The Freeman’s Defence
There was a gentle bustle at the Quaker house, as the afternoon drew to a close. Rachel Halliday moved quietly to and fro, collecting from her household stores such needments as could be arranged in the smallest compass, for the wanderers who were to go forth that night. The afternoon shadows stretched eastward, and the round red sun stood thoughtfully on the horizon, and his beams shone yellow and calm into the little bed-room where George and his wife were sitting. He was sitting with his child on his knee, and his wife’s hand in his. Both looked thoughtful and serious and traces of tears were on their cheeks.
“Yes, Eliza,” said George, “I know all you say is true. You are a good child, – a great deal better than I am; and I will try to do as you say. I’ll try to act worthy of a free man. I’ll try to feel like a Christian. God Almighty knows that I’ve meant to do well, – tried hard to do well, – when everything has been against me; and now I’ll forget all the past, and put away every hard and bitter feeling, and read my Bible, and learn to be a good man.”
“And when we get to Canada,” said Eliza, “I can help you. I can do dress-making very well; and I understand fine washing and ironing; and between us we can find something to live on.”
“Yes, Eliza, so long as we have each other and our boy. O!
Eliza, if these people only knew what a blessing it is for a man to feel that his wife and child belong to him! I’ve often wondered to see men that could call their wives and children their own fretting and worrying about anything else. Why, I feel rich and strong, though we have nothing but our bare hands. I feel as if I could scarcely ask God for any more. Yes, though I’ve worked hard every day, till I am twenty-five years old, and have not a cent of money, nor a roof to cover me, nor a spot of land to call my own, yet, if they will only let me alone now, I will be satisfied, – thankful; I will work, and send back the money for you and my boy. As to my old master, he has been paid five times over for all he ever spent for me. I don’t owe him anything.”
“But yet we are not quite out of danger,” said Eliza; “we are not yet in Canada.”
“True,” said George, “but it seems as if I smelt the free air, and it makes me strong.”
At this moment, voices were heard in the outer apartment, in earnest conversation, and very soon a rap was heard on the door. Eliza started and opened it.
Simeon Halliday was there, and with him a Quaker brother, whom he introduced as Phineas Fletcher. Phineas was tall and lathy, red-haired, with an expression of great acuteness and shrewdness in his face. He had not the placid, quiet, unworldly air of Simeon Halliday; on the contrary, a particularly wide-awake and au fait appearance, like a man who rather prides himself on knowing what he is about, and keeping a bright lookout ahead; peculiarities which sorted rather oddly with his broad brim and formal phraseology.
“Our friend Phineas hath discovered something of importance to the interests of thee and thy party, George,” said Simeon; “it were well for thee to hear it.”
“That I have,” said Phineas, “and it shows the use of a man’s always sleeping with one ear open, in certain places, as I’ve always said. Last night I stopped at a little lone tavern, back on the road. Thee remembers the place, Simeon, where we sold some apples, last year, to that fat woman, with the great ear-rings. Well, I was tired with hard driving; and, after my supper I stretched myself down on a pile of bags in the corner, and pulled a buffalo over me, to wait till my bed was ready; and what does I do, but get fast asleep.”
“With one ear open, Phineas?” said Simeon, quietly.
“No; I slept, ears and all, for an hour or two, for I was pretty well tired; but when I came to myself a little, I found that there were some men in the room, sitting round a table, drinking and talking; and I thought, before I made much muster, I’d just see what they were up to, especially as I heard them say something about the Quakers. ‘So,’ says one, ‘they are up in the Quaker settlement, no doubt,’ says he. Then I listened with both ears, and I found that they were talking about this very party. So I lay and heard them lay off all their plans. This young man, they said, was to be sent back to Kentucky, to his master, who was going to make an example of him, to keep all slaves from running away; and his wife two of them were going to run down to New Orleans to sell, on their own account, and they calculated to get sixteen or eighteen hundred dollars for her; and the child, they said, was going to a trader, who had bought him; and then there was the boy, Jim, and his mother, they were to go back to their masters in Kentucky. They said that there were two constables, in a town a little piece ahead, who would go in with ’em to get ’em taken up, and the young woman was to be taken before a judge; and one of the fellows, who is small and smooth-spoken, was to swear to her for his property, and get her delivered over to him to take south. They’ve got a right notion of the track we are going tonight; and they’ll be down after us, six or eight strong. So now, what’s to be done?”
The group that stood in various attitudes, after this communication, were worthy of a painter. Rachel Halliday, who had taken her hands out of a batch of biscuit, to hear the news, stood with them upraised and floury, and with a face of the deepest concern. Simeon looked profoundly thoughtful; Eliza had thrown her arms around her husband, and was looking up to him. George stood with clenched hands and glowing eyes, and looking as any other man might look, whose wife was to be sold at auction, and son sent to a trader, all under the shelter of a Christian nation’s laws.
“What shall we do, George?” said Eliza faintly.
“I know what I shall do,” said George, as he stepped into the little room, and began examining pistols.
“Ay, ay,” said Phineas, nodding his head to Simeon; thou seest, Simeon, how it will work.”
“I see,” said Simeon, sighing; “I pray it come not to that.”
“I don’t want to involve any one with or for me,” said George. “If you will lend me your vehicle and direct me, I will drive alone to the next stand. Jim is a giant in strength, and brave as death and despair, and so am I.”
“Ah, well, friend,” said Phineas, “but thee’ll need a driver, for all that. Thee’s quite welcome to do all the fighting, thee knows; but I know a thing or two about the road, that thee doesn’t.”
“But I don’t want to involve you,” said George.
“Involve,” said Phineas, with a curious and keen expression of face, “When thee does involve me, please to let me know.”
“Phineas is a wise and skilful man,” said Simeon. “Thee does well, George, to abide by his judgment; and,” he added, laying his hand kindly on George’s shoulder, and pointing to the pistols, “be not over hasty with these, – young blood is hot.”
“I will attack no man,” said George. “All I ask of this country is to be let alone, and I will go out peaceably; but,” – he paused, and his brow darkened and his face worked, – “I’ve had a sister sold in that New Orleans market. I know what they are sold for; and am I going to stand by and see them take my wife and sell her, when God has given me a pair of strong arms to defend her? No; God help me! I’ll fight to the last breath, before they shall take my wife and son. Can you blame me?”
“Mortal man cannot blame thee, George. Flesh and blood could not do otherwise,” said Simeon. “Woe unto the world because of offences, but woe unto them through whom the offence cometh.”
“Would not even you, sir, do the same, in my place?”
“I pray that I be not tried,” said Simeon; “the flesh is weak.”
“I think my flesh would be pretty tolerable strong, in such a case,” said Phineas, stretching out a pair of arms like the sails of a windmill. “I an’t sure, friend George, that I shouldn’t hold a fellow for thee, if thee had any accounts to settle with him.”
“If man should ever resist evil,” said Simeon, “then George should feel free to do it now: but the leaders of our people taught a more excellent way; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God; but it goes sorely against the corrupt will of man, and none can receive it save they to whom it is given. Let us pray the Lord that we be not tempted.”
“And so I do,” said Phineas; “but if we are tempted too much – why, let them look out, that’s all.”
“It’s quite plain thee wasn’t born a Friend,” said Simeon, smiling. “The old nature hath its way in thee pretty strong as yet.”
To tell the truth, Phineas had been a hearty, two-fisted backwoodsman, a vigorous hunter, and a dead shot at a buck; but, having wooed a pretty Quakeress, had been moved by the power of her charms to join the society in his neighborhood; and though he was an honest, sober, and efficient member, and nothing particular could be alleged against him, yet the more spiritual among them could not but discern an exceeding lack of savor in his developments.
“Friend Phineas will ever have ways of his own,” said Rachel Halliday, smiling; “but we all think that his heart is in the right place, after all.”
“Well,” said George, “isn’t it best that we hasten our flight?”
