The Quaker Settlement
A quiet scene now rises before us. A large, roomy, neatly-painted kitchen, its yellow floor glossy and smooth, and without a particle of dust; a neat, well-blacked cooking-stove; rows of shining tin, suggestive of unmentionable good things to the appetite; glossy green wood chairs, old and firm; a small flag-bottomed rocking-chair, with a patch-work cushion in it, neatly contrived out of small pieces of different colored woollen goods, and a larger sized one, motherly and old, whose wide arms breathed hospitable invitation, seconded by the solicitation of its feather cushions, – a real comfortable, persuasive old chair, and worth, in the way of honest, homely enjoyment, a dozen of your plush or brochetelle drawing-room gentry; and in the chair, gently swaying back and forward, her eyes bent on some fine sewing, sat our fine old friend Eliza. Yes, there she is, paler and thinner than in her Kentucky home, with a world of quiet sorrow lying under the shadow of her long eyelashes, and marking the outline of her gentle mouth! It was plain to see how old and firm the girlish heart was grown under the discipline of heavy sorrow; and when, anon, her large dark eye was raised to follow the gambols of her little Harry, who was sporting, like some tropical butterfly, hither and thither over the floor, she showed a depth of firmness and steady resolve that was never there in her earlier and happier days.
By her side sat a woman with a bright tin pan in her lap, into which she was carefully sorting some dried peaches. She might be fifty-five or sixty; but hers was one of those faces that time seems to touch only to brighten and adorn. The snowy fisse crape cap, made after the strait Quaker pattern, – the plain white muslin handkerchief, lying in placid folds across her bosom, – the drab shawl and dress, – showed at once the community to which she belonged. Her face was round and rosy, with a healthful downy softness, suggestive of a ripe peach. Her hair, partially silvered by age, was parted smoothly back from a high placid forehead, on which time had written no inscription, except peace on earth, good will to men, and beneath shone a large pair of clear, honest, loving brown eyes; you only needed to look straight into them, to feel that you saw to the bottom of a heart as good and true as ever throbbed in woman’s bosom. So much has been said and sung of beautiful young girls, why don’t somebody wake up to the beauty of old women? If any want to get up an inspiration under this head, we refer them to our good friend Rachel Halliday, just as she sits there in her little rocking-chair. It had a turn for quacking and squeaking, – that chair had, – either from having taken cold in early life, or from some asthmatic affection, or perhaps from nervous derangement; but, as she gently swung backward and forward, the chair kept up a kind of subdued “creechy crawchy,” that would have been intolerable in any other chair. But old Simeon Halliday often declared it was as good as any music to him, and the children all avowed that they wouldn’t miss of hearing mother’s chair for anything in the world. For why? for twenty years or more, nothing but loving words, and gentle moralities, and motherly loving kindness, had come from that chair; – head-aches and heart-aches innumerable had been cured there, – difficulties spiritual and temporal solved there, – all by one good, loving woman, God bless her!
“And so thee still thinks of going to Canada, Eliza?” she said, as she was quietly looking over her peaches.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Eliza, firmly. “I must go onward. I dare not stop.”
“And what’ll thee do, when thee gets there? Thee must think about that, my daughter.”
“My daughter” came naturally from the lips of Rachel Halliday; for hers was just the face and form that made “mother” seem the most natural word in the world.
Eliza’s hands trembled, and some tears fell on her fine work; but she answered, firmly,
“I shall do – anything I can find. I hope I can find something.”
“Thee knows thee can stay here, as long as thee pleases,” said Rachel.
“O, thank you,” said Eliza, “but” – she pointed to Harry – “I can’t sleep nights; I can’t rest. Last night I dreamed I saw that man coming into the yard,” she said, shuddering.
“Poor child!” said Rachel, wiping her eyes; “but thee mustn’t feel so. The Lord hath ordered it so that never hath a fugitive been stolen from our village. I trust thine will not be the first.”
The door here opened, and a little short, round, pin-cushiony woman stood at the door, with a cheery, blooming face, like a ripe apple. She was dressed, like Rachel, in sober gray, with the muslin folded neatly across her round, plump little chest.
“Ruth Stedman,” said Rachel, coming joyfully forward; “how is thee, Ruth? she said, heartily taking both her hands.
