THERE was a gentle bustle at the Quaker house, as the afternoon drew to a close. Rachel Halliday moved quietly to and fro, collecting from her household stores such needments as could be arranged in the smallest compass, for the wanderers who were to go forth that night. The afternoon shadows stretched eastward, and the round red sun stood thoughtfully on the horizon, and his beams shone yellow and calm into the little bed-room where George and his wife were sitting. He was sitting with his child on his knee, and his wifes hand in his. Both looked thoughtful and serious, and traces of tears were on their cheeks.
Yes, Eliza, said George, I know all you say is true. You are a good child,a great deal better than I am; and I will try to do as you say. I ll try to act worthy of a free man. I ll try to feel like a Christian. God Almighty knows that I ve meant to do well,tried hard to do well,when everything has been against me; and now I ll forget all the past, and put away every hard and bitter feeling, and read my Bible, and learn to be a good man.
Yes, Eliza, so long as we have each other and our boy. O! Eliza, if these people only knew what a blessing it is for a man to feel that his wife and child belong to him! I ve often wondered to see men that could call their wives and children their own fretting and worrying about anything else. Why, I feel rich and strong, though we have nothing but our bare hands. I feel as if I could scarcely ask God for any more. Yes, though I ve worked hard every day, till I am twenty-five years old, and have not a cent of money, nor a roof to cover me, nor a spot of land to call my own, yet, if they will only let me alone now, I will be satisfied,thankful; I will work, and send back the money for you and my boy. As to my old master, he has been paid five times over for all he ever spent for me. I dont owe him anything.
Simeon Halliday was there, and with him a Quaker brother, whom he introduced as Phineas Fletcher. Phineas was tall and lathy, red-haired, with an expression of great acuteness and shrewdness in his face. He had not the placid, quiet, unworldly air of Simeon Halliday; on the contrary, a particularly wide-awake and au fait appearance, like a man who rather prides himself on knowing what he is about, and keeping a bright look-out ahead; peculiarities which sorted rather oddly with his broad brim and formal phraseology.
That I have, said Phineas, and it shows the use of a mans always sleeping with one ear open, in certain places, as I ve always said. Last night I stopped at a little lone tavern, back on the road. Thee remembers the place, Simeon, where we sold some apples, last year, to that fat woman, with the great ear-rings. Well, I was tired with hard driving; and, after my supper, I stretched myself down on a pile of bags in the corner, and pulled a buffalo over me, to wait till my bed was ready; and what does I do, but get fast asleep.
No; I slept, ears and all, for an hour or two, for I was pretty well tired; but when I came to myself a little, I found that there were some men in the room, sitting round a table, drinking and talking; and I thought, before I made much muster, I d just see what they were up to, especially as I heard them say something about the Quakers. So, says one, they are up in the Quaker settlement, no doubt, says he. Then I listened with both ears, and I found that they were talking about this very party. So I lay and heard them lay off all their plans. This young man, they said, was to be sent back to Kentucky, to his master, who was going to make an example of him, to keep all niggers from running away; and his wife two of them were going to run down to New Orleans to sell, on their own account, and they calculated to get sixteen or eighteen hundred dollars for her; and the child, they said, was going to a trader, who had bought him; and then there was the boy, Jim, and his mother, they were to go back to their masters in Kentucky. They said that there were two constables, in a town a little piece ahead, who would go in with em to get em taken up, and the young woman was to be taken before a judge; and one of the fellows, who is small and smooth-spoken, was to swear to her for his property, and get her delivered over to him to take south. They ve got a right notion of the track we are going to-night; and they ll be down after us, six or eight strong. So, now, what s to be done?
The group that stood in various attitudes, after this communication, were worthy of a painter. Rachel Halliday, who had taken her hands out of a batch of biscuit, to hear the news, stood with them upraised and floury, and with a face of the deepest concern. Simeon looked profoundly thoughtful; Eliza had thrown her arms around her husband, and was looking up to him. George stood with clenched hands and glowing eyes, and looking as any other man might look, whose wife was to be sold at auction, and son sent to a trader, all under the shelter of a Christian nations laws.
I dont want to involve any one with or for me, said George. If you will lend me your vehicle and direct me, I will drive alone to the next stand. Jim is a giant in strength, and brave as death and despair, and so am I.
Phineas is a wise and skilful man, said Simeon. Thee does well, George, to abide by his judgment; and, he added, laying his hand kindly on Georges shoulder, and pointing to the pistols, be not over hasty with these,young blood is hot.
