The Mother’s Struggle
It is impossible to conceive of a human creature more wholly desolate and forlorn than Eliza, when she turned her footsteps from Uncle Tom’s cabin.
Her husband’s suffering and dangers, and the danger of her child, all blended in her mind, with a confused and stunning sense of the risk she was running, in leaving the only home she had ever known, and cutting loose from the protection of a friend whom she loved and revered. Then there was the parting from every familiar object,—the place where she had grown up, the trees under which she had played, the groves where she had walked many an evening in happier days, by the side of her young husband,—everything, as it lay in the clear, frosty starlight, seemed to speak reproachfully to her, and ask her whither could she go from a home like that?
But stronger than all was maternal love, wrought into a paroxysm of frenzy by the near approach of a fearful danger. Her boy was old enough to have walked by her side, and, in an indifferent case, she would only have led him by the hand; but now the bare thought of putting him out of her arms made her shudder, and she strained him to her bosom with a convulsive grasp, as she went rapidly forward.
The frosty ground creaked beneath her feet, and she trembled at the sound; every quaking leaf and fluttering shadow sent the blood backward to her heart, and quickened her footsteps. She wondered within herself at the strength that seemed to be come upon her; for she felt the weight of her boy as if it had been a feather, and every flutter of fear seemed to increase the supernatural power that bore her on, while from her pale lips burst forth, in frequent ejaculations, the prayer to a Friend above—”Lord, help! Lord, save me!”
If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that were going to be torn from you by a brutal trader, tomorrow morning,—if you had seen the man, and heard that the papers were signed and delivered, and you had only from twelve o’clock till morning to make good your escape,—how fast could you walk? How many miles could you make in those few brief hours, with the darling at your bosom,—the little sleepy head on your shoulder,—the small, soft arms trustingly holding on to your neck?
For the child slept. At first, the novelty and alarm kept him waking; but his mother so hurriedly repressed every breath or sound, and so assured him that if he were only still she would certainly save him, that he clung quietly round her neck, only asking, as he found himself sinking to sleep,
“Mother, I don’t need to keep awake, do I?”
“No, my darling; sleep, if you want to.”
“But, mother, if I do get asleep, you won’t let him get me?”
“No! so may God help me!” said his mother, with a paler cheek, and a brighter light in her large dark eyes.
“You’re sure, an’t you, mother?”
“Yes, sure!” said the mother, in a voice that startled herself; for it seemed to her to come from a spirit within, that was no part of her; and the boy dropped his little weary head on her shoulder, and was soon asleep. How the touch of those warm arms, the gentle breathings that came in her neck, seemed to add fire and spirit to her movements! It seemed to her as if strength poured into her in electric streams, from every gentle touch and movement of the sleeping, confiding child. Sublime is the dominion of the mind over the body, that, for a time, can make flesh and nerve impregnable, and string the sinews like steel, so that the weak become so mighty.
The boundaries of the farm, the grove, the wood-lot, passed by her dizzily, as she walked on; and still she went, leaving one familiar object after another, slacking not, pausing not, till reddening daylight found her many a long mile from all traces of any familiar objects upon the open highway.
She had often been, with her mistress, to visit some connections, in the little village of T——, not far from the Ohio river, and knew the road well. To go thither, to escape across the Ohio river, were the first hurried outlines of her plan of escape; beyond that, she could only hope in God.
When horses and vehicles began to move along the highway, with that alert perception peculiar to a state of excitement, and which seems to be a sort of inspiration, she became aware that her headlong pace and distracted air might bring on her remark and suspicion. She therefore put the boy on the ground, and, adjusting her dress and bonnet, she walked on at as rapid a pace as she thought consistent with the preservation of appearances. In her little bundle she had provided a store of cakes and apples, which she used as expedients for quickening the speed of the child, rolling the apple some yards before them, when the boy would run with all his might after it; and this ruse, often repeated, carried them over many a half-mile.
After a while, they came to a thick patch of woodland, through which murmured a clear brook. As the child complained of hunger and thirst, she climbed over the fence with him; and, sitting down behind a large rock which concealed them from the road, she gave him a breakfast out of her little package. The boy wondered and grieved that she could not eat; and when, putting his arms round her neck, he tried to wedge some of his cake into her mouth, it seemed to her that the rising in her throat would choke her.
“No, no, Harry darling! mother can’t eat till you are safe! We must go on—on—till we come to the river!” And she hurried again into the road, and again constrained herself to walk regularly and composedly forward.
She was many miles past any neighborhood where she was personally known. If she should chance to meet any who knew her, she reflected that the well-known kindness of the family would be of itself a blind to suspicion, as making it an unlikely supposition that she could be a fugitive. As she was also so white as not to be known as of colored lineage, without a critical survey, and her child was white also, it was much easier for her to pass on unsuspected.
On this presumption, she stopped at noon at a neat farmhouse, to rest herself, and buy some dinner for her child and self; for, as the danger decreased with the distance, the supernatural tension of the nervous system lessened, and she found herself both weary and hungry.
The good woman, kindly and gossipping, seemed rather pleased than otherwise with having somebody come in to talk with; and accepted, without examination, Eliza’s statement, that she “was going on a little piece, to spend a week with her friends,”—all which she hoped in her heart might prove strictly true.
An hour before sunset, she entered the village of T——, by the Ohio river, weary and foot-sore, but still strong in heart. Her first glance was at the river, which lay, like Jordan, between her and the Canaan of liberty on the other side.
It was now early spring, and the river was swollen and turbulent; great cakes of floating ice were swinging heavily to and fro in the turbid waters. Owing to the peculiar form of the shore on the Kentucky side, the land bending far out into the water, the ice had been lodged and detained in great quantities, and the narrow channel which swept round the bend was full of ice, piled one cake over another, thus forming a temporary barrier to the descending ice, which lodged, and formed a great, undulating raft, filling up the whole river, and extending almost to the Kentucky shore.
Eliza stood, for a moment, contemplating this unfavorable aspect of things, which she saw at once must prevent the usual ferry-boat from running, and then turned into a small public house on the bank, to make a few inquiries.
The hostess, who was busy in various fizzing and stewing operations over the fire, preparatory to the evening meal, stopped, with a fork in her hand, as Eliza’s sweet and plaintive voice arrested her.
“What is it?” she said.
“Isn’t there any ferry or boat, that takes people over to B——, now?” she said.
“No, indeed!” said the woman; “the boats has stopped running.”
Eliza’s look of dismay and disappointment struck the woman, and she said, inquiringly,
“May be you’re wanting to get over?—anybody sick? Ye seem mighty anxious?”
“I’ve got a child that’s very dangerous,” said Eliza. “I never heard of it till last night, and I’ve walked quite a piece today, in hopes to get to the ferry.”
“Well, now, that’s onlucky,” said the woman, whose motherly sympathies were much aroused; “I’m re’lly consarned for ye. Solomon!” she called, from the window, towards a small back building. A man, in leather apron and very dirty hands, appeared at the door.
“I say, Sol,” said the woman, “is that ar man going to tote them bar’ls over tonight?”
“He said he should try, if ‘t was any way prudent,” said the man.
“There’s a man a piece down here, that’s going over with some truck this evening, if he durs’ to; he’ll be in here to supper tonight, so you’d better set down and wait. That’s a sweet little fellow,” added the woman, offering him a cake.
But the child, wholly exhausted, cried with weariness.
