In Which Property Gets into an Improper State of Mind
It was late in a drizzly afternoon that a traveler alighted at the door of a small country hotel, in the village of N——, in Kentucky. In the barroom he found assembled quite a miscellaneous company, whom stress of weather had driven to harbor, and the place presented the usual scenery of such reunions. Great, tall, raw-boned Kentuckians, attired in hunting-shirts, and trailing their loose joints over a vast extent of territory, with the easy lounge peculiar to the race,—rifles stacked away in the corner, shot-pouches, game-bags, hunting-dogs, and little slaves, all rolled together in the corners,—were the characteristic features in the picture. At each end of the fireplace sat a long-legged gentleman, with his chair tipped back, his hat on his head, and the heels of his muddy boots reposing sublimely on the mantel-piece,—a position, we will inform our readers, decidedly favorable to the turn of reflection incident to western taverns, where travellers exhibit a decided preference for this particular mode of elevating their understandings.
Mine host, who stood behind the bar, like most of his country men, was great of stature, good-natured and loose-jointed, with an enormous shock of hair on his head, and a great tall hat on the top of that.
In fact, everybody in the room bore on his head this characteristic emblem of man’s sovereignty; whether it were felt hat, palm-leaf, greasy beaver, or fine new chapeau, there it reposed with true republican independence. In truth, it appeared to be the characteristic mark of every individual. Some wore them tipped rakishly to one side—these were your men of humor, jolly, free-and-easy dogs; some had them jammed independently down over their noses—these were your hard characters, thorough men, who, when they wore their hats, wanted to wear them, and to wear them just as they had a mind to; there were those who had them set far over back—wide-awake men, who wanted a clear prospect; while careless men, who did not know, or care, how their hats sat, had them shaking about in all directions. The various hats, in fact, were quite a Shakespearean study.
Divers blacks, in very free-and-easy pantaloons, and with no redundancy in the shirt line, were scuttling about, hither and thither, without bringing to pass any very particular results, except expressing a generic willingness to turn over everything in creation generally for the benefit of Mas’r and his guests. Add to this picture a jolly, crackling, rollicking fire, going rejoicingly up a great wide chimney,—the outer door and every window being set wide open, and the calico window-curtain flopping and snapping in a good stiff breeze of damp raw air,—and you have an idea of the jollities of a Kentucky tavern.
Your Kentuckian of the present day is a good illustration of the doctrine of transmitted instincts and peculiarities. His fathers were mighty hunters,—men who lived in the woods, and slept under the free, open heavens, with the stars to hold their candles; and their descendant to this day always acts as if the house were his camp,—wears his hat at all hours, tumbles himself about, and puts his heels on the tops of chairs or mantelpieces, just as his father rolled on the green sward, and put his upon trees and logs,—keeps all the windows and doors open, winter and summer, that he may get air enough for his great lungs,—calls everybody “stranger,” with nonchalant bonhommie, and is altogether the frankest, easiest, most jovial creature living.
Into such an assembly of the free and easy our traveller entered. He was a short, thick-set man, carefully dressed, with a round, good-natured countenance, and something rather fussy and particular in his appearance. He was very careful of his valise and umbrella, bringing them in with his own hands, and resisting, pertinaciously, all offers from the various servants to relieve him of them. He looked round the barroom with rather an anxious air, and, retreating with his valuables to the warmest corner, disposed them under his chair, sat down, and looked rather apprehensively up at the worthy whose heels illustrated the end of the mantel-piece, who was spitting from right to left, with a courage and energy rather alarming to gentlemen of weak nerves and particular habits.
“I say, stranger, how are ye?” said the aforesaid gentleman, firing an honorary salute of tobacco-juice in the direction of the new arrival.
“Well, I reckon,” was the reply of the other, as he dodged, with some alarm, the threatening honor.
“Any news?” said the respondent, taking out a strip of tobacco and a large hunting-knife from his pocket.
“Not that I know of,” said the man.
“Chaw?” said the first speaker, handing the old gentleman a bit of his tobacco, with a decidedly brotherly air.
“No, thank ye—it don’t agree with me,” said the little man, edging off.
“Don’t, eh?” said the other, easily, and stowing away the morsel in his own mouth, in order to keep up the supply of tobacco-juice, for the general benefit of society.
The old gentleman uniformly gave a little start whenever his long-sided brother fired in his direction; and this being observed by his companion, he very good-naturedly turned his artillery to another quarter, and proceeded to storm one of the fire-irons with a degree of military talent fully sufficient to take a city.
“What’s that?” said the old gentleman, observing some of the company formed in a group around a large handbill.
“Slave advertised!” said one of the company, briefly.
Mr. Wilson, for that was the old gentleman’s name, rose up, and, after carefully adjusting his valise and umbrella, proceeded deliberately to take out his spectacles and fix them on his nose; and, this operation being performed, read as follows:
“Ran away from the subscriber, my mulatto boy, George. Said George six feet in height, a very light mulatto, brown curly hair; is very intelligent, speaks handsomely, can read and write, will probably try to pass for a white man, is deeply scarred on his back and shoulders, has been branded in his right hand with the letter H.
“I will give four hundred dollars for him alive, and the same sum for satisfactory proof that he has been killed.”
The old gentleman read this advertisement from end to end in a low voice, as if he were studying it.
The long-legged veteran, who had been besieging the fire-iron, as before related, now took down his cumbrous length, and rearing aloft his tall form, walked up to the advertisement and very deliberately spit a full discharge of tobacco-juice on it.
“There’s my mind upon that!” said he, briefly, and sat down again.
“Why, now, stranger, what’s that for?” said mine host.
“I’d do it all the same to the writer of that ar paper, if he was here,” said the long man, coolly resuming his old employment of cutting tobacco. “Any man that owns a boy like that, and can’t find any better way o’ treating on him, deserves to lose him. Such papers as these is a shame to Kentucky; that’s my mind right out, if anybody wants to know!”
“Well, now, that’s a fact,” said mine host, as he made an entry in his book.
“I’ve got a gang of boys, sir,” said the long man, resuming his attack on the fire-irons, “and I jest tells ’em—’Boys,’ says I,—’run now! dig! put! jest when ye want to! I never shall come to look after you!’ That’s the way I keep mine. Let ’em know they are free to run any time, and it jest breaks up their wanting to. More ‘n all, I’ve got free papers for ’em all recorded, in case I gets keeled up any o’ these times, and they know it; and I tell ye, stranger, there an’t a fellow in our parts gets more out of his slaves than I do. Why, my boys have been to Cincinnati, with five hundred dollars’ worth of colts, and brought me back the money, all straight, time and agin. It stands to reason they should. Treat ’em like dogs, and you’ll have dogs’ works and dogs’ actions. Treat ’em like men, and you’ll have men’s works.” And the honest drover, in his warmth, endorsed this moral sentiment by firing a perfect feu de joi at the fireplace.
“I think you’re altogether right, friend,” said Mr. Wilson; “and this boy described here is a fine fellow—no mistake about that. He worked for me some half-dozen years in my bagging factory, and he was my best hand, sir. He is an ingenious fellow, too: he invented a machine for the cleaning of hemp—a really valuable affair; it’s gone into use in several factories. His master holds the patent of it.”
