In Which the Reader Is Introduced to a Man of Humanity
Late in the afternoon of a chilly day in February, two gentlemen were sitting alone over their wine, in a well-furnished dining parlor, in the town of P——, in Kentucky. There were no servants present, and the gentlemen, with chairs closely approaching, seemed to be discussing some subject with great earnestness.
For convenience sake, we have said, hitherto, two gentlemen. One of the parties, however, when critically examined, did not seem, strictly speaking, to come under the species. He was a short, thick-set man, with coarse, commonplace features, and that swaggering air of pretension which marks a low man who is trying to elbow his way upward in the world. He was much over-dressed, in a gaudy vest of many colors, a blue neckerchief, bedropped gayly with yellow spots, and arranged with a flaunting tie, quite in keeping with the general air of the man. His hands, large and coarse, were plentifully bedecked with rings; and he wore a heavy gold watch-chain, with a bundle of seals of portentous size, and a great variety of colors, attached to it,—which, in the ardor of conversation, he was in the habit of flourishing and jingling with evident satisfaction. His conversation was in free and easy defiance of Murray’s Grammar, and was garnished at convenient intervals with various profane expressions, which not even the desire to be graphic in our account shall induce us to transcribe.
His companion, Mr. Shelby, had the appearance of a gentleman; and the arrangements of the house, and the general air of the housekeeping, indicated easy, and even opulent circumstances. As we before stated, the two were in the midst of an earnest conversation.
“That is the way I should arrange the matter,” said Mr. Shelby.
“I can’t make trade that way—I positively can’t, Mr. Shelby,” said the other, holding up a glass of wine between his eye and the light.
“Why, the fact is, Haley, Tom is an uncommon fellow; he is certainly worth that sum anywhere,—steady, honest, capable, manages my whole farm like a clock.”
“You mean honest, as niggers go,” said Haley, helping himself to a glass of brandy.
“No; I mean, really, Tom is a good, steady, sensible, pious fellow. He got religion at a camp-meeting, four years ago; and I believe he really did get it. I’ve trusted him, since then, with everything I have,—money, house, horses,—and let him come and go round the country; and I always found him true and square in everything.”
“Some folks don’t believe there is pious niggers Shelby,” said Haley, with a candid flourish of his hand, “but I do. I had a fellow, now, in this yer last lot I took to Orleans—‘t was as good as a meetin, now, really, to hear that critter pray; and he was quite gentle and quiet like. He fetched me a good sum, too, for I bought him cheap of a man that was ’bliged to sell out; so I realized six hundred on him. Yes, I consider religion a valeyable thing in a nigger, when it’s the genuine article, and no mistake.”
“Well, Tom’s got the real article, if ever a fellow had,” rejoined the other. “Why, last fall, I let him go to Cincinnati alone, to do business for me, and bring home five hundred dollars. ‘Tom,’ says I to him, ‘I trust you, because I think you’re a Christian—I know you wouldn’t cheat.’ Tom comes back, sure enough; I knew he would. Some low fellows, they say, said to him—Tom, why don’t you make tracks for Canada?’ ’Ah, master trusted me, and I couldn’t,’—they told me about it. I am sorry to part with Tom, I must say. You ought to let him cover the whole balance of the debt; and you would, Haley, if you had any conscience.”
“Well, I’ve got just as much conscience as any man in business can afford to keep,—just a little, you know, to swear by, as ’t were,” said the trader, jocularly; “and, then, I’m ready to do anything in reason to ’blige friends; but this yer, you see, is a leetle too hard on a fellow—a leetle too hard.” The trader sighed contemplatively, and poured out some more brandy.
“Well, then, Haley, how will you trade?” said Mr. Shelby, after an uneasy interval of silence.
“Well, haven’t you a boy or gal that you could throw in with Tom?”
“Hum!—none that I could well spare; to tell the truth, it’s only hard necessity makes me willing to sell at all. I don’t like parting with any of my hands, that’s a fact.”
Here the door opened, and a small quadroon boy, between four and five years of age, entered the room. There was something in his appearance remarkably beautiful and engaging. His black hair, fine as floss silk, hung in glossy curls about his round, dimpled face, while a pair of large dark eyes, full of fire and softness, looked out from beneath the rich, long lashes, as he peered curiously into the apartment. A gay robe of scarlet and yellow plaid, carefully made and neatly fitted, set off to advantage the dark and rich style of his beauty; and a certain comic air of assurance, blended with bashfulness, showed that he had been not unused to being petted and noticed by his master.
“Hulloa, Jim Crow!” said Mr. Shelby, whistling, and snapping a bunch of raisins towards him, “pick that up, now!”
The child scampered, with all his little strength, after the prize, while his master laughed.
“Come here, Jim Crow,” said he. The child came up, and the master patted the curly head, and chucked him under the chin.
“Now, Jim, show this gentleman how you can dance and sing.” The boy commenced one of those wild, grotesque songs common among the negroes, in a rich, clear voice, accompanying his singing with many comic evolutions of the hands, feet, and whole body, all in perfect time to the music.
“Bravo!” said Haley, throwing him a quarter of an orange.
“Now, Jim, walk like old Uncle Cudjoe, when he has the rheumatism,” said his master.
Instantly the flexible limbs of the child assumed the appearance of deformity and distortion, as, with his back humped up, and his master’s stick in his hand, he hobbled about the room, his childish face drawn into a doleful pucker, and spitting from right to left, in imitation of an old man.
Both gentlemen laughed uproariously.
“Now, Jim,” said his master, “show us how old Elder Robbins leads the psalm.” The boy drew his chubby face down to a formidable length, and commenced toning a psalm tune through his nose, with imperturbable gravity.
“Hurrah! bravo! what a young ’un!” said Haley; “that chap’s a case, I’ll promise. Tell you what,” said he, suddenly clapping his hand on Mr. Shelby’s shoulder, “fling in that chap, and I’ll settle the business—I will. Come, now, if that ain’t doing the thing up about the rightest!”
At this moment, the door was pushed gently open, and a young quadroon woman, apparently about twenty-five, entered the room. There needed only a glance from the child to her, to identify her as its mother.
There was the same rich, full, dark eye, with its long lashes; the same ripples of silky black hair. The brown of her complexion gave way on the cheek to a perceptible flush, which deepened as she saw the gaze of the strange man fixed upon her in bold and undisguised admiration. Her dress was of the neatest possible fit, and set off to advantage her finely moulded shape;—a delicately formed hand and a trim foot and ankle were items of appearance that did not escape the quick eye of the trader, well used to run up at a glance the points of a fine female article.
“Well, Eliza?” said her master, as she stopped and looked hesitatingly at him.
“I was looking for Harry, please, sir;” and the boy bounded toward her, showing his spoils, which he had gathered in the skirt of his robe.
“Well, take him away then,” said Mr. Shelby; and hastily she withdrew, carrying the child on her arm.
“By Jupiter,” said the trader, turning to him in admiration, “there’s an article, now! You might make your fortune on that ar gal in Orleans, any day. I’ve seen over a thousand, in my day, paid down for gals not a bit handsomer.”
“I don’t want to make my fortune on her,” said Mr. Shelby, dryly; and, seeking to turn the conversation, he uncorked a bottle of fresh wine, and asked his companion’s opinion of it.
“Capital, sir,—first chop!” said the trader; then turning, and slapping his hand familiarly on Shelby’s shoulder, he added—
“Come, how will you trade about the gal?—what shall I say for her—what’ll you take?”
“Mr. Haley, she is not to be sold,” said Shelby. “My wife would not part with her for her weight in gold.”
“Ay, ay! women always say such things, cause they ha’nt no sort of calculation. Just show ’em how many watches, feathers, and trinkets, one’s weight in gold would buy, and that alters the case, I reckon.”
“I tell you, Haley, this must not be spoken of; I say no, and I mean no,” said Shelby, decidedly.
“Well, you’ll let me have the boy, though,” said the trader; “you must own I’ve come down pretty handsomely for him.”
“What on earth can you want with the child?” said Shelby.
“Why, I’ve got a friend that’s going into this yer branch of the business—wants to buy up handsome boys to raise for the market. Fancy articles entirely—sell for waiters, and so on, to rich ’uns, that can pay for handsome ’uns. It sets off one of yer great places—a real handsome boy to open door, wait, and tend. They fetch a good sum; and this little devil is such a comical, musical concern, he’s just the article!’
“I would rather not sell him,” said Mr. Shelby, thoughtfully; “the fact is, sir, I’m a humane man, and I hate to take the boy from his mother, sir.”
“O, you do?—La! yes—something of that ar natur. I understand, perfectly. It is mighty onpleasant getting on with women, sometimes, I al’ays hates these yer screechin,’ screamin’ times. They are mightyonpleasant; but, as I manages business, I generally avoids ’em, sir. Now, what if you get the girl off for a day, or a week, or so; then the thing’s done quietly,—all over before she comes home. Your wife might get her some ear-rings, or a new gown, or some such truck, to make up with her.”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Lor bless ye, yes! These critters ain’t like white folks, you know; they gets over things, only manage right. Now, they say,” said Haley, assuming a candid and confidential air, “that this kind o’ trade is hardening to the feelings; but I never found it so. Fact is, I never could do things up the way some fellers manage the business. I’ve seen ’em as would pull a woman’s child out of her arms, and set him up to sell, and she screechin’ like mad all the time;—very bad policy—damages the article—makes ’em quite unfit for service sometimes. I knew a real handsome gal once, in Orleans, as was entirely ruined by this sort o’ handling. The fellow that was trading for her didn’t want her baby; and she was one of your real high sort, when her blood was up. I tell you, she squeezed up her child in her arms, and talked, and went on real awful. It kinder makes my blood run cold to think of ’t; and when they carried off the child, and locked her up, she jest went ravin’ mad, and died in a week. Clear waste, sir, of a thousand dollars, just for want of management,—there’s where ’t is. It’s always best to do the humane thing, sir; that’s been myexperience.” And the trader leaned back in his chair, and folded his arm, with an air of virtuous decision, apparently considering himself a second Wilberforce.
The subject appeared to interest the gentleman deeply; for while Mr. Shelby was thoughtfully peeling an orange, Haley broke out afresh, with becoming diffidence, but as if actually driven by the force of truth to say a few words more.
“It don’t look well, now, for a feller to be praisin’ himself; but I say it jest because it’s the truth. I believe I’m reckoned to bring in about the finest droves of niggers that is brought in,—at least, I’ve been told so; if I have once, I reckon I have a hundred times,—all in good case,—fat and likely, and I lose as few as any man in the business. And I lays it all to my management, sir; and humanity, sir, I may say, is the great pillar of my management.”
Mr. Shelby did not know what to say, and so he said, “Indeed!”
“Now, I’ve been laughed at for my notions, sir, and I’ve been talked to. They an’t pop’lar, and they an’t common; but I stuck to ’em, sir; I’ve stuck to ’em, and realized well on ’em; yes, sir, they have paid their passage, I may say,” and the trader laughed at his joke.
There was something so piquant and original in these elucidations of humanity, that Mr. Shelby could not help laughing in company. Perhaps you laugh too, dear reader; but you know humanity comes out in a variety of strange forms now-adays, and there is no end to the odd things that humane people will say and do.
Mr. Shelby’s laugh encouraged the trader to proceed.
“It’s strange, now, but I never could beat this into people’s heads. Now, there was Tom Loker, my old partner, down in Natchez; he was a clever fellow, Tom was, only the very devil with niggers,—on principle ’t was, you see, for a better hearted feller never broke bread; ’t was his system, sir. I used to talk to Tom. ‘Why, Tom,’ I used to say, ‘when your gals takes on and cry, what’s the use o’ crackin on’ ’em over the head, and knockin’ on ’em round? It’s ridiculous,’ says I, ‘and don’t do no sort o’ good. Why, I don’t see no harm in their cryin’,’ says I; ’it’s natur,’ says I, ‘and if natur can’t blow off one way, it will another. Besides, Tom,’ says I, ‘it jest spiles your gals; they get sickly, and down in the mouth; and sometimes they gets ugly,— particular yallow gals do,—and it’s the devil and all gettin’ on ’em broke in. Now,’ says I, ‘why can’t you kinder coax ’em up, and speak ’em fair? Depend on it, Tom, a little humanity, thrown in along, goes a heap further than all your jawin’ and crackin’; and it pays better,’ says I, ‘depend on ’t.’ But Tom couldn’t get the hang on ’t; and he spiled so many for me, that I had to break off with him, though he was a good-hearted fellow, and as fair a business hand as is goin’.”
“And do you find your ways of managing do the business better than Tom’s?” said Mr. Shelby.
“Why, yes, sir, I may say so. You see, when I any ways can, I takes a leetle care about the onpleasant parts, like selling young uns and that,—get the gals out of the way—out of sight, out of mind, you know,—and when it’s clean done, and can’t be helped, they naturally gets used to it. ’Tan’t, you know, as if it was white folks, that’s brought up in the way of ’spectin’ to keep their children and wives, and all that. Niggers, you know, that’s fetched up properly, ha’n’t no kind of ’spectations of no kind; so all these things comes easier.”
“I’m afraid mine are not properly brought up, then,” said Mr. Shelby.
“S’pose not; you Kentucky folks spile your niggers. You mean well by ’em, but ’tan’t no real kindness, arter all. Now, a nigger, you see, what’s got to be hacked and tumbled round the world, and sold to Tom, and Dick, and the Lord knows who, ’tan’t no kindness to be givin’ on him notions and expectations, and bringin’ on him up too well, for the rough and tumble comes all the harder on him arter. Now, I venture to say, your niggers would be quite chop-fallen in a place where some of your plantation niggers would be singing and whooping like all possessed. Every man, you know, Mr. Shelby, naturally thinks well of his own ways; and I think I treat niggers just about as well as it’s ever worth while to treat ’em.”
“It’s a happy thing to be satisfied,” said Mr. Shelby, with a slight shrug, and some perceptible feelings of a disagreeable nature.
“Well,” said Haley, after they had both silently picked their nuts for a season, “what do you say?”
“I’ll think the matter over, and talk with my wife,” said Mr. Shelby. “Meantime, Haley, if you want the matter carried on in the quiet way you speak of, you’d best not let your business in this neighborhood be known. It will get out among my boys, and it will not be a particularly quiet business getting away any of my fellows, if they know it, I’ll promise you.”
“O! certainly, by all means, mum! of course. But I’ll tell you. I’m in a devil of a hurry, and shall want to know, as soon as possible, what I may depend on,” said he, rising and putting on his overcoat.
“Well, call up this evening, between six and seven, and you shall have my answer,” said Mr. Shelby, and the trader bowed himself out of the apartment.
“I’d like to have been able to kick the fellow down the steps,” said he to himself, as he saw the door fairly closed, “with his impudent assurance; but he knows how much he has me at advantage. If anybody had ever said to me that I should sell Tom down south to one of those rascally traders, I should have said, ’Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?’ And now it must come, for aught I see. And Eliza’s child, too! I know that I shall have some fuss with wife about that; and, for that matter, about Tom, too. So much for being in debt,—heigho! The fellow sees his advantage, and means to push it.”
Perhaps the mildest form of the system of slavery is to be seen in the State of Kentucky. The general prevalence of agricultural pursuits of a quiet and gradual nature, not requiring those periodic seasons of hurry and pressure that are called for in the business of more southern districts, makes the task of the negro a more healthful and reasonable one; while the master, content with a more gradual style of acquisition, has not those temptations to hardheartedness which always overcome frail human nature when the prospect of sudden and rapid gain is weighed in the balance, with no heavier counterpoise than the interests of the helpless and unprotected.
Whoever visits some estates there, and witnesses the good-humored indulgence of some masters and mistresses, and the affectionate loyalty of some slaves, might be tempted to dream the oft-fabled poetic legend of a patriarchal institution, and all that; but over and above the scene there broods a portentous shadow—the shadow of law. So long as the law considers all these human beings, with beating hearts and living affections, only as so many things belonging to a master,—so long as the failure, or misfortune, or imprudence, or death of the kindest owner, may cause them any day to exchange a life of kind protection and indulgence for one of hopeless misery and toil,—so long it is impossible to make anything beautiful or desirable in the best regulated administration of slavery.
Mr. Shelby was a fair average kind of man, good-natured and kindly, and disposed to easy indulgence of those around him, and there had never been a lack of anything which might contribute to the physical comfort of the negroes on his estate. He had, however, speculated largely and quite loosely; had involved himself deeply, and his notes to a large amount had come into the hands of Haley; and this small piece of information is the key to the preceding conversation.
Now, it had so happened that, in approaching the door, Eliza had caught enough of the conversation to know that a trader was making offers to her master for somebody.
She would gladly have stopped at the door to listen, as she came out; but her mistress just then calling, she was obliged to hasten away.
Still she thought she heard the trader make an offer for her boy;—could she be mistaken? Her heart swelled and throbbed, and she involuntarily strained him so tight that the little fellow looked up into her face in astonishment.
“Eliza, girl, what ails you today?” said her mistress, when Eliza had upset the wash-pitcher, knocked down the workstand, and finally was abstractedly offering her mistress a long nightgown in place of the silk dress she had ordered her to bring from the wardrobe.
Eliza started. “O, missis!” she said, raising her eyes; then, bursting into tears, she sat down in a chair, and began sobbing.
“Why, Eliza child, what ails you?” said her mistress.
“O! missis, missis,” said Eliza, “there’s been a trader talking with master in the parlor! I heard him.”
“Well, silly child, suppose there has.”
“O, missis, do you suppose mas’r would sell my Harry?” And the poor creature threw herself into a chair, and sobbed convulsively.
“Sell him! No, you foolish girl! You know your master never deals with those southern traders, and never means to sell any of his servants, as long as they behave well. Why, you silly child, who do you think would want to buy your Harry? Do you think all the world are set on him as you are, you goosie? Come, cheer up, and hook my dress. There now, put my back hair up in that pretty braid you learnt the other day, and don’t go listening at doors any more.”
“Well, but, missis, you never would give your consent—to—to—”
“Nonsense, child! to be sure, I shouldn’t. What do you talk so for? I would as soon have one of my own children sold. But really, Eliza, you are getting altogether too proud of that little fellow. A man can’t put his nose into the door, but you think he must be coming to buy him.”
