TO the imaginative, the Sunny South is Poetry. Its name touches mysterious chords, waking response in the soul to sounds that float on breezes odorous from groves of spice and orchards of lemon and orange. The light is all mellow and roseate; the air is cooled by winds from the ocean, where they heaved his bosom and sported with his foam crests, and now stir branches whose evergreen leaves decked with new blossoms are shading fruits—some rounding into form—some ripening into pulpy texture and luscious juices.
Luxurious repose and lordly indolence reign in the
land of the pine groves, festooned with the moss-woven
drapery. There the weary repose: the invalid
is screened from biting winds! Hence, it is often
supposed that clerical gentlemen of the South live in
a dream-land; that their ministry is exercised among
the wealthy, with whom they visit in carriages, and with whom they live in an endless variety of tasteful and costly delights!
Never mistake greater! The fresh-fledged theologic that goes South under the influence of poetry, wakes, suddenly roused into most uncomfortable prose. The business of a true minister there is not among the rich, but the poor! Know it—ye fanatics! The rich in the South despise the minister that neglects the poor! The master abhors the pastor that forgets the slave! Hear it—ye miserable slanderers! The most laborious, pains-taking, self-denying, apostolic men, are the white ministers of religion in the South!
Curse away! They bless. Cast them out of your Alliances! They remain in the Church. Enjoy your literary breakfasts! your tobacco and wine! your Indignation Meetings! These self-denying brethren are among the poor Africans, watching for their souls, and fitting them for Heaven. Your excommunicated brethren are toiling in the midst of fevers and swamps, not to establish or overthrow governments, as ye, but to build up the Divine Kingdom. You may preach rebellions; but it is not their office to open rendezvous and raise signal flags for runaways. They turn slaves into the Lord's Freemen. The southern Christians hear your taunts and your scoffs; they pity and despise you.
Do you dare give them lessons in duty? Go—beg pardon for your presumption, and learn of those unambitious men, how in similar circumstances apostles behaved! Enter their churches: behold Ethiopia there! Consider their order, their decency, their dress, their serious faces, their devotion! Listen to their hymns; and without your whispering, envying, squabbling choirs—your opera singers—and your instruments of music! Follow them to the Table of our Lord! And will you dare after that to villify and mock the white ministers that have done all this! Blush for your effrontery, and mourn for your wickedness!
Our friend Leamington was emphatically the Negro-Preacher, while he fully met the demands of a rich, and refined, and intellectual community. He was the idol of that community; and mainly because he was the idol of the slaves. On Sabbath days he had special sermons for the negroes. But owing to the Sabbath Schools, and the domestic instruction of owners, they could understand and appreciate, in a degree, his elaborate discourses. In fact, many slaves could read well: some could write; for in spite of law and by connivance of law-men, nearly every gentleman and lady in the parish was a negro teacher.
True, the blacks sat often on carriage boxes as
white men in livery do north; but then the church doors and windows being open, Mr. Dark could hear as well outside as Mr. Light inside.
But Mr. L. limited not his negro labors to the Sabbath. He was instant in season and out of season: in the fields; in the quarters; by the road; on the waters—teaching, rebuking, exhorting. He was with the blacks in hours of sickness, of sorrow, of death; hence his word became law, his requests commands.
Mr. L.'s salary was large; but owing to his many benefactions, his gifts to his mother, his northern visits, his necessary style of living, he was usually poor in this world's goods, though rich in faith and good works. He was disinclined to accepting important presents; hence his wealthy friends feared to send other presents than tokens and mementos in the way of books and articles for a centre table.
Arrangements had been made by Mr. L. with Mr. Wetheril and the executors for the payment of the $4,000, which was done with comparative ease; because on the day of payments Mr. L. received from Mr. Wardloe a cheque not merely for $1,000, but, according to that gentleman's usual weakness, for $2,000. The note inclosing the cheque had this written with a pencil:
"Nephew, I send $2,000—I know your scruples.
