THE FEBRUARY morning looked gray and drizzling through the window of Uncle Toms cabin. It looked on downcast faces, the images of mournful hearts. The little table stood out before the fire, covered with an ironing-cloth; a coarse but clean shirt or two, fresh from the iron, hung on the back of a chair by the fire, and Aunt Chloe had another spread out before her on the table. Carefully she rubbed and ironed every fold and every hem, with the most scrupulous exactness, every now and then raising her hand to her face to wipe off the tears that were coursing down her cheeks.
Aunt Chloe did not answer, only rubbed away over and over on the coarse shirt, already as smooth as hands could make it; and finally setting her iron suddenly down with a despairing plunge, she sat down to the table, and lifted up her voice and wept.
Spose we must be resigned; but oh Lord! how ken I? If I knowd anything whar you s goin, or how they d sarve you! Missis says she ll try and deem ye, in a year or two; but Lor! nobody never comes up that goes down thar! They kills em! I ve hearn em tell how dey works em up on dem ar plantations.
I m in the Lords hands, said Tom; nothin can go no furder than he lets it;and thar s one thing I can thank him for. It s me that s sold and going down, and not you nur the chilen. Here you re safe;what comes will come only on me; and the Lord, he ll help me,I know he will.
Marcies! said Aunt Chloe; dont see no marcy in t! tant right! tant right it should be so! Masr never ought ter left it so that ye could be took for his debts. Ye ve arnt him all he gets for ye, twice over. He owed ye yer freedom, and ought ter gin t to yer years ago. Mebbe he cant help himself now, but I feel it s wrong. Nothing cant beat that ar out o me. Sich a faithful crittur as ye ve been,and allers sot his business fore yer own every way,and reckoned on him more than yer own wife and chilen! Them as sells hearts love and hearts blood, to get out thar scrapes, de Lord ll be up to em!
Chloe! now, if ye love me, ye wont talk so, when perhaps jest the last time we ll ever have together! And I ll tell ye, Chloe, it goes agin me to hear one word agin Masr. Want he put in my arms a baby?it s natur I should think a heap of him. And he could nt be spected to think so much of poor Tom. Masrs is used to havin all these yer things done for em, and natlly they dont think so much on t. They cant be spected to, no way. Set him longside of other Masrswho s had the treatment and the livin I ve had? And he never would have let this yer come on me, if he could have seed it aforehand. I know he would nt.
Wal, any way, thar s wrong about it somewhar, said Aunt Chloe, in whom a stubborn sense of justice was a predominant trait; I cant jest make out whar t is, but thar s wrong somewhar, I m clar o that.
It dont seem to comfort me, but I spect it orter, said Aunt Chloe. But dar s no use talkin; I ll jes wet up de corn-cake, and get ye one good breakfast, cause nobody knows when you ll get another.
In order to appreciate the sufferings of the negroes sold south, it must be remembered that all the instinctive affections of that race are peculiarly strong. Their local attachments are very abiding. They are not naturally daring and enterprising, but home-loving and affectionate. Add to this all the terrors with which ignorance invests the unknown, and add to this, again, that selling to the south is set before the negro from childhood as the last severity of punishment. The threat that terrifies more than whipping or torture of any kind is the threat of being sent down river. We have ourselves heard this feeling expressed by them, and seen the unaffected horror with which they will sit in their gossipping hours, and tell frightful stories of that down river, which to them is
A missionary figure among the fugitives in Canada told us that many of the fugitives confessed themselves to have escaped from comparatively kind masters, and that they were induced to brave the perils of escape, in almost every case, by the desperate horror with which they regarded being sold south,a doom which was hanging either over themselves or their husbands, their wives or children. This nerves the African, naturally patient, timid and unenterprising, with heroic courage, and leads him to suffer hunger, cold, pain, the perils of the wilderness, and the more dread penalties of re-capture.
The simple morning meal now smoked on the table, for Mrs. Shelby had excused Aunt Chloes attendance at the great house that morning. The poor soul had expended all her little energies on this farewell feast,had killed and dressed her choicest chicken, and prepared her corn-cake with scrupulous exactness, just to her husbands taste, and brought out certain mysterious jars on the mantel-piece, some preserves that were never produced except on extreme occasions.
