We hear often of the distress of the negro servants, on the loss of a kind master; and with good reason, for no creature on God’s earth is left more utterly unprotected and desolate than the slave in these circumstances.
The child who has lost a father has still the protection of friends, and of the law; he is something, and can do something, – has acknowledged rights and position; the slave has none. The law regards him, in every respect, as devoid of rights as a bale of merchandise. The only possible ackowledgment of any of the longings and wants of a human and immortal creature, which are given to him, comes to him through the sovereign and irresponsible will of his master; and when that master is stricken down, nothing remains.
The number of those men who know how to use wholly irresponsible power humanely and generously is small. Everybody knows this, and the slave knows it best of all; so that he feels that there are ten chances of his finding an abusive and tyrannical master, to one of his finding a considerate and kind one. Therefore is it that the wail over a kind master is loud and long, as well it may be.
When St. Clare breathed his last, terror and consternation took hold of all his household. He had been stricken down so in a moment, in the flower and strength of his youth! Every room and gallery of the house resounded with sobs and shrieks of despair.
Marie, whose nervous system had been enervated by a constant course of self-indulgence, had nothing to support the terror of the shock, and, at the time her husband breathed his last, was passing from one fainting fit to another; and he to whom she had been joined in the mysterious tie of marriage passed from her forever, without the possibility of even a parting word.
Miss Ophelia, with characteristic strength and self-control, had remained with her kinsman to the last, – all eye, all ear, all attention; doing everything of the little that could be done, and joining with her whole soul in the tender and impassioned prayers which the poor slave had poured forth for the soul of his dying master.
When they were arranging him for his last rest, they found upon his bosom a small, plain miniature case, opening with a spring. It was the miniature of a noble and beautiful female face; and on the reverse, under a crystal, a lock of dark hair. They laid them back on the lifeless breast, – dust to dust, – poor mournful relics of early dreams, which once made that cold heart beat so warmly!
Tom’s whole soul was filled with thoughts of eternity; and while he ministered around the lifeless clay, he did not once think that the sudden stroke had left him in hopeless slavery. He felt at peace about his master; for in that hour, when he had poured forth his prayer into the bosom of his Father, he had found an answer of quietness and assurance springing up within himself. In the depths of his own affectionate nature, he felt able to perceive something of the fulness of Divine love; for an old oracle hath thus written, – “He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Tom hoped and trusted, and was at peace.
But the funeral passed, with all its pageant of black crape, and prayers, and solemn faces; and back rolled the cool, muddy waves of every-day life; and up came the everlasting hard inquiry of “What is to be done next?”
It rose to the mind of Marie, as, dressed in loose morning-robes, and surrounded by anxious servants, she sat up in a great easy-chair, and inspected samples of crape and bombazine. It rose to Miss Ophelia, who began to turn her thoughts towards her northern home. It rose, in silent terrors, to the minds of the servants, who well knew the unfeeling, tyrannical character of the mistress in whose hands they were left. All knew, very well, that the indulgences which had been accorded to them were not from their mistress, but from their master; and that, now he was gone, there would be no screen between them and every tyrannous infliction which a temper soured by affliction might devise.
It was about a fortnight after the funeral, that Miss Ophelia, busied one day in her apartment, heard a gentle tap at the door. She opened it, and there stood Rosa, the pretty young quadroon, whom we have before often noticed, her hair in disorder, and her eyes swelled with crying.
“O, Miss Feeley,” she said, falling on her knees, and catching the skirt of her dress, “do, do go to Miss Marie for me! do plead for me! She’s goin’ to send me out to be whipped – look there!” And she handed to Miss Ophelia a paper.
It was an order, written in Marie’s delicate Italian hand, to the master of a whipping-establishment to give the bearer fifteen lashes.
“What have you been doing?” said Miss Ophelia.
“You know, Miss Feely, I’ve got such a bad temper; it’s very bad of me. I was trying on Miss Marie’s dress, and she slapped my face; and I spoke out before I thought, and was saucy; and she said that she’d bring me down, and have me know, once for all,
Miss Ophelia stood considering, with the paper in her hand.
“You see, Miss Feely,” said Rosa, “I don’t mind the whipping so much, if Miss Marie or you was to do it; but, to be sent to a man! and such a horrid man, – the shame of it, Miss Feely!”
