“And slight, withal, may be the things that bring
Back on the heart the weight which it would fling
Aside forever; it may be a sound,
A flower, the wind, the ocean, which shall wound, –
Striking the electric chain wherewith we’re darkly bound.”
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, can. 4.
The sitting-room of Legree’s establishment was a large, long room, with a wide, ample fireplace. It had once been hung with a showy and expensive paper, which now hung mouldering, torn and discolored, from the damp walls. The place had that peculiar sickening, unwholesome smell, compounded of mingled damp, dirt and decay, which one often notices in close old houses. The wall-paper was defaced, in spots, by slops of beer and wine; or garnished with chalk memorandums, and long sums footed up, as if somebody had been practising arithmetic there. In the fireplace stood a brazier full of burning charcoal; for, though the weather was not cold, the evenings always seemed damp and chilly in that great room; and Legree, moreover, wanted a place to light his cigars, and heat his water for punch. The ruddy glare of the charcoal displayed the confused and unpromising aspect of the room, – saddles, bridles, several sorts of harness, riding-whips, overcoats, and various articles of clothing, scattered up and down the room in confused variety; and the dogs, of whom we have before spoken, had encamped themselves among them, to suit their own taste and convenience.
Legree was just mixing himself a tumbler of punch, pouring his hot water from a cracked and broken-nosed pitcher, grumbling, as he did so,
“Plague on that Sambo, to kick up this yer row between me and the new hands! The fellow won’t be fit to work for a week, now, – right in the press of the season!”
“Yes, just like you,” said a voice, behind his chair. It was the woman Cassy, who had stolen upon his soliloquy.
“Hah! you she-devil! you’ve come back, have you?”
“Yes, I have,” she said, coolly; “come to have my own way, too!”
“You lie, you jade! I’ll be up to my word. Either behave yourself, or stay down to the quarters, and fare and work with the rest.”
“I’d rather, ten thousand times,” said the woman, “live in the dirtiest hole at the quarters, than be under your hoof!”
“But you are under my hoof, for all that,” said he, turning upon her, with a savage grin; “that’s one comfort. So, sit down here on my knee, my dear, and hear to reason,” said he, laying hold on her wrist.
“Simon Legree, take care!” said the woman, with a sharp flash of her eye, a glance so wild and insane in its light as to be almost appalling. “You’re afraid of me, Simon,” she said, deliberately; “and you’ve reason to be! But be careful, for I’ve got the devil in me!”
The last words she whispered in a hissing tone, close to his ear.
“Get out! I believe, to my soul, you have!” said Legree, pushing her from him, and looking uncomfortably at her. “After all, Cassy,” he said, “why can’t you be friends with me, as you used to?”
“Used to!” said she, bitterly. She stopped short, – a word of choking feelings, rising in her heart, kept her silent.
Cassy had always kept over Legree the kind of influence that a strong, impassioned woman can ever keep over the most brutal man; but, of late, she had grown more and more irritable and restless, under the hideous yoke of her servitude, and her irritability, at times, broke out into raving insanity; and this liability made her a sort of object of dread to Legree, who had that superstitious horror of insane persons which is common to coarse and uninstructed minds. When Legree brought Emmeline to the house, all the smouldering embers of womanly feeling flashed up in the worn heart of Cassy, and she took part with the girl; and a fierce quarrel ensued between her and Legree. Legree, in a fury, swore she should be put to field service, if she would not be peaceable. Cassy, with proud scorn, declared she would go to the field. And she worked there one day, as we have described, to show how perfectly she scorned the threat.
Legree was secretly uneasy, all day; for Cassy had an influence over him from which he could not free himself. When she presented her basket at the scales, he had hoped for some concession, and addressed her in a sort of half conciliatory, half scornful tone; and she had answered with the bitterest contempt.
The outrageous treatment of poor Tom had roused her still more; and she had followed Legree to the house, with no particular intention, but to upbraid him for his brutality.
“I wish, Cassy,” said Legree, “you’d behave yourself decently.”
“You talk about behaving decently! And what have you been doing? – you, who haven’t even sense enough to keep from spoiling one of your best hands, right in the most pressing season, just for your devilish temper!”