“I got up at four o’clock, and came on with all speed, full two or three hours ahead of them, if they start at the time they planned. It isn’t safe to start till dark, at any rate; for there are some evil persons in the villages ahead, that might be disposed to meddle with us, if they saw our wagon, and that would delay us more than the waiting; but in two hours I think we may venture. I will go over to Michael Cross, and engage him to come behind on his swift nag, and keep a bright lookout on the road, and warn us if any company of men come on. Michael keeps a horse that can soon get ahead of most other horses; and he could shoot ahead and let us know, if there were any danger. I am going out now to warn Jim and the old woman to be in readiness, and to see about the horse. We have a pretty fair start, and stand a good chance to get to the stand before they can come up with us. So, have good courage, friend George; this isn’t the first ugly scrape that I’ve been in with thy people,” said Phineas, as he closed the door.
“Phineas is pretty shrewd,” said Simeon. “He will do the best that can be done for thee, George.”
“All I am sorry for,” said George, “is the risk to you.”
“Thee’ll much oblige us, friend George, to say no more about that. What we do we are conscience bound to do; we can do no other way. And now, mother,” said he, turning to Rachel, “hurry thy preparations for these friends, for we must not send them away fasting.”
And while Rachel and her children were busy making corn-cake, and cooking ham and chicken, and hurrying on the et ceteras of the evening meal, George and his wife sat in their little room, with their arms folded about each other, in such talk as husband and wife have when they know that a few hours may part them forever.
“Eliza,” said George, “people that have friends, and houses, and lands, and money, and all those things can’t love as we do, who have nothing but each other. Till I knew you, Eliza, no creature had loved me, but my poor, heart-broken mother and sister. I saw poor Emily that morning the trader carried her off. She came to the corner where I was lying asleep, and said, ‘Poor George, your last friend is going. What will become of you, poor boy?’ And I got up and threw my arms round her, and cried and sobbed, and she cried too; and those were the last kind words I got for ten long years; and my heart all withered up, and felt as dry as ashes, till I met you. And your loving me, – why, it was almost like raising one from the dead! I’ve been a new man ever since! And now, Eliza, I’ll give my last drop of blood, but they shall not take you from me. Whoever gets you must walk over my dead body.”
“O, Lord, have mercy!” said Eliza, sobbing. “If he will only let us get out of this country together, that is all we ask.”
“Is God on their side?” said George, speaking less to his wife than pouring out his own bitter thoughts. “Does he see all they do? Why does he let such things happen? And they tell us that the Bible is on their side; certainly all the power is. They are rich, and healthy, and happy; they are members of churches, expecting to go to heaven; and they get along so easy in the world, and have it all their own way; and poor, honest, faithful Christians, – Christians as good or better than they, – are lying in the very dust under their feet. They buy ’em and sell ’em, and make trade of their heart’s blood, and groans and tears, – and God lets them.”
“Friend George,” said Simeon, from the kitchen, “listen to this Psalm; it may do thee good.”
George drew his seat near the door, and Eliza, wiping her tears, came forward also to listen, while Simeon read as follows:
“But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well-nigh slipped. For I was envious of the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They are not in trouble like other men, neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore, pride compasseth them as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than heart could wish. They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression; they speak loftily. Therefore his people return, and the waters of a full cup are wrung out to them, and they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High?”
“Is not that the way thee feels, George?”
“It is so indeed,” said George, – “as well as I could have written it myself.”
“Then, hear,” said Simeon: “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me until I went unto the sanctuary of God. Then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places, thou castedst them down to destruction. As a dream when one awaketh, so, oh Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image. Nevertheless I am continually with thee; thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me by thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory. It is good for me to draw near unto God. I have put my trust in the Lord God.”(Ps. 73, “The End of the Wicked contrasted with that of the Righteous.”)
The words of holy trust, breathed by the friendly old man, stole like sacred music over the harassed and chafed spirit of George; and after he ceased, he sat with a gentle and subdued expression on his fine features.
“If this world were all, George,” said Simeon, “thee might, indeed, ask where is the Lord? But it is often those who have least of all in this life whom he chooseth for the kingdom. Put thy trust in him and, no matter what befalls thee here, he will make all right hereafter.”
If these words had been spoken by some easy, self-indulgent exhorter, from whose mouth they might have come merely as pious and rhetorical flourish, proper to be used to people in distress, perhaps they might not have had much effect; but coming from one who daily and calmly risked fine and imprisonment for the cause of God and man, they had a weight that could not but be felt, and both the poor, desolate fugitives found calmness and strength breathing into them from it.
And now Rachel took Eliza’s hand kindly, and led the way to the supper-table. As they were sitting down, a light tap sounded at the door, and Ruth entered.
“I just ran in,” she said, “with these little stockings for the boy, – three pair, nice, warm woollen ones. It will be so cold, thee knows, in Canada. Does thee keep up good courage, Eliza?” she added, tripping round to Eliza’s side of the table, and shaking her warmly by the hand, and slipping a seed-cake into Harry’s hand. “I brought a little parcel of these for him,” she said, tugging at her pocket to get out the package. “Children, thee knows, will always be eating.”
“O, thank you; you are too kind,” said Eliza.
“Come, Ruth, sit down to supper,” said Rachel.
“I couldn’t, any way. I left John with the baby, and some biscuits in the oven; and I can’t stay a moment, else John will burn up all the biscuits, and give the baby all the sugar in the bowl. That’s the way he does,” said the little Quakeress, laughing. “So, good-by, Eliza; good-by, George; the Lord grant thee a safe journey;” and, with a few tripping steps, Ruth was out of the apartment.
A little while after supper, a large covered-wagon drew up before the door; the night was clear starlight; and Phineas jumped briskly down from his seat to arrange his passengers. George walked out of the door, with his child on one arm and his wife on the other. His step was firm, his face settled and resolute. Rachel and Simeon came out after them.
“You get out, a moment,” said Phineas to those inside, “and let me fix the back of the wagon, there, for the women-folks and the boy.”
“Here are the two buffaloes,” said Rachel. “Make the seats as comfortable as may be; it’s hard riding all night.”
Jim came out first, and carefully assisted out his old mother, who clung to his arm, and looked anxiously about, as if she expected the pursuer every moment.
“Jim, are your pistols all in order?” said George, in a low, firm voice.
“Yes, indeed,” said Jim.
“And you’ve no doubt what you shall do, if they come?”
“I rather think I haven’t,” said Jim, throwing open his broad chest, and taking a deep breath. “Do you think I’ll let them get mother again?”
During this brief colloquy, Eliza had been taking her leave of her kind friend, Rachel, and was handed into the carriage by Simeon, and, creeping into the back part with her boy, sat down among the buffalo-skins. The old woman was next handed in and seated and George and Jim placed on a rough board seat front of them, and Phineas mounted in front.
“Farewell, my friends,” said Simeon, from without.
“God bless you!” answered all from within.
And the wagon drove off, rattling and jolting over the frozen road.
There was no opportunity for conversation, on account of the roughness of the way and the noise of the wheels. The vehicle, therefore, rumbled on, through long, dark stretches of woodland, – over wide dreary plains, – up hills, and down valleys, – and on, on, on they jogged, hour after hour. The child soon fell asleep, and lay heavily in his mother’s lap. The poor, frightened old woman at last forgot her fears; and, even Eliza, as the night waned, found all her anxieties insufficient to keep her eyes from closing. Phineas seemed, on the whole, the briskest of the company, and beguiled his long drive with whistling certain very unquaker-like songs, as he went on.
But about three o’clock George’s ear caught the hasty and decided click of a horse’s hoof coming behind them at some distance and jogged Phineas by the elbow. Phineas pulled up his horses, and listened.
“That must be Michael,” he said; “I think I know the sound of his gallop;” and he rose up and stretched his head anxiously back over the road.
A man riding in hot haste was now dimly descried at the top of a distant hill.
“There he is, I do believe!” said Phineas. George and Jim both sprang out of the wagon before they knew what they were doing. All stood intensely silent, with their faces turned towards the expected messenger. On he came. Now he went down into a valley, where they could not see him; but they heard the sharp, hasty tramp, rising nearer and nearer; at last they saw him emerge on the top of an eminence, within hail.
