paper.
“What’s that, you dog?” said Legree.
“It’s a witch thing, Mas’r!”
“Something that niggers gets from witches. Keeps ’em from feelin’ when they ’s flogged. He had it tied round his neck, with a black string.”
Legree, like most godless and cruel men, was superstitious. He took the paper, and opened it uneasily.
There dropped out of it a silver dollar, and a long, shining curl of fair hair,–hair which, like a living thing, twined itself round Legree’s fingers.
“Damnation!” he screamed, in sudden passion, stamping on the floor, and pulling furiously at the hair, as if it burned him. “Where did this come from? Take it off!–burn it up!–burn it up!” he screamed, tearing it off, and throwing it into the charcoal. “What did you bring it to me for?”
Sambo stood, with his heavy mouth wide open, and aghast with wonder; and Cassy, who was preparing to leave the apartment, stopped, and looked at him in perfect amazement.
“Don’t you bring me any more of your devilish things!” said he, shaking his fist at Sambo, who retreated hastily towards the door; and, picking up the silver dollar, he sent it smashing through the window-pane, out into the darkness.
Sambo was glad to make his escape. When he was gone, Legree seemed a little ashamed of his fit of alarm. He sat doggedly down in his chair, and began sullenly sipping his tumbler of punch.
Cassy prepared herself for going out, unobserved by him; and slipped away to minister to poor Tom, as we have already related.
And what was the matter with Legree? and what was there in a simple curl of fair hair to appall that brutal man, familiar with every form of cruelty? To answer this, we must carry the reader backward in his history. Hard and reprobate as the godless man seemed now, there had been a time when he had been rocked on the bosom of a mother,–cradled with prayers and pious hymns,–his now seared brow bedewed with the waters of holy baptism. In early childhood, a fair-haired woman had led him, at the sound of Sabbath bell, to worship and to pray. Far in New England that mother had trained her only son, with long, unwearied love, and patient prayers. Born of a hard-tempered sire, on whom that gentle woman had wasted a world of unvalued love, Legree had followed in the steps of his father. Boisterous, unruly, and tyrannical, he despised all her counsel, and would none of her reproof; and, at an early age, broke from her, to seek his fortunes at sea. He never came home but once, after; and then, his mother, with the yearning of a heart that must love something, and has nothing else to love, clung to him, and sought, with passionate prayers and entreaties, to win him from a life of sin, to his soul’s eternal good.
That was Legree’s day of grace; then good angels called him; then he was almost persuaded, and mercy held him by the hand. His heart inly relented,–there was a conflict,–but sin got the victory, and he set all the force of his rough nature against the conviction of his conscience. He drank and swore,–was wilder and more brutal than ever. And, one night, when his mother, in the last agony of her despair, knelt at his feet, he spurned her from him,–threw her senseless on the floor, and, with brutal curses, fled to his ship. The next Legree heard of his mother was, when, one night, as he was carousing among drunken companions, a letter was put into his hand. He opened it, and a lock of long, curling hair fell from it, and twined about his fingers. The letter told him his mother was dead, and that, dying, she blest and forgave him.
There is a dread, unhallowed necromancy of evil, that turns things sweetest and holiest to phantoms of horror and affright. That pale, loving mother,–her dying prayers, her forgiving love,–wrought in that demoniac heart of sin only as a damning sentence, bringing with it a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. Legree burned the hair, and burned the letter; and when he saw them hissing and crackling in the flame, inly shuddered as he thought of everlasting fires. He tried to drink, and revel, and swear away the memory; but often, in the deep night, whose solemn stillness arraigns the bad soul in forced communion with herself, he had seen that pale mother rising by his bedside, and felt the soft twining of that hair around his fingers, till the cold sweat would roll down his face, and he would spring from his bed in horror. Ye who have wondered to hear, in the same evangel, that God is love, and that God is a consuming fire, see ye not how, to the soul resolved in evil, perfect love is the most fearful torture, the seal and sentence of the direst despair?
“Blast it!” said Legree to himself, as he sipped his liquor; “where did he get that? If it didn’t look just like–whoo! I thought I’d forgot that. Curse me, if I think there’s any such thing as forgetting anything, any how,–hang it! I’m lonesome! I mean to call Em. She hates me–the monkey! I don’t care,–I’ll _make_ her come!”
Legree stepped out into a large entry, which went up stairs, by what had formerly been a superb winding staircase; but the passage-way was dirty and dreary, encumbered with boxes and unsightly litter. The stairs, uncarpeted, seemed winding up, in the gloom, to nobody knew where! The pale moonlight streamed through a shattered fanlight over the door; the air was unwholesome and chilly, like that of a vault.
Legree stopped at the foot of the stairs, and heard a voice singing. It seemed strange and ghostlike in that dreary old house, perhaps because of the already tremulous state of his nerves. Hark! what is it?
A wild, pathetic voice, chants a hymn common among the slaves:
“O there’ll be mourning, mourning, mourning, O there’ll be mourning, at the judgment-seat of Christ!”
“Blast the girl!” said Legree. “I’ll choke her.–Em! Em!” he called, harshly; but only a mocking echo from the walls answered him. The sweet voice still sung on:
“Parents and children there shall part! Parents and children there shall part! Shall part to meet no more!”
And clear and loud swelled through the empty halls the refrain,
“O there’ll be mourning, mourning, mourning, O there’ll be mourning, at the judgment-seat of Christ!”
Legree stopped. He would have been ashamed to tell of it, but large drops of sweat stood on his forehead, his heart beat heavy and thick with fear; he even thought he saw something white rising and glimmering in the gloom before him, and shuddered to think what if the form of his dead mother should suddenly appear to him.
“I know one thing,” he said to himself, as he stumbled back in the sitting-room, and sat down; “I’ll let that fellow alone, after this! What did I want of his cussed paper? I b’lieve I am bewitched, sure enough! I’ve been shivering and sweating, ever since! Where did he get that hair? It couldn’t have been _that!_ I burnt _that_ up, I know I did! It would be a joke, if hair could rise from the dead!”
Ah, Legree! that golden tress _was_ charmed; each hair had in it a spell of terror and remorse for thee, and was used by a mightier power to bind thy cruel hands from inflicting uttermost evil on the helpless!
“I say,” said Legree, stamping and whistling to the dogs, “wake up, some of you, and keep me company!” but the dogs only opened one eye at him, sleepily, and closed it again.
“I’ll have Sambo and Quimbo up here, to sing and dance one of their hell dances, and keep off these horrid notions,” said Legree; and, putting on his hat, he went on to the verandah, and blew a horn, with which he commonly summoned his two sable drivers.
Legree was often wont, when in a gracious humor, to get these two worthies into his sitting-room, and, after warming them up with whiskey, amuse himself by setting them to singing, dancing or fighting, as the humor took him.
It was between one and two o’clock at night, as Cassy was returning from her ministrations to poor Tom, that she heard the sound of wild shrieking, whooping, halloing, and singing, from the sitting-room, mingled with the barking of dogs, and other symptoms of general uproar.
She came up on the verandah steps, and looked in. Legree and both the drivers, in a state of furious intoxication, were singing, whooping, upsetting chairs, and making all manner of ludicrous and horrid grimaces at each other.
She rested her small, slender hand on the window-blind, and looked fixedly at them;–there was a world of anguish, scorn, and fierce bitterness, in her black eyes, as she did so. “Would it be a sin to rid the world of such a wretch?” she said to herself.
She turned hurriedly away, and, passing round to a back door, glided up stairs, and tapped at Emmeline’s door.
Emmeline and Cassy
Cassy entered the room, and found Emmeline sitting, pale with fear, in the furthest corner of it. As she came in, the girl started up nervously; but, on seeing who it was, rushed forward, and catching her arm, said, “O Cassy, is it you? I’m so glad you’ve come! I was afraid it was–. O, you don’t know what a horrid noise there has been, down stairs, all this evening!”
“I ought to know,” said Cassy, dryly. “I’ve heard it often enough.”
“O Cassy! do tell me,–couldn’t we get away from this place? I don’t care where,–into the swamp among the snakes,–anywhere! _Couldn’t_ we get _somewhere_ away from here?”
“Nowhere, but into our graves,” said Cassy.
“Did you ever try?”
“I’ve seen enough of trying and what comes of it,” said Cassy.
“I’d be willing to live in the swamps, and gnaw the bark from trees. I an’t afraid of snakes! I’d rather have one near me than him,” said Emmeline, eagerly.
“There have been a good many here of your opinion,” said Cassy; “but you couldn’t stay in the swamps,–you’d be tracked by the dogs, and brought back, and then–then–”
“What would he do?” said the girl, looking, with breathless interest, into her face.
