Stowe, Harriet Beecher . Uncle Tom's cabin, or Life among the lowly
Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library
A slave warehouse! Perhaps some of my readers conjure up horrible visions of such a place. They fancy some foul, obscure den, some horrible Tartarus "informis, ingens, cui lumen ademptum." But no, innocent friend; in these days men have learned the art of sinning expertly and genteelly, so as not to shock the eyes and senses of respectable society. Human property is high in the market; and is, therefore, well fed, well cleaned, tended, and looked after, that it may come to sale sleek, and strong, and shining. A slave-warehouse in New Orleans is a house externally not much unlike many others, kept with neatness; and where every day you may see arranged, under a sort of shed along the outside, rows of men and women, who stand there as a sign of the property sold within.
Then you shall be courteously entreated to call and examine, and shall find an abundance of husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and young children, to be "sold separately, or in lots to suit the convenience of the purchaser;" and that soul immortal, once bought with blood and anguish by the Son of God, when the earth shook, and the rocks rent, and the graves were opened, can be sold, leased, mortgaged, exchanged for groceries or dry goods, to suit the phases of trade, or the fancy of the purchaser.
It was a day or two after the conversation between
Marie and Miss Ophelia, that Tom, Adolph, and about half a dozen others of the St. Clare estate, were turned over to the loving kindness of Mr. Skeggs, the keeper of a depot on -- -street, to await the auction, next day.
Tom had with him quite a sizable trunk full of clothing, as had most others of them. They were ushered, for the night, into a long room, where many other men, of all ages, sizes, and shades of complexion, were assembled, and from which roars of laughter and unthinking merriment were proceeding.
"Ah, ha! that's right. Go it, boys, -- go it!" said Mr. Skeggs, the keeper. "My people are always so merry! Sambo, I see!" he said, speaking approvingly to a burly negro who was performing tricks of low buffoonery, which occasioned the shouts which Tom had heard.
As might be imagined, Tom was in no humor to join these proceedings; and, therefore, setting his trunk as far as possible from the noisy group, he sat down on it, and leaned his face against the wall.
The dealers in the human article make scrupulous and systematic efforts to
promote noisy mirth among them, as a means of drowning reflection, and rendering
them insensible to their condition. The whole object of the training to which
the negro is put, from the time he is sold in the northern market till he
arrives south, is systematically directed towards making him callous,
unthinking, and brutal. The slave-dealer collects his gang in Virginia or
Kentucky, and drives them to some convenient, healthy place, -- often a watering
place, -- to be fattened. Here they are fed full daily; and, because some
incline to pine, a fiddle is kept commonly going among them, and they are made
to dance daily; and he who refuses to be merry -- in whose soul thoughts of
wife, or child, or home, are too strong for him to be gay -- is marked as sullen
and dangerous, and subjected to all the evils which the ill will of an utterly
irresponsible and hardened man can inflict upon him. Briskness, alertness, and
cheerfulness of appearance,
especially before observers, are constantly enforced upon them, both by the hope of thereby getting a good master, and the fear of all that the driver may bring upon them if they prove unsalable.
"What dat ar nigger doin here?" said Sambo, coming up to Tom, after Mr. Skeggs had left the room. Sambo was a full black, of great size, very lively, voluble, and full of trick and grimace.
"What you doin here?" said Sambo, coming up to Tom, and poking him facetiously in the side. "Meditatin', eh?"
"I am to be sold at the auction, to-morrow!" said Tom, quietly.
"Sold at auction, -- haw! haw! boys, an't this yer fun? I wish't I was gwine that ar way! -- tell ye, wouldn't I make em laugh? But how is it, -- dis yer whole lot gwine to-morrow?" said Sambo, laying his hand freely on Adolph's shoulder.
"Please to let me alone!" said Adolph, fiercely, straightening himself up, with extreme disgust.
