Showing the Feelings of Living Property on Changing Owners
Mr. and Mrs. Shelby had retired to their apartment for the night. He was lounging in a large easy-chair, looking over some letters that had come in the afternoon mail, and she was standing before her mirror, brushing out the complicated braids and curls in which Eliza had arranged her hair; for, noticing her pale cheeks and haggard eyes, she had excused her attendance that night, and ordered her to bed. The employment, naturally enough, suggested her conversation with the girl in the morning; and turning to her husband, she said, carelessly,
“By the by, Arthur, who was that low-bred fellow that you lugged in to our dinner-table today?”
“Haley is his name,” said Shelby, turning himself rather uneasily in his chair, and continuing with his eyes fixed on a letter.
“Haley! Who is he, and what may be his business here, pray?”
“Well, he’s a man that I transacted some business with, last time I was at Natchez,” said Mr. Shelby.
“And he presumed on it to make himself quite at home, and call and dine here, ay?”
“Why, I invited him; I had some accounts with him,” said Shelby.
“Is he a slave-trader?” said Mrs. Shelby, noticing a certain embarrassment in her husband’s manner.
“Nothing,—only Eliza came in here, after dinner, in a great worry, crying and taking on, and said you were talking with a trader, and that she heard him make an offer for her boy—the ridiculous little goose!”
“She did, hey?” said Mr. Shelby, returning to his paper, which he seemed for a few moments quite intent upon, not perceiving that he was holding it bottom upwards.
“It will have to come out,” said he, mentally; “as well now as ever.”
“I told Eliza,” said Mrs. Shelby, as she continued brushing her hair, “that she was a little fool for her pains, and that you never had anything to do with that sort of persons. Of course, I knew you never meant to sell any of our people,—least of all, to such a fellow.”
“Well, Emily,” said her husband, “so I have always felt and said; but the fact is that my business lies so that I cannot get on without. I shall have to sell some of my hands.”
“To that creature? Impossible! Mr. Shelby, you cannot be serious.”
“I’m sorry to say that I am,” said Mr. Shelby. “I’ve agreed to sell Tom.”
“What! our Tom?—that good, faithful creature!—been your faithful servant from a boy! O, Mr. Shelby!—and you have promised him his freedom, too,—you and I have spoken to him a hundred times of it. Well, I can believe anything now,—I can believe now that you could sell little Harry, poor Eliza’s only child!” said Mrs. Shelby, in a tone between grief and indignation.
“Well, since you must know all, it is so. I have agreed to sell Tom and Harry both; and I don’t know why I am to be rated, as if I were a monster, for doing what every one does every day.”
“But why, of all others, choose these?” said Mrs. Shelby. “Why sell them, of all on the place, if you must sell at all?”
“Because they will bring the highest sum of any,—that’s why. I could choose another, if you say so. The fellow made me a high bid on Eliza, if that would suit you any better,” said Mr. Shelby.
“The wretch!” said Mrs. Shelby, vehemently.
“Well, I didn’t listen to it, a moment,—out of regard to your feelings, I wouldn’t;—so give me some credit.”
“My dear,” said Mrs. Shelby, recollecting herself, “forgive me. I have been hasty. I was surprised, and entirely unprepared for this;—but surely you will allow me to intercede for these poor creatures. Tom is a noble-hearted, faithful fellow, if he is black. I do believe, Mr. Shelby, that if he were put to it, he would lay down his life for you.”
“I know it,—I dare say;—but what’s the use of all this?—I can’t help myself.”
“Why not make a pecuniary sacrifice? I’m willing to bear my part of the inconvenience. O, Mr. Shelby, I have tried—tried most faithfully, as a Christian woman should—to do my duty to these poor, simple, dependent creatures. I have cared for them, instructed them, watched over them, and know all their little cares and joys, for years; and how can I ever hold up my head again among them, if, for the sake of a little paltry gain, we sell such a faithful, excellent, confiding creature as poor Tom, and tear from him in a moment all we have taught him to love and value? I have taught them the duties of the family, of parent and child, and husband and wife; and how can I bear to have this open acknowledgment that we care for no tie, no duty, no relation, however sacred, compared with money? I have talked with Eliza about her boy—her duty to him as a Christian mother, to watch over him, pray for him, and bring him up in a Christian way; and now what can I say, if you tear him away, and sell him, soul and body, to a profane, unprincipled man, just to save a little money? I have told her that one soul is worth more than all the money in the world; and how will she believe me when she sees us turn round and sell her child?—sell him, perhaps, to certain ruin of body and soul!”
