And behold, the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power, but they had no comforter.ECCL. 4:1.
IT took but a short time to familiarize Tom with all that was to be hoped or feared in his new way of life. He was an expert and efficient workman in whatever he undertook; and was, both from habit and principle, prompt and faithful. Quiet and peaceable in his disposition, he hoped, by unremitting diligence, to avert from himself at least a portion of the evils of his condition. He saw enough of abuse and misery to make him sick and weary; but he determined to toil on, with religious patience, committing himself to Him that judgeth righteously, not without hope that some way of escape might yet be opened to him.
Legree took silent note of Toms availability. He rated him as a first-class hand; and yet he felt a secret dislike to him,the native antipathy of bad to good. He saw, plainly, that when, as was often the case, his violence and brutality fell on the helpless, Tom took notice of it; for, so subtle is the atmosphere of opinion, that it will make itself felt, without words; and the opinion even of a slave may annoy a master. Tom in various ways manifested a tenderness of feeling, a commiseration for his fellow-sufferers, strange and new to them, which was watched with a jealous eye by Legree. He had purchased Tom with a view of eventually making him a sort of overseer, with whom he might, at times, intrust his affairs, in short absences; and, in his view, the first, second, and third requisite for that place, was hardness. Legree made up his mind, that, as Tom was not hard to his hand, he would harden him forthwith; and some few weeks after Tom had been on the place, he determined to commence the process.
One morning, when the hands were mustered for the field, Tom noticed, with surprise, a new comer among them, whose appearance excited his attention. It was a woman, tall and slenderly formed, with remarkably delicate hands and feet, and dressed in neat and respectable garments. By the appearance of her face, she might have been between thirty-five and forty; and it was a face that, once seen, could never be forgotten,one of those that, at a glance, seem to convey to us an idea of a wild, painful, and romantic history. Her forehead was high, and her eyebrows marked with beautiful clearness. Her straight, well-formed nose, her finely-cut mouth, and the graceful contour of her head and neck, showed that she must once have been beautiful; but her face was deeply wrinkled with lines of pain, and of proud and bitter endurance. Her complexion was sallow and unhealthy, her cheeks thin, her features sharp, and her whole form emaciated. But her eye was the most remarkable feature,so large, so heavily black, overshadowed by long lashes of equal darkness, and so wildly, mournfully despairing. There was a fierce pride and defiance in every line of her face, in every curve of the flexible lip, in every motion of her body; but in her eye was a deep, settled night of anguish,an expression so hopeless and unchanging as to contrast fearfully with the scorn and pride expressed by her whole demeanor.
Where she came from, or who she was, Tom did not know. The first he did know, she was walking by his side, erect and proud, in the dim gray of the dawn. To the gang, however, she was known; for there was much looking and turning of heads, and a smothered yet apparent exultation among the miserable, ragged, half-starved creatures by whom she was surrounded.
The woman took no notice of these taunts, but walked on, with the same expression of angry scorn, as if she heard nothing. Tom had always lived among refined and cultivated people, and he felt intuitively, from her air and bearing, that she belonged to that class; but how or why she could be fallen to those degrading circumstances, he could not tell. The women neither looked at him nor spoke to him, though, all the way to the field, she kept close at his side.
Tom was soon busy at his work; but, as the woman was at no great distance from him, he often glanced an eye to her, at her work. He saw, at a glance, that a native adroitness and handiness made the task to her an easier one than it proved to many. She picked very fast and very clean, and with an air of scorn, as if she despised both the work and the disgrace and humiliation of the circumstances in which she was placed.
In the course of the day, Tom was working near the mulatto woman who had been bought in the same lot with himself. She was evidently in a condition of great suffering, and Tom often heard her praying, as she wavered and trembled, and seemed about to fall down. Tom silently, as he came near to her, transferred several handfuls of cotton from his own sack to hers.
Just then Sambo came up. He seemed to have a special spite against this woman; and, flourishing his whip, said, in brutal, guttural tones, What dis yer, Luce,foolin a? and, with the word, kicking the woman with his heavy cowhide shoe, he struck Tom across the face with his whip.
I ll bring her to! said the driver, with a brutal grin. I ll give her something better than camphire! and, taking a pin from his coat-sleeve, he buried it to the head in her flesh. The woman groaned, and half rose. Get up, you beast, and work, will yer, or I ll show yer a trick more!