Reassured by her mistress’ confident tone, Eliza proceeded nimbly and adroitly with her toilet, laughing at her own fears, as she proceeded.
Mrs. Shelby was a woman of high class, both intellectually and morally. To that natural magnanimity and generosity of mind which one often marks as characteristic of the women of Kentucky, she added high moral and religious sensibility and principle, carried out with great energy and ability into practical results. Her husband, who made no professions to any particular religious character, nevertheless reverenced and respected the consistency of hers, and stood, perhaps, a little in awe of her opinion. Certain it was that he gave her unlimited scope in all her benevolent efforts for the comfort, instruction, and improvement of her servants, though he never took any decided part in them himself. In fact, if not exactly a believer in the doctrine of the efficiency of the extra good works of saints, he really seemed somehow or other to fancy that his wife had piety and benevolence enough for two—to indulge a shadowy expectation of getting into heaven through her superabundance of qualities to which he made no particular pretension.
The heaviest load on his mind, after his conversation with the trader, lay in the foreseen necessity of breaking to his wife the arrangement contemplated,— meeting the importunities and opposition which he knew he should have reason to encounter.
Mrs. Shelby, being entirely ignorant of her husband’s embarrassments, and knowing only the general kindliness of his temper, had been quite sincere in the entire incredulity with which she had met Eliza’s suspicions. In fact, she dismissed the matter from her mind, without a second thought; and being occupied in preparations for an evening visit, it passed out of her thoughts entirely.
The Mother’s Struggle
It is impossible to conceive of a human creature more wholly desolate and forlorn than Eliza, when she turned her footsteps from Uncle Tom’s cabin.
Her husband’s suffering and dangers, and the danger of her child, all blended in her mind, with a confused and stunning sense of the risk she was running, in leaving the only home she had ever known, and cutting loose from the protection of a friend whom she loved and revered. Then there was the parting from every familiar object,—the place where she had grown up, the trees under which she had played, the groves where she had walked many an evening in happier days, by the side of her young husband,—everything, as it lay in the clear, frosty starlight, seemed to speak reproachfully to her, and ask her whither could she go from a home like that?
But stronger than all was maternal love, wrought into a paroxysm of frenzy by the near approach of a fearful danger. Her boy was old enough to have walked by her side, and, in an indifferent case, she would only have led him by the hand; but now the bare thought of putting him out of her arms made her shudder, and she strained him to her bosom with a convulsive grasp, as she went rapidly forward.
The frosty ground creaked beneath her feet, and she trembled at the sound; every quaking leaf and fluttering shadow sent the blood backward to her heart, and quickened her footsteps. She wondered within herself at the strength that seemed to be come upon her; for she felt the weight of her boy as if it had been a feather, and every flutter of fear seemed to increase the supernatural power that bore her on, while from her pale lips burst forth, in frequent ejaculations, the prayer to a Friend above—“Lord, help! Lord, save me!”
If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that were going to be torn from you by a brutal trader, tomorrow morning,—if you had seen the man, and heard that the papers were signed and delivered, and you had only from twelve o’clock till morning to make good your escape,—how fast could you walk? How many miles could you make in those few brief hours, with the darling at your bosom,—the little sleepy head on your shoulder,—the small, soft arms trustingly holding on to your neck?
For the child slept. At first, the novelty and alarm kept him waking; but his mother so hurriedly repressed every breath or sound, and so assured him that if he were only still she would certainly save him, that he clung quietly round her neck, only asking, as he found himself sinking to sleep,
“Mother, I don’t need to keep awake, do I?”
“No, my darling; sleep, if you want to.”
“But, mother, if I do get asleep, you won’t let him get me?”
“No! so may God help me!” said his mother, with a paler cheek, and a brighter light in her large dark eyes.
“You’re sure, an’t you, mother?”
“Yes, sure!” said the mother, in a voice that startled herself; for it seemed to her to come from a spirit within, that was no part of her; and the boy dropped his little weary head on her shoulder, and was soon asleep. How the touch of those warm arms, the gentle breathings that came in her neck, seemed to add fire and spirit to her movements! It seemed to her as if strength poured into her in electric streams, from every gentle touch and movement of the sleeping, confiding child. Sublime is the dominion of the mind over the body, that, for a time, can make flesh and nerve impregnable, and string the sinews like steel, so that the weak become so mighty.
The boundaries of the farm, the grove, the wood-lot, passed by her dizzily, as she walked on; and still she went, leaving one familiar object after another, slacking not, pausing not, till reddening daylight found her many a long mile from all traces of any familiar objects upon the open highway.
She had often been, with her mistress, to visit some connections, in the little village of T——, not far from the Ohio river, and knew the road well. To go thither, to escape across the Ohio river, were the first hurried outlines of her plan of escape; beyond that, she could only hope in God.
When horses and vehicles began to move along the highway, with that alert perception peculiar to a state of excitement, and which seems to be a sort of inspiration, she became aware that her headlong pace and distracted air might bring on her remark and suspicion. She therefore put the boy on the ground, and, adjusting her dress and bonnet, she walked on at as rapid a pace as she thought consistent with the preservation of appearances. In her little bundle she had provided a store of cakes and apples, which she used as expedients for quickening the speed of the child, rolling the apple some yards before them, when the boy would run with all his might after it; and this ruse, often repeated, carried them over many a half-mile.
After a while, they came to a thick patch of woodland, through which murmured a clear brook. As the child complained of hunger and thirst, she climbed over the fence with him; and, sitting down behind a large rock which concealed them from the road, she gave him a breakfast out of her little package. The boy wondered and grieved that she could not eat; and when, putting his arms round her neck, he tried to wedge some of his cake into her mouth, it seemed to her that the rising in her throat would choke her.
“No, no, Harry darling! mother can’t eat till you are safe! We must go on— on—till we come to the river!” And she hurried again into the road, and again constrained herself to walk regularly and composedly forward.
She was many miles past any neighborhood where she was personally known. If she should chance to meet any who knew her, she reflected that the well-known kindness of the family would be of itself a blind to suspicion, as making it an unlikely supposition that she could be a fugitive. As she was also so white as not to be known as of colored lineage, without a critical survey, and her child was white also, it was much easier for her to pass on unsuspected.
On this presumption, she stopped at noon at a neat farmhouse, to rest herself, and buy some dinner for her child and self; for, as the danger decreased with the distance, the supernatural tension of the nervous system lessened, and she found herself both weary and hungry.
The good woman, kindly and gossipping, seemed rather pleased than otherwise with having somebody come in to talk with; and accepted, without examination, Eliza’s statement, that she “was going on a little piece, to spend a week with her friends,”—all which she hoped in her heart might prove strictly true.
An hour before sunset, she entered the village of T——, by the Ohio river, weary and foot-sore, but still strong in heart. Her first glance was at the river, which lay, like Jordan, between her and the Canaan of liberty on the other side.
It was now early spring, and the river was swollen and turbulent; great cakes of floating ice were swinging heavily to and fro in the turbid waters. Owing to the peculiar form of the shore on the Kentucky side, the land bending far out into the water, the ice had been lodged and detained in great quantities, and the narrow channel which swept round the bend was full of ice, piled one cake over another, thus forming a temporary barrier to the descending ice, which lodged, and formed a great, undulating raft, filling up the whole river, and extending almost to the Kentucky shore.
Eliza stood, for a moment, contemplating this unfavorable aspect of things, which she saw at once must prevent the usual ferry-boat from running, and then turned into a small public house on the bank, to make a few inquiries.
The hostess, who was busy in various fizzing and stewing operations over the fire, preparatory to the evening meal, stopped, with a fork in her hand, as Eliza’s sweet and plaintive voice arrested her.
“What is it?” she said.
“Isn’t there any ferry or boat, that takes people over to B——, now?” she said.
“No, indeed!” said the woman; “the boats has stopped running.”
Eliza’s look of dismay and disappointment struck the woman, and she said, inquiringly,
“May be you’re wanting to get over?—anybody sick? Ye seem mighty anxious?”
“I’ve got a child that’s very dangerous,” said Eliza. “I never heard of it till last night, and I’ve walked quite a piece today, in hopes to get to the ferry.”
“Well, now, that’s onlucky,” said the woman, whose motherly sympathies were much aroused; “I’m re’lly consarned for ye. Solomon!” she called, from the window, towards a small back building. A man, in leather apron and very dirty hands, appeared at the door.
“I say, Sol,” said the woman, “is that ar man going to tote them bar’ls over tonight?”
“He said he should try, if ’t was any way prudent,” said the man.
“There’s a man a piece down here, that’s going over with some truck this evening, if he durs’ to; he’ll be in here to supper tonight, so you’d better set down and wait. That’s a sweet little fellow,” added the woman, offering him a cake.
But the child, wholly exhausted, cried with weariness.
“Poor fellow! he isn’t used to walking, and I’ve hurried him on so,” said Eliza.
“Well, take him into this room,” said the woman, opening into a small bedroom, where stood a comfortable bed. Eliza laid the weary boy upon it, and held his hands in hers till he was fast asleep. For her there was no rest. As a fire in her bones, the thought of the pursuer urged her on; and she gazed with longing eyes on the sullen, surging waters that lay between her and liberty.
Here we must take our leave of her for the present, to follow the course of her pursuers.
Though Mrs. Shelby had promised that the dinner should be hurried on table, yet it was soon seen, as the thing has often been seen before, that it required more than one to make a bargain. So, although the order was fairly given out in Haley’s hearing, and carried to Aunt Chloe by at least half a dozen juvenile messengers, that dignitary only gave certain very gruff snorts, and tosses of her head, and went on with every operation in an unusually leisurely and circumstantial manner.
For some singular reason, an impression seemed to reign among the servants generally that Missis would not be particularly disobliged by delay; and it was wonderful what a number of counter accidents occurred constantly, to retard the course of things. One luckless wight contrived to upset the gravy; and then gravy had to be got up de novo, with due care and formality, Aunt Chloe watching and stirring with dogged precision, answering shortly, to all suggestions of haste, that she “warn’t a going to have raw gravy on the table, to help nobody’s catchings.” One tumbled down with the water, and had to go to the spring for more; and another precipitated the butter into the path of events; and there was from time to time giggling news brought into the kitchen that “Mas’r Haley was mighty oneasy, and that he couldn’t sit in his cheer no ways, but was a walkin’ and stalkin’ to the winders and through the porch.”
“Sarves him right!” said Aunt Chloe, indignantly. “He’ll get wus nor oneasy, one of these days, if he don’t mend his ways. His master’ll be sending for him, and then see how he’ll look!”
“He’ll go to torment, and no mistake,” said little Jake.
“He desarves it!” said Aunt Chloe, grimly; “he’s broke a many, many, many hearts,—I tell ye all!” she said, stopping, with a fork uplifted in her hands; “it’s like what Mas’r George reads in Ravelations,—souls a callin’ under the altar! and a callin’ on the Lord for vengeance on sich!—and by and by the Lord he’ll hear ’em—so he will!”
Aunt Chloe, who was much revered in the kitchen, was listened to with open mouth; and, the dinner being now fairly sent in, the whole kitchen was at leisure to gossip with her, and to listen to her remarks.
“Sich’ll be burnt up forever, and no mistake; won’t ther?” said Andy.
“I’d be glad to see it, I’ll be boun’,” said little Jake.
“Chil’en!” said a voice, that made them all start. It was Uncle Tom, who had come in, and stood listening to the conversation at the door.
“Chil’en!” he said, “I’m afeard you don’t know what ye’re sayin’. Forever is a dre’ful word, chil’en; it’s awful to think on ’t. You oughtenter wish that ar to any human crittur.”
“We wouldn’t to anybody but the soul-drivers,” said Andy; “nobody can help wishing it to them, they ’s so awful wicked.”
“Don’t natur herself kinder cry out on ’em?” said Aunt Chloe. “Don’t dey tear der suckin’ baby right off his mother’s breast, and sell him, and der little children as is crying and holding on by her clothes,—don’t dey pull ’em off and sells ’em? Don’t dey tear wife and husband apart?” said Aunt Chloe, beginning to cry, “when it’s jest takin’ the very life on ’em?—and all the while does they feel one bit, don’t dey drink and smoke, and take it oncommon easy? Lor, if the devil don’t get them, what’s he good for?” And Aunt Chloe covered her face with her checked apron, and began to sob in good earnest.
“Pray for them that ’spitefully use you, the good book says,” says Tom.
“Pray for ’em!” said Aunt Chloe; “Lor, it’s too tough! I can’t pray for ’em.”
“It’s natur, Chloe, and natur ’s strong,” said Tom, “but the Lord’s grace is stronger; besides, you oughter think what an awful state a poor crittur’s soul ’s in that’ll do them ar things,—you oughter thank God that you an’t like him, Chloe. I’m sure I’d rather be sold, ten thousand times over, than to have all that ar poor crittur’s got to answer for.”
“So ’d I, a heap,” said Jake. “Lor, shouldn’t we cotch it, Andy?”
Andy shrugged his shoulders, and gave an acquiescent whistle.
“I’m glad Mas’r didn’t go off this morning, as he looked to,” said Tom; “that ar hurt me more than sellin’, it did. Mebbe it might have been natural for him, but ’t would have come desp’t hard on me, as has known him from a baby; but I’ve seen Mas’r, and I begin ter feel sort o’ reconciled to the Lord’s will now. Mas’r couldn’t help hisself; he did right, but I’m feared things will be kinder goin’ to rack, when I’m gone Mas’r can’t be spected to be a pryin’ round everywhar, as I’ve done, a keepin’ up all the ends. The boys all means well, but they ’s powerful car’less. That ar troubles me.”
The bell here rang, and Tom was summoned to the parlor.
“Tom,” said his master, kindly, “I want you to notice that I give this gentleman bonds to forfeit a thousand dollars if you are not on the spot when he wants you; he’s going today to look after his other business, and you can have the day to yourself. Go anywhere you like, boy.”
“Thank you, Mas’r,” said Tom.
“And mind yourself,” said the trader, “and don’t come it over your master with any o’ yer nigger tricks; for I’ll take every cent out of him, if you an’t thar. If he’d hear to me, he wouldn’t trust any on ye—slippery as eels!”
“Mas’r,” said Tom,—and he stood very straight,—“I was jist eight years old when ole Missis put you into my arms, and you wasn’t a year old. ‘Thar,’ says she, ‘Tom, that’s to be your young Mas’r; take good care on him,’ says she. And now I jist ask you, Mas’r, have I ever broke word to you, or gone contrary to you, ’specially since I was a Christian?”
Mr. Shelby was fairly overcome, and the tears rose to his eyes.
“My good boy,” said he, “the Lord knows you say but the truth; and if I was able to help it, all the world shouldn’t buy you.”
“And sure as I am a Christian woman,” said Mrs. Shelby, “you shall be redeemed as soon as I can any way bring together means. Sir,” she said to Haley, “take good account of who you sell him to, and let me know.”
“Lor, yes, for that matter,” said the trader, “I may bring him up in a year, not much the wuss for wear, and trade him back.”
“I’ll trade with you then, and make it for your advantage,” said Mrs. Shelby.
“Of course,” said the trader, “all ’s equal with me; li’ves trade ’em up as down, so I does a good business. All I want is a livin’, you know, ma’am; that’s all any on us wants, I, s’pose.”
Mr. and Mrs. Shelby both felt annoyed and degraded by the familiar impudence of the trader, and yet both saw the absolute necessity of putting a constraint on their feelings. The more hopelessly sordid and insensible he appeared, the greater became Mrs. Shelby’s dread of his succeeding in recapturing Eliza and her child, and of course the greater her motive for detaining him by every female artifice. She therefore graciously smiled, assented, chatted familiarly, and did all she could to make time pass imperceptibly.
At two o’clock Sam and Andy brought the horses up to the posts, apparently greatly refreshed and invigorated by the scamper of the morning.
Sam was there new oiled from dinner, with an abundance of zealous and ready officiousness. As Haley approached, he was boasting, in flourishing style, to Andy, of the evident and eminent success of the operation, now that he had “farly come to it.”
“Your master, I s’pose, don’t keep no dogs,” said Haley, thoughtfully, as he prepared to mount.
“Heaps on ’em,” said Sam, triumphantly; “thar’s Bruno—he’s a roarer! and, besides that, ’bout every nigger of us keeps a pup of some natur or uther.”
“Poh!” said Haley,—and he said something else, too, with regard to the said dogs, at which Sam muttered,
“I don’t see no use cussin’ on ’em, no way.”
“But your master don’t keep no dogs (I pretty much know he don’t) for trackin’ out niggers.”
Sam knew exactly what he meant, but he kept on a look of earnest and desperate simplicity.
“Our dogs all smells round considable sharp. I spect they’s the kind, though they han’t never had no practice. They ’s far dogs, though, at most anything, if you’d get ’em started. Here, Bruno,” he called, whistling to the lumbering Newfoundland, who came pitching tumultuously toward them.
“You go hang!” said Haley, getting up. “Come, tumble up now.”
Sam tumbled up accordingly, dexterously contriving to tickle Andy as he did so, which occasioned Andy to split out into a laugh, greatly to Haley’s indignation, who made a cut at him with his riding-whip.
“I ’s ’stonished at yer, Andy,” said Sam, with awful gravity. “This yer’s a seris bisness, Andy. Yer mustn’t be a makin’ game. This yer an’t no way to help Mas’r.”
“I shall take the straight road to the river,” said Haley, decidedly, after they had come to the boundaries of the estate. “I know the way of all of ’em,—they makes tracks for the underground.”
“Sartin,” said Sam, “dat’s de idee. Mas’r Haley hits de thing right in de middle. Now, der’s two roads to de river,—de dirt road and der pike,—which Mas’r mean to take?”
Andy looked up innocently at Sam, surprised at hearing this new geographical fact, but instantly confirmed what he said, by a vehement reiteration.
“Cause,” said Sam, “I’d rather be ’clined to ’magine that Lizy ’d take de dirt road, bein’ it’s the least travelled.”
Haley, notwithstanding that he was a very old bird, and naturally inclined to be suspicious of chaff, was rather brought up by this view of the case.
“If yer warn’t both on yer such cussed liars, now!” he said, contemplatively as he pondered a moment.
The pensive, reflective tone in which this was spoken appeared to amuse Andy prodigiously, and he drew a little behind, and shook so as apparently to run a great risk of failing off his horse, while Sam’s face was immovably composed into the most doleful gravity.