“Nicely,” said Ruth, taking off her little drab bonnet, and dusting it with her handkerchief, displaying, as she did so, a round little head, on which the Quaker cap sat with a sort of jaunty air, despite all the stroking and patting of the small fat hands, which were busily applied to arranging it. Certain stray locks of decidedly curly hair, too, had escaped here and there, and had to be coaxed and cajoled into their place again; and then the new comer, who might have been five-and-twenty, turned from the small looking-glass, before which she had been making these arrangements, and looked well pleased, – as most people who looked at her might have been, – for she was decidedly a wholesome, whole-hearted, chirruping little woman, as ever gladdened man’s heart withal.
“Ruth, this friend is Eliza Harris; and this is the little boy I told thee of.”
“I am glad to see thee, Eliza, – very,” said Ruth, shaking hands, as if Eliza were an old friend she had long been expecting; “and this is thy dear boy, – I brought a cake for him,” she said, holding out a little heart to the boy, who came up, gazing through his curls, and accepted it shyly.
“Where’s thy baby, Ruth?” said Rachel.
“O, he’s coming; but thy Mary caught him as I came in, and ran off with him to the barn, to show him to the children.”
At this moment, the door opened, and Mary, an honest, rosy-looking girl, with large brown eyes, like her mother’s, came in with the baby.
“Ah! ha!” said Rachel, coming up, and taking the great, white, fat fellow in her arms, “how good he looks, and how he does grow!”
“To be sure, he does,” said little bustling Ruth, as she took the child, and began taking off a little blue silk hood, and various layers and wrappers of outer garments; and having given a twitch here, and a pull there, and variously adjusted and arranged him, and kissed him heartily, she set him on the floor to collect his thoughts. Baby seemed quite used to this mode of proceeding, for he put his thumb in his mouth (as if it were quite a thing of course), and seemed soon absorbed in his own reflections, while the mother seated herself, and taking out a long stocking of mixed blue and white yarn, began to knit with briskness.
“Mary, thee’d better fill the kettle, hadn’t thee?” gently suggested the mother.
Mary took the kettle to the well, and soon reappearing, placed it over the stove, where it was soon purring and steaming, a sort of censer of hospitality and good cheer. The peaches, moreover, in obedience to a few gentle whispers from Rachel, were soon deposited, by the same hand, in a stew-pan over the fire.
Rachel now took down a snowy moulding-board, and, tying on an apron, proceeded quietly to making up some biscuits, first saying to Mary, – “Mary, hadn’t thee better tell John to get a chicken ready?” and Mary disappeared accordingly.
“And how is Abigail Peters?” said Rachel, as she went on with her biscuits.
“O, she’s better,” said Ruth; “I was in, this morning; made the bed, tidied up the house. Leah Hills went in, this afternoon, and baked bread and pies enough to last some days; and I engaged to go back to get her up, this evening.”
“I will go in tomorrow, and do any cleaning there may be, and look over the mending,” said Rachel.
“Ah! that is well,” said Ruth. “I’ve heard,” she added, “that Hannah Stanwood is sick. John was up there, last night, – I must go there tomorrow.”
“John can come in here to his meals, if thee needs to stay all day,” suggested Rachel.
“Thank thee, Rachel; will see, tomorrow; but, here comes Simeon.”
Simeon Halliday, a tall, straight, muscular man, in drab coat and pantaloons, and broad-brimmed hat, now entered.
“How is thee, Ruth?” he said, warmly, as he spread his broad open hand for her little fat palm; “and how is John?”
“O! John is well, and all the rest of our folks,” said Ruth, cheerily.
“Any news, father?” said Rachel, as she was putting her biscuits into the oven.
“Peter Stebbins told me that they should be along tonight, with friends,” said Simeon, significantly, as he was washing his hands at a neat sink, in a little back porch.
“Indeed!” said Rachel, looking thoughtfully, and glancing at Eliza.
“Did thee say thy name was Harris?” said Simeon to Eliza, as he reentered.
Rachel glanced quickly at her husband, as Eliza tremulously answered “yes;” her fears, ever uppermost, suggesting that possibly there might be advertisements out for her.