“Poor fellow! he isn’t used to walking, and I’ve hurried him on so,” said Eliza.
“Well, take him into this room,” said the woman, opening into a small bed-room, where stood a comfortable bed. Eliza laid the weary boy upon it, and held his hands in hers till he was fast asleep. For her there was no rest. As a fire in her bones, the thought of the pursuer urged her on; and she gazed with longing eyes on the sullen, surging waters that lay between her and liberty.
Here we must take our leave of her for the present, to follow the course of her pursuers.
Though Mrs. Shelby had promised that the dinner should be hurried on table, yet it was soon
seen, as the thing has often been seen before, that it required more than one to make a bargain. So, although the order was fairly given out in Haley’s hearing, and carried to Aunt Chloe by at least half a dozen juvenile messengers, that dignitary only gave certain very gruff snorts, and tosses of her head, and went on with every operation in an unusually leisurely and circumstantial manner.
For some singular reason, an impression seemed to reign among the servants generally that Missis would not be particularly disobliged by delay; and it was wonderful what a number of counter accidents occurred constantly, to retard the course of things. One luckless wight contrived to upset the gravy; and then gravy had to be got up de novo, with due care and formality, Aunt Chloe watching and stirring with dogged precision, answering shortly, to all suggestions of haste, that she “warn’t a going to have raw gravy on the table, to help nobody’s catchings.” One tumbled down with the water, and had to go to the spring for more; and another precipitated the butter into the path of events; and there was from time to time giggling news brought into the kitchen that “Mas’r Haley was mighty oneasy, and that he couldn’t sit in his cheer no ways, but was a walkin’ and stalkin’ to the winders and through the porch.”
“Sarves him right!” said Aunt Chloe, indignantly. “He’ll get wus nor oneasy, one of these days, if he don’t mend his ways. His master’ll be sending for him, and then see how he’ll look!”
“He’ll go to torment, and no mistake,” said little Jake.
“He desarves it!” said Aunt Chloe, grimly; “he’s broke a many, many, many hearts,—I tell ye all!” she said, stopping, with a fork uplifted in her hands; “it’s like what Mas’r George reads in Ravelations,—souls a callin’ under the altar! and a callin’ on the Lord for vengeance on sich!—and by and by the Lord he’ll hear ’em—so he will!”
Aunt Chloe, who was much revered in the kitchen, was listened to with open mouth; and, the dinner being now fairly sent in, the whole kitchen was at leisure to gossip with her, and to listen to her remarks.
“Sich’ll be burnt up forever, and no mistake; won’t ther?” said Andy.
“I’d be glad to see it, I’ll be boun’,” said little Jake.
“Chil’en!” said a voice, that made them all start. It was Uncle Tom, who had come in, and stood listening to the conversation at the door.
“Chil’en!” he said, “I’m afeard you don’t know what ye’re sayin’. Forever is a dre’ful word, chil’en; it’s awful to think on ‘t. You oughtenter wish that ar to any human crittur.”
“We wouldn’t to anybody but the soul-drivers,” said Andy; “nobody can help wishing it to them, they ‘s so awful wicked.”
“Don’t natur herself kinder cry out on ’em?” said Aunt Chloe. “Don’t dey tear der suckin’ baby right off his mother’s breast, and sell him, and der little children as is crying and holding on by her clothes,—don’t dey pull ’em off and sells ’em? Don’t dey tear wife and husband apart?” said Aunt Chloe, beginning to cry, “when it’s jest takin’ the very life on ’em?—and all the while does they feel one bit, don’t dey drink and smoke, and take it oncommon easy? Lor, if the devil don’t get them, what’s he good for?” And Aunt Chloe covered her face with her checked apron, and began to sob in good earnest.
“Pray for them that ‘spitefully use you, the good book says,” says Tom.
“Pray for ’em!” said Aunt Chloe; “Lor, it’s too tough! I can’t pray for ’em.”
“It’s natur, Chloe, and natur ‘s strong,” said Tom, “but the Lord’s grace is stronger; besides, you oughter think what an awful state a poor crittur’s soul ‘s in that’ll do them ar things,—you oughter thank God that you an’t like him, Chloe. I’m sure I’d rather be sold, ten thousand times over, than to have all that ar poor crittur’s got to answer for.”
“So ‘d I, a heap,” said Jake. “Lor, shouldn’t we cotch it, Andy?”
Andy shrugged his shoulders, and gave an acquiescent whistle.
“I’m glad Mas’r didn’t go off this morning, as he looked to,” said Tom; “that ar hurt me more than sellin’, it did. Mebbe it might have been natural for him, but ‘t would have come desp’t hard on me, as has known him from a baby; but I’ve seen Mas’r, and I begin ter feel sort o’ reconciled to the Lord’s will now. Mas’r couldn’t help hisself; he did right, but I’m feared things will be kinder goin’ to rack, when I’m gone Mas’r can’t be spected to be a pryin’ round everywhar, as I’ve done, a keepin’ up all the ends. The boys all means well, but they ‘s powerful car’less. That ar troubles me.”
The bell here rang, and Tom was summoned to the parlor.
“Tom,” said his master, kindly, “I want you to notice that I give this gentleman bonds to forfeit a thousand dollars if you are not on the spot when he wants you; he’s going today to look after his other business, and you can have the day to yourself. Go anywhere you like, boy.”
“Thank you, Mas’r,” said Tom.
“And mind yourself,” said the trader, “and don’t come it over your master with any o’ yer nigger tricks; for I’ll take every cent out of him, if you an’t thar. If he’d hear to me, he wouldn’t trust any on ye—slippery as eels!”
“Mas’r,” said Tom,—and he stood very straight,—”I was jist eight years old when ole Missis put you into my arms, and you wasn’t a year old. ‘Thar,’ says she, ‘Tom, that’s to be youryoung Mas’r; take good care on him,’ says she. And now I jist ask you, Mas’r, have I ever broke word to you, or gone contrary to you, ‘specially since I was a Christian?”
Mr. Shelby was fairly overcome, and the tears rose to his eyes.
“My good boy,” said he, “the Lord knows you say but the truth; and if I was able to help it, all the world shouldn’t buy you.”
“And sure as I am a Christian woman,” said Mrs. Shelby, “you shall be redeemed as soon as I can any way bring together means. Sir,” she said to Haley, “take good account of who you sell him to, and let me know.”
“Lor, yes, for that matter,” said the trader, “I may bring him up in a year, not much the wuss for wear, and trade him back.”
“I’ll trade with you then, and make it for your advantage,” said Mrs. Shelby.
“Of course,” said the trader, “all ‘s equal with me; li’ves trade ’em up as down, so I does a good business. All I want is a livin’, you know, ma’am; that’s all any on us wants, I, s’pose.”
Mr. and Mrs. Shelby both felt annoyed and degraded by the familiar impudence of the trader, and yet both saw the absolute necessity of putting a constraint on their feelings. The more hopelessly sordid and insensible he appeared, the greater became Mrs. Shelby’s dread of his succeeding in recapturing Eliza and her child, and of course the greater her motive for detaining him by every female artifice. She therefore graciously smiled, assented, chatted familiarly, and did all she could to make time pass imperceptibly.
At two o’clock Sam and Andy brought the horses up to the posts, apparently greatly refreshed and invigorated by the scamper of the morning.
Sam was there new oiled from dinner, with an abundance of zealous and ready officiousness. As Haley approached, he was boasting, in flourishing style, to Andy, of the evident and eminent success of the operation, now that he had “farly come to it.”