“Course,” said Sam, “Mas’r can do as he’d ruther, go de straight road, if Mas’r thinks best,—it’s all one to us. Now, when I study ’pon it, I think de straight road de best, deridedly.”
“She would naturally go a lonesome way,” said Haley, thinking aloud, and not minding Sam’s remark.
“Dar an’t no sayin’,” said Sam; “gals is pecular; they never does nothin’ ye thinks they will; mose gen’lly the contrary. Gals is nat’lly made contrary; and so, if you thinks they’ve gone one road, it is sartin you’d better go t’ other, and then you’ll be sure to find ’em. Now, my private ’pinion is, Lizy took der road; so I think we’d better take de straight one.”
This profound generic view of the female sex did not seem to dispose Haley particularly to the straight road, and he announced decidedly that he should go the other, and asked Sam when they should come to it.
“A little piece ahead,” said Sam, giving a wink to Andy with the eye which was on Andy’s side of the head; and he added, gravely, “but I’ve studded on de matter, and I’m quite clar we ought not to go dat ar way. I nebber been over it no way. It’s despit lonesome, and we might lose our way,—whar we’d come to, de Lord only knows.”
“Nevertheless,” said Haley, “I shall go that way.”
“Now I think on ’t, I think I hearn ’em tell that dat ar road was all fenced up and down by der creek, and thar, an’t it, Andy?”
Andy wasn’t certain; he’d only “hearn tell” about that road, but never been over it. In short, he was strictly noncommittal.
Haley, accustomed to strike the balance of probabilities between lies of greater or lesser magnitude, thought that it lay in favor of the dirt road aforesaid. The mention of the thing he thought he perceived was involuntary on Sam’s part at first, and his confused attempts to dissuade him he set down to a desperate lying on second thoughts, as being unwilling to implicate Liza.
When, therefore, Sam indicated the road, Haley plunged briskly into it, followed by Sam and Andy.
Now, the road, in fact, was an old one, that had formerly been a thoroughfare to the river, but abandoned for many years after the laying of the new pike. It was open for about an hour’s ride, and after that it was cut across by various farms and fences. Sam knew this fact perfectly well,—indeed, the road had been so long closed up, that Andy had never heard of it. He therefore rode along with an air of dutiful submission, only groaning and vociferating occasionally that ’t was “desp’t rough, and bad for Jerry’s foot.”
“Now, I jest give yer warning,” said Haley, “I know yer; yer won’t get me to turn off this road, with all yer fussin’—so you shet up!”
“Mas’r will go his own way!” said Sam, with rueful submission, at the same time winking most portentously to Andy, whose delight was now very near the explosive point.
Sam was in wonderful spirits,—professed to keep a very brisk lookout,—at one time exclaiming that he saw “a gal’s bonnet” on the top of some distant eminence, or calling to Andy “if that thar wasn’t ’Lizy’ down in the hollow;” always making these exclamations in some rough or craggy part of the road, where the sudden quickening of speed was a special inconvenience to all parties concerned, and thus keeping Haley in a state of constant commotion.
After riding about an hour in this way, the whole party made a precipitate and tumultuous descent into a barn-yard belonging to a large farming establishment. Not a soul was in sight, all the hands being employed in the fields; but, as the barn stood conspicuously and plainly square across the road, it was evident that their journey in that direction had reached a decided finale.
“Wan’t dat ar what I telled Mas’r?” said Sam, with an air of injured innocence. “How does strange gentleman spect to know more about a country dan de natives born and raised?”
“You rascal!” said Haley, “you knew all about this.”
“Didn’t I tell yer I knowd, and yer wouldn’t believe me? I telled Mas’r ’t was all shet up, and fenced up, and I didn’t spect we could get through,—Andy heard me.”
It was all too true to be disputed, and the unlucky man had to pocket his wrath with the best grace he was able, and all three faced to the right about, and took up their line of march for the highway.
In consequence of all the various delays, it was about three-quarters of an hour after Eliza had laid her child to sleep in the village tavern that the party came riding into the same place. Eliza was standing by the window, looking out in another direction, when Sam’s quick eye caught a glimpse of her. Haley and Andy were two yards behind. At this crisis, Sam contrived to have his hat blown off, and uttered a loud and characteristic ejaculation, which startled her at once; she drew suddenly back; the whole train swept by the window, round to the front door.
A thousand lives seemed to be concentrated in that one moment to Eliza. Her room opened by a side door to the river. She caught her child, and sprang down the steps towards it. The trader caught a full glimpse of her just as she was disappearing down the bank; and throwing himself from his horse, and calling loudly on Sam and Andy, he was after her like a hound after a deer. In that dizzy moment her feet to her scarce seemed to touch the ground, and a moment brought her to the water’s edge. Right on behind they came; and, nerved with strength such as God gives only to the desperate, with one wild cry and flying leap, she vaulted sheer over the turbid current by the shore, on to the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap—impossible to anything but madness and despair; and Haley, Sam, and Andy, instinctively cried out, and lifted up their hands, as she did it.
The huge green fragment of ice on which she alighted pitched and creaked as her weight came on it, but she staid there not a moment. With wild cries and desperate energy she leaped to another and still another cake; stumbling—leaping— slipping—springing upwards again! Her shoes are gone—her stockings cut from her feet—while blood marked every step; but she saw nothing, felt nothing, till dimly, as in a dream, she saw the Ohio side, and a man helping her up the bank.
“Yer a brave gal, now, whoever ye ar!” said the man, with an oath.
Eliza recognized the voice and face for a man who owned a farm not far from her old home.
“O, Mr. Symmes!—save me—do save me—do hide me!” said Elia.
“Why, what’s this?” said the man. “Why, if ’tan’t Shelby’s gal!”
“My child!—this boy!—he’d sold him! There is his Mas’r,” said she, pointing to the Kentucky shore. “O, Mr. Symmes, you’ve got a little boy!”
“So I have,” said the man, as he roughly, but kindly, drew her up the steep bank. “Besides, you’re a right brave gal. I like grit, wherever I see it.”
When they had gained the top of the bank, the man paused.
“I’d be glad to do something for ye,” said he; “but then there’s nowhar I could take ye. The best I can do is to tell ye to go thar,” said he, pointing to a large white house which stood by itself, off the main street of the village. “Go thar; they’re kind folks. Thar’s no kind o’ danger but they’ll help you,—they’re up to all that sort o’ thing.”
“The Lord bless you!” said Eliza, earnestly.
“No ’casion, no ’casion in the world,” said the man. “What I’ve done’s of no ’count.”
“And, oh, surely, sir, you won’t tell any one!”
“Go to thunder, gal! What do you take a feller for? In course not,” said the man. “Come, now, go along like a likely, sensible gal, as you are. You’ve arnt your liberty, and you shall have it, for all me.”
The woman folded her child to her bosom, and walked firmly and swiftly away. The man stood and looked after her.
“Shelby, now, mebbe won’t think this yer the most neighborly thing in the world; but what’s a feller to do? If he catches one of my gals in the same fix, he’s welcome to pay back. Somehow I never could see no kind o’ critter a strivin’ and pantin’, and trying to clar theirselves, with the dogs arter ’em and go agin ’em. Besides, I don’t see no kind of ’casion for me to be hunter and catcher for other folks, neither.”
So spoke this poor, heathenish Kentuckian, who had not been instructed in his constitutional relations, and consequently was betrayed into acting in a sort of Christianized manner, which, if he had been better situated and more enlightened, he would not have been left to do.
Haley had stood a perfectly amazed spectator of the scene, till Eliza had disappeared up the bank, when he turned a blank, inquiring look on Sam and Andy.
“That ar was a tolable fair stroke of business,” said Sam.
“The gal ’s got seven devils in her, I believe!” said Haley. “How like a wildcat she jumped!”
“Wal, now,” said Sam, scratching his head, “I hope Mas’r’ll ’scuse us trying dat ar road. Don’t think I feel spry enough for dat ar, no way!” and Sam gave a hoarse chuckle.
“You laugh!” said the trader, with a growl.
“Lord bless you, Mas’r, I couldn’t help it now,” said Sam, giving way to the long pent-up delight of his soul. “She looked so curi’s, a leapin’ and springin’—ice a crackin’—and only to hear her,—plump! ker chunk! ker splash! Spring! Lord! how she goes it!” and Sam and Andy laughed till the tears rolled down their cheeks.
“I’ll make ye laugh t’ other side yer mouths!” said the trader, laying about their heads with his riding-whip.
Both ducked, and ran shouting up the bank, and were on their horses before he was up.
“Good-evening, Mas’r!” said Sam, with much gravity. “I berry much spect Missis be anxious ’bout Jerry. Mas’r Haley won’t want us no longer. Missis wouldn’t hear of our ridin’ the critters over Lizy’s bridge tonight;” and, with a facetious poke into Andy’s ribs, he started off, followed by the latter, at full speed,—their shouts of laughter coming faintly on the wind.
In Which It Appears That a Senator Is But a Man
The light of the cheerful fire shone on the rug and carpet of a cosey parlor, and glittered on the sides of the tea-cups and well-brightened tea-pot, as Senator Bird was drawing off his boots, preparatory to inserting his feet in a pair of new handsome slippers, which his wife had been working for him while away on his senatorial tour. Mrs. Bird, looking the very picture of delight, was superintending the arrangements of the table, ever and anon mingling admonitory remarks to a number of frolicsome juveniles, who were effervescing in all those modes of untold gambol and mischief that have astonished mothers ever since the flood.
“Tom, let the door-knob alone,—there’s a man! Mary! Mary! don’t pull the cat’s tail,—poor pussy! Jim, you mustn’t climb on that table,—no, no!—You don’t know, my dear, what a surprise it is to us all, to see you here tonight!” said she, at last, when she found a space to say something to her husband.
“Yes, yes, I thought I’d just make a run down, spend the night, and have a little comfort at home. I’m tired to death, and my head aches!”
Mrs. Bird cast a glance at a camphor-bottle, which stood in the half-open closet, and appeared to meditate an approach to it, but her husband interposed.
“No, no, Mary, no doctoring! a cup of your good hot tea, and some of our good home living, is what I want. It’s a tiresome business, this legislating!”
And the senator smiled, as if he rather liked the idea of considering himself a sacrifice to his country.
“Well,” said his wife, after the business of the tea-table was getting rather slack, “and what have they been doing in the Senate?”
Now, it was a very unusual thing for gentle little Mrs. Bird ever to trouble her head with what was going on in the house of the state, very wisely considering that she had enough to do to mind her own. Mr. Bird, therefore, opened his eyes in surprise, and said,
“Not very much of importance.”
“Well; but is it true that they have been passing a law forbidding people to give meat and drink to those poor colored folks that come along? I heard they were talking of some such law, but I didn’t think any Christian legislature would pass it!”
“Why, Mary, you are getting to be a politician, all at once.”
“No, nonsense! I wouldn’t give a fig for all your politics, generally, but I think this is something downright cruel and unchristian. I hope, my dear, no such law has been passed.”
“There has been a law passed forbidding people to help off the slaves that come over from Kentucky, my dear; so much of that thing has been done by these reckless Abolitionists, that our brethren in Kentucky are very strongly excited, and it seems necessary, and no more than Christian and kind, that something should be done by our state to quiet the excitement.”
“And what is the law? It don’t forbid us to shelter those poor creatures a night, does it, and to give ’em something comfortable to eat, and a few old clothes, and send them quietly about their business?”
“Why, yes, my dear; that would be aiding and abetting, you know.”
Mrs. Bird was a timid, blushing little woman, of about four feet in height, and with mild blue eyes, and a peach-blow complexion, and the gentlest, sweetest voice in the world;—as for courage, a moderate-sized cock-turkey had been known to put her to rout at the very first gobble, and a stout house-dog, of moderate capacity, would bring her into subjection merely by a show of his teeth. Her husband and children were her entire world, and in these she ruled more by entreaty and persuasion than by command or argument. There was only one thing that was capable of arousing her, and that provocation came in on the side of her unusually gentle and sympathetic nature;—anything in the shape of cruelty would throw her into a passion, which was the more alarming and inexplicable in proportion to the general softness of her nature. Generally the most indulgent and easy to be entreated of all mothers, still her boys had a very reverent remembrance of a most vehement chastisement she once bestowed on them, because she found them leagued with several graceless boys of the neighborhood, stoning a defenceless kitten.
“I’ll tell you what,” Master Bill used to say, “I was scared that time. Mother came at me so that I thought she was crazy, and I was whipped and tumbled off to bed, without any supper, before I could get over wondering what had come about; and, after that, I heard mother crying outside the door, which made me feel worse than all the rest. I’ll tell you what,” he’d say, “we boys never stoned another kitten!”
On the present occasion, Mrs. Bird rose quickly, with very red cheeks, which quite improved her general appearance, and walked up to her husband, with quite a resolute air, and said, in a determined tone,
“Now, John, I want to know if you think such a law as that is right and Christian?”
“You won’t shoot me, now, Mary, if I say I do!”
“I never could have thought it of you, John; you didn’t vote for it?”
“Even so, my fair politician.”
“You ought to be ashamed, John! Poor, homeless, houseless creatures! It’s a shameful, wicked, abominable law, and I’ll break it, for one, the first time I get a chance; and I hope I shall have a chance, I do! Things have got to a pretty pass, if a woman can’t give a warm supper and a bed to poor, starving creatures, just because they are slaves, and have been abused and oppressed all their lives, poor things!”
“But, Mary, just listen to me. Your feelings are all quite right, dear, and interesting, and I love you for them; but, then, dear, we mustn’t suffer our feelings to run away with our judgment; you must consider it’s a matter of private feeling,— there are great public interests involved,—there is such a state of public agitation rising, that we must put aside our private feelings.”
“Now, John, I don’t know anything about politics, but I can read my Bible; and there I see that I must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort the desolate; and that Bible I mean to follow.”
“But in cases where your doing so would involve a great public evil—”
“Obeying God never brings on public evils. I know it can’t. It’s always safest, all round, to do as He bids us.
“Now, listen to me, Mary, and I can state to you a very clear argument, to show—”
“O, nonsense, John! you can talk all night, but you wouldn’t do it. I put it to you, John,—would you now turn away a poor, shivering, hungry creature from your door, because he was a runaway? Would you, now?”
Now, if the truth must be told, our senator had the misfortune to be a man who had a particularly humane and accessible nature, and turning away anybody that was in trouble never had been his forte; and what was worse for him in this particular pinch of the argument was, that his wife knew it, and, of course was making an assault on rather an indefensible point. So he had recourse to the usual means of gaining time for such cases made and provided; he said “ahem,” and coughed several times, took out his pocket-handkerchief, and began to wipe his glasses. Mrs. Bird, seeing the defenceless condition of the enemy’s territory, had no more conscience than to push her advantage.
“I should like to see you doing that, John—I really should! Turning a woman out of doors in a snowstorm, for instance; or may be you’d take her up and put her in jail, wouldn’t you? You would make a great hand at that!”
“Of course, it would be a very painful duty,” began Mr. Bird, in a moderate tone.
“Duty, John! don’t use that word! You know it isn’t a duty—it can’t be a duty! If folks want to keep their slaves from running away, let ’em treat ’em well,—that’s my doctrine. If I had slaves (as I hope I never shall have), I’d risk their wanting to run away from me, or you either, John. I tell you folks don’t run away when they are happy; and when they do run, poor creatures! they suffer enough with cold and hunger and fear, without everybody’s turning against them; and, law or no law, I never will, so help me God!”
“Mary! Mary! My dear, let me reason with you.”
“I hate reasoning, John,—especially reasoning on such subjects. There’s a way you political folks have of coming round and round a plain right thing; and you don’t believe in it yourselves, when it comes to practice. I know you well enough, John. You don’t believe it’s right any more than I do; and you wouldn’t do it any sooner than I.”
At this critical juncture, old Cudjoe, the black man-of-all-work, put his head in at the door, and wished “Missis would come into the kitchen;” and our senator, tolerably relieved, looked after his little wife with a whimsical mixture of amusement and vexation, and, seating himself in the arm-chair, began to read the papers.
After a moment, his wife’s voice was heard at the door, in a quick, earnest tone,—“John! John! I do wish you’d come here, a moment.”
He laid down his paper, and went into the kitchen, and started, quite amazed at the sight that presented itself:—A young and slender woman, with garments torn and frozen, with one shoe gone, and the stocking torn away from the cut and bleeding foot, was laid back in a deadly swoon upon two chairs. There was the impress of the despised race on her face, yet none could help feeling its mournful and pathetic beauty, while its stony sharpness, its cold, fixed, deathly aspect, struck a solemn chill over him. He drew his breath short, and stood in silence. His wife, and their only colored domestic, old Aunt Dinah, were busily engaged in restorative measures; while old Cudjoe had got the boy on his knee, and was busy pulling off his shoes and stockings, and chafing his little cold feet.
“Sure, now, if she an’t a sight to behold!” said old Dinah, compassionately; “‘pears like ’t was the heat that made her faint. She was tol’able peart when she cum in, and asked if she couldn’t warm herself here a spell; and I was just a-askin’ her where she cum from, and she fainted right down. Never done much hard work, guess, by the looks of her hands.”
“Poor creature!” said Mrs. Bird, compassionately, as the woman slowly unclosed her large, dark eyes, and looked vacantly at her. Suddenly an expression of agony crossed her face, and she sprang up, saying, “O, my Harry! Have they got him?"
The boy, at this, jumped from Cudjoe’s knee, and running to her side put up his arms. “O, he’s here! he’s here!” she exclaimed.
“O, ma’am!” said she, wildly, to Mrs. Bird, “do protect us! don’t let them get him!”
“Nobody shall hurt you here, poor woman,” said Mrs. Bird, encouragingly. “You are safe; don’t be afraid.”
“God bless you!” said the woman, covering her face and sobbing; while the little boy, seeing her crying, tried to get into her lap.
With many gentle and womanly offices, which none knew better how to render than Mrs. Bird, the poor woman was, in time, rendered more calm. A temporary bed was provided for her on the settle, near the fire; and, after a short time, she fell into a heavy slumber, with the child, who seemed no less weary, soundly sleeping on her arm; for the mother resisted, with nervous anxiety, the kindest attempts to take him from her; and, even in sleep, her arm encircled him with an unrelaxing clasp, as if she could not even then be beguiled of her vigilant hold.