Miss Ophelia well knew that it was the universal custom to send women and young girls to whipping-houses, to the hands of the lowest of men, – men vile enough to make this their profession, – there to be subjected to brutal exposure and shameful correction. She had known it before; but hitherto she had never realized it, till she saw the slender form of Rosa almost convulsed with distress. All the honest blood of womanhood, the strong New England blood of liberty, flushed to her cheeks, and throbbed bitterly in her indignant heart; but, with habitual prudence and self-control, she mastered herself, and, crushing the paper firmly in her hand, she merely said to Rosa,
“Sit down, child, while I go to your mistress.”
“Shameful! monstrous! outrageous!” she said to herself, as she was crossing the parlor.
She found Marie sitting up in her easy-chair, with Mammy standing by her, combing her hair; Jane sat on the ground before her, busy in chafing her feet.
“How do you find yourself, today?” said Miss Ophelia.
A deep sigh, and a closing of the eyes, was the only reply, for a moment; and then Marie answered, “O, I don’t know, Cousin; I suppose I’m as well as I ever shall be!” and Marie wiped her eyes with a cambric handkerchief, bordered with an inch deep of black.
“I came,” said Miss Ophelia, with a short, dry cough, such as commonly introduces a difficult subject, – “I came to speak with you about poor Rosa.”
Marie’s eyes were open wide enough now, and a flush rose to her sallow cheeks, as she answered, sharply,
“Well, what about her?”
“She is very sorry for her fault.”
“She is, is she? She’ll be sorrier, before I’ve done with her! I’ve endured that child’s impudence long enough; and now I’ll bring her down, – I’ll make her lie in the dust!”
“But could not you punish her some other way, – some way that would be less shameful?”
“I mean to shame her; that’s just what I want. She has all her life presumed on her delicacy, and her good looks, and her lady-like airs, till she forgets who she is; – and I’ll give her one lesson that will bring her down, I fancy!”
“But, Cousin, consider that, if you destroy delicacy and a sense of shame in a young girl, you deprave her very fast.”
“Delicacy!” said Marie, with a scornful laugh, – “a fine word for such as she! I’ll teach her, with all her airs, that she’s no better than the raggedest black wench that walks the streets! She’ll take no more airs with me!”
“You will answer to God for such cruelty!” said Miss Ophelia, with energy.
“Cruelty, – I’d like to know what the cruelty is! I wrote orders for only fifteen lashes, and told him to put them on lightly. I’m sure there’s no cruelty there!”
“No cruelty!” said Miss Ophelia. “I’m sure any girl might rather be killed outright!”
“It might seem so to anybody with your feeling; but all these creatures get used to it; it’s the only way they can be kept in order. Once let them feel that they are to take any airs about delicacy, and all that, and they’ll run all over you, just as my servants always have. I’ve begun now to bring them under; and I’ll have them all to know that I’ll send one out to be whipped, as soon as another, if they don’t mind themselves!” said Marie, looking around her decidedly.
Jane hung her head and cowered at this, for she felt as if it was particularly directed to her. Miss Ophelia sat for a moment, as if she had swallowed some explosive mixture, and were ready to burst. Then, recollecting the utter uselessness of contention with such a nature, she shut her lips resolutely, gathered herself up, and walked out of the room.
It was hard to go back and tell Rosa that she could do nothing for her; and, shortly after, one of the man-servants came to say that her mistress had ordered him to take Rosa with him to the whipping-house, whither she was hurried, in spite of her tears and entreaties.
A few days after, Tom was standing musing by the balconies, when he was joined by Adolph, who, since the death of his master, had been entirely crest-fallen and disconsolate. Adolph knew that he had always been an object of dislike to Marie; but while his master lived he had paid but little attention to it. Now that he was gone, he had moved about in daily dread and trembling, not knowing what might befall him next. Marie had held several consultations with her lawyer; after communicating with St. Clare’s brother, it was determined to sell the place, and all the servants, except her own personal property, and these she intended to take with her, and go back to her father’s plantation.
“Do ye know, Tom, that we’ve all got to be sold?” said Adolph, and go back to her father’s plantation.
“How did you hear that?” said Tom.