“Your master, I s’pose, don’t keep no dogs,” said Haley, thoughtfully, as he prepared to mount.
“Heaps on ’em,” said Sam, triumphantly; “thar’s Bruno—he’s a roarer! and, besides that, ’bout every nigger of us keeps a pup of some natur or uther.”
“Poh!” said Haley,—and he said something else, too, with regard to the said dogs, at which Sam muttered,
“I don’t see no use cussin’ on ’em, no way.”
“But your master don’t keep no dogs (I pretty much know he don’t) for trackin’ out niggers.”
Sam knew exactly what he meant, but he kept on a look of earnest and desperate simplicity.
“Our dogs all smells round considable sharp. I spect they’s the kind, though they han’t never had no practice. They ‘s far dogs, though, at most anything, if you’d get ’em started. Here, Bruno,” he called, whistling to the lumbering Newfoundland, who came pitching tumultuously toward them.
“You go hang!” said Haley, getting up. “Come, tumble up now.”
Sam tumbled up accordingly, dexterously contriving to tickle Andy as he did so, which occasioned Andy to split out into a laugh, greatly to Haley’s indignation, who made a cut at him with his riding-whip.
“I ‘s ‘stonished at yer, Andy,” said Sam, with awful gravity. “This yer’s a seris bisness, Andy. Yer mustn’t be a makin’ game. This yer an’t no way to help Mas’r.”
“I shall take the straight road to the river,” said Haley, decidedly, after they had come to the boundaries of the estate. “I know the way of all of ’em,—they makes tracks for the underground.”
“Sartin,” said Sam, “dat’s de idee. Mas’r Haley hits de thing right in de middle. Now, der’s two roads to de river,—de dirt road and der pike,—which Mas’r mean to take?”
Andy looked up innocently at Sam, surprised at hearing this new geographical fact, but instantly confirmed what he said, by a vehement reiteration.
“Cause,” said Sam, “I’d rather be ‘clined to ‘magine that Lizy ‘d take de dirt road, bein’ it’s the least travelled.”
Haley, notwithstanding that he was a very old bird, and naturally inclined to be suspicious of chaff, was rather brought up by this view of the case.
“If yer warn’t both on yer such cussed liars, now!” he said, contemplatively as he pondered a moment.
The pensive, reflective tone in which this was spoken appeared to amuse Andy prodigiously, and he drew a little behind, and shook so as apparently to run a great risk of failing off his horse, while Sam’s face was immovably composed into the most doleful gravity.
“Course,” said Sam, “Mas’r can do as he’d ruther, go de straight road, if Mas’r thinks best,—it’s all one to us. Now, when I study ‘pon it, I think de straight road de best, deridedly.”
“She would naturally go a lonesome way,” said Haley, thinking aloud, and not minding Sam’s remark.
“Dar an’t no sayin’,” said Sam; “gals is pecular; they never does nothin’ ye thinks they will; mose gen’lly the contrary. Gals is nat’lly made contrary; and so, if you thinks they’ve gone one road, it is sartin you’d better go t’ other, and then you’ll be sure to find ’em. Now, my private ‘pinion is, Lizy took der road; so I think we’d better take de straight one.”
This profound generic view of the female sex did not seem to dispose Haley particularly to the straight road, and he announced decidedly that he should go the other, and asked Sam when they should come to it.
“A little piece ahead,” said Sam, giving a wink to Andy with the eye which was on Andy’s side of the head; and he added, gravely, “but I’ve studded on de matter, and I’m quite clar we ought not to go dat ar way. I nebber been over it no way. It’s despit lonesome, and we might lose our way,—whar we’d come to, de Lord only knows.”
“Nevertheless,” said Haley, “I shall go that way.”
“Now I think on ‘t, I think I hearn ’em tell that dat ar road was all fenced up and down by der creek, and thar, an’t it, Andy?”
Andy wasn’t certain; he’d only “hearn tell” about that road, but never been over it. In short, he was strictly noncommittal.
Haley, accustomed to strike the balance of probabilities between lies of greater or lesser magnitude, thought that it lay in favor of the dirt road aforesaid. The mention of the thing he thought he perceived was involuntary on Sam’s part at first, and his confused attempts to dissuade him he set down to a desperate lying on second thoughts, as being unwilling to implicate Liza.
When, therefore, Sam indicated the road, Haley plunged briskly into it, followed by Sam and Andy.
Now, the road, in fact, was an old one, that had formerly been a thoroughfare to the river, but abandoned for many years after the laying of the new pike. It was open for about an hour’s ride, and after that it was cut across by various farms and fences. Sam knew this fact perfectly well,—indeed, the road had been so long closed up, that Andy had never heard of it. He therefore rode along with an air of dutiful submission, only groaning and vociferating occasionally that ‘t was “desp’t rough, and bad for Jerry’s foot.”
“Now, I jest give yer warning,” said Haley, “I know yer; yer won’t get me to turn off this road, with all yer fussin’—so you shet up!”
“Mas’r will go his own way!” said Sam, with rueful submission, at the same time winking most portentously to Andy, whose delight was now very near the explosive point.
Sam was in wonderful spirits,—professed to keep a very brisk lookout,—at one time exclaiming that he saw “a gal’s bonnet” on the top of some distant eminence, or calling to Andy “if that thar wasn’t ‘Lizy’ down in the hollow;” always making these exclamations in some rough or craggy part of the road, where the sudden quickening of speed was a special inconvenience to all parties concerned, and thus keeping Haley in a state of constant commotion.
After riding about an hour in this way, the whole party made a precipitate and tumultuous descent into a barn-yard belonging to a large farming establishment. Not a soul was in sight, all the hands being employed in the fields; but, as the barn stood conspicuously and plainly square across the road, it was evident that their journey in that direction had reached a decided finale.
“Wan’t dat ar what I telled Mas’r?” said Sam, with an air of injured innocence. “How does strange gentleman spect to know more about a country dan de natives born and raised?”
“You rascal!” said Haley, “you knew all about this.”
“Didn’t I tell yer I knowd, and yer wouldn’t believe me? I telled Mas’r ‘t was all shet up, and fenced up, and I didn’t spect we could get through,—Andy heard me.”
It was all too true to be disputed, and the unlucky man had to pocket his wrath with the best grace he was able, and all three faced to the right about, and took up their line of march for the highway.
In consequence of all the various delays, it was about three-quarters of an hour after Eliza had laid her child to sleep in the village tavern that the party came riding into the same place. Eliza was standing by the window, looking out in another direction, when Sam’s quick eye caught a glimpse of her. Haley and Andy were two yards behind. At this crisis, Sam contrived to have his hat blown off, and uttered a loud and characteristic ejaculation, which startled her at once; she drew suddenly back; the whole train swept by the window, round to the front door.
A thousand lives seemed to be concentrated in that one moment to Eliza. Her room opened by a side door to the river. She caught her child, and sprang down the steps towards it. The trader caught a full glimpse of her just as she was disappearing down the bank; and throwing himself from his horse, and calling loudly on Sam and Andy, he was after her like a hound after a deer. In that dizzy moment her feet to her scarce seemed to touch the ground, and a moment brought her to the water’s edge. Right on behind they came; and, nerved with strength such as God gives only to the desperate, with one wild cry and flying leap, she vaulted sheer over the turbid current by the shore, on to the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap—impossible to anything but madness and despair; and Haley, Sam, and Andy, instinctively cried out, and lifted up their hands, as she did it.