Mr. and Mrs. Bird had gone back to the parlor, where, strange as it may appear, no reference was made, on either side, to the preceding conversation; but Mrs. Bird busied herself with her knitting-work, and Mr. Bird pretended to be reading the paper.
“I wonder who and what she is!” said Mr. Bird, at last, as he laid it down.
“When she wakes up and feels a little rested, we will see,” said Mrs. Bird.
“I say, wife!” said Mr. Bird after musing in silence over his newspaper.
“She couldn’t wear one of your gowns, could she, by any letting down, or such matter? She seems to be rather larger than you are.”
A quite perceptible smile glimmered on Mrs. Bird’s face, as she answered, “We’ll see.”
Another pause, and Mr. Bird again broke out,
“I say, wife!”
“Well! What now?”
“Why, there’s that old bombazin cloak, that you keep on purpose to put over me when I take my afternoon’s nap; you might as well give her that,—she needs clothes.”
At this instant, Dinah looked in to say that the woman was awake, and wanted to see Missis.
Mr. and Mrs. Bird went into the kitchen, followed by the two eldest boys, the smaller fry having, by this time, been safely disposed of in bed.
The woman was now sitting up on the settle, by the fire. She was looking steadily into the blaze, with a calm, heart-broken expression, very different from her former agitated wildness.
“Did you want me?” said Mrs. Bird, in gentle tones. “I hope you feel better now, poor woman!”
A long-drawn, shivering sigh was the only answer; but she lifted her dark eyes, and fixed them on her with such a forlorn and imploring expression, that the tears came into the little woman’s eyes.
“You needn’t be afraid of anything; we are friends here, poor woman! Tell me where you came from, and what you want,” said she.
“I came from Kentucky,” said the woman.
“When?” said Mr. Bird, taking up the interogatory.
“How did you come?”
“I crossed on the ice.”
“Crossed on the ice!” said every one present.
“Yes,” said the woman, slowly, “I did. God helping me, I crossed on the ice; for they were behind me—right behind—and there was no other way!”
“Law, Missis,” said Cudjoe, “the ice is all in broken-up blocks, a swinging and a tetering up and down in the water!”
“I know it was—I know it!” said she, wildly; “but I did it! I wouldn’t have thought I could,—I didn’t think I should get over, but I didn’t care! I could but die, if I didn’t. The Lord helped me; nobody knows how much the Lord can help ’em, till they try,” said the woman, with a flashing eye.
“Were you a slave?” said Mr. Bird.
“Yes, sir; I belonged to a man in Kentucky.”
“Was he unkind to you?”
“No, sir; he was a good master.”
“And was your mistress unkind to you?”
“No, sir—no! my mistress was always good to me.”
“What could induce you to leave a good home, then, and run away, and go through such dangers?”
The woman looked up at Mrs. Bird, with a keen, scrutinizing glance, and it did not escape her that she was dressed in deep mourning.
“Ma’am,” she said, suddenly, “have you ever lost a child?”
The question was unexpected, and it was thrust on a new wound; for it was only a month since a darling child of the family had been laid in the grave.
Mr. Bird turned around and walked to the window, and Mrs. Bird burst into tears; but, recovering her voice, she said,
“Why do you ask that? I have lost a little one.”
“Then you will feel for me. I have lost two, one after another,—left ’em buried there when I came away; and I had only this one left. I never slept a night without him; he was all I had. He was my comfort and pride, day and night; and, ma’am, they were going to take him away from me,—to sell him,—sell him down south, ma’am, to go all alone,—a baby that had never been away from his mother in his life! I couldn’t stand it, ma’am. I knew I never should be good for anything, if they did; and when I knew the papers the papers were signed, and he was sold, I took him and came off in the night; and they chased me,—the man that bought him, and some of Mas’r’s folks,—and they were coming down right behind me, and I heard ’em. I jumped right on to the ice; and how I got across, I don’t know,—but, first I knew, a man was helping me up the bank.”
The woman did not sob nor weep. She had gone to a place where tears are dry; but every one around her was, in some way characteristic of themselves, showing signs of hearty sympathy.
The two little boys, after a desperate rummaging in their pockets, in search of those pocket-handkerchiefs which mothers know are never to be found there, had thrown themselves disconsolately into the skirts of their mother’s gown, where they were sobbing, and wiping their eyes and noses, to their hearts’ content;—Mrs. Bird had her face fairly hidden in her pocket-handkerchief; and old Dinah, with tears streaming down her black, honest face, was ejaculating, “Lord have mercy on us!” with all the fervor of a camp-meeting;—while old Cudjoe, rubbing his eyes very hard with his cuffs, and making a most uncommon variety of wry faces, occasionally responded in the same key, with great fervor. Our senator was a statesman, and of course could not be expected to cry, like other mortals; and so he turned his back to the company, and looked out of the window, and seemed particularly busy in clearing his throat and wiping his spectacle-glasses, occasionally blowing his nose in a manner that was calculated to excite suspicion, had any one been in a state to observe critically.
“How came you to tell me you had a kind master?” he suddenly exclaimed, gulping down very resolutely some kind of rising in his throat, and turning suddenly round upon the woman.
“Because he was a kind master; I’ll say that of him, any way;—and my mistress was kind; but they couldn’t help themselves. They were owing money; and there was some way, I can’t tell how, that a man had a hold on them, and they were obliged to give him his will. I listened, and heard him telling mistress that, and she begging and pleading for me,—and he told her he couldn’t help himself, and that the papers were all drawn;—and then it was I took him and left my home, and came away. I knew ’t was no use of my trying to live, if they did it; for ’t ’pears like this child is all I have.”
“Have you no husband?”
“Yes, but he belongs to another man. His master is real hard to him, and won’t let him come to see me, hardly ever; and he’s grown harder and harder upon us, and he threatens to sell him down south;—it’s like I’ll never see him again!”
The quiet tone in which the woman pronounced these words might have led a superficial observer to think that she was entirely apathetic; but there was a calm, settled depth of anguish in her large, dark eye, that spoke of something far otherwise.
“And where do you mean to go, my poor woman?” said Mrs. Bird.
“To Canada, if I only knew where that was. Is it very far off, is Canada?” said she, looking up, with a simple, confiding air, to Mrs. Bird’s face.
“Poor thing!” said Mrs. Bird, involuntarily.
“Is ’t a very great way off, think?” said the woman, earnestly.
“Much further than you think, poor child!” said Mrs. Bird; “but we will try to think what can be done for you. Here, Dinah, make her up a bed in your own room, close by the kitchen, and I’ll think what to do for her in the morning. Meanwhile, never fear, poor woman; put your trust in God; he will protect you.”
Mrs. Bird and her husband reentered the parlor. She sat down in her little rocking-chair before the fire, swaying thoughtfully to and fro. Mr. Bird strode up and down the room, grumbling to himself, “Pish! pshaw! confounded awkward business!” At length, striding up to his wife, he said,
“I say, wife, she’ll have to get away from here, this very night. That fellow will be down on the scent bright and early tomorrow morning: if ’t was only the woman, she could lie quiet till it was over; but that little chap can’t be kept still by a troop of horse and foot, I’ll warrant me; he’ll bring it all out, popping his head out of some window or door. A pretty kettle of fish it would be for me, too, to be caught with them both here, just now! No; they’ll have to be got off tonight.”
“Tonight! How is it possible?—where to?”
“Well, I know pretty well where to,” said the senator, beginning to put on his boots, with a reflective air; and, stopping when his leg was half in, he embraced his knee with both hands, and seemed to go off in deep meditation.
“It’s a confounded awkward, ugly business,” said he, at last, beginning to tug at his boot-straps again, “and that’s a fact!” After one boot was fairly on, the senator sat with the other in his hand, profoundly studying the figure of the carpet. “It will have to be done, though, for aught I see,—hang it all!” and he drew the other boot anxiously on, and looked out of the window.
Now, little Mrs. Bird was a discreet woman,—a woman who never in her life said, “I told you so!” and, on the present occasion, though pretty well aware of the shape her husband’s meditations were taking, she very prudently forbore to meddle with them, only sat very quietly in her chair, and looked quite ready to hear her liege lord’s intentions, when he should think proper to utter them.
“You see,” he said, “there’s my old client, Van Trompe, has come over from Kentucky, and set all his slaves free; and he has bought a place seven miles up the creek, here, back in the woods, where nobody goes, unless they go on purpose; and it’s a place that isn’t found in a hurry. There she’d be safe enough; but the plague of the thing is, nobody could drive a carriage there tonight, but me.”
“Why not? Cudjoe is an excellent driver.”
“Ay, ay, but here it is. The creek has to be crossed twice; and the second crossing is quite dangerous, unless one knows it as I do. I have crossed it a hundred times on horseback, and know exactly the turns to take. And so, you see, there’s no help for it. Cudjoe must put in the horses, as quietly as may be, about twelve o’clock, and I’ll take her over; and then, to give color to the matter, he must carry me on to the next tavern to take the stage for Columbus, that comes by about three or four, and so it will look as if I had had the carriage only for that. I shall get into business bright and early in the morning. But I’m thinking I shall feel rather cheap there, after all that’s been said and done; but, hang it, I can’t help it!”
“Your heart is better than your head, in this case, John,” said the wife, laying her little white hand on his. “Could I ever have loved you, had I not known you better than you know yourself?” And the little woman looked so handsome, with the tears sparkling in her eyes, that the senator thought he must be a decidedly clever fellow, to get such a pretty creature into such a passionate admiration of him; and so, what could he do but walk off soberly, to see about the carriage. At the door, however, he stopped a moment, and then coming back, he said, with some hesitation.
“Mary, I don’t know how you’d feel about it, but there’s that drawer full of things—of—of—poor little Henry’s.” So saying, he turned quickly on his heel, and shut the door after him.
His wife opened the little bed-room door adjoining her room and, taking the candle, set it down on the top of a bureau there; then from a small recess she took a key, and put it thoughtfully in the lock of a drawer, and made a sudden pause, while two boys, who, boy like, had followed close on her heels, stood looking, with silent, significant glances, at their mother. And oh! mother that reads this, has there never been in your house a drawer, or a closet, the opening of which has been to you like the opening again of a little grave? Ah! happy mother that you are, if it has not been so.
Mrs. Bird slowly opened the drawer. There were little coats of many a form and pattern, piles of aprons, and rows of small stockings; and even a pair of little shoes, worn and rubbed at the toes, were peeping from the folds of a paper. There was a toy horse and wagon, a top, a ball,—memorials gathered with many a tear and many a heart-break! She sat down by the drawer, and, leaning her head on her hands over it, wept till the tears fell through her fingers into the drawer; then suddenly raising her head, she began, with nervous haste, selecting the plainest and most substantial articles, and gathering them into a bundle.
“Mamma,” said one of the boys, gently touching her arm, “you going to give away those things?”
“My dear boys,” she said, softly and earnestly, “if our dear, loving little Henry looks down from heaven, he would be glad to have us do this. I could not find it in my heart to give them away to any common person—to anybody that was happy; but I give them to a mother more heart-broken and sorrowful than I am; and I hope God will send his blessings with them!”
There are in this world blessed souls, whose sorrows all spring up into joys for others; whose earthly hopes, laid in the grave with many tears, are the seed from which spring healing flowers and balm for the desolate and the distressed. Among such was the delicate woman who sits there by the lamp, dropping slow tears, while she prepares the memorials of her own lost one for the outcast wanderer.
After a while, Mrs. Bird opened a wardrobe, and, taking from thence a plain, serviceable dress or two, she sat down busily to her work-table, and, with needle, scissors, and thimble, at hand, quietly commenced the “letting down” process which her husband had recommended, and continued busily at it till the old clock in the corner struck twelve, and she heard the low rattling of wheels at the door.
“Mary,” said her husband, coming in, with his overcoat in his hand, “you must wake her up now; we must be off.”
Mrs. Bird hastily deposited the various articles she had collected in a small plain trunk, and locking it, desired her husband to see it in the carriage, and then proceeded to call the woman. Soon, arrayed in a cloak, bonnet, and shawl, that had belonged to her benefactress, she appeared at the door with her child in her arms. Mr. Bird hurried her into the carriage, and Mrs. Bird pressed on after her to the carriage steps. Eliza leaned out of the carriage, and put out her hand,—a hand as soft and beautiful as was given in return. She fixed her large, dark eyes, full of earnest meaning, on Mrs. Bird’s face, and seemed going to speak. Her lips moved,—she tried once or twice, but there was no sound,—and pointing upward, with a look never to be forgotten, she fell back in the seat, and covered her face. The door was shut, and the carriage drove on.
What a situation, now, for a patriotic senator, that had been all the week before spurring up the legislature of his native state to pass more stringent resolutions against escaping fugitives, their harborers and abettors!
Our good senator in his native state had not been exceeded by any of his brethren at Washington, in the sort of eloquence which has won for them immortal renown! How sublimely he had sat with his hands in his pockets, and scouted all sentimental weakness of those who would put the welfare of a few miserable fugitives before great state interests!
He was as bold as a lion about it, and “mightily convinced” not only himself, but everybody that heard him;—but then his idea of a fugitive was only an idea of the letters that spell the word,—or at the most, the image of a little newspaper picture of a man with a stick and bundle with “Ran away from the subscriber” under it. The magic of the real presence of distress,—the imploring human eye, the frail, trembling human hand, the despairing appeal of helpless agony,—these he had never tried. He had never thought that a fugitive might be a hapless mother, a defenceless child,—like that one which was now wearing his lost boy’s little wellknown cap; and so, as our poor senator was not stone or steel,—as he was a man, and a downright noble-hearted one, too,—he was, as everybody must see, in a sad case for his patriotism. And you need not exult over him, good brother of the Southern States; for we have some inklings that many of you, under similar circumstances, would not do much better. We have reason to know, in Kentucky, as in Mississippi, are noble and generous hearts, to whom never was tale of suffering told in vain. Ah, good brother! is it fair for you to expect of us services which your own brave, honorable heart would not allow you to render, were you in our place?
Be that as it may, if our good senator was a political sinner, he was in a fair way to expiate it by his night’s penance. There had been a long continuous period of rainy weather, and the soft, rich earth of Ohio, as every one knows, is admirably suited to the manufacture of mud—and the road was an Ohio railroad of the good old times.
“And pray, what sort of a road may that be?” says some eastern traveller, who has been accustomed to connect no ideas with a railroad, but those of smoothness or speed.
Know, then, innocent eastern friend, that in benighted regions of the west, where the mud is of unfathomable and sublime depth, roads are made of round rough logs, arranged transversely side by side, and coated over in their pristine freshness with earth, turf, and whatsoever may come to hand, and then the rejoicing native calleth it a road, and straightway essayeth to ride thereupon. In process of time, the rains wash off all the turf and grass aforesaid, move the logs hither and thither, in picturesque positions, up, down and crosswise, with divers chasms and ruts of black mud intervening.
Over such a road as this our senator went stumbling along, making moral reflections as continuously as under the circumstances could be expected,—the carriage proceeding along much as follows,—bump! bump! bump! slush! down in the mud!—the senator, woman and child, reversing their positions so suddenly as to come, without any very accurate adjustment, against the windows of the downhill side. Carriage sticks fast, while Cudjoe on the outside is heard making a great muster among the horses. After various ineffectual pullings and twitchings, just as the senator is losing all patience, the carriage suddenly rights itself with a bounce,— two front wheels go down into another abyss, and senator, woman, and child, all tumble promiscuously on to the front seat,—senator’s hat is jammed over his eyes and nose quite unceremoniously, and he considers himself fairly extinguished;— child cries, and Cudjoe on the outside delivers animated addresses to the horses, who are kicking, and floundering, and straining under repeated cracks of the whip. Carriage springs up, with another bounce,—down go the hind wheels,—senator, woman, and child, fly over on to the back seat, his elbows encountering her bonnet, and both her feet being jammed into his hat, which flies off in the concussion. After a few moments the “slough” is passed, and the horses stop, panting;—the senator finds his hat, the woman straightens her bonnet and hushes her child, and they brace themselves for what is yet to come.
For a while only the continuous bump! bump! intermingled, just by way of variety, with divers side plunges and compound shakes; and they begin to flatter themselves that they are not so badly off, after all. At last, with a square plunge, which puts all on to their feet and then down into their seats with incredible quickness, the carriage stops,—and, after much outside commotion, Cudjoe appears at the door.
“Please, sir, it’s powerful bad spot, this’ yer. I don’t know how we’s to get clar out. I’m a thinkin’ we’ll have to be a gettin’ rails.”
The senator despairingly steps out, picking gingerly for some firm foothold; down goes one foot an immeasurable depth,—he tries to pull it up, loses his balance, and tumbles over into the mud, and is fished out, in a very despairing condition, by Cudjoe.
But we forbear, out of sympathy to our readers’ bones. Western travellers, who have beguiled the midnight hour in the interesting process of pulling down rail fences, to pry their carriages out of mud holes, will have a respectful and mournful sympathy with our unfortunate hero. We beg them to drop a silent tear, and pass on.
It was full late in the night when the carriage emerged, dripping and bespattered, out of the creek, and stood at the door of a large farmhouse.
It took no inconsiderable perseverance to arouse the inmates; but at last the respectable proprietor appeared, and undid the door. He was a great, tall, bristling Orson of a fellow, full six feet and some inches in his stockings, and arrayed in a red flannel hunting-shirt. A very heavy mat of sandy hair, in a decidedly tousled condition, and a beard of some days’ growth, gave the worthy man an appearance, to say the least, not particularly prepossessing. He stood for a few minutes holding the candle aloft, and blinking on our travellers with a dismal and mystified expression that was truly ludicrous. It cost some effort of our senator to induce him to comprehend the case fully; and while he is doing his best at that, we shall give him a little introduction to our readers.