“What _wouldn’t_ he do, you’d better ask,” said Cassy. “He’s learned his trade well, among the pirates in the West Indies. You wouldn’t sleep much, if I should tell you things I’ve seen,–things that he tells of, sometimes, for good jokes. I’ve heard screams here that I haven’t been able to get out of my head for weeks and weeks. There’s a place way out down by the quarters, where you can see a black, blasted tree, and the ground all covered with black ashes. Ask anyone what was done there, and see if they will dare to tell you.”
“O! what do you mean?”
“I won’t tell you. I hate to think of it. And I tell you, the Lord only knows what we may see tomorrow, if that poor fellow holds out as he’s begun.”
“Horrid!” said Emmeline, every drop of blood receding from her cheeks. “O, Cassy, do tell me what I shall do!”
“What I’ve done. Do the best you can,–do what you must,–and make it up in hating and cursing.”
“He wanted to make me drink some of his hateful brandy,” said Emmeline; “and I hate it so–”
“You’d better drink,” said Cassy. “I hated it, too; and now I can’t live without it. One must have something;–things don’t look so dreadful, when you take that.”
“Mother used to tell me never to touch any such thing,” said Emmeline.
“_Mother_ told you!” said Cassy, with a thrilling and bitter emphasis on the word mother. “What use is it for mothers to say anything? You are all to be bought and paid for, and your souls belong to whoever gets you. That’s the way it goes. I say, _drink_ brandy; drink all you can, and it’ll make things come easier.”
“O, Cassy! do pity me!”
“Pity you!–don’t I? Haven’t I a daughter,–Lord knows where she is, and whose she is, now,–going the way her mother went, before her, I suppose, and that her children must go, after her! There’s no end to the curse–forever!”
“I wish I’d never been born!” said Emmeline, wringing her hands.
“That’s an old wish with me,” said Cassy. “I’ve got used to wishing that. I’d die, if I dared to,” she said, looking out into the darkness, with that still, fixed despair which was the habitual expression of her face when at rest.
“It would be wicked to kill one’s self,” said Emmeline.
“I don’t know why,–no wickeder than things we live and do, day after day. But the sisters told me things, when I was in the convent, that make me afraid to die. If it would only be the end of us, why, then–”
Emmeline turned away, and hid her face in her hands.
While this conversation was passing in the chamber, Legree, overcome with his carouse, had sunk to sleep in the room below. Legree was not an habitual drunkard. His coarse, strong nature craved, and could endure, a continual stimulation, that would have utterly wrecked and crazed a finer one. But a deep, underlying spirit of cautiousness prevented his often yielding to appetite in such measure as to lose control of himself.
This night, however, in his feverish efforts to banish from his mind those fearful elements of woe and remorse which woke within him, he had indulged more than common; so that, when he had discharged his sable attendants, he fell heavily on a settle in the room, and was sound asleep.
O! how dares the bad soul to enter the shadowy world of sleep?–that land whose dim outlines lie so fearfully near to the mystic scene of retribution! Legree dreamed. In his heavy and feverish sleep, a veiled form stood beside him, and laid a cold, soft hand upon him. He thought he knew who it was; and shuddered, with creeping horror, though the face was veiled. Then he thought he felt _that hair_ twining round his fingers; and then, that it slid smoothly round his neck, and tightened and tightened, and he could not draw his breath; and then he thought voices _whispered_ to him,–whispers that chilled him with horror. Then it seemed to him he was on the edge of a frightful abyss, holding on and struggling in mortal fear, while dark hands stretched up, and were pulling him over; and Cassy came behind him laughing, and pushed him. And then rose up that solemn veiled figure, and drew aside the veil. It was his mother; and she turned away from him, and he fell down, down, down, amid a confused noise of shrieks, and groans, and shouts of demon laughter,–and Legree awoke.
Calmly the rosy hue of dawn was stealing into the room. The morning star stood, with its solemn, holy eye of light, looking down on the man of sin, from out the brightening sky. O, with what freshness, what solemnity and beauty, is each new day born; as if to say to insensate man, “Behold! thou hast one more chance! _Strive_ for immortal glory!” There is no speech nor language where this voice is not heard; but the bold, bad man heard it not. He woke with an oath and a curse. What to him was the gold and purple, the daily miracle of morning! What to him the sanctity of the star which the Son of God has hallowed as his own emblem? Brute-like, he saw without perceiving; and, stumbling forward, poured out a tumbler of brandy, and drank half of it.
“I’ve had a h–l of a night!” he said to Cassy, who just then entered from an opposite door.
“You’ll get plenty of the same sort, by and by,” said she, dryly.
“What do you mean, you minx?”
“You’ll find out, one of these days,” returned Cassy, in the same tone. “Now Simon, I’ve one piece of advice to give you.”
“The devil, you have!”
“My advice is,” said Cassy, steadily, as she began adjusting some things about the room, “that you let Tom alone.”
“What business is ’t of yours?”
“What? To be sure, I don’t know what it should be. If you want to pay twelve hundred for a fellow, and use him right up in the press of the season, just to serve your own spite, it’s no business of mine, I’ve done what I could for him.”
“You have? What business have you meddling in my matters?”
“None, to be sure. I’ve saved you some thousands of dollars, at different times, by taking care of your hands,–that’s all the thanks I get. If your crop comes shorter into market than any of theirs, you won’t lose your bet, I suppose? Tompkins won’t lord it over you, I suppose,–and you’ll pay down your money like a lady, won’t you? I think I see you doing it!”
Legree, like many other planters, had but one form of ambition,–to have in the heaviest crop of the season,–and he had several bets on this very present season pending in the next town. Cassy, therefore, with woman’s tact, touched the only string that could be made to vibrate.
“Well, I’ll let him off at what he’s got,” said Legree; “but he shall beg my pardon, and promise better fashions.”
“That he won’t do,” said Cassy.
“No, he won’t,” said Cassy.
“I’d like to know _why_, Mistress,” said Legree, in the extreme of scorn.
“Because he’s done right, and he knows it, and won’t say he’s done wrong.”
“Who a cuss cares what he knows? The nigger shall say what I please, or–”
“Or, you’ll lose your bet on the cotton crop, by keeping him out of the field, just at this very press.”
“But he _will_ give up,–course, he will; don’t I know what niggers is? He’ll beg like a dog, this morning.”
“He won’t, Simon; you don’t know this kind. You may kill him by inches,–you won’t get the first word of confession out of him.”
“We’ll see,–where is he?” said Legree, going out.
“In the waste-room of the gin-house,” said Cassy.
Legree, though he talked so stoutly to Cassy, still sallied forth from the house with a degree of misgiving which was not common with him. His dreams of the past night, mingled with Cassy’s prudential suggestions, considerably affected his mind. He resolved that nobody should be witness of his encounter with Tom; and determined, if he could not subdue him by bullying, to defer his vengeance, to be wreaked in a more convenient season.
The solemn light of dawn–the angelic glory of the morning-star–had looked in through the rude window of the shed where Tom was lying; and, as if descending on that star-beam, came the solemn words, “I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.” The mysterious warnings and intimations of Cassy, so far from discouraging his soul, in the end had roused it as with a heavenly call. He did not know but that the day of his death was dawning in the sky; and his heart throbbed with solemn throes of joy and desire, as he thought that the wondrous _all_, of which he had often pondered,–the great white throne, with its ever radiant rainbow; the white-robed multitude, with voices as many waters; the crowns, the palms, the harps,–might all break upon his vision before that sun should set again. And, therefore, without shuddering or trembling, he heard the voice of his persecutor, as he drew near.
“Well, my boy,” said Legree, with a contemptuous kick, “how do you find yourself? Didn’t I tell yer I could larn yer a thing or two? How do yer like it–eh? How did yer whaling agree with yer, Tom? An’t quite so crank as ye was last night. Ye couldn’t treat a poor sinner, now, to a bit of sermon, could ye,–eh?”
Tom answered nothing.
“Get up, you beast!” said Legree, kicking him again.
This was a difficult matter for one so bruised and faint; and, as Tom made efforts to do so, Legree laughed brutally.
“What makes ye so spry, this morning, Tom? Cotched cold, may be, last night.”
Tom by this time had gained his feet, and was confronting his master with a steady, unmoved front.
“The devil, you can!” said Legree, looking him over. “I believe you haven’t got enough yet. Now, Tom, get right down on yer knees and beg my pardon, for yer shines last night.”
Tom did not move.
“Down, you dog!” said Legree, striking him with his riding-whip.
“Mas’r Legree,” said Tom, “I can’t do it. I did only what I thought was right. I shall do just so again, if ever the time comes. I never will do a cruel thing, come what may.”
“Yes, but ye don’t know what may come, Master Tom. Ye think what you’ve got is something. I tell you ’tan’t anything,–nothing ’t all. How would ye like to be tied to a tree, and have a slow fire lit up around ye;–wouldn’t that be pleasant,–eh, Tom?”