“I hid myself behind the curtains when Missis was talking with the lawyer. In a few days we shall be sent off to auction, Tom.”
“The Lord’s will be done!” said Tom, folding his arms and sighing heavily.
“We’ll never get another such a master, said Adolph, apprehensively; “but I’d rather be sold than take my chance under Missis.”
Tom turned away; his heart was full. The hope of liberty, the thought of distant wife and children, rose up before his patient soul, as to the mariner shipwrecked almost in port rises the vision of the church-spire and loving roofs of his native village, seen over the top of some black wave only for one last farewell. He drew his arms tightly over his bosom, and choked back the bitter tears, and tried to pray. The poor old soul had such a singular, unaccountable prejudice in favor of liberty, that it was a hard wrench for him; and the more he said, “Thy will be done,” the worse he felt.
He sought Miss Ophelia, who, ever since Eva’s death, had treated him with marked and respectful kindness.
“Miss Feely,” he said, “Mas’r St. Clare promised me my freedom. He told me that he had begun to take it out for me; and now, perhaps, if Miss Feely would be good enough to speak bout it to Missis, she would feel like goin’ on with it, was it as Mas’r St. Clare’s wish.”
“I’ll speak for you, Tom, and do my best,” said Miss Ophelia; “but, if it depends on Mrs. St. Clare, I can’t hope much for you; – nevertheless, I will try.”
This incident occurred a few days after that of Rosa, while Miss Ophelia was busied in preparations to return north.
Seriously reflecting within herself, she considered that perhaps she had shown too hasty a warmth of language in her former interview with Marie; and she resolved that she would now endeavor to moderate her zeal, and to be as conciliatory as possible. So the good soul gathered herself up, and, taking her knitting, resolved to go into Marie’s room, be as agreeable as possible, and negotiate Tom’s case with all the diplomatic skill of which she was mistress.
She found Marie reclining at length upon a lounge, supporting herself on one elbow by pillows, while Jane, who had been out shopping, was displaying before her certain samples of thin black stuffs.
“That will do,” said Marie, selecting one; “only I’m not sure about its being properly mourning.”
“Laws, Missis,” said Jane, volubly, “Mrs. General Derbennon wore just this very thing, after the General died, last summer; it makes up lovely!”
“What do you think?” said Marie to Miss Ophelia.
“It’s a matter of custom, I suppose,” said Miss Ophelia. “You can judge about it better than I.”
“The fact is,” said Marie, “that I haven’t a dress in the world that I can wear; and, as I am going to break up the establishment, and go off, next week, I must decide upon something.”
“Are you going so soon?”
“Yes. St. Clare’s brother has written, and he and the lawyer think that the servants and furniture had better be put up at auction, and the place left with our lawyer.”
“There’s one thing I wanted to speak with you about,” said Miss Ophelia. “Augustine promised Tom his liberty, and began the legal forms necessary to it. I hope you will use your influence to have it perfected.”
“Indeed, I shall do no such thing!” said Marie, sharply. “Tom is one of the most valuable servants on the place, – it couldn’t be afforded, any way. Besides, what does he want of liberty? He’s a great deal better off as he is.”
“But he does desire it, very earnestly, and his master promised it,” said Miss Ophelia.
“I dare say he does want it,” said Marie; “they all want it, just because they are a discontented set, – always wanting what they haven’t got. Now, I’m principled against emancipating, in any case. Keep a negro under the care of a master, and he does well enough, and is respectable; but set them free, and they get lazy, and won’t work, and take to drinking, and go all down to be mean, worthless fellows, I’ve seen it tried, hundreds of times. It’s no favor to set them free.”
“But Tom is so steady, industrious, and pious.”
“O, you needn’t tell me! I’ve see a hundred like him. He’ll do very well, as long as he’s taken care of, – that’s all.”
“But, then, consider,” said Miss Ophelia, “when you set him up for sale, the chances of his getting a bad master.”
“O, that’s all humbug!” said Marie; “it isn’t one time in a hundred that a good fellow gets a bad master; most masters are good, for all the talk that is made. I’ve lived and grown up here, in the South, and I never yet was acquainted with a master that didn’t treat his servants well, – quite as well as is worth while. I don’t feel any fears on that head.”