“I’ll warrant ye,” said the drover, “holds it and makes money out of it, and then turns round and brands the boy in his right hand. If I had a fair chance, I’d mark him, I reckon so that he’d carry it one while.”
“These yer knowin’ boys is allers aggravatin’ and sarcy,” said a coarse-looking fellow, from the other side of the room; “that’s why they gets cut up and marked so. If they behaved themselves, they wouldn’t.”
“That is to say, the Lord made ’em men, and it’s a hard squeeze gettin ’em down into beasts,” said the drover, dryly.
“Bright slaves isn’t no kind of ‘vantage to their masters,” continued the other, well entrenched, in a coarse, unconscious obtuseness, from the contempt of his opponent; “what’s the use o’ talents and them things, if you can’t get the use on ’em yourself? Why, all the use they make on ‘t is to get round you. I’ve had one or two of these fellers, and I jest sold ’em down river. I knew I’d got to lose ’em, first or last, if I didn’t.”
“Better send orders up to the Lord, to make you a set, and leave out their souls entirely,” said the drover.
Here the conversation was interrupted by the approach of a small one-horse buggy to the inn. It had a genteel appearance, and a well-dressed, gentlemanly man sat on the seat, with a colored servant driving.
The whole party examined the new comer with the interest with which a set of loafers in a rainy day usually examine every newcomer. He was very tall, with a dark, Spanish complexion, fine, expressive black eyes, and close-curling hair, also of a glossy blackness. His well-formed aquiline nose, straight thin lips, and the admirable contour of his finely-formed limbs, impressed the whole company instantly with the idea of something uncommon. He walked easily in among the company, and with a nod indicated to his waiter where to place his trunk, bowed to the company, and, with his hat in his hand, walked up leisurely to the bar, and gave in his name as Henry Butter, Oaklands, Shelby County. Turning, with an indifferent air, he sauntered up to the advertisement, and read it over.
“Jim,” he said to his man, “seems to me we met a boy something like this, up at Beman’s, didn’t we?”
“Yes, Mas’r,” said Jim, “only I an’t sure about the hand.”
“Well, I didn’t look, of course,” said the stranger with a careless yawn. Then walking up to the landlord, he desired him to furnish him with a private apartment, as he had some writing to do immediately.
The landlord was all obsequious, and a relay of about seven slaves, old and young, male and female, little and big, were soon whizzing about, like a covey of partridges, bustling, hurrying, treading on each other’s toes, and tumbling over each other, in their zeal to get Mas’r’s room ready, while he seated himself easily on a chair in the middle of the room, and entered into conversation with the man who sat next to him.
The manufacturer, Mr. Wilson, from the time of the entrance of the stranger, had regarded
him with an air of disturbed and uneasy curiosity. He seemed to himself to have met and been acquainted with him somewhere, but he could not recollect. Every few moments, when the man spoke, or moved, or smiled, he would start and fix his eyes on him, and then suddenly withdraw them, as the bright, dark eyes met his with such unconcerned coolness. At last, a sudden recollection seemed to flash upon him, for he stared at the stranger with such an air of blank amazement and alarm, that he walked up to him.
“Mr. Wilson, I think,” said he, in a tone of recognition, and extending his hand. “I beg your pardon, I didn’t recollect you before. I see you remember me,—Mr. Butler, of Oaklands, Shelby County.”
“Ye—yes—yes, sir,” said Mr. Wilson, like one speaking in a dream.
Just then a black boy entered, and announced that Mas’r’s room was ready.
“Jim, see to the trunks,” said the gentleman, negligently; then addressing himself to Mr. Wilson, he added—”I should like to have a few moments’ conversation with you on business, in my room, if you please.”
Mr. Wilson followed him, as one who walks in his sleep; and they proceeded to a large upper chamber, where a new-made fire was crackling, and various servants flying about, putting finishing touches to the arrangements.
When all was done, and the servants departed, the young man deliberately locked the door, and putting the key in his pocket, faced about, and folding his arms on his bosom, looked Mr. Wilson full in the face.
“George!” said Mr. Wilson.
“Yes, George,” said the young man.
“I couldn’t have thought it!”
“I am pretty well disguised, I fancy,” said the young man, with a smile. “A little walnut bark has made my yellow skin a genteel brown, and I’ve dyed my hair black; so you see I don’t answer to the advertisement at all.”
“O, George! but this is a dangerous game you are playing. I could not have advised you to it.”
“I can do it on my own responsibility,” said George, with the same proud smile.
We remark, en passant, that George was, by his father’s side, of white descent. His mother was one of those unfortunates of her race, marked out by personal beauty to be the slave of the passions of her possessor, and the mother of children who may never know a father. From one of the proudest families in Kentucky he had inherited a set of fine European features, and a high, indomitable spirit. From his mother he had received only a slight mulatto tinge, amply compensated by its accompanying rich, dark eye. A slight change in the tint of the skin and the color of his hair had metamorphosed him into the Spanish-looking fellow he then appeared; and as gracefulness of movement and gentlemanly manners had always been perfectly natural to him, he found no difficulty in playing the bold part he had adopted—that of a gentleman travelling with his domestic.
Mr. Wilson, a good-natured but extremely fidgety and cautious old gentleman, ambled up and down the room, appearing, as John Bunyan hath it, “much tumbled up and down in his mind,” and divided between his wish to help George, and a certain confused notion of maintaining law and order: so, as he shambled about, he delivered himself as follows:
“Well, George, I s’pose you’re running away—leaving your lawful master, George—(I don’t wonder at it)—at the same time, I’m sorry, George,—yes, decidedly—I think I must say that, George—it’s my duty to tell you so.”
“Why are you sorry, sir?” said George, calmly.
“Why, to see you, as it were, setting yourself in opposition to the laws of your country.”
“My country!” said George, with a strong and bitter emphasis; “what country have I, but the grave,—and I wish to God that I was laid there!”
“Why, George, no—no—it won’t do; this way of talking is wicked—unscriptural. George, you’ve got a hard master—in fact, he is—well he conducts himself reprehensibly—I can’t pretend to defend him. But you know how the angel commanded Hagar to return to her mistress, and submit herself under the hand; (Gen. 16. The angel bade the pregnant Hagar return to her mistress Sarai, even though Sarai had dealt harshly with her); and the apostle sent back Onesimus to his master (Phil. 1:10. Onesimus went back to his master to become no longer a servant but a “brother beloved.”).”
“Don’t quote Bible at me that way, Mr. Wilson,” said George, with a flashing eye, “don’t! for my wife is a Christian, and I mean to be, if ever I get to where I can; but to quote Bible to a fellow in my circumstances, is enough to make him give it up altogether. I appeal to God Almighty;—I’m willing to go with the case to Him, and ask Him if I do wrong to seek my freedom.”
“These feelings are quite natural, George,” said the good-natured man, blowing his nose. “Yes, they’re natural, but it is my duty not to encourage ’em in you. Yes, my boy, I’m sorry for you, now; it’s a bad case—very bad; but the apostle says, ‘Let everyone abide in the condition in which he is called.’ We must all submit to the indications of Providence, George,—don’t you see?”
George stood with his head drawn back, his arms folded tightly over his broad breast, and a bitter smile curling his lips.
