CHAPTER V. SHOWING THE FEELINGS OF LIVING PROPERTY ON CHANGING OWNERS.
AFTER Mr. and Mrs. Shelby had retired to their apartment for the night, Mrs. Shelby said, carelessly,
"By the by, Arthur, who was that low-bred fellow that you lugged in to our dinner-table to-day?"
"Haley is his name," said Shelbv, turning himself rather uneasily in his chair.
"Haley! Who is he, and what may be his business here, pray?"
"W'ell, he's a man that I transacted some business with, last time I was at Natchez," said Mr. Shelby.
"Is he a negro trader?" said Mrs. Shelby, noticing a certain embarrassment in her husband's manner.
"Why, my dear, what put that into your head?" said Shelby, looking up.
"Nothing,—only Eliza came in here, after dinner, in a great worry, crying and taking on, and said you were talking with a trader, and that she heard him make an offer for her boy—the ridiculous little goose!"
"She did, hey?" said Mr. Shelby.
"I told Eliza," said Mrs. Shelby, "that she was a little fool for her pains, and that you never had anything to do with that sort of persons. Of course, I knew—you never meant to sell any of our people,—least of all, to such a fellow."
"Well, Emily," said her husband, "so I have always felt and said; but the fact is I shall have to sell some of my hands."
"To that creature? You cannot be serious."
"I'm sorry to say that I am," said Mr. Shelby. "I've agreed to sell Tom."
"What! our Tom?—that good, faithful creature! been your faithful servant from a boy! I can believe now that you could sell little Harry, poor Eliza's only child!" said Mrs. Shelby, in a tone between grief and indignation.
"Well, since you must know all, it is so. I have agreed to sell Tom and Harry both."
"My dear," said Mrs. Shelby, "forgive me. I have been hasty. I was surprised, and entirely unprepared for this. Tom is a noble-hearted, faithful fellow, if he is black. I do believe that if he were put to it, he would lay down his life for you."
"I know it,—I dare say; but what's the use of all this?—I can't help myself."
"Why not make a pecuniary sacrifice? I am willing to bear my part
of the inconvenience. O, I have tried to do my duty to these poor,
simple, dependent creatures. I have taught them the duties of the
family, of parent and child, and husband and wife; and how can I bear
to have this open acknowledgment that we care for no tie, no duty, no
however sacred, compared with money? I have talked with Eliza about her boy—her duty to him as Christian mother, to watch over him, pray for him; and bring him up in a Christian way; and now what can I say, if you tear him away, and sell him, soul and body, to a profane, unprincipled man, just to save a little money?"
"I'm sorry you feel so about it, Emily,—indeed I am," said Mr. Shelby; "and I respect your feelings. Haley has come into possession of a mortgage, which, if I don't clear of with him directly, will take everything before it. I've raked, and scraped, and borrowed, and all but begged,and the price of these two was needed to make up the balance, and I had to give them up. Haley fancied the child; he agreed to settle the matter that way, and no other. I was in his power, and had to do it. If you feel so to have them sold, would it be any better to have all sold?"
Mrs. Shelby stood like one stricken. Finally, she said:
"This is God's curse on slavery!—a bitter, bitter, most accursed thing!—a curse to the master and a curse to the slave! I was a fool to think I could make anything good out of such a deadly evil. It is a sin to hold a slave under laws like ours,—I always felt it was,—I always thought so when I was a girl,—I thought so still more after I joined the church; but I thought I could gild it over,—I thought, by kindness, and care, and instruction, I could make the condition of mine better than freedom—fool that I was!"
"I'm sorry, very sorry, Emily," said Mr. Shelby, "I'm sorry this
takes hold of you so; but it will do no good. The fact is, Emily, the
thing's done; the bills of sale are
already signed, and in Haley's hands; and you must be thankful it is no worse."
There was one listener to this conversation whom Mr. and Mrs. Shelby little suspected.
Communicating with their apartment was a large closet, opening by a door into the outer passage. When Mrs. Shelby had dismissed Eliza for the night, her feverish and excited mind had suggested the idea of this closet; and she had hidden herself there, and, with her ear pressed close against the crack of the door, had lost not a word of the conversation.