“Mas’r,” said Tom, “I know ye can do dreadful things; but,”–he stretched himself upward and clasped his hands,–“but, after ye’ve killed the body, there an’t no more ye can do. And O, there’s all ETERNITY to come, after that!”
ETERNITY,–the word thrilled through the black man’s soul with light and power, as he spoke; it thrilled through the sinner’s soul, too, like the bite of a scorpion. Legree gnashed on him with his teeth, but rage kept him silent; and Tom, like a man disenthralled, spoke, in a clear and cheerful voice,
“Mas’r Legree, as ye bought me, I’ll be a true and faithful servant to ye. I’ll give ye all the work of my hands, all my time, all my strength; but my soul I won’t give up to mortal man. I will hold on to the Lord, and put his commands before all,–die or live; you may be sure on ’t. Mas’r Legree, I ain’t a grain afeard to die. I’d as soon die as not. Ye may whip me, starve me, burn me,–it’ll only send me sooner where I want to go.”
“I’ll make ye give out, though, ’fore I’ve done!” said Legree, in a rage.
“I shall have _help_,” said Tom; “you’ll never do it.”
“Who the devil’s going to help you?” said Legree, scornfully.
“The Lord Almighty,” said Tom.
“D–n you!” said Legree, as with one blow of his fist he felled Tom to the earth.
A cold soft hand fell on Legree’s at this moment. He turned,–it was Cassy’s; but the cold soft touch recalled his dream of the night before, and, flashing through the chambers of his brain, came all the fearful images of the night-watches, with a portion of the horror that accompanied them.
“Will you be a fool?” said Cassy, in French. “Let him go! Let me alone to get him fit to be in the field again. Isn’t it just as I told you?”
They say the alligator, the rhinoceros, though enclosed in bullet-proof mail, have each a spot where they are vulnerable; and fierce, reckless, unbelieving reprobates, have commonly this point in superstitious dread.
Legree turned away, determined to let the point go for the time.
“Well, have it your own way,” he said, doggedly, to Cassy.
“Hark, ye!” he said to Tom; “I won’t deal with ye now, because the business is pressing, and I want all my hands; but I _never_ forget. I’ll score it against ye, and sometime I’ll have my pay out o’ yer old black hide,–mind ye!”
Legree turned, and went out.
“There you go,” said Cassy, looking darkly after him; “your reckoning’s to come, yet!–My poor fellow, how are you?”
“The Lord God hath sent his angel, and shut the lion’s mouth, for this time,” said Tom.
“For this time, to be sure,” said Cassy; “but now you’ve got his ill will upon you, to follow you day in, day out, hanging like a dog on your throat,–sucking your blood, bleeding away your life, drop by drop. I know the man.”
“No matter with what solemnities he may have been devoted upon the altar of slavery, the moment he touches the sacred soil of Britain, the altar and the God sink together in the dust, and he stands redeemed, regenerated, and disenthralled, by the irresistible genius of universal emancipation.” CURRAN.*
* John Philpot Curran (1750-1817), Irish orator and judge who worked for Catholic emancipation.
A while we must leave Tom in the hands of his persecutors, while we turn to pursue the fortunes of George and his wife, whom we left in friendly hands, in a farmhouse on the road-side.
Tom Loker we left groaning and touzling in a most immaculately clean Quaker bed, under the motherly supervision of Aunt Dorcas, who found him to the full as tractable a patient as a sick bison.
Imagine a tall, dignified, spiritual woman, whose clear muslin cap shades waves of silvery hair, parted on a broad, clear forehead, which overarches thoughtful gray eyes. A snowy handkerchief of lisse crape is folded neatly across her bosom; her glossy brown silk dress rustles peacefully, as she glides up and down the chamber.
“The devil!” says Tom Loker, giving a great throw to the bedclothes.
“I must request thee, Thomas, not to use such language,” says Aunt Dorcas, as she quietly rearranged the bed.
“Well, I won’t, granny, if I can help it,” says Tom; “but it is enough to make a fellow swear,–so cursedly hot!”
Dorcas removed a comforter from the bed, straightened the clothes again, and tucked them in till Tom looked something like a chrysalis; remarking, as she did so,
“I wish, friend, thee would leave off cursing and swearing, and think upon thy ways.”
“What the devil,” said Tom, “should I think of _them_ for? Last thing ever _I_ want to think of–hang it all!” And Tom flounced over, untucking and disarranging everything, in a manner frightful to behold.
“That fellow and gal are here, I s’pose,” said he, sullenly, after a pause.
“They are so,” said Dorcas.
“They’d better be off up to the lake,” said Tom; “the quicker the better.”
“Probably they will do so,” said Aunt Dorcas, knitting peacefully.
“And hark ye,” said Tom; “we’ve got correspondents in Sandusky, that watch the boats for us. I don’t care if I tell, now. I hope they _will_ get away, just to spite Marks,–the cursed puppy!–d–n him!”
“Thomas!” said Dorcas.
“I tell you, granny, if you bottle a fellow up too tight, I shall split,” said Tom. “But about the gal,–tell ’em to dress her up some way, so’s to alter her. Her description’s out in Sandusky.”
“We will attend to that matter,” said Dorcas, with characteristic composure.
As we at this place take leave of Tom Loker, we may as well say, that, having lain three weeks at the Quaker dwelling, sick with a rheumatic fever, which set in, in company with his other afflictions, Tom arose from his bed a somewhat sadder and wiser man; and, in place of slave-catching, betook himself to life in one of the new settlements, where his talents developed themselves more happily in trapping bears, wolves, and other inhabitants of the forest, in which he made himself quite a name in the land. Tom always spoke reverently of the Quakers. “Nice people,” he would say; “wanted to convert me, but couldn’t come it, exactly. But, tell ye what, stranger, they do fix up a sick fellow first rate,–no mistake. Make jist the tallest kind o’ broth and knicknacks.”
As Tom had informed them that their party would be looked for in Sandusky, it was thought prudent to divide them. Jim, with his old mother, was forwarded separately; and a night or two after, George and Eliza, with their child, were driven privately into Sandusky, and lodged beneath a hospital roof, preparatory to taking their last passage on the lake.
Their night was now far spent, and the morning star of liberty rose fair before them!–electric word! What is it? Is there anything more in it than a name–a rhetorical flourish? Why, men and women of America, does your heart’s blood thrill at that word, for which your fathers bled, and your braver mothers were willing that their noblest and best should die?
Is there anything in it glorious and dear for a nation, that is not also glorious and dear for a man? What is freedom to a nation, but freedom to the individuals in it? What is freedom to that young man, who sits there, with his arms folded over his broad chest, the tint of African blood in his cheek, its dark fires in his eyes,–what is freedom to George Harris? To your fathers, freedom was the right of a nation to be a nation. To him, it is the right of a man to be a man, and not a brute; the right to call the wife of his bosom his wife, and to protect her from lawless violence; the right to protect and educate his child; the right to have a home of his own, a religion of his own, a character of his own, unsubject to the will of another. All these thoughts were rolling and seething in George’s breast, as he was pensively leaning his head on his hand, watching his wife, as she was adapting to her slender and pretty form the articles of man’s attire, in which it was deemed safest she should make her escape.
“Now for it,” said she, as she stood before the glass, and shook down her silky abundance of black curly hair. “I say, George, it’s almost a pity, isn’t it,” she said, as she held up some of it, playfully,–“pity it’s all got to come off?”
George smiled sadly, and made no answer.
Eliza turned to the glass, and the scissors glittered as one long lock after another was detached from her head.
“There, now, that’ll do,” she said, taking up a hair-brush; “now for a few fancy touches.”
“There, an’t I a pretty young fellow?” she said, turning around to her husband, laughing and blushing at the same time.
“You always will be pretty, do what you will,” said George.
“What does make you so sober?” said Eliza, kneeling on one knee, and laying her hand on his. “We are only within twenty-four hours of Canada, they say. Only a day and a night on the lake, and then–oh, then!–”
“O, Eliza!” said George, drawing her towards him; “that is it! Now my fate is all narrowing down to a point. To come so near, to be almost in sight, and then lose all. I should never live under it, Eliza.”
“Don’t fear,” said his wife, hopefully. “The good Lord would not have brought us so far, if he didn’t mean to carry us through. I seem to feel him with us, George.”
“You are a blessed woman, Eliza!” said George, clasping her with a convulsive grasp. “But,–oh, tell me! can this great mercy be for us? Will these years and years of misery come to an end?–shall we be free?
“I am sure of it, George,” said Eliza, looking upward, while tears of hope and enthusiasm shone on her long, dark lashes. “I feel it in me, that God is going to bring us out of bondage, this very day.”