“I wonder, Mr. Wilson, if the Indians should come and take you a prisoner away from your wife and children, and want to keep you all your life hoeing corn for them, if you’d think it your duty to abide in the condition in which you were called. I rather think that you’d think the first stray horse you could find an indication of Providence—shouldn’t you?”
The little old gentleman stared with both eyes at this illustration of the case; but, though not much of a reasoner, he had the sense in which some logicians on this particular subject do not excel,—that of saying nothing, where nothing could be said. So, as he stood carefully stroking his umbrella, and folding and patting down all the creases in it, he proceeded on with his exhortations in a general way.
“You see, George, you know, now, I always have stood your friend; and whatever I’ve said, I’ve said for your good. Now, here, it seems to me, you’re running an awful risk. You can’t hope to carry it out. If you’re taken, it will be worse with you than ever; they’ll only abuse you, and half kill you, and sell you down the river.”
“Mr. Wilson, I know all this,” said George. “I do run a risk, but—” he threw open his overcoat, and showed two pistols and a bowie-knife. “There!” he said, “I’m ready for ’em! Down south I never will go. No! if it comes to that, I can earn myself at least six feet of free soil,—the first and last I shall ever own in Kentucky!”
“Why, George, this state of mind is awful; it’s getting really desperate George. I’m concerned. Going to break the laws of your country!”
“My country again! Mr. Wilson, you have a country; but what country have I, or any one like me, born of slave mothers? What laws are there for us? We don’t make them,—we don’t consent to them,—we have nothing to do with them; all they do for us is to crush us, and keep us down. Haven’t I heard your Fourth-of-July speeches? Don’t you tell us all, once a year, that governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed? Can’t a fellow think, that hears such things? Can’t he put this and that together, and see what it comes to?”
Mr. Wilson’s mind was one of those that may not unaptly be represented by a bale of cotton,—downy, soft, benevolently fuzzy and confused. He really pitied George with all his heart, and had a sort of dim and cloudy perception of the style of feeling that agitated him; but he deemed it his duty to go on talking good to him, with infinite pertinacity.
“George, this is bad. I must tell you, you know, as a friend, you’d better not be meddling with such notions; they are bad, George, very bad, for boys in your condition,—very;” and Mr. Wilson sat down to a table, and began nervously chewing the handle of his umbrella.
“See here, now, Mr. Wilson,” said George, coming up and sitting himself determinately down in front of him; “look at me, now. Don’t I sit before you, every way, just as much a man as you are? Look at my face,—look at my hands,—look at my body,” and the young man drew himself up proudly; “why am I not a man, as much as anybody? Well, Mr. Wilson, hear what I can tell you. I had a father—one of your Kentucky gentlemen—who didn’t think enough of me to keep me from being sold with his dogs and horses, to satisfy the estate, when he died. I saw my mother put up at sheriff’s sale, with her seven children. They were sold before her eyes, one by one, all to different masters; and I was the youngest. She came and kneeled down before old Mas’r, and begged him to buy her with me, that she might have at least one child with her; and he kicked her away with his heavy boot. I saw him do it; and the last that I heard was her moans and screams, when I was tied to his horse’s neck, to be carried off to his place.”
“My master traded with one of the men, and bought my oldest sister. She was a pious, good girl,—a member of the Baptist church,—and as handsome as my poor mother had been. She was well brought up, and had good manners. At first, I was glad she was bought, for I had one friend near me. I was soon sorry for it. Sir, I have stood at the door and heard her whipped, when it seemed as if every blow cut into my naked heart, and I couldn’t do anything to help her; and she was whipped, sir, for wanting to live a decent Christian life, such as your laws give no slave girl a right to live; and at last I saw her chained with a trader’s gang, to be sent to market in Orleans,—sent there for nothing else but that,—and that’s the last I know of her. Well, I grew up,—long years and years,—no father, no mother, no sister, not a living soul that cared for me more than a dog; nothing but whipping, scolding, starving. Why, sir, I’ve been so hungry that I have been glad to take the bones they threw to their dogs; and yet, when I was a little fellow, and laid awake whole nights and cried, it wasn’t the hunger, it wasn’t the whipping, I cried for. No, sir, it was for my mother and my sisters,—it was because I hadn’t a friend to love me on earth. I never knew what peace or comfort was. I never had a kind word spoken to me till I came to work in your factory. Mr. Wilson, you treated me well; you encouraged me to do well, and to learn to read and write, and to try to make something of myself; and God knows how grateful I am for it. Then, sir, I found my wife; you’ve seen her,—you know how beautiful she is. When I found she loved me, when I married her, I scarcely could believe I was alive, I was so happy; and, sir, she is as good as she is beautiful. But now what? Why, now comes my master, takes me right away from my work, and my friends, and all I like, and grinds me down into the very dirt! And why? Because, he says, I forgot who I was; he says, to teach me that I am only a slave! After all, and last of all, he comes between me and my wife, and says I shall give her up, and live with another woman. And all this your laws give him power to do, in spite of God or man. Mr. Wilson, look at it! There isn’t one of all these things, that have broken the hearts of my mother and my sister, and my wife and myself, but your laws allow, and give every man power to do, in Kentucky, and none can say to him nay! Do you call these the laws ofmy country? Sir, I haven’t any country, anymore than I have any father. But I’m going to have one. I don’t want anything of your country, except to be let alone,—to go peaceably out of it; and when I get to Canada, where the laws will own me and protect me, that shall be my country, and its laws I will obey. But if any man tries to stop me, let him take care, for I am desperate. I’ll fight for my liberty to the last breath I breathe. You say your fathers did it; if it was right for them, it is right for me!”
This speech, delivered partly while sitting at the table, and partly walking up and down the room,—delivered with tears, and flashing eyes, and despairing gestures,—was altogether too much for the good-natured old body to whom it was addressed, who had pulled out a great yellow silk pocket-handkerchief, and was mopping up his face with great energy.
“Blast ’em all!” he suddenly broke out. “Haven’t I always said so—the infernal old cusses! I hope I an’t swearing, now. Well! go ahead, George, go ahead; but be careful, my boy; don’t shoot anybody, George, unless—well—you’d better not shoot, I reckon; at least, I wouldn’t hit anybody, you know. Where is your wife, George?” he added, as he nervously rose, and began walking the room.
“Gone, sir gone, with her child in her arms, the Lord only knows where;—gone after the north star; and when we ever meet, or whether we meet at all in this world, no creature can tell.”
“Is it possible! astonishing! from such a kind family?”
“Kind families get in debt, and the laws of our country allow them to sell the child out of its mother’s bosom to pay its master’s debts,” said George, bitterly.
“Well, well,” said the honest old man, fumbling in his pocket: “I s’pose, perhaps, I an’t following my judgment,—hang it, I won’t follow my judgment!” he added, suddenly; “so here, George,” and, taking out a roll of bills from his pocket-book, he offered them to George.
“No, my kind, good sir!” said George, “you’ve done a great deal for me, and this might get you into trouble. I have money enough, I hope, to take me as far as I need it.”
“No; but you must, George. Money is a great help everywhere;—can’t have too much, if you get it honestly. Take it,—do take it, now,—do, my boy!”
“On condition, sir, that I may repay it at some future time, I will,” said George, taking up the money.