Honest old John Van Trompe was once quite a considerable land-owner and slave-owner in the State of Kentucky. Having “nothing of the bear about him but the skin,” and being gifted by nature with a great, honest, just heart, quite equal to his gigantic frame, he had been for some years witnessing with repressed uneasiness the workings of a system equally bad for oppressor and oppressed. At last, one day, John’s great heart had swelled altogether too big to wear his bonds any longer; so he just took his pocket-book out of his desk, and went over into Ohio, and bought a quarter of a township of good, rich land, made out free papers for all his people,— men, women, and children,—packed them up in wagons, and sent them off to settle down; and then honest John turned his face up the creek, and sat quietly down on a snug, retired farm, to enjoy his conscience and his reflections.
“Are you the man that will shelter a poor woman and child from slave-catchers?” said the senator, explicitly.
“I rather think I am,” said honest John, with some considerable emphasis.
“I thought so,” said the senator.
“If there’s anybody comes,” said the good man, stretching his tall, muscular form upward, “why here I’m ready for him: and I’ve got seven sons, each six foot high, and they’ll be ready for ’em. Give our respects to ’em,” said John; “tell ’em it’s no matter how soon they call,—make no kinder difference to us,” said John, running his fingers through the shock of hair that thatched his head, and bursting out into a great laugh.
Weary, jaded, and spiritless, Eliza dragged herself up to the door, with her child lying in a heavy sleep on her arm. The rough man held the candle to her face, and uttering a kind of compassionate grunt, opened the door of a small bed-room adjoining to the large kitchen where they were standing, and motioned her to go in. He took down a candle, and lighting it, set it upon the table, and then addressed himself to Eliza.
“Now, I say, gal, you needn’t be a bit afeard, let who will come here. I’m up to all that sort o’ thing,” said he, pointing to two or three goodly rifles over the mantelpiece; “and most people that know me know that ’t wouldn’t be healthy to try to get anybody out o’ my house when I’m agin it. So now you jist go to sleep now, as quiet as if yer mother was a rockin’ ye,” said he, as he shut the door.
“Why, this is an uncommon handsome un,” he said to the senator. “Ah, well; handsome uns has the greatest cause to run, sometimes, if they has any kind o’ feelin, such as decent women should. I know all about that.”
The senator, in a few words, briefly explained Eliza’s history.
“O! ou! aw! now, I want to know?” said the good man, pitifully; “sho! now sho! That’s natur now, poor crittur! hunted down now like a deer,—hunted down, jest for havin’ natural feelin’s, and doin’ what no kind o’ mother could help a doin’! I tell ye what, these yer things make me come the nighest to swearin’, now, o’ most anything,” said honest John, as he wiped his eyes with the back of a great, freckled, yellow hand. “I tell yer what, stranger, it was years and years before I’d jine the church, ’cause the ministers round in our parts used to preach that the Bible went in for these ere cuttings up,—and I couldn’t be up to ’em with their Greek and Hebrew, and so I took up agin ’em, Bible and all. I never jined the church till I found a minister that was up to ’em all in Greek and all that, and he said right the contrary; and then I took right hold, and jined the church,—I did now, fact,” said John, who had been all this time uncorking some very frisky bottled cider, which at this juncture he presented.
“Ye’d better jest put up here, now, till daylight,” said he, heartily, “and I’ll call up the old woman, and have a bed got ready for you in no time.”
“Thank you, my good friend,” said the senator, “I must be along, to take the night stage for Columbus.”
“Ah! well, then, if you must, I’ll go a piece with you, and show you a cross road that will take you there better than the road you came on. That road’s mighty bad.”
John equipped himself, and, with a lantern in hand, was soon seen guiding the senator’s carriage towards a road that ran down in a hollow, back of his dwelling. When they parted, the senator put into his hand a ten-dollar bill.
“It’s for her,” he said, briefly.
“Ay, ay,” said John, with equal conciseness.
They shook hands, and parted.
“A young star! which shone
O’er life—too sweet an image, for such glass!
A lovely being, scarcely formed or moulded;
A rose with all its sweetest leaves yet folded.”
The Mississippi! How, as by an enchanted wand, have its scenes been changed, since Chateaubriand wrote his prose-poetic description of it,* as a river of mighty, unbroken solitudes, rolling amid undreamed wonders of vegetable and animal existence.
But as in an hour, this river of dreams and wild romance has emerged to a reality scarcely less visionary and splendid. What other river of the world bears on its bosom to the ocean the wealth and enterprise of such another country?—a country whose products embrace all between the tropics and the poles! Those turbid waters, hurrying, foaming, tearing along, an apt resemblance of that headlong tide of business which is poured along its wave by a race more vehement and energetic than any the old world ever saw. Ah! would that they did not also bear along a more fearful freight,—the tears of the oppressed, the sighs of the helpless, the bitter prayers of poor, ignorant hearts to an unknown God—unknown, unseen and silent, but who will yet “come out of his place to save all the poor of the earth!”
The slanting light of the setting sun quivers on the sea-like expanse of the river; the shivery canes, and the tall, dark cypress, hung with wreaths of dark, funereal moss, glow in the golden ray, as the heavily-laden steamboat marches onward.
Piled with cotton-bales, from many a plantation, up over deck and sides, till she seems in the distance a square, massive block of gray, she moves heavily onward to the nearing mart. We must look some time among its crowded decks before we shall find again our humble friend Tom. High on the upper deck, in a little nook among the everywhere predominant cotton-bales, at last we may find him.
Partly from confidence inspired by Mr. Shelby’s representations, and partly from the remarkably inoffensive and quiet character of the man, Tom had insensibly won his way far into the confidence even of such a man as Haley.
At first he had watched him narrowly through the day, and never allowed him to sleep at night unfettered; but the uncomplaining patience and apparent contentment of Tom’s manner led him gradually to discontinue these restraints, and for some time Tom had enjoyed a sort of parole of honor, being permitted to come and go freely where he pleased on the boat.
Ever quiet and obliging, and more than ready to lend a hand in every emergency which occurred among the workmen below, he had won the good opinion of all the hands, and spent many hours in helping them with as hearty a good will as ever he worked on a Kentucky farm.
When there seemed to be nothing for him to do, he would climb to a nook among the cotton-bales of the upper deck, and busy himself in studying over his Bible,—and it is there we see him now.
For a hundred or more miles above New Orleans, the river is higher than the surrounding country, and rolls its tremendous volume between massive levees twenty feet in height. The traveller from the deck of the steamer, as from some floating castle top, overlooks the whole country for miles and miles around. Tom, therefore, had spread out full before him, in plantation after plantation, a map of the life to which he was approaching.
He saw the distant slaves at their toil; he saw afar their villages of huts gleaming out in long rows on many a plantation, distant from the stately mansions and pleasure-grounds of the master;—and as the moving picture passed on, his poor, foolish heart would be turning backward to the Kentucky farm, with its old shadowy beeches,—to the master’s house, with its wide, cool halls, and, near by, the little cabin overgrown with the multiflora and bignonia. There he seemed to see familiar faces of comrades who had grown up with him from infancy; he saw his busy wife, bustling in her preparations for his evening meals; he heard the merry laugh of his boys at their play, and the chirrup of the baby at his knee; and then, with a start, all faded, and he saw again the canebrakes and cypresses and gliding plantations, and heard again the creaking and groaning of the machinery, all telling him too plainly that all that phase of life had gone by forever.
In such a case, you write to your wife, and send messages to your children; but Tom could not write,—the mail for him had no existence, and the gulf of separation was unbridged by even a friendly word or signal.
Is it strange, then, that some tears fall on the pages of his Bible, as he lays it on the cotton-bale, and, with patient finger, threading his slow way from word to word, traces out its promises? Having learned late in life, Tom was but a slow reader, and passed on laboriously from verse to verse. Fortunate for him was it that the book he was intent on was one which slow reading cannot injure,—nay, one whose words, like ingots of gold, seem often to need to be weighed separately, that the mind may take in their priceless value. Let us follow him a moment, as, pointing to each word, and pronouncing each half aloud, he reads,
“Let—not—your—heart—be—troubled. In—my —Father’s—house—are— many—mansions. I—go—to—prepare—a—place—for—you.”
Cicero, when he buried his darling and only daughter, had a heart as full of honest grief as poor Tom’s,—perhaps no fuller, for both were only men;—but Cicero could pause over no such sublime words of hope, and look to no such future reunion; and if he had seen them, ten to one he would not have believed,—he must fill his head first with a thousand questions of authenticity of manuscript, and correctness of translation. But, to poor Tom, there it lay, just what he needed, so evidently true and divine that the possibility of a question never entered his simple head. It must be true; for, if not true, how could he live?
As for Tom’s Bible, though it had no annotations and helps in margin from learned commentators, still it had been embellished with certain way-marks and guide-boards of Tom’s own invention, and which helped him more than the most learned expositions could have done. It had been his custom to get the Bible read to him by his master’s children, in particular by young Master George; and, as they read, he would designate, by bold, strong marks and dashes, with pen and ink, the passages which more particularly gratified his ear or affected his heart. His Bible was thus marked through, from one end to the other, with a variety of styles and designations; so he could in a moment seize upon his favorite passages, without the labor of spelling out what lay between them;—and while it lay there before him, every passage breathing of some old home scene, and recalling some past enjoyment, his Bible seemed to him all of this life that remained, as well as the promise of a future one.
Among the passengers on the boat was a young gentleman of fortune and family, resident in New Orleans, who bore the name of St. Clare. He had with him a daughter between five and six years of age, together with a lady who seemed to claim relationship to both, and to have the little one especially under her charge.
Tom had often caught glimpses of this little girl,—for she was one of those busy, tripping creatures, that can be no more contained in one place than a sunbeam or a summer breeze,—nor was she one that, once seen, could be easily forgotten.
Her form was the perfection of childish beauty, without its usual chubbiness and squareness of outline. There was about it an undulating and aerial grace, such as one might dream of for some mythic and allegorical being. Her face was remarkable less for its perfect beauty of feature than for a singular and dreamy earnestness of expression, which made the ideal start when they looked at her, and by which the dullest and most literal were impressed, without exactly knowing why. The shape of her head and the turn of her neck and bust was peculiarly noble, and the long golden-brown hair that floated like a cloud around it, the deep spiritual gravity of her violet blue eyes, shaded by heavy fringes of golden brown,—all marked her out from other children, and made every one turn and look after her, as she glided hither and thither on the boat. Nevertheless, the little one was not what you would have called either a grave child or a sad one. On the contrary, an airy and innocent playfulness seemed to flicker like the shadow of summer leaves over her childish face, and around her buoyant figure. She was always in motion, always with a half smile on her rosy mouth, flying hither and thither, with an undulating and cloudlike tread, singing to herself as she moved as in a happy dream. Her father and female guardian were incessantly busy in pursuit of her,—but, when caught, she melted from them again like a summer cloud; and as no word of chiding or reproof ever fell on her ear for whatever she chose to do, she pursued her own way all over the boat. Always dressed in white, she seemed to move like a shadow through all sorts of places, without contracting spot or stain; and there was not a corner or nook, above or below, where those fairy footsteps had not glided, and that visionary golden head, with its deep blue eyes, fleeted along.
The fireman, as he looked up from his sweaty toil, sometimes found those eyes looking wonderingly into the raging depths of the furnace, and fearfully and pityingly at him, as if she thought him in some dreadful danger. Anon the steersman at the wheel paused and smiled, as the picture-like head gleamed through the window of the round house, and in a moment was gone again. A thousand times a day rough voices blessed her, and smiles of unwonted softness stole over hard faces, as she passed; and when she tripped fearlessly over dangerous places, rough, sooty hands were stretched involuntarily out to save her, and smooth her path.
Tom, who had the soft, impressible nature of his kindly race, ever yearning toward the simple and childlike, watched the little creature with daily increasing interest. To him she seemed something almost divine; and whenever her golden head and deep blue eyes peered out upon him from behind some dusky cottonbale, or looked down upon him over some ridge of packages, he half believed that he saw one of the angels stepped out of his New Testament.
Often and often she walked mournfully round the place where Haley’s gang of men and women sat in their chains. She would glide in among them, and look at them with an air of perplexed and sorrowful earnestness; and sometimes she would lift their chains with her slender hands, and then sigh wofully, as she glided away. Several times she appeared suddenly among them, with her hands full of candy, nuts, and oranges, which she would distribute joyfully to them, and then be gone again.
Tom watched the little lady a great deal, before he ventured on any overtures towards acquaintanceship. He knew an abundance of simple acts to propitiate and invite the approaches of the little people, and he resolved to play his part right skilfully. He could cut cunning little baskets out of cherry-stones, could make grotesque faces on hickory-nuts, or odd-jumping figures out of elder-pith, and he was a very Pan in the manufacture of whistles of all sizes and sorts. His pockets were full of miscellaneous articles of attraction, which he had hoarded in days of old for his master’s children, and which he now produced, with commendable prudence and economy, one by one, as overtures for acquaintance and friendship.
The little one was shy, for all her busy interest in everything going on, and it was not easy to tame her. For a while, she would perch like a canary-bird on some box or package near Tom, while busy in the little arts afore-named, and take from him, with a kind of grave bashfulness, the little articles he offered. But at last they got on quite confidential terms.
“What’s little missy’s name?” said Tom, at last, when he thought matters were ripe to push such an inquiry.
“Evangeline St. Clare,” said the little one, “though papa and everybody else call me Eva. Now, what’s your name?”
“My name’s Tom; the little chil’en used to call me Uncle Tom, way back thar in Kentuck.”
“Then I mean to call you Uncle Tom, because, you see, I like you,” said Eva. “So, Uncle Tom, where are you going?”
“I don’t know, Miss Eva.”
“Don’t know?” said Eva.
“No, I am going to be sold to somebody. I don’t know who.”
“My papa can buy you,” said Eva, quickly; “and if he buys you, you will have good times. I mean to ask him, this very day.”
“Thank you, my little lady,” said Tom.
The boat here stopped at a small landing to take in wood, and Eva, hearing her father’s voice, bounded nimbly away. Tom rose up, and went forward to offer his service in wooding, and soon was busy among the hands.
Eva and her father were standing together by the railings to see the boat start from the landing-place, the wheel had made two or three revolutions in the water, when, by some sudden movement, the little one suddenly lost her balance and fell sheer over the side of the boat into the water. Her father, scarce knowing what he did, was plunging in after her, but was held back by some behind him, who saw that more efficient aid had followed his child.
Tom was standing just under her on the lower deck, as she fell. He saw her strike the water, and sink, and was after her in a moment. A broad-chested, strongarmed fellow, it was nothing for him to keep afloat in the water, till, in a moment or two the child rose to the surface, and he caught her in his arms, and, swimming with her to the boat-side, handed her up, all dripping, to the grasp of hundreds of hands, which, as if they had all belonged to one man, were stretched eagerly out to receive her. A few moments more, and her father bore her, dripping and senseless, to the ladies’ cabin, where, as is usual in cases of the kind, there ensued a very well-meaning and kind-hearted strife among the female occupants generally, as to who should do the most things to make a disturbance, and to hinder her recovery in every way possible.
It was a sultry, close day, the next day, as the steamer drew near to New Orleans. A general bustle of expectation and preparation was spread through the boat; in the cabin, one and another were gathering their things together, and arranging them, preparatory to going ashore. The steward and chambermaid, and all, were busily engaged in cleaning, furbishing, and arranging the splendid boat, preparatory to a grand entree.
On the lower deck sat our friend Tom, with his arms folded, and anxiously, from time to time, turning his eyes towards a group on the other side of the boat.
There stood the fair Evangeline, a little paler than the day before, but otherwise exhibiting no traces of the accident which had befallen her. A graceful, elegantly-formed young man stood by her, carelessly leaning one elbow on a bale of cotton while a large pocket-book lay open before him. It was quite evident, at a glance, that the gentleman was Eva’s father. There was the same noble cast of head, the same large blue eyes, the same golden-brown hair; yet the expression was wholly different. In the large, clear blue eyes, though in form and color exactly similar, there was wanting that misty, dreamy depth of expression; all was clear, bold, and bright, but with a light wholly of this world: the beautifully cut mouth had a proud and somewhat sarcastic expression, while an air of free-and-easy superiority sat not ungracefully in every turn and movement of his fine form. He was listening, with a good-humored, negligent air, half comic, half contemptuous, to Haley, who was very volubly expatiating on the quality of the article for which they were bargaining.
“All the moral and Christian virtues bound in black Morocco, complete!” he said, when Haley had finished. “Well, now, my good fellow, what’s the damage, as they say in Kentucky; in short, what’s to be paid out for this business? How much are you going to cheat me, now? Out with it!”
“Wal,” said Haley, “if I should say thirteen hundred dollars for that ar fellow, I shouldn’t but just save myself; I shouldn’t, now, re’ly.”
“Poor fellow!” said the young man, fixing his keen, mocking blue eye on him; “but I suppose you’d let me have him for that, out of a particular regard for me.”
“Well, the young lady here seems to be sot on him, and nat’lly enough.”
“O! certainly, there’s a call on your benevolence, my friend. Now, as a matter of Christian charity, how cheap could you afford to let him go, to oblige a young lady that’s particular sot on him?”
“Wal, now, just think on ’t,” said the trader; “just look at them limbs,—broadchested, strong as a horse. Look at his head; them high forrads allays shows calculatin niggers, that’ll do any kind o’ thing. I’ve, marked that ar. Now, a nigger of that ar heft and build is worth considerable, just as you may say, for his body, supposin he’s stupid; but come to put in his calculatin faculties, and them which I can show he has oncommon, why, of course, it makes him come higher. Why, that ar fellow managed his master’s whole farm. He has a strornary talent for business.”
“Bad, bad, very bad; knows altogether too much!” said the young man, with the same mocking smile playing about his mouth. “Never will do, in the world. Your smart fellows are always running off, stealing horses, and raising the devil generally. I think you’ll have to take off a couple of hundred for his smartness.”
“Wal, there might be something in that ar, if it warnt for his character; but I can show recommends from his master and others, to prove he is one of your real pious,—the most humble, prayin, pious crittur ye ever did see. Why, he’s been called a preacher in them parts he came from.”
“And I might use him for a family chaplain, possibly,” added the young man, dryly. “That’s quite an idea. Religion is a remarkably scarce article at our house.”
“You’re joking, now.”
“How do you know I am? Didn’t you just warrant him for a preacher? Has he been examined by any synod or council? Come, hand over your papers.”