“I was a fool, it’s a fact, to let any such brangle come up,” said Legree; “but, when the boy set up his will, he had to be broke in.”
“I reckon you won’t break him in!”
“Won’t I?” said Legree, rising, passionately. “I’d like to know if I won’t? He’ll be the first slave that ever came it round me! I’ll break every bone in his body, but he shall give up!”
Just then the door opened, and Sambo entered. He came forward, bowing, and holding out something in a paper.
“What’s that, you dog?” said Legree.
“It’s a witch thing, Mas’r!”
“Keeps ’em from feelin’ when they ‘s flogged. He had it tied round his neck, with a black string.”
Legree, like most godless and cruel men, was superstitious. He took the paper, and opened it uneasily.
There dropped out of it a silver dollar, and a long, shining curl of fair hair, – hair which, like a living thing, twined itself round Legree’s fingers.
“Damnation!” he screamed, in sudden passion, stamping on the floor, and pulling furiously at the hair, as if it burned him. “Where did this come from? Take it off! – burn it up! – burn it up!” he screamed, tearing it off, and throwing it into the charcoal. “What did you bring it to me for?”
Sambo stood, with his heavy mouth wide open, and aghast with wonder; and Cassy, who was preparing to leave the apartment, stopped, and looked at him in perfect amazement.
“Don’t you bring me any more of your devilish things!” said he, shaking his fist at Sambo, who retreated hastily towards the door; and, picking up the silver dollar, he sent it smashing through the window-pane, out into the darkness.
Sambo was glad to make his escape. When he was gone, Legree seemed a little ashamed of his fit of alarm. He sat doggedly down in his chair, and began sullenly sipping his tumbler of punch.
Cassy prepared herself for going out, unobserved by him; and slipped away to minister to poor Tom, as we have already related.
And what was the matter with Legree? and what was there in a simple curl of fair hair to appall that brutal man, familiar with every form of cruelty? To answer this, we must carry the reader backward in his history. Hard and reprobate as the godless man seemed now, there had been a time when he had been rocked on the bosom of a mother, – cradled with prayers and pious hymns, – his now seared brow bedewed with the waters of holy baptism. In early childhood, a fair-haired woman had led him, at the sound of Sabbath bell, to worship and to pray. Far in New England that mother had trained her only son, with long, unwearied love, and patient prayers. Born of a hard-tempered sire, on whom that gentle woman had wasted a world of unvalued love, Legree had followed in the steps of his father. Boisterous, unruly, and tyrannical, he despised all her counsel, and would none of her reproof; and, at an early age, broke from her, to seek his fortunes at sea. He never came home but once, after; and then, his mother, with the yearning of a heart that must love something, and has nothing else to love, clung to him, and sought, with passionate prayers and entreaties, to win him from a life of sin, to his soul’s eternal good.
That was Legree’s day of grace; then good angels called him; then he was almost persuaded, and mercy held him by the hand. His heart inly relented, – there was a conflict, – but sin got the victory, and he set all the force of his rough nature against the conviction of his conscience. He drank and swore, – was wilder and more brutal than ever. And, one night, when his mother, in the last agony of her despair, knelt at his feet, he spurned her from him, – threw her senseless on the floor, and, with brutal curses, fled to his ship. The next Legree heard of his mother was, when, one night, as he was carousing among drunken companions, a letter was put into his hand. He opened it, and a lock of long, curling hair fell from it, and twined about his fingers. The letter told him his mother was dead, and that, dying, she blest and forgave him.
There is a dread, unhallowed necromancy of evil, that turns things sweetest and holiest to phantoms of horror and affright. That pale, loving mother, – her dying prayers, her forgiving love, – wrought in that demoniac heart of sin only as a damning sentence, bringing with it a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. Legree burned the hair, and burned the letter; and when he saw them hissing and crackling in the flame, inly shuddered as he thought of everlasting fires. He tried to drink, and revel, and swear away the memory; but often, in the deep night, whose solemn stillness arraigns the bad soul in forced communion with herself, he had seen that pale mother rising by his bedside, and felt the soft twining of that hair around his fingers, till the cold sweat would roll down his face, and he would spring from his bed in horror. Ye who have wondered to hear, in the same evangel, that God is love, and that God is a consuming fire, see ye not how, to the soul resolved in evil, perfect love is the most fearful torture, the seal and sentence of the direst despair?
