CHAPTER XXXIX. THE STRATAGEM.
THE sleeping room of Cassy was
directly under the garret. One day, without consulting Legree, she
suddenly took it upon her to change all the furniture of the room to
one at some considerable distance. The under-servants, who were
helping her, were running
and bustling about with great zeal and confusion, when Legree returned from a ride.
"Hallo! you Cass!" said Legree, "what 's in the wind now?"
"Nothing; only I choose to have another room," said Cassy, doggedly.
"And what for, pray?" said Legree.
"I 'd like to get some sleep, now and then."
"Sleep! well, what hinders your sleeping?"
"I could tell, I suppose, if you want to hear," said Cassy, dryly.
"Speak out, you minx!" said Legree.
"O! nothing. I suppose it would n't disturb you! Only groans, and people scufflling, and rolling round on the garret floor, half the night, from twelve to morning!"
"People up garret!" said Legree, uneasily, but forcing a laugh; "who are they, Cassy?"
Cassy raised her sharp, black eyes, and looked in the face of Legree, with an expression, that went through his bones, as she said, "To he sure, Simon, who are they? I 'd like to have you tell me. You don't know, I suppose!"
With an oath, Legree struck at her with his riding whip; but she glided to one side, and passed through the door, and looking, back, said, "If you'll sleep in that room, you'll know all about it. Perhaps you 'd better try it!" and then immediately shut and locked the door.
Legree blustered and swore, and threatened to break down the
door; but apparently thought better of it, and walked uneasilv into
the sitting-room. Casey perceived that her shaft had struck home;
and, from that hour, with
the most exquisite address, she never ceased to continue the train of influences she had begun.
In a knothole in the garret she had inserted the neck of an old bottle, in such a manner that when there was the least wind, most doleful and lugubrious wailing sounds proceeded from it, which, in a high wind, increased to a perfect shriek, such as to credulous and superstitious ears might easily seem to be that of horror and despair.
These sounds were, from time to time, heard by the servants, and revived in full force the memory of the old ghost legend. A superstitious creeping horror seemed to fill the house; and though no one dared to breathe it to Legree, he found himself encompassed by it, as by an atmosphere.
A night or two after this, Legree was sitting in the old
sitting-room, by the side of a flickering wood fire, that threw
uncertain glances round the room. It was a stormy, windy night, such
as raises whole squadrons of nondescript noises in rickety old
houses. Windows were rattling, shutters flapping, the wind carousing,
rumbling, and tumbling down the chimney, and, every once in a while,
puffing out smoke and ashes, as if a legion of spirits were coming
after them. Legree had been casting up accounts and reading
newspapers for some hours, while Cassy sat in the corner, sunllenly
looking into the fire. Legree laid down his paper, and seeing an old
book lying on the table, which he had noticed Cassy reading, the
first part of the evening, took it up, and began to turn it over. It
was one of those collections of stories of bloody murders, ghostly
legends, and supernatural visitations, which, coarsely got up and
trated, have a strange fascination for one who once begins to read them."
Legree poohed and pished, but finally, after reading some way, he threw down the book, with an oath.
"You don't believe in ghosts, do you, Cass?" said he.
"No matter what I believe," said Cassy, sullenly.
"Them noises was nothing but rats and the wind," said Legree. "Lord's sake! ye can make anything out o' wind."
Cassy knew Legree was uneasy under her eyes, and, therefore, she made no answer, but sat fixing them on him, with that strange, unearthly expression, as before.
"Come, speak out, woman,—don't you think so?" said Legree.
"Can rats walk down stairs, and come walking through the entry, and open a door when you 've locked it and set a chair against it?" said Cassy; "and come walk, walk, walking right up to your bed, and put out their hand, so?"
Cassy kept her glittering eyes fixed on Legree, as she spoke, and he stared at her like a man in the nightmare, till, when she finished by laving her hand, icy cold, on his, he spring back, with an oath.
"Woman, what do you mean? Nobodv did?"—
"O, no,—of course not,—did I say they did?" said Cassy.
Legree stamped his foot, and swore violently.
"Don't swear," said Cassy; "nobody knows who may be hearing you. Hark! What was that!"
"What?" said Legree, starting.
A heavy old Dutch clock, that stood in the corner of the room, began, and slowly struck twelve.
For some reason or other, Legree neither spoke nor moved; a vague
horror fell on him; while Cassy, with a
"Twelve o'clock; well, now we'll see," said she, turning, and opening the door into the passageway.
"Simon, come here," said Cassy, in a whisper, laying her hand on his, and leading him to the foot of the stairs; "do you know what that is? Hark!"
A wild shriek came pealing down the stairway. It came from the garret. Legree's knees knocked together; his face grew white with fear.
"Had n't you better get your pistols?" said Cassy, with a sneer that froze Legree's blood. "It 's time this thing was looked into, you know. I 'd like to have you go up now; they 're at it."
"I won't go!" said Legree, with an oath.
"Why not? There an't any such thing as ghosts, you know! Come!" and Cassy flitted up the winding stairway, laughing, and looking back after him. "Come on."
"I believe you are the devil!" said Legree. "Come back, you hag,—come back, Cass! You shan't go!"
But Cassy laughed wildly, and fled on. He heard her open the entry doors that led to the garret. A wild gust of wind swept down, extinguishing the candle he held in his hand, and with it the fearful, unearthly screams; they seemed to be shrieked in his very ear.