"Law, now, boys! dis yer's one o' yer white niggers, -- kind o' cream color, ye know, scented!" said he, coming up to Adolph and snuffing. "O Lor! he'd do for a tobaccer-shop; they could keep him to scent snuff! Lor, he'd keep a whole shope agwine, -- he would!"
"I say, keep off, can't you?" said Adolph, enraged.
"Lor, now, how touchy we is, -- we white niggers! Look at us now!" and Sambo gave a ludicrous imitation of Adolph's manner; "here's de airs and graces. We's been in a good family, I specs."
"Yes," said Adolph; "I had a master that could have bought you all for old truck!"
"Laws, now, only think," said Sambo, "the gentlemens that we is!"
"I belonged to the St. Clare family," said Adolph, proudly.
"Lor, you did! Be hanged if they ar'n't lucky to get
shet of ye. Spects they's gwine to trade ye off with a lot o' cracked tea-pots and sich like!" said Sambo, with a provoking grin.
Adolph, enraged at this taunt, flew furiously at his adversary, swearing and striking on every side of him. The rest laughed and shouted, and the uproar brought the keeper to the door.
"What now, boys? Order, -- order!" he said, coming in and flourishing a large whip.
All fled in different directions, except Sambo, who, presuming on the favor which the keeper had to him as a licensed wag, stood his ground, ducking his head with a facetious grin, whenever the master made a dive at him.
"Lor, Mas'r, 'tan't us, -- we 's reglar stiddy, -- it's these yer new hands; they 's real aggravatin', -- kinder pickin' at us, all time!"
The keeper, at this, turned upon Tom and Adolph, and distributing a few kicks and cuffs without much inquiry, and leaving general orders for all to be good boys and go to sleep, left the apartment.
While this scene was going on in the men's sleeping-room, the reader may
be curious to take a peep at the corresponding apartment allotted to the women.
Stretched out in various attitudes over the floor, he may see numberless
sleeping forms of every shade of complexion, from the purest ebony to white, and
of all years, from childhood to old age, lying now asleep. Here is a fine bright
girl, of ten years, whose mother was sold out yesterday, and who to-night cried
herself to sleep when nobody was looking at her. Here, a worn old negress, whose
thin arms and callous fingers tell of hard toil, waiting to be sold to-morrow,
as a cast-off article, for what can be got for her; and some forty or fifty
others, with heads variously enveloped in blankets or articles of clothing, lie
stretched around them. But, in a corner, sitting apart from the rest, are two
females of a more interesting appearance than common. One of
these is a respectably-dressed mulatto woman between forty and fifty, with soft eyes and a gentle and pleasing physiognomy. She has on her head a high-raised turban, made of a gay red Madras handkerchief, of the first quality, her dress is neatly fitted, and of good material, showing that she has been provided for with a careful hand. By her side, and nestling closely to her, is a young girl of fifteen, -- her daughter. She is a quadroon, as may be seen from her fairer complexion, though her likeness to her mother is quite discernible. She has the same soft, dark eye, with longer lashes, and her curling hair is of a luxuriant brown. She also is dressed with great neatness, and her white, delicate hands betray very little acquaintance with servile toil. These two are to be sold tomorrow, in the same lot with the St. Clare servants; and the gentleman to whom they belong, and to whom the money for their sale is to be transmitted, is a member of a Christian church in New York, who will receive the money, and go thereafter to the sacrament of his Lord and theirs, and think no more of it.
These two, whom we shall call Susan and Emmeline, had been the personal
attendants of an amiable and pious lady of New Orleans, by whom they had been
carefully and piously instructed and trained. They had been taught to read and
write, diligently instructed in the truths of religion, and their lot had been
as happy an one as in their condition it was possible to be. But the only son of
their protectress had the management of her property; and, by carelessness and
extravagance involved it to a large amount, and at last failed. One of the
largest creditors was the respectable firm of B. & Co., in New York. B. & Co.
wrote to their lawyer in New Orleans, who attached the real estate (these two
articles and a lot of plantation hands formed the most valuable part of it), and
wrote word to that effect to New York. Brother B., being, as we have said, a
Christian man, and a resident in a free State, felt some
uneasiness on the subject. He didn't like trading in slaves and souls of men, -- of course, he didn't; but, then, there were thirty thousand dollars in the case, and that was rather too much money to be lost for a principle; and so, after much considering, and asking advice from those that he knew would advise to suit him, Brother B. wrote to his lawyer to dispose of the business in the way that seemed to him the most suitable, and remit the proceeds.