The huge green fragment of ice on which she alighted pitched and creaked as her weight came on it, but she staid there not a moment. With wild cries and desperate energy she leaped to another and still another cake; stumbling—leaping—slipping—springing upwards again! Her shoes are gone—her stockings cut from her feet—while blood marked every step; but she saw nothing, felt nothing, till dimly, as in a dream, she saw the Ohio side, and a man helping her up the bank.
“Yer a brave gal, now, whoever ye ar!” said the man, with an oath.
Eliza recognized the voice and face for a man who owned a farm not far from her old home.
“O, Mr. Symmes!—save me—do save me—do hide me!” said Elia.
“Why, what’s this?” said the man. “Why, if ‘tan’t Shelby’s gal!”
“My child!—this boy!—he’d sold him! There is his Mas’r,” said she, pointing to the Kentucky shore. “O, Mr. Symmes, you’ve got a little boy!”
“So I have,” said the man, as he roughly, but kindly, drew her up the steep bank. “Besides, you’re a right brave gal. I like grit, wherever I see it.”
When they had gained the top of the bank, the man paused.
“I’d be glad to do something for ye,” said he; “but then there’s nowhar I could take ye. The best I can do is to tell ye to go thar,” said he, pointing to a large white house which stood by itself, off the main street of the village. “Go thar; they’re kind folks. Thar’s no kind o’ danger but they’ll help you,—they’re up to all that sort o’ thing.”
“The Lord bless you!” said Eliza, earnestly.
“No ‘casion, no ‘casion in the world,” said the man. “What I’ve done’s of no ‘count.”
“And, oh, surely, sir, you won’t tell any one!”
“Go to thunder, gal! What do you take a feller for? In course not,” said the man. “Come, now, go along like a likely, sensible gal, as you are. You’ve arnt your liberty, and you shall have it, for all me.”
The woman folded her child to her bosom, and walked firmly and swiftly away. The man stood and looked after her.
“Shelby, now, mebbe won’t think this yer the most neighborly thing in the world; but what’s a feller to do? If he catches one of my gals in the same fix, he’s welcome to pay back. Somehow I never could see no kind o’ critter a strivin’ and pantin’, and trying to clar theirselves, with the dogs arter ’em and go agin ’em. Besides, I don’t see no kind of ‘casion for me to be hunter and catcher for other folks, neither.”
So spoke this poor, heathenish Kentuckian, who had not been instructed in his constitutional relations, and consequently was betrayed into acting in a sort of Christianized manner, which, if he had been better situated and more enlightened, he would not have been left to do.
Haley had stood a perfectly amazed spectator of the scene, till Eliza had disappeared up the bank, when he turned a blank, inquiring look on Sam and Andy.
“That ar was a tolable fair stroke of business,” said Sam.
“The gal ‘s got seven devils in her, I believe!” said Haley. “How like a wildcat she jumped!”
“Wal, now,” said Sam, scratching his head, “I hope Mas’r’ll ‘scuse us trying dat ar road. Don’t think I feel spry enough for dat ar, no way!” and Sam gave a hoarse chuckle.
“You laugh!” said the trader, with a growl.
“Lord bless you, Mas’r, I couldn’t help it now,” said Sam, giving way to the long pent-up delight of his soul. “She looked so curi’s, a leapin’ and springin’—ice a crackin’—and only to hear her,—plump! ker chunk! ker splash! Spring! Lord! how she goes it!” and Sam and Andy laughed till the tears rolled down their cheeks.
“I’ll make ye laugh t’ other side yer mouths!” said the trader, laying about their heads with his riding-whip.
Both ducked, and ran shouting up the bank, and were on their horses before he was up.
“Good-evening, Mas’r!” said Sam, with much gravity. “I berry much spect Missis be anxious ’bout Jerry. Mas’r Haley won’t want us no longer. Missis wouldn’t hear of our ridin’ the critters over Lizy’s bridge tonight;” and, with a facetious poke into Andy’s ribs, he started off, followed by the latter, at full speed,—their shouts of laughter coming faintly on the wind.
Eliza made her desperate retreat across the river just in the dusk of twilight. The gray mist of evening, rising slowly from the river, enveloped her as she disappeared up the bank, and the swollen current and floundering masses of ice presented a hopeless barrier between her and her pursuer. Haley therefore slowly and discontentedly returned to the little tavern, to ponder further what was to be done. The woman opened to him the door of a little parlor, covered with a rag carpet, where stood a table with a very shining black oil-cloth, sundry lank, high-backed wood chairs, with some plaster images in resplendent colors on the mantel-shelf, above a very dimly-smoking grate; a long hard-wood settle extended its uneasy length by the chimney, and here Haley sat him down to meditate on the instability of human hopes and happiness in general.
“What did I want with the little cuss, now,” he said to himself, “that I should have got myself treed like a coon, as I am, this yer way?” and Haley relieved himself by repeating over a not very select litany of imprecations on himself, which, though there was the best possible reason to consider them as true, we shall, as a matter of taste, omit.
He was startled by the loud and dissonant voice of a man who was apparently dismounting at the door. He hurried to the window.
“By the land! if this yer an’t the nearest, now, to what I’ve heard folks call Providence,” said Haley. “I do b’lieve that ar’s Tom Loker.”
Haley hastened out. Standing by the bar, in the corner of the room, was a brawny, muscular man, full six feet in height, and broad in proportion. He was dressed in a coat of buffalo-skin, made with the hair outward, which gave him a shaggy and fierce appearance, perfectly in keeping with the whole air of his physiognomy. In the head and face every organ and lineament expressive of brutal and unhesitating violence was in a state of the highest possible development. Indeed, could our readers fancy a bull-dog come unto man’s estate, and walking about in a hat and coat, they would have no unapt idea of the general style and effect of his physique. He was accompanied by a travelling companion, in many respects an exact contrast to himself. He was short and slender, lithe and catlike in his motions, and had a peering, mousing expression about his keen black eyes, with which every feature of his face seemed sharpened into sympathy; his thin, long nose, ran out as if it was eager to bore into the nature of things in general; his sleek, thin, black hair was stuck eagerly forward, and all his motions and evolutions expressed a dry, cautious acuteness. The great man poured out a big tumbler half full of raw spirits, and gulped it down without a word. The little man stood tiptoe, and putting his head first to one side and then the other, and snuffing considerately in the directions of the various bottles, ordered at last a mint julep, in a thin and quivering voice, and with an air of great circumspection. When poured out, he took it and looked at it with a sharp, complacent air, like a man who thinks he has done about the right thing, and hit the nail on the head, and proceeded to dispose of it in short and well-advised sips.
“Wal, now, who’d a thought this yer luck ‘ad come to me? Why, Loker, how are ye?” said Haley, coming forward, and extending his hand to the big man.
“The devil!” was the civil reply. “What brought you here, Haley?”
The mousing man, who bore the name of Marks, instantly stopped his sipping, and, poking his head forward, looked shrewdly on the new acquaintance, as a cat sometimes looks at a moving dry leaf, or some other possible object of pursuit.
“I say, Tom, this yer’s the luckiest thing in the world. I’m in a devil of a hobble, and you must help me out.”
“Ugh? aw! like enough!” grunted his complacent acquaintance. “A body may be pretty sure of that, when you’re glad to see ’em; something to be made off of ’em. What’s the blow now?”
