A LONG, winding blast of the bugle-horn summoned the
labourers the field, the carpenter and blacksmith from their
shops, the spinsters from their wheels, the weaver from her
loom, and emptied, as if by magic, the white-washed cabins.
The negroes, one and all, had been told to attend their
master's call, expressed by that sounding blast. It was just
before the sunset hour,—one of those mild, glowing days,
that so often diffuse over the aspect of a Southern winter
the blandness of summer and the haziness of autumn.
Eulalia and Ildegerte stood in the portico, spectatresses of a
scene which made their hearts throb high in their bosoms.
Ildegerte's eyes flashed with excitement. Eulalia's cheek was
the bed of its coming and vanishing roses. She saw her
husband standing, as she had seen him once before, the
centre of a dark ring, but she gazed with far different
emotions. It could not be said that she feared for him. His
superiority was so manifest, that it suggested, at once, the
idea of triumph—the triumph of mind over matter. He seemed
to her an angel of light
surrounded by the spirits of darkness, and, knowing that he was defended by the breastplate of righteousness, she was assured of his safety as well as his power.
Moreland waited till they had all gathered, and they came with halting, lingering steps, very unlike their former cheerful alacrity; then, telling them to follow him, he led the way to the grave of the old prophetess, Dilsy, at whose burial he had made with them a solemn covenant, which he had kept inviolate. It was long since any of them had approached the burying-ground. In all their nightly meetings they had avoided passing it, fearing that the spirits of the dead would sweep their cold wings in their faces, or seize them with their stiff and icy fingers, or shriek in their ear some unearthly denunciation. As they walked through the place of graves, the long, dry yellow grass broke and crumpled under their steps, and the brambles twisted round their ankles. They had neglected their dead. The autumn leaves lay thick, damp, and rotting on the sods that covered them, choking the vines and plants, which, in happier hours, had been cultured there.
Moreland stopped by the headstone, which his own
hand had placed at Dilsy's grave, and indicated by a
commanding gesture the places they were to assume. Paul,
the preacher, stood nearest to him, his arms folded on his
brawny chest, and his hoary locks of wool bent so low they
seemed scattering their powder on the ground. Vulcan, the
blacksmith, black and sullen as a
thunder-cloud, stood on his left. The women, who had most of them been excluded from the secret deliberations, hung timidly in the rear, curiosity and apprehension struggling in them for mastery. And beyond the edge of the burying-ground, the two children of Moreland,—the one holding the hand, the other borne in the arms of Kizzie, shone in the innocence of infancy and beauty of childhood, on the gloom and duskiness of the scene.
"More than two years have passed," said Moreland, his
eyes glancing from face to face, calmly and gravely, as he
spoke, "since I stood on this spot, on which the
grave-clods had just been thrown, and you all stood around me
then, just as you are gathered now. At that hour, I renewed
the vows of protection and kindness to you which I uttered,
when a boy, in the ear of a dying mother. I told you, if I ever
proved unkind, unjust, and tyrannical, if I ever forgot my
duties to you as a master and a friend, to meet me here, in
this solemn enclosure, and remind me of what I then said.
You all promised then, to continue faithful, trustworthy, and
obedient, and, judging of the future by the past, I believed
you. And yet," he added, his voice deepening into
sternness and his eye kindling with indignation, "you have
basely deceived me; you have been listening to a traitor and
a villain, and plotting against your master and your friend.
Under presence of worshipping God, you have been
engaged in the service of Satan,
and doing the work of devils. I know all your horrible plans. I know what holiday frolics you are preparing. Which of you has a word to say in his defence? Which of you can look me in the face and say he does not deserve the severest punishment, for treachery and ingratitude to a master as kind and forbearing as I have ever been? Paul, you have taken upon you the office of a preacher of the gospel of peace, who, on all occasions, are the voice of your brethren; look up, speak, and if you have one word to say in your justification and theirs, let us hear it, and hear it quickly."