“Well,” said Miss Ophelia, energetically, “I know it was one of the last wishes of your husband that Tom should have his liberty; it was one of the promises that he made to dear little Eva on her death-bed, and I should not think you would feel at liberty to disregard it.”
Marie had her face covered with her handkerchief at this appeal, and began sobbing and using her smelting-bottle, with great vehemence.
“Everybody goes against me!” she said. “Everybody is so inconsiderate! I shouldn’t have expected that you would bring up all these remembrances of my troubles to me, – it’s so inconsiderate! But nobody ever does consider, – my trials are so peculiar! It’s so hard, that when I had only one daughter, she should have been taken! – and when I had a husband that just exactly suited me, – and I’m so hard to be suited! – he should be taken! And you seem to have so little feeling for me, and keep bringing it up to me so carelessly, – when you know how it overcomes me! I suppose you mean well; but it is very inconsiderate, – very!” And Marie sobbed, and gasped for breath, and called Mammy to open the window, and to bring her the camphor-bottle, and to bathe her head, and unhook her dress. And, in the general confusion that ensued, Miss Ophelia made her escape to her apartment.
She saw, at once, that it would do no good to say anything more; for Marie had an indefinite capacity for hysteric fits; and, after this, whenever her husband’s or Eva’s wishes with regard to the servants were alluded to, she always found it convenient to set one in operation. Miss Ophelia, therefore, did the next best thing she could for Tom, – she wrote a letter to Mrs. Shelby for him, stating his troubles, and urging them to send to his relief.
The next day, Tom and Adolph, and some half a dozen other servants, were marched down to a slave-warehouse, to await the convenience of the trader, who was going to make up a lot for auction.
The Slave Warehouse
A slave warehouse! Perhaps some of my readers conjure up horrible visions of such a place. They fancy some foul, obscure den, some horrible Tartarus “informis, ingens, cui lumen ademptum.” But no, innocent friend; in these days men have learned the art of sinning expertly and genteelly, so as not to shock the eyes and senses of respectable society. Human property is high in the market; and is, therefore, well fed, well cleaned, tended, and looked after, that it may come to sale sleek, and strong, and shining. A slave-warehouse in New Orleans is a house externally not much unlike many others, kept with neatness; and where every day you may see arranged, under a sort of shed along the outside, rows of men and women, who stand there as a sign of the property sold within.
Then you shall be courteously entreated to call and examine, and shall find an abundance of husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and young children, to be “sold separately, or in lots to suit the convenience of the purchaser;” and that soul immortal, once bought with blood and anguish by the Son of God, when the earth shook, and the rocks rent, and the graves were opened, can be sold, leased, mortgaged, exchanged for groceries or dry goods, to suit the phases of trade, or the fancy of the purchaser.
It was a day or two after the conversation between Marie and Miss Ophelia, that Tom, Adolph, and about half a dozen others of the St. Clare estate, were turned over to the loving kindness of Mr. Skeggs, the keeper of a depot on – – street, to await the auction, next day.
Tom had with him quite a sizable trunk full of clothing, as had most others of them. They were ushered, for the night, into a long room, where many other men, of all ages, sizes, and shades of complexion, were assembled, and from which roars of laughter and unthinking merriment were proceeding.
“Ah, ha! that’s right. Go it, boys, – go it!” said Mr. Skeggs, the keeper. “My people are always so merry! Sambo, I see!” he said, speaking approvingly to a burly negro who was performing tricks of low buffoonery, which occasioned the shouts which Tom had heard.
As might be imagined, Tom was in no humor to join these proceedings; and, therefore, setting his trunk as far as possible from the noisy group, he sat down on it, and leaned his face against the wall.
The dealers in the human article make scrupulous and systematic efforts to promote noisy mirth among them, as a means of drowning reflection, and rendering them insensible to their condition. The whole object of the training to which the negro is put, from the time he is sold in the northern market till he arrives south, is systematically directed towards making him callous, unthinking, and brutal. The slave-dealer collects his gang in Virginia or Kentucky, and drives them to some convenient, healthy place, – often a watering place, – to be fattened. Here they are fed full daily; and, because some incline to pine, a fiddle is kept commonly going among them, and they are made to dance daily; and he who refuses to be merry – in whose soul thoughts of wife, or child, or home, are too strong for him to be gay – is marked as sullen and dangerous, and subjected to all the evils which the ill will of an utterly irresponsible and hardened man can inflict upon him. Briskness, alertness, and cheerfulness of appearance, especially before observers, are constantly enforced upon them, both by the hope of thereby getting a good master, and the fear of all that the driver may bring upon them if they prove unsalable.