“I will believe you, Eliza,” said George, rising suddenly up, “I will believe,–come let’s be off. Well, indeed,” said he, holding her off at arm’s length, and looking admiringly at her, “you _are_ a pretty little fellow. That crop of little, short curls, is quite becoming. Put on your cap. So–a little to one side. I never saw you look quite so pretty. But, it’s almost time for the carriage;–I wonder if Mrs. Smyth has got Harry rigged?”
The door opened, and a respectable, middle-aged woman entered, leading little Harry, dressed in girl’s clothes.
“What a pretty girl he makes,” said Eliza, turning him round. “We call him Harriet, you see;–don’t the name come nicely?”
The child stood gravely regarding his mother in her new and strange attire, observing a profound silence, and occasionally drawing deep sighs, and peeping at her from under his dark curls.
“Does Harry know mamma?” said Eliza, stretching her hands toward him.
The child clung shyly to the woman.
“Come Eliza, why do you try to coax him, when you know that he has got to be kept away from you?”
“I know it’s foolish,” said Eliza; “yet, I can’t bear to have him turn away from me. But come,–where’s my cloak? Here,–how is it men put on cloaks, George?”
“You must wear it so,” said her husband, throwing it over his shoulders.
“So, then,” said Eliza, imitating the motion,–“and I must stamp, and take long steps, and try to look saucy.”
“Don’t exert yourself,” said George. “There is, now and then, a modest young man; and I think it would be easier for you to act that character.”
“And these gloves! mercy upon us!” said Eliza; “why, my hands are lost in them.”
“I advise you to keep them on pretty strictly,” said George. “Your slender paw might bring us all out. Now, Mrs. Smyth, you are to go under our charge, and be our aunty,–you mind.”
“I’ve heard,” said Mrs. Smyth, “that there have been men down, warning all the packet captains against a man and woman, with a little boy.”
“They have!” said George. “Well, if we see any such people, we can tell them.”
A hack now drove to the door, and the friendly family who had received the fugitives crowded around them with farewell greetings.
The disguises the party had assumed were in accordance with the hints of Tom Loker. Mrs. Smyth, a respectable woman from the settlement in Canada, whither they were fleeing, being fortunately about crossing the lake to return thither, had consented to appear as the aunt of little Harry; and, in order to attach him to her, he had been allowed to remain, the two last days, under her sole charge; and an extra amount of petting, jointed to an indefinite amount of seed-cakes and candy, had cemented a very close attachment on the part of the young gentleman.
The hack drove to the wharf. The two young men, as they appeared, walked up the plank into the boat, Eliza gallantly giving her arm to Mrs. Smyth, and George attending to their baggage.
George was standing at the captain’s office, settling for his party, when he overheard two men talking by his side.
“I’ve watched every one that came on board,” said one, “and I know they’re not on this boat.”
The voice was that of the clerk of the boat. The speaker whom he addressed was our sometime friend Marks, who, with that valuable perseverance which characterized him, had come on to Sandusky, seeking whom he might devour.
“You would scarcely know the woman from a white one,” said Marks. “The man is a very light mulatto; he has a brand in one of his hands.”
The hand with which George was taking the tickets and change trembled a little; but he turned coolly around, fixed an unconcerned glance on the face of the speaker, and walked leisurely toward another part of the boat, where Eliza stood waiting for him.
Mrs. Smyth, with little Harry, sought the seclusion of the ladies’ cabin, where the dark beauty of the supposed little girl drew many flattering comments from the passengers.
George had the satisfaction, as the bell rang out its farewell peal, to see Marks walk down the plank to the shore; and drew a long sigh of relief, when the boat had put a returnless distance between them.
It was a superb day. The blue waves of Lake Erie danced, rippling and sparkling, in the sun-light. A fresh breeze blew from the shore, and the lordly boat ploughed her way right gallantly onward.
O, what an untold world there is in one human heart! Who thought, as George walked calmly up and down the deck of the steamer, with his shy companion at his side, of all that was burning in his bosom? The mighty good that seemed approaching seemed too good, too fair, even to be a reality; and he felt a jealous dread, every moment of the day, that something would rise to snatch it from him.
But the boat swept on. Hours fleeted, and, at last, clear and full rose the blessed English shores; shores charmed by a mighty spell,–with one touch to dissolve every incantation of slavery, no matter in what language pronounced, or by what national power confirmed.
George and his wife stood arm in arm, as the boat neared the small town of Amherstberg, in Canada. His breath grew thick and short; a mist gathered before his eyes; he silently pressed the little hand that lay trembling on his arm. The bell rang; the boat stopped. Scarcely seeing what he did, he looked out his baggage, and gathered his little party. The little company were landed on the shore. They stood still till the boat had cleared; and then, with tears and embracings, the husband and wife, with their wondering child in their arms, knelt down and lifted up their hearts to God!
“‘T was something like the burst from death to life; From the grave’s cerements to the robes of heaven; From sin’s dominion, and from passion’s strife, To the pure freedom of a soul forgiven; Where all the bonds of death and hell are riven, And mortal puts on immortality, When Mercy’s hand hath turned the golden key, And Mercy’s voice hath said, _Rejoice, thy soul is free.”_
The little party were soon guided, by Mrs. Smyth, to the hospitable abode of a good missionary, whom Christian charity has placed here as a shepherd to the outcast and wandering, who are constantly finding an asylum on this shore.
Who can speak the blessedness of that first day of freedom? Is not the _sense_ of liberty a higher and a finer one than any of the five? To move, speak and breathe,–go out and come in unwatched, and free from danger! Who can speak the blessings of that rest which comes down on the free man’s pillow, under laws which insure to him the rights that God has given to man? How fair and precious to that mother was that sleeping child’s face, endeared by the memory of a thousand dangers! How impossible was it to sleep, in the exuberant possession of such blessedness! And yet, these two had not one acre of ground,–not a roof that they could call their own,–they had spent their all, to the last dollar. They had nothing more than the birds of the air, or the flowers of the field,–yet they could not sleep for joy. “O, ye who take freedom from man, with what words shall ye answer it to God?”
“Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory.” *
* I Cor. 15:57.
Have not many of us, in the weary way of life, felt, in some hours, how far easier it were to die than to live?
The martyr, when faced even by a death of bodily anguish and horror, finds in the very terror of his doom a strong stimulant and tonic. There is a vivid excitement, a thrill and fervor, which may carry through any crisis of suffering that is the birth-hour of eternal glory and rest.
But to live,–to wear on, day after day, of mean, bitter, low, harassing servitude, every nerve dampened and depressed, every power of feeling gradually smothered,–this long and wasting heart-martyrdom, this slow, daily bleeding away of the inward life, drop by drop, hour after hour,–this is the true searching test of what there may be in man or woman.
When Tom stood face to face with his persecutor, and heard his threats, and thought in his very soul that his hour was come, his heart swelled bravely in him, and he thought he could bear torture and fire, bear anything, with the vision of Jesus and heaven but just a step beyond; but, when he was gone, and the present excitement passed off, came back the pain of his bruised and weary limbs,–came back the sense of his utterly degraded, hopeless, forlorn estate; and the day passed wearily enough.
Long before his wounds were healed, Legree insisted that he should be put to the regular field-work; and then came day after day of pain and weariness, aggravated by every kind of injustice and indignity that the ill-will of a mean and malicious mind could devise. Whoever, in _our_ circumstances, has made trial of pain, even with all the alleviations which, for us, usually attend it, must know the irritation that comes with it. Tom no longer wondered at the habitual surliness of his associates; nay, he found the placid, sunny temper, which had been the habitude of his life, broken in on, and sorely strained, by the inroads of the same thing. He had flattered himself on leisure to read his Bible; but there was no such thing as leisure there. In the height of the season, Legree did not hesitate to press all his hands through, Sundays and week-days alike. Why shouldn’t he?–he made more cotton by it, and gained his wager; and if it wore out a few more hands, he could buy better ones. At first, Tom used to read a verse or two of his Bible, by the flicker of the fire, after he had returned from his daily toil; but, after the cruel treatment he received, he used to come home so exhausted, that his head swam and his eyes failed when he tried to read; and he was fain to stretch himself down, with the others, in utter exhaustion.
Is it strange that the religious peace and trust, which had upborne him hitherto, should give way to tossings of soul and despondent darkness? The gloomiest problem of this mysterious life was constantly before his eyes,–souls crushed and ruined, evil triumphant, and God silent. It was weeks and months that Tom wrestled, in his own soul, in darkness and sorrow. He thought of Miss Ophelia’s letter to his Kentucky friends, and would pray earnestly that God would send him deliverance. And then he would watch, day after day, in the vague hope of seeing somebody sent to redeem him; and, when nobody came, he would crush back to his soul bitter thoughts,–that it was vain to serve God, that God had forgotten him. He sometimes saw Cassy; and sometimes, when summoned to the house, caught a glimpse of the dejected form of Emmeline, but held very little communion with either; in fact, there was no time for him to commune with anybody.