But I will positively
take no denial. See here—
don't refuse the additional—I'll pitch it in the fire, if you send any back. You'll have it hard enough with the remaining $2,000. Yours, &c.,
Well, here was a calm after a storm. Folks sailed about now in smooth waters. Frank was overseeing and directing to the parson's content. Sarah was nestled away for life at Mr. Wardloe's. By a fall, some years back, she had injured herself internally so as to produce an enlargement of the heart, threatening death at any time, but specially in excitement. Dr. Harrison thought she might now live a dozen years.
Uncle Wardloe was happy. His acts of "weakness" seemed always to give him fresh health and spirits. And since the negroes had revealed, in their frolics, that Sambo had let "the cat out," Mr. Wardloe would himself relate the matter, and with pretty good mimicry do honest Sambo's surprise at being "whipped for sartin." And now when "Chambers' nigger" met Mr. W. he would venture, if Mr. W. looked smiling, to say—"Massa! how live oak post bellar that ar night!" adding, "God bless you, kind Massa Wardloe!"
And Mr. L. was happy. To a stranger, however,
it was evident that the balmy South had not proved
all it was hoped. A slight occasional cough; a very
little pain in his breast; a blushing spot now and
then perceptible on his cheek, foretokened what his friends would not allow themselves to contemplate. Indeed, Mr. W. and Mrs. Leamington, the more the symptoms increased, would only say—"After all, how much better Edward is than before he came South!" But good people, and especially the Christian negroes, would say among themselves, "Massa Parson! he too good to last long! he like a lilly child,—he go bimeby to his Heavenly Father!" There was, indeed, no ground to fear a speedy, much less a sudden change: he might live for ten or more years. Some apparently worse had lived longer than that.
Mr. L., however, knew that he was in all probability not to live that long: that his sun would set at noon! And it was this made him work while his morning lasted; for this he desired so earnestly to save many souls, and chiefly, among others, the negroes who would be "jewels in his crown!"
But this sunshine at Evergreen was overcast with shade! Death of a sudden came, not indeed to our friend, nor as a messenger of terror! He came as an angel of beauty with a cherub's form and a seraph's voice; and for a saint waiting his escort to her home!
The family is summoned to the death of Dinah!
The parson and his wife have been with this aged
slave daily since their return: not to alleviate pain,
nor to soothe a troubled breast, nor to administer
medicines; but to prepare her for the entrance of the valley and the passage of the stream. The pilgrim is more than a hundred years old! She has merely lived life out; and she is now calmly, joyously, yes triumphantly, awaiting the death-slumber! Sickness she has never known!
Dinah was a native African; and her face and arms were scarred and seamed with sacred marks, by which her regal ancestors were distinguished and known as children of the gods! Several years ago she told this story of her early life to her beloved master, our friend:—"My fader, dear massa, was de king along de goold coast. I remember him on the big river; he very proud and grand, and have many warrior, and make many war, and bring home much slave and prisoner. He kill some to de gods and he sell some to de dealer. Ah! massa!—I bad den! I very proud! I feel big when I see hunder black man took into to de bush for make sacrifice—But I, poor blind hethun—I know now de cross of Christ!—I's differunt now—I could die for de poor black man now!
"One time, massa, de king, my fader, go out to
it slave for de wite man; he come and say to my
fader, me want two hunner more slave for
cargo—me gib you eber so many gun, and bead, and cloth.
And den my fader he call his soljer-men and he go
in de dark night, and he burn great big village, and
he kill great many poor lilly chiller with de mudder, and bring back much fine big black man. I stan and see em come; but, massa, when de prisoner prince stan up and say to my fader—'king Congaree! kill me—no sell me for slave!' I feel my heart kiss de gran prince! I lub him—he look so!
"And den dat night I go lone to de hut—I, creep wid knife—I cut de grass rope—I say 'me be your wife, I'm king's daughter!' And he say back—'I lub you for eber! I die for you!' And den we run to get bote; but de bad wite man he dar, and he take us both for slave! But de prince—he fite like big lion!—and dey kill him on de sand!