"No, massa!" cried Paul, slowly raising his head, without lifting his eyes; "got noting to say—noting—only Massa Brainard."
"Poor, deluded creatures!" said Moreland, "poor, blind
tools of an artful, selfish, false, and cold-hearted hypocrite,
who cares no more for you than the grass you are trampling
under your feet. I pity you; for I sent the wretch in your
midst, believing him to be a man of God. He has beguiled
you with promises of freedom. What is the freedom he can
offer you? Nothing but poverty, degradation, and sorrow. If
you could compare your condition with those of the free
coloured people at the North, you would shudder to think
of all that you have escaped. Listen! You are slaves, and I
am free; but I neither made you slaves nor myself a free
man. We are all in the condition in which we were born. You
are black, and I am white; but I did not
give you those sable skins, nor myself this fairer complexion. You and I are as God made us, and, as I expect to give an account of the manner in which I fulfil my duties as a master, so you will be judged according to your fidelity, honesty, and uprightness as servants. The Bible says—'Can the Ethiopian change his skin?' No, he cannot! but there is no reason why he should have a black heart, because his skin is black. Free! how willingly would I make you free this moment, if, by so doing, I could make you better and happier! Free! I would to heaven you were all free,—then I, too, should be free from a burden made intolerable by your treachery and ingratitude! I would rather, ten thousand times, cultivate these broad fields myself, than be served by faithless hands and false, hollow hearts. I have hands that can work. I would do it cheerfully, if labour was the portion God had assigned me in this world. Better, far better, the toiling limbs, than the aching heart!"
He paused a moment in indescribable emotion. Among
those who were looking earnestly in his face, and drinking
in his words with countenances expressive of shame,
remorse, and returning devotion, were some who had been
the playmates of his childhood. and others in whose arms
he had been dandled and caressed when a little boy, and
others, again, mere boys now, whom he had made the
playthings of his youthful years. He remembered sitting,
many and many a time, in the lap
of Paul, under an old tree, teaching him to read, while the negro would twist his dark fingers in his childish locks, and pray God Almighty to bless him and make him a blessing to mankind. A sable filament was twisted in every cord that bound him to the past. The associations of bygone years rose above the painful and gloomy present, and it was far more in sorrow than in anger, that he regarded the large family whom the most consummate art had alienated from him.
"Paul," said he, turning to the preacher, whose head was drooping still lower on his breast, and whose cheeks were marked by a wet, shining streak, where silent tears were travelling, "Paul, do you remember Davy, to whom my father gave his freedom many years ago, and who afterwards bought his wife and settled in the State of New York?"
"Here is a letter, which I received from him a few days since. I will read it. I want you all to listen to it."*
Moreland took a letter from his pocket-book and read as follows:—
"DEAR YOUNG MASTER:—I hope you have not
forgotten Davy, though you was a little boy when I came
away. I'm very sick; the doctor says I can't live long. I'm willing to die; but there's one great care on my mind. I don't want to leave my wife and children here. I've made a considerable property, so they wouldn't be in want; but that ain't all a person wants, master. If I had life before me again, I'd come back myself, for I've never been as happy, or as respectable, as when I lived with old Master. I heard so much talk about the white people at the North being such friends to the blacks, I thought we'd be on perfect equality; but it's no such thing. They won't associate with us; and I never want my wife and children to put themselves on a level with the free negroes I see here,—they are a low, miserable set, and folks that respect themselves won't have anything to do with them. My dear young master, please come on, or, if you can't come yourself, send somebody to take back my wife and children,—I have but two daughters, if they were boys I would not care so much. I give them to you, just as if they had never been free. I bequeath you all my property too, and wish it was more. Oh! happy should I be, could I live to see the son of my dear old master before I die,—but the will of God be done. I've got somebody to write this letter for me, for I am too weak to sit up; but I'll put my name to it, that you may know it comes from
"If you can't come or send directly, please write a line, just to ease my dying thoughts."