I will attack no man, said George. All I ask of this country is to be let alone, and I will go out peaceably; but,he paused, and his brow darkened and his face worked,I ve had a sister sold in that New Orleans market. I know what they are sold for; and am I going to stand by and see them take my wife and sell her, when God has given me a pair of strong arms to defend her? No; God help me! I ll fight to the last breath, before they shall take my wife and son. Can you blame me?
I think my flesh would be pretty tolerable strong, in such a case, said Phineas, stretching out a pair of arms like the sails of a windmill. I ant sure, friend George, that I should nt hold a fellow for thee, if thee had any accounts to settle with him.
If man should ever resist evil, said Simeon, then George should feel free to do it now: but the leaders of our people taught a more excellent way; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God; but it goes sorely against the corrupt will of man, and none can receive it save they to whom it is given. Let us pray the Lord that we be not tempted.
To tell the truth, Phineas had been a hearty, two-fisted backwoodsman, a vigorous hunter, and a dead shot at a buck; but, having wooed a pretty Quakeress, had been moved by the power of her charms to join the society in his neighborhood; and though he was an honest, sober, and efficient member, and nothing particular could be alleged against him, yet the more spiritual among them could not but discern an exceeding lack of savor in his developments.
I got up at four oclock, and came on with all speed, full two or three hours ahead of them, if they start at the time they planned. It is nt safe to start till dark, at any rate; for there are some evil persons in the villages ahead, that might be disposed to meddle with us, if they saw our wagon, and that would delay us more than the waiting; but in two hours I think we may venture. I will go over to Michael Cross, and engage him to come behind on his swift nag, and keep a bright look-out on the road, and warn us if any company of men come on. Michael keeps a horse that can soon get ahead of most other horses; and he could shoot ahead and let us know, if there were any danger. I am going out now to warn Jim and the old woman to be in readiness, and to see about the horse. We have a pretty fair start, and stand a good chance to get to the stand before they can come up with us. So, have good courage, friend George; this is nt the first ugly scrape that I ve been in with thy people, said Phineas, as he closed the door.
Thee ll much oblige us, friend George, to say no more about that. What we do we are conscience bound to do; we can do no other way. And now, mother, said he, turning to Rachel, hurry thy preparations for these friends, for we must not send them away fasting.
And while Rachel and her children were busy making corn-cake, and cooking ham and chicken, and hurrying on the et ceteras of the evening meal, George and his wife sat in their little room, with their arms folded about each other, in such talk as husband and wife have when they know that a few hours may part them forever.
Eliza, said George, people that have friends, and houses, and lands, and money, and all those things cant love as we do, who have nothing but each other. Till I knew you, Eliza, no creature had loved me, but my poor, heart-broken mother and sister. I saw poor Emily that morning the trader carried her off. She came to the corner where I was lying asleep, and said, Poor George, your last friend is going. What will become of you, poor boy? And I got up and threw my arms round her, and cried and sobbed, and she cried too; and those were the last kind words I got for ten long years; and my heart all withered up, and felt as dry as ashes, till I met you. And your loving me,why, it was almost like raising one from the dead! I ve been a new man ever since! And now, Eliza, I ll give my last drop of blood, but they shall not take you from me. Whoever gets you must walk over my dead body.
Is God on their side? said George, speaking less to his wife than pouring out his own bitter thoughts. Does he see all they do? Why does he let such things happen? And they tell us that the Bible is on their side; certainly all the power is. They are rich, and healthy, and happy; they are members of churches, expecting to go to heaven; and they get along so easy in the world, and have it all their own way; and poor, honest, faithful Christians,Christians as good or better than they,are lying in the very dust under their feet. They buy em and sell em, and make trade of their hearts blood, and groans and tears,and God lets them.
But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well-nigh slipped. For I was envious of the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They are not in trouble like other men, neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore, pride compasseth them as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than heart could wish. They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression; they speak loftily. Therefore his people return, and the waters of a full cup are wrung out to them, and they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High?
Then, hear, said Simeon: When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me until I went unto the sanctuary of God. Then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places, thou castedst them down to destruction. As a dream when one awaketh, so, oh Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image. Nevertheless, I am continually with thee; thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me by thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory. It is good for me to draw near unto God. I have put my trust in the Lord God.
The words of holy trust, breathed by the friendly old man, stole like sacred music over the harassed and chafed spirit of George; and after he ceased, he sat with a gentle and subdued expression on his fine features.
