In Ramah there was a voice heard,weeping, and lamentation, and great mourning; Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted.
MR. HALEY and Tom jogged onward in their wagon, each, for a time, absorbed in his own reflections. Now, the reflections of two men sitting side by side are a curious thing,seated on the same seat, having the same eyes, ears, hands and organs of all sorts, and having pass before their eyes the same objects,it is wonderful what a variety we shall find in these same reflections!
As, for example, Mr. Haley: he thought first of Toms length, and breadth, and height, and what he would sell for, if he was kept fat and in good case till he got him into market. He thought of how he should make out his gang; he thought of the respective market value of certain supposititious men and women and children who were to compose it, and other kindred topics of the business; then he thought of himself, and how humane he was, that whereas other men chained their niggers hand and foot both, he only put fetters on the feet, and left Tom the use of his hands, as long as he behaved well; and he sighed to think how ungrateful human nature was, so that there was even room to doubt whether Tom appreciated his mercies. He had been taken in so by niggers whom he had favored; but still he was astonished to consider how good-natured he yet remained!
As to Tom, he was thinking over some words of an unfashionable old book, which kept running through his head, again and again, as follows: We have here no continuing city, but we seek one to come; wherefore God himself is not ashamed to be called our God; for he hath prepared for us a city. These words of an ancient volume, got up principally by ignorant and unlearned men, have, through all time, kept up, somehow, a strange sort of power over the minds of poor, simple fellows, like Tom. They stir up the soul from its depths, and rouse, as with trumpet call, courage, energy, and enthusiasm, where before was only the blackness of despair.
Mr. Haley pulled out of his pocket sundry newspapers, and began looking over their advertisements, with absorbed interest. He was not a remarkably fluent reader, and was in the habit of reading in a sort of recitative half-aloud, by way of calling in his ears to verify the deductions of his eyes. In this tone he slowly recited the following paragraph:
EXECUTORS SALE,NEGROES!Agreeably to order of court, will be sold, on Tuesday, February 20, before the Court-house door, in the town of Washington, Kentucky, the following negroes: Hagar, aged 60; John, aged 30; Ben, aged 21; Saul, aged 25; Albert, aged 14. Sold for the benefit of the creditors and heirs of the estate of Jesse Blutchford, Esq.
Ye see, I m going to get up a prime gang to take down with ye, Tom; it ll make it sociable and pleasant like,good company will, ye know. We must drive right to Washington first and foremost, and then I ll clap you into jail, while I does the business.
Tom received this agreeable intelligence quite meekly; simply wondering, in his own heart, how many of these doomed men had wives and children, and whether they would feel as he did about leaving them. It is to be confessed, too, that the naïve, off-hand information that he was to be thrown into jail by no means produced an agreeable impression on a poor fellow who had always prided himself on a strictly honest and upright course of life. Yes, Tom, we must confess it, was rather proud of his honesty, poor fellow,not having very much else to be proud of;if he had belonged to some of the higher walks of society, he, perhaps, would never have been reduced to such straits. However, the day wore on, and the evening saw Haley and Tom comfortably accommodated in Washington,the one in a tavern, and the other in a jail.
About eleven oclock the next day, a mixed throng was gathered around the court-house steps,smoking, chewing, spitting, swearing, and conversing, according to their respective tastes and turns,waiting for the auction to commence. The men and women to be sold sat in a group apart, talking in a low tone to each other. The woman who had been advertised by the name of Hagar was a regular African in feature and figure. She might have been sixty, but was older than that by hard work and disease, was partially blind, and somewhat crippled with rheumatism. By her side stood her only remaining son, Albert, a bright-looking little fellow of fourteen years. The boy was the only survivor of a large family, who had been successively sold away from her to a southern market. The mother held on to him with both her shaking hands, and eyed with intense trepidation every one who walked up to examine him.
Dey need nt call me worn out yet, said she, lifting her shaking hands. I can cook yet, and scrub, and scour,I m wuth a buying, if I do come cheap;tell em dat ar,you tell em, she added, earnestly.