"This letter," said Moreland, "was dictated by one who has tasted the joys of freedom, as it exists among the black people at the North. His condition is far better than the majority, for he has acquired property, while most of them are miserably poor. Listen to me, sons and daughters of Africa! If I thought freedom would be a blessing to you, it should be yours. East, West, or North, anywhere, everywhere, you might go, and I would bid you God speed; but I would as soon send those poor sheep on the hill-side, among ravening wolves, as cast you amid such friends as this pretended minister of God represents! Which of you wants to trust him now? Which of you wants to leave your master and follow him? Tell me, for I will have no Judas in the field, ready to betray his too kind and trusting master!"
"Oh, massa!" exclaimed Paul,—completely subdued and melted, and sinking down on his knees, right on the grave of Dilsy,—"forgive us! Don't send us away! Trust us once more! We've ben 'ceived by Satan, and didn't know what we were doing!"
The moment Paul prostrated himself before his master,
all but one followed his example, entreating for
pardon, and imploring with tears and sobs not to be
sent away from him. Vulcan, the blacksmith, stood
firm and unmoved as the anvil in his forge. All his
dark and angry passions had been whetted on the edge
of the murderous weapons hidden beneath his shop, and
made red hot by the flames of the midnight furnace. His stubborn knees refused to bend, and a sullen cloud added luridness to his raven-black face.
Moreland and he stood side by side;—all the rest were kneeling. The beams of the departing sun played in golden glory round the brow of Moreland; the negro seemed to absorb the rays,—he looked of more intense inky blackness.
"Vulcan!" said his master, "if you expect my forgiveness, ask it. Dare to resist me, and you shall feel the full weight of my indignation."
"I'm my own master," cried the blacksmith, in a morose, defying tone. "I ain't a gwine to let no man set his feet on my neck. If the rest are a mind to be fools, let 'em!" and he shook his iron hand over the throng, and rolled his bloodshot eyes, like a tiger ready to spring from its lair.
The face of Moreland turned pale as marble, and lightnings kindled in his eyes. To brute force and passion he had nothing to oppose but moral courage and undaunted will; but he paused not to measure his strength with the muscles swelling out, like twisting serpents, in the negro's brandished arm. Laying his right hand commandingly on his shoulder, he exclaimed—
"There is but one master here. Submit to his authority, or tremble for the consequences!"
Suddenly wrenching his shoulder from the hand that
grasped it, the blacksmith leaped forward, and seizing his master in his gigantic arms, was about to hurl him to the ground, when a tremendous blow on the back of his head laid him prostrate and stunned at Moreland's feet. So sudden had been the attack, so instantaneous the release, that Moreland was hardly conscious how it had been effected, till the sight of Paul, standing with dilated nostrils and panting chest over the fallen giant, and brandishing with both hands a massy rail, which had been lying at the foot of the grave, made him aware who his deliverer was.
"Let me kill 'em, massa—let me kill 'em," cried Paul, swinging the rail above his head, and planting his foot on the broad breast of the rebel.
"Stop!" cried Moreland; "in the name of God, stop! He may be dead already! Let him be carried to the guard-house and there taken care of. Give him in charge to the overseer."
Four of the stoutest negroes sprang forward, eager to show their recovered zeal and loyalty, and lifted up the heavy mass of insensible flesh, which they would have beaten to jelly in their indignation, so powerful was the reaction of their feelings.
"Paul," said Moreland, holding out his hand, "true and faithful servant yet! Let the past be forgotten, or remembered only to forgive!"
"Oh! dear massa!" cried Paul, dropping the rail, and
throwing his arms round Moreland's shoulders, he wept
and sobbed like a child,—"you're safe and alive yet! Bless a Lord Almighty! Paul's heart always was right, but he got a mighty poor head of hisn."
When Moreland seemed under the ruffian grasp of Vulcan, the women uttered the most terrible screams, but wilder and more piercing than all the rest was the shriek that issued from the portico, that commanded a full view of the scene. Eulalia and Ildegerte, who were standing with arms interlaced, gazing on what to them was an exciting pantomime, for they could not hear one syllable of what was uttered, beheld the giant leaping on his master, and believed it the signal of death. How they reached there they knew not, for the place was at some distance from the house,—but they found themselves forcing their way through the ring just as Paul was weeping on his master's shoulder.