The day after the letter arrived in New Orleans, Susan and Emmeline were attached, and sent to the depot to await a general auction on the following morning; and as they glimmer faintly upon us in the moonlight which steals through the grated window, we may listen to their conversation. Both are weeping, but each quietly, that the other may not hear.
"Mother, just lay your head on my lap, and see if you can't sleep a little," says the girl, trying to appear calm.
"I haven't any heart to sleep, Em; I can't; it's the last night we may be together!"
"O, mother, don't say so! perhaps we shall get sold together, -- who knows?"
"If 't was anybody's else case, I should say so, too, Em," said the woman; "but I'm so feard of losin' you that I don't see anything but the danger."
"Why, mother, the man said we were both likely, and would sell well."
Susan remembered the man's looks and words. With a deadly sickness at her heart, she remembered how he had looked at Emmeline's hands, and lifted up her curly hair, and pronounced her a first-rate article. Susan had been trained as a Christian, brought up in the daily reading of the Bible, and had the same horror of her child's being sold to a life of shame that any other Christian mother might have; but she had no hope, -- no protection.
"Mother, I think we might do first rate, if you could
get a place as cook, and I as chamber-maid or seamstress, in some family. I dare say we shall. Let's both look as bright and lively as we can, and tell all we can do, and perhaps we shall," said Emmeline.
"I want you to brush your hair all back straight, tomorrow," said Susan.
"What for, mother? I don't look near so well, that way."
"Yes, but you'll sell better so."
"I don't see why!" said the child.
"Respectable families would be more apt to buy you, if they saw you looked plain and decent, as if you wasn't trying to look handsome. I know their ways better 'n you do," said Susan.
"Well, mother, then I will."
"And, Emmeline, if we shouldn't ever see each other again, after to-morrow, -- if I'm sold way up on a plantation somewhere, and you somewhere else, -- always remember how you've been brought up, and all Missis has told you; take your Bible with you, and your hymn-book; and if you're faithful to the Lord, he'll be faithful to you."
So speaks the poor soul, in sore discouragement; for she knows that
to-morrow any man, however vile and brutal, however godless and merciless, if he
only has money to pay for her, may become owner of her daughter, body and soul;
and then, how is the child to be faithful? She thinks of all this, as she holds
her daughter in her arms, and wishes that she were not handsome and attractive.
It seems almost an aggravation to her to remember how purely and piously, how
much above the ordinary lot, she has been brought up. But she has no resort but
to pray; and many such prayers to God have gone up from those same trim,
neatly-arranged, respectable slave-prisons, -- prayers which God has not
forgotten, as a coming day shall show; for it is written, "Who causeth one of
these little ones to offend, it were better for him that a mill-stone
were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea."
The soft, earnest, quiet moonbeam looks in fixedly, marking the bars of the grated windows on the prostrate, sleeping forms. The mother and daughter are singing together a wild and melancholy dirge, common as a funeral hymn among the slaves:
"O, where is weeping Mary?
O, where is weeping Mary?
'Rived in the goodly land.
She is dead and gone to Heaven;
She is dead and gone to Heaven;
'Rived in the goodly land."
These words, sung by voices of a peculiar and melancholy sweetness, in an air which seemed like the sighing of earthy despair after heavenly hope, floated through the dark prison rooms with a pathetic cadence, as verse after verse was breathed out:
"O, where are Paul and Silas?
O, where are Paul and Silas?
Gone to the goodly land.
