I. MR. SHELBY AND THE SLAVE-TRADER
LATE in the afternoon of a chilly day in February, two gentlemen were sitting alone over their wine, in a well-furnished dining parlor, in the town of P——, in Kentucky.
For convenience sake, we have said, hitherto, two gentlemen. One of the parties, however, did not seem, strictly speaking, to come under the species. He was a short, thick-set man, with coarse, commonplace features. He was much over-dressed, in a gaudy vest of many colors, a blue neckerchief, bedropped gayly with yellow spots, and arranged with a flaunting tie, quite in keeping with the general air of the man. His hands, large and coarse, were plentifully bedecked with rings; and he wore a heavy gold watch-chain, with a bundle of seals attached to it, which he was in the habit of flourishing and jingling with evident satisfaction.
His companion, Mr. Shelby, had the appearance of a gentleman. The two were in the midst of an earnest conversation.
"That is the way I should arrange the matter," said Mr. Shelby.
"I can't make trade that way—I positively can't, Mr. Shelby," said the other.
"Why, the fact is, Haley, Tom is an uncommon fellow; he is certainly worth that sum anywhere,—steady, honest, capable, manages my whole farm like a clock."
"You mean honest, as niggers go," said Haley, helping himself to a glass of brandy.
"No; I mean, really, Tom is a good, steady, sensible, pious fellow. He got religion at a camp-meeting, four years ago; and I believe he really did get it. I've trusted him, since then, with everything I have,—money, house, horses—and let him come and go round the country; and I always found him true and square in everything.
"Why, last fall, I let him go to Cincinnati alone, to do business for me, and bring home five hundred dollars. 'Tom,' says I to him, 'I trust you, because I think you're a Christian—I know you wouldn't cheat.' Tom comes back, sure enough—I knew he would. Some low fellows, they say, said to him: 'Tom, why don't you make tracks for Canada?' 'Ah, master trusted me, and I couldn't!' They told me about it. I am sorry to part with Tom, I must say. You ought to let him cover the whole balance of the debt; and you would, Haley, if you had any conscience."
"Well, I've got just as much conscience as any man in business can afford to keep—just a little, you know," said the trader, jocularly. "Haven't you a boy that you could throw in with Tom?"
"Hum!—none that I could well spare; to tell the truth, it's only hard necessity makes me willing to sell at all. I don't like parting with any of my hands—that's a fact."
Here the door opened, and a small quadroon boy, between four and five years of age, entered the room. There was something in his appearance remarkably beautiful and engaging. His black hair, fine as floss-silk, hung in glossy curls about his round, dimpled face, while a pair of large dark eyes, full of fire and softness, looked out from beneath the rich, long lashes, as he peered curiously into the apartment. A certain comic air of assurance, blended with bashfulness, showed that he had been not unused to being petted and noticed by his master.
"Hulloa, Jim Crow!" said Mr. Shelby, whistling, and snapping a bunch of raisins towards him, "pick that up, now!"
The child scampered, with all his little strength, after the prize, while his master laughed.
"Come here, Jim Crow," said he.
The child came up and the master patted the curly head, and chucked him under the chin.
"Now, Jim, show this gentleman how you can dance and sing."
The boy commenced one of those wild songs common among the
negroes, in a rich, clear voice, accom-
panying his singing with many comic evolutions of the hands, feet, and whole body, all in perfect time to the music.
"Bravo!" said Haley, throwing him a quarter of an orange.
"Tell you what," said he, suddenly clapping his hand on Mr. Shelby's shoulder, "fling in that chap, and I'll settle the business—I will. Come, now."
At this moment the door was pushed gently open, and a young quadroon woman, apparently about twenty-five, entered the room.
There needed only a glance from the child to her, to identify her as its mother. There was the same rich, full, dark eye, with its long lashes; the same ripples of silky black hair.
"Well, Eliza?" said her master, as she stopped and looked hesitatingly at him.