“You’ve got a friend here?” said Haley, looking doubtfully at Marks; “partner, perhaps?”
“Yes, I have. Here, Marks! here’s that ar feller that I was in with in Natchez.”
“Shall be pleased with his acquaintance,” said Marks, thrusting out a long, thin hand, like a raven’s claw. “Mr. Haley, I believe?”
“The same, sir,” said Haley. “And now, gentlemen, seein’ as we’ve met so happily, I think I’ll stand up to a small matter of a treat in this here parlor. So, now, old coon,” said he to the man at the bar, “get us hot water, and sugar, and cigars, and plenty of the real stuff and we’ll have a blow-out.”
Behold, then, the candles lighted, the fire stimulated to the burning point in the grate, and our three worthies seated round a table, well spread with all the accessories to good fellowship enumerated before.
Haley began a pathetic recital of his peculiar troubles. Loker shut up his mouth, and listened to him with gruff and surly attention. Marks, who was anxiously and with much fidgeting compounding a tumbler of punch to his own peculiar taste, occasionally looked up from his employment, and, poking his sharp nose and chin almost into Haley’s face, gave the most earnest heed to the whole narrative. The conclusion of it appeared to amuse him extremely, for he shook his shoulders and sides in silence, and perked up his thin lips with an air of great internal enjoyment.
“So, then, ye’r fairly sewed up, an’t ye?” he said; “he! he! he! It’s neatly done, too.”
“This yer young-un business makes lots of trouble in the trade,” said Haley, dolefully.
“If we could get a breed of gals that didn’t care, now, for their young uns,” said Marks; “tell ye, I think ‘t would be ’bout the greatest mod’rn improvement I knows on,”—and Marks patronized his joke by a quiet introductory sniggle.
“Jes so,” said Haley; “I never couldn’t see into it; young uns is heaps of trouble to ’em; one would think, now, they’d be glad to get clar on ’em; but they arn’t. And the more trouble a young un is, and the more good for nothing, as a gen’l thing, the tighter they sticks to ’em.”
“Wal, Mr. Haley,” said Marks, “‘est pass the hot water. Yes, sir, you say ‘est what I feel and all’us have. Now, I bought a gal once, when I was in the trade,—a tight, likely wench she was, too, and quite considerable smart,—and she had a young un that was mis’able sickly; it had a crooked back, or something or other; and I jest gin ‘t away to a man that thought he’d take his chance raising on ‘t, being it didn’t cost nothin’;—never thought, yer know, of the gal’s takin’ on about it,—but, Lord, yer oughter seen how she went on. Why, re’lly, she did seem to me to valley the child more ’cause ‘t was sickly and cross, and plagued her; and she warn’t making b’lieve, neither,—cried about it, she did, and lopped round, as if she’d lost every friend she had. It re’lly was droll to think on ‘t. Lord, there ain’t no end to women’s notions.”
“Wal, jest so with me,” said Haley. “Last summer, down on Red River, I got a gal traded off on me, with a likely lookin’ child enough, and his eyes looked as bright as yourn; but, come to look, I found him stone blind. Fact—he was stone blind. Wal, ye see, I thought there warn’t no harm in my jest passing him along, and not sayin’ nothin’; and I’d got him nicely swapped off for a keg o’ whiskey; but come to get him away from the gal, she was jest like a tiger. So ‘t was before we started, and I hadn’t got my gang chained up; so what should she do but ups on a cotton-bale, like a cat, ketches a knife from one of the deck hands, and, I tell ye, she made all fly for a minit, till she saw ‘t wan’t no use; and she jest turns round, and pitches head first, young un and all, into the river,—went down plump, and never ris.”
“Bah!” said Tom Loker, who had listened to these stories with ill-repressed disgust,—”shif’less, both on ye! my gals don’t cut up no such shines, I tell ye!”
“Indeed! how do you help it?” said Marks, briskly.
“Help it? why, I buys a gal, and if she’s got a young un to be sold, I jest walks up and puts my fist to her face, and says, ‘Look here, now, if you give me one word out of your head, I’ll smash yer face in. I won’t hear one word—not the beginning of a word.’ I says to ’em, ‘This yer young un’s mine, and not yourn, and you’ve no kind o’ business with it. I’m going to sell it, first chance; mind, you don’t cut up none o’ yer shines about it, or I’ll make ye wish ye’d never been born.’ I tell ye, they sees it an’t no play, when I gets hold. I makes ’em as whist as fishes; and if one on ’em begins and gives a yelp, why,—” and Mr. Loker brought down his fist with a thump that fully explained the hiatus.
“That ar’s what ye may call emphasis,” said Marks, poking Haley in the side, and going into another small giggle. “An’t Tom peculiar? he! he! I say, Tom, I s’pect you make ’emunderstand, for all niggers’ heads is woolly. They don’t never have no doubt o’ your meaning, Tom. If you an’t the devil, Tom, you ‘s his twin brother, I’ll say that for ye!”
Tom received the compliment with becoming modesty, and began to look as affable as was consistent, as John Bunyan says, “with his doggish nature.”
Haley, who had been imbibing very freely of the staple of the evening, began to feel a sensible elevation and enlargement of his moral faculties,—a phenomenon not unusual with gentlemen of a serious and reflective turn, under similar circumstances.
“Wal, now, Tom,” he said, “ye re’lly is too bad, as I al’ays have told ye; ye know, Tom, you and I used to talk over these yer matters down in Natchez, and I used to prove to ye that we made full as much, and was as well off for this yer world, by treatin’ on ’em well, besides keepin’ a better chance for comin’ in the kingdom at last, when wust comes to wust, and thar an’t nothing else left to get, ye know.”
“Boh!” said Tom, “don’t I know?—don’t make me too sick with any yer stuff,—my stomach is a leetle riled now;” and Tom drank half a glass of raw brandy.
“I say,” said Haley, and leaning back in his chair and gesturing impressively, “I’ll say this now, I al’ays meant to drive my trade so as to make money on ‘t fust and foremost, as much as any man; but, then, trade an’t everything, and money an’t everything, ’cause we ‘s all got souls. I don’t care, now, who hears me say it,—and I think a cussed sight on it,—so I may as well come out with it. I b’lieve in religion, and one of these days, when I’ve got matters tight and snug, I calculates to tend to my soul and them ar matters; and so what’s the use of doin’ any more wickedness than ‘s re’lly necessary?—it don’t seem to me it’s ‘t all prudent.”
“Tend to yer soul!” repeated Tom, contemptuously; “take a bright lookout to find a soul in you,—save yourself any care on that score. If the devil sifts you through a hair sieve, he won’t find one.”
“Why, Tom, you’re cross,” said Haley; “why can’t ye take it pleasant, now, when a feller’s talking for your good?”
“Stop that ar jaw o’ yourn, there,” said Tom, gruffly. “I can stand most any talk o’ yourn but your pious talk,—that kills me right up. After all, what’s the odds between me and you? ‘Tan’t that you care one bit more, or have a bit more feelin’—it’s clean, sheer, dog meanness, wanting to cheat the devil and save your own skin; don’t I see through it? And your ‘gettin’ religion,’ as you call it, arter all, is too p’isin mean for any crittur;—run up a bill with the devil all your life, and then sneak out when pay time comes! Bob!”