They are dead and gone to Heaven;
They are dead and gone to Heaven;
'Rived in the goodly land."
Sing on poor souls! The night is short, and the morning will part you forever!
But now it is morning, and everybody is astir; and the worthy Mr. Skeggs is busy and bright, for a lot of goods is to be fitted out for auction. There is a brisk look-out on the toilet; injunctions passed around to every one to put on their best face and be spry; and now all are arranged in a circle for a last review, before they are marched up to the Bourse.
Mr. Skeggs, with his palmetto on and his cigar in his
mouth, walks around to put farewell touches on his wares.
"How's this?" he said, stepping in front of Susan and Emmeline. "Where's your curls, gal?"
The girl looked timidly at her mother, who, with the smooth adroitness common among her class, answers,
"I was telling her, last night, to put up her hair smooth and neat, and not havin' it flying about in curls; looks more respectable so."
"Bother!" said the man, peremptorily, turning to the girl; "you go right along, and curl yourself real smart!" He added, giving a crack to a rattan he held in his hand, "And be back in quick time, too!"
"You go and help her," he added, to the mother. "Them curls may make a hundred dollars difference in the sale of her."
Beneath a splendid dome were men of all nations, moving to and fro, over the marble pave. On every side of the circular area were little tribunes, or stations, for the use of speakers and auctioneers. Two of these, on opposite sides of the area, were now occupied by brilliant and talented gentlemen, enthusiastically forcing up, in English and French commingled, the bids of connoisseurs in their various wares. A third one, on the other side, still unoccupied, was surrounded by a group, waiting the moment of sale to begin. And here we may recognize the St. Clare servants, -- Tom, Adolph, and others; and there, too, Susan and Emmeline, awaiting their turn with anxious and dejected faces. Various spectators, intending to purchase, or not intending, examining, and commenting on their various points and faces with the same freedom that a set of jockeys discuss the merits of a horse.
"Hulloa, Alf! what brings you here?" said a young exquisite, slapping the
shoulder of a sprucely-dressed young man, who was examining Adolph through an
"Well! I was wanting a valet, and I heard that St. Clare's lot was going. I thought I'd just look at his -- "
"Catch me ever buying any of St. Clare's people! Spoilt niggers, every one. Impudent as the devil!" said the other.
"Never fear that!" said the first. "If I get 'em, I'll soon have their airs out of them; they'll soon find that they've another kind of master to deal with than Monsieur St. Clare. 'Pon my word, I'll buy that fellow. I like the shape of him."
"You'll find it'll take all you've got to keep him. He's deucedly extravagant!"
"Yes, but my lord will find that he can't be extravagant with me. just let him be sent to the calaboose a few times, and thoroughly dressed down! I'll tell you if it don't bring him to a sense of his ways! O, I'll reform him, up hill and down, -- you'll see. I buy him, that's flat!"
Tom had been standing wistfully examining the multitude of faces thronging around him, for one whom he would wish to call master. And if you should ever be under the necessity, sir, of selecting, out of two hundred men, one who was to become your absolute owner and disposer, you would, perhaps, realize, just as Tom did, how few there were that you would feel at all comfortable in being made over to. Tom saw abundance of men, -- great, burly, gruff men; little, chirping, dried men; long-favored, lank, hard men; and every variety of stubbed-looking, commonplace men, who pick up their fellow-men as one picks up chips, putting them into the fire or a basket with equal unconcern, according to their convenience; but he saw no St. Clare.