“I’m sorry you feel so about it,—indeed I am,” said Mr. Shelby; “and I respect your feelings, too, though I don’t pretend to share them to their full extent; but I tell you now, solemnly, it’s of no use—I can’t help myself. I didn’t mean to tell you this Emily; but, in plain words, there is no choice between selling these two and selling everything. Either they must go, or all must. Haley has come into possession of a mortgage, which, if I don’t clear off with him directly, will take everything before it. I’ve raked, and scraped, and borrowed, and all but begged,—and the price of these two was needed to make up the balance, and I had to give them up. Haley fancied the child; he agreed to settle the matter that way, and no other. I was in his power, andhad to do it. If you feel so to have them sold, would it be any better to have all sold?”
Mrs. Shelby stood like one stricken. Finally, turning to her toilet, she rested her face in her hands, and gave a sort of groan.
“This is God’s curse on slavery!—a bitter, bitter, most accursed thing!—a curse to the master and a curse to the slave! I was a fool to think I could make anything good out of such a deadly evil. It is a sin to hold a slave under laws like ours,—I always felt it was,—I always thought so when I was a girl,—I thought so still more after I joined the church; but I thought I could gild it over,—I thought, by kindness, and care, and instruction, I could make the condition of mine better than freedom—fool that I was!”
“Why, wife, you are getting to be an abolitionist, quite.”
“Abolitionist! if they knew all I know about slavery, they might talk! We don’t need them to tell us; you know I never thought that slavery was right—never felt willing to own slaves.”
“Well, therein you differ from many wise and pious men,” said Mr. Shelby. “You remember Mr. B.’s sermon, the other Sunday?”
“I don’t want to hear such sermons; I never wish to hear Mr. B. in our church again. Ministers can’t help the evil, perhaps,—can’t cure it, any more than we can,—but defend it!—it always went against my common sense. And I think you didn’t think much of that sermon, either.”
“Well,” said Shelby, “I must say these ministers sometimes carry matters further than we poor sinners would exactly dare to do. We men of the world must wink pretty hard at various things, and get used to a deal that isn’t the exact thing. But we don’t quite fancy, when women and ministers come out broad and square, and go beyond us in matters of either modesty or morals, that’s a fact. But now, my dear, I trust you see the necessity of the thing, and you see that I have done the very best that circumstances would allow.”
“O yes, yes!” said Mrs. Shelby, hurriedly and abstractedly fingering her gold watch,—”I haven’t any jewelry of any amount,” she added, thoughtfully; “but would not this watch do something?—it was an expensive one, when it was bought. If I could only at least save Eliza’s child, I would sacrifice anything I have.”
“I’m sorry, very sorry, Emily,” said Mr. Shelby, “I’m sorry this takes hold of you so; but it will do no good. The fact is, Emily, the thing’s done; the bills of sale are already signed, and in Haley’s hands; and you must be thankful it is no worse. That man has had it in his power to ruin us all,—and now he is fairly off. If you knew the man as I do, you’d think that we had had a narrow escape.”
“Is he so hard, then?”
“Why, not a cruel man, exactly, but a man of leather,—a man alive to nothing but trade and profit,—cool, and unhesitating, and unrelenting, as death and the grave. He’d sell his own mother at a good percentage—not wishing the old woman any harm, either.”
“And this wretch owns that good, faithful Tom, and Eliza’s child!”
“Well, my dear, the fact is that this goes rather hard with me; it’s a thing I hate to think of. Haley wants to drive matters, and take possession tomorrow. I’m going to get out my horse bright and early, and be off. I can’t see Tom, that’s a fact; and you had better arrange a drive somewhere, and carry Eliza off. Let the thing be done when she is out of sight.”
“No, no,” said Mrs. Shelby; “I’ll be in no sense accomplice or help in this cruel business. I’ll go and see poor old Tom, God help him, in his distress! They shall see, at any rate, that their mistress can feel for and with them. As to Eliza, I dare not think about it. The Lord forgive us! What have we done, that this cruel necessity should come on us?”
There was one listener to this conversation whom Mr. and Mrs. Shelby little suspected.
Communicating with their apartment was a large closet, opening by a door into the outer passage. When Mrs. Shelby had dismissed Eliza for the night, her feverish and excited mind had suggested the idea of this closet; and she had hidden herself there, and, with her ear pressed close against the crack of the door, had lost not a word of the conversation.