Haley here forced his way into the group, walked up to the old man, pulled his mouth open and looked in, felt of his teeth, made him stand and straighten himself, bend his back, and perform various evolutions to show his muscles; and then passed on to the next, and put him through the same trial. Walking up last to the boy, he felt of his arms, straightened his hands, and looked at his fingers, and made him jump, to show his agility.
On plantation? said Haley, with a contemptuous glance. Likely story! and, as if satisfied with his examination, he walked out and looked, and stood with his hands in his pocket, his cigar in his mouth, and his hat cocked on one side, ready for action.
Them that s got money to spend that ar way, it s all well enough. I shall bid off on that ar boy for a plantation-hand;would nt be bothered with her, no way,not if they d give her to me, said Haley.
The conversation was here interrupted by a busy hum in the audience; and the auctioneer, a short, bustling, important fellow, elbowed his way into the crowd. The old woman drew in her breath, and caught instinctively at her son.
The stentorian tones of the auctioneer, calling out to clear the way, now announced that the sale was about to commence. A place was cleared, and the bidding began. The different men on the list were soon knocked off at prices which showed a pretty brisk demand in the market; two of them fell to Haley.
Be off, said the man, gruffly, pushing her hands away; you come last. Now, darkey, spring; and, with the word, he pushed the boy toward the block, while a deep, heavy groan rose behind him. The boy paused, and looked back; but there was no time to stay, and, dashing the tears from his large, bright eyes, he was up in a moment.
His fine figure, alert limbs, and bright face, raised an instant competition, and half a dozen bids simultaneously met the ear of the auctioneer. Anxious, half-frightened, he looked from side to side, as he heard the clatter of contending bids,now here, now there,till the hammer fell. Haley had got him. He was pushed from the block toward his new master, but stopped one moment, and looked back, when his poor old mother, trembling in every limb, held out her shaking hands toward him.
Now! said Haley, pushing his three purchases together, and producing a bundle of handcuffs, which he proceeded to put on their wrists; and fastening each handcuff to a long chain, he drove them before him to the jail.
A few days saw Haley, with his possessions, safely deposited on one of the Ohio boats. It was the commencement of his gang, to be augmented, as the boat moved on, by various other merchandise of the same kind, which he, or his agent, had stored for him in various points along shore.
The La Belle Rivière, as brave and beautiful a boat as ever walked the waters of her namesake river, was floating gayly down the stream, under a brilliant sky, the stripes and stars of free America waving and fluttering over head; the guards crowded with well-dressed ladies and gentlemen walking and enjoying the delightful day. All was full of life, buoyant and rejoicing;all but Haleys gang, who were stored, with other freight, on the lower deck, and who, somehow, did not seem to appreciate their various privileges, as they sat in a knot, talking to each other in low tones.
The boys addressed responded the invariable Yes, Masr, for ages the watchword of poor Africa; but it s to be owned they did not look particularly cheerful; they had their various little prejudices in favor of wives, mothers, sisters, and children, seen for the last time,and though they that wasted them required of them mirth, it was not instantly forthcoming.
Poor John! It was rather natural; and the tears that fell, as he spoke, came as naturally as if he had been a white man. Tom drew a long breath from a sore heart, and tried, in his poor way, to comfort him.
And over head, in the cabin, sat fathers and mothers, husbands and wives; and merry, dancing children moved round among them, like so many little butterflies, and everything was going on quite easy and comfortable.
O, there s a great deal to be said on both sides of the subject, said a genteel woman, who sat at her state-room door sewing, while her little girl and boy were playing round her. I ve been south, and I must say I think the negroes are better off than they would be to be free.
In some respects, some of them are well off, I grant, said the lady to whose remark she had answered. The most dreadful part of slavery, to my mind, is its outrages on the feelings and affections,the separating of families, for example.
O, it does, said the first lady, eagerly; I ve lived many years in Kentucky and Virginia both, and I ve seen enough to make any ones heart sick. Suppose, maam, your two children, there, should be taken from you, and sold?
Indeed, maam, you can know nothing of them, if you say so, answered the first lady, warmly. I was born and brought up among them. I know they do feel, just as keenly,even more so, perhaps,as we do.