If the trader had not been sure, by a certain good-humored twinkle in the large eye, that all this banter was sure, in the long run, to turn out a cash concern, he might have been somewhat out of patience; as it was, he laid down a greasy pocketbook on the cotton-bales, and began anxiously studying over certain papers in it, the young man standing by, the while, looking down on him with an air of careless, easy drollery.
“Papa, do buy him! it’s no matter what you pay,” whispered Eva, softly, getting up on a package, and putting her arm around her father’s neck. “You have money enough, I know. I want him.”
“What for, pussy? Are you going to use him for a rattle-box, or a rocking-horse, or what?
“I want to make him happy.”
“An original reason, certainly.”
Here the trader handed up a certificate, signed by Mr. Shelby, which the young man took with the tips of his long fingers, and glanced over carelessly.
“A gentlemanly hand,” he said, “and well spelt, too. Well, now, but I’m not sure, after all, about this religion,” said he, the old wicked expression returning to his eye; “the country is almost ruined with pious white people; such pious politicians as we have just before elections,—such pious goings on in all departments of church and state, that a fellow does not know who’ll cheat him next. I don’t know, either, about religion’s being up in the market, just now. I have not looked in the papers lately, to see how it sells. How many hundred dollars, now, do you put on for this religion?”
“You like to be jokin, now,” said the trader; “but, then, there’s sense under all that ar. I know there’s differences in religion. Some kinds is mis’rable: there’s your meetin pious; there’s your singin, roarin pious; them ar an’t no account, in black or white;—but these rayly is; and I’ve seen it in niggers as often as any, your rail softly, quiet, stiddy, honest, pious, that the hull world couldn’t tempt ’em to do nothing that they thinks is wrong; and ye see in this letter what Tom’s old master says about him.”
“Now,” said the young man, stooping gravely over his book of bills, “if you can assure me that I really can buy this kind of pious, and that it will be set down to my account in the book up above, as something belonging to me, I wouldn’t care if I did go a little extra for it. How d’ye say?”
“Wal, raily, I can’t do that,” said the trader. “I’m a thinkin that every man’ll have to hang on his own hook, in them ar quarters.”
“Rather hard on a fellow that pays extra on religion, and can’t trade with it in the state where he wants it most, an’t it, now?” said the young man, who had been making out a roll of bills while he was speaking. “There, count your money, old boy!” he added, as he handed the roll to the trader.
“All right,” said Haley, his face beaming with delight; and pulling out an old inkhorn, he proceeded to fill out a bill of sale, which, in a few moments, he handed to the young man.
“I wonder, now, if I was divided up and inventoried,” said the latter as he ran over the paper, “how much I might bring. Say so much for the shape of my head, so much for a high forehead, so much for arms, and hands, and legs, and then so much for education, learning, talent, honesty, religion! Bless me! there would be small charge on that last, I’m thinking. But come, Eva,” he said; and taking the hand of his daughter, he stepped across the boat, and carelessly putting the tip of his finger under Tom’s chin, said, good-humoredly, “Look-up, Tom, and see how you like your new master.”
Tom looked up. It was not in nature to look into that gay, young, handsome face, without a feeling of pleasure; and Tom felt the tears start in his eyes as he said, heartily, “God bless you, Mas’r!”
“Well, I hope he will. What’s your name? Tom? Quite as likely to do it for your asking as mine, from all accounts. Can you drive horses, Tom?”
“I’ve been allays used to horses,” said Tom. “Mas’r Shelby raised heaps of ’em.”
“Well, I think I shall put you in coachy, on condition that you won’t be drunk more than once a week, unless in cases of emergency, Tom.”
Tom looked surprised, and rather hurt, and said, “I never drink, Mas’r.”
“I’ve heard that story before, Tom; but then we’ll see. It will be a special accommodation to all concerned, if you don’t. Never mind, my boy,” he added, good-humoredly, seeing Tom still looked grave;
“I don’t doubt you mean to do well.”
“I sartin do, Mas’r,” said Tom.
“And you shall have good times,” said Eva. “Papa is very good to everybody, only he always will laugh at them.”
“Papa is much obliged to you for his recommendation,” said St. Clare, laughing, as he turned on his heel and walked away.
One morning, while Miss Ophelia was busy in some of her domestic cares, St. Clare’s voice was heard, calling her at the foot of the stairs.
“Come down here, Cousin, I’ve something to show you.”
“What is it?” said Miss Ophelia, coming down, with her sewing in her hand.
“I’ve made a purchase for your department,—see here,” said St. Clare; and, with the word, he pulled along a little negro girl, about eight or nine years of age.
She was one of the blackest of her race; and her round shining eyes, glittering as glass beads, moved with quick and restless glances over everything in the room. Her mouth, half open with astonishment at the wonders of the new Mas’r’s parlor, displayed a white and brilliant set of teeth. Her woolly hair was braided in sundry little tails, which stuck out in every direction. The expression of her face was an odd mixture of shrewdness and cunning, over which was oddly drawn, like a kind of veil, an expression of the most doleful gravity and solemnity. She was dressed in a single filthy, ragged garment, made of bagging; and stood with her hands demurely folded before her. Altogether, there was something odd and goblin-like about her appearance,—something, as Miss Ophelia afterwards said, “so heathenish,” as to inspire that good lady with utter dismay; and turning to St. Clare, she said,
“Augustine, what in the world have you brought that thing here for?”
“For you to educate, to be sure, and train in the way she should go. I thought she was rather a funny specimen in the Jim Crow line. Here, Topsy,” he added, giving a whistle, as a man would to call the attention of a dog, “give us a song, now, and show us some of your dancing.”
The black, glassy eyes glittered with a kind of wicked drollery, and the thing struck up, in a clear shrill voice, an odd negro melody, to which she kept time with her hands and feet, spinning round, clapping her hands, knocking her knees together, in a wild, fantastic sort of time, and producing in her throat all those odd guttural sounds which distinguish the native music of her race; and finally, turning a summerset or two, and giving a prolonged closing note, as odd and unearthly as that of a steam-whistle, she came suddenly down on the carpet, and stood with her hands folded, and a most sanctimonious expression of meekness and solemnity over her face, only broken by the cunning glances which she shot askance from the corners of her eyes.
Miss Ophelia stood silent, perfectly paralyzed with amazement. St. Clare, like a mischievous fellow as he was, appeared to enjoy her astonishment; and, addressing the child again, said,
“Topsy, this is your new mistress. I’m going to give you up to her; see now that you behave yourself.”
“Yes, Mas’r,” said Topsy, with sanctimonious gravity, her wicked eyes twinkling as she spoke.
“You’re going to be good, Topsy, you understand,” said St. Clare.
“O yes, Mas’r,” said Topsy, with another twinkle, her hands still devoutly folded.
“Now, Augustine, what upon earth is this for?” said Miss Ophelia. “Your house is so full of these little plagues, now, that a body can’t set down their foot without treading on ’em. I get up in the morning, and find one asleep behind the door, and see one black head poking out from under the table, one lying on the door-mat,—and they are mopping and mowing and grinning between all the railings, and tumbling over the kitchen floor! What on earth did you want to bring this one for?”
“For you to educate—didn’t I tell you? You’re always preaching about educating. I thought I would make you a present of a fresh-caught specimen, and let you try your hand on her, and bring her up in the way she should go.”
“I don’t want her, I am sure;—I have more to do with ’em now than I want to.”
“That’s you Christians, all over!—you’ll get up a society, and get some poor missionary to spend all his days among just such heathen. But let me see one of you that would take one into your house with you, and take the labor of their conversion on yourselves! No; when it comes to that, they are dirty and disagreeable, and it’s too much care, and so on.”
“Augustine, you know I didn’t think of it in that light,” said Miss Ophelia, evidently softening. “Well, it might be a real missionary work,” said she, looking rather more favorably on the child.
St. Clare had touched the right string. Miss Ophelia’s conscientiousness was ever on the alert. “But,” she added, “I really didn’t see the need of buying this one;—there are enough now, in your house, to take all my time and skill.”
“Well, then, Cousin,” said St. Clare, drawing her aside, “I ought to beg your pardon for my good-for-nothing speeches. You are so good, after all, that there’s no sense in them. Why, the fact is, this concern belonged to a couple of drunken creatures that keep a low restaurant that I have to pass by every day, and I was tired of hearing her screaming, and them beating and swearing at her. She looked bright and funny, too, as if something might be made of her;—so I bought her, and I’ll give her to you. Try, now, and give her a good orthodox New England bringing up, and see what it’ll make of her. You know I haven’t any gift that way; but I’d like you to try.”
“Well, I’ll do what I can,” said Miss Ophelia; and she approached her new subject very much as a person might be supposed to approach a black spider, supposing them to have benevolent designs toward it.
“She’s dreadfully dirty, and half naked,” she said.
“Well, take her down stairs, and make some of them clean and clothe her up.”
Miss Ophelia carried her to the kitchen regions.
“Don’t see what Mas’r St. Clare wants of ’nother nigger!” said Dinah, surveying the new arrival with no friendly air. “Won’t have her around under my feet, I know!”
“Pah!” said Rosa and Jane, with supreme disgust; “let her keep out of our way! What in the world Mas’r wanted another of these low niggers for, I can’t see!”
“You go long! No more nigger dan you be, Miss Rosa,” said Dinah, who felt this last remark a reflection on herself. “You seem to tink yourself white folks. You an’t nerry one, black nor white, I’d like to be one or turrer.”
Miss Ophelia saw that there was nobody in the camp that would undertake to oversee the cleansing and dressing of the new arrival; and so she was forced to do it herself, with some very ungracious and reluctant assistance from Jane.
It is not for ears polite to hear the particulars of the first toilet of a neglected, abused child. In fact, in this world, multitudes must live and die in a state that it would be too great a shock to the nerves of their fellow-mortals even to hear described. Miss Ophelia had a good, strong, practical deal of resolution; and she went through all the disgusting details with heroic thoroughness, though, it must be confessed, with no very gracious air,—for endurance was the utmost to which her principles could bring her. When she saw, on the back and shoulders of the child, great welts and calloused spots, ineffaceable marks of the system under which she had grown up thus far, her heart became pitiful within her.
“See there!” said Jane, pointing to the marks, “don’t that show she’s a limb? We’ll have fine works with her, I reckon. I hate these nigger young uns! so disgusting! I wonder that Mas’r would buy her!”
The “young un” alluded to heard all these comments with the subdued and doleful air which seemed habitual to her, only scanning, with a keen and furtive glance of her flickering eyes, the ornaments which Jane wore in her ears. When arrayed at last in a suit of decent and whole clothing, her hair cropped short to her head, Miss Ophelia, with some satisfaction, said she looked more Christian-like than she did, and in her own mind began to mature some plans for her instruction.
Sitting down before her, she began to question her.
“How old are you, Topsy?”
“Dun no, Missis,” said the image, with a grin that showed all her teeth.
“Don’t know how old you are? Didn’t anybody ever tell you? Who was your mother?”
“Never had none!” said the child, with another grin.
“Never had any mother? What do you mean? Where were you born?”
“Never was born!” persisted Topsy, with another grin, that looked so goblinlike, that, if Miss Ophelia had been at all nervous, she might have fancied that she had got hold of some sooty gnome from the land of Diablerie; but Miss Ophelia was not nervous, but plain and business-like, and she said, with some sternness,
“You mustn’t answer me in that way, child; I’m not playing with you. Tell me where you were born, and who your father and mother were.”
“Never was born,” reiterated the creature, more emphatically; “never had no father nor mother, nor nothin’. I was raised by a speculator, with lots of others. Old Aunt Sue used to take car on us.”
The child was evidently sincere, and Jane, breaking into a short laugh, said,
“Laws, Missis, there’s heaps of ’em. Speculators buys ’em up cheap, when they’s little, and gets ’em raised for market.”
“How long have you lived with your master and mistress?”
“Dun no, Missis.”
“Is it a year, or more, or less?”
“Dun no, Missis.”
“Laws, Missis, those low negroes,—they can’t tell; they don’t know anything about time,” said Jane; “they don’t know what a year is; they don’t know their own ages.
“Have you ever heard anything about God, Topsy?” The child looked bewildered, but grinned as usual.
“Do you know who made you?”
“Nobody, as I knows on,” said the child, with a short laugh.
The idea appeared to amuse her considerably; for her eyes twinkled, and she added,
“I spect I grow’d. Don’t think nobody never made me.”
“Do you know how to sew?” said Miss Ophelia, who thought she would turn her inquiries to something more tangible.
“What can you do?—what did you do for your master and mistress?”
“Fetch water, and wash dishes, and rub knives, and wait on folks.”
“Were they good to you?”
“Spect they was,” said the child, scanning Miss Ophelia cunningly.
Miss Ophelia rose from this encouraging colloquy; St. Clare was leaning over the back of her chair.
“You find virgin soil there, Cousin; put in your own ideas,—you won’t find many to pull up.”
Miss Ophelia’s ideas of education, like all her other ideas, were very set and definite; and of the kind that prevailed in New England a century ago, and which are still preserved in some very retired and unsophisticated parts, where there are no railroads. As nearly as could be expressed, they could be comprised in very few words: to teach them to mind when they were spoken to; to teach them the catechism, sewing, and reading; and to whip them if they told lies. And though, of course, in the flood of light that is now poured on education, these are left far away in the rear, yet it is an undisputed fact that our grandmothers raised some tolerably fair men and women under this regime, as many of us can remember and testify. At all events, Miss Ophelia knew of nothing else to do; and, therefore, applied her mind to her heathen with the best diligence she could command.
The child was announced and considered in the family as Miss Ophelia’s girl; and, as she was looked upon with no gracious eye in the kitchen, Miss Ophelia resolved to confine her sphere of operation and instruction chiefly to her own chamber. With a self-sacrifice which some of our readers will appreciate, she resolved, instead of comfortably making her own bed, sweeping and dusting her own chamber,—which she had hitherto done, in utter scorn of all offers of help from the chambermaid of the establishment,—to condemn herself to the martyrdom of instructing Topsy to perform these operations,—ah, woe the day! Did any of our readers ever do the same, they will appreciate the amount of her self-sacrifice.
Miss Ophelia began with Topsy by taking her into her chamber, the first morning, and solemnly commencing a course of instruction in the art and mystery of bed-making.
Behold, then, Topsy, washed and shorn of all the little braided tails wherein her heart had delighted, arrayed in a clean gown, with well-starched apron, standing reverently before Miss Ophelia, with an expression of solemnity well befitting a funeral.
“Now, Topsy, I’m going to show you just how my bed is to be made. I am very particular about my bed. You must learn exactly how to do it.”
“Yes, ma’am,” says Topsy, with a deep sigh, and a face of woful earnestness.
“Now, Topsy, look here;—this is the hem of the sheet,—this is the right side of the sheet, and this is the wrong;—will you remember?”
“Yes, ma’am,” says Topsy, with another sigh.
“Well, now, the under sheet you must bring over the bolster,—so—and tuck it clear down under the mattress nice and smooth,—so,—do you see?”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Topsy, with profound attention.
“But the upper sheet,” said Miss Ophelia, “must be brought down in this way, and tucked under firm and smooth at the foot,—so,—the narrow hem at the foot.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Topsy, as before;—but we will add, what Miss Ophelia did not see, that, during the time when the good lady’s back was turned in the zeal of her manipulations, the young disciple had contrived to snatch a pair of gloves and a ribbon, which she had adroitly slipped into her sleeves, and stood with her hands dutifully folded, as before.
“Now, Topsy, let’s see you do this,” said Miss Ophelia, pulling off the clothes, and seating herself.
Topsy, with great gravity and adroitness, went through the exercise completely to Miss Ophelia’s satisfaction; smoothing the sheets, patting out every wrinkle, and exhibiting, through the whole process, a gravity and seriousness with which her instructress was greatly edified. By an unlucky slip, however, a fluttering fragment of the ribbon hung out of one of her sleeves, just as she was finishing, and caught Miss Ophelia’s attention. Instantly, she pounced upon it. “What’s this? You naughty, wicked child,—you’ve been stealing this!”
The ribbon was pulled out of Topsy’s own sleeve, yet was she not in the least disconcerted; she only looked at it with an air of the most surprised and unconscious innocence.
“Laws! why, that ar’s Miss Feely’s ribbon, an’t it? How could it a got caught in my sleeve?
“Topsy, you naughty girl, don’t you tell me a lie,—you stole that ribbon!”
“Missis, I declar for ’t, I didn’t;—never seed it till dis yer blessed minnit.”
“Topsy,” said Miss Ophelia, “don’t you know it’s wicked to tell lies?”
“I never tell no lies, Miss Feely,” said Topsy, with virtuous gravity; “it’s jist the truth I’ve been a tellin now, and an’t nothin else.”
“Topsy, I shall have to whip you, if you tell lies so.”
“Laws, Missis, if you’s to whip all day, couldn’t say no other way,” said Topsy, beginning to blubber. “I never seed dat ar,—it must a got caught in my sleeve. Miss Feeley must have left it on the bed, and it got caught in the clothes, and so got in my sleeve.”
Miss Ophelia was so indignant at the barefaced lie, that she caught the child and shook her.
“Don’t you tell me that again!” The shake brought the glove on to the floor, from the other sleeve.
“There, you!” said Miss Ophelia, “will you tell me now, you didn’t steal the ribbon?”
Topsy now confessed to the gloves, but still persisted in denying the ribbon.
“Now, Topsy,” said Miss Ophelia, “if you’ll confess all about it, I won’t whip you this time.” Thus adjured, Topsy confessed to the ribbon and gloves, with woful protestations of penitence.
“Well, now, tell me. I know you must have taken other things since you have been in the house, for I let you run about all day yesterday. Now, tell me if you took anything, and I shan’t whip you.”
“Laws, Missis! I took Miss Eva’s red thing she wars on her neck.”
“You did, you naughty child!—Well, what else?”
“I took Rosa’s yer-rings,—them red ones.”
“Go bring them to me this minute, both of ’em.”
“Laws, Missis! I can’t,—they ’s burnt up!”
“Burnt up!—what a story! Go get ’em, or I’ll whip you.”
Topsy, with loud protestations, and tears, and groans, declared that she could not. “They ’s burnt up,—they was.”
“What did you burn ’em for?” said Miss Ophelia.
“Cause I ’s wicked,—I is. I ’s mighty wicked, any how. I can’t help it.”