If this world were all, George, said Simeon, thee might, indeed, ask, where is the Lord? But it is often those who have least of all in this life whom he chooseth for the kingdom. Put thy trust in him, and, no matter what befalls thee here, he will make all right hereafter.
If these words had been spoken by some easy, self-indulgent exhorter, from whose mouth they might have come merely as pious and rhetorical flourish, proper to be used to people in distress, perhaps they might not have had much effect; but coming from one who daily and calmly risked fine and imprisonment for the cause of God and man, they had a weight that could not but be felt, and both the poor, desolate fugitives found calmness and strength breathing into them from it.
I just ran in, she said, with these little stockings for the boy,three pair, nice, warm woollen ones. It will be so cold, thee knows, in Canada. Does thee keep up good courage, Eliza? she added, tripping round to Elizas side of the table, and shaking her warmly by the hand, and slipping a seed-cake into Harrys hand. I brought a little parcel of these for him, she said, tugging at her pocket to get out the package. Children, thee knows, will always be eating.
I could nt, any way. I left John with the baby, and some biscuits in the oven; and I cant stay a moment, else John will burn up all the biscuits, and give the baby all the sugar in the bowl. That s the way he does, said the little Quakeress, laughing. So, good-by, Eliza; good-by, George; the Lord grant thee a safe journey; and, with a few tripping steps, Ruth was out of the apartment.
A little while after supper, a large covered-wagon drew up before the door; the night was clear starlight; and Phineas jumped briskly down from his seat to arrange his passengers. George walked out of the door, with his child on one arm and his wife on the other. His step was firm, his face settled and resolute. Rachel and Simeon came out after them.
During this brief colloquy, Eliza had been taking her leave of her kind friend, Rachel, and was handed into the carriage by Simeon, and, creeping into the back part with her boy, sat down among the buffalo-skins. The old woman was next handed in and seated, and George and Jim placed on a rough board seat front of them, and Phineas mounted in front.
There was no opportunity for conversation, on account of the roughness of the way and the noise of the wheels. The vehicle, therefore, rumbled on, through long, dark stretches of woodland,over wide, dreary plains,up hills, and down valleys,and on, on, on they jogged, hour after hour. The child soon fell asleep, and lay heavily in his mothers lap. The poor, frightened old woman at last forgot her fears; and, even Eliza, as the night waned, found all her anxieties insufficient to keep her eyes from closing. Phineas seemed, on the whole, the briskest of the company, and beguiled his long drive with whistling certain very unquaker-like songs, as he went on.
But about three oclock Georges ear caught the hasty and decided click of a horses hoof coming behind them at some distance, and jogged Phineas by the elbow. Phineas pulled up his horses, and listened.
There he is, I do believe! said Phineas. George and Jim both sprang out of the wagon, before they knew what they were doing. All stood intensely silent, with their faces turned towards the expected messenger. On he came. Now he went down into a valley, where they could not see him; but they heard the sharp, hasty tramp, rising nearer and nearer; at last they saw him emerge on the top of an eminence, within hail.
In with you,quick, boys, in! said Phineas. If you must fight, wait till I get you a piece ahead. And, with the word, both jumped in, and Phineas lashed the horses to a run, the horseman keeping close beside them. The wagon rattled, jumped, almost flew, over the frozen ground; but plainer, and still plainer, came the noise of pursuing horsemen behind. The women heard it, and, looking anxiously out, saw, far in the rear, on the brow of a distant hill, a party of men looming up against the red-streaked sky of early dawn. Another hill, and their pursuers had evidently caught sight of their wagon, whose white cloth-covered top made it conspicuous at some distance, and a loud yell of brutal triumph came forward on the wind. Eliza sickened, and strained her child closer to her bosom; the old woman prayed and groaned, and George and Jim clenched their pistols with the grasp of despair. The pursuers gained on them fast; the carriage made a sudden turn, and brought them near a ledge of a steep overhanging rock, that rose in an isolated ridge or clump in a large lot, which was, all around it, quite clear and smooth. This isolated pile, or range of rocks, rose up black and heavy against the brightening sky, and seemed to promise shelter and concealment. It was a place well known to Phineas, who had been familiar with the spot in his hunting days; and it was to gain this point he had been racing his horses.
Now for it! said he, suddenly checking his horses, and springing from his seat to the ground. Out with you, in a twinkling, every one, and up into these rocks with me. Michael, thee tie thy horse to the wagon, and drive ahead to Amariahs, and get him and his boys to come back and talk to these fellows.
