Chapter XI. In which Property gets into an Improper State of Mind
IT was late in a drizzly afternoon that a traveller alighted at the door of a small country hotel, in the village of N, in Kentucky. In the bar-room he found assembled quite a miscellaneous company, whom stress of weather had driven to harbor, and the place presented the usual scenery of such reunions. Great, tall, raw-boned Kentuckians, attired in hunting-shirts, and trailing their loose joints over a vast extent of territory, with the easy lounge peculiar to the race,rifles stacked away in the corner, shot-pouches, game-bags, hunting-dogs, and little negroes, all rolled together in the corners,were the characteristic features in the picture. At each end of the fireplace sat a long-legged gentleman, with his chair tipped back, his hat on his head, and the heels of his muddy boots reposing sublimely on the mantel-piece,a position, we will inform our readers, decidedly favorable to the turn of reflection incident to western taverns, where travellers exhibit a decided preference for this particular mode of elevating their understandings.
Mine host, who stood behind the bar, like most of his countrymen, was great of stature, good-natured, and loose-jointed, with an enormous shock of hair on his head, and a great tall hat on the top of that.
In fact, everybody in the room bore on his head this characteristic emblem of mans sovereignty; whether it were felt hat, palm-leaf, greasy beaver, or fine new chapeau, there it reposed with true republican independence. In truth, it appeared to be the characteristic mark of every individual. Some wore them tipped rakishly to one sidethese were your men of humor, jolly, free-and-easy dogs; some had them jammed independently down over their nosesthese were your hard characters, thorough men, who, when they wore their hats, wanted to wear them, and to wear them just as they had a mind to; there were those who had them set far over backwide-awake men, who wanted a clear prospect; while careless men, who did not know, or care, how their hats sat, had them shaking about in all directions. The various hats, in fact, were quite a Shakespearean study.
Divers negroes, in very free-and-easy pantaloons, and with no redundancy in the shirt line, were scuttling about, hither and thither, without bringing to pass any very particular results, except expressing a generic willingness to turn over everything in creation generally for the benefit of Masr and his guests. Add to this picture a jolly, crackling, rollicking fire, going rejoicingly up a great wide chimney,the outer door and every window being set wide open, and the calico window-curtain flopping and snapping in a good stiff breeze of damp raw air,and you have an idea of the jollities of a Kentucky tavern.
Your Kentuckian of the present day is a good illustration of the doctrine of transmitted instincts and peculiarities. His fathers were mighty hunters,men who lived in the woods, and slept under the free, open heavens, with the stars to hold their candles; and their descendant to this day always acts as if the house were his camp,wears his hat at all hours, tumbles himself about, and puts his heels on the tops of chairs or mantel-pieces, just as his father rolled on the green sward, and put his upon trees and logs,keeps all the windows and doors open, winter and summer, that he may get air enough for his great lungs,calls everybody stranger, with nonchalant bonhommie, and is altogether the frankest, easiest, most jovial creature living.
Into such an assembly of the free and easy our traveller entered. He was a short, thick-set man, carefully dressed, with a round, good-natured countenance, and something rather fussy and particular in his appearance. He was very careful of his valise and umbrella, bringing them in with his own hands, and resisting, pertinaciously, all offers from the various servants to relieve him of them. He looked round the bar-room with rather an anxious air, and, retreating with his valuables to the warmest corner, disposed them under his chair, sat down, and looked rather apprehensively up at the worthy whose heels illustrated the end of the mantel-piece, who was spitting from right to left, with a courage and energy rather alarming to gentlemen of weak nerves and particular habits.
The old gentleman uniformly gave a little start whenever his long-sided brother fired in his direction; and this being observed by his companion, he very good-naturedly turned his artillery to another quarter, and proceeded to storm one of the fire-irons with a degree of military talent fully sufficient to take a city.
Mr. Wilson, for that was the old gentlemans name, rose up, and, after carefully adjusting his valise and umbrella, proceeded deliberately to take out his spectacles and fix them on his nose; and, this operation being performed, read as follows:
Ran away from the subscriber, my mulatto boy, George. Said George six feet in height, a very light mulatto, brown curly hair; is very intelligent, speaks handsomely, can read and write; will probably try to pass for a white man; is deeply scarred on his back and shoulders; has been branded in his right hand with the letter H.