“And now, George, how long are you going to travel in this way?—not long or far, I hope. It’s well carried on, but too bold. And this black fellow,—who is he?”
“A true fellow, who went to Canada more than a year ago. He heard, after he got there, that his master was so angry at him for going off that he had whipped his poor old mother; and he has come all the way back to comfort her, and get a chance to get her away.”
“Has he got her?”
“Not yet; he has been hanging about the place, and found no chance yet. Meanwhile, he is going with me as far as Ohio, to put me among friends that helped him, and then he will come back after her.
“Dangerous, very dangerous!” said the old man.
George drew himself up, and smiled disdainfully.
The old gentleman eyed him from head to foot, with a sort of innocent wonder.
“George, something has brought you out wonderfully. You hold up your head, and speak and move like another man,” said Mr. Wilson.
“Because I’m a freeman!” said George, proudly. “Yes, sir; I’ve said Mas’r for the last time to any man. I’m free!”
“Take care! You are not sure,—you may be taken.”
“All men are free and equal in the grave, if it comes to that, Mr. Wilson,” said George.
“I’m perfectly dumb-founded with your boldness!” said Mr. Wilson,—”to come right here to the nearest tavern!”
“Mr. Wilson, it is so bold, and this tavern is so near, that they will never think of it; they will look for me on ahead, and you yourself wouldn’t know me. Jim’s master don’t live in this county; he isn’t known in these parts. Besides, he is given up; nobody is looking after him, and nobody will take me up from the advertisement, I think.”
“But the mark in your hand?”
George drew off his glove, and showed a newly-healed scar in his hand.
“That is a parting proof of Mr. Harris’ regard,” he said, scornfully. “A fortnight ago, he took it into his head to give it to me, because he said he believed I should try to get away one of these days. Looks interesting, doesn’t it?” he said, drawing his glove on again.
“I declare, my very blood runs cold when I think of it,—your condition and your risks!” said Mr. Wilson.
“Mine has run cold a good many years, Mr. Wilson; at present, it’s about up to the boiling point,” said George.
“Well, my good sir,” continued George, after a few moments’ silence, “I saw you knew me; I thought I’d just have this talk with you, lest your surprised looks should bring me out. I leave early tomorrow morning, before daylight; by tomorrow night I hope to sleep safe in Ohio. I shall travel by daylight, stop at the best hotels, go to the dinner-tables with the lords of the land. So, good-by, sir; if you hear that I’m taken, you may know that I’m dead!”
George stood up like a rock, and put out his hand with the air of a prince. The friendly little old man shook it heartily, and after a little shower of caution, he took his umbrella, and fumbled his way out of the room.
George stood thoughtfully looking at the door, as the old man closed it. A thought seemed to flash across his mind. He hastily stepped to it, and opening it, said,
“Mr. Wilson, one word more.”
The old gentleman entered again, and George, as before, locked the door, and then stood for a few moments looking on the floor, irresolutely. At last, raising his head with a sudden effort—”Mr. Wilson, you have shown yourself a Christian in your treatment of me,—I want to ask one last deed of Christian kindness of you.”
“Well, sir,—what you said was true. I am running a dreadful risk. There isn’t, on earth, a living soul to care if I die,” he added, drawing his breath hard, and speaking with a great effort,—”I shall be kicked out and buried like a dog, and nobody’ll think of it a day after,—only my poor wife! Poor soul! she’ll mourn and grieve; and if you’d only contrive, Mr. Wilson, to send this little pin to her. She gave it to me for a Christmas present, poor child! Give it to her, and tell her I loved her to the last. Will you? Will you?” he added, earnestly.
“Yes, certainly—poor fellow!” said the old gentleman, taking the pin, with watery eyes, and a melancholy quiver in his voice.
“Tell her one thing,” said George; “it’s my last wish, if she can get to Canada, to go there. No matter how kind her mistress is,—no matter how much she loves her home; beg her not to go back,—for slavery always ends in misery. Tell her to bring up our boy a free man, and then he won’t suffer as I have. Tell her this, Mr. Wilson, will you?”
“Yes, George. I’ll tell her; but I trust you won’t die; take heart,—you’re a brave fellow. Trust in the Lord, George. I wish in my heart you were safe through, though,—that’s what I do.”
“Is there a God to trust in?” said George, in such a tone of bitter despair as arrested the old gentleman’s words. “O, I’ve seen things all my life that have made me feel that there can’t be a God. You Christians don’t know how these things look to us. There’s a God for you, but is there any for us?”
“O, now, don’t—don’t, my boy!” said the old man, almost sobbing as he spoke; “don’t feel so! There is—there is; clouds and darkness are around about him, but righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. There’s a God, George,—believe it; trust in Him, and I’m sure He’ll help you. Everything will be set right,—if not in this life, in another.”
The real piety and benevolence of the simple old man invested him with a temporary dignity and authority, as he spoke. George stopped his distracted walk up and down the room, stood thoughtfully a moment, and then said, quietly,
“Thank you for saying that, my good friend; I’ll think of that.”
Select Incident of Lawful Trade
“In Ramah there was a voice heard,—weeping, and lamentation, and great mourning; Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted.”
Mr. Haley and Tom jogged onward in their wagon, each, for a time, absorbed in his own reflections. Now, the reflections of two men sitting side by side are a curious thing,—seated on the same seat, having the same eyes, ears, hands and organs of all sorts, and having pass before their eyes the same objects,—it is wonderful what a variety we shall find in these same reflections!
As, for example, Mr. Haley: he thought first of Tom’s length, and breadth, and height, and what he would sell for, if he was kept fat and in good case till he got him into market. He thought of how he should make out his gang; he thought of the respective market value of certain supposititious men and women and children who were to compose it, and other kindred topics of the business; then he thought of himself, and how humane he was, that whereas other men chained their slaves hand and foot both, he only put fetters on the feet, and left Tom the use of his hands, as long as he behaved well; and he sighed to think how ungrateful human nature was, so that there was even room to doubt whether Tom appreciated his mercies. He had been taken in so by slaves whom he had favored; but still he was astonished to consider how good-natured he yet remained!
As to Tom, he was thinking over some words of an unfashionable old book, which kept running through his head, again and again, as follows: “We have here no continuing city, but we seek one to come; wherefore God himself is not ashamed to be called our God; for he hath prepared for us a city.” These words of an ancient volume, got up principally by “ignorant and unlearned men,” have, through all time, kept up, somehow, a strange sort of power over the minds of poor, simple fellows, like Tom. They stir up the soul from its depths, and rouse, as with trumpet call, courage, energy, and enthusiasm, where before was only the blackness of despair.
Mr. Haley pulled out of his pocket sundry newspapers, and began looking over their advertisements, with absorbed interest. He was not a remarkably fluent reader, and was in the habit of reading in a sort of recitative half-aloud, by way of calling in his ears to verify the deductions of his eyes. In this tone he slowly recited the following paragraph:
“EXECUTOR’S SALE,—NEGROES!—Agreeably to order of court, will be sold, on Tuesday, February 20, before the Court-house door, in the town of Washington, Kentucky, the following negroes: Hagar, aged 60; John, aged 30; Ben, aged 21; Saul, aged 25; Albert, aged 14. Sold for the benefit of the creditors and heirs of the estate of Jesse Blutchford,
“SAMUEL MORRIS, THOMAS FLINT, Executors.”