“Blast it!” said Legree to himself, as he sipped his liquor; “where did he get that? If it didn’t
look just like – whoo! I thought I’d forgot that. Curse me, if I think there’s any such thing as forgetting anything, any how, – hang it! I’m lonesome! I mean to call Em. She hates me – the monkey! I don’t care, – I’ll make her come!”
Legree stepped out into a large entry, which went up stairs, by what had formerly been a superb winding staircase; but the passage-way was dirty and dreary, encumbered with boxes and unsightly litter. The stairs, uncarpeted, seemed winding up, in the gloom, to nobody knew where! The pale moonlight streamed through a shattered fanlight over the door; the air was unwholesome and chilly, like that of a vault.
Legree stopped at the foot of the stairs, and heard a voice singing. It seemed strange and ghostlike in that dreary old house, perhaps because of the already tremulous state of his nerves. Hark! what is it?
A wild, pathetic voice, chants a hymn common among the slaves:
“O there’ll be mourning, mourning, mourning,
O there’ll be mourning, at the judgment-seat of Christ!”
“Blast the girl!” said Legree. “I’ll choke her. – Em! Em!” he called, harshly; but only a mocking echo from the walls answered him. The sweet voice still sung on:
“Parents and children there shall part!
Parents and children there shall part!
Shall part to meet no more!”
And clear and loud swelled through the empty halls the refrain,
“O there’ll be mourning, mourning, mourning,
O there’ll be mourning, at the judgment-seat of Christ!”
Legree stopped. He would have been ashamed to tell of it, but large drops of sweat stood on his forehead, his heart beat heavy and thick with fear; he even thought he saw something white rising and glimmering in the gloom before him, and shuddered to think what if the form of his dead mother should suddenly appear to him.
“I know one thing,” he said to himself, as he stumbled back in the sitting-room, and sat down; “I’ll let that fellow alone, after this! What did I want of his cussed paper? I b’lieve I am bewitched, sure enough! I’ve been shivering and sweating, ever since! Where did he get that hair? It couldn’t have been that! I burnt that up, I know I did! It would be a joke, if hair could rise from the dead!”
Ah, Legree! that golden tress was charmed; each hair had in it a spell of terror and remorse for thee, and was used by a mightier power to bind thy cruel hands from inflicting uttermost evil on the helpless!
“I say,” said Legree, stamping and whistling to the dogs, “wake up, some of you, and keep me company!” but the dogs only opened one eye at him, sleepily, and closed it again.
“I’ll have Sambo and Quimbo up here, to sing and dance one of their hell dances, and keep off these horrid notions,” said Legree; and, putting on his hat, he went on to the verandah, and blew a horn, with which he commonly summoned his two sable drivers.
Legree was often wont, when in a gracious humor, to get these two worthies into his sitting-room, and, after warming them up with whiskey, amuse himself by setting them to singing, dancing or fighting, as the humor took him.
It was between one and two o’clock at night, as Cassy was returning from her ministrations to poor Tom, that she heard the sound of wild shrieking, whooping, halloing, and singing, from the sitting-room, mingled with the barking of dogs, and other symptoms of general uproar.
She came up on the verandah steps, and looked in. Legree and both the drivers, in a state of furious intoxication, were singing, whooping, upsetting chairs, and making all manner of ludicrous and horrid grimaces at each other.
She rested her small, slender hand on the window-blind, and looked fixedly at them; – there was a world of anguish, scorn, and fierce bitterness, in her black eyes, as she did so. “Would it be a sin to rid the world of such a wretch?” she said to herself.
She turned hurriedly away, and, passing round to a back door, glided up stairs, and tapped at Emmeline’s door.
Emmeline and Cassy
Cassy entered the room, and found Emmeline sitting, pale with fear, in the furthest corner of it. As she came in, the girl started up nervously; but, on seeing who it was, rushed forward, and catching her arm, said, “O Cassy, is it you? I’m so glad you’ve come! I was afraid it was – . O, you don’t know what a horrid noise there has been, down stairs, all this evening!”
