CHAPTER XI. IN WHICH PROPERTY GETS IN AN IMPROPER STATE OF MIND.
ONE drizzly afternoon a traveler alighted at the door of a small country hotel, in a village 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; 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.
Into this assembly our traveler 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.
"What's that?" said the old gentleman, observing some of the company formed in a group around a large hand-bill.
"Nigger advertised!" said one of the company, briefly.
Mr. Wilson, for that was the old gentleman's name, rose up, and read as follows:
"Ran away from the subscriber, my mulatto boy, George. Said George six feet in height, a very light mulatto, brown
"I will give four hundred dollars for him alive, and the same sum for satisfactory proof that he has been killed."
While he was studying it, a long-legged man walked up to the advertisement, and very deliberately spit a mouthful of tobacco-juice on it.
"There's my mind upon that!" said he, briefly, and sat down again.
"Why, now, stranger, what's that for?" said the landlord.
"I'd do it all the same to the writer of that ar paper, if he was here," said the long man. "Any man that owns a boy like that, and can't 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!"
"That's a fact," said the landlord.
"I've got a gang of boys, sir," said the long man, "and I jest
tells 'em-'Boys,' 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 an't 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' work and dogs' actions. Treat 'em like men, and you'll have men's work."
"I think you're altogether right, friend," said Mr. Wilson, "and this boy described here is a fine fellow. 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 hemp—a 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."
Here the conversation was interrupted by the entrance of a well-dressed gentleman and a colored servant.
He walled 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.
"Jim," he said to his man, "seems to me we met a boy something like this, up at Bernan's, didn't we?"
"Yes, Mas'r," said Jim, "only I an't sure about the hands."
"Well, I didn't 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.
Mr. Wilson, from the time of the entrance of the stranger, had regarded him with an air of disturbed and uneasy curiosity. He stared at the stranger with such an air of blank amazement and alarm, that he walked up to him.
"Mr. Wilson, I think," said he, in a tone of recognition. and extending his hand. "I beg your pardon, I didn't recollect you before. I see you remember me, Mr. Butler, of Oaklands, Shelby county."
"Ye—yes—yes, sir," said Mr. Wilson.
Just then a negro boy entered, and announced that Mas'r's room was ready.
"Jim, see to the trunks," said the gentleman, negligently; then turning to Mr. Wilson, he added—"I should like to have a few moments' conversation with you on business, in my room, if you please."
Mr. Wilson followed him, and when they reached the room, the young man deliberately locked the door, and put the key in his pocket.
"George!" said Mr. Wilson.
"Yes, George," said the young man.
"O, George! but this is a dangerous game you are playing. I could not have advised you to it."
"I can do it on my own responsibility," said George, with the same proud smile.
After a long conversation, George said, "I am going 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!"
"Where is your wife, George?" said Mr. Wilson.
"Gone, sir, gone, with her child in her arms, the Lord only knows where, and when we ever meet, or whether we meet at all in this world, no creature can tell."
"Is it possible! Here, George," and, taking out a roll of bills from his pocket book, he offered them to George.
"No, my kind, good sir!" said George. "I have money enough, I hope, to take me as far as I need it."
"No, but you must, George. Take it, my boy!"
"On condition. sir, that I may repay it at some future time, I will," said George, taking up the money.
"George, something has brought you out wonderfully. You hold up your head, and speak and move like another man," said Mr. Wilson.
"Because I'm a freeman!" said George, proudly. "Yes, sir; I've said Mas'r for the last time to any man. I'm free!"
"I declare, my very blood runs cold when I think of it,—your condition and your risks!" said Mr. Wilson.
"Mr. Wilson, one word more; you have shown yourself a Christian in your treatment of me,—I want to ask one last deed of Christian kindness of you."
"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?"
"Yes, certainly—poor fellow!" said the old gentleman, taking the pin.