“This yer I must look at,” said he to Tom, for want of somebody else to talk to.
“Ye see, I’m going to get up a prime gang to take down with ye, Tom; it’ll make it sociable and pleasant like,—good company will, ye know. We must drive right to Washington first and foremost, and then I’ll clap you into jail, while I does the business.”
Tom received this agreeable intelligence quite meekly; simply wondering, in his own heart, how many of these doomed men had wives and children, and whether they would feel as he did about leaving them. It is to be confessed, too, that the naive, off-hand information that he was to be thrown into jail by no means produced an agreeable impression on a poor fellow who had always prided himself on a strictly honest and upright course of life. Yes, Tom, we must confess it, was rather proud of his honesty, poor fellow,—not having very much else to be proud of;—if he had belonged to some of the higher walks of society, he, perhaps, would never have been reduced to such straits. However, the day wore on, and the evening saw Haley and Tom comfortably accommodated in Washington,—the one in a tavern, and the other in a jail.
About eleven o’clock the next day, a mixed throng was gathered around the court-house steps,—smoking, chewing, spitting, swearing, and conversing, according to their respective tastes and turns,—waiting for the auction to commence. The men and women to be sold sat in a group apart, talking in a low tone to each other. The woman who had been advertised by the name of Hagar was a regular African in feature and figure. She might have been sixty, but was older than that by hard work and disease, was partially blind, and somewhat crippled with rheumatism. By her side stood her only remaining son, Albert, a bright-looking little fellow of fourteen years. The boy was the only survivor of a large family, who had been successively sold away from her to a southern market. The mother held on to him with both her shaking hands, and eyed with intense trepidation every one who walked up to examine him.
“Don’t be feard, Aunt Hagar,” said the oldest of the men, “I spoke to Mas’r Thomas ’bout it, and he thought he might manage to sell you in a lot both together.”
“Dey needn’t call me worn out yet,” said she, lifting her shaking hands. “I can cook yet, and scrub, and scour,—I’m wuth a buying, if I do come cheap;—tell em dat ar,—you tell em,” she added, earnestly.
Haley here forced his way into the group, walked up to the old man, pulled his mouth open and looked in, felt of his teeth, made him stand and straighten himself, bend his back, and perform various evolutions to show his muscles; and then passed on to the next, and put him through the same trial. Walking up last to the boy, he felt of his arms, straightened his hands, and looked at his fingers, and made him jump, to show his agility.
“He an’t gwine to be sold widout me!” said the old woman, with passionate eagerness; “he and I goes in a lot together; I ‘s rail strong yet, Mas’r and can do heaps o’ work,—heaps on it, Mas’r.”
“On plantation?” said Haley, with a contemptuous glance. “Likely story!” and, as if satisfied with his examination, he walked out and looked, and stood with his hands in his pocket, his cigar in his mouth, and his hat cocked on one side, ready for action.
“What think of ’em?” said a man who had been following Haley’s examination, as if to make up his own mind from it.
“Wal,” said Haley, spitting, “I shall put in, I think, for the youngerly ones and the boy.”
“They want to sell the boy and the old woman together,” said the man.
“Find it a tight pull;—why, she’s an old rack o’ bones,—not worth her salt.”
“You wouldn’t then?” said the man.
“Anybody ‘d be a fool ‘t would. She’s half blind, crooked with rheumatis, and foolish to boot.”
“Some buys up these yer old critturs, and ses there’s a sight more wear in ’em than a body ‘d think,” said the man, reflectively.
“No go, ‘t all,” said Haley; “wouldn’t take her for a present,—fact,—I’ve seen, now.”
“Wal, ‘t is kinder pity, now, not to buy her with her son,—her heart seems so sot on him,—s’pose they fling her in cheap.”
“Them that’s got money to spend that ar way, it’s all well enough. I shall bid off on that ar boy for a plantation-hand;—wouldn’t be bothered with her, no way, not if they’d give her to me,” said Haley.
“She’ll take on desp’t,” said the man.
“Nat’lly, she will,” said the trader, coolly.
The conversation was here interrupted by a busy hum in the audience; and the auctioneer, a short, bustling, important fellow, elbowed his way into the crowd. The old woman drew in her breath, and caught instinctively at her son.
“Keep close to yer mammy, Albert,—close,—dey’ll put us up togedder,” she said.
“O, mammy, I’m feard they won’t,” said the boy.
“Dey must, child; I can’t live, no ways, if they don’t” said the old creature, vehemently.
The stentorian tones of the auctioneer, calling out to clear the way, now announced that the sale was about to commence. A place was cleared, and the bidding began. The different men on the list were soon knocked off at prices which showed a pretty brisk demand in the market; two of them fell to Haley.
“Come, now, young un,” said the auctioneer, giving the boy a touch with his hammer, “be up and show your springs, now.”
“Put us two up togedder, togedder,—do please, Mas’r,” said the old woman, holding fast to her boy.
“Be off,” said the man, gruffly, pushing her hands away; “you come last. Now, darkey, spring;” and, with the word, he pushed the boy toward the block, while a deep, heavy groan rose behind him. The boy paused, and looked back; but there was no time to stay, and, dashing the tears from his large, bright eyes, he was up in a moment.
His fine figure, alert limbs, and bright face, raised an instant competition, and half a dozen bids simultaneously met the ear of the auctioneer. Anxious, half-frightened, he looked from side to side, as he heard the clatter of contending bids,—now here, now there,—till the hammer fell. Haley had got him. He was pushed from the block toward his new master, but stopped one moment, and looked back, when his poor old mother, trembling in every limb, held out her shaking hands toward him.
“Buy me too, Mas’r, for de dear Lord’s sake!—buy me,—I shall die if you don’t!”
“You’ll die if I do, that’s the kink of it,” said Haley,—”no!” And he turned on his heel.
The bidding for the poor old creature was summary. The man who had addressed Haley, and who seemed not destitute of compassion, bought her for a trifle, and the spectators began to disperse.
The poor victims of the sale, who had been brought up in one place together for years, gathered round the despairing old mother, whose agony was pitiful to see.
“Couldn’t dey leave me one? Mas’r allers said I should have one,—he did,” she repeated over and over, in heart-broken tones.
“Trust in the Lord, Aunt Hagar,” said the oldest of the men, sorrowfully.
“What good will it do?” said she, sobbing passionately.
“Mother, mother,—don’t! don’t!” said the boy. “They say you ‘s got a good master.”
“I don’t care,—I don’t care. O, Albert! oh, my boy! you ‘s my last baby. Lord, how ken I?”
“Come, take her off, can’t some of ye?” said Haley, dryly; “don’t do no good for her to go on that ar way.”
The old men of the company, partly by persuasion and partly by force, loosed the poor creature’s last despairing hold, and, as they led her off to her new master’s wagon, strove to comfort her.
“Now!” said Haley, pushing his three purchases together, and producing a bundle of handcuffs, which he proceeded to put on their wrists; and fastening each handcuff to a long chain, he drove them before him to the jail.
A few days saw Haley, with his possessions, safely deposited on one of the Ohio boats. It was the commencement of his gang, to be augmented, as the boat moved on, by various other merchandise of the same kind, which he, or his agent, had stored for him in various points along shore.