Thar! said Aunt Chloe, wiping her eyes and taking up the baby; now I s done, I hope,now do eat something. This yer s my nicest chicken. Thar, boys, ye shall have some, poor critturs! Yer mammy s been cross to yer.
Now, said Aunt Chloe, bustling about after breakfast, I must put up yer clothes. Jest like as not, he ll take em all away. I know thar waysmean as dirt, they is! Wal, now, yer flannels for rhumatis is in this corner; so be carful, cause there wont nobody make ye no more. Then here s yer old shirts, and these yer is new ones. I toed off these yer stockings last night, and put de ball in em to mend with. But Lor! who ll ever mend for ye? and Aunt Chloe, again overcome, laid her head on the box side, and sobbed. To think on t! no crittur to do for ye, sick or well! I dont railly think I ought ter be good now!
The boys, having eaten everything there was on the breakfast-table, began now to take some thought of the case; and, seeing their mother crying, and their father looking very sad, began to whimper and put their hands to their eyes. Uncle Tom had the baby on his knee, and was letting her enjoy herself to the utmost extent, scratching his face and pulling his hair, and occasionally breaking out into clamorous explosions of delight, evidently arising out of her own internal reflections.
Ay, crow away, poor crittur! said Aunt Chloe; ye ll have to come to it, too! ye ll live to see yer husband sold, or mebbe be sold yerself; and these yer boys, they s to be sold, I spose, too, jest like as not, when dey gets good for somethin; ant no use in niggers havin nothin!
Lor, now, Missis, dontdont! said Aunt Chloe, bursting out in her turn; and for a few moments they all wept in company. And in those tears they all shed together, the high and the lowly, melted away all the heart-burnings and anger of the oppressed. O, ye who visit the distressed, do ye know that everything your money can buy, given with a cold, averted face, is not worth one honest tear shed in real sympathy?
My good fellow, said Mrs. Shelby, I cant give you anything to do you any good. If I give you money, it will only be taken from you. But I tell you solemnly, and before God, that I will keep trace of you, and bring you back as soon as I can command the money;and, till then, trust in God!
Here the boys called out that Masr Haley was coming, and then an unceremonious kick pushed open the door. Haley stood there in very ill humor, having ridden hard the night before, and being not at all pacified by his ill success in recapturing his prey.
Tom rose up meekly, to follow his new master, and raised up his heavy box on his shoulder. His wife took the baby in her arms to go with him to the wagon, and the children, still crying, trailed on behind.
Mrs. Shelby, walking up to the trader, detained him for a few moments, talking with him in an earnest manner; and while she was thus talking, the whole family party proceeded to a wagon, that stood ready harnessed at the door. A crowd of all the old and young hands on the place stood gathered around it, to bid farewell to their old associate. Tom had been looked up to, both as a head servant and a Christian teacher, by all the place, and there was much honest sympathy and grief about him, particularly among the women.
George had gone to spend two or three days with a companion on a neighboring estate, and having departed early in the morning, before Toms misfortune had been made public, had left without hearing of it.
Mr. Shelby at this time was not at home. He had sold Tom under the spur of a driving necessity, to get out of the power of a man whom he dreaded,and his first feeling, after the consummation of the bargain, had been that of relief. But his wifes expostulations awoke his half-slumbering regrets; and Toms manly disinterestedness increased the unpleasantness of his feelings. It was in vain that he said to himself that he had a right to do it,that everybody did it,and that some did it without even the excuse of necessity;he could not satisfy his own feelings; and that he might not witness the unpleasant scenes of the consummation, he had gone on a short business tour up the country, hoping that all would be over before he returned.
Tom and Haley rattled on along the dusty road, whirling past every old familiar spot, until the bounds of the estate were fairly passed, and they found themselves out on the open pike. After they had ridden about a mile, Haley suddenly drew up at the door of a blacksmiths shop, when, taking out with him a pair of handcuffs, he stepped into the shop, to have a little alteration in them.
Yes, yes, said Haley; but your good fellers are just the critturs to want ter run off. Them stupid ones, as does nt care whar they go, and shifless, drunken ones, as dont care for nothin, they ll stick by, and like as not be rather pleased to be toted round; but these yer prime fellers, they hates it like sin. No way but to fetter em; got legs,they ll use em,no mistake.
Wal, he s got a far chance. I promised to do well by him. I ll get him in house-servant in some good old family, and then, if he stands the fever and climating, he ll have a berth good as any nigger ought ter ask for.