When the voices died into silence, she rose and crept stealthily away. Pale, shivering, with rigid features and compressed lips, she looked an entirely altered being from the soft and timid creature she had been hitherto. She moved cautiously along the entry, paused one moment at her mistress’ door, and raised her hands in mute appeal to Heaven, and then turned and glided into her own room. It was a quiet, neat apartment, on the same floor with her mistress. There was a pleasant sunny window, where she had often sat singing at her sewing; there a little case of books, and various little fancy articles, ranged by them, the gifts of Christmas holidays; there was her simple wardrobe in the closet and in the drawers:—here was, in short, her home; and, on the whole, a happy one it had been to her. But there, on the bed, lay her slumbering boy, his long curls falling negligently around his unconscious face, his rosy mouth half open, his little fat hands thrown out over the bedclothes, and a smile spread like a sunbeam over his whole face.
“Poor boy! poor fellow!” said Eliza; “they have sold you! but your mother will save you yet!”
No tear dropped over that pillow; in such straits as these, the heart has no tears to give,—it drops only blood, bleeding itself away in silence. She took a piece of paper and a pencil, and wrote, hastily,
“O, Missis! dear Missis! don’t think me ungrateful,—don’t think hard of me, any way,—I heard all you and master said tonight. I am going to try to save my boy—you will not blame me! God bless and reward you for all your kindness!”
Hastily folding and directing this, she went to a drawer and made up a little package of clothing for her boy, which she tied with a handkerchief firmly round her waist; and, so fond is a mother’s remembrance, that, even in the terrors of that hour, she did not forget to put in the little package one or two of his favorite toys, reserving a gayly painted parrot to amuse him, when she should be called on to awaken him. It was some trouble to arouse the little sleeper; but, after some effort, he sat up, and was playing with his bird, while his mother was putting on her bonnet and shawl.
“Where are you going, mother?” said he, as she drew near the bed, with his little coat and cap.
His mother drew near, and looked so earnestly into his eyes, that he at once divined that something unusual was the matter.
“Hush, Harry,” she said; “mustn’t speak loud, or they will hear us. A wicked man was coming to take little Harry away from his mother, and carry him ‘way off in the dark; but mother won’t let him—she’s going to put on her little boy’s cap and coat, and run off with him, so the ugly man can’t catch him.”
Saying these words, she had tied and buttoned on the child’s simple outfit, and, taking him in her arms, she whispered to him to be very still; and, opening a door in her room which led into the outer verandah, she glided noiselessly out.
It was a sparkling, frosty, starlight night, and the mother wrapped the shawl close round her child, as, perfectly quiet with vague terror, he clung round her neck.
Old Bruno, a great Newfoundland, who slept at the end of the porch, rose, with a low growl, as she came near. She gently spoke his name, and the animal, an old pet and playmate of hers, instantly, wagging his tail, prepared to follow her, though apparently revolving much, in this simple dog’s head, what such an indiscreet midnight promenade might mean. Some dim ideas of imprudence or impropriety in the measure seemed to embarrass him considerably; for he often stopped, as Eliza glided forward, and looked wistfully, first at her and then at the house, and then, as if reassured by reflection, he pattered along after her again. A few minutes brought them to the window of Uncle Tom’s cottage, and Eliza stopping, tapped lightly on the window-pane.
The prayer-meeting at Uncle Tom’s had, in the order of hymn-singing, been protracted to a very late hour; and, as Uncle Tom had indulged himself in a few lengthy solos afterwards, the consequence was, that, although it was now between twelve and one o’clock, he and his worthy helpmeet were not yet asleep.
“Good Lord! what’s that?” said Aunt Chloe, starting up and hastily drawing the curtain. “My sakes alive, if it an’t Lizy! Get on your clothes, old man, quick!—there’s old Bruno, too, a pawin round; what on airth! I’m gwine to open the door.”
And suiting the action to the word, the door flew open, and the light of the tallow candle, which Tom had hastily lighted, fell on the haggard face and dark, wild eyes of the fugitive.
“Lord bless you!—I’m skeered to look at ye, Lizy! Are ye tuck sick, or what’s come over ye?”
“I’m running away—Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe—carrying off my child—Master sold him!”
“Sold him?” echoed both, lifting up their hands in dismay.
“Yes, sold him!” said Eliza, firmly; “I crept into the closet by Mistress’ door tonight, and I heard Master tell Missis that he had sold my Harry, and you, Uncle Tom, both, to a trader; and that he was going off this morning on his horse, and that the man was to take possession today.”
Tom had stood, during this speech, with his hands raised, and his eyes dilated, like a man in a dream. Slowly and gradually, as its meaning came over him, he collapsed, rather than seated himself, on his old chair, and sunk his head down upon his knees.