The La Belle Riviere, as brave and beautiful a boat as ever walked the waters of her namesake river, was floating gayly down the stream, under a brilliant sky, the stripes and stars of free America waving and fluttering over head; the guards crowded with well-dressed ladies and gentlemen walking and enjoying the delightful day. All was full of life, buoyant and rejoicing;—all but Haley’s gang, who were stored, with other freight, on the lower deck, and who, somehow, did not seem to appreciate their various privileges, as they sat in a knot, talking to each other in low tones.
“Boys,” said Haley, coming up, briskly, “I hope you keep up good heart, and are cheerful. Now, no sulks, ye see; keep stiff upper lip, boys; do well by me, and I’ll do well by you.”
The boys addressed responded the invariable “Yes, Mas’r,” for ages the watchword of poor Africa; but it’s to be owned they did not look particularly cheerful; they had their various little prejudices in favor of wives, mothers, sisters, and children, seen for the last time,—and though “they that wasted them required of them mirth,” it was not instantly forthcoming.
“I’ve got a wife,” spoke out the article enumerated as “John, aged thirty,” and he laid his chained hand on Tom’s knee,—”and she don’t know a word about this, poor girl!”
“Where does she live?” said Tom.
“In a tavern a piece down here,” said John; “I wish, now, I could see her once more in this world,” he added.
Poor John! It was rather natural; and the tears that fell, as he spoke, came as naturally as if he had been a white man. Tom drew a long breath from a sore heart, and tried, in his poor way, to comfort him.
And over head, in the cabin, sat fathers and mothers, husbands and wives; and merry, dancing children moved round among them, like so many little butterflies, and everything was going on quite easy and comfortable.
“O, mamma,” said a boy, who had just come up from below, “there’s a African trader on board, and he’s brought four or five slaves down there.”
“Poor creatures!” said the mother, in a tone between grief and indignation.
“What’s that?” said another lady.
“Some poor slaves below,” said the mother.
“And they’ve got chains on,” said the boy.
“What a shame to our country that such sights are to be seen!” said another lady.
“O, there’s a great deal to be said on both sides of the subject,” said a genteel woman, who sat at her state-room door sewing, while her little girl and boy were playing round her. “I’ve been south, and I must say I think the slaves are better off than they would be to be free.”
“In some respects, some of them are well off, I grant,” said the lady to whose remark she had answered. “The most dreadful part of slavery, to my mind, is its outrages on the feelings and affections,—the separating of families, for example.”
“That is a bad thing, certainly,” said the other lady, holding up a baby’s dress she had just completed, and looking intently on its trimmings; “but then, I fancy, it don’t occur often.”
“O, it does,” said the first lady, eagerly; “I’ve lived many years in Kentucky and Virginia both, and I’ve seen enough to make any one’s heart sick. Suppose, ma’am, your two children, there, should be taken from you, and sold?”
“We can’t reason from our feelings to those of this class of persons,” said the other lady, sorting out some worsteds on her lap.
“Indeed, ma’am, you can know nothing of them, if you say so,” answered the first lady, warmly. “I was born and brought up among them. I know they do feel, just as keenly,—even more so, perhaps,—as we do.”
The lady said “Indeed!” yawned, and looked out the cabin window, and finally repeated, for a finale, the remark with which she had begun,—”After all, I think they are better off than they would be to be free.”
“It’s undoubtedly the intention of Providence that the African race should be servants,—kept in a low condition,” said a grave-looking gentleman in black, a clergyman, seated by the cabin door. “‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be,’ the scripture says.” (Gen. 9:25. This is what Noah says when he wakes out of drunkenness and realizes that his youngest son, Ham, father of Canaan, has seen him naked.)
“I say, stranger, is that ar what that text means?” said a tall man, standing by.
“I say, stranger, is that ar what that text means?” said a tall man, standing by.
“Undoubtedly. It pleased Providence, for some inscrutable reason, to doom the race to bondage, ages ago; and we must not set up our opinion against that.”
“Well, then, we’ll all go ahead and buy up slaves,” said the man, “if that’s the way of Providence,—won’t we, Squire?” said he, turning to Haley, who had been standing, with his hands in his pockets, by the stove and intently listening to the conversation.
“Yes,” continued the tall man, “we must all be resigned to the decrees of Providence. Slaves must be sold, and trucked round, and kept under; it’s what they’s made for. ‘Pears like this yer view ‘s quite refreshing, an’t it, stranger?” said he to Haley.
“I never thought on ‘t,” said Haley, “I couldn’t have said as much, myself; I ha’nt no larning. I took up the trade just to make a living; if ‘tan’t right, I calculated to ‘pent on ‘t in time, ye know.”
“And now you’ll save yerself the trouble, won’t ye?” said the tall man. “See what ‘t is, now, to know scripture. If ye’d only studied yer Bible, like this yer good man, ye might have know’d it before, and saved ye a heap o’ trouble. Ye could jist have said, ‘Cussed be’—what’s his name?—’and ‘t would all have come right.'” And the stranger, who was no other than the honest drover whom we introduced to our readers in the Kentucky tavern, sat down, and began smoking, with a curious smile on his long, dry face.
A tall, slender young man, with a face expressive of great feeling and intelligence, here broke in, and repeated the words, “‘All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.’ I suppose,” he added, “that is scripture, as much as ‘Cursed be Canaan.'”
“Wal, it seems quite as plain a text, stranger,” said John the drover, “to poor fellows like us, now;” and John smoked on like a volcano.
The young man paused, looked as if he was going to say more, when suddenly the boat stopped, and the company made the usual steamboat rush, to see where they were landing.
“Both them ar chaps parsons?” said John to one of the men, as they were going out.
The man nodded.
As the boat stopped, a black woman came running wildly up the plank, darted into the crowd, flew up to where the slave gang sat, and threw her arms round that unfortunate piece of merchandise before enumerate—”John, aged thirty,” and with sobs and tears bemoaned him as her husband.
But what needs tell the story, told too oft,—every day told,—of heart-strings rent and broken,—the weak broken and torn for the profit and convenience of the strong! It needs not to be told;—every day is telling it,—telling it, too, in the ear of One who is not deaf, though he be long silent.
The young man who had spoken for the cause of humanity and God before stood with folded arms, looking on this scene. He turned, and Haley was standing at his side. “My friend,” he said, speaking with thick utterance, “how can you, how dare you, carry on a trade like this? Look at those poor creatures! Here I am, rejoicing in my heart that I am going home to my wife and child; and the same bell which is a signal to carry me onward towards them will part this poor man and his wife forever. Depend upon it, God will bring you into judgment for this.”
The trader turned away in silence.
“I say, now,” said the drover, touching his elbow, “there’s differences in parsons, an’t there? ‘Cussed be Canaan’ don’t seem to go down with this ‘un, does it?”
Haley gave an uneasy growl.
“And that ar an’t the worst on ‘t,” said John; “mabbee it won’t go down with the Lord, neither, when ye come to settle with Him, one o’ these days, as all on us must, I reckon.”
Haley walked reflectively to the other end of the boat.