"De wite dealer he keep me in de ship—and my fader he tink I run away wid de prince to his country. I's had much big sorrow, dear massa! But me glad for all dat—'case here I find Jesus; and 'de lite affliction work out de 'ternal glory!'"
Ah! reader! the human heart has the same chords, and they vibrate in all, the same! Is he a good man that will not call another—brother!
Dinah could not read; but by a constant repetition of any text she heard, from the pulpit or elsewhere, her memory was so stored that a stranger would readily believe she read the Bible. But now her Lord and master—her elder brother—had come! This saint of the Most High God, was going Home!
She sat in her large arm-chair, as the whole family, hastily summoned, entered and stood around, for not even master or ristress would sit there!
Near her great-great-grandmother, kneeled Carrie, her head on the knee of the old negress; while Joe, her brother, stood behind, his head on the back of the chair.
George and Julia clung to their mother; but when Mrs. L. after a while, sank overpowered on a chair, the children fell on their knees and buried their faces in her lap.
Frank and the other negroes stood behind this group, filled with reverence and awe. None thought of color in that hut! Christ was there! Solemnity reigned, and without terror! The dying saw no darkness in the valley she had now entered! and the stream beyond was calm, its waters bright with gleamings from a glory partly revealed!
Dinah smiled, as she beckoned to Mr. Leamington, who was advancing, and she then took his hand, which she raised to her lips and kissed most affectionately, saying faintly,
"Farewell!—most kind massa! I going home, massa! I soon see you dar!"—
Here Mrs. L. sank down on a chair, and covering her face sobbed convulsively; while Mr. L. said with solemnity—
"Farewell! dear Dinah! Let God's will be done! When we do cross the river, may thy spirit be one to meet us."
On hearing the sobs of Mrs. L., the dying, as if her soul would cling to her mistress, cried;
"Missis! Miss Mary! I hear—I no see you! I nursed your mudder! I nursed you, missis! Your mudder angel now! I go see old missis!—glory!—I go—now."
"The Lord Jesus be with thy spirit," said Mr. L.
"I got de cross in my arms! Massa! Missis! I no see you now—dark! dark!"
"Lord Jesus receive her spirit."
"Amen!" sobbed the wife.
"Amen!" said the negroes.
"I—cold!—See! Jordan on fire!—Glory!"
"Son of God, receive her!" repeated Mr. Leamington.
A sigh quivered from the half-parted lips! A smile fixed on the stiffening features!—then, was the hush of death! But—
An idolator was saved! A slave was free!
In a few moments Mr. L. becoming sufficiently composed, and standing near the seeming sleeper, although he was ever and anon interrupted by the irrepressible outburts of feeling, said:
"Dinah is in Heaven! She found only a narrow
stream, and only a shade in the valley! The light of the city was on the water and gleamed into the path leading down thither! Children!—all of you!—you have seen a Christian sleep in Jesus! This room is more glorious than a palace—God has been here! Imitate all that was honest, faithful, obedient in Dinah; trust in her Saviour; so when you die all will be peace! May God grant that we may die the death of the righteous, and that our latter end may be peace! Thanks be to him who gave her the victory; and who is ready to give it unto us!—Amen!"
"Amen!" was the united and solemn response.
* * * *
The funeral was appointed for the third day, that all the negroes of the adjacent islands, and especially the communicants, might make preparation, and have an opportunity of being at the burial. All the arrangements were committed to Frank.
At an early hour on the day appointed, the boats arrived from all directions, and filled to their utmost capacity. There was an utter absence of the usual garrulity and refrain. Instead of noise and song, hymns were heard in many boats; and in none was any conversation bordering on levity. Not that all were pious blacks or even specially moral; but this was a kind of national funeral.
The daughter of a negro king was to be buried!