"All is safe!" cried Moreland, as they threw themselves into his arms, clinging to him in an agony of emotion—"all is well! Look up, my Eula! Sister, be not afraid; it is all over! Here is Paul, who is ready to die in my defence."
"Me too, master!" cried Albert, with glistening eyes; "Paul struck 'fore I got a chance, or I would have killed him!"
The little golden-brown head of the infant Russell was
seen peeping behind the ring, like a sunbeam playing on the
cloud-edge. Kizzie, nearly distracted, had pressed as close
as possible to the scene of action, after
the terrible rebel was secured; and the infant, excited by the tumult, clapped its cherub hands, and glanced its beautiful hazel eyes from face to face with innocent curiosity.
"Bring that child here," said Moreland; and Albert, springing forward, bore it in triumph over the woolly heads between, to his master's extended arms.
"This child," said he, raising it aloft in its smiling beauty, "is your future master. With its first lessons of obedience to his parents and love to his God, he shall be taught his duties to you, and yours to him. Born and brought up in your midst, he will learn to regard you as a part of his own life and soul. I trust, with the blessing of God, he will live to be a better, wiser, kinder master than I have ever been, and watch over your children's interests when I am laid low in the grave."
The infant, delighted with its elevated position, laughed in its glee, while the negroes gazed upon both father and child as beings of a superior world.
The admiration, love, and devotion which the negro feels
for the children of a beloved master, is one of the strongest,
most unselfish passions the human heart is capable of
cherishing. The partition wall of colour is broken down.
The sable arms are privileged to wreathe the neck of snow,
the dusky lips to press soft kisses on the cheek of living
roses. And, though, in after years, the child feels the barrier
of distinction drawn by the
Creator's hand, in infancy it clings with instinctive affection to the dark bosom that nurses it, and sees only the loving heart through the black and sooty skin. If such are the feelings which infancy usually inspires, it is not strange that the child of such a master as Moreland should be an object of idolatry, for, notwithstanding they had been tempted from their allegiance by the irresistible arts of Brainard, the principles of strong affection and undying loyalty existed in their hearts, and now throbbed with renovated vitality—with the exception of the fierce and rebellious artisan. His was one of those animal natures which, having had a scent of blood in the breeze, snuffed it with savage delight, and, being baffled of its prey, revenged itself for its unslaked thirst in roars of defiance and deeds of violence. He was now, however, incapable of inflicting farther injury. The well-aimed blow of Paul, though not mortal, had caused a terrible concussion in his system, from which he was likely long to suffer; and he was also strongly guarded.
That night the deepest tranquillity brooded over the
plantation. The stormy elements were hushed; the late
troubled waters subsided into a peaceful yet tremulous
expanse. Eula, exhausted by the agitation of the several
preceding days, slept as quietly as the babe that rested on
her bosom. But no sleep visited the wakeful eyes of
Moreland. He went abroad into the stillness, the solemnity
and loneliness of night, and beyond the
clear and illimitable moonlight, he looked into the darkening future. The clouds of the preceding night were all swept away, and the moon glided, slowly, majestically, radiantly over the blue and boundless firmament, a solitary bark of silver navigating the unfathomable ocean of ether. Moreland walked through the long rows of cabins, whose whitewashed walls reflected, with intense brightness, the light that illumined them, and envied the repose of the occupants. The signs of the times were dark, and portentous of disunion and ruin. The lightnings might be sheathed, but they were ready, at any moment, to rend the cloud and dart their fiery bolts around. Supposing, for one moment, the full triumph of fanaticism, how fearful would be the result! The emancipation of brute force; the reign of animal passion and power; the wisdom of eighteen centuries buried under waves of barbarism, rolling back upon the world; the beautiful cotton-fields of the South left neglected and overgrown with weeds; the looms of the North idle for want of the downy fleece, and England, in all her pride and might, bleeding from the wound her own hands had inflicted. None but the native of a tropic zone, physically constructed to endure the heat of a Southern clime, can cultivate its soil and raise its staple products. That the African, unguided by the white man's influence, would suffer the fairest portions of God's earth to become uncultivated wildernesses, let St.