“Yes, that’s Michael!” said Phineas; and, raising his voice, “Halloa, there, Michael!”
“Phineas! is that thee?”
“Yes; what news – they coming?”
“Right on behind, eight or ten of them, hot with brandy, swearing and foaming like so many wolves.”
And, just as he spoke, a breeze brought the faint sound of galloping horsemen towards them.
“In with you, – quick, boys, in!” said Phineas. “If you must fight, wait till I get you a piece ahead.” And, with the word, both jumped in, and Phineas lashed the horses to a run, the horseman keeping close beside them. The wagon rattled, jumped, almost flew, over the frozen ground; but plainer, and still plainer, came the noise of pursuing horsemen behind. The women heard it, and, looking anxiously out, saw, far in the rear, on the brow of a distant hill, a party of men looming up against the red-streaked sky of early dawn. Another hill, and their pursuers had evidently caught sight of their wagon, whose white cloth-covered top made it conspicuous at some distance, and a loud yell of brutal triumph came forward on the wind. Eliza sickened, and strained her child closer to her bosom; the old woman prayed and groaned, and George and Jim clenched their pistols with the grasp of despair. The pursuers gained on them fast; the carriage made a sudden turn, and brought them near a ledge of a steep overhanging rock, that rose in an isolated ridge or clump in a large lot, which was, all around it, quite clear and smooth. This isolated pile, or range of rocks, rose up black and heavy against the brightening sky, and seemed to promise shelter and concealment. It was a place well known to Phineas, who had been familiar with the spot in his hunting days; and it was to gain this point he had been racing his horses.
“Now for it!” said he, suddenly checking his horses, and springing from his seat to the ground. “Out with you, in a twinkling, every one, and up into these rocks with me. Michael, thee tie thy horse to the wagon, and drive ahead to Amariah’s and get him and his boys to come back and talk to these fellows.”
In a twinkling they were all out of the carriage.
“There,” said Phineas, catching up Harry, “you, each of you, see to the women; and run, now if you ever did run!”
They needed no exhortation. Quicker than we can say it, the whole party were over the fence, making with all speed for the rocks, while Michael, throwing himself from his horse, and fastening the bridle to the wagon, began driving it rapidly away.
“Come ahead,” said Phineas, as they reached the rocks, and saw in the mingled starlight and dawn, the traces of a rude but plainly marked foot-path leading up among them; “this is one of our old hunting-dens. Come up!”
Phineas went before, springing up the rocks like a goat, with the boy in his arms. Jim came second, bearing his trembling old mother over his shoulder, and George and Eliza brought up the rear. The party of horsemen came up to the fence, and, with mingled shouts and oaths, were dismounting, to prepare to follow them. A few moments’ scrambling brought them to the top of the ledge; the path then passed between a narrow defile, where only one could walk at a time, till suddenly they came to a rift or chasm more than a yard in breadth, and beyond which lay a pile of rocks, separate from the rest of the ledge, standing full thirty feet high, with its sides steep and perpendicular as those of a castle. Phineas easily leaped the chasm, and sat down the boy on a smooth, flat platform of crisp white moss, that covered the top of the rock.
“Over with you!” he called; “spring, now, once, for your lives!” said he, as one after another sprang across. Several fragments of loose stone formed a kind of breast-work, which sheltered their position from the observation of those below.
“Well, here we all are,” said Phineas, peeping over the stone breast-work to watch the assailants, who were coming tumultuously up under the rocks. “Let ’em get us, if they can. Whoever comes here has to walk single file between those two rocks, in fair range of your pistols, boys, d’ye see?”
“I do see,” said George! “and now, as this matter is ours, let us take all the risk, and do all the fighting.”
“Thee’s quite welcome to do the fighting, George,” said Phineas, chewing some checkerberry-leaves as he spoke; “but I may have the fun of looking on, I suppose. But see, these fellows are kinder debating down there, and looking up, like hens when they are going to fly up on to the roost. Hadn’t thee better give ’em a word of advice, before they come up, just to tell ’em handsomely they’ll be shot if they do?”
The party beneath, now more apparent in the light of the dawn, consisted of our old acquaintances, Tom Loker and Marks, with two constables, and a posse consisting of such rowdies at the last tavern as could be engaged by a little brandy to go and help the fun of trapping a set of slaves.
“Well, Tom, yer coons are farly treed,” said one.
“Yes, I see ’em go up right here,” said Tom; “and here’s a path. I’m for going right up. They can’t jump down in a hurry, and it won’t take long to ferret ’em out.”
“But, Tom, they might fire at us from behind the rocks,” said Marks. “That would be ugly, you know.”
“Ugh!” said Tom, with a sneer. “Always for saving your skin, Marks! No danger!”
“I don’t know why I shouldn’t save my skin,” said Marks. “It’s the best I’ve got.”
At this moment, George appeared on the top of a rock above them, and, speaking in a calm, clear voice, said,
“Gentlemen, who are you, down there, and what do you want?”
“We want a party of runaway slaves,” said Tom Loker. “One George Harris, and Eliza Harris, and their son, and Jim Selden, and an old woman. We’ve got the officers, here, and a warrant to take ’em; and we’re going to have ’em, too. D’ye hear? An’t you George Harris, that belongs to Mr. Harris, of Shelby county, Kentucky?”
“I am George Harris. A Mr. Harris, of Kentucky, did call me his property. But now I’m a free man, standing on God’s free soil; and my wife and my child I claim as mine. Jim and his mother are here. We have arms to defend ourselves, and we mean to do it. You can come up, if you like; but the first one of you that comes within the range of our bullets is a dead man, and the next, and the next; and so on till the last.”
“O, come! come!” said a short, puffy man, stepping forward, and blowing his nose as he did so. “Young man, this an’t no kind of talk at all for you. You see, we’re officers of justice. We’ve got the law on our side, and the power, and so forth; so you’d better give up peaceably, you see; for you’ll certainly have to give up, at last.”
“I know very well that you’ve got the law on your side, and the power,” said George, bitterly. “You mean to take my wife to sell in New Orleans, and put my boy like a calf in a trader’s pen, and send Jim’s old mother to the brute that whipped and abused her before, because he couldn’t abuse her son. You want to send Jim and me back to be whipped and tortured, and ground down under the heels of them that you call masters; and your laws will bear you out in it, – more shame for you and them! But you haven’t got us. We don’t own your laws; we don’t own your country; we stand here as free, under God’s sky, as you are; and, by the great God that made us, we’ll fight for our liberty till we die.”
George stood out in fair sight, on the top of the rock, as he made his declaration of independence; the glow of dawn gave a flush to his swarthy cheek, and bitter indignation and despair gave fire to his dark eye; and, as if appealing from man to the justice of God, he raised his hand to heaven as he spoke.
If it had been only a Hungarian youth, now bravely defending in some mountain fastness the retreat of fugitives escaping from Austria into America, this would have been sublime heroism; but as it was a youth of African descent, defending the retreat of fugitives through America into Canada, of course we are too well instructed and patriotic to see any heroism in it; and if any of our readers do, they must do it on their own private responsibility. When despairing Hungarian fugitives make their way, against all the search-warrants and authorities of their lawful government, to America, press and political cabinet ring with applause and welcome. When despairing African fugitives do the same thing, – it is – what is it?
Be it as it may, it is certain that the attitude, eye, voice, manner, of the speaker for a moment struck the party below to silence. There is something in boldness and determination that for a time hushes even the rudest nature. Marks was the only one who remained wholly untouched. He was deliberately cocking his pistol, and, in the momentary silence that followed George’s speech, he fired at him.
“Ye see ye get jist as much for him dead as alive in Kentucky,” he said coolly, as he wiped his pistol on his coat-sleeve.
George sprang backward, – Eliza uttered a shriek, – the ball had passed close to his hair, had nearly grazed the cheek of his wife, and struck in the tree above.