Just at this moment, Eva came innocently into the room, with the identical coral necklace on her neck.
“Why, Eva, where did you get your necklace?” said Miss Ophelia.
“Get it? Why, I’ve had it on all day,” said Eva.
“Did you have it on yesterday?”
“Yes; and what is funny, Aunty, I had it on all night. I forgot to take it off when I went to bed.”
Miss Ophelia looked perfectly bewildered; the more so, as Rosa, at that instant, came into the room, with a basket of newly-ironed linen poised on her head, and the coral ear-drops shaking in her ears!
“I’m sure I can’t tell anything what to do with such a child!” she said, in despair. “What in the world did you tell me you took those things for, Topsy?”
“Why, Missis said I must ’fess; and I couldn’t think of nothin’ else to ’fess,” said Topsy, rubbing her eyes.
“But, of course, I didn’t want you to confess things you didn’t do,” said Miss Ophelia; “that’s telling a lie, just as much as the other.”
“Laws, now, is it?” said Topsy, with an air of innocent wonder.
“La, there an’t any such thing as truth in that limb,” said Rosa, looking indignantly at Topsy. “If I was Mas’r St. Clare, I’d whip her till the blood run. I would,—I’d let her catch it!”
“No, no Rosa,” said Eva, with an air of command, which the child could assume at times; “you mustn’t talk so, Rosa. I can’t bear to hear it.”
“La sakes! Miss Eva, you’s so good, you don’t know nothing how to get along with niggers. There’s no way but to cut ’em well up, I tell ye.”
“Rosa!” said Eva, “hush! Don’t you say another word of that sort!” and the eye of the child flashed, and her cheek deepened its color.
Rosa was cowed in a moment.
“Miss Eva has got the St. Clare blood in her, that’s plain. She can speak, for all the world, just like her papa,” she said, as she passed out of the room.
Eva stood looking at Topsy.
There stood the two children representatives of the two extremes of society. The fair, high-bred child, with her golden head, her deep eyes, her spiritual, noble brow, and prince-like movements; and her black, keen, subtle, cringing, yet acute neighbor. They stood the representatives of their races. The Saxon, born of ages of cultivation, command, education, physical and moral eminence; the Afric, born of ages of oppression, submission, ignorance, toil and vice!
Something, perhaps, of such thoughts struggled through Eva’s mind. But a child’s thoughts are rather dim, undefined instincts; and in Eva’s noble nature many such were yearning and working, for which she had no power of utterance. When Miss Ophelia expatiated on Topsy’s naughty, wicked conduct, the child looked perplexed and sorrowful, but said, sweetly.
“Poor Topsy, why need you steal? You’re going to be taken good care of now. I’m sure I’d rather give you anything of mine, than have you steal it.”
It was the first word of kindness the child had ever heard in her life; and the sweet tone and manner struck strangely on the wild, rude heart, and a sparkle of something like a tear shone in the keen, round, glittering eye; but it was followed by the short laugh and habitual grin. No! the ear that has never heard anything but abuse is strangely incredulous of anything so heavenly as kindness; and Topsy only thought Eva’s speech something funny and inexplicable,—she did not believe it.
But what was to be done with Topsy? Miss Ophelia found the case a puzzler; her rules for bringing up didn’t seem to apply. She thought she would take time to think of it; and, by the way of gaining time, and in hopes of some indefinite moral virtues supposed to be inherent in dark closets, Miss Ophelia shut Topsy up in one till she had arranged her ideas further on the subject.
“I don’t see,” said Miss Ophelia to St. Clare, “how I’m going to manage that child, without whipping her.”
“Well, whip her, then, to your heart’s content; I’ll give you full power to do what you like.”
“Children always have to be whipped,” said Miss Ophelia; “I never heard of bringing them up without.”
“O, well, certainly,” said St. Clare; “do as you think best. Only I’ll make one suggestion: I’ve seen this child whipped with a poker, knocked down with the shovel or tongs, whichever came handiest, &c.; and, seeing that she is used to that style of operation, I think your whippings will have to be pretty energetic, to make much impression.”
“What is to be done with her, then?” said Miss Ophelia.
“You have started a serious question,” said St. Clare; “I wish you’d answer it. What is to be done with a human being that can be governed only by the lash,— that fails,—it’s a very common state of things down here!”
“I’m sure I don’t know; I never saw such a child as this.”
“Such children are very common among us, and such men and women, too. How are they to be governed?” said St. Clare.
“I’m sure it’s more than I can say,” said Miss Ophelia.
“Or I either,” said St. Clare. “The horrid cruelties and outrages that once and a while find their way into the papers,—such cases as Prue’s, for example,—what do they come from? In many cases, it is a gradual hardening process on both sides,—the owner growing more and more cruel, as the servant more and more callous. Whipping and abuse are like laudanum; you have to double the dose as the sensibilities decline. I saw this very early when I became an owner; and I resolved never to begin, because I did not know when I should stop,—and I resolved, at least, to protect my own moral nature. The consequence is, that my servants act like spoiled children; but I think that better than for us both to be brutalized together. You have talked a great deal about our responsibilities in educating, Cousin. I really wanted you to try with one child, who is a specimen of thousands among us.”
“It is your system makes such children,” said Miss Ophelia.
“I know it; but they are made,—they exist,—and what is to be done with them?”
“Well, I can’t say I thank you for the experiment. But, then, as it appears to be a duty, I shall persevere and try, and do the best I can,” said Miss Ophelia; and Miss Ophelia, after this, did labor, with a commendable degree of zeal and energy, on her new subject. She instituted regular hours and employments for her, and undertook to teach her to read and sew.
In the former art, the child was quick enough. She learned her letters as if by magic, and was very soon able to read plain reading; but the sewing was a more difficult matter. The creature was as lithe as a cat, and as active as a monkey, and the confinement of sewing was her abomination; so she broke her needles, threw them slyly out of the window, or down in chinks of the walls; she tangled, broke, and dirtied her thread, or, with a sly movement, would throw a spool away altogether. Her motions were almost as quick as those of a practised conjurer, and her command of her face quite as great; and though Miss Ophelia could not help feeling that so many accidents could not possibly happen in succession, yet she could not, without a watchfulness which would leave her no time for anything else, detect her.
Topsy was soon a noted character in the establishment. Her talent for every species of drollery, grimace, and mimicry,—for dancing, tumbling, climbing, singing, whistling, imitating every sound that hit her fancy,—seemed inexhaustible. In her play-hours, she invariably had every child in the establishment at her heels, open-mouthed with admiration and wonder,—not excepting Miss Eva, who appeared to be fascinated by her wild diablerie, as a dove is sometimes charmed by a glittering serpent. Miss Ophelia was uneasy that Eva should fancy Topsy’s society so much, and implored St. Clare to forbid it.
“Poh! let the child alone,” said St. Clare. “Topsy will do her good.”
“But so depraved a child,—are you not afraid she will teach her some mischief?”
“She can’t teach her mischief; she might teach it to some children, but evil rolls off Eva’s mind like dew off a cabbage-leaf,—not a drop sinks in.”
“Don’t be too sure,” said Miss Ophelia. “I know I’d never let a child of mine play with Topsy.”
“Well, your children needn’t,” said St. Clare, “but mine may; if Eva could have been spoiled, it would have been done years ago.”
Topsy was at first despised and contemned by the upper servants. They soon found reason to alter their opinion. It was very soon discovered that whoever cast an indignity on Topsy was sure to meet with some inconvenient accident shortly after;—either a pair of ear-rings or some cherished trinket would be missing, or an article of dress would be suddenly found utterly ruined, or the person would stumble accidently into a pail of hot water, or a libation of dirty slop would unaccountably deluge them from above when in full gala dress;-and on all these occasions, when investigation was made, there was nobody found to stand sponsor for the indignity. Topsy was cited, and had up before all the domestic judicatories, time and again; but always sustained her examinations with most edifying innocence and gravity of appearance. Nobody in the world ever doubted who did the things; but not a scrap of any direct evidence could be found to establish the suppositions, and Miss Ophelia was too just to feel at liberty to proceed to any length without it.
The mischiefs done were always so nicely timed, also, as further to shelter the aggressor. Thus, the times for revenge on Rosa and Jane, the two chamber maids, were always chosen in those seasons when (as not unfrequently happened) they were in disgrace with their mistress, when any complaint from them would of course meet with no sympathy. In short, Topsy soon made the household understand the propriety of letting her alone; and she was let alone, accordingly.
Topsy was smart and energetic in all manual operations, learning everything that was taught her with surprising quickness. With a few lessons, she had learned to do the proprieties of Miss Ophelia’s chamber in a way with which even that particular lady could find no fault. Mortal hands could not lay spread smoother, adjust pillows more accurately, sweep and dust and arrange more perfectly, than Topsy, when she chose,—but she didn’t very often choose. If Miss Ophelia, after three or four days of careful patient supervision, was so sanguine as to suppose that Topsy had at last fallen into her way, could do without over-looking, and so go off and busy herself about something else, Topsy would hold a perfect carnival of confusion, for some one or two hours. Instead of making the bed, she would amuse herself with pulling off the pillowcases, butting her woolly head among the pillows, till it would sometimes be grotesquely ornamented with feathers sticking out in various directions; she would climb the posts, and hang head downward from the tops; flourish the sheets and spreads all over the apartment; dress the bolster up in Miss Ophelia’s night-clothes, and enact various performances with that,—singing and whistling, and making grimaces at herself in the looking-glass; in short, as Miss Ophelia phrased it, “raising Cain” generally.
On one occasion, Miss Ophelia found Topsy with her very best scarlet India Canton crape shawl wound round her head for a turban, going on with her rehearsals before the glass in great style,—Miss Ophelia having, with carelessness most unheard-of in her, left the key for once in her drawer.
“Topsy!” she would say, when at the end of all patience, “what does make you act so?”
“Dunno, Missis,—I spects cause I ’s so wicked!”
“I don’t know anything what I shall do with you, Topsy.”
“Law, Missis, you must whip me; my old Missis allers whipped me. I an’t used to workin’ unless I gets whipped.”
“Why, Topsy, I don’t want to whip you. You can do well, if you’ve a mind to; what is the reason you won’t?”
“Laws, Missis, I ’s used to whippin’; I spects it’s good for me.”
Miss Ophelia tried the recipe, and Topsy invariably made a terrible commotion, screaming, groaning and imploring, though half an hour afterwards, when roosted on some projection of the balcony, and surrounded by a flock of admiring “young uns,” she would express the utmost contempt of the whole affair.
“Law, Miss Feely whip!—wouldn’t kill a skeeter, her whippins. Oughter see how old Mas’r made the flesh fly; old Mas’r know’d how!”
Topsy always made great capital of her own sins and enormities, evidently considering them as something peculiarly distinguishing.
“Law, you niggers,” she would say to some of her auditors, “does you know you ’s all sinners? Well, you is—everybody is. White folks is sinners too,—Miss Feely says so; but I spects niggers is the biggest ones; but lor! ye an’t any on ye up to me. I ’s so awful wicked there can’t nobody do nothin’ with me. I used to keep old Missis a swarin’ at me half de time. I spects I ’s the wickedest critter in the world;” and Topsy would cut a summerset, and come up brisk and shining on to a higher perch, and evidently plume herself on the distinction.
Miss Ophelia busied herself very earnestly on Sundays, teaching Topsy the catechism. Topsy had an uncommon verbal memory, and committed with a fluency that greatly encouraged her instructress.
“What good do you expect it is going to do her?” said St. Clare.
“Why, it always has done children good. It’s what children always have to learn, you know,” said Miss Ophelia.
“Understand it or not,” said St. Clare.
“O, children never understand it at the time; but, after they are grown up, it’ll come to them.”
“Mine hasn’t come to me yet,” said St. Clare, “though I’ll bear testimony that you put it into me pretty thoroughly when I was a boy.”’
“Ah, you were always good at learning, Augustine. I used to have great hopes of you,” said Miss Ophelia.
“Well, haven’t you now?” said St. Clare.
“I wish you were as good as you were when you were a boy, Augustine.”
“So do I, that’s a fact, Cousin,” said St. Clare. “Well, go ahead and catechize Topsy; may be you’ll make out something yet.”
Topsy, who had stood like a black statue during this discussion, with hands decently folded, now, at a signal from Miss Ophelia, went on:
“Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the state wherein they were created.”
Topsy’s eyes twinkled, and she looked inquiringly.
“What is it, Topsy?” said Miss Ophelia.
“Please, Missis, was dat ar state Kintuck?”
“What state, Topsy?”
“Dat state dey fell out of. I used to hear Mas’r tell how we came down from Kintuck.”
St. Clare laughed.
“You’ll have to give her a meaning, or she’ll make one,” said he. “There seems to be a theory of emigration suggested there.”
“O! Augustine, be still,” said Miss Ophelia; “how can I do anything, if you will be laughing?”
“Well, I won’t disturb the exercises again, on my honor;” and St. Clare took his paper into the parlor, and sat down, till Topsy had finished her recitations. They were all very well, only that now and then she would oddly transpose some important words, and persist in the mistake, in spite of every effort to the contrary; and St. Clare, after all his promises of goodness, took a wicked pleasure in these mistakes, calling Topsy to him whenever he had a mind to amuse himself, and getting her to repeat the offending passages, in spite of Miss Ophelia’s remonstrances.
“How do you think I can do anything with the child, if you will go on so, Augustine?” she would say.
“Well, it is too bad,—I won’t again; but I do like to hear the droll little image stumble over those big words!”
“But you confirm her in the wrong way.”
“What’s the odds? One word is as good as another to her.”
“You wanted me to bring her up right; and you ought to remember she is a reasonable creature, and be careful of your influence over her.”
“O, dismal! so I ought; but, as Topsy herself says, ’I ’s so wicked!’”
In very much this way Topsy’s training proceeded, for a year or two,—Miss Ophelia worrying herself, from day to day, with her, as a kind of chronic plague, to whose inflictions she became, in time, as accustomed, as persons sometimes do to the neuralgia or sick headache.
St. Clare took the same kind of amusement in the child that a man might in the tricks of a parrot or a pointer. Topsy, whenever her sins brought her into disgrace in other quarters, always took refuge behind his chair; and St. Clare, in one way or other, would make peace for her. From him she got many a stray picayune, which she laid out in nuts and candies, and distributed, with careless generosity, to all the children in the family; for Topsy, to do her justice, was good-natured and liberal, and only spiteful in self-defence. She is fairly introduced into our corps de ballet, and will figure, from time to time, in her turn, with other performers.
Our readers may not be unwilling to glance back, for a brief interval, at Uncle Tom’s Cabin, on the Kentucky farm, and see what has been transpiring among those whom he had left behind.
It was late in the summer afternoon, and the doors and windows of the large parlor all stood open, to invite any stray breeze, that might feel in a good humor, to enter. Mr. Shelby sat in a large hall opening into the room, and running through the whole length of the house, to a balcony on either end. Leisurely tipped back on one chair, with his heels in another, he was enjoying his after-dinner cigar. Mrs. Shelby sat in the door, busy about some fine sewing; she seemed like one who had something on her mind, which she was seeking an opportunity to introduce.
“Do you know,” she said, “that Chloe has had a letter from Tom?”
“Ah! has she? Tom ’s got some friend there, it seems. How is the old boy?”
“He has been bought by a very fine family, I should think,” said Mrs. Shelby,— “is kindly treated, and has not much to do.”
“Ah! well, I’m glad of it,—very glad,” said Mr. Shelby, heartily. “Tom, I suppose, will get reconciled to a Southern residence;—hardly want to come up here again.”
“On the contrary he inquires very anxiously,” said Mrs. Shelby, “when the money for his redemption is to be raised.”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Mr. Shelby. “Once get business running wrong, there does seem to be no end to it. It’s like jumping from one bog to another, all through a swamp; borrow of one to pay another, and then borrow of another to pay one,—and these confounded notes falling due before a man has time to smoke a cigar and turn round,—dunning letters and dunning messages,—all scamper and hurry-scurry.”
“It does seem to me, my dear, that something might be done to straighten matters. Suppose we sell off all the horses, and sell one of your farms, and pay up square?”
“O, ridiculous, Emily! You are the finest woman in Kentucky; but still you haven’t sense to know that you don’t understand business;—women never do, and never can.
“But, at least,” said Mrs. Shelby, “could not you give me some little insight into yours; a list of all your debts, at least, and of all that is owed to you, and let me try and see if I can’t help you to economize.”
“O, bother! don’t plague me, Emily!—I can’t tell exactly. I know somewhere about what things are likely to be; but there’s no trimming and squaring my affairs, as Chloe trims crust off her pies. You don’t know anything about business, I tell you.”
And Mr. Shelby, not knowing any other way of enforcing his ideas, raised his voice,—a mode of arguing very convenient and convincing, when a gentleman is discussing matters of business with his wife.
Mrs. Shelby ceased talking, with something of a sigh. The fact was, that though her husband had stated she was a woman, she had a clear, energetic, practical mind, and a force of character every way superior to that of her husband; so that it would not have been so very absurd a supposition, to have allowed her capable of managing, as Mr. Shelby supposed. Her heart was set on performing her promise to Tom and Aunt Chloe, and she sighed as discouragements thickened around her.
“Don’t you think we might in some way contrive to raise that money? Poor Aunt Chloe! her heart is so set on it!”
“I’m sorry, if it is. I think I was premature in promising. I’m not sure, now, but it’s the best way to tell Chloe, and let her make up her mind to it. Tom’ll have another wife, in a year or two; and she had better take up with somebody else.”
“Mr. Shelby, I have taught my people that their marriages are as sacred as ours. I never could think of giving Chloe such advice.”
“It’s a pity, wife, that you have burdened them with a morality above their condition and prospects. I always thought so.”
“It’s only the morality of the Bible, Mr. Shelby.”
“Well, well, Emily, I don’t pretend to interfere with your religious notions; only they seem extremely unfitted for people in that condition.”
“They are, indeed,” said Mrs. Shelby, “and that is why, from my soul, I hate the whole thing. I tell you, my dear, I cannot absolve myself from the promises I make to these helpless creatures. If I can get the money no other way I will take musicscholars;—I could get enough, I know, and earn the money myself.”
“You wouldn’t degrade yourself that way, Emily? I never could consent to it.”
“Degrade! would it degrade me as much as to break my faith with the helpless? No, indeed!”