One evening, he was sitting, in utter dejection and prostration, by a few decaying brands, where his coarse supper was baking. He put a few bits of brushwood on the fire, and strove to raise the light, and then drew his worn Bible from his pocket. There were all the marked passages, which had thrilled his soul so often,–words of patriarchs and seers, poets and sages, who from early time had spoken courage to man,–voices from the great cloud of witnesses who ever surround us in the race of life. Had the word lost its power, or could the failing eye and weary sense no longer answer to the touch of that mighty inspiration? Heavily sighing, he put it in his pocket. A coarse laugh roused him; he looked up,–Legree was standing opposite to him.
“Well, old boy,” he said, “you find your religion don’t work, it seems! I thought I should get that through your wool, at last!”
The cruel taunt was more than hunger and cold and nakedness. Tom was silent.
“You were a fool,” said Legree; “for I meant to do well by you, when I bought you. You might have been better off than Sambo, or Quimbo either, and had easy times; and, instead of getting cut up and thrashed, every day or two, ye might have had liberty to lord it round, and cut up the other niggers; and ye might have had, now and then, a good warming of whiskey punch. Come, Tom, don’t you think you’d better be reasonable?–heave that ar old pack of trash in the fire, and join my church!”
“The Lord forbid!” said Tom, fervently.
“You see the Lord an’t going to help you; if he had been, he wouldn’t have let _me_ get you! This yer religion is all a mess of lying trumpery, Tom. I know all about it. Ye’d better hold to me; I’m somebody, and can do something!”
“No, Mas’r,” said Tom; “I’ll hold on. The Lord may help me, or not help; but I’ll hold to him, and believe him to the last!”
“The more fool you!” said Legree, spitting scornfully at him, and spurning him with his foot. “Never mind; I’ll chase you down, yet, and bring you under,–you’ll see!” and Legree turned away.
When a heavy weight presses the soul to the lowest level at which endurance is possible, there is an instant and desperate effort of every physical and moral nerve to throw off the weight; and hence the heaviest anguish often precedes a return tide of joy and courage. So was it now with Tom. The atheistic taunts of his cruel master sunk his before dejected soul to the lowest ebb; and, though the hand of faith still held to the eternal rock, it was a numb, despairing grasp. Tom sat, like one stunned, at the fire. Suddenly everything around him seemed to fade, and a vision rose before him of one crowned with thorns, buffeted and bleeding. Tom gazed, in awe and wonder, at the majestic patience of the face; the deep, pathetic eyes thrilled him to his inmost heart; his soul woke, as, with floods of emotion, he stretched out his hands and fell upon his knees,–when, gradually, the vision changed: the sharp thorns became rays of glory; and, in splendor inconceivable, he saw that same face bending compassionately towards him, and a voice said, “He that overcometh shall sit down with me on my throne, even as I also overcome, and am set down with my Father on his throne.”
How long Tom lay there, he knew not. When he came to himself, the fire was gone out, his clothes were wet with the chill and drenching dews; but the dread soul-crisis was past, and, in the joy that filled him, he no longer felt hunger, cold, degradation, disappointment, wretchedness. From his deepest soul, he that hour loosed and parted from every hope in life that now is, and offered his own will an unquestioning sacrifice to the Infinite. Tom looked up to the silent, ever-living stars,–types of the angelic hosts who ever look down on man; and the solitude of the night rung with the triumphant words of a hymn, which he had sung often in happier days, but never with such feeling as now:
“The earth shall be dissolved like snow, The sun shall cease to shine; But God, who called me here below, Shall be forever mine.
“And when this mortal life shall fail, And flesh and sense shall cease, I shall possess within the veil A life of joy and peace.
“When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining like the sun, We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we first begun.”
Those who have been familiar with the religious histories of the slave population know that relations like what we have narrated are very common among them. We have heard some from their own lips, of a very touching and affecting character. The psychologist tells us of a state, in which the affections and images of the mind become so dominant and overpowering, that they press into their service the outward imagining. Who shall measure what an all-pervading Spirit may do with these capabilities of our mortality, or the ways in which He may encourage the desponding souls of the desolate? If the poor forgotten slave believes that Jesus hath appeared and spoken to him, who shall contradict him? Did He not say that his mission, in all ages, was to bind up the broken-hearted, and set at liberty them that are bruised?
When the dim gray of dawn woke the slumberers to go forth to the field, there was among those tattered and shivering wretches one who walked with an exultant tread; for firmer than the ground he trod on was his strong faith in Almighty, eternal love. Ah, Legree, try all your forces now! Utmost agony, woe, degradation, want, and loss of all things, shall only hasten on the process by which he shall be made a king and a priest unto God!
From this time, an inviolable sphere of peace encompassed the lowly heart of the oppressed one,–an ever-present Saviour hallowed it as a temple. Past now the bleeding of earthly regrets; past its fluctuations of hope, and fear, and desire; the human will, bent, and bleeding, and struggling long, was now entirely merged in the Divine. So short now seemed the remaining voyage of life,–so near, so vivid, seemed eternal blessedness,–that life’s uttermost woes fell from him unharming.
All noticed the change in his appearance. Cheerfulness and alertness seemed to return to him, and a quietness which no insult or injury could ruffle seemed to possess him.
“What the devil’s got into Tom?” Legree said to Sambo. “A while ago he was all down in the mouth, and now he’s peart as a cricket.”
“Dunno, Mas’r; gwine to run off, mebbe.”
“Like to see him try that,” said Legree, with a savage grin, “wouldn’t we, Sambo?”
“Guess we would! Haw! haw! ho!” said the sooty gnome, laughing obsequiously. “Lord, de fun! To see him stickin’ in de mud,–chasin’ and tarin’ through de bushes, dogs a holdin’ on to him! Lord, I laughed fit to split, dat ar time we cotched Molly. I thought they’d a had her all stripped up afore I could get ’em off. She car’s de marks o’ dat ar spree yet.”
“I reckon she will, to her grave,” said Legree. “But now, Sambo, you look sharp. If the nigger’s got anything of this sort going, trip him up.”
“Mas’r, let me lone for dat,” said Sambo, “I’ll tree de coon. Ho, ho, ho!”
This was spoken as Legree was getting on his horse, to go to the neighboring town. That night, as he was returning, he thought he would turn his horse and ride round the quarters, and see if all was safe.
It was a superb moonlight night, and the shadows of the graceful China trees lay minutely pencilled on the turf below, and there was that transparent stillness in the air which it seems almost unholy to disturb. Legree was a little distance from the quarters, when he heard the voice of some one singing. It was not a usual sound there, and he paused to listen. A musical tenor voice sang,
“When I can read my title clear To mansions in the skies, I’ll bid farewell to every fear, And wipe my weeping eyes
“Should earth against my soul engage, And hellish darts be hurled, Then I can smile at Satan’s rage, And face a frowning world.
“Let cares like a wild deluge come, And storms of sorrow fall, May I but safely reach my home, My God, my Heaven, my All.” *
* “On My Journey Home,” hymn by Isaac Watts, found in many of the southern country songbooks of the ante bellum period.
“So ho!” said Legree to himself, “he thinks so, does he? How I hate these cursed Methodist hymns! Here, you nigger,” said he, coming suddenly out upon Tom, and raising his riding-whip, “how dare you be gettin’ up this yer row, when you ought to be in bed? Shut yer old black gash, and get along in with you!”
“Yes, Mas’r,” said Tom, with ready cheerfulness, as he rose to go in.
Legree was provoked beyond measure by Tom’s evident happiness; and riding up to him, belabored him over his head and shoulders.
“There, you dog,” he said, “see if you’ll feel so comfortable, after that!”
But the blows fell now only on the outer man, and not, as before, on the heart. Tom stood perfectly submissive; and yet Legree could not hide from himself that his power over his bond thrall was somehow gone. And, as Tom disappeared in his cabin, and he wheeled his horse suddenly round, there passed through his mind one of those vivid flashes that often send the lightning of conscience across the dark and wicked soul. He understood full well that it was GOD who was standing between him and his victim, and he blasphemed him. That submissive and silent man, whom taunts, nor threats, nor stripes, nor cruelties, could disturb, roused a voice within him, such as of old his Master roused in the demoniac soul, saying, “What have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth?–art thou come to torment us before the time?”