“Mother!” said Simeon, standing in the porch, and calling Rachel out.
“What does thee want, father?” said Rachel, rubbing her floury hands, as she went into the porch.
“This child’s husband is in the settlement, and will be here tonight,” said Simeon.
“Now, thee doesn’t say that, father?” said Rachel, all her face radiant with joy.
“It’s really true. Peter was down yesterday, with the wagon, to the other stand, and there he found an old woman and two men; and one said his name was George Harris; and from what he told of his history, I am certain who he is. He is a bright, likely fellow, too.”
“Shall we tell her now?” said Simeon.
“Let’s tell Ruth,” said Rachel. “Here, Ruth, – come here.”
Ruth laid down her knitting-work, and was in the back porch in a moment.
“Ruth, what does thee think?” said Rachel. “Father says Eliza’s husband is in the last company, and will be here tonight.”
A burst of joy from the little Quakeress interrupted the speech. She gave such a bound from the floor, as she clapped her little hands, that two stray curls fell from under her Quaker cap, and lay brightly on her white neckerchief.
“Hush thee, dear!” said Rachel, gently; “hush, Ruth! Tell us, shall we tell her now?”
“Now! to be sure, – this very minute. Why, now, suppose ‘t was my John, how should I feel? Do tell her, right off.”
“Thee uses thyself only to learn how to love thy neighbor, Ruth,” said Simeon, looking, with a beaming face, on Ruth.
“To be sure. Isn’t it what we are made for? If I didn’t love John and the baby, I should not know how to feel for her. Come, now do tell her, – do!” and she laid her hands persuasively on Rachel’s arm. “Take her into thy bed-room, there, and let me fry the chicken while thee does it.”
Rachel came out into the kitchen, where Eliza was sewing, and opening the door of a small bed-room, said, gently, “Come in here with me, my daughter; I have news to tell thee.”
The blood flushed in Eliza’s pale face; she rose, trembling with nervous anxiety, and looked towards her boy.
“No, no,” said little Ruth, darting up, and seizing her hands. “Never thee fear; it’s good news, Eliza, – go in, go in!” And she gently pushed her to the door which closed after her; and then, turning round, she caught little Harry in her arms, and began kissing him.
“Thee’ll see thy father, little one. Does thee know it? Thy father is coming,” she said, over and over again, as the boy looked wonderingly at her.
Meanwhile, within the door, another scene was going on. Rachel Halliday drew Eliza toward her, and said, “The Lord hath had mercy on thee, daughter; thy husband hath escaped from the house of bondage.”
The blood flushed to Eliza’s cheek in a sudden glow, and went back to her heart with as sudden a rush. She sat down, pale and faint.
“Have courage, child,” said Rachel, laying her hand on her head. “He is among friends, who will bring him here tonight.”
“Tonight!” Eliza repeated, “tonight!” The words lost all meaning to her; her head was dreamy and confused; all was mist for a moment.
When she awoke, she found herself snugly tucked up on the bed, with a blanket over her, and little Ruth rubbing her hands with camphor. She opened her eyes in a state of dreamy, delicious languor, such as one who has long been bearing a heavy load, and now feels it gone, and would rest. The tension of the nerves, which had never ceased a moment since the first hour of her flight, had given way, and a strange feeling of security and rest came over her; and as she lay, with her large, dark eyes open, she followed, as in a quiet dream, the motions of those about her. She saw the door open into the other room; saw the supper-table, with its snowy cloth; heard the dreamy murmur of the singing tea-kettle; saw Ruth tripping backward and forward, with plates of cake and saucers of preserves, and ever and anon stopping to put a cake into Harry’s hand, or pat his head, or twine his long curls round her snowy fingers. She saw the ample, motherly form of Rachel, as she ever and anon came to the bedside, and smoothed and arranged something about the bedclothes, and gave a tuck here and there, by way of expressing her good-will; and was conscious of a kind of sunshine beaming down upon her from her large, clear, brown eyes. She saw Ruth’s husband come in, – saw her fly up to him, and commence whispering very earnestly, ever and anon, with impressive gesture, pointing her little finger toward the room. She saw her, with the baby in her arms, sitting down to tea; she saw them all at table, and little Harry in a high chair, under the shadow of Rachel’s ample wing; there were low murmurs of talk, gentle tinkling of tea-spoons, and musical clatter of cups and saucers, and all mingled in a delightful dream of rest; and Eliza slept, as she had not slept before, since the fearful midnight hour when she had taken her child and fled through the frosty starlight.