A little before the sale commenced, a short, broad, muscular man, in a
checked shirt considerably open at the bosom, and pantaloons much the worse for
dirt and wear, elbowed his way through the crowd, like one
who is going actively into a business; and, coming up to the group, began to examine them systematically. >From the moment that Tom saw him approaching, he felt an immediate and revolting horror at him, that increased as he came near. He was evidently, though short, of gigantic strength. His round, bullet head, large, light-gray eyes, with their shaggy, sandy eyebrows, and stiff, wiry, sun-burned hair, were rather unprepossessing items, it is to be confessed; his large, coarse mouth was distended with tobacco, the juice of which, from time to time, he ejected from him with great decision and explosive force; his hands were immensely large, hairy, sun-burned, freckled, and very dirty, and garnished with long nails, in a very foul condition. This man proceeded to a very free personal examination of the lot. He seized Tom by the jaw, and pulled open his mouth to inspect his teeth; made him strip up his sleeve, to show his muscle; turned him round, made him jump and spring, to show his paces.
"Where was you raised?" he added, briefly, to these investigations.
"In Kintuck, Mas'r," said Tom, looking about, as if for deliverance.
"What have you done?"
"Had care of Mas'r's farm," said Tom.
"Likely story!" said the other, shortly, as he passed on. He paused a moment before Dolph; then spitting a discharge of tobacco-juice on his well-blacked boots, and giving a contemptuous umph, he walked on. Again he stopped before Susan and Emmeline. He put out his heavy, dirty hand, and drew the girl towards him; passed it over her neck and bust, felt her arms, looked at her teeth, and then pushed her back against her mother, whose patient face showed the suffering she had been going through at every motion of the hideous stranger.
The girl was frightened, and began to cry.
"Stop that, you minx!" said the salesman; "no whimpering here, -- the sale is going to begin." And accordingly the sale begun.
Adolph was knocked off, at a good sum, to the young gentlemen who had previously stated his intention of buying him; and the other servants of the St. Clare lot went to various bidders.
"Now, up with you, boy! d'ye hear?" said the auctioneer to Tom.
Tom stepped upon the block, gave a few anxious looks round; all seemed mingled in a common, indistinct noise, -- the clatter of the salesman crying off his qualifications in French and English, the quick fire of French and English bids; and almost in a moment came the final thump of the hammer, and the clear ring on the last syllable of the word "dollars," as the auctioneer announced his price, and Tom was made over. -- He had a master!
He was pushed from the block; -- the short, bullet-headed man seizing him roughly by the shoulder, pushed him to one side, saying, in a harsh voice, "Stand there, you!"
Tom hardly realized anything; but still the bidding went on, -- ratting, clattering, now French, now English. Down goes the hammer again, -- Susan is sold! She goes down from the block, stops, looks wistfully back, -- her daughter stretches her hands towards her. She looks with agony in the face of the man who has bought her, -- a respectable middle-aged man, of benevolent countenance.
"O, Mas'r, please do buy my daughter!"
"I'd like to, but I'm afraid I can't afford it!" said the gentleman, looking, with painful interest, as the young girl mounted the block, and looked around her with a frightened and timid glance.
The blood flushes painfully in her otherwise colorless cheek, her eye has
a feverish fire, and her mother groans to see that she looks more beautiful than
ever saw her before. The auctioneer sees his advantage, and expatiates volubly in mingled French and English, and bids rise in rapid succession.
"I'll do anything in reason," said the benevolent-looking gentleman, pressing in and joining with the bids. In a few moments they have run beyond his purse. He is silent; the auctioneer grows warmer; but bids gradually drop off. It lies now between an aristocratic old citizen and our bullet-headed acquaintance. The citizen bids for a few turns, contemptuously measuring his opponent; but the bullet-head has the advantage over him, both in obstinacy and concealed length of purse, and the controversy lasts but a moment; the hammer falls, -- he has got the girl, body and soul, unless God help her!
Her master is Mr. Legree, who owns a cotton plantation on the Red river. She is pushed along into the same lot with Tom and two other men, and goes off, weeping as she goes.
The benevolent gentleman is sorry; but, then, the thing happens every day! One sees girls and mothers crying, at these sales, always! it can't be helped, &c.; and he walks off, with his acquisition, in another direction.
Two days after, the lawyer of the Christian firm of B. & Co., New York, send on their money to them. On the reverse of that draft, so obtained, let them write these words of the great Paymaster, to whom they shall make up their account in a future day: "When he maketh inquisition for blood, he forgetteth not the cry of the humble!"
"Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?" -- HAB. 1: 13.
On the lower part of a small, mean boat, on the Red river, Tom sat, -- chains on his wrists, chains on his feet, and a weight heavier than chains lay on his heart. All had faded from his sky, -- moon and star; all had passed by him, as the trees and banks were now passing, to return no more. Kentucky home, with wife and children, and indulgent owners; St. Clare home, with all its refinements and splendors; the golden head of Eva, with its saint-like eyes; the proud, gay, handsome, seemingly careless, yet ever-kind St. Clare; hours of ease and indulgent leisure, -- all gone! and in place thereof, what remains?
It is one of the bitterest apportionments of a lot of slavery, that the
negro, sympathetic and assimilative, after acquiring, in a refined family, the
tastes and feelings which form the atmosphere of such a place, is not the less
liable to become the bond-slave of the coarsest and most brutal, -- just as a
chair or table, which once decorated the superb saloon, comes, at last, battered
and defaced, to the bar-room of some filthy tavern, or some low haunt of vulgar debauchery. The great difference is, that the table and chair cannot feel, and the man can; for even a legal enactment that he shall be "taken, reputed, adjudged in law, to be a chattel personal," cannot blot out his soul, with its own private little world of memories, hopes, loves, fears, and desires.
Mr. Simon Legree, Tom's master, had purchased slaves at one place and another, in New Orleans, to the number of eight, and driven them, handcuffed, in couples of two and two, down to the good steamer Pirate, which lay at the levee, ready for a trip up the Red river.
Having got them fairly on board, and the boat being off, he came round, with that air of efficiency which ever characterized him, to take a review of them. Stopping opposite to Tom, who had been attired for sale in his best broadcloth suit, with well-starched linen and shining boots, he briefly expressed himself as follows:
Tom stood up.
"Take off that stock!" and, as Tom, encumbered by his fetters, proceeded to do it, he assisted him, by pulling it, with no gentle hand, from his neck, and putting it in his pocket.
Legree now turned to Tom's trunk, which, previous to this, he had been ransacking, and, taking from it a pair of old pantaloons and dilapidated coat, which Tom had been wont to put on about his stable-work, he said, liberating Tom's hands from the handcuffs, and pointing to a recess in among the boxes,
"You go there, and put these on."
Tom obeyed, and in a few moments returned.
"Take off your boots," said Mr. Legree.
Tom did so.
"There," said the former, throwing him a pair of
coarse, stout shoes, such as were common among the slaves, "put these on."
In Tom's hurried exchange, he had not forgotten to transfer his cherished Bible to his pocket. It was well he did so; for Mr. Legree, having refitted Tom's handcuffs, proceeded deliberately to investigate the contents of his pockets. He drew out a silk handkerchief, and put it into his own pocket. Several little trifles, which Tom had treasured, chiefly because they had amused Eva, he looked upon with a contemptuous grunt, and tossed them over his shoulder into the river.
Tom's Methodist hymn-book, which, in his hurry, he had forgotten, he now held up and turned over.
Humph! pious, to be sure. So, what's yer name, -- you belong to the church, eh?"
"Yes, Mas'r," said Tom, firmly.
"Well, I'll soon have that out of you. I have none o' yer bawling, praying, singing niggers on my place; so remember. Now, mind yourself," he said, with a stamp and a fierce glance of his gray eye, directed at Tom, "I'm your church now! You understand, -- you've got to be as I say."
Something within the silent black man answered No! and, as if repeated by an invisible voice, came the words of an old prophetic scroll, as Eva had often read them to him, -- "Fear not! for I have redeemed thee. I have called thee by name. Thou art MINE!"