“If I make pretty handsomely on one or two next gangs,” he thought, “I reckon I’ll stop off this yer; it’s really getting dangerous.” And he took out his pocket-book, and began adding over his accounts,—a process which many gentlemen besides Mr. Haley have found a specific for an uneasy conscience.
The boat swept proudly away from the shore, and all went on merrily, as before. Men talked, and loafed, and read, and smoked. Women sewed, and children played, and the boat passed on her way.
One day, when she lay to for a while at a small town in Kentucky, Haley went up into the place on a little matter of business.
Tom, whose fetters did not prevent his taking a moderate circuit, had drawn near the side of the boat, and stood listlessly gazing over the railing. After a time, he saw the trader returning, with an alert step, in company with a colored woman, bearing in her arms a young child. She was dressed quite respectably, and a colored man followed her, bringing along a small trunk. The woman came cheerfully onward, talking, as she came, with the man who bore her trunk, and so passed up the plank into the boat. The bell rung, the steamer whizzed, the engine groaned and coughed, and away swept the boat down the river.
The woman walked forward among the boxes and bales of the lower deck, and, sitting down, busied herself with chirruping to her baby.
Haley made a turn or two about the boat, and then, coming up, seated himself near her, and began saying something to her in an indifferent undertone.
Tom soon noticed a heavy cloud passing over the woman’s brow; and that she answered rapidly, and with great vehemence.
“I don’t believe it,—I won’t believe it!” he heard her say. “You’re jist a foolin’ with me.”
“If you won’t believe it, look here!” said the man, drawing out a paper; “this yer’s the bill of sale, and there’s your master’s name to it; and I paid down good solid cash for it, too, I can tell you,—so, now!”
“I don’t believe Mas’r would cheat me so; it can’t be true!” said the woman, with increasing agitation.
“You can ask any of these men here, that can read writing. Here!” he said, to a man that was passing by, “jist read this yer, won’t you! This yer gal won’t believe me, when I tell her what ‘t is.”
“Why, it’s a bill of sale, signed by John Fosdick,” said the man, “making over to you the girl Lucy and her child. It’s all straight enough, for aught I see.”
The woman’s passionate exclamations collected a crowd around her, and the trader briefly explained to them the cause of the agitation.
“He told me that I was going down to Louisville, to hire out as cook to the same tavern where my husband works,—that’s what Mas’r told me, his own self; and I can’t believe he’d lie to me,” said the woman.
“But he has sold you, my poor woman, there’s no doubt about it,” said a good-natured looking man, who had been examining the papers; “he has done it, and no mistake.”
“Then it’s no account talking,” said the woman, suddenly growing quite calm; and, clasping her child tighter in her arms, she sat down on her box, turned her back round, and gazed listlessly into the river.
“Going to take it easy, after all!” said the trader. “Gal’s got grit, I see.”
The woman looked calm, as the boat went on; and a beautiful soft summer breeze passed like a compassionate spirit over her head,—the gentle breeze, that never inquires whether the brow is dusky or fair that it fans. And she saw sunshine sparkling on the water, in golden ripples, and heard gay voices, full of ease and pleasure, talking around her everywhere; but her heart lay as if a great stone had fallen on it. Her baby raised himself up against her, and stroked her cheeks with his little hands; and, springing up and down, crowing and chatting, seemed determined to arouse her. She strained him suddenly and tightly in her arms, and slowly one tear after another fell on his wondering, unconscious face; and gradually she seemed, and little by little, to grow calmer, and busied herself with tending and nursing him.
The child, a boy of ten months, was uncommonly large and strong of his age, and very vigorous in his limbs. Never, for a moment, still, he kept his mother constantly busy in holding him, and guarding his springing activity.
“That’s a fine chap!” said a man, suddenly stopping opposite to him, with his hands in his pockets. “How old is he?”
“Ten months and a half,” said the mother.
The man whistled to the boy, and offered him part of a stick of candy, which he eagerly grabbed at, and very soon had it in a baby’s general depository, to wit, his mouth.
“Rum fellow!” said the man “Knows what’s what!” and he whistled, and walked on. When he had got to the other side of the boat, he came across Haley, who was smoking on top of a pile of boxes.
The stranger produced a match, and lighted a cigar, saying, as he did so,
“Decentish kind o’ wench you’ve got round there, stranger.”
“Why, I reckon she is tol’able fair,” said Haley, blowing the smoke out of his mouth.
“Taking her down south?” said the man.
Haley nodded, and smoked on.
“Plantation hand?” said the man.
“Wal,” said Haley, “I’m fillin’ out an order for a plantation, and I think I shall put her in. They telled me she was a good cook; and they can use her for that, or set her at the cotton-picking. She’s got the right fingers for that; I looked at ’em. Sell well, either way;” and Haley resumed his cigar.
“They won’t want the young ‘un on the plantation,” said the man.
“I shall sell him, first chance I find,” said Haley, lighting another cigar.
“S’pose you’d be selling him tol’able cheap,” said the stranger, mounting the pile of boxes, and sitting down comfortably.
“Don’t know ’bout that,” said Haley; “he’s a pretty smart young ‘un, straight, fat, strong; flesh as hard as a brick!”
“Very true, but then there’s the bother and expense of raisin’.”
“Nonsense!” said Haley; “they is raised as easy as any kind of critter there is going; they an’t a bit more trouble than pups. This yer chap will be running all around, in a month.”
“I’ve got a good place for raisin’, and I thought of takin’ in a little more stock,” said the man. “One cook lost a young ‘un last week,—got drownded in a washtub, while she was a hangin’ out the clothes,—and I reckon it would be well enough to set her to raisin’ this yer.”
Haley and the stranger smoked a while in silence, neither seeming willing to broach the test question of the interview. At last the man resumed:
“You wouldn’t think of wantin’ more than ten dollars for that ar chap, seeing you must get him off yer hand, any how?”
Haley shook his head, and spit impressively.
“That won’t do, no ways,” he said, and began his smoking again.
“Well, stranger, what will you take?”
“Well, now,” said Haley, “I could raise that ar chap myself, or get him raised; he’s oncommon likely and healthy, and he’d fetch a hundred dollars, six months hence; and, in a year or two, he’d bring two hundred, if I had him in the right spot; I shan’t take a cent less nor fifty for him now.”
“O, stranger! that’s rediculous, altogether,” said the man.
“Fact!” said Haley, with a decisive nod of his head.
“I’ll give thirty for him,” said the stranger, “but not a cent more.”
“Now, I’ll tell ye what I will do,” said Haley, spitting again, with renewed decision. “I’ll split the difference, and say forty-five; and that’s the most I will do.”
“Well, agreed!” said the man, after an interval.
“Done!” said Haley. “Where do you land?”
“At Louisville,” said the man.
“Louisville,” said Haley. “Very fair, we get there about dusk. Chap will be asleep,—all fair,—get him off quietly, and no screaming,—happens beautiful,—I like to do everything quietly,—I hates all kind of agitation and fluster.” And so, after a transfer of certain bills had passed from the man’s pocket-book to the trader’s, he resumed his cigar.
It was a bright, tranquil evening when the boat stopped at the wharf at Louisville. The woman had been sitting with her baby in her arms, now wrapped in a heavy sleep. When she heard the name of the place called out, she hastily laid the child down in a little cradle formed by the hollow among the boxes, first carefully spreading under it her cloak; and then she sprung to the side of the boat, in hopes that, among the various hotel-waiters who thronged the wharf, she might see her husband. In this hope, she pressed forward to the front rails, and, stretching far over them, strained her eyes intently on the moving heads on the shore, and the crowd pressed in between her and the child.