She dreamed of a beautiful country, – a land, it seemed to her, of rest, – green shores, pleasant islands, and beautifully glittering water; and there, in a house which kind voices told her was a home, she saw her boy playing, free and happy child. She heard her husband’s footsteps;
she felt him coming nearer; his arms were around her, his tears falling on her face, and she awoke! It was no dream. The daylight had long faded; her child lay calmly sleeping by her side; a candle was burning dimly on the stand, and her husband was sobbing by her pillow.
The next morning was a cheerful one at the Quaker house. “Mother” was up betimes, and surrounded by busy girls and boys, whom we had scarce time to introduce to our readers yesterday, and who all moved obediently to Rachel’s gentle “Thee had better,” or more gentle “Hadn’t thee better?” in the work of getting breakfast; for a breakfast in the luxurious valleys of Indiana is a thing complicated and multiform, and, like picking up the rose-leaves and trimming the bushes in Paradise, asking other hands than those of the original mother. While, therefore, John ran to the spring for fresh water, and Simeon the second sifted meal for corn-cakes, and Mary ground coffee, Rachel moved gently, and quietly about, making biscuits, cutting up chicken, and diffusing a sort of sunny radiance over the whole proceeding generally. If there was any danger of friction or collision from the ill-regulated zeal of so many young operators, her gentle “Come! come!” or “I wouldn’t, now,” was quite sufficient to allay the difficulty. Bards have written of the cestus of Venus, that turned the heads of all the world in successive generations. We had rather, for our part, have the cestus of Rachel Halliday, that kept heads from being turned, and made everything go on harmoniously. We think it is more suited to our modern days, decidedly.
While all other preparations were going on, Simeon the elder stood in his shirt-sleeves before a little looking-glass in the corner, engaged in the anti-patriarchal operation of shaving. Everything went on so sociably, so quietly, so harmoniously, in the great kitchen, – it seemed so pleasant to every one to do just what they were doing, there was such an atmosphere of mutual confidence and good fellowship everywhere, – even the knives and forks had a social clatter as they went on to the table; and the chicken and ham had a cheerful and joyous fizzle in the pan, as if they rather enjoyed being cooked than otherwise; – and when George and Eliza and little Harry came out, they met such a hearty, rejoicing welcome, no wonder it seemed to them like a dream.
At last, they were all seated at breakfast, while Mary stood at the stove, baking griddle-cakes, which, as they gained the true exact golden-brown tint of perfection, were transferred quite handily to the table.
Rachel never looked so truly and benignly happy as at the head of her table. There was so much motherliness and full-heartedness even in the way she passed a plate of cakes or poured a cup of coffee, that it seemed to put a spirit into the food and drink she offered.
It was the first time that ever George had sat down on equal terms at any white man’s table; and he sat down, at first, with some constraint and awkwardness; but they all exhaled and went off like fog, in the genial morning rays of this simple, overflowing kindness.
This, indeed, was a home, – home, – a word that George had never yet known a meaning for; and a belief in God, and trust in his providence, began to encircle his heart, as, with a golden cloud of protection and confidence, dark, misanthropic, pining atheistic doubts, and fierce despair, melted away before the light of a living Gospel, breathed in living faces, preached by a thousand unconscious acts of love and good will, which, like the cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple, shall never lose their reward.
“Father, what if thee should get found out again?” said Simeon second, as he buttered his cake.
“I should pay my fine,” said Simeon, quietly.
“But what if they put thee in prison?”
“Couldn’t thee and mother manage the farm?” said Simeon, smiling.
“Mother can do almost everything,” said the boy. “But isn’t it a shame to make such laws?”
“Thee mustn’t speak evil of thy rulers, Simeon,” said his father, gravely. “The Lord only gives us our worldly goods that we may do justice and mercy; if our rulers require a price of us for it, we must deliver it up.