Domingo, Jamaica, and the emancipated islands bear witness. Suppose the triumph of fanaticism, agriculture would inevitably languish and die; the negro, as well as the white man, would not only sink into an abyss of poverty and ruin, but the withered energies, the decaying commerce, and expiring manufactures of the North would show the interests of the two different sections of our common country to be connected by as vital a ligament as that which unites the twin-born brothers of Siam. Let the death-stroke pierce the bosom of one, the other must soon become a livid and putrifying corpse.
If it be God's will that our country, so long the boast and glory of the age, should become its byword and reproach; if the Genius of America is to be driven from her mountain heights into the dens and caves of earth, weeping over her banner insulted, its stars extinguished, its stripes rent asunder, with none left to vindicate its rights; if the beauty, order, and moral discipline of society are to be resolved into the gloom and darkness of chaos, the silver chords of brotherhood snapped asunder, and the golden bowl of union for ever broken:—if it be God's will, let man lay his hand upon his mouth, and his mouth in the dust, and say,
"It is good!"
But let him beware of mistaking the traces of human
weakness and passion for the stately footprints of the
Almighty, lest the Lord come in judgment and avenge his insulted majesty!
Such were the thoughts that banished sleep from the
eyes of Moreland, and sent him abroad, a nocturnal
wanderer, in the holy splendour of the night. His feet
involuntarily turned to the blacksmith's shop. It was a
lonely path that led to it, and, just before it reached the
building, a dense thicket of pines made an impervious
shade, black and heavy by contrast with the beams
beyond. While he was passing through the shadows,
and about to emerge into the light, he saw the figure of
a man stealing cautiously round the shop and approaching
the door. A low, distinct knock was heard, repeated
at intervals. He was sure, from the outline, that it was
the form of Brainard, and he could see that it was the
face of a white man. His first impulse was to rush
forward and seize him,—his next, to watch his farther
motions. Stepping very cautiously, and looking round at
every step, the figure went to the pile of brushwood we
described in a former chapter, and removed it from the
excavation. Stooping down and groping his way under,
he disappeared, while Moreland, accelerating his steps,
reached the spot before he had time to emerge again
into the light. He could hear distinctly the clinking
of steel under the house, and wondered if the man had
engaged some subterranean knight in conflict. An old
door, broken from its hinges, lay upon the ground.
Moreland raised it as noiselessly as possible, and putting
it up against the opening, planted his foot firmly against it,—thus making the man, whoever he was, his prisoner. The sudden darkening of the moonlight, which streamed in under the building, made the intruder aware of his situation, and he came rushing against the barrier with headlong force; the planks vibrated and cracked, but Moreland stood his ground, firm as a rock.
"Vulcan, Vulcan! is it you? For God's sake, let me out! It is I! Don't you know my voice?" It was the voice of Brainard,—not the sweet music he was accustomed to breathe from the pulpit, but the sharp, quick, startled accents of fear.
"Excuse me, Mr. Brainard," said Moreland; and a proud smile curled his lip at the ridiculous and humiliating position of his enemy. "I hope you do not find yourself uncomfortable! I was not aware that you had lodgings there before; but I believe you are fond of subterranean works!"
"Mr. Moreland," exclaimed Brainard, "it is not possible that it is you who are opposing my egress? Is this the treatment that one gentleman has a right to expect from another?"
"Gentleman!" repeated Moreland, in an accent of withering sarcasm; "coward! traitor! knave! too vile for indignation, too low for contempt! Come forth, and meet me face to face, if you dare! Rise, if you are not too grovelling to assume the attitude of a man!"