I will give four hundred dollars for him alive, and the same sum for satisfactory proof that he has been killed.
The long-legged veteran, who had been besieging the fire-iron, as before related, now took down his cumbrous length, and rearing aloft his tall form, walked up to the advertisement, and very deliberately spit a full discharge of tobacco-juice on it.
I d do it all the same to the writer of that ar paper, if he was here, said the long man, coolly resuming his old employment of cutting tobacco. Any man that owns a boy like that, and cant find any better way o treating on him, deserves to lose him. Such papers as these is a shame to Kentucky; that s my mind right out, if anybody wants to know!
I ve got a gang of boys, sir, said the long man, resuming his attack on the fire-irons, and I jest tells emBoys, says I,run now! dig! put! jest when ye want to! I never shall come to look after you! That s the way I keep mine. Let em know they are free to run any time, and it jest breaks up their wanting to. More n all, I ve got free papers for em all recorded, in case I gets keeled up any o these times, and they knows it; and I tell ye, stranger, there ant a fellow in our parts gets more out of his niggers than I do. Why, my boys have been to Cincinnati, with five hundred dollars worth of colts, and brought me back the money, all straight, time and agin. It stands to reason they should. Treat em like dogs, and you ll have dogs works and dogs actions. Treat em like men, and you ll have mens works. And the honest drover, in his warmth, endorsed this moral sentiment by firing a perfect feu de joie at the fireplace.
I think you re altogether right, friend, said Mr. Wilson; and this boy described here is a fine fellowno mistake about that. He worked for me some half-dozen years in my bagging factory, and he was my best hand, sir. He is an ingenious fellow, too: he invented a machine for the cleaning of hempa really valuable affair; it s gone into use in several factories. His master holds the patent of it.
I ll warrant ye, said the drover, holds it and makes money out of it, and then turns round and brands the boy in his right hand. If I had a fair chance, I d mark him, I reckon, so that he d carry it one while.
These yer knowin boys is allers aggravatin and sarcy, said a coarse-looking fellow, from the other side of the room; that s why they gets cut up and marked so. If they behaved themselves, they would nt.
Bright niggers is nt no kind of vantage to their masters, continued the other, well intrenched, in a coarse, unconscious obtuseness, from the contempt of his opponent; what s the use o talents and them things, if you cant get the use on em yourself? Why, all the use they make on t is to get round you. I ve had one or two of these fellers, and I jest sold em down river. I knew I d got to lose em, first or last, if I did nt.
Here the conversation was interrupted by the approach of a small one-horse buggy to the inn. It had a genteel appearance, and a well-dressed, gentlemanly man sat on the seat, with a colored servant driving.
The whole party examined the new comer with the interest with which a set of loafers in a rainy day usually examine every new comer. He was very tall, with a dark, Spanish complexion, fine, expressive black eyes, and close-curling hair, also of a glossy blackness. His well-formed aquiline nose, straight thin lips, and the admirable contour of his finely-formed limbs, impressed the whole company instantly with the idea of something uncommon. He walked easily in among the company, and with a nod indicated to his waiter where to place his trunk, bowed to the company, and, with his hat in his hand, walked up leisurely to the bar, and gave in his name as Henry Butler, Oaklands, Shelby County. Turning, with an indifferent air, he sauntered up to the advertisement, and read it over.
Well, I did nt look, of course, said the stranger, with a careless yawn. Then, walking up to the landlord, he desired him to furnish him with a private apartment, as he had some writing to do immediately.
The landlord was all obsequious, and a relay of about seven negroes, old and young, male and female, little and big, were soon whizzing about, like a covey of partridges, bustling, hurrying, treading on each others toes, and tumbling over each other, in their zeal to get Masrs room ready, while he seated himself easily on a chair in the middle of the room, and entered into conversation with the man who sat next to him.