“Now’s your time,” said Haley, taking the sleeping child up, and handing him to the stranger. “Don’t wake him up, and set him to crying, now; it would make a devil of a fuss with the gal.” The man took the bundle carefully, and was soon lost in the crowd that went up the wharf.
When the boat, creaking, and groaning, and puffing, had loosed from the wharf, and was beginning slowly to strain herself along, the woman returned to her old seat. The trader was sitting there,—the child was gone!
“Why, why,—where?” she began, in bewildered surprise.
“Lucy,” said the trader, “your child’s gone; you may as well know it first as last. You see, I know’d you couldn’t take him down south; and I got a chance to sell him to a first-rate family, that’ll raise him better than you can.”
The trader had arrived at that stage of Christian and political perfection which has been recommended by some preachers and politicians of the north, lately, in which he had completely overcome every humane weakness and prejudice. His heart was exactly where yours, sir, and mine could be brought, with proper effort and cultivation. The wild look of anguish and utter despair that the woman cast on him might have disturbed one less practised; but he was used to it. He had seen that same look hundreds of times. You can get used to such things, too, my friend; and it is the great object of recent efforts to make our whole northern community used to them, for the glory of the Union. So the trader only regarded the mortal anguish which he saw working in those dark features, those clenched hands, and suffocating breathings, as necessary incidents of the trade, and merely calculated whether she was going to scream, and get up a commotion on the boat; for, like other supporters of our peculiar institution, he decidedly disliked agitation.
But the woman did not scream. The shot had passed too straight and direct through the heart, for cry or tear.
Dizzily she sat down. Her slack hands fell lifeless by her side. Her eyes looked straight forward, but she saw nothing. All the noise and hum of the boat, the groaning of the machinery, mingled dreamily to her bewildered ear; and the poor, dumb-stricken heart had neither cry not tear to show for its utter misery. She was quite calm.
The trader, who, considering his advantages, was almost as humane as some of our politicians, seemed to feel called on to administer such consolation as the case admitted of.
“I know this yer comes kinder hard, at first, Lucy,” said he; “but such a smart, sensible gal as you are, won’t give way to it. You see it’s necessary, and can’t be helped!”
“O! don’t, Mas’r, don’t!” said the woman, with a voice like one that is smothering.
“You’re a smart wench, Lucy,” he persisted; “I mean to do well by ye, and get ye a nice place down river; and you’ll soon get another husband,—such a likely gal as you—”
“O! Mas’r, if you only won’t talk to me now,” said the woman, in a voice of such quick and living anguish that the trader felt that there was something at present in the case beyond his style of operation. He got up, and the woman turned away, and buried her head in her cloak.
The trader walked up and down for a time, and occasionally stopped and looked at her.
“Takes it hard, rather,” he soliloquized, “but quiet, tho’;—let her sweat a while; she’ll come right, by and by!”
Tom had watched the whole transaction from first to last, and had a perfect understanding of its results. To him, it looked like something unutterably horrible and cruel, because, poor, ignorant black soul! he had not learned to generalize, and to take enlarged views. If he had only been instructed by certain ministers of Christianity, he might have thought better of it, and seen in it an every-day incident of a lawful trade; a trade which is the vital support of an institution which an American divine* tells us has “no evils but such as are inseparable from any other relations in social and domestic life.” But Tom, as we see, being a poor, ignorant fellow, whose reading had been confined entirely to the New Testament, could not comfort and solace himself with views like these. His very soul bled within him for what seemed to him the wrongs of the poor suffering thing that lay like a crushed reed on the boxes; the feeling, living, bleeding, yet immortal thing, which American state law coolly classes with the bundles, and bales, and boxes, among which she is lying.
Tom drew near, and tried to say something; but she only groaned. Honestly, and with tears running down his own cheeks, he spoke of a heart of love in the skies, of a pitying Jesus, and an eternal home; but the ear was deaf with anguish, and the palsied heart could not feel.
Night came on,—night calm, unmoved, and glorious, shining down with her innumerable and solemn angel eyes, twinkling, beautiful, but silent. There was no speech nor language, no pitying voice or helping hand, from that distant sky. One after another, the voices of business or pleasure died away; all on the boat were sleeping, and the ripples at the prow were plainly heard. Tom stretched himself out on a box, and there, as he lay, he heard, ever and anon, a smothered sob or cry from the prostrate creature,—”O! what shall I do? O Lord! O good Lord, do help me!” and so, ever and anon, until the murmur died away in silence.
At midnight, Tom waked, with a sudden start. Something black passed quickly by him to the side of the boat, and he heard a splash in the water. No one else saw or heard anything. He raised his head,—the woman’s place was vacant! He got up, and sought about him in vain. The poor bleeding heart was still, at last, and the river rippled and dimpled just as brightly as if it had not closed above it.
Patience! patience! ye whose hearts swell indignant at wrongs like these. Not one throb of anguish, not one tear of the oppressed, is forgotten by the Man of Sorrows, the Lord of Glory. In his patient, generous bosom he bears the anguish of a world. Bear thou, like him, in patience, and labor in love; for sure as he is God, “the year of his redeemed shall come.”
The trader waked up bright and early, and came out to see to his live stock. It was now his turn to look about in perplexity.
“Where alive is that gal?” he said to Tom.
Tom, who had learned the wisdom of keeping counsel, did not feel called upon to state his observations and suspicions, but said he did not know.
“She surely couldn’t have got off in the night at any of the landings, for I was awake, and on the lookout, whenever the boat stopped. I never trust these yer things to other folks.”
This speech was addressed to Tom quite confidentially, as if it was something that would be specially interesting to him. Tom made no answer.
The trader searched the boat from stem to stern, among boxes, bales and barrels, around the machinery, by the chimneys, in vain.
“Now, I say, Tom, be fair about this yer,” he said, when, after a fruitless search, he came where Tom was standing. “You know something about it, now. Don’t tell me,—I know you do. I saw the gal stretched out here about ten o’clock, and ag’in at twelve, and ag’in between one and two; and then at four she was gone, and you was a sleeping right there all the time. Now, you know something,—you can’t help it.”
“Well, Mas’r,” said Tom, “towards morning something brushed by me, and I kinder half woke; and then I hearn a great splash, and then I clare woke up, and the gal was gone. That’s all I know on ‘t.”
The trader was not shocked nor amazed; because, as we said before, he was used to a great many things that you are not used to. Even the awful presence of Death struck no solemn chill upon him. He had seen Death many times,—met him in the way of trade, and got acquainted with him,—and he only thought of him as a hard customer, that embarrassed his property operations very unfairly; and so he only swore that the gal was a baggage, and that he was devilish unlucky, and that, if things went on in this way, he should not make a cent on the trip. In short, he seemed to consider himself an ill-used man, decidedly; but there was no help for it, as the woman had escaped into a state which never will give up a fugitive,—not even at the demand of the whole glorious Union. The trader, therefore, sat discontentedly down, with his little account-book, and put down the missing body and soul under the head of losses!