There needed no exhortation. Quicker than we can say it, the whole party were over the fence, making with all speed for the rocks, while Michael, throwing himself from his horse, and fastening the bridle to the wagon, began driving it rapidly away.
Come ahead, said Phineas, as they reached the rocks, and saw, in the mingled starlight and dawn, the traces of a rude but plainly marked foot-path leading up among them; this is one of our old hunting-dens. Come up!
Phineas went before, springing up the rocks like a goat, with the boy in his arms. Jim came second, bearing his trembling old mother over his shoulder, and George and Eliza brought up the rear. The party of horsemen came up to the fence, and, with mingled shouts and oaths, were dismounting, to prepare to follow them. A few moments scrambling brought them to the top of the ledge; the path then passed between a narrow defile, where only one could walk at a time, till suddenly they came to a rift or chasm more than a yard in breadth, and beyond which lay a pile of rocks, separate from the rest of the ledge, standing full thirty feet high, with its sides steep and perpendicular as those of a castle. Phineas easily leaped the chasm, and sat down the boy on a smooth, flat platform of crisp white moss, that covered the top of the rock.
Over with you! he called; spring, now, once, for your lives! said he, as one after another sprang across. Several fragments of loose stone formed a kind of breast-work, which sheltered their position from the observation of those below.
Well, here we all are, said Phineas, peeping over the stone breast-work to watch the assailants, who were coming tumultuously up under the rocks. Let em get us, if they can. Whoever comes here has to walk single file between those two rocks, in fair range of your pistols, boys, d ye see?
Thee s quite welcome to do the fighting, George, said Phineas, chewing some checkerberry-leaves as he spoke; but I may have the fun of looking on, I suppose. But see, these fellows are kinder debating down there, and looking up, like hens when they are going to fly up on to the roost. Had nt thee better give em a word of advice, before they come up, just to tell em handsomely they ll be shot if they do?
The party beneath, now more apparent in the light of the dawn, consisted of our old acquaintances, Tom Loker and Marks, with two constables, and a posse consisting of such rowdies at the last tavern as could be engaged by a little brandy to go and help the fun of trapping a set of niggers.
We want a party of runaway niggers, said Tom Loker. One George Harris, and Eliza Harris, and their son, and Jim Selden, and an old woman. We ve got the officers, here, and a warrant to take em; and we re going to have em, too. D ye hear? Ant you George Harris, that belongs to Mr. Harris, of Shelby county, Kentucky?
I am George Harris. A Mr. Harris, of Kentucky, did call me his property. But now I m a free man, standing on Gods free soil; and my wife and my child I claim as mine. Jim and his mother are here. We have arms to defend ourselves, and we mean to do it. You can come up, if you like; but the first one of you that comes within the range of our bullets is a dead man, and the next, and the next; and so on till the last.
O, come! come! said a short, puffy man, stepping forward, and blowing his nose as he did so. Young man, this ant no kind of talk at all for you. You see, we re officers of justice. We ve got the law on our side, and the power, and so forth; so you d better give up peaceably, you see; for you ll certainly have to give up, at last.
I know very well that you ve got the law on your side, and the power, said George, bitterly. You mean to take my wife to sell in New Orleans, and put my boy like a calf in a traders pen, and send Jims old mother to the brute that whipped and abused her before, because he could nt abuse her son. You want to send Jim and me back to be whipped and tortured, and ground down under the heels of them that you call masters; and your laws will bear you out in it,more shame for you and them! But you have nt got us. We dont own your laws; we dont own your country; we stand here as free, under Gods sky, as you are; and, by the great God that made us, we ll fight for our liberty till we die.
George stood out in fair sight, on the top of the rock, as he made his declaration of independence; the glow of dawn gave a flush to his swarthy cheek, and bitter indignation and despair gave fire to his dark eye; and, as if appealing from man to the justice of God, he raised his hand to heaven as he spoke.
If it had been only a Hungarian youth, now bravely defending in some mountain fastness the retreat of fugitives escaping from Austria into America, this would have been sublime heroism; but as it was a youth of African descent, defending the retreat of fugitives through America into Canada, of course we are too well instructed and patriotic to see any heroism in it; and if any of our readers do, they must do it on their own private responsibility. When despairing Hungarian fugitives make their way, against all the search-warrants and authorities of their lawful government, to America, press and political cabinet ring with applause and welcome. When despairing African fugitives do the same thing,it iswhat is it?