“What dat ar slave doin here?” said Sambo, coming up to Tom, after Mr. Skeggs had left the room. Sambo was a full black, of great size, very lively, voluble, and full of trick and grimace.
“What you doin here?” said Sambo, coming up to Tom, and poking him facetiously in the side. “Meditatin’, eh?”
“I am to be sold at the auction, tomorrow!” said Tom, quietly.
“Sold at auction, – haw! haw! boys, an’t this yer fun? I wish’t I was gwine that ar way! – tell ye, wouldn’t I make em laugh? But how is it, – dis yer whole lot gwine tomorrow?” said Sambo, laying his hand freely on Adolph’s shoulder.
“Please to let me alone!” said Adolph, fiercely, straightening himself up, with extreme disgust.
“Law, now, boys!” said he, coming up to Adolph and snuffing. “O Lor! he’d do for a tobaccer-shop; they could keep him to scent snuff! Lor, he’d keep a whole shope agwine, – he would!”
“I say, keep off, can’t you?” said Adolph, enraged.
“Lor, now, how touchy we is. Look at us now!” and Sambo gave a ludicrous imitation of Adolph’s manner; “here’s de airs and graces. We’s been in a good family, I specs.”
“Yes,” said Adolph; “I had a master that could have bought you all for old truck!”
“Laws, now, only think,” said Sambo, “the gentlemens that we is!”
“I belonged to the St. Clare family,” said Adolph, proudly.
“Lor, you did! Be hanged if they ar’n’t lucky to get shet of ye. Spects they’s gwine to trade ye off with a lot o’ cracked tea-pots and sich like!” said Sambo, with a provoking grin.
Adolph, enraged at this taunt, flew furiously at his adversary, swearing and striking on every side of him. The rest laughed and shouted, and the uproar brought the keeper to the door.
“What now, boys? Order, – order!” he said, coming in and flourishing a large whip.
All fled in different directions, except Sambo, who, presuming on the favor which the keeper had to him as a licensed wag, stood his ground, ducking his head with a facetious grin, whenever the master made a dive at him.
“Lor, Mas’r, ‘tan’t us, – we ‘s reglar stiddy, – it’s these yer new hands; they ‘s real aggravatin’, – kinder pickin’ at us, all time!”
The keeper, at this, turned upon Tom and Adolph, and distributing a few kicks and cuffs without much inquiry, and leaving general orders for all to be good boys and go to sleep, left the apartment.
While this scene was going on in the men’s sleeping-room, the reader may be curious to take a peep at the corresponding apartment allotted to the women. Stretched out in various attitudes over the floor, he may see numberless sleeping forms of every shade of complexion, from the purest ebony to white, and of all years, from childhood to old age, lying now asleep. Here is a fine bright girl, of ten years, whose mother was sold out yesterday, and who tonight cried herself to sleep when nobody was looking at her. Here, a worn old negress, whose thin arms and callous fingers tell of hard toil, waiting to be sold tomorrow, as a cast-off article, for what can be got for her; and some forty or fifty others, with heads variously enveloped in blankets or articles of clothing, lie stretched around them. But, in a corner, sitting apart from the rest, are two females of a more interesting appearance than common. One of these is a respectably-dressed mulatto woman between forty and fifty, with soft eyes and a gentle and pleasing physiognomy. She has on her head a high-raised turban, made of a gay red Madras handkerchief, of the first quality, her dress is neatly fitted, and of good material, showing that she has been provided for with a careful hand. By her side, and nestling closely to her, is a young girl of fifteen, – her daughter. She is a quadroon, as may be seen from her fairer complexion, though her likeness to her mother is quite discernible. She has the same soft, dark eye, with longer lashes, and her curling hair is of a luxuriant brown. She also is dressed with great neatness, and her white, delicate hands betray very little acquaintance with servile toil. These two are to be sold tomorrow, in the same lot with the St. Clare servants; and the gentleman to whom they belong, and to whom the money for their sale is to be transmitted, is a member of a Christian church in New York, who will receive the money, and go thereafter to the sacrament of his Lord and theirs, and think no more of it.