“It’s nothing, Eliza,” said George, quickly.
“Thee’d better keep out of sight, with thy speechifying,” said Phineas; “they’re mean scamps.”
“Now, Jim,” said George, “look that your pistols are all right, and watch that pass with me. The first man that shows himself I fire at; you take the second, and so on. It won’t do, you know, to waste two shots on one.”
“But what if you don’t hit?”
“I shall hit,” said George, coolly.
“Good! now, there’s stuff in that fellow,” muttered Phineas, between his teeth.
The party below, after Marks had fired, stood, for a moment, rather undecided.
“I’m going right up for one,” said Tom. “I never was afraid of blacks, and I an’t going to be now. Who goes after?” he said, springing up the rocks.
George heard the words distinctly. He drew up his pistol, examined it, pointed it towards that point in the defile where the first man would appear.
One of the most courageous of the party followed Tom, and, the way being thus made, the whole party began pushing up the rock, – the hindermost pushing the front ones faster than they would have gone of themselves. On they came, and in a moment the burly form of Tom appeared in sight, almost at the verge of the chasm.
George fired, – the shot entered his side, – but, though wounded, he would not retreat, but, with a yell like that of a mad bull, he was leaping right across the chasm into the party.
“Friend,” said Phineas, suddenly stepping to the front, and meeting him with a push from his long arms, “thee isn’t wanted here.”
Down he fell into the chasm, crackling down among trees, bushes, logs, loose stones, till he lay bruised and groaning thirty feet below. The fall might have killed him, had it not been broken and moderated by his clothes catching in the branches of a large tree; but he came down with some force, however, – more than was at all agreeable or convenient.
“Lord help us, they are perfect devils!” said Marks, heading the retreat down the rocks with much more of a will than he had joined the ascent, while all the party came tumbling precipitately after him, – the fat constable, in particular, blowing and puffing in a very energetic manner.
“I say, fellers,” said Marks, “you jist go round and pick up Tom, there, while I run and get on to my horse to go back for help, – that’s you;” and, without minding the hootings and jeers of his company, Marks was as good as his word, and was soon seen galloping away.
“Was ever such a sneaking varmint?” said one of the men; “to come on his business, and he clear out and leave us this yer way!”
“Well, we must pick up that feller,” said another. “Cuss me if I much care whether he is dead or alive.”
The men, led by the groans of Tom, scrambled and crackled through stumps, logs and bushes, to where that hero lay groaning and swearing with alternate vehemence.
“Ye keep it agoing pretty loud, Tom,” said one. “Ye much hurt?”
“Don’t know. Get me up, can’t ye? Blast that infernal Quaker! If it hadn’t been for him, I’d a pitched some on ’em down here, to see how they liked it.”
With much labor and groaning, the fallen hero was assisted to rise; and, with one holding him up under each shoulder, they got him as far as the horses.
“If you could only get me a mile back to that ar tavern. Give me a handkerchief or something, to stuff into this place, and stop this infernal bleeding.”
George looked over the rocks, and saw them trying to lift the burly form of Tom into the saddle. After two or three ineffectual attempts, he reeled, and fell heavily to the ground.
“O, I hope he isn’t killed!” said Eliza, who, with all the party, stood watching the proceeding.
“Why not?” said Phineas; “serves him right.”
“Because after death comes the judgment,” said Eliza.
“Yes,” said the old woman, who had been groaning and praying, in her Methodist fashion, during all the encounter, “it’s an awful case for the poor crittur’s soul.”
“On my word, they’re leaving him, I do believe,” said Phineas.
It was true; for after some appearance of irresolution and consultation, the whole party got on their horses and rode away. When they were quite out of sight, Phineas began to bestir himself.
“Well, we must go down and walk a piece,” he said. “I told Michael to go forward and bring help, and be along back here with the wagon; but we shall have to walk a piece along the road, I reckon, to meet them. The Lord grant he be along soon! It’s early in the day; there won’t be much travel afoot yet a while; we an’t much more than two miles from our stopping-place. If the road hadn’t been so rough last night, we could have outrun ’em entirely.”
As the party neared the fence, they discovered in the distance, along the road, their own wagon coming back, accompanied by some men on horseback.
“Well, now, there’s Michael, and Stephen and Amariah,” exclaimed Phineas, joyfully. “Now we are made – as safe as if we’d got there.”
“Well, do stop, then,” said Eliza, “and do something for that poor man; he’s groaning dreadfully.”
“It would be no more than Christian,” said George; “let’s take him up and carry him on.”
“And doctor him up among the Quakers!” said Phineas; “pretty well, that! Well, I don’t care if we do. Here, let’s have a look at him;” and Phineas, who in the course of his hunting and backwoods life had acquired some rude experience of surgery, kneeled down by the wounded man, and began a careful examination of his condition.
“Marks,” said Tom, feebly, “is that you, Marks?”
“No; I reckon ‘tan’t friend,” said Phineas. “Much Marks cares for thee, if his own skin’s safe. He’s off, long ago.”
“I believe I’m done for,” said Tom. “The cussed sneaking dog, to leave me to die alone! My poor old mother always told me ‘t would be so.”
“La sakes! jist hear the poor crittur. He’s got a mammy, now,” said the old negress. “I can’t help kinder pityin’ on him.”
“Softly, softly; don’t thee snap and snarl, friend,” said Phineas, as Tom winced and pushed his hand away. “Thee has no chance, unless I stop the bleeding.” And Phineas busied himself with making some off-hand surgical arrangements with his own pocket-handkerchief, and such as could be mustered in the company.
“You pushed me down there,” said Tom, faintly.
“Well if I hadn’t thee would have pushed us down, thee sees,” said Phineas, as he stooped to apply his bandage. “There, there, – let me fix this bandage. We mean well to thee; we bear no malice. Thee shall be taken to a house where they’ll nurse thee first rate, well as thy own mother could.”
Tom groaned, and shut his eyes. In men of his class, vigor and resolution are entirely a physical matter, and ooze out with the flowing of the blood; and the gigantic fellow really looked piteous in his helplessness.
The other party now came up. The seats were taken out of the wagon. The buffalo-skins, doubled in fours, were spread all along one side, and four men, with great difficulty, lifted the heavy form of Tom into it. Before he was gotten in, he fainted entirely. The old negress, in the abundance of her compassion, sat down on the bottom, and took his head in her lap. Eliza, George and Jim, bestowed themselves, as well as they could, in the remaining space and the whole party set forward.
“What do you think of him?” said George, who sat by Phineas in front.
“Well it’s only a pretty deep flesh-wound; but, then, tumbling and scratching down that place didn’t help him much. It has bled pretty freely, – pretty much dreaned him out, courage and all, – but he’ll get over it, and may be learn a thing or two by it.”
“I’m glad to hear you say so,” said George. “It would always be a heavy thought to me, if I’d caused his death, even in a just cause.”
“Yes,” said Phineas, “killing is an ugly operation, any way they’ll fix it, – man or beast. I’ve seen a buck that was shot down and a dying, look that way on a feller with his eye, that it reely most made a feller feel wicked for killing on him; and human creatures is a more serious consideration yet, bein’, as thy wife says, that the judgment comes to ’em after death. So I don’t know as our people’s notions on these matters is too strict; and, considerin’ how I was raised, I fell in with them pretty considerably.”
“What shall you do with this poor fellow?” said George.
“O, carry him along to Amariah’s. There’s old Grandmam Stephens there, – Dorcas, they call her, – she’s most an amazin’ nurse. She takes to nursing real natural, and an’t never better suited than when she gets a sick body to tend. We may reckon on turning him over to her for a fortnight or so.”
A ride of about an hour more brought the party to a neat farmhouse, where the weary travellers were received to an abundant breakfast. Tom Loker was soon carefully deposited in a much cleaner and softer bed than he had, ever been in the habit of occupying. His wound was carefully dressed and bandaged, and he lay languidly opening and shutting his eyes on the white window-curtains and gently-gliding figures of his sick room, like a weary child. And here, for the present, we shall take our leave of one party.