Be it as it may, it is certain that the attitude, eye, voice, manner, of the speaker, for a moment struck the party below to silence. There is something in boldness and determination that for a time hushes even the rudest nature. Marks was the only one who remained wholly untouched. He was deliberately cocking his pistol, and, in the momentary silence that followed Georges speech, he fired at him.
Now, Jim, said George, look that your pistols are all right, and watch that pass with me. The first man that shows himself I fire at; you take the second, and so on. It wont do, you know, to waste two shots on one.
One of the most courageous of the party followed Tom, and, the way being thus made, the whole party began pushing up the rock,the hindermost pushing the front ones faster than they would have gone of themselves. On they came, and in a moment the burly form of Tom appeared in sight, almost at the verge of the chasm.
Down he fell into the chasm, crackling down among trees, bushes, logs, loose stones, till he lay, bruised and groaning, thirty feet below. The fall might have killed him, had it not been broken and moderated by his clothes catching in the branches of a large tree; but he came down with some force, however,more than was at all agreeable or convenient.
Lord help us, they are perfect devils! said Marks, heading the retreat down the rocks with much more of a will than he had joined the ascent, while all the party came tumbling precipitately after him,the fat constable, in particular, blowing and puffing in a very energetic manner.
I say, fellers, said Marks, you jist go round and pick up Tom, there, while I run and get on to my horse, to go back for help,that s you; and, without minding the hootings and jeers of his company, Marks was as good as his word, and was soon seen galloping away.
Well, we must go down and walk a piece, he said. I told Michael to go forward and bring help, and be along back here with the wagon; but we shall have to walk a piece along the road, I reckon, to meet them. The Lord grant he be along soon! It s early in the day; there wont be much travel afoot yet a while; we ant much more than two miles from our stopping-place. If the road had nt been so rough last night, we could have outrun em entirely.
And doctor him up among the Quakers! said Phineas; pretty well, that! Well, I dont care if we do. Here, let s have a look at him; and Phineas, who, in the course of his hunting and backwoods life, had acquired some rude experience of surgery, kneeled down by the wounded man, and began a careful examination of his condition.
Softly, softly; dont thee snap and snarl, friend, said Phineas, as Tom winced and pushed his hand away. Thee has no chance, unless I stop the bleeding. And Phineas busied himself with making some off-hand surgical arrangements with his own pocket-handkerchief, and such as could be mustered in the company.
Well, if I had nt, thee would have pushed us down, thee sees, said Phineas, as he stooped to apply his bandage. There, there,let me fix this bandage. We mean well to thee; we bear no malice. Thee shall be taken to a house where they ll nurse thee first rate,as well as thy own mother could.
Tom groaned, and shut his eyes. In men of his class, vigor and resolution are entirely a physical matter, and ooze out with the flowing of the blood; and the gigantic fellow really looked piteous in his helplessness.
The other party now came up. The seats were taken out of the wagon. The buffalo-skins, doubled in fours, were spread all along one side, and four men, with great difficulty, lifted the heavy form of Tom into it. Before he was gotten in, he fainted entirely. The old negress, in the abundance of her compassion, sat down on the bottom, and took his head in her lap. Eliza, George and Jim, bestowed themselves, as well as they could, in the remaining space, and the whole party set forward.
Well it s only a pretty deep flesh-wound; but, then, tumbling and scratching down that place did nt help him much. It has bled pretty freely,pretty much dreaned him out, courage and all,but he ll get over it, and may be learn a thing or two by it.
Yes, said Phineas, killing is an ugly operation, any way they ll fix it,man or beast. I ve seen a great hunter, in my day, and I tell thee I ve seen a buck that was shot down, and a dying, look that way on a feller with his eye, that it reely most made a feller feel wicked for killing on him; and human creatures is a more serious consideration yet, bein, as thy wife says, that the judgment comes to em after death. So I dont know as our peoples notions on these matters is too strict; and, considerin how I was raised, I fell in with them pretty considerably.
O, carry him along to Amariahs. There s old Grandmam Stephens there,Dorcas, they call her,she s most an amazin nurse. She takes to nursing real natural, and ant never better suited than when she gets a sick body to tend. We may reckon on turning him over to her for a fortnight or so.
A ride of about an hour more brought the party to a neat farm-house, where the weary travellers were received to an abundant breakfast. Tom Loker was soon carefully deposited in a much cleaner and softer bed than he had ever been in the habit of occupying. His wound was carefully dressed and bandaged, and he lay languidly opening and shutting his eyes on the white window-curtains and gently-gliding figures of his sick room, like a weary child. And here, for the present, we shall take our leave of one party.