“Well, I hate those old slaveholders!” said the boy, who felt as unchristian as became any modern reformer.
“I am surprised at thee, son,” said Simeon; “thy mother never taught thee so. I would do even the same for the slaveholder as for the slave, if the Lord brought him to my door in affliction.”
Simeon second blushed scarlet; but his mother only smiled, and said, “Simeon is my good boy; he will grow older, by and by, and then he will be like his father.”
“I hope, my good sir, that you are not exposed to any difficulty on our account,” said George, anxiously.
“Fear nothing, George, for therefore are we sent into the world. If we would not meet trouble for a good cause, we were not worthy of our name.”
“But, for me,” said George, “I could not bear it.”
“Fear not, then, friend George; it is not for thee, but for God and man, we do it,” said Simeon. “And now thou must lie by quietly this day, and tonight, at ten o’clock, Phineas Fletcher will carry thee onward to the next stand, – thee and the rest of they company. The pursuers are hard after thee; we must not delay.”
“If that is the case, why wait till evening?” said George.
“Thou art safe here by daylight, for every one in the settlement is a Friend, and all are watching. It has been found safer to travel by night.”
“A young star! which shone
O’er life – too sweet an image, for such glass!
A lovely being, scarcely formed or moulded;
A rose with all its sweetest leaves yet folded.”
The Mississippi! How, as by an enchanted wand, have its scenes been changed, since Chateaubriand wrote his prose-poetic description of it, as a river of mighty, unbroken solitudes, rolling amid undreamed wonders of vegetable and animal existence.
But as in an hour, this river of dreams and wild romance has emerged to a reality scarcely less visionary and splendid. What other river of the world bears on its bosom to the ocean the wealth and enterprise of such another country? – a country whose products embrace all between the tropics and the poles! Those turbid waters, hurrying, foaming, tearing along, an apt resemblance of that headlong tide of business which is poured along its wave by a race more vehement and energetic than any the old world ever saw. Ah! would that they did not also bear along a more fearful freight, – the tears of the oppressed, the sighs of the helpless, the bitter prayers of poor, ignorant hearts to an unknown God – unknown, unseen and silent, but who will yet “come out of his place to save all the poor of the earth!”
The slanting light of the setting sun quivers on the sea-like expanse of the river; the shivery canes, and the tall, dark cypress, hung with wreaths of dark, funereal moss, glow in the golden ray, as the heavily-laden steamboat marches onward.
Piled with cotton-bales, from many a plantation, up over deck and sides, till she seems in the distance a square, massive block of gray, she moves heavily onward to the nearing mart. We must look some time among its crowded decks before we shall find again our humble friend Tom. High on the upper deck, in a little nook among the everywhere predominant cotton-bales, at last we may find him.
Partly from confidence inspired by Mr. Shelby’s representations, and partly from the remarkably inoffensive and quiet character of the man, Tom had insensibly won his way far into the confidence even of such a man as Haley.
At first he had watched him narrowly through the day, and never allowed him to sleep at night unfettered; but the uncomplaining patience and apparent contentment of Tom’s manner led him gradually to discontinue these restraints, and for some time Tom had enjoyed a sort of parole of honor, being permitted to come and go freely where he pleased on the boat.
Ever quiet and obliging, and more than ready to lend a hand in every emergency which occurred among the workmen below, he had won the good opinion of all the hands, and spent many hours in helping them with as hearty a good will as ever he worked on a Kentucky farm.
When there seemed to be nothing for him to do, he would climb to a nook among the cotton-bales of the upper deck, and busy himself in studying over his Bible, – and it is there we see him now.
For a hundred or more miles above New Orleans, the river is higher than the surrounding country, and rolls its tremendous volume between massive levees twenty feet in height. The traveller from the deck of the steamer, as from some floating castle top, overlooks the whole country for miles and miles around. Tom, therefore, had spread out full before him, in plantation after plantation, a map of the life to which he was approaching.