Miss Ophelia’s Experiences and Opinions
Our friend Tom, in his own simple musings, often compared his more fortunate lot, in the bondage into which he was cast, with that of Joseph in Egypt; and, in fact, as time went on, and he developed more and more under the eye of his master, the strength of the parallel increased.
St. Clare was indolent and careless of money. Hitherto the providing and marketing had been principally done by Adolph, who was, to the full, as careless and extravagant as his master; and, between them both, they had carried on the dispersing process with great alacrity. Accustomed, for many years, to regard his master’s property as his own care, Tom saw, with an uneasiness he could scarcely repress, the wasteful expenditure of the establishment; and, in the quiet, indirect way which his class often acquire, would sometimes make his own suggestions.
St. Clare at first employed him occasionally; but, struck with his soundness of mind and good business capacity, he confided in him more and more, till gradually all the marketing and providing for the family were intrusted to him.
“No, no, Adolph,” he said, one day, as Adolph was deprecating the passing of power out of his hands; “let Tom alone. You only understand what you want; Tom understands cost and come to; and there may be some end to money, bye and bye if we don’t let somebody do that.”
Trusted to an unlimited extent by a careless master, who handed him a bill without looking at it, and pocketed the change without counting it, Tom had every facility and temptation to dishonesty; and nothing but an impregnable simplicity of nature, strengthened by Christian faith, could have kept him from it. But, to that nature, the very unbounded trust reposed in him was bond and seal for the most scrupulous accuracy.
With Adolph the case had been different. Thoughtless and self-indulgent, and unrestrained by a master who found it easier to indulge than to regulate, he had fallen into an absolute confusion as to meum tuum with regard to himself and his master, which sometimes troubled even St. Clare. His own good sense taught him that such a training of his servants was unjust and dangerous. A sort of chronic remorse went with him everywhere, although not strong enough to make any decided change in his course; and this very remorse reacted again into indulgence. He passed lightly over the most serious faults, because he told himself that, if he had done his part, his dependents had not fallen into them.
Tom regarded his gay, airy, handsome young master with an odd mixture of fealty, reverence, and fatherly solicitude. That he never read the Bible; never went to church; that he jested and made free with any and every thing that came in the way of his wit; that he spent his Sunday evenings at the opera or theatre; that he went to wine parties, and clubs, and suppers, oftener than was at all expedient, – were all things that Tom could see as plainly as anybody, and on which he based a conviction that “Mas’r wasn’t a Christian;” – a conviction, however, which he would have been very slow to express to any one else, but on which he founded many prayers, in his own simple fashion, when he was by himself in his little dormitory. Not that Tom had not his own way of speaking his mind occasionally, with something of the tact often observable in his class; as, for example, the very day after the Sabbath we have described, St. Clare was invited out to a convivial party of choice spirits, and was helped home, between one and two o’clock at night, in a condition when the physical had decidedly attained the upper
hand of the intellectual. Tom and Adolph assisted to get him composed for the night, the latter in high spirits, evidently regarding the matter as a good joke, and laughing heartily at the rusticity of Tom’s horror, who really was simple enough to lie awake most of the rest of the night, praying for his young master.
“Well, Tom, what are you waiting for?” said St. Clare, the next day, as he sat in his library, in dressing-gown and slippers. St. Clare had just been entrusting Tom with some money, and various commissions. “Isn’t all right there, Tom?” he added, as Tom still stood waiting.
“I’m ‘fraid not, Mas’r,” said Tom, with a grave face.
St. Clare laid down his paper, and set down his coffee-cup, and looked at Tom.
“Why Tom, what’s the case? You look as solemn as a coffin.”
“I feel very bad, Mas’r. I allays have thought that Mas’r would be good to everybody.”
“Well, Tom, haven’t I been? Come, now, what do you want? There’s something you haven’t got, I suppose, and this is the preface.”
“Mas’r allays been good to me. I haven’t nothing to complain of on that head. But there is one that Mas’r isn’t good to.”
“Why, Tom, what’s got into you? Speak out; what do you mean?”
“Last night, between one and two, I thought so. I studied upon the matter then. Mas’r isn’t good to himself.”
Tom said this with his back to his master, and his hand on the door-knob. St. Clare felt his face flush crimson, but he laughed.
“O, that’s all, is it?” he said, gayly.
“All!” said Tom, turning suddenly round and falling on his knees. “O, my dear young Mas’r; I’m ‘fraid it will be loss of all – all – body and soul. The good Book says, ‘it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder!’ my dear Mas’r!”
Tom’s voice choked, and the tears ran down his cheeks.
“You poor, silly fool!” said St. Clare, with tears in his own eyes. “Get up, Tom. I’m not worth crying over.”
But Tom wouldn’t rise, and looked imploring.
“Well, I won’t go to any more of their cursed nonsense, Tom,” said St. Clare; “on my honor, I won’t. I don’t know why I haven’t stopped long ago. I’ve always despised it, and myself for it, – so now, Tom, wipe up your eyes, and go about your errands. Come, come,” he added, “no blessings. I’m not so wonderfully good, now,” he said, as he gently pushed Tom to the door. “There, I’ll pledge my honor to you, Tom, you don’t see me so again,” he said; and Tom went off, wiping his eyes, with great satisfaction.
“I’ll keep my faith with him, too,” said St. Clare, as he closed the door.
And St. Clare did so, – for gross sensualism, in any form, was not the peculiar temptation of his nature.
But, all this time, who shall detail the tribulations manifold of our friend Miss Ophelia, who had begun the labors of a Southern housekeeper?
There is all the difference in the world in the servants of Southern establishments, according to the character and capacity of the mistresses who have brought them up.
South as well as north, there are women who have an extraordinary talent for command, and tact in educating. Such are enabled, with apparent ease, and without severity, to subject to their will, and bring into harmonious and systematic order, the various members of their small estate, – to regulate their peculiarities, and so balance and compensate the deficiencies of one by the excess of another, as to produce a harmonious and orderly system.
Such a housekeeper was Mrs. Shelby, whom we have already described; and such our readers may remember to have met with. If they are not common at the South, it is because they are not common in the world. They are to be found there as often as anywhere; and, when existing, find in that peculiar state of society a brilliant opportunity to exhibit their domestic talent.
Such a housekeeper Marie St. Clare was not, nor her mother before her. Indolent and childish, unsystematic and improvident, it was not to be expected that servants trained under her care should not be so likewise; and she had very justly described to Miss Ophelia the state of confusion she would find in the family, though she had not ascribed it to the proper cause.
The first morning of her regency, Miss Ophelia was up at four o’clock; and having attended to all the adjustments of her own chamber, as she had done ever since she came there, to the great amazement of the chambermaid, she prepared for a vigorous onslaught on the cupboards and closets of the establishment of which she had the keys.
The store-room, the linen-presses, the china-closet, the kitchen and cellar, that day, all went under an awful review. Hidden things of darkness were brought to light to an extent that alarmed all the principalities and powers of kitchen and chamber, and caused many wonderings and murmurings about “dese yer northern ladies” from the domestic cabinet.
Old Dinah, the head cook, and principal of all rule and authority in the kitchen department, was filled with wrath at what she considered an invasion of privilege. No feudal baron in Magna Charta times could have more thoroughly resented some incursion of the crown.
Dinah was a character in her own way, and it would be injustice to her memory not to give the reader a little idea of her. She was a native and essential cook, as much as Aunt Chloe, – cooking being an indigenous talent of the African race; but Chloe was a trained and methodical one, who moved in an orderly domestic harness, while Dinah was a self-taught genius, and, like geniuses in general, was positive, opinionated and erratic, to the last degree.