“The good Lord have pity on us!” said Aunt Chloe. “O! it don’t seem as if it was true! What has he done, that Mas’r should sell him?”
“He hasn’t done anything,—it isn’t for that. Master don’t want to sell, and Missis she’s always good. I heard her plead and beg for us; but he told her ‘t was no use; that he was in this man’s debt, and that this man had got the power over him; and that if he didn’t pay him off clear, it would end in his having to sell the place and all the people, and move off. Yes, I heard him say there was no choice between selling these two and selling all, the man was driving him so hard. Master said he was sorry; but oh, Missis—you ought to have heard her talk! If she an’t a Christian and an angel, there never was one. I’m a wicked girl to leave her so; but, then, I can’t help it. She said, herself, one soul was worth more than the world; and this boy has a soul, and if I let him be carried off, who knows what’ll become of it? It must be right: but, if it an’t right, the Lord forgive me, for I can’t help doing it!”
“Well, old man!” said Aunt Chloe, “why don’t you go, too? Will you wait to be toted down river, where they kill slaves with hard work and starving? I’d a heap rather die than go there, any day! There’s time for ye,—be off with Lizy,—you’ve got a pass to come and go any time. Come, bustle up, and I’ll get your things together.”
Tom slowly raised his head, and looked sorrowfully but quietly around, and said,
“No, no—I an’t going. Let Eliza go—it’s her right! I wouldn’t be the one to say no—’tan’t in natur for her to stay; but you heard what she said! If I must be sold, or all the people on the place, and everything go to rack, why, let me be sold. I s’pose I can bar it as well as any on ’em,” he added, while something like a sob and a sigh shook his broad, rough chest convulsively. “Mas’r always found me on the spot—he always will. I never have broke trust, nor used my pass no ways contrary to my word, and I never will. It’s better for me alone to go, than to break up the place and sell all. Mas’r an’t to blame, Chloe, and he’ll take care of you and the poor—”
Here he turned to the rough trundle bed full of little woolly heads, and broke fairly down. He leaned over the back of the chair, and covered his face with his large hands. Sobs, heavy, hoarse and loud, shook the chair, and great tears fell through his fingers on the floor; just such tears, sir, as you dropped into the coffin where lay your first-born son; such tears, woman, as you shed when you heard the cries of your dying babe. For, sir, he was a man,—and you are but another man. And, woman, though dressed in silk and jewels, you are but a woman, and, in life’s great straits and mighty griefs, ye feel but one sorrow!
“And now,” said Eliza, as she stood in the door, “I saw my husband only this afternoon, and I little knew then what was to come. They have pushed him to the very last standing place, and he told me, today, that he was going to run away. Do try, if you can, to get word to him. Tell him how I went, and why I went; and tell him I’m going to try and find Canada. You must give my love to him, and tell him, if I never see him again,” she turned away, and stood with her back to them for a moment, and then added, in a husky voice, “tell him to be as good as he can, and try and meet me in the kingdom of heaven.”
“Call Bruno in there,” she added. “Shut the door on him, poor beast! He mustn’t go with me!”
A few last words and tears, a few simple adieus and blessings, and clasping her wondering and affrighted child in her arms, she glided noiselessly away.
Mr. and Mrs. Shelby, after their protracted discussion of the night before, did not readily sink to repose, and, in consequence, slept somewhat later than usual, the ensuing morning.
“I wonder what keeps Eliza,” said Mrs. Shelby, after giving her bell repeated pulls, to no purpose.
Mr. Shelby was standing before his dressing-glass, sharpening his razor; and just then the door opened, and a colored boy entered, with his shaving-water.
“Andy,” said his mistress, “step to Eliza’s door, and tell her I have rung for her three times. Poor thing!” she added, to herself, with a sigh.
Andy soon returned, with eyes very wide in astonishment.
“Lor, Missis! Lizy’s drawers is all open, and her things all lying every which way; and I believe she’s just done clared out!”
The truth flashed upon Mr. Shelby and his wife at the same moment. He exclaimed,
“Then she suspected it, and she’s off!”
“The Lord be thanked!” said Mrs. Shelby. “I trust she is.”
“Wife, you talk like a fool! Really, it will be something pretty awkward for me, if she is. Haley saw that I hesitated about selling this child, and he’ll think I connived at it, to get him out of the way. It touches my honor!” And Mr. Shelby left the room hastily.