The lady said Indeed! yawned, and looked out the cabin window, and finally repeated, for a finale, the remark with which she had begun,After all, I think they are better off than they would be to be free.
It s undoubtedly the intention of Providence that the African race should be servants,kept in a low condition, said a grave-looking gentleman in black, a clergyman, seated by the cabin door. Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be, the scripture says.
Well, then, we ll all go ahead and buy up niggers, said the man, if that s the way of Providence,wont we, Squire? said he, turning to Haley, who had been standing, with his hands in his pockets, by the stove, and intently listening to the conversation.
Yes, continued the tall man, we must all be resigned to the decrees of Providence. Niggers must be sold, and trucked round, and kept under; it s what they s made for. Pears like this yer view s quite refreshing, ant it, stranger? said he to Haley.
I never thought on t, said Haley. I could nt have said as much, myself; I hant no larning. I took up the trade just to make a living; if t ant right, I calculated to pent on t in time, ye know.
And now you ll save yerself the trouble, wont ye? said the tall man. See what t is, now, to know scripture. If ye d only studied yer Bible, like this yer good man, ye might have knowd it before, and saved ye a heap o trouble. Ye could jist have said, Cussed bewhat s his name?and t would all have come right. And the stranger, who was no other than the honest drover whom we introduced to our readers in the Kentucky tavern, sat down, and began smoking, with a curious smile on his long, dry face.
A tall, slender young man, with a face expressive of great feeling and intelligence, here broke in, and repeated the words, All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them. I suppose, he added, that is scripture, as much as Cursed be Canaan.
As the boat stopped, a black woman came running wildly up the plank, darted into the crowd, flew up to where the slave gang sat, and threw her arms round that unfortunate piece of merchandise before enumeratedJohn, aged thirty, and with sobs and tears bemoaned him as her husband.
But what needs tell the story, told too oft,every day told,of heart-strings rent and broken,the weak broken and torn for the profit and convenience of the strong! It needs not to be told;every day is telling it,telling it, too, in the ear of One who is not deaf, though he be long silent.
The young man who had spoken for the cause of humanity and God before stood with folded arms, looking on this scene. He turned, and Haley was standing at his side. My friend, he said, speaking with thick utterance, how can you, how dare you, carry on a trade like this? Look at those poor creatures! Here I am, rejoicing in my heart that I am going home to my wife and child; and the same bell which is a signal to carry me onward towards them will part this poor man and his wife forever. Depend upon it, God will bring you into judgment for this.
If I make pretty handsomely on one or two next gangs, he thought, I reckon I ll stop off this yer; it s really getting dangerous. And he took out his pocket-book, and began adding over his accounts,a process which many gentlemen besides Mr. Haley have found a specific for an uneasy conscience.
Tom, whose fetters did not prevent his taking a moderate circuit, had drawn near the side of the boat, and stood listlessly gazing over the railings. After a time, he saw the trader returning, with an alert step, in company with a colored woman, bearing in her arms a young child. She was dressed quite respectably, and a colored man followed her, bringing along a small trunk. The woman came cheerfully onward, talking, as she came, with the man who bore her trunk, and so passed up the plank into the boat. The bell rung, the steamer whizzed, the engine groaned and coughed, and away swept the boat down the river.
If you wont believe it, look here! said the man, drawing out a paper; this yer s the bill of sale, and there s your masters name to it; and I paid down good solid cash for it, too, I can tell you,so, now!
He told me that I was going down to Louisville, to hire out as cook to the same tavern where my husband works,that s what Masr told me, his own self; and I cant believe he d lie to me, said the woman.
Then it s no account talking, said the woman, suddenly growing quite calm; and, clasping her child tighter in her arms, she sat down on her box, turned her back round, and gazed listlessly into the river.