These two, whom we shall call Susan and Emmeline, had been the personal attendants of an amiable and pious lady of New Orleans, by whom they had been carefully
and piously instructed and trained. They had been taught to read and write, diligently instructed in the truths of religion, and their lot had been as happy an one as in their condition it was possible to be. But the only son of their protectress had the management of her property; and, by carelessness and extravagance involved it to a large amount, and at last failed. One of the largest creditors was the respectable firm of B. & Co., in New York. B. & Co. wrote to their lawyer in New Orleans, who attached the real estate (these two articles and a lot of plantation hands formed the most valuable part of it), and wrote word to that effect to New York. Brother B., being, as we have said, a Christian man, and a resident in a free State, felt some uneasiness on the subject. He didn’t like trading in slaves and souls of men, – of course, he didn’t; but, then, there were thirty thousand dollars in the case, and that was rather too much money to be lost for a principle; and so, after much considering, and asking advice from those that he knew would advise to suit him, Brother B. wrote to his lawyer to dispose of the business in the way that seemed to him the most suitable, and remit the proceeds.
The day after the letter arrived in New Orleans, Susan and Emmeline were attached, and sent to the depot to await a general auction on the following morning; and as they glimmer faintly upon us in the moonlight which steals through the grated window, we may listen to their conversation. Both are weeping, but each quietly, that the other may not hear.
“Mother, just lay your head on my lap, and see if you can’t sleep a little,” says the girl, trying to appear calm.
“I haven’t any heart to sleep, Em; I can’t; it’s the last night we may be together!”
“O, mother, don’t say so! perhaps we shall get sold together, – who knows?”
“If ‘t was anybody’s else case, I should say so, too, Em,” said the woman; “but I’m so feard of losin’ you that I don’t see anything but the danger.”
“Why, mother, the man said we were both likely, and would sell well.”
Susan remembered the man’s looks and words. With a deadly sickness at her heart, she remembered how he had looked at Emmeline’s hands, and lifted up her curly hair, and pronounced her a first-rate article. Susan had been trained as a Christian, brought up in the daily reading of the Bible, and had the same horror of her child’s being sold to a life of shame that any other Christian mother might have; but she had no hope, – no protection.
“Mother, I think we might do first rate, if you could get a place as cook, and I as chambermaid or seamstress, in some family. I dare say we shall. Let’s both look as bright and lively as we can, and tell all we can do, and perhaps we shall,” said Emmeline.
“I want you to brush your hair all back straight, tomorrow,” said Susan.
“What for, mother? I don’t look near so well, that way.”
“Yes, but you’ll sell better so.”
“I don’t see why!” said the child.
“Respectable families would be more apt to buy you, if they saw you looked plain and decent, as if you wasn’t trying to look handsome. I know their ways better ‘n you do,” said Susan.
“Well, mother, then I will.”
“And, Emmeline, if we shouldn’t ever see each other again, after tomorrow, – if I’m sold way up on a plantation somewhere, and you somewhere else, – always remember how you’ve been brought up, and all Missis has told you; take your Bible with you, and your hymn-book; and if you’re faithful to the Lord, he’ll be faithful to you.”
So speaks the poor soul, in sore discouragement; for she knows that tomorrow any man, however vile and brutal, however godless and merciless, if he only has money to pay for her, may become owner of her daughter, body and soul; and then, how is the child to be faithful? She thinks of all this, as she holds her daughter in her arms, and wishes that she were not handsome and attractive. It seems almost an aggravation to her to remember how purely and piously, how much above the ordinary lot, she has been brought up. But she has no resort but to pray; and many such prayers to God have gone up from those same trim, neatly-arranged, respectable slave-prisons, – prayers which God has not forgotten, as a coming day shall show; for it is written, “Who causeth one of these little ones to offend, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea.”
The soft, earnest, quiet moonbeam looks in fixedly, marking the bars of the grated windows on the prostrate, sleeping forms. The mother and daughter are singing together a wild and melancholy dirge, common as a funeral hymn among the slaves:
“O, where is weeping Mary?
O, where is weeping Mary?
