CHAPTER XXIX. THE UNPROTECTED.
IT was about a fortnight after the funeral, that Miss Ophelia, busied one day in her apartment, heard a gentle tap at the door. She opened it, and there stood Rosa.
"O, Miss Feely," she said, falling on her knees, and catching the skirt of her dress, "do, do go to Miss Marie for me! do plead for me! She's goin' to send me out to be whipped,—look there!" And she handed to Miss Ophelia a paper.
It was an order, written in Marie's delicate Italian hand, to the master of a whipping establishment, to give the bearer fifteen lashes.
"What have you been doing?" said Miss Ophelia.
"You know, Miss Feely, I've got such a bad temper;
it's very bad of me. I was trying on Miss Marie's dress, and she slapped my face: and I spoke out before I thought, and was saucy; and she said that she'd bring me down, and have me know, once for all, that I wasn't going to be so topping as I had been; and she wrote this, and says I shall carry it. I'd rather she'd kill me, right out."
Miss Ophelia stood considering with the paper in her hand.
"You see, Miss Feely," said Rosa, "I don't mind the whipping so
much, if Miss Marie or you was to do it; but,
to be sent to a man! and such a horrid man,—the shame of it, Miss Feely!"
All the honest blood of womanhood, the strong New England blood of liberty, flushed to Miss Ophelia's cheeks, but she mastered herself, and, crushing the paper firmly in her hand, she merely said to Rosa,
"Sit down, child, while I go to your mistress."
She found Marie sitting up in her easy-chair.
"I came," said Miss Ophelia, "to speak with you about poor Rosa."
"Well, what about her?"
"She is very sorry for her fault."
"She is, is she? She'll be sorrier, before I've done with her! I've endured that child's impudence long enough; and now I'll bring her down, I'll make her lie in the dust!"
"But, Cousin, consider that, if you destroy delicacy and a sense of shame in a young girl, you deprave her very fast."
"Delicacy!" said Marie, with a scornful laugh,—"a fine word for such as she! I'll teach her, with all her airs, that she's no better than the raggedest black wench that walks the streets! She'll take no more airs with me!"
It was hard to go back and tell Rosa that she could do nothing for her: and, shortly after, one of the man-servants came to say that her mistress had ordered him to take Rosa with him to the whipping house, whither she was hurried in spite of her tears and entreaties.
A few days after, Tom was standing musing by the balconies, when he was joined by Adolph.
"Do ye know, Tom, that we've all got to be sold?" said Adolph.
"How did you hear that?" said Tom.
"I hid myself behind the curtains when Missis was talking with the lawyer. In a few days we shall all be sent off to auction, Tom."
"The Lord's will be done!" said Tom, folding his arms and sighing heavily.
He sought Miss Ophelia, who, ever since Eva's death, had treated him with marked and respectful kindness.
"Miss Feely," he said, "Mas'r St. Clare promised me my freedom. He told me that he had begun to take it out for me; and now, perhaps, if Miss Feely would be good enough to speak about it to Missis, she would feel like goin' on with it, as it was Mas'r St. Clare's wish."
"I'll speak for you, Tom, and do my best," said Miss Ophelia; "but, if it depends on Mrs. St. Clare, I can't hope much for you; nevertheless, I will try."
She found Marie reclining at length upon a lounge, supporting herself on one elbow by pillows, while Jane, who had been out shopping, was displaying before her certain samples of thin black stuffs.
"That will do," said Marie, selecting one; "only I'm not sure about its being properly mourning."
"There's one thing I wanted to speak with you about," said Miss Ophelia. "Augustine promised Tom his liberty, and began the legal forms necessary to it. I hope you will use your influence to have it perfected."
"Indeed, I shall do no such thing!" said Marie, sharply. "Tom is
one of the most valuable servants on the place,—
it couldn't be afforded, any way. Besides what does he want of liberty? He's a great deal better off as he is."
"But he does desire it, very earnestly, and his master promised it," said Miss Ophelia.
"I dare say he does want it," said Marie. "Keep a negro under the care of a master, and he does well enough, a nd is respectable; but set them free, and they get lazy, and won't work, and take to drinking, and go all down to be mean, worthless fellows. I've seen it tried, hundreds of times."
"But Tom is so steady, industrious, and pious."
"O, you needn't tell me! I've seen a hundred like him. He'll do very well, as long as he's taken care of,—that's all."
"Well," said Miss Ophelia, energetically, "I know it was one of the last wishes of your husband that Tom should have his liberty; it was one of the promises that he made to dear little Eva on her death-bed, and I should not think you would feel at liberty to disregard it."
Marie had her face covered with her handkerchief at this appeal, and began sobbing and using her smelling-bottle, with great vehemence.
"Everybody goes against me!" she said. "It's so hard, that when I
had only one daughter, she should have been taken!—and when I had a
husband that just exactly suited me,—and I'm so hard to be
suited!—he should be taken! And you seem to have so little feeling
for me, and keep bringing it up to me so carelessly,—when you know
how it overcomes me!" And Marie sobbed, and gasped for breath. and
called Mammy to open the window, and to bring her the camphor-bottle,
and to bathe her
head, and unhook her dress. And, in the general confusion that ensued, Miss Ophelia made her escape to her apartment.
She saw, at once, that it would do no good to say anything more; for Marie had an indefinite capacity for hysteric fits, but she did the next best thing she could for Tom,—she wrote a letter to Mrs. Shelby for him, stating his troubles, and urging them to send to his relief.
The next day, Tom and Adolph, and some half a dozen other servants, were marched down to a slave warehouse, to await the convenience of the trader, who was going to make up a lot for auction.