CHAPTER XLI. THE YOUNG MASTER.
THE letter of Miss Ophelia to Mrs. Shelby had, by some unfortunate accident, been detained, for a month or two, at some remote postoffice before it reached its destination; and, of course, before it was received, Tom was already lost to view among the distant swamps of the Red River.
Mrs. Shelby was deeply grieved, but she was then in attendance on the sick-bed of her husband. A little later he died. and then the large amount of business thrown upon her delayed the matter for a while. Then she received a letter from the lawyer to whom Miss Ophelia had referred her, saying that he knew nothing of the matter, that Tom was sold at a public auction, and that, beyond receiving the money, he knew nothing of the affair.
Neither George nor Mrs. Shelby could be easy at this result, and, accordingly, some six months after, the latter, who had grown from a boy to a tall young man, having business for his mother, down the river, visited New Orleans in hopes of discovering Tom's whereabouts, and restoring him.
After some months of unsuccessful search, by the merest accident,
George fell in with a man, in New Orleans, who
happened to be possessed of the desired information; and with his money in his pocket, our hero took steamboat for Red River, resolving to find out, and re-purchase his old friend.
He was soon introduced into the house, where he found Legree in the sitting room.
Legree received the stranger with a kind of surly hospitality.
"I understand," said the young man, "that you bought, in New Orleans, a boy, named Tom. He used to be on my father's place and I came to see if I couldn't buy him back."
Legree's brow grew dark, and he broke out passionately: "Yes, I did buy such a fellow,—and a great bargain I had of it, too! The most rebellious, saucy, impudent dog! Set up my niggers to run away, got off two gals, worth eight hundred or a thousand dollars apiece. He owned to that, and when I bid him tell me where they was, he up and said he knew, but he wouldn't tell, and stood to it, though I gave him the cussedest flogging I ever gave nigger yet. I b'lieve he's trying to die; but I don't know as he'll make it out."
"Where is he?" said George, impetuously. "Let me see him."
"He 's in dat ar shed," said a little fellow, who stood holding George's horse.
Legree kicked the boy, and swore at him; but George, without saying another word, turned and strode to the spot.
Tom had been lying two days since the fatal night; not
suffering, for every nerve of suffering was blunted and destroyed.
Cassy, who had glided out of her place of concealment, and, by over-hearing, learned the sacrifice that had been made for her and Emmeline, had been there, the night before, defying the danger of detection; and. moved by the few last words which the affectionate soul had yet strength to breathe, the dark, despairing woman had wept and prayed.
When George entered the shed, he felt his head giddy and his heart sick.
"Is it possible,—is it possible?" said he, kneeling down by him. "Uncle Tom, my poor, poor old friend!" Something in the voice penetrated to the ear of the dying. He moved his head gently, smiled, and said:
"Jesus can make a dying bed
Tears which did honor to his manly heart fell from the young man's eyes, as he bent over his poor friend.
"O, dear Uncle Tom! do wake,—do speak once more! Look up! Here's Mas'r George;—your own little Mas'r George. Don't you know me?"
"Mas'r George!" said Tom, opening his eyes, and speaking in a feeble voice; "Mas'r George!" He looked bewildered.
Slowly the idea seemed to fill his soul: and the vacant eve became
fixed and brightened, the whole face lighted up, the hard hands
clasped, and tears ran down the cheeks. "Bless the Lord! it is,—it
is,—it's all I wanted! They
haven't forgot me. It warms my soul; it does my old heart good! Now I shall die content! Bless the Lord, oh my soul!"
"You shan't die! you mustn't die, nor think of it! I've come to buy you, and take you home," said George, with impetuous vehemence.
"O, Mas'r George, ye're too late. The Lord's bought me, and is going to take me home,—and I long to go. Heaven is better than Kentuck."
"O, don't die! It'll kill me!—it'll break my heart to think what you've suffered,—and lying in this old shed, here! Poor, poor fellow!"
"Don't call me poor fellow!" said Tom, solemnly. "I have been poor fellow; but that's all past and gone, now. I'm right in the door, going into glory! O, Mas'r George! Heaven has come! I've got the victory!—the Lord Jesus has given it to me! Glory be to His name!"