Tom’s whole soul overflowed with compassion and sympathy for the poor wretches by whom he was surrounded. To him it seemed as if his life-sorrows were now over, and as if, out of that strange treasury of peace and joy, with which he had been endowed from above, he longed to pour out something for the relief of their woes. It is true, opportunities were scanty; but, on the way to the fields, and back again, and during the hours of labor, chances fell in his way of extending a helping-hand to the weary, the disheartened and discouraged. The poor, worn-down, brutalized creatures, at first, could scarce comprehend this; but, when it was continued week after week, and month after month, it began to awaken long-silent chords in their benumbed hearts. Gradually and imperceptibly the strange, silent, patient man, who was ready to bear every one’s burden, and sought help from none,–who stood aside for all, and came last, and took least, yet was foremost to share his little all with any who needed,–the man who, in cold nights, would give up his tattered blanket to add to the comfort of some woman who shivered with sickness, and who filled the baskets of the weaker ones in the field, at the terrible risk of coming short in his own measure,–and who, though pursued with unrelenting cruelty by their common tyrant, never joined in uttering a word of reviling or cursing,–this man, at last, began to have a strange power over them; and, when the more pressing season was past, and they were allowed again their Sundays for their own use, many would gather together to hear from him of Jesus. They would gladly have met to hear, and pray, and sing, in some place, together; but Legree would not permit it, and more than once broke up such attempts, with oaths and brutal execrations,–so that the blessed news had to circulate from individual to individual. Yet who can speak the simple joy with which some of those poor outcasts, to whom life was a joyless journey to a dark unknown, heard of a compassionate Redeemer and a heavenly home? It is the statement of missionaries, that, of all races of the earth, none have received the Gospel with such eager docility as the African. The principle of reliance and unquestioning faith, which is its foundation, is more a native element in this race than any other; and it has often been found among them, that a stray seed of truth, borne on some breeze of accident into hearts the most ignorant, has sprung up into fruit, whose abundance has shamed that of higher and more skilful culture.
The poor mulatto woman, whose simple faith had been well-nigh crushed and overwhelmed, by the avalanche of cruelty and wrong which had fallen upon her, felt her soul raised up by the hymns and passages of Holy Writ, which this lowly missionary breathed into her ear in intervals, as they were going to and returning from work; and even the half-crazed and wandering mind of Cassy was soothed and calmed by his simple and unobtrusive influences.
Stung to madness and despair by the crushing agonies of a life, Cassy had often resolved in her soul an hour of retribution, when her hand should avenge on her oppressor all the injustice and cruelty to which she had been witness, or which _she_ had in her own person suffered.
One night, after all in Tom’s cabin were sunk in sleep, he was suddenly aroused by seeing her face at the hole between the logs, that served for a window. She made a silent gesture for him to come out.
Tom came out the door. It was between one and two o’clock at night,–broad, calm, still moonlight. Tom remarked, as the light of the moon fell upon Cassy’s large, black eyes, that there was a wild and peculiar glare in them, unlike their wonted fixed despair.
“Come here, Father Tom,” she said, laying her small hand on his wrist, and drawing him forward with a force as if the hand were of steel; “come here,–I’ve news for you.”
“What, Misse Cassy?” said Tom, anxiously.
“Tom, wouldn’t you like your liberty?”
“I shall have it, Misse, in God’s time,” said Tom. “Ay, but you may have it tonight,” said Cassy, with a flash of sudden energy. “Come on.”
“Come!” said she, in a whisper, fixing her black eyes on him. “Come along! He’s asleep–sound. I put enough into his brandy to keep him so. I wish I’d had more,–I shouldn’t have wanted you. But come, the back door is unlocked; there’s an axe there, I put it there,–his room door is open; I’ll show you the way. I’d a done it myself, only my arms are so weak. Come along!”
“Not for ten thousand worlds, Misse!” said Tom, firmly, stopping and holding her back, as she was pressing forward.
“But think of all these poor creatures,” said Cassy. “We might set them all free, and go somewhere in the swamps, and find an island, and live by ourselves; I’ve heard of its being done. Any life is better than this.”
“No!” said Tom, firmly. “No! good never comes of wickedness. I’d sooner chop my right hand off!”
“Then _I_ shall do it,” said Cassy, turning.
“O, Misse Cassy!” said Tom, throwing himself before her, “for the dear Lord’s sake that died for ye, don’t sell your precious soul to the devil, that way! Nothing but evil will come of it. The Lord hasn’t called us to wrath. We must suffer, and wait his time.”
“Wait!” said Cassy. “Haven’t I waited?–waited till my head is dizzy and my heart sick? What has he made me suffer? What has he made hundreds of poor creatures suffer? Isn’t he wringing the life-blood out of you? I’m called on; they call me! His time’s come, and I’ll have his heart’s blood!”
“No, no, no!” said Tom, holding her small hands, which were clenched with spasmodic violence. “No, ye poor, lost soul, that ye mustn’t do. The dear, blessed Lord never shed no blood but his own, and that he poured out for us when we was enemies. Lord, help us to follow his steps, and love our enemies.”
“Love!” said Cassy, with a fierce glare; “love _such_ enemies! It isn’t in flesh and blood.”
“No, Misse, it isn’t,” said Tom, looking up; “but _He_ gives it to us, and that’s the victory. When we can love and pray over all and through all, the battle’s past, and the victory’s come,–glory be to God!” And, with streaming eyes and choking voice, the black man looked up to heaven.
And this, oh Africa! latest called of nations,–called to the crown of thorns, the scourge, the bloody sweat, the cross of agony,–this is to be _thy_ victory; by this shalt thou reign with Christ when his kingdom shall come on earth.
The deep fervor of Tom’s feelings, the softness of his voice, his tears, fell like dew on the wild, unsettled spirit of the poor woman. A softness gathered over the lurid fires of her eye; she looked down, and Tom could feel the relaxing muscles of her hands, as she said,
“Didn’t I tell you that evil spirits followed me? O! Father Tom, I can’t pray,–I wish I could. I never have prayed since my children were sold! What you say must be right, I know it must; but when I try to pray, I can only hate and curse. I can’t pray!”
“Poor soul!” said Tom, compassionately. “Satan desires to have ye, and sift ye as wheat. I pray the Lord for ye. O! Misse Cassy, turn to the dear Lord Jesus. He came to bind up the broken-hearted, and comfort all that mourn.”
Cassy stood silent, while large, heavy tears dropped from her downcast eyes.
“Misse Cassy,” said Tom, in a hesitating tone, after surveying her in silence, “if ye only could get away from here,–if the thing was possible,–I’d ’vise ye and Emmeline to do it; that is, if ye could go without blood-guiltiness,–not otherwise.”
“Would you try it with us, Father Tom?”
“No,” said Tom; “time was when I would; but the Lord’s given me a work among these yer poor souls, and I’ll stay with ’em and bear my cross with ’em till the end. It’s different with you; it’s a snare to you,–it’s more’n you can stand,–and you’d better go, if you can.”
“I know no way but through the grave,” said Cassy. “There’s no beast or bird but can find a home some where; even the snakes and the alligators have their places to lie down and be quiet; but there’s no place for us. Down in the darkest swamps, their dogs will hunt us out, and find us. Everybody and everything is against us; even the very beasts side against us,–and where shall we go?”
Tom stood silent; at length he said,
“Him that saved Daniel in the den of lions,–that saved the children in the fiery furnace,–Him that walked on the sea, and bade the winds be still,–He’s alive yet; and I’ve faith to believe he can deliver you. Try it, and I’ll pray, with all my might, for you.”
By what strange law of mind is it that an idea long overlooked, and trodden under foot as a useless stone, suddenly sparkles out in new light, as a discovered diamond?
Cassy had often revolved, for hours, all possible or probable schemes of escape, and dismissed them all, as hopeless and impracticable; but at this moment there flashed through her mind a plan, so simple and feasible in all its details, as to awaken an instant hope.
“Father Tom, I’ll try it!” she said, suddenly.
“Amen!” said Tom; “the Lord help ye!”
“The way of the wicked is as darkness; he knoweth not at what he stumbleth.” *
* Prov. 4:19.
The garret of the house that Legree occupied, like most other garrets, was a great, desolate space, dusty, hung with cobwebs, and littered with cast-off lumber. The opulent family that had inhabited the house in the days of its splendor had imported a great deal of splendid furniture, some of which they had taken away with them, while some remained standing desolate in mouldering, unoccupied rooms, or stored away in this place. One or two immense packing-boxes, in which this furniture was brought, stood against the sides of the garret. There was a small window there, which let in, through its dingy, dusty panes, a scanty, uncertain light on the tall, high-backed chairs and dusty tables, that had once seen better days. Altogether, it was a weird and ghostly place; but, ghostly as it was, it wanted not in legends among the superstitious negroes, to increase its terrors. Some few years before, a negro woman, who had incurred Legree’s displeasure, was confined there for several weeks. What passed there, we do not say; the negroes used to whisper darkly to each other; but it was known that the body of the unfortunate creature was one day taken down from there, and buried; and, after that, it was said that oaths and cursings, and the sound of violent blows, used to ring through that old garret, and mingled with wailings and groans of despair. Once, when Legree chanced to overhear something of this kind, he flew into a violent passion, and swore that the next one that told stories about that garret should have an opportunity of knowing what was there, for he would chain them up there for a week. This hint was enough to repress talking, though, of course, it did not disturb the credit of the story in the least.