‘Rived in the goodly land.
She is dead and gone to Heaven;
She is dead and gone to Heaven;
‘Rived in the goodly land.”
These words, sung by voices of a peculiar and melancholy sweetness, in an air which seemed like the sighing of earthy despair after heavenly hope, floated through the dark prison rooms with a pathetic cadence, as verse after verse was breathed out:
“O, where are Paul and Silas?
O, where are Paul and Silas?
Gone to the goodly land.
They are dead and gone to Heaven;
They are dead and gone to Heaven;
‘Rived in the goodly land.”
Sing on poor souls! The night is short, and the morning will part you forever!
But now it is morning, and everybody is astir; and the
worthy Mr. Skeggs is busy and bright, for a lot of goods is to be fitted out for auction. There is a brisk lookout on the toilet; injunctions passed around to every one to put on their best face and be spry; and now all are arranged in a circle for a last review, before they are marched up to the Bourse.
Mr. Skeggs, with his palmetto on and his cigar in his mouth, walks around to put farewell touches on his wares.
“How’s this?” he said, stepping in front of Susan and Emmeline. “Where’s your curls, gal?”
The girl looked timidly at her mother, who, with the smooth adroitness common among her class, answers,
“I was telling her, last night, to put up her hair smooth and neat, and not havin’ it flying about in curls; looks more respectable so.”
“Bother!” said the man, peremptorily, turning to the girl; “you go right along, and curl yourself real smart!” He added, giving a crack to a rattan he held in his hand, “And be back in quick time, too!”
“You go and help her,” he added, to the mother. “Them curls may make a hundred dollars difference in the sale of her.”
Beneath a splendid dome were men of all nations, moving to and fro, over the marble pave. On every side of the circular area were little tribunes, or stations, for the use of speakers and auctioneers. Two of these, on opposite sides of the area, were now occupied by brilliant and talented gentlemen, enthusiastically forcing up, in English and French commingled, the bids of connoisseurs in their various wares. A third one, on the other side, still unoccupied, was surrounded by a group, waiting the moment of sale to begin. And here we may recognize the St. Clare servants, – Tom, Adolph, and others; and there, too, Susan and Emmeline, awaiting their turn with anxious and dejected faces. Various spectators, intending to purchase, or not intending, examining, and commenting on their various points and faces with the same freedom that a set of jockeys discuss the merits of a horse.
“Hulloa, Alf! what brings you here?” said a young exquisite, slapping the shoulder of a sprucely-dressed young man, who was examining Adolph through an eye-glass.
“Well! I was wanting a valet, and I heard that St. Clare’s lot was going. I thought I’d just look at his – ”
“Catch me ever buying any of St. Clare’s people! Spoilt, every one. Impudent as the devil!” said the other.
“Never fear that!” said the first. “If I get ’em, I’ll soon have their airs out of them; they’ll soon find that they’ve another kind of master to deal with than Monsieur St. Clare. ‘Pon my word, I’ll buy that fellow. I like the shape of him.”
“You’ll find it’ll take all you’ve got to keep him. He’s deucedly extravagant!”
“Yes, but my lord will find that he can’t be extravagant with me. Just let him be sent to the calaboose a few times, and thoroughly dressed down! I’ll tell you if it don’t bring him to a sense of his ways! O, I’ll reform him, up hill and down, – you’ll see. I buy him, that’s flat!”
Tom had been standing wistfully examining the multitude of faces thronging around him, for one whom he would wish to call master. And if you should ever be under the necessity, sir, of selecting, out of two hundred men, one who was to become your absolute owner and disposer, you would, perhaps, realize, just as Tom did, how few there were that you would feel at all comfortable in being made over to. Tom saw abundance of men, – great, burly, gruff men; little, chirping, dried men; long-favored, lank, hard men; and every variety of stubbed-looking, commonplace men, who pick up their fellow-men as one picks up chips, putting them into the fire or a basket with equal unconcern, according to their convenience; but he saw no St. Clare.