The manufacturer, Mr. Wilson, from the time of the entrance of the stranger, had regarded him with an air of disturbed and uneasy curiosity. He seemed to himself to have met and been acquainted with him somewhere, but he could not recollect. Every few moments, when the man spoke, or moved, or smiled, he would start and fix his eyes on him, and then suddenly withdraw them, as the bright, dark eyes met his with such unconcerned coolness. At last, a sudden recollection seemed to flash upon him, for he stared at the stranger with such an air of blank amazement and alarm, that he walked up to him.
Jim, see to the trunks, said the gentleman, negligently; then addressing himself to Mr. Wilson, he addedI should like to have a few moments conversation with you on business, in my room, if you please.
Mr. Wilson followed him, as one who walks in his sleep; and they proceeded to a large upper chamber, where a new-made fire was crackling, and various servants flying about, putting finishing touches to the arrangements.
When all was done, and the servants departed, the young man deliberately locked the door, and putting the key in his pocket, faced about, and folding his arms on his bosom, looked Mr. Wilson full in the face.
I am pretty well disguised, I fancy, said the young man, with a smile. A little walnut bark has made my yellow skin a genteel brown, and I ve dyed my hair black; so you see I dont answer to the advertisement at all.
We remark, en passant, that George was, by his fathers side, of white descent. His mother was one of those unfortunates of her race, marked out by personal beauty to be the slave of the passions of her possessor, and the mother of children who may never know a father. From one of the proudest families in Kentucky he had inherited a set of fine European features, and a high, indomitable spirit. From his mother he had received only a slight mulatto tinge, amply compensated by its accompanying rich, dark eye. A slight change in the tint of the skin and the color of his hair had metamorphosed him into the Spanish-looking fellow he then appeared; and as gracefulness of movement and gentlemanly manners had always been perfectly natural to him, he found no difficulty in playing the bold part he had adoptedthat of a gentleman travelling with his domestic.
Mr. Wilson, a good-natured but extremely fidgety and cautious old gentleman, ambled up and down the room, appearing, as John Bunyan hath it, much tumbled up and down in his mind, and divided between his wish to help George, and a certain confused notion of maintaining law and order: so, as he shambled about, he delivered himself as follows:
Well, George, I spose you re running awayleaving your lawful master, George(I dont wonder at it)at the same time, I m sorry, George,yes, decidedlyI think I must say that, Georgeit s my duty to tell you so.
Why, George, nonoit wont do; this way of talking is wickedunscriptural. George, you ve got a hard masterin fact, he iswell he conducts himself reprehensiblyI cant pretend to defend him. But you know how the angel commanded Hagar to return to her mistress, and submit herself under her hand; and the apostle sent back Onesimus to his master.
Dont quote Bible at me that way, Mr. Wilson, said George, with a flashing eye, dont! for my wife is a Christian, and I mean to be, if ever I get to where I can; but to quote Bible to a fellow in my circumstances, is enough to make him give it up altogether. I appeal to God Almighty;I m willing to go with the case to Him, and ask Him if I do wrong to seek my freedom.
These feelings are quite natural, George, said the good-natured man, blowing his nose. Yes, they re natural, but it is my duty not to encourage em in you. Yes, my boy, I m sorry for you, now; it s a bad casevery bad; but the apostle says, Let every one abide in the condition in which he is called. We must all submit to the indications of Providence, George,dont you see?
I wonder, Mr. Wilson, if the Indians should come and take you a prisoner away from your wife and children, and want to keep you all your life hoeing corn for them, if you d think it your duty to abide in the condition in which you were called. I rather think that you d think the first stray horse you could find an indication of Providenceshould nt you?
The little old gentleman stared with both eyes at this illustration of the case; but, though not much of a reasoner, he had the sense in which some logicians on this particular subject do not excel,that of saying nothing, where nothing could be said. So, as he stood carefully stroking his umbrella, and folding and patting down all the creases in it, he proceeded on with his exhortations in a general way.
You see, George, you know, now, I always have stood your friend; and whatever I ve said, I ve said for your good. Now, here, it seems to me, you re running an awful risk. You cant hope to carry it out. If you re taken, it will be worse with you than ever; they ll only abuse you, and half kill you, and sell you down river.