Removing his foot from the door, it fell forward, and
the moon again shining into the aperture, revealed the prone and abject form of the pretended minister. Crawling a few steps on his hands and knees, he rose slowly, for his limbs were cramped and stiff, and shook the earth-soil from his garments. His face was now directly opposite Moreland; and from his blue, half closed eyes, the unsheathing daggers of hatred and revenge were furtively gleaming.
"What are you doing here?" asked Moreland, sternly, "stealing round my premises at the midnight hour, burrowing like a wild beast in the earth, after having fled like a coward at my approach, to avoid the consequences of detected perfidy?"
"I have been on my Master's business," he answered, looking upward. "I am not accountable to any man, being amenable to a higher law."
"Hypocrite!" exclaimed Moreland, his dark eyes flashing with indignation, "away with this vile cant! Throw aside the cloak with which you have tried in vain to cover your iniquitous plots! Everything is discovered. If you were seen now in the city whose hospitality you have so wantonly abused, you would fall a sacrifice to the vengeance of an incensed community. We are safe, thank Heaven, from your incendiary purposes; but what can save you, bare and exposed as you are, from the hands of an outraged public?"
Brainard was in such a position that it was impossible
for him to escape. On one side was a jutting beam, an
abutment of the building; on the other, the pile of brushwood he had thrown aside; before him, the proud, resolute form, and commanding glance of the man he had deceived and attempted to destroy. By what subterfuge could he now elude the doom he had brought upon himself?
"Mr. Moreland," said he, "I have sat at your board, slept in your bed, and broken bread at your table. Even the wild Arab will protect the stranger who has partaken of his hospitality. Will you, a Christian, do less than he?"
"Yes; you have done all this," replied his host. "I know it but too well. You have slept in my bed that you might strew it with thorns. You have broken my bread that you might infuse into it poison and death. It is my duty as a Christian to incapacitate you for the perpetration of new crimes."
"I may have been carried farther than I intended," said he, in an humble, adjuring tone; "but it was not for myself I was labouring. I have been made the agent of others, whose cause I embraced with premature ardour. I have been misled by false misrepresentations, to adopt a course which I now sincerely regret. A candid man, Mr. Moreland, would require no other apology."
"False as cowardly!" answered Moreland. "If you are
the tool of a party, it only aggravates your meanness.
There may be those who are degraded enough to
employ a wretch like you, as an instrument to work the downfall of the South; but, if so, they must be the lowest dregs of society. There may be men, and women too, for I have heard of such,—but I do not believe there is a respectable town or village in the Northern States that would not consider itself disgraced by your conduct, and blush for the opprobrium which you have brought upon their name. I have travelled in the North,—I know the spirit of the times; but I know, too, that there is a conservative principle there, that would protect us from aggression, and itself from ignominy."
"It matters not whose agent I am," said Brainard, bitterly. "I see I am at your mercy. Yet, if you will suffer me to depart in peace, I will pledge my solemn word to leave this part of the country, immediately and for ever."
"What faith can be put in promises like yours? No, sir! The day of blind confidence is past. I arrest you by virtue of a warrant which I bear about me. Come with me, till better accommodations are provided for you at the public expense."
Even while speaking these words, Moreland was
conscious of great perplexity, for he knew of no place of
security but the guard-house, where Vulcan was already
imprisoned, where he could put the arch-traitor. It is true,
Vulcan was now in no situation to be influenced by his
insidious arts, but he did not like their juxtaposition.