“I ought to know,” said Cassy, dryly. “I’ve heard it often enough.”
“O Cassy! do tell me, – couldn’t we get away from this place? I don’t care where, – into the swamp among the snakes, – anywhere! Couldn’t we get somewhere away from here?”
“Nowhere, but into our graves,” said Cassy.
“Did you ever try?”
“I’ve seen enough of trying and what comes of it,” said Cassy.
“I’d be willing to live in the swamps, and gnaw the bark from trees. I an’t afraid of snakes! I’d rather have one near me than him,” said Emmeline, eagerly.
“There have been a good many here of your opinion,” said Cassy; “but you couldn’t stay in the swamps, – you’d be tracked by the dogs, and brought back, and then – then – ”
“What would he do?” said the girl, looking, with breathless interest, into her face.
“What wouldn’t he do, you’d better ask,” said Cassy. “He’s learned his trade well, among the pirates in the West Indies. You wouldn’t sleep much, if I should tell you things I’ve seen, – things that he tells of, sometimes, for good jokes. I’ve heard screams here that I haven’t been able to get out of my head for weeks and weeks. There’s a place way out down by the quarters, where you can see a black, blasted tree, and the ground all covered with black ashes. Ask anyone what was done there, and see if they will dare to tell you.”
“O! what do you mean?”
“I won’t tell you. I hate to think of it. And I tell you, the Lord only knows what we may see tomorrow, if that poor fellow holds out as he’s begun.”
“Horrid!” said Emmeline, every drop of blood receding from her cheeks. “O, Cassy, do tell me what I shall do!”
“What I’ve done. Do the best you can, – do what you must, – and make it up in hating and cursing.”
“He wanted to make me drink some of his hateful brandy,” said Emmeline; “and I hate it so – ”
“You’d better drink,” said Cassy. “I hated it, too; and now I can’t live without it. One must have something; – things don’t look so dreadful, when you take that.”
“Mother used to tell me never to touch any such thing,” said Emmeline.
“Mother told you!” said Cassy, with a thrilling and bitter emphasis on the word mother. “What use is it for mothers to say anything? You are all to be bought and paid for, and your souls belong to whoever gets you. That’s the way it goes. I say, drink brandy; drink all you can, and it’ll make things come easier.”
“O, Cassy! do pity me!”
“Pity you! – don’t I? Haven’t I a daughter, – Lord knows where she is, and whose she is, now, – going the way her mother went, before her, I suppose, and that her children must go, after her! There’s no end to the curse – forever!”
“I wish I’d never been born!” said Emmeline, wringing her hands.
“That’s an old wish with me,” said Cassy. “I’ve got used to wishing that. I’d die, if I dared to,” she said, looking out into the darkness, with that still, fixed despair which was the habitual expression of her face when at rest.
“It would be wicked to kill one’s self,” said Emmeline.
“I don’t know why, – no wickeder than things we live and do, day after day. But the sisters told me things, when I was in the convent, that make me afraid to die. If it would only be the end of us, why, then – ”
Emmeline turned away, and hid her face in her hands.
While this conversation was passing in the chamber, Legree, overcome with his carouse, had sunk to sleep in the room below. Legree was not an habitual drunkard. His coarse, strong nature craved, and could endure, a continual stimulation, that would have utterly wrecked and crazed a finer one. But a deep, underlying spirit of cautiousness prevented his often yielding to appetite in such measure as to lose control of himself.
This night, however, in his feverish efforts to banish from his mind those fearful elements of woe and remorse which woke within him, he had indulged more than common; so that, when he had discharged his sable attendants, he fell heavily on a settle in the room, and was sound asleep.