Gradually, the staircase that led to the garret, and even the passage-way to the staircase, were avoided by every one in the house, from every one fearing to speak of it, and the legend was gradually falling into desuetude. It had suddenly occurred to Cassy to make use of the superstitious excitability, which was so great in Legree, for the purpose of her liberation, and that of her fellow-sufferer.
The sleeping-room of Cassy was directly under the garret. One day, without consulting Legree, she suddenly took it upon her, with some considerable ostentation, to change all the furniture and appurtenances of the room to one at some considerable distance. The under-servants, who were called on to effect this movement, were running and bustling about with great zeal and confusion, when Legree returned from a ride.
“Hallo! you Cass!” said Legree, “what’s in the wind now?”
“Nothing; only I choose to have another room,” said Cassy, doggedly.
“And what for, pray?” said Legree.
“I choose to,” said Cassy.
“The devil you do! and what for?”
“I’d like to get some sleep, now and then.”
“Sleep! well, what hinders your sleeping?”
“I could tell, I suppose, if you want to hear,” said Cassy, dryly.
“Speak out, you minx!” said Legree.
“O! nothing. I suppose it wouldn’t disturb _you!_ Only groans, and people scuffing, and rolling round on the garret floor, half the night, from twelve to morning!”
“People up garret!” said Legree, uneasily, but forcing a laugh; “who are they, Cassy?”
Cassy raised her sharp, black eyes, and looked in the face of Legree, with an expression that went through his bones, as she said, “To be sure, Simon, who are they? I’d like to have _you_ tell me. You don’t know, I suppose!”
With an oath, Legree struck at her with his riding-whip; but she glided to one side, and passed through the door, and looking back, said, “If you’ll sleep in that room, you’ll know all about it. Perhaps you’d better try it!” and then immediately she shut and locked the door.
Legree blustered and swore, and threatened to break down the door; but apparently thought better of it, and walked uneasily into the sitting-room. Cassy perceived that her shaft had struck home; and, from that hour, with the most exquisite address, she never ceased to continue the train of influences she had begun.
In a knot-hole of the garret, that had opened, she had inserted the neck of an old bottle, in such a manner that when there was the least wind, most doleful and lugubrious wailing sounds proceeded from it, which, in a high wind, increased to a perfect shriek, such as to credulous and superstitious ears might easily seem to be that of horror and despair.
These sounds were, from time to time, heard by the servants, and revived in full force the memory of the old ghost legend. A superstitious creeping horror seemed to fill the house; and though no one dared to breathe it to Legree, he found himself encompassed by it, as by an atmosphere.
No one is so thoroughly superstitious as the godless man. The Christian is composed by the belief of a wise, all-ruling Father, whose presence fills the void unknown with light and order; but to the man who has dethroned God, the spirit-land is, indeed, in the words of the Hebrew poet, “a land of darkness and the shadow of death,” without any order, where the light is as darkness. Life and death to him are haunted grounds, filled with goblin forms of vague and shadowy dread.
Legree had had the slumbering moral elements in him roused by his encounters with Tom,–roused, only to be resisted by the determinate force of evil; but still there was a thrill and commotion of the dark, inner world, produced by every word, or prayer, or hymn, that reacted in superstitious dread.
The influence of Cassy over him was of a strange and singular kind. He was her owner, her tyrant and tormentor. She was, as he knew, wholly, and without any possibility of help or redress, in his hands; and yet so it is, that the most brutal man cannot live in constant association with a strong female influence, and not be greatly controlled by it. When he first bought her, she was, as she said, a woman delicately bred; and then he crushed her, without scruple, beneath the foot of his brutality. But, as time, and debasing influences, and despair, hardened womanhood within her, and waked the fires of fiercer passions, she had become in a measure his mistress, and he alternately tyrannized over and dreaded her.
This influence had become more harassing and decided, since partial insanity had given a strange, weird, unsettled cast to all her words and language.
A night or two after this, Legree was sitting in the old sitting-room, by the side of a flickering wood fire, that threw uncertain glances round the room. It was a stormy, windy night, such as raises whole squadrons of nondescript noises in rickety old houses. Windows were rattling, shutters flapping, and wind carousing, rumbling, and tumbling down the chimney, and, every once in a while, puffing out smoke and ashes, as if a legion of spirits were coming after them. Legree had been casting up accounts and reading newspapers for some hours, while Cassy sat in the corner; sullenly looking into the fire. Legree laid down his paper, and seeing an old book lying on the table, which he had noticed Cassy reading, the first part of the evening, took it up, and began to turn it over. It was one of those collections of stories of bloody murders, ghostly legends, and supernatural visitations, which, coarsely got up and illustrated, have a strange fascination for one who once begins to read them.
Legree poohed and pished, but read, turning page after page, till, finally, after reading some way, he threw down the book, with an oath.
“You don’t believe in ghosts, do you, Cass?” said he, taking the tongs and settling the fire. “I thought you’d more sense than to let noises scare _you_.”
“No matter what I believe,” said Cassy, sullenly.
“Fellows used to try to frighten me with their yarns at sea,” said Legree. “Never come it round me that way. I’m too tough for any such trash, tell ye.”
Cassy sat looking intensely at him in the shadow of the corner. There was that strange light in her eyes that always impressed Legree with uneasiness.
“Them noises was nothing but rats and the wind,” said Legree. “Rats will make a devil of a noise. I used to hear ’em sometimes down in the hold of the ship; and wind,–Lord’s sake! ye can make anything out o’ wind.”
Cassy knew Legree was uneasy under her eyes, and, therefore, she made no answer, but sat fixing them on him, with that strange, unearthly expression, as before.
“Come, speak out, woman,–don’t you think so?” said Legree.
“Can rats walk down stairs, and come walking through the entry, and open a door when you’ve locked it and set a chair against it?” said Cassy; “and come walk, walk, walking right up to your bed, and put out their hand, so?”
Cassy kept her glittering eyes fixed on Legree, as she spoke, and he stared at her like a man in the nightmare, till, when she finished by laying her hand, icy cold, on his, he sprung back, with an oath.
“Woman! what do you mean? Nobody did?”
“O, no,–of course not,–did I say they did?” said Cassy, with a smile of chilling derision.
“But–did–have you really seen?–Come, Cass, what is it, now,–speak out!”
“You may sleep there, yourself,” said Cassy, “if you want to know.”
“Did it come from the garret, Cassy?”
“_It_,–what?” said Cassy.
“Why, what you told of–”
“I didn’t tell you anything,” said Cassy, with dogged sullenness.
Legree walked up and down the room, uneasily.
“I’ll have this yer thing examined. I’ll look into it, this very night. I’ll take my pistols–”
“Do,” said Cassy; “sleep in that room. I’d like to see you doing it. Fire your pistols,–do!”
Legree stamped his foot, and swore violently.
“Don’t swear,” said Cassy; “nobody knows who may be hearing you. Hark! What was that?”
“What?” said Legree, starting.
A heavy old Dutch clock, that stood in the corner of the room, began, and slowly struck twelve.
For some reason or other, Legree neither spoke nor moved; a vague horror fell on him; while Cassy, with a keen, sneering glitter in her eyes, stood looking at him, counting the strokes.
“Twelve o’clock; well _now_ we’ll see,” said she, turning, and opening the door into the passage-way, and standing as if listening.
“Hark! What’s that?” said she, raising her finger.
“It’s only the wind,” said Legree. “Don’t you hear how cursedly it blows?”
“Simon, come here,” said Cassy, in a whisper, laying her hand on his, and leading him to the foot of the stairs: “do you know what _that_ is? Hark!”
A wild shriek came pealing down the stairway. It came from the garret. Legree’s knees knocked together; his face grew white with fear.
“Hadn’t you better get your pistols?” said Cassy, with a sneer that froze Legree’s blood. “It’s time this thing was looked into, you know. I’d like to have you go up now; _they’re at it_.”
“I won’t go!” said Legree, with an oath.
“Why not? There an’t any such thing as ghosts, you know! Come!” and Cassy flitted up the winding stairway, laughing, and looking back after him. “Come on.”
“I believe you _are_ the devil!” said Legree. “Come back you hag,–come back, Cass! You shan’t go!”
But Cassy laughed wildly, and fled on. He heard her open the entry doors that led to the garret. A wild gust of wind swept down, extinguishing the candle he held in his hand, and with it the fearful, unearthly screams; they seemed to be shrieked in his very ear.
Legree fled frantically into the parlor, whither, in a few moments, he was followed by Cassy, pale, calm, cold as an avenging spirit, and with that same fearful light in her eye.
“I hope you are satisfied,” said she.
“Blast you, Cass!” said Legree.