Mr. Wilson, I know all this, said George. I do run a risk, but he threw open his overcoat, and showed two pistols and a bowie-knife. There! he said, I m ready for em! Down south I never will go. No! if it comes to that, I can earn myself at least six feet of free soil,the first and last I shall ever own in Kentucky!
MY country again! Mr. Wilson, you have a country; but what country have I, or any one like me, born of slave mothers? What laws are there for us? We dont make them,we dont consent to them,we have nothing to do with them; all they do for us is to crush us, and keep us down. Have nt I heard your Fourth-of-July speeches? Dont you tell us all, once a year, that governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed? Cant a fellow think, that hears such things? Cant he put this and that together, and see what it comes to?
Mr. Wilsons mind was one of those that may not unaptly be represented by a bale of cotton,downy, soft, benevolently fuzzy and confused. He really pitied George with all his heart, and had a sort of dim and cloudy perception of the style of feeling that agitated him; but he deemed it his duty to go on talking good to him, with infinite pertinacity.
George, this is bad. I must tell you, you know, as a friend, you d better not be meddling with such notions; they are bad, George, very bad, for boys in your condition,very; and Mr. Wilson sat down to a table, and began nervously chewing the handle of his umbrella.
See here, now, Mr. Wilson, said George, coming up and sitting himself determinately down in front of him; look at me, now. Dont I sit before you, every way, just as much a man as you are? Look at my face,look at my hands,look at my body, and the young man drew himself up proudly; why am I not a man, as much as anybody? Well, Mr. Wilson, hear what I can tell you. I had a fatherone of your Kentucky gentlemenwho did nt think enough of me to keep me from being sold with his dogs and horses, to satisfy the estate, when he died. I saw my mother put up at sheriffs sale, with her seven children. They were sold before her eyes, one by one, all to different masters; and I was the youngest. She came and kneeled down before old Masr, and begged him to buy her with me, that she might have at least one child with her; and he kicked her away with his heavy boot. I saw him do it; and the last that I heard was her moans and screams, when I was tied to his horses neck, to be carried off to his place.
My master traded with one of the men, and bought my oldest sister. She was a pious, good girl,a member of the Baptist church,and as handsome as my poor mother had been. She was well brought up, and had good manners. At first, I was glad she was bought, for I had one friend near me. I was soon sorry for it. Sir, I have stood at the door and heard her whipped, when it seemed as if every blow cut into my naked heart, and I could nt do anything to help her; and she was whipped, sir, for wanting to live a decent Christian life, such as your laws give no slave girl a right to live; and at last I saw her chained with a traders gang, to be sent to market in Orleans,sent there for nothing else but that,and that s the last I know of her. Well, I grew up,long years and years,no father, no mother, no sister, not a living soul that cared for me more than a dog; nothing but whipping, scolding, starving. Why, sir, I ve been so hungry that I have been glad to take the bones they threw to their dogs; and yet, when I was a little fellow, and laid awake whole nights and cried, it was nt the hunger, it was nt the whipping, I cried for. No, sir; it was for my mother and my sisters,it was because I had nt a friend to love me on earth. I never knew what peace or comfort was. I never had a kind word spoken to me till I came to work in your factory. Mr. Wilson, you treated me well; you encouraged me to do well, and to learn to read and write, and to try to make something of myself; and God knows how grateful I am for it. Then, sir, I found my wife; you ve seen her,you know how beautiful she is. When I found she loved me, when I married her, I scarcely could believe I was alive, I was so happy; and, sir, she is as good as she is beautiful. But now what? Why, now comes my master, takes me right away from my work, and my friends, and all I like, and grinds me down into the very dirt! And why? Because, he says, I forgot who I was; he says, to teach me that I am only a nigger! After all, and last of all, he comes between me and my wife, and says I shall give her up, and live with another woman. And all this your laws give him power to do, in spite of God or man. Mr. Wilson, look at it! There is nt one of all these things, that have broken the hearts of my mother and my sister, and my wife and myself, but your laws allow, and give every man power to do, in Kentucky, and none can say to him nay! Do you call these the laws of my country? Sir, I have nt any country, any more than I have any father. But I m going to have one. I dont want anything of your country, except to be let alone,to go peaceably out of it; and when I get to Canada, where the laws will own me and protect me, that shall be my country, and its laws I will obey. But if any man tries to stop me, let him take care, for I am desperate. I ll fight for my liberty to the last breath I breathe. You say your fathers did it; if it was right for them, it is right for me!