He saw the distant slaves at their toil; he saw afar their villages of huts gleaming out in long rows on many a plantation, distant from the stately mansions and pleasure-grounds of the master; – and as the moving picture passed on, his poor, foolish heart would be turning backward to the Kentucky farm, with its old shadowy beeches, – to the master’s house, with its wide, cool halls, and, near by, the little cabin overgrown with the multiflora and bignonia. There he seemed to see familiar faces of comrades who had grown up with him from infancy; he saw his busy wife, bustling in her preparations for his evening meals; he heard the merry laugh of his boys at their play, and the chirrup of the baby at his knee; and then, with a start, all faded, and he saw again the canebrakes and cypresses and gliding plantations, and heard again the creaking and groaning of the machinery, all telling him too plainly that all that phase of life had gone by forever.
In such a case, you write to your wife, and send messages to your children; but Tom could not write, – the mail for him had no existence, and the gulf of separation was unbridged by even a friendly word or signal.
Is it strange, then, that some tears fall on the pages of his Bible, as he lays it on the cotton-bale, and, with patient finger, threading his slow way from word to word, traces out its promises? Having learned late in life, Tom was but a slow reader, and passed on laboriously from verse to verse. Fortunate for him was it that the book he was intent on was one which slow reading cannot injure, – nay, one whose words, like ingots of gold, seem often to need to be weighed separately, that the mind may take in their priceless value. Let us follow him a moment, as, pointing to each word, and pronouncing each half aloud, he reads,
“Let – not – your – heart – be – troubled. In – my – Father’s – house – are – many – mansions. I – go – to – prepare – a – place – for – you.”
Cicero, when he buried his darling and only daughter, had a heart as full of honest grief as poor Tom’s, – perhaps no fuller, for both were only men; – but Cicero could pause over no such sublime words of hope, and look to no such future reunion; and if he had seen them, ten to one he would not have believed, – he must fill his head first with a thousand questions of authenticity of manuscript, and correctness of translation. But, to poor Tom, there it lay, just what he needed, so evidently true and divine that the possibility of a question never entered his simple head. It must be true; for, if not true, how could he live?
As for Tom’s Bible, though it had no annotations and helps in margin from learned commentators, still it had been embellished with certain way-marks and guide-boards of Tom’s own invention, and which helped him more than the most learned expositions could have done. It had been his custom to get the Bible read to him by his master’s children, in particular by young Master George; and, as they read, he would designate, by bold, strong marks and dashes, with pen and ink, the passages which more particularly gratified his ear or affected his heart. His Bible was thus marked through, from one end to the other, with a variety of styles and designations; so he could in a moment seize upon his favorite passages, without the labor of spelling out what lay between them; – and while it lay there before him, every passage breathing of some old home scene, and recalling some past enjoyment, his Bible seemed to him all of this life that remained, as well as the promise of a future one.
Among the passengers on the boat was a young gentleman of fortune and family, resident in New Orleans, who bore the name of St. Clare. He had with him a daughter between five and six years of age, together with a lady who seemed to claim relationship to both, and to have the little one especially under her charge.
Tom had often caught glimpses of this little girl, – for she was one of those busy, tripping creatures, that can be no more contained in one place than a sunbeam or a summer breeze, – nor was she one that, once seen, could be easily forgotten.
Her form was the perfection of childish beauty, without its usual chubbiness and squareness of outline. There was about it an undulating and aerial grace, such as one might dream of for some mythic and allegorical being. Her face was remarkable less for its perfect beauty of feature than for a singular and dreamy earnestness of expression, which made the ideal start when they looked at her, and by which the dullest and most literal were impressed, without exactly knowing why. The shape of her head and the turn of her neck and bust was peculiarly noble, and the long golden-brown hair that floated like a cloud around it, the deep spiritual gravity of her violet blue eyes, shaded by heavy fringes of golden brown, – all marked her out from other children, and made every one turn and look after her, as she glided hither and thither on the boat. Nevertheless, the little one was not what you would have called either a grave child or a sad one. On the contrary, an airy and innocent playfulness seemed to flicker like the shadow of summer leaves over her childish face, and around her buoyant figure. She was always in motion, always with a half smile on her rosy mouth, flying hither and thither, with an undulating and cloud-like tread, singing to herself as she moved as in a happy dream. Her father and female guardian were incessantly busy in pursuit of her, – but, when caught, she melted from them again like a summer cloud; and as no word of chiding or reproof ever fell on her ear for whatever she chose to do, she pursued her own way all over the boat. Always dressed in white, she seemed to move like a shadow through all sorts of places, without contracting spot or stain; and there was not a corner or nook, above or below, where those fairy footsteps had not glided, and that visionary golden head, with its deep blue eyes, fleeted along.