Tom was sitting very mournfully on the outside of the shop while this conversation was going on. Suddenly he heard the quick, short click of a horses hoof behind him; and, before he could fairly awake from his surprise, young Master George sprang into the wagon, threw his arms tumultuously round his neck, and was sobbing and scolding with energy.
O! Masr George! this does me good! said Tom. I could nt bar to go off without seein ye! It does me real good, ye cant tell! Here Tom made some movement of his feet, and Georges eye fell on the fetters.
Well, I wont, then, for your sake; but only to think of itis nt it a shame? They never sent for me, nor sent me any word, and, if it had nt been for Tom Lincon, I should nt have heard it. I tell you, I blew em up well, all of em, at home!
But you shall take it! said George; look hereI told Aunt Chloe I d do it, and she advised me just to make a hole in it, and put a string through, so you could hang it round your neck, and keep it out of sight; else this mean scamp would take it away. I tell ye, Tom, I want to blow him up! it would do me good!
Well, I wont, for your sake, said George, busily tying his dollar round Toms neck; but there, now, button your coat tight over it, and keep it, and remember, every time you see it, that I ll come down after you, and bring you back. Aunt Chloe and I have been talking about it. I told her not to fear; I ll see to it, and I ll tease fathers life out, if he dont do it.
And now, Masr George, said Tom, ye must be a good boy; member how many hearts is sot on ye. Alays keep close to yer mother. Dont be gettin into any of them foolish ways boys has of gettin too big to mind their mothers. Tell ye what, Masr George, the Lord gives good many things twice over; but he dont give ye a mother but once. Ye ll never see sich another woman, Masr George, if ye live to be a hundred years old. So, now, you hold on to her, and grow up, and be a comfort to her, thar s my own good boy,you will now, wont ye?
And be careful of yer speaking, Masr George. Young boys, when they comes to your age, is wilful, sometimesit s natur they should be. But real gentlemen, such as I hopes you ll be, never lets fall on words that is nt spectful to thar parents. Ye ant fended, Masr George?
I s older, ye know, said Tom, stroking the boys fine, curly head with his large, strong hand, but speaking in a voice as tender as a womans, and I sees all that s bound up in you. O, Masr George, you has everything,larnin, privileges, readin, writin,and you ll grow up to be a great, learned, good man, and all the people on the place and your mother and father ll be so proud on ye! Be a good Masr, like yer father; and be a Christian, like yer mother. Member yer Creator in the days o yer youth, Masr George.
I ll be real good, Uncle Tom, I tell you, said George. I m going to be a first-rater; and dont you be discouraged. I ll have you back to the place, yet. As I told Aunt Chloe this morning, I ll build our house all over, and you shall have a room for a parlor with a carpet on it, when I m a man. O, you ll have good times yet!
I ll never do either, when I m a man, said George; I m ashamed, this day, that I m a Kentuckian. I always was proud of it before; and George sat very straight on his horse, and looked round with an air, as if he expected the state would be impressed with his opinion.
Good-by, Masr George, said Tom, looking fondly and admiringly at him. God Almighty bless you! Ah! Kentucky hant got many like you! he said, in the fulness of his heart, as the frank, boyish face was lost to his view. Away he went, and Tom looked, till the clatter of his horses heels died away, the last sound or sight of his home. But over his heart there seemed to be a warm spot, where those young hands had placed that precious dollar. Tom put up his hand, and held it close to his heart.
Now, I tell ye what, Tom, said Haley, as he came up to the wagon, and threw in the hand-cuffs, I mean to start far with ye, as I genally do with my niggers; and I ll tell ye now, to begin with, you treat me far, and I ll treat you far; I ant never hard on my niggers. Calculates to do the best for em I can. Now, ye see, you d better jest settle down comfortable, and not be tryin no tricks; because niggers tricks of all sorts I m up to, and it s no use. If niggers is quiet, and dont try to get off, they has good times with me; and if they dont, why, it s thar fault, and not mine.
Tom assured Haley that he had no present intentions of running off. In fact, the exhortation seemed rather a superfluous one to a man with a great pair of iron fetters on his feet. But Mr. Haley had got in the habit of commencing his relations with his stock with little exhortations of this nature, calculated, as he deemed, to inspire cheerfulness and confidence, and prevent the necessity of any unpleasant scenes.