“Come, come, gentlemen, I say; this isn’t business,” said Marks. “There’s different ways, you know, of looking at all subjects. Mr. Haley is a very nice man, no doubt, and has his own conscience; and, Tom, you have your ways, and very good ones, too, Tom; but quarrelling, you know, won’t answer no kind of purpose. Let’s go to business. Now, Mr. Haley, what is it?—you want us to undertake to catch this yer gal?”
“The gal’s no matter of mine,—she’s Shelby’s; it’s only the boy. I was a fool for buying the monkey!”
“You’re generally a fool!” said Tom, gruffly.
“Come, now, Loker, none of your huffs,” said Marks, licking his lips; “you see, Mr. Haley ‘s a puttin’ us in a way of a good job, I reckon; just hold still—these yer arrangements is my forte. This yer gal, Mr. Haley, how is she? what is she?”
“Wal! white and handsome—well brought up. I’d a gin Shelby eight hundred or a thousand, and then made well on her.”
“White and handsome—well brought up!” said Marks, his sharp eyes, nose and mouth, all alive with enterprise. “Look here, now, Loker, a beautiful opening. We’ll do a business here on our own account;—we does the catchin’; the boy, of course, goes to Mr. Haley,—we takes the gal to Orleans to speculate on. An’t it beautiful?”
Tom, whose great heavy mouth had stood ajar during this communication, now suddenly snapped it together, as a big dog closes on a piece of meat, and seemed to be digesting the idea at his leisure.
“Ye see,” said Marks to Haley, stirring his punch as he did so, “ye see, we has justices convenient at all p’ints along shore, that does up any little jobs in our line quite reasonable. Tom, he does the knockin’ down and that ar; and I come in all dressed up—shining boots—everything first chop, when the swearin’ ‘s to be done. You oughter see, now,” said Marks, in a glow of professional pride, “how I can tone it off. One day, I’m Mr. Twickem, from New Orleans; ‘nother day, I’m just come from my plantation on Pearl River, where I works seven hundred niggers; then, again, I come out a distant relation of Henry Clay, or some old cock in Kentuck. Talents is different, you know. Now, Tom’s roarer when there’s any thumping or fighting to be done; but at lying he an’t good, Tom an’t,—ye see it don’t come natural to him; but, Lord, if thar’s a feller in the country that can swear to anything and everything, and put in all the circumstances and flourishes with a long face, and carry ‘t through better ‘n I can, why, I’d like to see him, that’s all! I b’lieve my heart, I could get along and snake through, even if justices were more particular than they is. Sometimes I rather wish they was more particular; ‘t would be a heap more relishin’ if they was,—more fun, yer know.”
Tom Loker, who, as we have made it appear, was a man of slow thoughts and movements, here interrupted Marks by bringing his heavy fist down on the table, so as to make all ring again, “It’ll do!” he said.
“Lord bless ye, Tom, ye needn’t break all the glasses!” said Marks; “save your fist for time o’ need.”
“But, gentlemen, an’t I to come in for a share of the profits?” said Haley.
“An’t it enough we catch the boy for ye?” said Loker. “What do ye want?”
“Wal,” said Haley, “if I gives you the job, it’s worth something,—say ten per cent. on the profits, expenses paid.”
“Now,” said Loker, with a tremendous oath, and striking the table with his heavy fist, “don’t I know you, Dan Haley? Don’t you think to come it over me! Suppose Marks and I have taken up the catchin’ trade, jest to ‘commodate gentlemen like you, and get nothin’ for ourselves?—Not by a long chalk! we’ll have the gal out and out, and you keep quiet, or, ye see, we’ll have both,—what’s to hinder? Han’t you show’d us the game? It’s as free to us as you, I hope. If you or Shelby wants to chase us, look where the partridges was last year; if you find them or us, you’re quite welcome.”
“O, wal, certainly, jest let it go at that,” said Haley, alarmed; “you catch the boy for the job;—you allers did trade far with me, Tom, and was up to yer word.”
“Ye know that,” said Tom; “I don’t pretend none of your snivelling ways, but I won’t lie in my ‘counts with the devil himself. What I ses I’ll do, I will do,—you know that, Dan Haley.”
“Jes so, jes so,—I said so, Tom,” said Haley; “and if you’d only promise to have the boy for me in a week, at any point you’ll name, that’s all I want.”
“But it an’t all I want, by a long jump,” said Tom. “Ye don’t think I did business with you, down in Natchez, for nothing, Haley; I’ve learned to hold an eel, when I catch him. You’ve got to fork over fifty dollars, flat down, or this child don’t start a peg. I know yer.”
“Why, when you have a job in hand that may bring a clean profit of somewhere about a thousand or sixteen hundred, why, Tom, you’re onreasonable,” said Haley.
“Yes, and hasn’t we business booked for five weeks to come,—all we can do? And suppose we leaves all, and goes to bush-whacking round arter yer young uns, and finally doesn’t catch the gal,—and gals allers is the devil to catch,—what’s then? would you pay us a cent—would you? I think I see you a doin’ it—ugh! No, no; flap down your fifty. If we get the job, and it pays, I’ll hand it back; if we don’t, it’s for our trouble,—that’s far, an’t it, Marks?”
“Certainly, certainly,” said Marks, with a conciliatory tone; “it’s only a retaining fee, you see,—he! he! he!—we lawyers, you know. Wal, we must all keep good-natured,—keep easy, yer know. Tom’ll have the boy for yer, anywhere ye’ll name; won’t ye, Tom?”
“If I find the young un, I’ll bring him on to Cincinnati, and leave him at Granny Belcher’s, on the landing,” said Loker.
Marks had got from his pocket a greasy pocket-book, and taking a long paper from thence, he sat down, and fixing his keen black eyes on it, began mumbling over its contents: “Barnes—Shelby County—boy Jim, three hundred dollars for him, dead or alive.
“Edwards—Dick and Lucy—man and wife, six hundred dollars; wench Polly and two children—six hundred for her or her head.
“I’m jest a runnin’ over our business, to see if we can take up this yer handily. Loker,” he said, after a pause, “we must set Adams and Springer on the track of these yer; they’ve been booked some time.”
“They’ll charge too much,” said Tom.
“I’ll manage that ar; they ‘s young in the business, and must spect to work cheap,” said Marks, as he continued to read. “Ther’s three on ’em easy cases, ’cause all you’ve got to do is to shoot ’em, or swear they is shot; they couldn’t, of course, charge much for that. Them other cases,” he said, folding the paper, “will bear puttin’ off a spell. So now let’s come to the particulars. Now, Mr. Haley, you saw this yer gal when she landed?”
“To be sure,—plain as I see you.”
“And a man helpin’ on her up the bank?” said Loker.
“To be sure, I did.”
“Most likely,” said Marks, “she’s took in somewhere; but where, ‘s a question. Tom, what do you say?”
“We must cross the river tonight, no mistake,” said Tom.
“But there’s no boat about,” said Marks. “The ice is running awfully, Tom; an’t it dangerous?”
“Don’no nothing ’bout that,—only it’s got to be done,” said Tom, decidedly.
“Dear me,” said Marks, fidgeting, “it’ll be—I say,” he said, walking to the window, “it’s dark as a wolf’s mouth, and, Tom—”
“The long and short is, you’re scared, Marks; but I can’t help that,—you’ve got to go. Suppose you want to lie by a day or two, till the gal ‘s been carried on the underground line up to Sandusky or so, before you start.”
“O, no; I an’t a grain afraid,” said Marks, “only—”
“Only what?” said Tom.