Like a certain class of modern philosophers, Dinah perfectly scorned logic and reason in every shape, and always took refuge in intuitive certainty; and here she was perfectly impregnable. No possible amount of talent, or authority, or explanation, could ever make her believe that any other way was better than her own, or that the course she had pursued in the smallest matter could be in the least modified. This had been a conceded point with her old mistress, Marie’s mother; and “Miss Marie,” as Dinah always called her young mistress, even after her marriage, found it easier to submit than contend; and so Dinah had ruled supreme. This was the easier, in that she was perfect mistress of that diplomatic art which unites the utmost subservience of manner with the utmost inflexibility as to measure.
Dinah was mistress of the whole art and mystery of excuse-making, in all its branches. Indeed, it was an axiom with her that the cook can do no wrong; and a cook in a Southern kitchen finds abundance of heads and shoulders on which to lay off every sin and frailty, so as to maintain her own immaculateness entire. If any part of the dinner was a failure, there were fifty indisputably good reasons for it; and it was the fault undeniably of fifty other people, whom Dinah berated with unsparing zeal.
But it was very seldom that there was any failure in Dinah’s last results. Though her mode of doing everything was peculiarly meandering and circuitous, and without any sort of calculation as to time and place, – though her kitchen generally looked as if it had been arranged by a hurricane blowing through it, and she had about as many places for each cooking utensil as there were days in the year, – yet, if one would have patience to wait her own good time, up would come her dinner in perfect order, and in a style of preparation with which an epicure could find no fault.
It was now the season of incipient preparation for dinner. Dinah, who required large intervals of reflection and repose, and was studious of ease in all her arrangements, was seated on the kitchen floor, smoking a short, stumpy pipe, to which she was much addicted, and which she always kindled up, as a sort of censer, whenever she felt the need of an inspiration in her arrangements. It was Dinah’s mode of invoking the domestic Muses.
Seated around her were various members of that rising race with which a Southern household abounds, engaged in shelling peas, peeling potatoes, picking pin-feathers out of fowls, and other preparatory arrangements, – Dinah every once in a while interrupting her meditations to give a poke, or a rap on the head, to some of the young operators, with the pudding-stick that lay by her side. In fact, Dinah ruled over the woolly heads of the younger members with a rod of iron, and seemed to consider them born for no earthly purpose but to “save her steps,” as she phrased it. It was the spirit of the system under which she had grown up, and she carried it out to its full extent.
Miss Ophelia, after passing on her reformatory tour through all the other parts of the establishment, now entered the kitchen. Dinah had heard, from various sources, what was going on, and resolved to stand on defensive and conservative ground, – mentally determined to oppose and ignore every new measure, without any actual observable contest.
The kitchen was a large brick-floored apartment, with a great old-fashioned fireplace stretching along one side of it, – an arrangement which St. Clare had vainly tried to persuade Dinah to exchange for the convenience of a modern cook-stove. Not she. No Puseyite(Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882), champion of the orthodoxy of revealed religion, defender of the Oxford movement, and Regius professor of Hebrew and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford), or conservative of any school, was ever more inflexibly attached to time-honored inconveniences than Dinah.
When St. Clare had first returned from the north, impressed with the system and order of his uncle’s kitchen arrangements, he had largely provided his own with an array of cupboards, drawers, and various apparatus, to induce systematic regulation, under the sanguine illusion that it would be of any possible assistance to Dinah in her arrangements. He might as well have provided them for a squirrel or a magpie. The more drawers and closets there were, the more hiding-holes could Dinah make for the accommodation of old rags, hair-combs, old shoes, ribbons, cast-off artificial flowers, and other articles of vertu, wherein her soul delighted.
When Miss Ophelia entered the kitchen Dinah did not rise, but smoked on in sublime tranquillity, regarding her movements obliquely out of the corner of her eye, but apparently intent only on the operations around her.
Miss Ophelia commenced opening a set of drawers.
“What is this drawer for, Dinah?” she said.
“It’s handy for most anything, Missis,” said Dinah. So it appeared to be. From the variety it contained, Miss Ophelia pulled out first a fine damask table-cloth stained with blood, having evidently been used to envelop some raw meat.
“What’s this, Dinah? You don’t wrap up meat in your mistress’ best table-cloths?”
“O Lor, Missis, no; the towels was all a missin’ – so I jest did it. I laid out to wash that a, – that’s why I put it thar.”
“Shif’less!” said Miss Ophelia to herself, proceeding to tumble over the drawer, where she found a nutmeg-grater and two or three nutmegs, a Methodist hymn-book, a couple of soiled Madras handkerchiefs, some yarn and knitting-work, a paper of tobacco and a pipe, a few crackers, one or two gilded china-saucers with some pomade in them, one or two thin old shoes, a piece of flannel carefully pinned up enclosing some small white onions, several damask table-napkins, some coarse crash towels, some twine and darning-needles, and several broken papers, from which sundry sweet herbs were sifting into the drawer.
“Where do you keep your nutmegs, Dinah?” said Miss Ophelia, with the air of one who prayed for patience.
“Most anywhar, Missis; there’s some in that cracked tea-cup, up there, and there’s some over in that ar cupboard.”
“Here are some in the grater,” said Miss Ophelia, holding them up.
“Laws, yes, I put ’em there this morning, – I likes to keep my things handy,” said Dinah. “You, Jake! what are you stopping for! You’ll cotch it! Be still, thar!” she added, with a dive of her stick at the criminal.
“What’s this?” said Miss Ophelia, holding up the saucer of pomade.
“Laws, it’s my har grease; – I put it thar to have it handy.”
“Do you use your mistress’ best saucers for that?”
“Law! it was cause I was driv, and in sich a hurry; – I was gwine to change it this very day.”
“Here are two damask table-napkins.”
“Them table-napkins I put thar, to get ’em washed out, some day.”
“Don’t you have some place here on purpose for things to be washed?”
“Well, Mas’r St. Clare got dat ar chest, he said, for dat; but I likes to mix up biscuit and hev my things on it some days, and then it an’t handy a liftin’ up the lid.”
“Why don’t you mix your biscuits on the pastry-table, there?”
“Law, Missis, it gets sot so full of dishes, and one thing and another, der an’t no room, noway – ”
“But you should wash your dishes, and clear them away.”
“Wash my dishes!” said Dinah, in a high key, as her wrath began to rise over her habitual respect of manner; “what does ladies know ’bout work, I want to know? When ‘d Mas’r ever get his dinner, if I vas to spend all my time a washin’ and a puttin’ up dishes? Miss Marie never telled me so, nohow.”
“Well, here are these onions.”
“Laws, yes!” said Dinah; “thar is whar I put ’em, now. I couldn’t ‘member. Them ‘s particular onions I was a savin’ for dis yer very stew. I’d forgot they was in dat ar old flannel.”
Miss Ophelia lifted out the sifting papers of sweet herbs.
“I wish Missis wouldn’t touch dem ar. I likes to keep my things where I knows whar to go to ’em,” said Dinah, rather decidedly.
“But you don’t want these holes in the papers.”
“Them ‘s handy for siftin’ on ‘t out,” said Dinah.
“But you see it spills all over the drawer.”
“Laws, yes! if Missis will go a tumblin’ things all up so, it will. Missis has spilt lots dat ar way,” said Dinah, coming uneasily to the drawers. “If Missis only will go up stars till my clarin’ up time comes, I’ll have everything right; but I can’t do nothin’ when ladies is round, a henderin’. You, Sam, don’t you gib the baby dat ar sugar-bowl! I’ll crack ye over, if ye don’t mind!”
“I’m going through the kitchen, and going to put everything in order, once, Dinah; and then I’ll expect you to keep it so.”
“Lor, now! Miss Phelia; dat ar an’t no way for ladies to do. I never did see ladies doin’ no sich; my old Missis nor Miss Marie never did, and I don’t see no kinder need on ‘t;” and Dinah stalked indignantly about, while Miss Ophelia piled and sorted dishes, emptied dozens of scattering bowls of sugar into one receptacle, sorted napkins, table-cloths, and towels, for washing; washing, wiping, and arranging with her own hands, and with a speed and alacrity which perfectly amazed Dinah.