There was great running and ejaculating, and opening and shutting of doors, and appearance of faces in all shades of color in different places, for about a quarter of an hour. One person only, who might have shed some light on the matter, was entirely silent, and that was the head cook, Aunt Chloe. Silently, and with a heavy cloud settled down over her once joyous face, she proceeded making out her breakfast biscuits, as if she heard and saw nothing of the excitement around her.
Very soon, about a dozen young imps were roosting, like so many crows, on the verandah railings, each one determined to be the first one to apprize the strange Mas’r of his ill luck.
“He’ll be rael mad, I’ll be bound,” said Andy.
“Won’t he swar!” said little black Jake.
“Yes, for he does swar,” said woolly-headed Mandy. “I hearn him yesterday, at dinner. I hearn all about it then, ’cause I got into the closet where Missis keeps the great jugs, and I hearn every word.” And Mandy, who had never in her life thought of the meaning of a word she had heard, more than a black cat, now took airs of superior wisdom, and strutted about, forgetting to state that, though actually coiled up among the jugs at the time specified, she had been fast asleep all the time.
When, at last, Haley appeared, booted and spurred, he was saluted with the bad tidings on every hand. The young imps on the verandah were not disappointed in their hope of hearing him “swar,” which he did with a fluency and fervency which delighted them all amazingly, as they ducked and dodged hither and thither, to be out of the reach of his riding-whip; and, all whooping off together, they tumbled, in a pile of immeasurable giggle, on the withered turf under the verandah, where they kicked up their heels and shouted to their full satisfaction.
“If I had the little devils!” muttered Haley, between his teeth.
“But you ha’nt got ’em, though!” said Andy, with a triumphant flourish, and making a string of indescribable mouths at the unfortunate trader’s back, when he was fairly beyond hearing.
“I say now, Shelby, this yer ‘s a most extro’rnary business!” said Haley, as he abruptly entered the parlor. “It seems that gal ‘s off, with her young un.”
“Mr. Haley, Mrs. Shelby is present,” said Mr. Shelby.
“I beg pardon, ma’am,” said Haley, bowing slightly, with a still lowering brow; “but still I say, as I said before, this yer’s a sing’lar report. Is it true, sir?”
“Sir,” said Mr. Shelby, “if you wish to communicate with me, you must observe something of the decorum of a gentleman. Andy, take Mr. Haley’s hat and riding-whip. Take a seat, sir. Yes, sir; I regret to say that the young woman, excited by overhearing, or having reported to her, something of this business, has taken her child in the night, and made off.”
“I did expect fair dealing in this matter, I confess,” said Haley.
“Well, sir,” said Mr. Shelby, turning sharply round upon him, “what am I to understand by that remark? If any man calls my honor in question, I have but one answer for him.”
The trader cowered at this, and in a somewhat lower tone said that “it was plaguy hard on a fellow, that had made a fair bargain, to be gulled that way.”
“Mr. Haley,” said Mr. Shelby, “if I did not think you had some cause for disappointment, I should not have borne from you the rude and unceremonious style of your entrance into my parlor this morning. I say thus much, however, since appearances call for it, that I shall allow of no insinuations cast upon me, as if I were at all partner to any unfairness in this matter. Moreover, I shall feel bound to give you every assistance, in the use of horses, servants, &c., in the recovery of your property. So, in short, Haley,” said he, suddenly dropping from the tone of dignified coolness to his ordinary one of easy frankness, “the best way for you is to keep good-natured and eat some breakfast, and we will then see what is to be done.”
Mrs. Shelby now rose, and said her engagements would prevent her being at the breakfast-table that morning; and, deputing a very respectable mulatto woman to attend to the gentlemen’s coffee at the side-board, she left the room.
“Old lady don’t like your humble servant, over and above,” said Haley, with an uneasy effort to be very familiar.
“I am not accustomed to hear my wife spoken of with such freedom,” said Mr. Shelby, dryly.
“Beg pardon; of course, only a joke, you know,” said Haley, forcing a laugh.
“Some jokes are less agreeable than others,” rejoined Shelby.
“Devilish free, now I’ve signed those papers, cuss him!” muttered Haley to himself; “quite grand, since yesterday!”
Never did fall of any prime minister at court occasion wider surges of sensation than the report of Tom’s fate among his compeers on the place. It was the topic in every mouth, everywhere; and nothing was done in the house or in the field, but to discuss its probable results. Eliza’s flight—an unprecedented event on the place—was also a great accessory in stimulating the general excitement.
Black Sam, as he was commonly called, from his being about three shades blacker than any other son of ebony on the place, was revolving the matter profoundly in all its phases and bearings, with a comprehensiveness of vision and a strict lookout to his own personal well-being, that would have done credit to any white patriot in Washington.