This speech, delivered partly while sitting at the table, and partly walking up and down the room,delivered with tears, and flashing eyes, and despairing gestures,was altogether too much for the good-natured old body to whom it was addressed, who had pulled out a great yellow silk pocket-handkerchief, and was mopping up his face with great energy.
Blast em all! he suddenly broke out. Have nt I always said sothe infernal old cusses! I hope I ant swearing, now. Well! go ahead, George, go ahead; but be careful, my boy; dont shoot anybody, George, unlesswellyou d better not shoot, I reckon; at least, I would nt hit anybody, you know. Where is your wife, George? he added, as he nervously rose, and began walking the room.
Well, well, said the honest old man, fumbling in his pocket. I spose, perhaps, I ant following my judgment,hang it, I wont follow my judgment! he added, suddenly; so here, George, and, taking out a roll of bills from his pocket-book, he offered them to George.
A true fellow, who went to Canada more than a year ago. He heard, after he got there, that his master was so angry at him for going off that he had whipped his poor old mother; and he has come all the way back to comfort her, and get a chance to get her away.
Mr. Wilson, it is so bold, and this tavern is so near, that they will never think of it; they will look for me on ahead, and you yourself would nt know me. Jims master dont live in this county; he is nt known in these parts. Besides, he is given up; nobody is looking after him, and nobody will take me up from the advertisement, I think.
That is a parting proof of Mr. Harris regard, he said, scornfully. A fortnight ago, he took it into his head to give it to me, because he said he believed I should try to get away one of these days. Looks interesting, does nt it? he said, drawing his glove on again.
Well, my good sir, continued George, after a few moments silence, I saw you knew me; I thought I d just have this talk with you, lest your surprised looks should bring me out. I leave early to-morrow morning, before daylight; by to-morrow night I hope to sleep safe in Ohio. I shall travel by daylight, stop at the best hotels, go to the dinner-tables with the lords of the land. So, good-by, sir; if you hear that I m taken, you may know that I m dead!
George stood up like a rock, and put out his hand with the air of a prince. The friendly little old man shook it heartily, and after a little shower of caution, he took his umbrella, and fumbled his way out of the room.
Well, sir,what you said was true. I am running a dreadful risk. There is nt, on earth, a living soul to care if I die, he added, drawing his breath hard, and speaking with a great effort,I shall be kicked out and buried like a dog, and nobody ll think of it a day after,only my poor wife! Poor soul! she ll mourn and grieve; and if you d only contrive, Mr. Wilson, to send this little pin to her. She gave it to me for a Christmas present, poor child! Give it to her, and tell her I loved her to the last. Will you? Will you? he added, earnestly.
Tell her one thing, said George; it s my last wish, if she can get to Canada, to go there. No matter how kind her mistress is,no matter how much she loves her home; beg her not to go back,for slavery always ends in misery. Tell her to bring up our boy a free man, and then he wont suffer as I have. Tell her this, Mr. Wilson, will you?
Is there a God to trust in? said George, in such a tone of bitter despair as arrested the old gentlemans words. O, I ve seen things all my life that have made me feel that there cant be a God. You Christians dont know how these things look to us. There s a God for you, but is there any for us?
O, now, dontdont, my boy! said the old man, almost sobbing as he spoke; dont feel so! There isthere is; clouds and darkness are around about him, but righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. There s a God, George,believe it; trust in Him, and I m sure He ll help you. Everything will be set right,if not in this life, in another.
The real piety and benevolence of the simple old man invested him with a temporary dignity and authority, as he spoke. George stopped his distracted walk up and down the room, stood thoughtfully a moment, and then said, quietly,