“Well, about the boat. Yer see there an’t any boat.”
“I heard the woman say there was one coming along this evening, and that a man was going to cross over in it. Neck or nothing, we must go with him,” said Tom.
“I s’pose you’ve got good dogs,” said Haley.
“First rate,” said Marks. “But what’s the use? you han’t got nothin’ o’ hers to smell on.”
“Yes, I have,” said Haley, triumphantly. “Here’s her shawl she left on the bed in her hurry; she left her bonnet, too.”
“That ar’s lucky,” said Loker; “fork over.”
“Though the dogs might damage the gal, if they come on her unawars,” said Haley.
“That ar’s a consideration,” said Marks. “Our dogs tore a feller half to pieces, once, down in Mobile, ‘fore we could get ’em off.”
“Well, ye see, for this sort that’s to be sold for their looks, that ar won’t answer, ye see,” said Haley.
“I do see,” said Marks. “Besides, if she’s got took in, ‘tan’t no go, neither. Dogs is no ‘count in these yer up states where these critters gets carried; of course, ye can’t get on their track. They only does down in plantations, where niggers, when they runs, has to do their own running, and don’t get no help.”
“Well,” said Loker, who had just stepped out to the bar to make some inquiries, “they say the man’s come with the boat; so, Marks—”
That worthy cast a rueful look at the comfortable quarters he was leaving, but slowly rose to obey. After exchanging a few words of further arrangement, Haley, with visible reluctance, handed over the fifty dollars to Tom, and the worthy trio separated for the night.
If any of our refined and Christian readers object to the society into which this scene introduces them, let us beg them to begin and conquer their prejudices in time. The catching business, we beg to remind them, is rising to the dignity of a lawful and patriotic profession. If all the broad land between the Mississippi and the Pacific becomes one great market for bodies and souls, and human property retains the locomotive tendencies of this nineteenth century, the trader and catcher may yet be among our aristocracy.
While this scene was going on at the tavern, Sam and Andy, in a state of high felicitation, pursued their way home.
Sam was in the highest possible feather, and expressed his exultation by all sorts of supernatural howls and ejaculations, by divers odd motions and contortions of his whole system. Sometimes he would sit backward, with his face to the horse’s tail and sides, and then, with a whoop and a somerset, come right side up in his place again, and, drawing on a grave face, begin to lecture Andy in high-sounding tones for laughing and playing the fool. Anon, slapping his sides with his arms, he would burst forth in peals of laughter, that made the old woods ring as they passed. With all these evolutions, he contrived to keep the horses up to the top of their speed, until, between ten and eleven, their heels resounded on the gravel at the end of the balcony. Mrs. Shelby flew to the railings.
“Is that you, Sam? Where are they?”
“Mas’r Haley ‘s a-restin’ at the tavern; he’s drefful fatigued, Missis.”
“And Eliza, Sam?”
“Wal, she’s clar ‘cross Jordan. As a body may say, in the land o’ Canaan.”
“Why, Sam, what do you mean?” said Mrs. Shelby, breathless, and almost faint, as the possible meaning of these words came over her.
“Wal, Missis, de Lord he persarves his own. Lizy’s done gone over the river into ‘Hio, as ‘markably as if de Lord took her over in a charrit of fire and two hosses.”
Sam’s vein of piety was always uncommonly fervent in his mistress’ presence; and he made great capital of scriptural figures and images.
“Come up here, Sam,” said Mr. Shelby, who had followed on to the verandah, “and tell your mistress what she wants. Come, come, Emily,” said he, passing his arm round her, “you are cold and all in a shiver; you allow yourself to feel too much.”
“Feel too much! Am not I a woman,—a mother? Are we not both responsible to God for this poor girl? My God! lay not this sin to our charge.”
“What sin, Emily? You see yourself that we have only done what we were obliged to.”
“There’s an awful feeling of guilt about it, though,” said Mrs. Shelby. “I can’t reason it away.”
“Here, Andy, you nigger, be alive!” called Sam, under the verandah; “take these yer hosses to der barn; don’t ye hear Mas’r a callin’?” and Sam soon appeared, palm-leaf in hand, at the parlor door.
“Now, Sam, tell us distinctly how the matter was,” said Mr. Shelby. “Where is Eliza, if you know?”
“Wal, Mas’r, I saw her, with my own eyes, a crossin’ on the floatin’ ice. She crossed most ‘markably; it wasn’t no less nor a miracle; and I saw a man help her up the ‘Hio side, and then she was lost in the dusk.”
“Sam, I think this rather apocryphal,—this miracle. Crossing on floating ice isn’t so easily done,” said Mr. Shelby.
“Easy! couldn’t nobody a done it, without de Lord. Why, now,” said Sam, “‘t was jist dis yer way. Mas’r Haley, and me, and Andy, we comes up to de little tavern by the river, and I rides a leetle ahead,—(I’s so zealous to be a cotchin’ Lizy, that I couldn’t hold in, no way),—and when I comes by the tavern winder, sure enough there she was, right in plain sight, and dey diggin’ on behind. Wal, I loses off my hat, and sings out nuff to raise the dead. Course Lizy she hars, and she dodges back, when Mas’r Haley he goes past the door; and then, I tell ye, she clared out de side door; she went down de river bank;—Mas’r Haley he seed her, and yelled out, and him, and me, and Andy, we took arter. Down she come to the river, and thar was the current running ten feet wide by the shore, and over t’ other side ice a sawin’ and a jiggling up and down, kinder as ‘t were a great island. We come right behind her, and I thought my soul he’d got her sure enough,—when she gin sich a screech as I never hearn, and thar she was, clar over t’ other side of the current, on the ice, and then on she went, a screeching and a jumpin’,—the ice went crack! c’wallop! cracking! chunk! and she a boundin’ like a buck! Lord, the spring that ar gal’s got in her an’t common, I’m o’ ‘pinion.”
Mrs. Shelby sat perfectly silent, pale with excitement, while Sam told his story.
“God be praised, she isn’t dead!” she said; “but where is the poor child now?”
“De Lord will pervide,” said Sam, rolling up his eyes piously. “As I’ve been a sayin’, dis yer ‘s a providence and no mistake, as Missis has allers been a instructin’ on us. Thar’s allers instruments ris up to do de Lord’s will. Now, if ‘t hadn’t been for me today, she’d a been took a dozen times. Warn’t it I started off de hosses, dis yer mornin’ and kept ’em chasin’ till nigh dinner time? And didn’t I car Mas’r Haley night five miles out of de road, dis evening, or else he’d a come up with Lizy as easy as a dog arter a coon. These yer ‘s all providences.”
“They are a kind of providences that you’ll have to be pretty sparing of, Master Sam. I allow no such practices with gentlemen on my place,” said Mr. Shelby, with as much sternness as he could command, under the circumstances.
Now, there is no more use in making believe be angry with a slave than with a child; both instinctively see the true state of the case, through all attempts to affect the contrary; and Sam was in no wise disheartened by this rebuke, though he assumed an air of doleful gravity, and stood with the corners of his mouth lowered in most penitential style.
“Mas’r quite right,—quite; it was ugly on me,—there’s no disputin’ that ar; and of course Mas’r and Missis wouldn’t encourage no such works. I’m sensible of dat ar; but a poor nigger like me ‘s ‘mazin’ tempted to act ugly sometimes, when fellers will cut up such shines as dat ar Mas’r Haley; he an’t no gen’l’man no way; anybody’s been raised as I’ve been can’t help a seein’ dat ar.”