“It’s an ill wind dat blow nowhar,—dat ar a fact,” said Sam, sententiously, giving an additional hoist to his pantaloons, and adroitly substituting a long nail in place of a missing suspender-button, with which effort of mechanical genius he seemed highly delighted.
“Yes, it’s an ill wind blows nowhar,” he repeated. “Now, dar, Tom’s down—wal, course der’s room for some slave to be up—and why not dis slave?—dat’s de idee. Tom, a ridin’ round de country—boots blacked—pass in his pocket—all grand as Cuffee—but who he? Now, why shouldn’t Sam?—dat’s what I want to know.”
“Halloo, Sam—O Sam! Mas’r wants you to cotch Bill and Jerry,” said Andy, cutting short Sam’s soliloquy.
“High! what’s afoot now, young un?”
“Why, you don’t know, I s’pose, that Lizy’s cut stick, and clared out, with her young un?”
“You teach your granny!” said Sam, with infinite contempt; “knowed it a heap sight sooner than you did; this slave an’t so green, now!”
“Well, anyhow, Mas’r wants Bill and Jerry geared right up; and you and I ‘s to go with Mas’r Haley, to look arter her.”
“Good, now! dat’s de time o’ day!” said Sam. “It’s Sam dat’s called for in dese yer times. He’s de slave. See if I don’t cotch her, now; Mas’r’ll see what Sam can do!”
“Ah! but, Sam,” said Andy, “you’d better think twice; for Missis don’t want her cotched, and she’ll be in yer wool.”
“High!” said Sam, opening his eyes. “How you know dat?”
“Heard her say so, my own self, dis blessed mornin’, when I bring in Mas’r’s shaving-water. She sent me to see why Lizy didn’t come to dress her; and when I telled her she was off, she jest ris up, and ses she, ‘The Lord be praised;’ and Mas’r, he seemed rael mad, and ses he, ‘Wife, you talk like a fool.’ But Lor! she’ll bring him to! I knows well enough how that’ll be,—it’s allers best to stand Missis’ side the fence, now I tell yer.”
Black Sam, upon this, scratched his woolly pate, which, if it did not contain very profound wisdom, still contained a great deal of a particular species much in demand among politicians of all complexions and countries, and vulgarly denominated “knowing which side the bread is buttered;” so, stopping with grave consideration, he again gave a hitch to his pantaloons, which was his regularly organized method of assisting his mental perplexities.
“Der an’t no saying’—never—’bout no kind o’ thing in dis yer world,” he said, at last. Sam spoke like a philosopher, emphasizing this—as if he had had a large experience in different sorts of worlds, and therefore had come to his conclusions advisedly.
“Now, sartin I’d a said that Missis would a scoured the varsal world after Lizy,” added Sam, thoughtfully.
“So she would,” said Andy; “but can’t ye see through a ladder, ye black slave? Missis don’t want dis yer Mas’r Haley to get Lizy’s boy; dat’s de go!”
“High!” said Sam, with an indescribable intonation, known only to those who have heard it among the slaves.
“And I’ll tell yer more ‘n all,” said Andy; “I specs you’d better be making tracks for dem hosses,—mighty sudden, too,—-for I hearn Missis ‘quirin’ arter yer,—so you’ve stood foolin’ long enough.”
Sam, upon this, began to bestir himself in real earnest, and after a while appeared, bearing down gloriously towards the house, with Bill and Jerry in a full canter, and adroitly throwing himself off before they had any idea of stopping, he brought them up alongside of the horse-post like a tornado. Haley’s horse, which was a skittish young colt, winced, and bounced, and pulled hard at his halter.
“Ho, ho!” said Sam, “skeery, ar ye?” and his black visage lighted up with a curious, mischievous gleam. “I’ll fix ye now!” said he.
There was a large beech-tree overshadowing the place, and the small, sharp, triangular beech-nuts lay scattered thickly on the ground. With one of these in his fingers, Sam approached the colt, stroked and patted, and seemed apparently busy in soothing his agitation. On pretence of adjusting the saddle, he adroitly slipped under it the sharp little nut, in such a manner that the least weight brought upon the saddle would annoy the nervous sensibilities of the animal, without leaving any perceptible graze or wound.
“Dar!” he said, rolling his eyes with an approving grin; “me fix ’em!”
At this moment Mrs. Shelby appeared on the balcony, beckoning to him. Sam approached with as good a determination to pay court as did ever suitor after a vacant place at St. James’ or Washington.