A little before the sale commenced, a short, broad, muscular man, in a checked shirt considerably open at the bosom, and pantaloons much the worse for dirt and wear, elbowed his way through the crowd, like one who is going actively into a business; and, coming up to the group, began to examine them systematically. From the moment that Tom saw him approaching, he felt an immediate and revolting horror at him, that increased as he came near. He was evidently, though short, of gigantic strength. His round, bullet head, large, light-gray eyes, with their shaggy, sandy eyebrows, and stiff, wiry, sun-burned hair, were rather unprepossessing items, it is to be confessed; his large, coarse mouth was distended with tobacco, the juice of which, from time to time, he ejected from him with great decision and explosive force; his hands were immensely large, hairy, sun-burned, freckled, and very dirty, and garnished with long nails, in a very foul condition. This man proceeded to a very free personal examination of the lot. He seized Tom by the jaw, and pulled open his mouth to inspect his teeth; made him strip up his sleeve, to show his muscle; turned him round, made him jump and spring, to show his paces.
“Where was you raised?” he added, briefly, to these investigations.
“In Kintuck, Mas’r,” said Tom, looking about, as if for deliverance.
“What have you done?”
“Had care of Mas’r’s farm,” said Tom.
“Likely story!” said the other, shortly, as he passed on. He paused a moment before Dolph; then spitting a discharge of tobacco-juice on his well-blacked boots, and giving a contemptuous umph, he walked on. Again he stopped before Susan and Emmeline. He put out his heavy, dirty hand, and drew the girl towards him; passed it over her neck and bust, felt her arms, looked at her teeth, and then pushed her back against her mother, whose patient face showed the suffering she had been going through at every motion of the hideous stranger.
The girl was frightened, and began to cry.
“Stop that, you minx!” said the salesman; “no whimpering here, – the sale is going to begin.” And accordingly the sale begun.
Adolph was knocked off, at a good sum, to the young gentlemen who had previously stated his intention of buying him; and the other servants of the St. Clare lot went to various bidders.
“Now, up with you, boy! d’ye hear?” said the auctioneer to Tom.
Tom stepped upon the block, gave a few anxious looks round; all seemed mingled in a common, indistinct noise, – the clatter of the salesman crying off his qualifications in French and English, the quick fire of French and English bids; and almost in a moment came the final thump of the hammer, and the clear ring on the last syllable of the word “dollars,” as the auctioneer announced his price, and Tom was made over. – He had a master!
He was pushed from the block; – the short, bullet-headed man seizing him roughly by the shoulder, pushed him to one side, saying, in a harsh voice, “Stand there, you!”
Tom hardly realized anything; but still the bidding went on, – ratting, clattering, now French, now English. Down goes the hammer again, – Susan is sold! She goes down from the block, stops, looks wistfully back, – her daughter stretches her hands towards her. She looks with agony in the face of the man who has bought her, – a respectable middle-aged man, of benevolent countenance.
“O, Mas’r, please do buy my daughter!”
“I’d like to, but I’m afraid I can’t afford it!” said the gentleman, looking, with painful interest, as the young girl mounted the block, and looked around her with a frightened and timid glance.
The blood flushes painfully in her otherwise colorless cheek, her eye has a feverish fire, and her mother groans to see that she looks more beautiful than she ever saw her before. The auctioneer sees his advantage, and expatiates volubly in mingled French and English, and bids rise in rapid succession.
“I’ll do anything in reason,” said the benevolent-looking gentleman, pressing in and joining with the bids. In a few moments they have run beyond his purse. He is silent; the auctioneer grows warmer; but bids gradually drop off. It lies now between an aristocratic old citizen and our bullet-headed acquaintance. The citizen bids for a few turns, contemptuously measuring his opponent; but the bullet-head has the advantage over him, both in obstinacy and concealed length of purse, and the controversy lasts but a moment; the hammer falls, – he has got the girl, body and soul, unless God help her!
Her master is Mr. Legree, who owns a cotton plantation on the Red river. She is pushed along into the same lot with Tom and two other men, and goes off, weeping as she goes.
The benevolent gentleman is sorry; but, then, the thing happens every day! One sees girls and mothers crying, at these sales, always! it can’t be helped, &c.; and he walks off, with his acquisition, in another direction.
Two days after, the lawyer of the Christian firm of B. & Co., New York, send on their money to them. On the reverse of that draft, so obtained, let them write these words of the great Paymaster, to whom they shall make up their account in a future day: “When he maketh inquisition for blood, he forgetteth not the cry of the humble!”