O! how dares the bad soul to enter the shadowy world of sleep? – that land whose dim outlines lie so fearfully near to the mystic scene of retribution! Legree dreamed. In his heavy and feverish sleep, a veiled form stood beside him, and laid a cold, soft hand upon him. He thought he knew who it was; and shuddered, with creeping horror, though the face was veiled. Then he thought he felt that hair twining round his fingers; and then, that it slid smoothly round his neck, and tightened and tightened, and he could not draw his breath; and then he thought voices whispered to him, – whispers that chilled him with horror. Then it seemed to him he was on the edge of a frightful abyss, holding on and struggling in mortal fear, while dark hands stretched up, and were pulling him over; and Cassy came behind him laughing, and pushed him. And then rose up that solemn veiled figure, and drew aside the veil. It was his mother; and she turned away from him, and he fell down, down, down, amid a confused noise of shrieks, and groans, and shouts of demon laughter, – and Legree awoke.
Calmly the rosy hue of dawn was stealing into the room. The morning star stood, with its solemn, holy eye of light, looking down on the man of sin, from out the brightening sky. O, with what freshness, what solemnity and beauty, is each new day born; as if to say to insensate man, “Behold! thou hast one more chance! Strive for immortal glory!” There is no speech nor language where this voice is not heard; but the bold, bad man heard it not. He woke with an oath and a curse. What to him was the gold and purple, the daily miracle of morning! What to him the sanctity of the star which the Son of God has hallowed as his own emblem? Brute-like, he saw without perceiving; and, stumbling forward, poured out a tumbler of brandy, and drank half of it.
“I’ve had a h – l of a night!” he said to Cassy, who just then entered from an opposite door.
“You’ll get plenty of the same sort, by and by,” said she, dryly.
“What do you mean, you minx?”
“You’ll find out, one of these days,” returned Cassy, in the same tone. “Now Simon, I’ve one piece of advice to give you.”
“The devil, you have!”
“My advice is,” said Cassy, steadily, as she began adjusting some things about the room, “that you let Tom alone.”
“What business is ‘t of yours?”
“What? To be sure, I don’t know what it should be. If you want to pay twelve hundred for a fellow, and use him right up in the press of the season, just to serve your own spite, it’s no business of mine, I’ve done what I could for him.”
“You have? What business have you meddling in my matters?”
“None, to be sure. I’ve saved you some thousands of dollars, at different times, by taking care of your hands, – that’s all the thanks I get. If your crop comes shorter into market than any of theirs, you won’t lose your bet, I suppose? Tompkins won’t lord it over you, I suppose, – and you’ll pay down your money like a lady, won’t you? I think I see you doing it!”
Legree, like many other planters, had but one form of ambition, – to have in the heaviest crop of the season, – and he had several bets on this very present season pending in the next town. Cassy, therefore, with woman’s tact, touched the only string that could be made to vibrate.
“Well, I’ll let him off at what he’s got,” said Legree; “but he shall beg my pardon, and promise better fashions.”
“That he won’t do,” said Cassy.
“Won’t, – eh?”
“No, he won’t,” said Cassy.
“I’d like to know why, Mistress,” said Legree, in the extreme of scorn.
“Because he’s done right, and he knows it, and won’t say he’s done wrong.”
“Who a cuss cares what he knows? The slave shall say what I please, or – ”
“Or, you’ll lose your bet on the cotton crop, by keeping him out of the field, just at this very press.”
“But he will give up, – course, he will; don’t I know what slaves is?”
He won’t, Simon; you don’t know this kind. You may kill him by inches, – you won’t get the first word of confession out of him.”
“We’ll see, – where is he?” said Legree, going out.
“In the waste-room of the gin-house,” said Cassy.
Legree, though he talked so stoutly to Cassy, still sallied forth from the house with a degree of misgiving which was not common with him. His dreams of the past night, mingled with Cassy’s prudential suggestions, considerably affected his mind. He resolved that nobody should be witness of his encounter with Tom; and determined, if he could not subdue him by bullying, to defer his vengeance, to be wreaked in a more convenient season.
The solemn light of dawn – the angelic glory of the morning-star – had looked in through the rude window of the shed where Tom was lying; and, as if descending on that star-beam, came the solemn words, “I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.” The mysterious warnings and intimations of Cassy, so far from discouraging his soul, in the end had roused it as with a heavenly call. He did not know but that the day of his death was dawning in the sky; and his heart throbbed with solemn throes of joy and desire, as he thought that the wondrous all, of which he had often pondered, – the great white throne, with its ever radiant rainbow; the white-robed multitude, with voices as many waters; the crowns, the palms, the harps, – might all break upon his vision before that sun should set again. And, therefore, without shuddering or trembling, he heard the voice of his persecutor, as he drew near.