George was awe-struck at the force, the vehemence, the power, with which these broken sentences were uttered. He sat gazing in silence.
Tom grasped his hand, and continued,—"Ye mustn't, now, tell
Chloe, poor soul! how ye found me; 'twould be so drefful to her. Only
tell her ye found me going into glory; and that I couldn't stay for
no one. And tell her the Lord's stood by me everywhere and al'ays,
and made everything light and easy. And oh, the poor chil'en, and the
baby!—my old heart's been most broke for 'em, time and agin! Tell
'em all to follow me—follow me! Give my love to Mas'r, and clear good
Missis, and everybody in the place! Ye don't know! 'Pears like I
loves 'em all!
At this moment, Legree sauntered up to the door of the shed, looked in, with a dogged air of affected carelessness, and turned away.
At this moment, the sudden flush of strength which the joy of meeting his young master had infused into the dying man gave way. A sudden sinking fell upon him, he closed his eyes; and that mysterious and sublime change passed over his face, that told the approach of other worlds.
He began to draw his breath with long, deep inspirations; and his broad chest rose and fell, heavily. The expression of his face was that of a conqueror.
"Who, who, who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" he said, in a voice that contended with mortal weakness; and, with a smile, he fell asleep.
George sat fixed with solemn awe. It seemed to hinn that the place was holy; and, as he closed the lifeless eyes, and rose up from the dead, only one thought possessed him, that expressed. by his simple old friend,—"What a thing it is to be a Christian!"
He turned: Legree was standing. sullenly, behind him. Fixing his keen dark eyes on Legree, he simply said, pointing to the dead, "You have got all you ever can of him. What shall I pay you for the body? I will take it away, and bury it decently."
"I don't sell dead niggers," said Legree, doggedly. "You are welcome to bury him where and when you like."
"Boys," said George, to two or three negroes, who were
looking at the body, "help me lift him up, and carry him to my wagon; and get me a spade."
One of them ran for a spade; the other two assisted George to carry the body to the wagon.
George spread his cloak in the wagon, and had the body carefully disposed of in it, then he turned, fixed his eyes on Legree, and said, with forced composure,
"I have not, as yet, said to you what I think of this most atrocious affair; this is not the time and place. But, sir, this innocent blood. shall have justice. I will proclaim this murder. I will go to the very first magistrate, and expose you."
"Do!" said Legree, snapping his fingers, scornfully. "I'd like to see you doing it. Where you going to get; witnesses?—how you going to prove it?—Come, now!"
George saw, at once, the force of this defiance. There was not a white person on the place; and, in all southern courts, the testimony of colored blood is nothing. He felt, at that moment, as if he could have rent the heavens with his heart's indignant cry for justice; but in vain.
"After all, what a fuss, for a dead nigger!" said Legree. The word was as a spark to a powder magazine. Prudence was never a cardinal virtue of the Kentucky boy. George turned, and, with one indignant blow, knocked Legree flat upon his face.
Beyond the boundaries of the plantation, George had noticed a dry, sandy knoll, shaded by a few trees: there they made a gave.
"Shall we take off the cloak, Mas'r?" said the negroes, when the grave was ready.
"No, no,—bury it with him! It's all I can give you, now, poor Tom, and you shall have it."
They laid him in; and the men shovelled away, silently. They banked it up, and laid green turf over it.
"You may go, boys," said George, slipping a quarter into the hand of each. They lingered about, however.
"If young Mas'r would please buy us—" said one.
"We 'd serve him so faithful!" said the other.
"Hard times here, Mas'r!" said the first. "Do, Mas'r, buy us, please!"
"I can't!—I can't!" said George, with difficulty motioning them off; it's impossible!"
The poor fellows looked dejected, and walked off in silence.
"Witness, eternal God!" said George, kneeling on the grave of his poor friend; "oh, witness, that from this hour, I will do what one man can to drive out this curse of slavery from my land!"
There is no monument to mark the last resting place of our friend. He needs none! His Lord knows where he lies, and will raise him up, immortal, to appear with him when he shall appear in his glory.