"I was looking for Harry, please, sir," and the boy bounded toward her, showing his spoils, which he had gathered in the skirt of his robe.
"Well, take him away then," said Mr. Shelby; and hastily she withdrew, carrying the child on her arm.
"Well, you'll let me have the boy?" said the trader; "you must own I've come down pretty handsomely for him."
"What on earth can you want with the child?" said Shelby.
"Why, I've got a friend that's going into this yer branch of the business—wants to buy up handsome boys to raise for the market."
"I would rather not sell him," said Mr. Shelby, thoughtfully; "the fact is, sir, I'm a humane man, and I hate to take the boy from his mother, sir."
"O, you do? I understand, perfectly. It is
mighty onpleasant getting on with women, sometimes. Now, what if you get the girl off for a day, or a week, or so; then the thing's done quietly—all over before she comes home."
And the trader leaned back in his chair, and folded his arms.
"Well," said Haley, after they had both silently picked their nuts for a season, "what do you say?"
"I'll think the matter over, and talk with my wife. Call up this evening between six and seven, and you shall have my answer," said Mr. Shelby, and the trader bowed himself out of the apartment.
"I'd like to have been able to kick the fellow down the steps," said he to himself, as he saw the door fairly closed, "with his impudent assurance; but he knows how much he has me at advantage. If anybody had ever said to me that I should sell Tom down south to one of those rascally traders, I should have said, 'Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?' And now it must come, for aught I see. And Eliza's child, too! I know that I shall have some fuss with wife about that; and, for that matter, about Tom, too. So much for being in debt—heigho! The fellow sees his advantage, and means to push it."
Now, it had so happened that, in approaching the door, Eliza had caught enough of the conversation to know that a trader was making offers to her master for somebody.
She would gladly have stopped at the door to listen as she came out; but her mistress just then calling, she was obliged to hasten away.
Still she thought she heard the trader make an offer for her boy; could she be mistaken? Her heart swelled and throbbed, and she involuntarily strained him so tight that the little fellow looked up into her face in astonishment.
"Eliza, girl, what ails you to-day?" said her mistress, when Eliza had upset the wash-pitcher and knocked down the work-stand.
Eliza started. "O, missis!" she said, raising her eyes; then, bursting into tears, she sat down in a chair, and began sobbing.
"Why, Eliza child! what ails you?" said her mistress.
"O! missis, missis," said Eliza, "there's been a trader talking with master in the parlor! I heard him."
"Well, silly child, suppose there has."
"O, missis, do you suppose mas'r would sell my Harry?" And the poor creature threw herself into a chair, and sobbed.
"Sell him! No, you foolish girl! You know your master never deals with those southern traders, and never means to sell any of his servants, as long as they behave well. Why, you silly child, who do you think would want to buy your Harry? Do you think all the world are set on him as you are, you goosie? Come, cheer up, and hook my dress. There now, put my back hair up in that pretty braid you learnt the other day, and don't go listening at doors any more."
"Well, but, missis, you never would give your consent—to—to—"
"Nonsense, child! to be sure, I shouldn't. What do you talk so for? I would as soon have one of my own children sold. But really, Eliza, you are getting altogether too proud of that little fellow. A man can't put his nose into the door, but you think he must be coming to buy him."
Reassured by her mistress' confident tone, Eliza proceeded nimbly and adroitly with her toilet, laughing at her own fears, as she proceeded.
She had been brought up by her mistress, from girlhood, as a petted and indulged favorite. Safe under the protecting care of her mistress, Eliza had been married to a bright and talented young mulatto man, who was a slave on a neighboring estate, and bore the name of George Harris.
He was possessed of a handsome person and pleasing manners, and was a general favorite. For a year or two Eliza saw her husband frequently, and there was nothing to interrupt their happiness up to the time that her husband was rudely torn from his kind employer, and brought under the iron sway of his legal owner.
[George was then taken away from the factory, in which he had worked for some time, and was put to the meanest drudgery of the farm. He seldom had opportunity to see his wife and child.]