“Well, my boy,” said Legree, with a contemptuous kick, “how do you find yourself? Didn’t I tell yer I could larn yer a thing or two? How do yer like it – eh?
How did yer whaling agree with yer, Tom? An’t quite so crank as ye was last night. Ye couldn’t treat a poor sinner, now, to a bit of sermon, could ye, – eh?”
Tom answered nothing.
“Get up, you beast!” said Legree, kicking him again.
This was a difficult matter for one so bruised and faint; and, as Tom made efforts to do so, Legree laughed brutally.
Tom by this time had gained his feet, and was confronting his master with a steady, unmoved front.
“The devil, you can!” said Legree, looking him over. “I believe you haven’t got enough yet. Now, Tom, get right down on yer knees and beg my pardon, for yer shines last night.”
Tom did not move.
“Down, you dog!” said Legree, striking him with his riding-whip.
“Mas’r Legree,” said Tom, “I can’t do it. I did only what I thought was right. I shall do just so again, if ever the time comes. I never will do a cruel thing, come what may.”
“Yes, but ye don’t know what may come, Master Tom. Ye think what you’ve got is something. I tell you ‘tan’t anything, – nothing ‘t all. How would ye like to be tied to a tree, and have a slow fire lit up around ye; – wouldn’t that be pleasant, – eh, Tom?”
“Mas’r,” said Tom, “I know ye can do dreadful things; but,” – he stretched himself upward and clasped his hands, – “but, after ye’ve killed the body, there an’t no more ye can do. And O, there’s all eternity to come, after that!”
Eternity, – the word thrilled through the black man’s soul with light and power, as he spoke; it thrilled through the sinner’s soul, too, like the bite of a scorpion. Legree gnashed on him with his teeth, but rage kept him silent; and Tom, like a man disenthralled, spoke, in a clear and cheerful voice,
“Mas’r Legree, as ye bought me, I’ll be a true and faithful servant to ye. I’ll give ye all the work of my hands, all my time, all my strength; but my soul I won’t give up to mortal man. I will hold on to the Lord, and put his commands before all, – die or live; you may be sure on ‘t. Mas’r Legree, I ain’t a grain afeard to die. I’d as soon die as not. Ye may whip me, starve me, burn me, – it’ll only send me sooner where I want to go.”
“I’ll make ye give out, though, ‘fore I’ve done!” said Legree, in a rage.
“I shall have help,” said Tom; “you’ll never do it.”
“Who the devil’s going to help you?” said Legree, scornfully.
“The Lord Almighty,” said Tom.
“D – n you!” said Legree, as with one blow of his fist he felled Tom to the earth.
A cold soft hand fell on Legree’s at this moment. He turned, – it was Cassy’s; but the cold soft touch recalled his dream of the night before, and, flashing through the chambers of his brain, came all the fearful images of the night-watches, with a portion of the horror that accompanied them.
“Will you be a fool?” said Cassy, in French. “Let him go! Let me alone to get him fit to be in the field again. Isn’t it just as I told you?”
They say the alligator, the rhinoceros, though enclosed in bullet-proof mail, have each a spot where they are vulnerable; and fierce, reckless, unbelieving reprobates, have commonly this point in superstitious dread.
Legree turned away, determined to let the point go for the time.
“Well, have it your own way,” he said, doggedly, to Cassy.
“Hark, ye!” he said to Tom; “I won’t deal with ye now, because the business is pressing, and I want all my hands; but I never forget. I’ll score it against ye, and sometime I’ll have my pay out o’ yer old black hide, – mind ye!”
Legree turned, and went out.
“There you go,” said Cassy, looking darkly after him; “your reckoning’s to come, yet! – My poor fellow, how are you?”
“The Lord God hath sent his angel, and shut the lion’s mouth, for this time,” said Tom.
“For this time, to be sure,” said Cassy; “but now you’ve got his ill will upon you, to follow you day in, day out, hanging like a dog on your throat, – sucking your blood, bleeding away your life, drop by drop. I know the man.”