But Simon Legree heard no voice. That voice is one he never shall hear. He
only glared for a moment on the down-cast face of Tom, and walked off. He took
Tom's trunk, which contained a very neat and abundant wardrobe, to the
forecastle, where it was soon surrounded by various hands of the boat. With much
laughing, at the expense of niggers who tried to be gentlemen, the articles very
readily were sold to one and another, and the empty trunk finally put up at
auction. It was a good joke, they all thought, especially to see how Tom looked
after his things, as they were
going this way and that; and then the auction of the trunk, that was funnier than all, and occasioned abundant witticisms.
This little affair being over, Simon sauntered up again to his property.
"Now, Tom, I've relieved you of any extra baggage, you see. Take mighty good care of them clothes. It'll be long enough 'fore you get more. I go in for making niggers careful; one suit has to do for one year, on my place."
Simon next walked up to the place where Emmeline was sitting, chained to another woman.
"Well, my dear," he said, chucking her under the chin, "keep up your spirits."
The involuntary look of horror, fright and aversion, with which the girl regarded him, did not escape his eye. He frowned fiercely.
"None o' your shines, gal! you's got to keep a pleasant face, when I speak to ye, -- d'ye hear? And you, you old yellow poco moonshine!" he said, giving a shove to the mulatto woman to whom Emmeline was chained, "don't you carry that sort of face! You's got to look chipper, I tell ye!"
"I say, all on ye," he said retreating a pace or two back, "look at me, -- look at me, -- look me right in the eye, -- straight, now!" said he, stamping his foot at every pause.
As by a fascination, every eye was now directed to the glaring greenish-gray eye of Simon.
"Now," said he, doubling his great, heavy fist into something resembling a
blacksmith's hammer, "d'ye see this fist? Heft it!" he said, bringing it down on
Tom's hand. "Look at these yer bones! Well, I tell ye this yer fist has got as
hard as iron knocking down niggers. I never see the nigger, yet, I
couldn't bring down with one crack," said he, bringing his fist down so near to
the face of Tom that he winked and drew back. "I don't keep none o' yer cussed
overseers; I does my own
overseeing; and I tell you things is seen to. You's every one on ye got to toe the mark, I tell ye; quick, -- straight, -- the moment I speak. That's the way to keep in with me. Ye won't find no soft spot in me, nowhere. So, now, mind yerselves; for I don't show no mercy!"
The women involuntarily drew in their breath, and the whole gang sat with downcast, dejected faces. Meanwhile, Simon turned on his heel, and marched up to the bar of the boat for a dram.
"That's the way I begin with my niggers," he said, to a gentlemanly man, who had stood by him during his speech. "It's my system to begin strong, -- just let 'em know what to expect."
"Indeed!" said the stranger, looking upon him with the curiosity of a naturalist studying some out-of-the-way specimen.
"Yes, indeed. I'm none o' yer gentlemen planters, with lily fingers, to slop round and be cheated by some old cuss of an overseer! just feel of my knuckles, now; look at my fist. Tell ye, sir, the flesh on 't has come jest like a stone, practising on nigger -- feel on it."
The stranger applied his fingers to the implement in question, and simply said,
"'T is hard enough; and, I suppose," he added, "practice has made your heart just like it."
"Why, yes, I may say so," said Simon, with a hearty laugh. "I reckon there's as little soft in me as in any one going. Tell you, nobody comes it over me! Niggers never gets round me, neither with squalling nor soft soap, -- that's a fact."
"You have a fine lot there."
"Real," said Simon. "There's that Tom, they telled me he was suthin'
uncommon. I paid a little high for him, tendin' him for a driver and a managing
chap; only get the notions out that he's larnt by bein' treated as niggers never
ought to be, he'll do prime! The yellow woman I got took in on. I rayther think
she's sickly, but I shall put her through for what she's worth;
she may last a year or two. I don't go for savin' niggers. Use up, and buy more, 's my way;-makes you less trouble, and I'm quite sure it comes cheaper in the end;" and Simon sipped his glass.
"And how long do they generally last?" said the stranger.