When the voices died into silence, she rose and crept stealthily away. Pale and shivering she looked an entirely altered being from the soft and timid creature she had been hitherto. She moved cautiously along the entry, and then turned and glided into her own room, where, on the bed, lay her slumbering boy.
"Poor boy! poor fellow!" said Eliza; "they have sold you! but your mother will save you yet!"
Then she took a piece of paper and a pencil, and wrote, hastily,
"O, Missis! dear Missis! don't think me ungrateful,—don't think hard of me, any way, I heard all you and master said to-night. I am going to try to save my boy—you will not blame me! God bless and reward you for all your kindness!"
Hastily folding and directing this, she made up a little package of clothing for her boy, which she tied with a handkerchief firmly round her waist; and even in the terrors of that hour, she did not forget to put in the little package one or two of his favorite toys.
"Where are you going, mother?" said he, as she drew near the bed, with his little coat and cap.
"Hush, Harry," she said; "musn't speak loud, or they will hear us. A wicked man was coming to take little Harry away from his mother, and carry him 'way off in the dark; but mother won't let him—she's going to put on her little boy's cap and coat and run off with him, so the ugly man can't catch him."
Saying these words, she dressed the child, and taking him in her arms, she glided noiselessly out, wrapping a shawl close round her child, as, perfectly quiet with vague terror, he clung round her neck.
Old Bruno, a great Newfoundland, rose, with a low growl, as she
came near. She gently spoke his name, and the animal instantly
prepared to follow her. A few min-
utes brought them to the window of Uncle Tom's cottage; and Eliza, stopping, tapped lightly on the window-pane. The prayer meeting at Uncle Tom's had been protracted to a very late hour, and although it was now between twelve and one o'clock, he and his worthy helpmeet were not yet asleep.
"Good Lord! what's that?" said Aunt Chloe, starting up and hastily drawing the curtain. "My sakes alive, if it ain't 'Lizy! Get on your clothes, old man, quick!—there's old Bruno, too, a pawin' round; what on airth'. I'm gwine to open the door."
The door flew open, and the light of the tallow candle, which Tom had hastily lighted, fell on the haggard face and dark, wild eyes of the fugitive.
"Lord bless you!—I'm skeered to look at ye,'Lizy! Are ye tuck sick, or what's come over ye?"
"I'm running away—carrying off my child—Master sold him!"
"Sold him?" echoed both.
"Yes, sold him!" said Eliza, firmly; "I heard Master tell Missis that he had sold my Harry, and you, Uncle Tom, both, to a trader; and that the man was to take possession to-day."
Tom had stood, during this speech like a man in a dream. Slowly and gradually, as its meaning came over him, he collapsed, rather than seated himself, on his old chair, and sunk his head down upon his knees.
"The good Lord have pity on us!" said Aunt Chloe. "O! it don't seem as if it was true! What has he done, that Mas'r should sell him?
"Well, old man!" added Aunt Chloe, "why don't you go
Tom slowly raised his head, and looked sorrowfully but quietly around, and said,
"No, no—I an't going. Let Eliza go—it's her right! I wouldn't be the one to say no—'tan't in natur for her to stay; but you heard what she said! If I must be sold, or all the people on the place, and everything go to rack, why, let me be sold. Mas'r always found me on the spot—he always will. I never have broke trust, nor used my pass no ways contrary to my word, and I never will. It's better for me alone to go, than to break up the place and sell all."
"And now," said Eliza, "I saw my husband only this afternoon, and I little knew then what was to come. They have pushed him to the very last standing-place. and he told me, to-day, that he was goin' to run away. Do try, if you can, to get word to him. Tell him how I went, and why I went; and tell him I'm going to try and find Canada. You must give my love to him, and tell him, if I never see him again, to be as good as be can, and try and meet me in the kingdom of heaven."
"Call Bruno in there," she added. "Shut the door on him, poor beast! He mustn't go with me!"