The woman looked calm, as the boat went on; and a beautiful soft summer breeze passed like a compassionate spirit over her head,the gentle breeze, that never inquires whether the brow is dusky or fair that it fans. And she saw sunshine sparkling on the water, in golden ripples, and heard gay voices, full of ease and pleasure, talking around her everywhere; but her heart lay as if a great stone had fallen on it. Her baby raised himself up against her, and stroked her cheeks with his little hands; and, springing up and down, crowing and chatting, seemed determined to arouse her. She strained him suddenly and tightly in her arms, and slowly one tear after another fell on his wondering, unconscious face; and gradually she seemed, and little by little, to grow calmer, and busied herself with tending and nursing him.
The child, a boy of ten months, was uncommonly large and strong of his age, and very vigorous in his limbs. Never, for a moment, still, he kept his mother constantly busy in holding him, and guarding his springing activity.
Wal, said Haley, I m fillin out an order for a plantation, and I think I shall put her in. They telled me she was a good cook; and they can use her for that, or set her at the cotton-picking. She s got the right fingers for that; I looked at em. Sell well, either way; and Haley resumed his cigar.
I ve got a good place for raisin, and I thought of takin in a little more stock, said the man. One cook lost a young un last week,got drownded in a wash-tub, while she was a hangin out clothes,and I reckon it would be well enough to set her to raisin this yer.
Well, now, said Haley, I could raise that ar chap myself, or get him raised; he s oncommon likely and healthy, and he d fetch a hundred dollars, six months hence; and, in a year or two, he d bring two hundred, if I had him in the right spot;so I shant take a cent less nor fifty for him now.
Louisville, said Haley. Very fair, we get there about dusk. Chap will be asleep,all fair,get him off quietly, and no screaming,happens beautiful,I like to do everything quietly,I hates all kind of agitation and fluster. And so, after a transfer of certain bills had passed from the mans pocket-book to the traders, he resumed his cigar.
It was a bright, tranquil evening when the boat stopped at the wharf at Louisville. The woman had been sitting with her baby in her arms, now wrapped in a heavy sleep. When she heard the name of the place called out, she hastily laid the child down in a little cradle formed by the hollow among the boxes, first carefully spreading under it her cloak; and then she sprung to the side of the boat, in hopes that, among the various hotel-waiters who thronged the wharf, she might see her husband. In this hope, she pressed forward to the front rails, and, stretching far over them, strained her eyes intently on the moving heads on the shore, and the crowd pressed in between her and the child.
Now s your time, said Haley, taking the sleeping child up, and handing him to the stranger. Dont wake him up, and set him to crying, now; it would make a devil of a fuss with the gal. The man took the bundle carefully, and was soon lost in the crowd that went up the wharf.
When the boat, creaking, and groaning, and puffing, had loosed from the wharf, and was beginning slowly to strain herself along, the woman returned to her old seat. The trader was sitting there,the child was gone!
Lucy, said the trader, your child s gone; you may as well know it first as last. You see, I knowd you could nt take him down south; and I got a chance to sell him to a first-rate family, that ll raise him better than you can.
The trader had arrived at that stage of Christian and political perfection which has been recommended by some preachers and politicians of the north, lately, in which he had completely overcome every humane weakness and prejudice. His heart was exactly where yours, sir, and mine could be brought, with proper effort and cultivation. The wild look of anguish and utter despair that the woman cast on him might have disturbed one less practised; but he was used to it. He had seen that same look hundreds of times. You can get used to such things, too, my friend; and it is the great object of recent efforts to make our whole northern community used to them, for the glory of the Union. So the trader only regarded the mortal anguish which he saw working in those dark features, those clenched hands, and suffocating breathings, as necessary incidents of the trade, and merely calculated whether she was going to scream, and get up a commotion on the boat; for, like other supporters of our peculiar institution, he decidedly disliked agitation.
Dizzily she sat down. Her slack hands fell lifeless by her side. Her eyes looked straight forward, but she saw nothing. All the noise and hum of the boat, the groaning of the machinery, mingled dreamily to her bewildered ear; and the poor, dumb-stricken heart had neither cry nor tear to show for its utter misery. She was quite calm.
O! Masr, if you only wont talk to me now, said the woman, in a voice of such quick and living anguish that the trader felt that there was something at present in the case beyond his style of operation. He got up, and the woman turned away, and buried her head in her cloak.