“Well, Sam,” said Mrs. Shelby, “as you appear to have a proper sense of your errors, you may go now and tell Aunt Chloe she may get you some of that cold ham that was left of dinner today. You and Andy must be hungry.”
“Missis is a heap too good for us,” said Sam, making his bow with alacrity, and departing.
It will be perceived, as has been before intimated, that Master Sam had a native talent that might, undoubtedly, have raised him to eminence in political life,—a talent of making capital out of everything that turned up, to be invested for his own especial praise and glory; and having done up his piety and humility, as he trusted, to the satisfaction of the parlor, he clapped his palm-leaf on his head, with a sort of rakish, free-and-easy air, and proceeded to the dominions of Aunt Chloe, with the intention of flourishing largely in the kitchen.
“I’ll speechify these yer niggers,” said Sam to himself, “now I’ve got a chance. Lord, I’ll reel it off to make ’em stare!”
It must be observed that one of Sam’s especial delights had been to ride in attendance on his master to all kinds of political gatherings, where, roosted on some rail fence, or perched aloft in some tree, he would sit watching the orators, with the greatest apparent gusto, and then, descending among the various brethren of his own color, assembled on the same errand, he would edify and delight them with the most ludicrous burlesques and imitations, all delivered with the most imperturbable earnestness and solemnity; and though the auditors immediately about him were generally of his own color, it not infrequently happened that they were fringed pretty deeply with those of a fairer complexion, who listened, laughing and winking, to Sam’s great self-congratulation. In fact, Sam considered oratory as his vocation, and never let slip an opportunity of magnifying his office.
Now, between Sam and Aunt Chloe there had existed, from ancient times, a sort of chronic feud, or rather a decided coolness; but, as Sam was meditating something in the provision department, as the necessary and obvious foundation of his operations, he determined, on the present occasion, to be eminently conciliatory; for he well knew that although “Missis’ orders” would undoubtedly be followed to the letter, yet he should gain a considerable deal by enlisting the spirit also. He therefore appeared before Aunt Chloe with a touchingly subdued, resigned expression, like one who has suffered immeasurable hardships in behalf of a persecuted fellow-creature,—enlarged upon the fact that Missis had directed him to come to Aunt Chloe for whatever might be wanting to make up the balance in his solids and fluids,—and thus unequivocally acknowledged her right and supremacy in the cooking department, and all thereto pertaining.
The thing took accordingly. No poor, simple, virtuous body was ever cajoled by the attentions of an electioneering politician with more ease than Aunt Chloe was won over by Master Sam’s suavities; and if he had been the prodigal son himself, he could not have been overwhelmed with more maternal bountifulness; and he soon found himself seated, happy and glorious, over a large tin pan, containing a sort of olla podrida of all that had appeared on the table for two or three days past. Savory morsels of ham, golden blocks of corn-cake, fragments of pie of every conceivable mathematical figure, chicken wings, gizzards, and drumsticks, all appeared in picturesque confusion; and Sam, as monarch of all he surveyed, sat with his palm-leaf cocked rejoicingly to one side, and patronizing Andy at his right hand.
The kitchen was full of all his compeers, who had hurried and crowded in, from the various cabins, to hear the termination of the day’s exploits. Now was Sam’s hour of glory. The story of the day was rehearsed, with all kinds of ornament and varnishing which might be necessary to heighten its effect; for Sam, like some of our fashionable dilettanti, never allowed a story to lose any of its gilding by passing through his hands. Roars of laughter attended the narration, and were taken up and prolonged by all the smaller fry, who were lying, in any quantity, about on the floor, or perched in every corner. In the height of the uproar and laughter, Sam, however, preserved an immovable gravity, only from time to time rolling his eyes up, and giving his auditors divers inexpressibly droll glances, without departing from the sententious elevation of his oratory.
“Yer see, fellow-countrymen,” said Sam, elevating a turkey’s leg, with energy, “yer see, now what dis yer chile ‘s up ter, for fendin’ yer all,—yes, all on yer. For him as tries to get one o’ our people is as good as tryin’ to get all; yer see the principle ‘s de same,—dat ar’s clar. And any one o’ these yer drivers that comes smelling round arter any our people, why, he’s got me in his way; I’m the feller he’s got to set in with,—I’m the feller for yer all to come to, bredren,—I’ll stand up for yer rights,—I’ll fend ’em to the last breath!”
“I tell you now, Andy,” said Sam, with awful superiority, “don’t yer be a talkin’ ’bout what yer don’t know nothin’ on; boys like you, Andy, means well, but they can’t be spected to collusitate the great principles of action.”
Andy looked rebuked, particularly by the hard word collusitate, which most of the youngerly members of the company seemed to consider as a settler in the case, while Sam proceeded.
“Dat ar was conscience, Andy; when I thought of gwine arter Lizy, I railly spected Mas’r was sot dat way. When I found Missis was sot the contrar, dat ar was conscience more yet,—cause fellers allers gets more by stickin’ to Missis’ side,—so yer see I ‘s persistent either way, and sticks up to conscience, and holds on to principles. Yes, principles,” said Sam, giving an enthusiastic toss to a chicken’s neck,—”what’s principles good for, if we isn’t persistent, I wanter know? Thar, Andy, you may have dat ar bone,—tan’t picked quite clean.”
Sam’s audience hanging on his words with open mouth, he could not but proceed.
“Dis yer matter ’bout persistence, feller-niggers,” said Sam, with the air of one entering into an abstruse subject, “dis yer ‘sistency ‘s a thing what an’t seed into very clar, by most anybody. Now, yer see, when a feller stands up for a thing one day and night, de contrar de next, folks ses (and nat’rally enough dey ses), why he an’t persistent,—hand me dat ar bit o’ corn-cake, Andy. But let’s look inter it. I hope the gen’lmen and der fair sex will scuse my usin’ an or’nary sort o’ ‘parison. Here! I’m a trying to get top o’ der hay. Wal, I puts up my larder dis yer side; ‘tan’t no go;—den, cause I don’t try dere no more, but puts my larder right de contrar side, an’t I persistent? I’m persistent in wantin’ to get up which ary side my larder is; don’t you see, all on yer?”
“It’s the only thing ye ever was persistent in, Lord knows!” muttered Aunt Chloe, who was getting rather restive; the merriment of the evening being to her somewhat after the Scripture comparison,—like “vinegar upon nitre.”
“Yes, indeed!” said Sam, rising, full of supper and glory, for a closing effort. “Yes, my feller-citizens and ladies of de other sex in general, I has principles,—I’m proud to ‘oon ’em,—they ‘s perquisite to dese yer times, and ter all times. I has principles, and I sticks to ’em like forty,—jest anything that I thinks is principle, I goes in to ‘t;—I wouldn’t mind if dey burnt me ‘live,—I’d walk right up to de stake, I would, and say, here I comes to shed my last blood fur my principles, fur my country, fur de gen’l interests of society.”
“Well,” said Aunt Chloe, “one o’ yer principles will have to be to get to bed some time tonight, and not be a keepin’ everybody up till mornin’; now, every one of you young uns that don’t want to be cracked, had better be scase, mighty sudden.”
“Niggers! all on yer,” said Sam, waving his palm-leaf with benignity, “I give yer my blessin’; go to bed now, and be good boys.”
And, with this pathetic benediction, the assembly dispersed.