The fireman, as he looked up from his sweaty toil, sometimes found those eyes looking wonderingly into the raging depths of the furnace, and fearfully and pityingly at him, as if she thought him in some dreadful danger. Anon the steersman at the wheel paused and smiled, as the picture-like head gleamed through the window of the round house, and in a moment was gone again. A thousand times a day rough voices blessed her, and smiles of unwonted softness stole over hard faces, as she passed; and when she tripped fearlessly over dangerous places, rough, sooty hands were stretched involuntarily out to save her, and smooth her path.
Tom, who had the soft, impressible nature of his kindly race, ever yearning toward the simple and childlike, watched the little creature with daily increasing interest. To him she seemed something almost divine; and whenever her golden head and deep blue eyes peered out upon him from behind some dusky cotton-bale, or looked down upon him over some ridge of packages, he half believed that he saw one of the angels stepped out of his New Testament.
Often and often she walked mournfully round the place where Haley’s gang of men and women sat in their chains. She would glide in among them, and look at them with an air of perplexed and sorrowful earnestness; and sometimes she would lift their chains with her slender hands, and then sigh wofully, as she glided away. Several times she appeared suddenly among them, with her hands full of candy, nuts, and oranges, which she would distribute joyfully to them, and then be gone again.
Tom watched the little lady a great deal, before he ventured on any overtures towards acquaintanceship. He knew an abundance of simple acts to propitiate and invite the approaches of the little people, and he resolved to play his part right skilfully. He could cut cunning little baskets out of cherry-stones, could make grotesque faces on hickory-nuts, or odd-jumping figures out of elder-pith, and he was a very Pan in the manufacture of whistles of all sizes and sorts. His pockets were full of miscellaneous articles of attraction, which he had hoarded in days of old for his master’s children, and which he now produced, with commendable prudence and economy, one by one, as overtures for acquaintance and friendship.
The little one was shy, for all her busy interest in everything going on, and it was not easy to tame her. For a while, she would perch like a canary-bird on some box or package near Tom, while busy in the little arts afore-named, and take from him, with a kind of grave bashfulness, the little articles he offered. But at last they got on quite confidential terms.
“What’s little missy’s name?” said Tom, at last, when he thought matters were ripe to push such an inquiry.
“Evangeline St. Clare,” said the little one, “though papa and everybody else call me Eva. Now, what’s your name?”
“My name’s Tom; the little chil’en used to call me Uncle Tom, way back thar in Kentuck.”
“Then I mean to call you Uncle Tom, because, you see, I like you,” said Eva. “So, Uncle Tom, where are you going?”
“I don’t know, Miss Eva.”
“Don’t know?” said Eva.
“No, I am going to be sold to somebody. I don’t know who.”
“My papa can buy you,” said Eva, quickly; “and if he buys you, you will have good times. I mean to ask him, this very day.”
“Thank you, my little lady,” said Tom.
The boat here stopped at a small landing to take in wood, and Eva, hearing her father’s voice, bounded nimbly away. Tom rose up, and went forward to offer his service in wooding, and soon was busy among the hands.
Eva and her father were standing together by the railings to see the boat start from the landing-place, the wheel had made two or three revolutions in the water, when, by some sudden movement, the little one suddenly lost her balance and fell sheer over the side of the boat into the water. Her father, scarce knowing what he did, was plunging in after her, but was held back by some behind him, who saw that more efficient aid had followed his child.
Tom was standing just under her on the lower deck, as she fell. He saw her strike the water, and sink, and was after her in a moment. A broad-chested, strong-armed fellow, it was nothing for him to keep afloat in the water, till, in a moment or two the child rose to the surface, and he caught her in his arms, and, swimming with her to the boat-side, handed her up, all dripping, to the grasp of hundreds of hands, which, as if they had all belonged to one man, were stretched eagerly out to receive her. A few moments more, and her father bore her, dripping and senseless, to the ladies’ cabin, where, as is usual in cases of the kind, there ensued a very well-meaning and kind-hearted strife among the female occupants generally, as to who should do the most things to make a disturbance, and to hinder her recovery in every way possible.