“What for?” said Cassy. “I only went up and shut the doors. _What’s the matter with that garret_, Simon, do you suppose?” said she.
“None of your business!” said Legree.
“O, it an’t? Well,” said Cassy, “at any rate, I’m glad _I_ don’t sleep under it.”
Anticipating the rising of the wind, that very evening, Cassy had been up and opened the garret window. Of course, the moment the doors were opened, the wind had drafted down, and extinguished the light.
This may serve as a specimen of the game that Cassy played with Legree, until he would sooner have put his head into a lion’s mouth than to have explored that garret. Meanwhile, in the night, when everybody else was asleep, Cassy slowly and carefully accumulated there a stock of provisions sufficient to afford subsistence for some time; she transferred, article by article, a greater part of her own and Emmeline’s wardrobe. All things being arranged, they only waited a fitting opportunity to put their plan in execution.
By cajoling Legree, and taking advantage of a good-natured interval, Cassy had got him to take her with him to the neighboring town, which was situated directly on the Red River. With a memory sharpened to almost preternatural clearness, she remarked every turn in the road, and formed a mental estimate of the time to be occupied in traversing it.
At the time when all was matured for action, our readers may, perhaps, like to look behind the scenes, and see the final _coup d’etat_.
It was now near evening, Legree had been absent, on a ride to a neighboring farm. For many days Cassy had been unusually gracious and accommodating in her humors; and Legree and she had been, apparently, on the best of terms. At present, we may behold her and Emmeline in the room of the latter, busy in sorting and arranging two small bundles.
“There, these will be large enough,” said Cassy. “Now put on your bonnet, and let’s start; it’s just about the right time.”
“Why, they can see us yet,” said Emmeline.
“I mean they shall,” said Cassy, coolly. “Don’t you know that they must have their chase after us, at any rate? The way of the thing is to be just this:–We will steal out of the back door, and run down by the quarters. Sambo or Quimbo will be sure to see us. They will give chase, and we will get into the swamp; then, they can’t follow us any further till they go up and give the alarm, and turn out the dogs, and so on; and, while they are blundering round, and tumbling over each other, as they always do, you and I will slip along to the creek, that runs back of the house, and wade along in it, till we get opposite the back door. That will put the dogs all at fault; for scent won’t lie in the water. Every one will run out of the house to look after us, and then we’ll whip in at the back door, and up into the garret, where I’ve got a nice bed made up in one of the great boxes. We must stay in that garret a good while, for, I tell you, he will raise heaven and earth after us. He’ll muster some of those old overseers on the other plantations, and have a great hunt; and they’ll go over every inch of ground in that swamp. He makes it his boast that nobody ever got away from him. So let him hunt at his leisure.”
“Cassy, how well you have planned it!” said Emmeline. “Who ever would have thought of it, but you?”
There was neither pleasure nor exultation in Cassy’s eyes,–only a despairing firmness.
“Come,” she said, reaching her hand to Emmeline.
The two fugitives glided noiselessly from the house, and flitted, through the gathering shadows of evening, along by the quarters. The crescent moon, set like a silver signet in the western sky, delayed a little the approach of night. As Cassy expected, when quite near the verge of the swamps that encircled the plantation, they heard a voice calling to them to stop. It was not Sambo, however, but Legree, who was pursuing them with violent execrations. At the sound, the feebler spirit of Emmeline gave way; and, laying hold of Cassy’s arm, she said, “O, Cassy, I’m going to faint!”
“If you do, I’ll kill you!” said Cassy, drawing a small, glittering stiletto, and flashing it before the eyes of the girl.
The diversion accomplished the purpose. Emmeline did not faint, and succeeded in plunging, with Cassy, into a part of the labyrinth of swamp, so deep and dark that it was perfectly hopeless for Legree to think of following them, without assistance.
“Well,” said he, chuckling brutally; “at any rate, they’ve got themselves into a trap now–the baggage! They’re safe enough. They shall sweat for it!”
“Hulloa, there! Sambo! Quimbo! All hands!” called Legree, coming to the quarters, when the men and women were just returning from work. “There’s two runaways in the swamps. I’ll give five dollars to any nigger as catches ’em. Turn out the dogs! Turn out Tiger, and Fury, and the rest!”
The sensation produced by this news was immediate. Many of the men sprang forward, officiously, to offer their services, either from the hope of the reward, or from that cringing subserviency which is one of the most baleful effects of slavery. Some ran one way, and some another. Some were for getting flambeaux of pine-knots. Some were uncoupling the dogs, whose hoarse, savage bay added not a little to the animation of the scene.
“Mas’r, shall we shoot ’em, if can’t cotch ’em?” said Sambo, to whom his master brought out a rifle.
“You may fire on Cass, if you like; it’s time she was gone to the devil, where she belongs; but the gal, not,” said Legree. “And now, boys, be spry and smart. Five dollars for him that gets ’em; and a glass of spirits to every one of you, anyhow.”
The whole band, with the glare of blazing torches, and whoop, and shout, and savage yell, of man and beast, proceeded down to the swamp, followed, at some distance, by every servant in the house. The establishment was, of a consequence, wholly deserted, when Cassy and Emmeline glided into it the back way. The whooping and shouts of their pursuers were still filling the air; and, looking from the sitting-room windows, Cassy and Emmeline could see the troop, with their flambeaux, just dispersing themselves along the edge of the swamp.
“See there!” said Emmeline, pointing to Cassy; “the hunt is begun! Look how those lights dance about! Hark! the dogs! Don’t you hear? If we were only _there_, our chances wouldn’t be worth a picayune. O, for pity’s sake, do let’s hide ourselves. Quick!”
“There’s no occasion for hurry,” said Cassy, coolly; “they are all out after the hunt,–that’s the amusement of the evening! We’ll go up stairs, by and by. Meanwhile,” said she, deliberately taking a key from the pocket of a coat that Legree had thrown down in his hurry, “meanwhile I shall take something to pay our passage.”
She unlocked the desk, took from it a roll of bills, which she counted over rapidly.
“O, don’t let’s do that!” said Emmeline.
“Don’t!” said Cassy; “why not? Would you have us starve in the swamps, or have that that will pay our way to the free states. Money will do anything, girl.” And, as she spoke, she put the money in her bosom.
“It would be stealing,” said Emmeline, in a distressed whisper.
“Stealing!” said Cassy, with a scornful laugh. “They who steal body and soul needn’t talk to us. Every one of these bills is stolen,–stolen from poor, starving, sweating creatures, who must go to the devil at last, for his profit. Let _him_ talk about stealing! But come, we may as well go up garret; I’ve got a stock of candles there, and some books to pass away the time. You may be pretty sure they won’t come _there_ to inquire after us. If they do, I’ll play ghost for them.”
When Emmeline reached the garret, she found an immense box, in which some heavy pieces of furniture had once been brought, turned on its side, so that the opening faced the wall, or rather the eaves. Cassy lit a small lamp, and creeping round under the eaves, they established themselves in it. It was spread with a couple of small mattresses and some pillows; a box near by was plentifully stored with candles, provisions, and all the clothing necessary to their journey, which Cassy had arranged into bundles of an astonishingly small compass.
“There,” said Cassy, as she fixed the lamp into a small hook, which she had driven into the side of the box for that purpose; “this is to be our home for the present. How do you like it?”
“Are you sure they won’t come and search the garret?”
“I’d like to see Simon Legree doing that,” said Cassy. “No, indeed; he will be too glad to keep away. As to the servants, they would any of them stand and be shot, sooner than show their faces here.”
Somewhat reassured, Emmeline settled herself back on her pillow.
“What did you mean, Cassy, by saying you would kill me?” she said, simply.
“I meant to stop your fainting,” said Cassy, “and I did do it. And now I tell you, Emmeline, you must make up your mind _not_ to faint, let what will come; there’s no sort of need of it. If I had not stopped you, that wretch might have had his hands on you now.”
The two remained some time in silence. Cassy busied herself with a French book; Emmeline, overcome with the exhaustion, fell into a doze, and slept some time. She was awakened by loud shouts and outcries, the tramp of horses’ feet, and the baying of dogs. She started up, with a faint shriek.
“Only the hunt coming back,” said Cassy, coolly; “never fear. Look out of this knot-hole. Don’t you see ’em all down there? Simon has to give up, for this night. Look, how muddy his horse is, flouncing about in the swamp; the dogs, too, look rather crestfallen. Ah, my good sir, you’ll have to try the race again and again,–the game isn’t there.”
“O, don’t speak a word!” said Emmeline; “what if they should hear you?”
“If they do hear anything, it will make them very particular to keep away,” said Cassy. “No danger; we may make any noise we please, and it will only add to the effect.”
At length the stillness of midnight settled down over the house. Legree, cursing his ill luck, and vowing dire vengeance on the morrow, went to bed.