“Well, you are always heroic and transcendental,” said Mr. Shelby, “but I think you had better think before you undertake such a piece of Quixotism.”
Here the conversation was interrupted by the appearance of Aunt Chloe, at the end of the verandah.
“If you please, Missis,” said she.
“Well, Chloe, what is it?” said her mistress, rising, and going to the end of the balcony.
“If Missis would come and look at dis yer lot o’ poetry.”
Chloe had a particular fancy for calling poultry poetry,—an application of language in which she always persisted, notwithstanding frequent corrections and advisings from the young members of the family.
“La sakes!” she would say, “I can’t see; one jis good as turry,—poetry suthin good, any how;” and so poetry Chloe continued to call it.
Mrs. Shelby smiled as she saw a prostrate lot of chickens and ducks, over which Chloe stood, with a very grave face of consideration.
“I’m a thinkin whether Missis would be a havin a chicken pie o’ dese yer.”
“Really, Aunt Chloe, I don’t much care;—serve them any way you like.”
Chloe stood handling them over abstractedly; it was quite evident that the chickens were not what she was thinking of. At last, with the short laugh with which her tribe often introduce a doubtful proposal, she said,
“Laws me, Missis! what should Mas’r and Missis be a troublin theirselves ’bout de money, and not a usin what’s right in der hands?” and Chloe laughed again.
“I don’t understand you, Chloe,” said Mrs. Shelby, nothing doubting, from her knowledge of Chloe’s manner, that she had heard every word of the conversation that had passed between her and her husband.
“Why, laws me, Missis!” said Chloe, laughing again, “other folks hires out der niggers and makes money on ’em! Don’t keep sich a tribe eatin ’em out of house and home.”
“Well, Chloe, who do you propose that we should hire out?”
“Laws! I an’t a proposin nothin; only Sam he said der was one of dese yer perfectioners, dey calls ’em, in Louisville, said he wanted a good hand at cake and pastry; and said he’d give four dollars a week to one, he did.”
“Well, laws, I ’s a thinkin, Missis, it’s time Sally was put along to be doin’ something. Sally ’s been under my care, now, dis some time, and she does most as well as me, considerin; and if Missis would only let me go, I would help fetch up de money. I an’t afraid to put my cake, nor pies nother, ’long side no perfectioner’s.
“Law sakes, Missis! ’tan’t no odds;—words is so curis, can’t never get ’em right!”
“But, Chloe, do you want to leave your children?”
“Laws, Missis! de boys is big enough to do day’s works; dey does well enough; and Sally, she’ll take de baby,—she’s such a peart young un, she won’t take no lookin arter.”
“Louisville is a good way off.”
“Law sakes! who’s afeard?—it’s down river, somer near my old man, perhaps?” said Chloe, speaking the last in the tone of a question, and looking at Mrs. Shelby.
“No, Chloe; it’s many a hundred miles off,” said Mrs. Shelby. Chloe’s countenance fell.
“Never mind; your going there shall bring you nearer, Chloe. Yes, you may go; and your wages shall every cent of them be laid aside for your husband’s redemption.”
As when a bright sunbeam turns a dark cloud to silver, so Chloe’s dark face brightened immediately,—it really shone.
“Laws! if Missis isn’t too good! I was thinking of dat ar very thing; cause I shouldn’t need no clothes, nor shoes, nor nothin,—I could save every cent. How many weeks is der in a year, Missis?”
“Fifty-two,” said Mrs. Shelby.
“Laws! now, dere is? and four dollars for each on em. Why, how much ’d dat ar be?”
“Two hundred and eight dollars,” said Mrs. Shelby.
“Why-e!” said Chloe, with an accent of surprise and delight; “and how long would it take me to work it out, Missis?”
“Some four or five years, Chloe; but, then, you needn’t do it all,—I shall add something to it.”
“I wouldn’t hear to Missis’ givin lessons nor nothin. Mas’r’s quite right in dat ar;—‘t wouldn’t do, no ways. I hope none our family ever be brought to dat ar, while I ’s got hands.”
“Don’t fear, Chloe; I’ll take care of the honor of the family,” said Mrs. Shelby, smiling. “But when do you expect to go?”
“Well, I want spectin nothin; only Sam, he’s a gwine to de river with some colts, and he said I could go ’long with him; so I jes put my things together. If Missis was willin, I’d go with Sam tomorrow morning, if Missis would write my pass, and write me a commendation.”
“Well, Chloe, I’ll attend to it, if Mr. Shelby has no objections. I must speak to him.”
Mrs. Shelby went up stairs, and Aunt Chloe, delighted, went out to her cabin, to make her preparation.
“Law sakes, Mas’r George! ye didn’t know I ’s a gwine to Louisville tomorrow!” she said to George, as entering her cabin, he found her busy in sorting over her baby’s clothes. “I thought I’d jis look over sis’s things, and get ’em straightened up. But I’m gwine, Mas’r George,—gwine to have four dollars a week; and Missis is gwine to lay it all up, to buy back my old man agin!”
“Whew!” said George, “here’s a stroke of business, to be sure! How are you going?”
“Tomorrow, wid Sam. And now, Mas’r George, I knows you’ll jis sit down and write to my old man, and tell him all about it,—won’t ye?”
“To be sure,” said George; “Uncle Tom’ll be right glad to hear from us. I’ll go right in the house, for paper and ink; and then, you know, Aunt Chloe, I can tell about the new colts and all.”
“Sartin, sartin, Mas’r George; you go ’long, and I’ll get ye up a bit o’ chicken, or some sich; ye won’t have many more suppers wid yer poor old aunty.”
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.
“Deem not the just by Heaven forgot!
Though life its common gifts deny,—
Though, with a crushed and bleeding heart,
And spurned of man, he goes to die!
For God hath marked each sorrowing day,
And numbered every bitter tear,
And heaven’s long years of bliss shall pay
For all his children suffer here.”
The longest way must have its close,—the gloomiest night will wear on to a morning. An eternal, inexorable lapse of moments is ever hurrying the day of the evil to an eternal night, and the night of the just to an eternal day. We have walked with our humble friend thus far in the valley of slavery; first through flowery fields of ease and indulgence, then through heart-breaking separations from all that man holds dear. Again, we have waited with him in a sunny island, where generous hands concealed his chains with flowers; and, lastly, we have followed him when the last ray of earthly hope went out in night, and seen how, in the blackness of earthly darkness, the firmament of the unseen has blazed with stars of new and significant lustre.
The morning-star now stands over the tops of the mountains, and gales and breezes, not of earth, show that the gates of day are unclosing.
The escape of Cassy and Emmeline irritated the before surly temper of Legree to the last degree; and his fury, as was to be expected, fell upon the defenceless head of Tom. When he hurriedly announced the tidings among his hands, there was a sudden light in Tom’s eye, a sudden upraising of his hands, that did not escape him. He saw that he did not join the muster of the pursuers. He thought of forcing him to do it; but, having had, of old, experience of his inflexibility when commanded to take part in any deed of inhumanity, he would not, in his hurry, stop to enter into any conflict with him.
Tom, therefore, remained behind, with a few who had learned of him to pray, and offered up prayers for the escape of the fugitives.
When Legree returned, baffled and disappointed, all the long-working hatred of his soul towards his slave began to gather in a deadly and desperate form. Had not this man braved him,—steadily, powerfully, resistlessly,—ever since he bought him? Was there not a spirit in him which, silent as it was, burned on him like the fires of perdition?
“I hate him!” said Legree, that night, as he sat up in his bed; “I hate him! And isn’t he MINE? Can’t I do what I like with him? Who’s to hinder, I wonder?” And Legree clenched his fist, and shook it, as if he had something in his hands that he could rend in pieces.
But, then, Tom was a faithful, valuable servant; and, although Legree hated him the more for that, yet the consideration was still somewhat of a restraint to him.
The next morning, he determined to say nothing, as yet; to assemble a party, from some neighboring plantations, with dogs and guns; to surround the swamp, and go about the hunt systematically. If it succeeded, well and good; if not, he would summon Tom before him, and—his teeth clenched and his blood boiled— then he would break the fellow down, or—there was a dire inward whisper, to which his soul assented.
Ye say that the interest of the master is a sufficient safeguard for the slave. In the fury of man’s mad will, he will wittingly, and with open eye, sell his own soul to the devil to gain his ends; and will he be more careful of his neighbor’s body?
“Well,” said Cassy, the next day, from the garret, as she reconnoitred through the knot-hole, “the hunt’s going to begin again, today!”
Three or four mounted horsemen were curvetting about, on the space in front of the house; and one or two leashes of strange dogs were struggling with the negroes who held them, baying and barking at each other.
The men are, two of them, overseers of plantations in the vicinity; and others were some of Legree’s associates at the tavern-bar of a neighboring city, who had come for the interest of the sport. A more hard-favored set, perhaps, could not be imagined. Legree was serving brandy, profusely, round among them, as also among the negroes, who had been detailed from the various plantations for this service; for it was an object to make every service of this kind, among the negroes, as much of a holiday as possible.
Cassy placed her ear at the knot-hole; and, as the morning air blew directly towards the house, she could overhear a good deal of the conversation. A grave sneer overcast the dark, severe gravity of her face, as she listened, and heard them divide out the ground, discuss the rival merits of the dogs, give orders about firing, and the treatment of each, in case of capture.
Cassy drew back; and, clasping her hands, looked upward, and said, “O, great Almighty God! we are all sinners; but what have we done, more than all the rest of the world, that we should be treated so?”
There was a terrible earnestness in her face and voice, as she spoke.
“If it wasn’t for you, child,” she said, looking at Emmeline, “I’d go out to them; and I’d thank any one of them that would shoot me down; for what use will freedom be to me? Can it give me back my children, or make me what I used to be?”
Emmeline, in her child-like simplicity, was half afraid of the dark moods of Cassy. She looked perplexed, but made no answer. She only took her hand, with a gentle, caressing movement.
“Don’t!” said Cassy, trying to draw it away; “you’ll get me to loving you; and I never mean to love anything, again!”
“Poor Cassy!” said Emmeline, “don’t feel so! If the Lord gives us liberty, perhaps he’ll give you back your daughter; at any rate, I’ll be like a daughter to you. I know I’ll never see my poor old mother again! I shall love you, Cassy, whether you love me or not!”
The gentle, child-like spirit conquered. Cassy sat down by her, put her arm round her neck, stroked her soft, brown hair; and Emmeline then wondered at the beauty of her magnificent eyes, now soft with tears.
“O, Em!” said Cassy, “I’ve hungered for my children, and thirsted for them, and my eyes fail with longing for them! Here! here!” she said, striking her breast, “it’s all desolate, all empty! If God would give me back my children, then I could pray.”
“You must trust him, Cassy,” said Emmeline; “he is our Father!”
“His wrath is upon us,” said Cassy; “he has turned away in anger.”
“No, Cassy! He will be good to us! Let us hope in Him,” said Emmeline,—“I always have had hope.”
The hunt was long, animated, and thorough, but unsuccessful; and, with grave, ironic exultation, Cassy looked down on Legree, as, weary and dispirited, he alighted from his horse.
“Now, Quimbo,” said Legree, as he stretched himself down in the sitting-room, “you jest go and walk that Tom up here, right away! The old cuss is at the bottom of this yer whole matter; and I’ll have it out of his old black hide, or I’ll know the reason why!”
Sambo and Quimbo, both, though hating each other, were joined in one mind by a no less cordial hatred of Tom. Legree had told them, at first, that he had bought him for a general overseer, in his absence; and this had begun an ill will, on their part, which had increased, in their debased and servile natures, as they saw him becoming obnoxious to their master’s displeasure. Quimbo, therefore, departed, with a will, to execute his orders.
Tom heard the message with a forewarning heart; for he knew all the plan of the fugitives’ escape, and the place of their present concealment;—he knew the deadly character of the man he had to deal with, and his despotic power. But he felt strong in God to meet death, rather than betray the helpless.
He sat his basket down by the row, and, looking up, said, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit! Thou hast redeemed me, oh Lord God of truth!” and then quietly yielded himself to the rough, brutal grasp with which Quimbo seized him.
“Ay, ay!” said the giant, as he dragged him along; “ye’ll cotch it, now! I’ll boun’ Mas’r’s back ’s up high! No sneaking out, now! Tell ye, ye’ll get it, and no mistake! See how ye’ll look, now, helpin’ Mas’r’s niggers to run away! See what ye’ll get!”
The savage words none of them reached that ear!—a higher voice there was saying, “Fear not them that kill the body, and, after that, have no more that they can do.” Nerve and bone of that poor man’s body vibrated to those words, as if touched by the finger of God; and he felt the strength of a thousand souls in one. As he passed along, the trees and bushes, the huts of his servitude, the whole scene of his degradation, seemed to whirl by him as the landscape by the rushing ear. His soul throbbed,—his home was in sight,—and the hour of release seemed at hand.
“Well, Tom!” said Legree, walking up, and seizing him grimly by the collar of his coat, and speaking through his teeth, in a paroxysm of determined rage, “do you know I’ve made up my mind to KILL YOU?”
“It’s very likely, Mas’r,” said Tom, calmly.
“I have,” said Legree, with a grim, terrible calmness, “done—just—that—thing, Tom, unless you’ll tell me what you know about these yer gals!”
Tom stood silent.
“D’ye hear?” said Legree, stamping, with a roar like that of an incensed lion. “Speak!”
“I han’t got nothing to tell, Mas’r,” said Tom, with a slow, firm, deliberate utterance.
“Do you dare to tell me, ye old black Christian, ye don’t know?” said Legree.
Tom was silent.
“Speak!” thundered Legree, striking him furiously. “Do you know anything?”
“I know, Mas’r; but I can’t tell anything. I can die!”
Legree drew in a long breath; and, suppressing his rage, took Tom by the arm, and, approaching his face almost to his, said, in a terrible voice, “Hark ’e, Tom!—ye think, ’cause I’ve let you off before, I don’t mean what I say; but, this time, I’ve made up my mind, and counted the cost. You’ve always stood it out again’ me: now, I’ll conquer ye, or kill ye!—one or t’ other. I’ll count every drop of blood there is in you, and take ’em, one by one, till ye give up!”
Tom looked up to his master, and answered, “Mas’r, if you was sick, or in trouble, or dying, and I could save ye, I’d give ye my heart’s blood; and, if taking every drop of blood in this poor old body would save your precious soul, I’d give ’em freely, as the Lord gave his for me. O, Mas’r! don’t bring this great sin on your soul! It will hurt you more than ’t will me! Do the worst you can, my troubles’ll be over soon; but, if ye don’t repent, yours won’t never end!”
Like a strange snatch of heavenly music, heard in the lull of a tempest, this burst of feeling made a moment’s blank pause. Legree stood aghast, and looked at Tom; and there was such a silence, that the tick of the old clock could be heard, measuring, with silent touch, the last moments of mercy and probation to that hardened heart.
It was but a moment. There was one hesitating pause,—one irresolute, relenting thrill,—and the spirit of evil came back, with seven-fold vehemence; and Legree, foaming with rage, smote his victim to the ground.
Scenes of blood and cruelty are shocking to our ear and heart. What man has nerve to do, man has not nerve to hear. What brother-man and brother-Christian must suffer, cannot be told us, even in our secret chamber, it so harrows the soul! And yet, oh my country! these things are done under the shadow of thy laws! O, Christ! thy church sees them, almost in silence!
But, of old, there was One whose suffering changed an instrument of torture, degradation and shame, into a symbol of glory, honor, and immortal life; and, where His spirit is, neither degrading stripes, nor blood, nor insults, can make the Christian’s last struggle less than glorious.
Was he alone, that long night, whose brave, loving spirit was bearing up, in that old shed, against buffeting and brutal stripes?
Nay! There stood by him ONE,—seen by him alone,—“like unto the Son of God.”
The tempter stood by him, too,—blinded by furious, despotic will,—every moment pressing him to shun that agony by the betrayal of the innocent. But the brave, true heart was firm on the Eternal Rock. Like his Master, he knew that, if he saved others, himself he could not save; nor could utmost extremity wring from him words, save of prayers and holy trust.
“He’s most gone, Mas’r,” said Sambo, touched, in spite of himself, by the patience of his victim.
“Pay away, till he gives up! Give it to him!—give it to him!” shouted Legree. “I’ll take every drop of blood he has, unless he confesses!”
Tom opened his eyes, and looked upon his master. “Ye poor miserable critter!” he said, “there ain’t no more ye can do! I forgive ye, with all my soul!” and he fainted entirely away.
“I b’lieve, my soul, he’s done for, finally,” said Legree, stepping forward, to look at him. “Yes, he is! Well, his mouth’s shut up, at last,—that’s one comfort!”
Yes, Legree; but who shall shut up that voice in thy soul? that soul, past repentance, past prayer, past hope, in whom the fire that never shall be quenched is already burning!
Yet Tom was not quite gone. His wondrous words and pious prayers had struck upon the hearts of the imbruted blacks, who had been the instruments of cruelty upon him; and, the instant Legree withdrew, they took him down, and, in their ignorance, sought to call him back to life,—as if that were any favor to him.
“Sartin, we ’s been doin’ a drefful wicked thing!” said Sambo; “hopes Mas’r’ll have to ’count for it, and not we.”
They washed his wounds,—they provided a rude bed, of some refuse cotton, for him to lie down on; and one of them, stealing up to the house, begged a drink of brandy of Legree, pretending that he was tired, and wanted it for himself. He brought it back, and poured it down Tom’s throat.
“O, Tom!” said Quimbo, “we’s been awful wicked to ye!”
“I forgive ye, with all my heart!” said Tom, faintly. “O, Tom! do tell us who is Jesus, anyhow?” said Sambo;—“Jesus, that’s been a standin’ by you so, all this night!—Who is he?”
The word roused the failing, fainting spirit. He poured forth a few energetic sentences of that wondrous One,—his life, his death, his everlasting presence, and power to save.
They wept,—both the two savage men.
“Why didn’t I never hear this before?” said Sambo; “but I do believe!—I can’t help it! Lord Jesus, have mercy on us!”
“Poor critters!” said Tom, “I’d be willing to bar all I have, if it’ll only bring ye to Christ! O, Lord! give me these two more souls, I pray!”
That prayer was answered!