It was a sultry, close day, the next day, as the steamer drew near to New Orleans. A general bustle of expectation and preparation was spread through the boat; in the cabin, one and another were gathering their things together, and arranging them, preparatory to going ashore. The steward and chambermaid, and all, were busily engaged in cleaning, furbishing, and arranging the splendid boat, preparatory to a grand entree.
On the lower deck sat our friend Tom, with his arms folded, and anxiously, from time to time, turning his eyes towards a group on the other side of the boat.
There stood the fair Evangeline, a little paler than the day before, but otherwise exhibiting no traces of the accident which had befallen her. A graceful, elegantly-formed young man stood by her, carelessly leaning one elbow on a bale of cotton. while a large pocket-book lay open before him. It was quite evident, at a glance, that the gentleman was Eva’s father. There was the same noble cast of head, the same large blue eyes, the same golden-brown hair; yet the expression was wholly different. In the large, clear blue eyes, though in form and color exactly similar, there was wanting that misty, dreamy depth of expression; all was clear, bold, and bright, but with a light wholly of this world: the beautifully cut mouth had a proud and somewhat sarcastic expression, while an air of free-and-easy superiority sat not ungracefully in every turn and movement of his fine form. He was listening, with a good-humored, negligent air, half comic, half contemptuous, to Haley, who was very volubly expatiating on the quality of the article for which they were bargaining.
“All the moral and Christian virtues bound in black Morocco, complete!” he said, when Haley had finished. “Well, now, my good fellow, what’s the damage, as they say in Kentucky; in short, what’s to be paid out for this business? How much are you going to cheat me, now? Out with it!”
“Wal,” said Haley, “if I should say thirteen hundred dollars for that ar fellow, I shouldn’t but just save myself; I shouldn’t, now, re’ly.”
“Poor fellow!” said the young man, fixing his keen, mocking blue eye on him; “but I suppose you’d let me have him for that, out of a particular regard for me.”
“Well, the young lady here seems to be sot on him, and nat’lly enough.”
“O! certainly, there’s a call on your benevolence, my friend. Now, as a matter of Christian charity, how cheap could you afford to let him go, to oblige a young lady that’s particular sot on him?”
“Wal, now, just think on ‘t,” said the trader; “just look at them limbs, – broad-chested, strong as a horse. Look at his head; them high forrads allays shows calculatin, that’ll do any kind o’ thing. I’ve, marked that ar. Now, a man of that ar heft and build is worth considerable, just as you may say, for his body, supposin he’s stupid; but come to put in his calculatin faculties, and them which I can show he has oncommon, why, of course, it makes him come higher. Why, that ar fellow managed his master’s whole farm. He has a strornary talent for business.”
“Bad, bad, very bad; knows altogether too much!” said the young man, with the same mocking smile playing about his mouth. “Never will do, in the world. Your smart fellows are always running off, stealing horses, and raising the devil generally. I think you’ll have to take off a couple of hundred for his smartness.”
“Wal, there might be something in that ar, if it warnt for his character; but I can show recommends from his master and others, to prove he is one of your real pious, – the most humble, prayin, pious crittur ye ever did see. Why, he’s been called a preacher in them parts he came from.”
“And I might use him for a family chaplain, possibly,” added the young man, dryly. “That’s quite an idea. Religion is a remarkably scarce article at our house.”
“You’re joking, now.”
“How do you know I am? Didn’t you just warrant him for a preacher? Has he been examined by any synod or council? Come, hand over your papers.”
If the trader had not been sure, by a certain good-humored twinkle in the large eye, that all this banter was sure, in the long run, to turn out a cash concern, he might have been somewhat out of patience; as it was, he laid down a greasy pocket-book on the cotton-bales, and began anxiously studying over certain papers in it, the young man standing by, the while, looking down on him with an air of careless, easy drollery.
“Papa, do buy him! it’s no matter what you pay,” whispered Eva, softly, getting up on a package, and putting her arm around her father’s neck. “You have money enough, I know. I want him.”
“What for? 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 blacks 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.