Her royal father ruled in Africa more than one hun-
dred years ago; she had delivered a prince from bonds, and then she had seen her first love die, and in her defence, and on the golden sands of the far-off river, away in the negro land! Old and gray-headed negroes were in those boats, who, that day, amidst all the soberness of religion, and the solemnities of death, and the humiliation of bondage, sat upright and folded their arms, and looked, themselves, like negro kings. Many of these were from the land of deserts—the mighty Sahara! And they, too, had each a—History! The soldier's eye would have discerned in those athletic forms, and muscular arms, and far-wandering eyes into a land of early dreams, and in the firm, set teeth—an army, which with the white man's discipline and weapons, could stand and defend a Home! But, stay—we are burying the dead!
The younger negroes were awed! They were going to lay in the grave one that had known their fathers' fathers—that had looked on their ancestors beyond the ocean—that had outlived the ancients—and that had heard the boat songs of the dead!
Reader! white men were in those boats. The
negress that played in youth with the early lords of
the islands—that had nursed their own mothers, and
fondled and protected themselves in infancy—that
told them fearful tales of her own early life in the
idolators' land, and terrified them with legends of
witchcraft and incantation,—imitating the look and howl of conjurors and priests—that could give chronicles of the long past, and had history of their kith and kin—aye—that had dropped tears on the faces of their own dead—she, now, at the end of a century, was to lie down with the rest.
And now onward went the long procession—master and slave together—to the black woman's burial!
Mr. Leamington led the procession. Next, Mr. Wardloe supported his niece, and then came Col. Hilson, Dr. Harrison, Mr. Wetheril, and about fifty additional gentlemen and ladies. The chief mourners (and mourners they were) Carrie and Joe, walked sad; but having adopted their grandmother's white children, each held one by the hand. Then came Frank; and then the coffin borne by young negro men. Then followed the hoary-headed negroes— chieftains and warriors once—and once, alas! all idolaters, but most of them, now, believers. The younger negroes of both sexes closed the procession.
The spot for interment was a swelling ground near
the edge of a pine grove. Here, in the part allotted
to the slaves, a few head-boards marked the graves
on this recent plantation. The proper place for
Dinah's grave was on a far distant island; for there
lay the negroes that had been her youthful
companions; but the great inconvenience made it necessary
that she should lie among the dead of a new generation.
But now the living, uncovered, are around and looking into the pit. Hark! the cords! The coffin is at the bottom! And Mr. Leamington, after a service from a book, addressed the company, thus—
"BELOVED BRETHREN:—Methusaleh lived almost a thousand years—and then—he died. This is the dream-life. It is passed like a tale that is told, and swifter than a weaver's shuttle. To-day we rejoice over the new-born; to-morrow we weep at his grave. It is but a step from life to death, though ten centuries are between.
"But who lives one century? Strange act—we have laid in the grave a woman of an hundred years. To us, on looking forward, like an eternity; to the antediluvians, the maturity of their youth; to all, when passed—nothing!
"Shall we weep that this African is here at rest? No. But if we do weep, be it for joy on her account—in mourning for ourselves. Boundless love of Christ! The dark soul of a pagan was bright with the light of life. Yesterday, she was prostrate before idols; to-day, she worships before the Living God.
"Let fall the earth gently on her coffin. We shall
all go to her; she will never come to us. But, dear
and beloved friends and neighbors, masters and
servants, let us by repentance unto life, and faith in our
Saviour, be ready, as she was, when the summons comes! Amen."
And then, like the voice of the forest, came from that assembly the responsive—Amen. Then out-swelled the hymn—
"When I can read my title clear,
No organ was needed to sustain that song. It gushed from the heart! It pervaded the dark retreats of the pines, where the moss draped the scene as for the pageant funeral of some illustrious dead.
A prayer followed the hymn, offered by Mr. Leamington, master in one sense, servant in another; at the end of which the train turned towards the parsonage, and—
The negress awaited the Resurrection!