“Why have you been loitering so, Sam? I sent Andy to tell you to hurry.”
“Lord bless you, Missis!” said Sam, “horses won’t be cotched all in a minit; they’d done clared out way down to the south pasture, and the Lord knows whar!”
“Sam, how often must I tell you not to say ‘Lord bless you, and the Lord knows,’ and such things? It’s wicked.”
“O, Lord bless my soul! I done forgot, Missis! I won’t say nothing of de sort no more.”
“Why, Sam, you just have said it again.”
“Did I? O, Lord! I mean—I didn’t go fur to say it.”
“You must be careful, Sam.”
“Just let me get my breath, Missis, and I’ll start fair. I’ll be bery careful.”
“Well, Sam, you are to go with Mr. Haley, to show him the road, and help him. Be careful of the horses, Sam; you know Jerry was a little lame last week; don’t ride them too fast.”
Mrs. Shelby spoke the last words with a low voice, and strong emphasis.
“Let dis child alone for dat!” said Sam, rolling up his eyes with a volume of meaning. “Lord knows! High! Didn’t say dat!” said he, suddenly catching his breath, with a ludicrous flourish of apprehension, which made his mistress laugh, spite of herself. “Yes, Missis, I’ll look out for de hosses!”
“Now, Andy,” said Sam, returning to his stand under the beech-trees, “you see I wouldn’t be ‘t all surprised if dat ar gen’lman’s crittur should gib a fling, by and by, when he comes to be a gettin’ up. You know, Andy, critturs will do such things;” and therewith Sam poked Andy in the side, in a highly suggestive manner.
“High!” said Andy, with an air of instant appreciation.
“Yes, you see, Andy, Missis wants to make time,—dat ar’s clar to der most or’nary ‘bserver. I jis make a little for her. Now, you see, get all dese yer hosses loose, caperin’ permiscus round dis yer lot and down to de wood dar, and I spec Mas’r won’t be off in a hurry.”
“Yer see,” said Sam, “yer see, Andy, if any such thing should happen as that Mas’r Haley’s horse should begin to act contrary, and cut up, you and I jist lets go of our’n to help him, andwe’ll help him—oh yes!” And Sam and Andy laid their heads back on their shoulders, and broke into a low, immoderate laugh, snapping their fingers and flourishing their heels with exquisite delight.
At this instant, Haley appeared on the verandah. Somewhat mollified by certain cups of very good coffee, he came out smiling and talking, in tolerably restored humor. Sam and Andy, clawing for certain fragmentary palm-leaves, which they were in the habit of considering as hats, flew to the horseposts, to be ready to “help Mas’r.”
Sam’s palm-leaf had been ingeniously disentangled from all pretensions to braid, as respects its brim; and the slivers starting apart, and standing upright, gave it a blazing air of freedom and defiance, quite equal to that of any Fejee chief; while the whole brim of Andy’s being departed bodily, he rapped the crown on his head with a dexterous thump, and looked about well pleased, as if to say, “Who says I haven’t got a hat?”
“Well, boys,” said Haley, “look alive now; we must lose no time.”
“Not a bit of him, Mas’r!” said Sam, putting Haley’s rein in his hand, and holding his stirrup, while Andy was untying the other two horses.
The instant Haley touched the saddle, the mettlesome creature bounded from the earth with a sudden spring, that threw his master sprawling, some feet off, on the soft, dry turf. Sam, with frantic ejaculations, made a dive at the reins, but only succeeded in brushing the blazing palm-leaf afore-named into the horse’s eyes, which by no means tended to allay the confusion of his nerves. So, with great vehemence, he overturned Sam, and, giving two or three contemptuous snorts, flourished his heels vigorously in the air, and was soon prancing away towards the lower end of the lawn, followed by Bill and Jerry, whom Andy had not failed to let loose, according to contract, speeding them off with various direful ejaculations. And now ensued a miscellaneous scene of confusion. Sam and Andy ran and shouted,—dogs barked here and there,—and Mike, Mose, Mandy, Fanny, and all the smaller specimens on the place, both male and female, raced, clapped hands, whooped, and shouted, with outrageous officiousness and untiring zeal.