Suddenly, the stranger woman whom we have described, and who had, in the course of her work, come near enough to hear Toms last words, raised her heavy black eyes, and fixed them, for a second, on him; then, taking a quantity of cotton from her basket, she placed it in his.
You know nothing about this place, she said, or you would nt have done that. When you ve been here a month, you ll be done helping anybody; you ll find it hard enough to take care of your own skin!
A glance like sheet-lightning suddenly flashed from those black eyes; and, facing about, with quivering lip and dilated nostrils, she drew herself up, and fixed a glance, blazing with rage and scorn, on the driver.
The woman suddenly turned to her work, and labored with a despatch that was perfectly astonishing to Tom. She seemed to work by magic. Before the day was through, her basket was filled, crowded down, and piled, and she had several times put largely into Toms. Long after dusk, the whole weary train, with their baskets on their heads, defiled up to the building appropriated to the storing and weighing the cotton. Legree was there, busily conversing with the two drivers.
I d a flogged her into t, said Legree, spitting, only there s such a press o work, it dont seem wuth a while to upset her jist now. She s slender; but these yer slender gals will bear half killin to get their own way!
The person who had been called Misse Cassy now came forward, and, with a haughty, negligent air, delivered her basket. As she delivered it, Legree looked in her eyes with a sneering yet inquiring glance.
She fixed her black eyes steadily on him, her lips moved slightly, and she said something in French. What it was, no one knew; but Legrees face became perfectly demoniacal in its expression, as she spoke; he half raised his hand, as if to strike,a gesture which she regarded with fierce disdain, as she turned and walked away.
And now, said Legree, come here, you Tom. You see, I telled ye I did nt buy ye jest for the common work; I mean to promote ye, and make a driver of ye; and to-night ye may jest as well begin to get yer hand in. Now, ye jest take this yer gal and flog her; ye ve seen enough on t to know how.
Ye ll larn a pretty smart chance of things ye never did know, before I ve done with ye! said Legree, taking up a cow-hide, and striking Tom a heavy blow across the cheek, and following up the infliction by a shower of blows.
Yes, Masr, said Tom, putting up his hand, to wipe the blood, that trickled down his face. I m willin to work, night and day, and work while there s life and breath in me; but this yer thing I cant feel it right to do;and, Masr, I never shall do it,never!
Tom had a remarkably smooth, soft voice, and a habitually respectful manner, that had given Legree an idea that he would be cowardly, and easily subdued. When he spoke these last words, a thrill of amazement went through every one; the poor woman clasped her hands, and said, O Lord! and every one involuntarily looked at each other and drew in their breath, as if to prepare for the storm that was about to burst.
What! ye blasted black beast! tell me ye dont think it right to do what I tell ye! What have any of you cussed cattle to do with thinking what s right? I ll put a stop to it! Why, what do ye think ye are? May be ye think ye r a gentleman, master Tom, to be a telling your master what s right, and what ant! So you pretend it s wrong to flog the gal!
I think so, Masr, said Tom; the poor crittur s sick and feeble; t would be downright cruel, and it s what I never will do, nor begin to. Masr, if you mean to kill me, kill me; but, as to my raising my hand agin any one here, I never shall,I ll die first!
Tom spoke in a mild voice, but with a decision that could not be mistaken. Legree shook with anger; his greenish eyes glared fiercely, and his very whiskers seemed to curl with passion; but, like some ferocious beast, that plays with its victim before he devours it, he kept back his strong impulse to proceed to immediate violence, and broke out into bitter raillery.
Well, here s a pious dog, at last, let down among us sinners!a saint, a gentleman, and no less, to talk to us sinners about our sins! Powerful holy critter, he must be! Here, you rascal, you make believe to be so pious,did nt you never hear, out of yer Bible, Servants, obey yer masters? Ant I yer master? Did nt I pay down twelve hundred dollars, cash, for all there is inside yer old cussed black shell? Ant yer mine, now, body and soul? he said, giving Tom a violent kick with his heavy boot; tell me!
In the very depth of physical suffering, bowed by brutal oppression, this question shot a gleam of joy and triumph through Toms soul. He suddenly stretched himself up, and, looking earnestly to heaven, while the tears and blood that flowed down his face mingled, he exclaimed,
The two gigantic negroes that now laid hold of Tom, with fiendish exultation in their faces, might have formed no unapt personification of powers of darkness. The poor woman screamed with apprehension, and all rose, as by a general impulse, while they dragged him unresisting from the place.