“Lor now! if dat ar de way dem northern ladies do, dey an’t ladies, nohow,” she said to some of her satellites, when at a safe hearing distance. “I has things as straight as anybody, when my clarin’ up times comes; but I don’t want ladies round, a henderin’, and getting my things all where I can’t find ’em.”
To do Dinah justice, she had, at irregular periods, paroxyms of reformation and arrangement, which she called “clarin’ up times,” when she would begin with great zeal, and turn every drawer and closet wrong side outward, on to the floor or tables, and make the ordinary confusion seven-fold more confounded. Then she would light her pipe, and leisurely go over her arrangements, looking things over, and discoursing upon them; making all the young fry scour most vigorously on the tin things, and keeping up for several hours a most energetic state of confusion, which she would explain to the satisfaction of all inquirers, by the remark that she was a “clarin’ up.” “She couldn’t hev things a gwine on so as they had been, and she was gwine to make these yer young ones keep better order;” for Dinah herself, somehow, indulged the illusion that she, herself, was the soul of order, and it was only the young uns, and the everybody else in the house, that were the cause of anything that fell short of perfection in this respect. When all the tins were scoured, and the tables scrubbed snowy white, and everything that could offend tucked out of sight in holes and corners, Dinah would dress herself up in a smart dress, clean apron, and high, brilliant Madras turban, and tell all marauding “young uns” to keep out of the kitchen, for she was gwine to have things kept nice. Indeed, these periodic seasons were often an inconvenience to the whole household; for Dinah would contract such an immoderate attachment to her scoured tin, as to insist upon it that it shouldn’t be used again for any possible purpose, – at least, till the ardor of the “clarin’ up” period abated.
Miss Ophelia, in a few days, thoroughly reformed every department of the house to a systematic pattern; but her labors in all departments that depended on the cooperation of servants were like those of Sisyphus or the Danaides. In despair, she one day appealed to St. Clare.
“There is no such thing as getting anything like a system in this family!”
“To be sure, there isn’t,” said St. Clare.
“Such shiftless management, such waste, such confusion, I never saw!”
“I dare say you didn’t.”
“You would not take it so coolly, if you were housekeeper.”
“My dear cousin, you may as well understand, once for all, that we masters are divided into two classes, oppressors and oppressed. We who are good-natured and hate severity make up our minds to a good deal of inconvenience. If we will keep a shambling, loose, untaught set in the community, for our convenience, why, we must take the consequence. Some rare cases I have seen, of persons, who, by a peculiar tact, can produce order and system without severity; but I’m not one of them, – and so I made up my mind, long ago, to let things go just as they do. I will not have the poor devils thrashed and cut to pieces, and they know it, – and, of course, they know the staff is in their own hands.”
“But to have no time, no place, no order, – all going on in this shiftless way!”
“My dear Vermont, you natives up by the North Pole set an extravagant value on time! What on earth is the use of time to a fellow who has twice as much of it as he knows what to do with? As to order and system, where there is nothing to be done but to lounge on the sofa and read, an hour sooner or later in breakfast or dinner isn’t of much account. Now, there’s Dinah gets you a capital dinner, – soup, ragout, roast fowl, dessert, ice-creams and all, – and she creates it all out of chaos and old night down there, in that kitchen. I think it really sublime, the way she manages. But, Heaven bless us! if we are to go down there, and view all the smoking and squatting about, and hurryscurryation of the preparatory process, we should never eat more! My good cousin, absolve yourself from that! It’s more than a Catholic penance, and does no more good. You’ll only lose your own temper, and utterly confound Dinah. Let her go her own way.”
But, Augustine, you don’t know how I found things.”
“Don’t I? Don’t I know that the rolling-pin is under her bed, and the nutmeg-grater in her pocket with her tobacco, – that there are sixty-five different sugar-bowls, one in every hole in the house, – that she washes dishes with a dinner-napkin one day, and with a fragment of an old petticoat the next? But the upshot is, she gets up glorious dinners, makes superb coffee; and you must judge her as warriors and statesmen are judged, by her success.”
“But the waste, – the expense!”
“O, well! Lock everything you can, and keep the key. Give out by driblets, and never inquire for odds and ends, – it isn’t best.”
“That troubles me, Augustine. I can’t help feeling as if these servants were not strictly honest. Are you sure they can be relied on?”
Augustine laughed immoderately at the grave and anxious face with which Miss Ophelia propounded the question.
“O, cousin, that’s too good, – honest! – as if that’s a thing to be expected! Honest! – why, of course, they arn’t. Why should they be? What upon earth is to make them so?”
“Why don’t you instruct?”
“Instruct! O, fiddlestick! What instructing do you think I should do? I look like it! As to Marie, she has spirit enough, to be sure, to kill off a whole plantation, if I’d let her manage; but she wouldn’t get the cheatery out of them.”
“Are there no honest ones?”
“Well, now and then one, whom Nature makes so impracticably simple, truthful and faithful, that the worst possible influence can’t destroy it. But, you see, from the mother’s breast the colored child feels and sees that there are none but underhand ways open to it. It can get along no other way with its parents, its mistress, its young master and missie play-fellows. Cunning and deception become necessary, inevitable habits. It isn’t fair to expect anything else of him. He ought not to be punished for it. As to honesty, the slave is kept in that dependent, semi-childish state, that there is no making him realize the rights of property, or feel that his master’s goods are not his own, if he can get them. For my part, I don’t see how they can be honest. Such a fellow as Tom, here, is, – is a moral miracle!”
“And what becomes of their souls?” said Miss Ophelia.
“That isn’t my affair, as I know of,” said St. Clare; “I am only dealing in facts of the present life. The fact is, that the whole race are pretty generally understood to be turned over to the devil, for our benefit, in this world, however it may turn out in another!”
“This is perfectly horrible!” said Miss Ophelia; you ought to be ashamed of yourselves!”
“I don’t know as I am. We are in pretty good company, for all that,” said St. Clare, “as people in the broad road generally are. Look at the high and the low, all the world over, and it’s the same story, – the lower class used up, body, soul and spirit, for the good of the upper. It is so in England; it is so everywhere; and yet all Christendom stands aghast, with virtuous indignation, because we do the thing in a little different shape from what they do it.”
“It isn’t so in Vermont.”
“Ah, well, in New England, and in the free States, you have the better of us, I grant. But there’s the bell; so, Cousin, let us for a while lay aside our sectional prejudices, and come out to dinner.”
As Miss Ophelia was in the kitchen in the latter part of the afternoon, some of the sable children called out, “La, sakes! thar’s Prue a coming, grunting along like she allers does.”
A tall, bony colored woman now entered the kitchen, bearing on her head a basket of rusks and hot rolls.
“Ho, Prue! you’ve come,” said Dinah.
Prue had a peculiar scowling expression of countenance, and a sullen, grumbling voice. She set down her basket, squatted herself down, and resting her elbows on her knees said,
“O Lord! I wish’t I ‘s dead!”
“Why do you wish you were dead?” said Miss Ophelia.
“I’d be out o’ my misery,” said the woman, gruffly, without taking her eyes from the floor.
“What need you getting drunk, then, and cutting up, Prue?” said a spruce quadroon chambermaid, dangling, as she spoke, a pair of coral ear-drops.
The woman looked at her with a sour surly glance.
“Maybe you’ll come to it, one of these yer days. I’d be glad to see you, I would; then you’ll be glad of a drop, like me, to forget your misery.”
“Come, Prue,” said Dinah, “let’s look at your rusks. Here’s Missis will pay for them.”
Miss Ophelia took out a couple of dozen.
“Thar’s some tickets in that ar old cracked jug on the top shelf,” said Dinah. “You, Jake, climb up and get it down.”
“Tickets, – what are they for?” said Miss Ophelia.
“We buy tickets of her Mas’r, and she gives us bread for ’em.”
“And they counts my money and tickets, when I gets home, to see if I ‘s got the change; and if I han’t, they half kills me.”
“And serves you right,” said Jane, the pert chambermaid, “if you will take their money to get drunk on. That’s what she does, Missis.”