Haley’s horse, which was a white one, and very fleet and spirited, appeared to enter into the spirit of the scene with great gusto; and having for his coursing ground a lawn of nearly half a mile in extent, gently sloping down on every side into indefinite woodland, he appeared to take infinite delight in seeing how near he could allow his pursuers to approach him, and then, when within a hand’s breadth, whisk off with a start and a snort, like a mischievous beast as he was and career far down into some alley of the wood-lot. Nothing was further from Sam’s mind than to have any one of the troop taken until such season as should seem to him most befitting,—and the exertions that he made were certainly most heroic. Like the sword of Coeur De Lion, which always blazed in the front and thickest of the battle, Sam’s palm-leaf was to be seen everywhere when there was the least danger that a horse could be caught; there he would bear down full tilt, shouting, “Now for it! cotch him! cotch him!” in a way that would set everything to indiscriminate rout in a moment.
Haley ran up and down, and cursed and swore and stamped miscellaneously. Mr. Shelby in vain tried to shout directions from the balcony, and Mrs. Shelby from her chamber window alternately laughed and wondered,—not without some inkling of what lay at the bottom of all this confusion.
At last, about twelve o’clock, Sam appeared triumphant, mounted on Jerry, with Haley’s horse by his side, reeking with sweat, but with flashing eyes and dilated nostrils, showing that the spirit of freedom had not yet entirely subsided.
“He’s cotched!” he exclaimed, triumphantly. “If ‘t hadn’t been for me, they might a bust themselves, all on ’em; but I cotched him!”
“You!” growled Haley, in no amiable mood. “If it hadn’t been for you, this never would have happened.”
“Lord bless us, Mas’r,” said Sam, in a tone of the deepest concern, “and me that has been racin’ and chasin’ till the sweat jest pours off me!”
“Well, well!” said Haley, “you’ve lost me near three hours, with your cursed nonsense. Now let’s be off, and have no more fooling.”
“Why, Mas’r,” said Sam, in a deprecating tone, “I believe you mean to kill us all clar, horses and all. Here we are all just ready to drop down, and the critters all in a reek of sweat. Why, Mas’r won’t think of startin’ on now till arter dinner. Mas’r’s hoss wants rubben down; see how he splashed hisself; and Jerry limps too; don’t think Missis would be willin’ to have us start dis yer way, no how. Lord bless you, Mas’r, we can ketch up, if we do stop. Lizy never was no great of a walker.”
Mrs. Shelby, who, greatly to her amusement, had overheard this conversation from the verandah, now resolved to do her part. She came forward, and, courteously expressing her concern for Haley’s accident, pressed him to stay to dinner, saying that the cook should bring it on the table immediately.
Thus, all things considered, Haley, with rather an equivocal grace, proceeded to the parlor, while Sam, rolling his eyes after him with unutterable meaning, proceeded gravely with the horses to the stable-yard.
“Did yer see him, Andy? did yer see him?” said Sam, when he had got fairly beyond the shelter of the barn, and fastened the horse to a post. “O, Lor, if it warn’t as good as a meetin’, now, to see him a dancin’ and kickin’ and swarin’ at us. Didn’t I hear him? Swar away, ole fellow (says I to myself ); will yer have yer hoss now, or wait till you cotch him? (says I). Lor, Andy, I think I can see him now.” And Sam and Andy leaned up against the barn and laughed to their hearts’ content.
“Yer oughter seen how mad he looked, when I brought the hoss up. Lord, he’d a killed me, if he durs’ to; and there I was a standin’ as innercent and as humble.”
“Lor, I seed you,” said Andy; “an’t you an old hoss, Sam?”
“Rather specks I am,” said Sam; “did yer see Missis up stars at the winder? I seed her laughin’.”
“I’m sure, I was racin’ so, I didn’t see nothing,” said Andy.
“Well, yer see,” said Sam, proceeding gravely to wash down Haley’s pony, “I ‘se ‘quired what yer may call a habit o’ bobservation, Andy. It’s a very ‘portant habit, Andy; and I ‘commend yer to be cultivatin’ it, now yer young. Hist up that hind foot, Andy. Yer see, Andy, it’s bobservation makes all de difference in slaves. Didn’t I see which way the wind blew dis yer mornin’? Didn’t I see what Missis wanted, though she never let on? Dat ar’s bobservation, Andy. I ‘spects it’s what you may call a faculty. Faculties is different in different peoples, but cultivation of ’em goes a great way.”
“I guess if I hadn’t helped your bobservation dis mornin’, yer wouldn’t have seen your way so smart,” said Andy.
“Andy,” said Sam, “you’s a promisin’ child, der an’t no manner o’ doubt. I thinks lots of yer, Andy; and I don’t feel no ways ashamed to take idees from you. We oughtenter overlook nobody, Andy, cause the smartest on us gets tripped up sometimes. And so, Andy, let’s go up to the house now. I’ll be boun’ Missis’ll give us an uncommon good bite, dis yer time.”