Legree fled frantically into the parlor, whither, in a few moments, he was followed by Cassy, pale, calm, cold as an avenging spirit, and with that same fearful light in her eye.
"I hope you are satisfied," said she.
"Blast you, Cass!" said Legree.
"What for?" said Cassy. "I only went up and shut the doors. What's the matter with that garret, Simon, do you suppose said she.
"None of your business!" said Legree.
"O, it an't? Well," said Cassy, "at any rate, I'm glad I don't sleep under it."
Anticipating the rising of the wind, that very evening Cassy had been up and opened the garret window. Of course, the moment the doors were opened, the wind had drafted down, and extinguished the light.
This may serve as a specimen of the game that Cassy played with Legree, until he would sooner have put his head into a lion's mouth than to have explored that garret. Meanwhile, Cassy slowly and carefully accumulated there a stock of provisions sufficient to afford subsistence for some time; and transferred a greater part of her own and Emmeline's wardrobe. All things being arranged, they only waited a fitting opportunity to put their plan in execution.
When the time arrived, Cassy and Emmeline were in the room of the latter, busy in sorting and arranging two small bundles.
"There, these will be large enough," said Cassy. "Now put on your bonnet, and let's start; it's just about the right time."
"Why, they can see us yet," said Emmeline.
"I mean they shall," said Cassy, coolly. "Don't you know that
they must have their chase after us, at any rate? The way of the
thing is to be just this:—We will steal out of the back door, and
run down by the quarters. Sambo or Quimbo will be sure to see us.
They will give chase,
and we will get into the swamp; then, they can't follow us any further till they go up and give the alarm, and turn out the dogs, and so on; and, while they are blundering round, and tumbling over each other, as they always do, you and I will just slip along to the creek, that runs back of the house, and wade along in it, till we get opposite the back door. That will put the dogs all at fault; for scent won't lie in the water. Every one will run out of the house to look after us, and then we'll whip in at the back door, and up into the garret, where I've got a nice bed made up in one of the great boxes. We must stay in that garret a good while; for, I tell you, he will raise heaven and earth after us. He'll muster some of those old overseers on the other plantations, and have a great hunt; and they'll go over every inch of ground in that swamp. He makes it his boast that nobody ever got away from him. So let him hunt at his leisure."
The two fugitives glided noiselessly from the house, and flitted, through the gathering shadows of evening, along by the quarters. As Cassy expected, when quite clear the verge of the swamps that encircled the plantation, they heard a voice calling to them to stop. It was not Sambo, however, but Legree, who was pursuing them with violent execrations. At the sound, the feebler spirit of Emmeline gave way; and, laying hold of Cassy's arm, she said, "O, Cassy, I'm going to faint!"
"If you do, I 'll kill you," said Cassy, drawing a small, glittering stiletto, and flashing it before the eyes of the girl.
The diversion accomplished the purpose. Emmeline did not faint,
and succeeded in plunging, with Cassy, into
a part of the labyrinth of swamp, so deep and dark that it was perfectly hopeless for Legree to think of following them, without assistance.
"Well," said he, chuckling brutally; "at any rate, they've got themselves into a trap now—the baggages! They're safe enough. They shall sweat for it!"
"Hulloa, there! Sambo! Quimbo! All bands!" called Legree, coming to the quarters, when the men and women was just returning from work. "There 's two run aways in the swamps. I 'll give five dollars to any nigger as catches 'em. Turn out the dogs! Turn out Tiger, and Fury, and the rest!"
" Mas'r, shall we shoot 'em, if we can't cotch 'em?" said Sambo, to whom his master brought out a rifle.
"Yon may fire on Cass, if you like; but the gal, not," said Legree. "And now, boys, be spry and smart. Five dollars for him that gets 'em; and a glass of spirits to every one of you, anyhow."
The whole band, with the glare of blazing torches, and whoop, and
shout, and savage yell, of man and beast, proceeded down to the
swamp, followed, at some distance, by every servant in the house. The
establishment was, of a
consequence, wholly deserted, when Cassy and Emmeline glided into it the back way.
"See there!" said Emmeline, pointing to Cassy; "the hunt is begun! Look how those lights dance about! Hark! the dogs! Don't you hear? If we were only there, our chance wouldn't be worth a picayune. O, for pity's sake, do let's hide ourselves. Quick!"
"There's no occasion for hurry," said Cassy, coolly; "they are all out after the hunt,—that 's the amusement of the evening! We'll go upstairs, by and by. Meanwhile," said she, deliberately taking a key from the pocket of a coat that Legree had thrown clown in his hurry, "meanwhile I shall take something to pay our passage."
She unlocked the desk, took from it a roll of bills, which she counted over rapidly.
"O, don't let's do that!" said Emmeline.
"Don't!" said Cassy; "why not? Would you have us starve in the swamps, or have that that will pay our way to the free States? Money will do anything, girl." And as she spoke, she put the money in her bosom.
"It would be stealing," said Emmeline, in a distressed whisper.
"Stealing!" said Cassy, with a scornful laugh. "They who steal body and soul need n't talk to us. Every one of these bills is stolen,—stolen front poor, starving, sweating creatures, who must go to the devil at last, for his profit. Let him talk about stealing! But come, we may as well go up garret; I 've got a stock of candles there, and some books to pass away the time. You may be pretty sure they won't come there to inquire after us. If they do, I 'll play ghost for them."