"Well, donno; 'cordin' as their constitution is. Stout fellers last six or seven years; trashy ones gets worked up in two or three. I used to, when I fust begun, have considerable trouble fussin' with 'em and trying to make 'em hold out, -- doctorin' on 'em up when they's sick, and givin' on 'em clothes and blankets, and what not, tryin' to keep 'em all sort o' decent and comfortable. Law, 't wasn't no sort o' use; I lost money on 'em, and 't was heaps o' trouble. Now, you see, I just put 'em straight through, sick or well. When one nigger's dead, I buy another; and I find it comes cheaper and easier, every way."
The stranger turned away, and seated himself beside a gentleman, who had been listening to the conversation with repressed uneasiness.
"You must not take that fellow to be any specimen of Southern planters," said he.
"I should hope not," said the young gentleman, with emphasis.
"He is a mean, low, brutal fellow!" said the other.
"And yet your laws allow him to hold any number of human beings subject to his absolute will, without even a shadow of protection; and, low as he is, you cannot say that there are not many such."
"Well," said the other, "there are also many considerate and humane men among planters."
"Granted," said the young man; "but, in my opinion, it is you considerate,
humane men, that are responsible for all the brutality and outrage wrought by
these wretches; because, if it were not for your sanction and influence, the
whole system could not keep foothold for an hour. If there were no planters
as that one," said he, pointing with his finger to Legree, who stood with his back to them, "the whole thing would go down like a mill-stone. It is your respectability and humanity that licenses and protects his brutality."
"You certainly have a high opinion of my good nature," said the planter, smiling, "but I advise you not to talk quite so loud, as there are people on board the boat who might not be quite so tolerant to opinion as I am. You had better wait till I get up to my plantation, and there you may abuse us all, quite at your leisure."
The young gentleman colored and smiled, and the two were soon busy in a game of backgammon. Meanwhile, another conversation was going on in the lower part of the boat, between Emmeline and the mulatto woman with whom she was confined. As was natural, they were exchanging with each other some particulars of their history.
"Who did you belong to?" said Emmeline.
"Well, my Mas'r was Mr. Ellis, -- lived on Levee-street. P'raps you've seen the house."
"Was he good to you?" said Emmeline.
"Mostly, till he tuk sick. He's lain sick, off and on, more than six months, and been orful oneasy. 'Pears like he warnt willin' to have nobody rest, day or night; and got so curous, there couldn't nobody suit him. 'Pears like he just grew crosser, every day; kep me up nights till I got farly beat out, and couldn't keep awake no longer; and cause I got to sleep, one night, Lors, he talk so orful to me, and he tell me he'd sell me to just the hardest master he could find; and he'd promised me my freedom, too, when he died."
"Had you any friends?" said Emmeline.
"Yes, my husband, -- he's a blacksmith. Mas'r gen'ly hired him out. They
took me off so quick, I didn't even have time to see him; and I's got four
children. O, dear me!" said the woman, covering her face with her hands.
It is a natural impulse, in every one, when they hear a tale of distress, to think of something to say by way of consolation. Emmeline wanted to say something, but she could not think of anything to say. What was there to be said? As by a common consent, they both avoided, with fear and dread, all mention of the horrible man who was now their master.
True, there is religious trust for even the darkest hour. The mulatto woman was a member of the Methodist church, and had an unenlightened but very sincere spirit of piety. Emmeline had been educated much more intelligently, -- taught to read and write, and diligently instructed in the Bible, by the care of a faithful and pious mistress; yet, would it not try the faith of the firmest Christian, to find themselves abandoned, apparently, of God, in the grasp of ruthless violence? How much more must it shake the faith of Christ's poor little ones, weak in knowledge and tender in years!
The boat moved on, -- freighted with its weight of sorrow, -- up the red, muddy, turbid current, through the abrupt tortuous windings of the Red river; and sad eyes gazed wearily on the steep red-clay banks, as they glided by in dreary sameness. At last the boat stopped at a small town, and Legree, with his party, disembarked.