XVI. BOUND FOR THE LAND OF FREEDOM
A WHILE we must leave Tom in the hands of his persecutors, while we turn to pursue the fortunes of George and his wife, whom we left in friendly hands in a farm-house on the roadside. George and Eliza, with their child, were driven privately into Sandusky, and lodged beneath a hospital roof, preparatory to taking their last passage on the lake.
Their night was now far spent, and the morning star of liberty rose fair before them. Liberty! What is it? What is freedom to that young man who sits there, with his arms folded over his broad chest, the tint of African blood in his cheek, its dark fires in his eyes—what is freedom to George Harris? To him it is the right of a man to be a man and not a brute; the right to protect and educate his child; the right to have a home of his own, a religion of his own, a character of his own, unsubject to the will of another.
All these thoughts were rolling and seething in George's breast,
as he was pensively leaning his head on his hand, watching his wife,
as she was adapting to her slender and pretty form the articles of
attire, in which it was deemed safest she should make her escape.
"Now for it," said she, as she stood before the glass, and shook down her silky abundance of black, curly hair. "I say, George, it's almost a pity, isn't it," she said, as she held up some of it playfully. "Pity it's all got to come off?"
George smiled sadly, and made no answer.
Eliza turned to the glass, and the scissors glittered as one long lock after another was detached from her head.
"There, now, that'll do," she said, taking up a hair-brush; "now for a few fancy touches."
"There, an't I a pretty young fellow?" she said, turning around to her husband, laughing and blushing at the same time.
"You always will be pretty, do what you will," said George.
"What does make you so sober?" said Eliza, kneeling on one knee, and laying her hand on his.
"We are only within twenty-four hours of Canada, they say. Only a day and a night on the lake, and then—oh, then!"
"O Eliza!" said George, drawing her towards him, "that is it! Now my fate is all narrowing down to a point. To come so near, to be almost in sight, and then lose all. I should never live under it, Eliza."
"Don't fear," said his wife hopefully. "The good Lord would not have brought us so far, if he didn't mean to carry us through. I seem to feel him with us, George."
"You are a blessed woman, Eliza!" said George, clasping her
with a convulsive grasp. "But—oh, tell me? can this great mercy be
for us? Will these years
and years of misery come to an end?—shall we be free?"
"I am sure of it, George," said Eliza, looking upward, while tears of hope and enthusiasm shone on her long, dark lashes. "I feel it in me that God is going to bring us out of bondage this very day."
"I will believe you, Eliza," said George, rising suddenly up, "I
will believe; come let's be off. Well, indeed," said he, holding her
off at arm's length, and looking admiringly at her, "you
are a pretty little fellow. That crop of
little, short curls is quite becoming. Put on your cap. So—a little
one side. I never saw you look quite so pretty. But it's almost time for the carriage; I wonder if Mrs. Smyth has got Harry rigged?"
The door opened, and a respectable, middle-aged woman entered, leading little Harry, dressed in girl's clothes.
"What a pretty girl he makes," said Eliza, turning him round. "We call him Harriet."
The child stood gravely regarding his mother in her new and strange attire, observing a profound silence, and occasionally drawing deep sighs, and peeping at her from under his dark curls.
"Does Harry know mamma?" said Eliza, stretching her hands toward him.
The child clung shyly to the woman.
"Come Eliza, why do you try to coax him, when you know that he has got to be kept away from you?"
"I know it's foolish," said Eliza, "yet I can't bear to have him turn away from me. But come—where's my cloak? Here—how is it men put on cloaks, George?"
"You must wear it so," said her husband, throwing it over his shoulders.
"So, then," said Eliza, imitating the motion; "and I must stamp, and take long steps, and try to look saucy. And these gloves! mercy upon us! why, my hands are lost in them."
"I advise you to keep them on pretty strictly," said George. "Your little slender paw might bring us all out. Now, Mrs. Smyth, you are to go under our charge, and be our aunty—you mind."
"I've heard," said Mrs. Smyth, "that there have been men down, warning all the packet-captains against a man and woman with a little boy."
"They have!" said George. "Well, if we see any such people, we can tell them."
A hack now drove to the door, and the friendly family who had received the fugitives crowded around them with farewell greetings.
Mrs. Smyth, a respectable woman from the settlement of Canada,
whither they were fleeing, being
fortunately about crossing the lake to return thither, had consented to appear as the aunt of little Harry; and, in order to attach him to her, he had been allowed to remain, the two last days, under her sole charge.
The hack drove to the wharf. The two young men, as they appeared, walked up the plank into the boat, Eliza gallantly giving her arm to Mrs. Smyth, and George attending to their baggage.
George was standing at the captain's office, settling for his party, when he overheard two men talking by his side.
"I've watched every one that came on board," said one, "and I know they're not on this boat."
The voice was that of the clerk of the boat. The speaker whom he addressed was our sometime friend Marks.
"You would scarcely know the woman from a white one," said Marks. "The man is a very light mulatto. He has a brand in one of his hands."
The hand with which George was taking the tickets and change trembled a little; but he turned cooly around, fixed an unconcerned glance on the face of the speaker, and walked leisurely toward another part of the boat, where Eliza stood waiting for him.
Mrs. Smyth, with little Harry, sought the seclusion of the ladies' cabin, where the dark beauty of the supposed little girl drew many flattering comments from the passengers.
George had the satisfaction, as the bell rang out its farewell peal, to see Marks walk down the plank to the shore; and drew a long sigh of relief, when the boat had put a returnless distance between them.
It was a superb day. The blue waves of Lake Erie danced rippling
and sparkling in the sunlight. A fresh
breeze blew from the shore, and the lordly boat ploughed her way right gallantly onward.
Hours fleeted, and, at last, clear and full rose the blessed shore.
George and his wife stood arm in arm as the boat neared the small town of Amherstberg, in Canada. His breath grew thick and short; a mist gathered before his eyes; he silently pressed the little hand that lay trembling on his arm. The bell rang—the boat stopped.
Scarcely seeing what he did, he looked out his baggage, and
gathered his party. The little company
were landed on the shore. They stood still till the boat had cleared; and then, with tears and embracings, the husband and wife, with their wondering child in their arms, knelt down and lifted up their hearts to God!
The little party were soon guided by Mrs. Smyth to the hospitable abode of a good missionary, whom Christian charity has placed here as a shepherd to the outcast and wandering, who are constantly finding an asylum on this shore.
Who can speak the blessedness of that first day of freedom? To move, speak and breathe, go out and come in unwatched and free from danger! How fair and precious to that mother was that sleeping child's face, endeared by the memory of a thousand dangers! How impossible was it to sleep in the possession of such blessedness!
And yet these two had not one acre of ground, not a roof that they could call their own, they had spent their all, to the last dollar. They had nothing more than the birds of the air, or the flowers of the field—yet they could not sleep for joy.