Tom had watched the whole transaction from first to last, and had a perfect understanding of its results. To him, it looked like something unutterably horrible and cruel, because, poor, ignorant black soul! he had not learned to generalize, and to take enlarged views. If he had only been instructed by certain ministers of Christianity, he might have thought better of it, and seen in it an every-day incident of a lawful trade; a trade which is the vital support of an institution which an American divine1 tells us has no evils but such as are inseparable from any other relations in social and domestic life. But Tom, as we see, being a poor, ignorant fellow, whose reading had been confined entirely to the New Testament, could not comfort and solace himself with views like these. His very soul bled within him for what seemed to him the wrongs of the poor suffering thing that lay like a crushed reed on the boxes; the feeling, living, bleeding, yet immortal thing, which American state law coolly classes with the bundles, and bales, and boxes, among which she is lying.
Tom drew near, and tried to say something; but she only groaned. Honestly, and with tears running down his own cheeks, he spoke of a heart of love in the skies, of a pitying Jesus, and an eternal home; but the ear was deaf with anguish, and the palsied heart could not feel.
Night came on,night calm, unmoved, and glorious, shining down with her innumerable and solemn angel eyes, twinkling, beautiful, but silent. There was no speech nor language, no pitying voice or helping hand, from that distant sky. One after another, the voices of business or pleasure died away; all on the boat were sleeping, and the ripples at the prow were plainly heard. Tom stretched himself out on a box, and there, as he lay, he heard, ever and anon, a smothered sob or cry from the prostrate creature,O! what shall I do? O Lord! O good Lord, do help me! and so, ever and anon, until the murmur died away in silence.
At midnight, Tom waked, with a sudden start. Something black passed quickly by him to the side of the boat, and he heard a splash in the water. No one else saw or heard anything. He raised his head,the womans place was vacant! He got up, and sought about him in vain. The poor bleeding heart was still, at last, and the river rippled and dimpled just as brightly as if it had not closed above it.
Patience! patience! ye whose hearts swell indignant at wrongs like these. Not one throb of anguish, not one tear of the oppressed, is forgotten by the Man of Sorrows, the Lord of Glory. In his patient, generous bosom he bears the anguish of a world. Bear thou, like him, in patience, and labor in love; for sure as he is God, the year of his redeemed shall come.
Now, I say, Tom, be fair about this yer, he said, when, after a fruitless search, he came where Tom was standing. You know something about it, now. Dont tell me,I know you do. I saw the gal stretched out here about ten oclock, and agin at twelve, and agin between one and two; and then at four she was gone, and you was a sleeping right there all the time. Now, you know something,you cant help it.
The trader was not shocked nor amazed; because, as we said before, he was used to a great many things that you are not used to. Even the awful presence of Death struck no solemn chill upon him. He had seen Death many times,met him in the way of trade, and got acquainted with him,and he only thought of him as a hard customer, that embarrassed his property operations very unfairly; and so he only swore that the gal was a baggage, and that he was devilish unlucky, and that, if things went on in this way, he should not make a cent on the trip. In short, he seemed to consider himself an ill-used man, decidedly; but there was no help for it, as the woman had escaped into a state which never will give up a fugitive,not even at the demand of the whole glorious Union. The trader, therefore, sat discontentedly down, with his little account-book, and put down the missing body and soul under the head of losses!
But who, sir, makes the trader? Who is most to blame? The enlightened, cultivated, intelligent man, who supports the system of which the trader is the inevitable result, or the poor trader himself? You make the public sentiment that calls for his trade, that debauches and depraves him, till he feels no shame in it; and in what are you better than he?
In concluding these little incidents of lawful trade, we must beg the world not to think that American legislators are entirely destitute of humanity, as might, perhaps, be unfairly inferred from the great efforts made in our national body to protect and perpetuate this species of traffic.
Who does not know how our great men are outdoing themselves, in declaiming against the foreign slave-trade. There are a perfect host of Clarksons and Wilberforces risen up among us on that subject, most edifying to hear and behold. Trading negroes from Africa, dear reader, is so horrid! It is not to be thought of! But trading them from Kentucky,that s quite another thing!