“And that’s what I will do, – I can’t live no other ways, – drink and forget my misery.”
“You are very wicked and very foolish,” said Miss Ophelia, “to steal your master’s money to make yourself a brute with.”
“It’s mighty likely, Missis; but I will do it, – yes, I will. O Lord! I wish I ‘s dead, I do, – I wish I ‘s dead, and out of my misery!” and slowly and stiffly the old creature rose, and got her basket on her head again; but before she went out, she looked at the quadroon girt, who still stood playing with her ear-drops.
“Ye think ye’re mighty fine with them ar, a frolickin’ and a tossin’ your head, and a lookin’ down on everybody. Well, never mind, – you may live to be a poor, old, cut-up crittur, like me. Hope to the Lord ye will, I do; then see if ye won’t drink, – drink, – drink, – yerself into torment; and sarve ye right, too – ugh!” and, with a malignant howl, the woman left the room.
“Disgusting old beast!” said Adolph, who was getting his master’s shaving-water. “If I was her master, I’d cut her up worse than she is.”
“Ye couldn’t do that ar, no ways,” said Dinah. “Her back’s a far sight now, – she can’t never get a dress together over it.”
“I think such low creatures ought not to be allowed to go round to genteel families,” said Miss Jane. “What do you think, Mr. St. Clare?” she said, coquettishly tossing her head at Adolph.
It must be observed that, among other appropriations from his master’s stock, Adolph was in the habit of adopting his name and address; and that the style under which he moved, among the colored circles of New Orleans, was that of Mr. St. Clare.
“I’m certainly of your opinion, Miss Benoir,” said Adolph.
Benoir was the name of Marie St. Clare’s family, and Jane was one of her servants.
“Pray, Miss Benoir, may I be allowed to ask if those drops are for the ball, tomorrow night? They are certainly bewitching!”
“I wonder, now, Mr. St. Clare, what the impudence of you men will come to!” said Jane, tossing her pretty head til the ear-drops twinkled again. “I shan’t dance with you for a whole evening, if you go to asking me any more questions.”
“O, you couldn’t be so cruel, now! I was just dying to know whether you would appear in your pink tarletane,” said Adolph.
“What is it?” said Rosa, a bright, piquant little quadroon who came skipping down stairs at this moment.
“Why, Mr. St. Clare’s so impudent!”
“On my honor,” said Adolph, “I’ll leave it to Miss Rosa now.”
“I know he’s always a saucy creature,” said Rosa, poising herself on one of her little feet, and looking maliciously at Adolph. “He’s always getting me so angry with him.”
“O! ladies, ladies, you will certainly break my heart, between you,” said Adolph. “I shall be found dead in my bed, some morning, and you’ll have it to answer for.”
“Do hear the horrid creature talk!” said both ladies, laughing immoderately.
“Come, – clar out, you! I can’t have you cluttering up the kitchen,” said Dinah; “in my way, foolin’ round here.”
“Aunt Dinah’s glum, because she can’t go to the ball,” said Rosa.
“Don’t want none o’ your light-colored balls,” said Dinah; “cuttin’ round, makin’ b’lieve you’s white folks. Arter all, you’s black, much as I am.”
“Aunt Dinah greases her wool stiff, every day, to make it lie straight,” said Jane.
“And it will be wool, after all,” said Rosa, maliciously shaking down her long, silky curls.
“Well, in the Lord’s sight, an’t wool as good as bar, any time?” said Dinah. “I’d like to have Missis say which is worth the most, – a couple such as you, or one like me. Get out wid ye, ye trumpery, – I won’t have ye round!”
Here the conversation was interrupted in a two-fold manner. St. Clare’s voice was heard at the head of the stairs, asking Adolph if he meant to stay all night with his shaving-water; and Miss Ophelia, coming out of the dining-room, said,
“Jane and Rosa, what are you wasting your time for, here? Go in and attend to your muslins.”
Our friend Tom, who had been in the kitchen during the conversation with the old rusk-woman, had followed her out into the street. He saw her go on, giving every once in a while a suppressed groan. At last she set her basket down on a doorstep, and began arranging the old, faded shawl which covered her shoulders.
“I’ll carry your basket a piece,” said Tom, compassionately.
“Why should ye?” said the woman. “I don’t want no help.”
“You seem to be sick, or in trouble, or somethin’,” said Tom.
“I an’t sick,” said the woman, shortly.
“I wish,” said Tom, looking at her earnestly, – “I wish I could persuade you to leave off drinking. Don’t you know it will be the ruin of ye, body and soul?”
“I knows I’m gwine to torment,” said the woman, sullenly. “Ye don’t need to tell me that ar. I ‘s ugly, I ‘s wicked, – I ‘s gwine straight to torment. O, Lord! I wish I ‘s thar!”
Tom shuddered at these frightful words, spoken with a sullen, impassioned earnestness.
“O, Lord have mercy on ye! poor crittur. Han’t ye never heard of Jesus Christ?”
“Jesus Christ, – who’s he?”
“Why, he’s the Lord,” said Tom.
“I think I’ve hearn tell o’ the Lord, and the judgment and torment. I’ve heard o’ that.”
“But didn’t anybody ever tell you of the Lord Jesus, that loved us poor sinners, and died for us?”
“Don’t know nothin’ ’bout that,” said the woman; “nobody han’t never loved me, since my old man died.”
“Where was you raised?” said Tom.
“Up in Kentuck. A man kept me to breed chil’en for market, and sold ’em as fast as they got big enough; last of all, he sold me to a speculator, and my Mas’r got me o’ him.”
“What set you into this bad way of drinkin’?”
“To get shet o’ my misery. I had one child after I come here; and I thought then I’d have one to raise, cause Mas’r wasn’t a speculator. It was de peartest little thing! and Missis she seemed to think a heap on ‘t, at first; it never cried, – it was likely and fat. But Missis tuck sick, and I tended her; and I tuck the fever, and my milk all left me, and the child it pined to skin and bone, and Missis wouldn’t buy milk for it. She wouldn’t hear to me, when I telled her I hadn’t milk. She said she knowed I could feed it on what other folks eat; and the child kinder pined, and cried, and cried, and cried, day and night, and got all gone to skin and bones, and Missis got sot agin it and she said ‘t wan’t nothin’ but crossness. She wished it was dead, she said; and she wouldn’t let me have it o’ nights, cause, she said, it kept me awake, and made me good for nothing. She made me sleep in her room; and I had to put it away off in a little kind o’ garret, and thar it cried itself to death, one night. It did; and I tuck to drinkin’, to keep its crying out of my ears! I did, – and I will drink! I will, if I do go to torment for it! Mas’r says I shall go to torment, and I tell him I’ve got thar now!”
“O, ye poor crittur!” said Tom, “han’t nobody never telled ye how the Lord Jesus loved ye, and died for ye? Han’t they telled ye that he’ll help ye, and ye can go to heaven, and have rest, at last?”
“I looks like gwine to heaven,” said the woman; “an’t thar where white folks is gwine? S’pose they’d have me thar? I’d rather go to torment, and get away from Mas’r and Missis. I had so,” she said, as with her usual groan, she got her basket on her head, and walked sullenly away.
Tom turned, and walked sorrowfully back to the house. In the court he met little Eva, – a crown of tuberoses on her head, and her eyes radiant with delight.
“O, Tom! here you are. I’m glad I’ve found you. Papa says you may get out the ponies, and take me in my little new carriage,” she said, catching his hand. “But what’s the matter Tom? – you look sober.”
“I feel bad, Miss Eva,” said Tom, sorrowfully. “But I’ll get the horses for you.”
“But do tell me, Tom, what is the matter. I saw you talking to cross old Prue.”
Tom, in simple, earnest phrase, told Eva the woman’s history. She did not exclaim or wonder, or weep, as other children do. Her cheeks grew pale, and a deep, earnest shadow passed over her eyes. She laid both hands on her bosom, and sighed heavily.