Another thing, it was considerably distant from the blacksmith's shop, and it would be no easy task to conduct a desperate and infuriated man to that place of confinement. Still, he must not be suffered to escape, so, laying a firm hand on his shoulder, he commanded him to follow him. Quick as a flash of thought, Brainard drew a bowie knife from his bosom with his free right hand, and made a plunge at Moreland's breast. Moreland saw the steel glittering in the moonlight, and the next moment might have been his last, but, throwing his assailant back with a violent jerk, the stroke glanced in the air. This was the commencement of a life-struggle, fierce and bloodthirsty on one side, bold, firm, and unrelaxing on the other. One could hear the gritting of Brainard's grinding teeth, as he tried to release himself from the clenching grasp of his antagonist. Moreland was armed, for, at this time of threatened insurrection, every man was provided with defensive weapons, but, instead of drawing his own, his object was to get possession of Brainard's knife. Had he released his hold one second, his life might have been the sacrifice. Once or twice he felt the sharp steel gashing his left arm, but he heeded it not, and once, in warding off a deadly blow at his heart, he turned the point of the knife and it plunged in Brainard's right arm—the arm which wielded the destructive weapon. Moreland, after the first moment of exasperation and excitement, did not want to kill him, but to defend himself,
and incapacitate him from further mischief. The knife dropped from Brainard's powerless hand, and the blood spouted from the wound. Moreland, well knowing it was not a mortal stroke, and that his left hand still had power, snatched the knife from the ground and sheathed it in the folds of his vest. The blood was flowing from his own wounds, but, without heeding it, he bound his handkerchief round Brainard's arm, who had reeled as if fainting, against the walls of the shop. He looked very pale, but Moreland could plainly see that it was not the death-like paleness preceding a swoon. Still, he did not like to drag him, in that situation to the guard-house, and, enfeebled as he was, he believed he could leave him in the shop with safety, while he went to rouse the overseer and some of the strongest hands, to assist in guarding him, and he himself obtained proper materials to dress his wound. The door of the shop was usually locked at this hour, but, in consequence of Vulcan's arrest, who had the charge of it, the key was left hanging in the padlock—a circumstance fortunate for Moreland's design. The wooden windows were barred inside, and Vulcan, while prosecuting his midnight labours, had added iron staples, as a greater security from intrusion. Had Brainard not been disabled by his wound, Moreland would not have dared to have enclosed him, even for a brief time, in a place where the weapons of deliverance might be found in the messy iron tools of the blacksmith; but he well
knew that the arm, whose reeking blood had already dyed his handkerchief, could not wield the ponderous sledge-hammer or the iron bars.
"Come," said he, taking him by the left arm, "come into the shop, while I go for linen and balsam to dress your wound. I presume it is not the first time that you have found shelter in its walls."
"Bring none of your linen and balsam for me," he answered, "I'll none of it. Put me where you please, it makes no difference; I scorn and defy your power!"
Though he spoke in a faint voice, it was expressive of
malignity and revenge. He no longer resisted, however,
and Moreland, drawing rather than leading him round
to the front side of the shop, opened the door, sprang upon
the threshold with his prisoner, then releasing him suddenly,
he sprang back, closed and locked the door, and returning
to the rear of the building, examined the shutters on the
outside.—It would not do to leave them without some
barrier, for Brainard might remove the inner bar with his left
hand, and leap from the window. There were two large posts
lying on the ground, which seemed left there for his peculiar
purpose, and though it required an exertion of strength to
lift them, with his left arm weakened and painful as it was, he
did it with astonishing celerity, and steadying the lower
ends against the old fallen tree, suffered the upper ones to
fall heavily upon the shutters, just below the jutting of the
wood-piece nailed across them, and in
this position every effort to open the windows would only make the posts more firm in their resistance.
"That will do," said Moreland, turning away, and directing his steps towards the overseer's dwelling-house. With an involuntary impulse, he drew forth the knife concealed in his bosom, and suffered the moonlight to gleam upon it. Half of it was stained with blood, the other half shone cold and blue, with deadly lustre, in the serene glory of the night. He shuddered at the temptation he had momentarily felt, to bury it in the false heart of Brainard, and blessed his guardian angel for covering the edge of the weapon with his interposing wings.
The chivalry of his nature had received a painful wound. He had discharged an imperative duty, but in a manner revolting to the magnanimity of his character. He had felt his cheek burn, while turning the key of that black sooty prison on a wounded enemy. Had he known that Brainard was familiar with even more gloomy walls, that, even when a boy, he had made his bed on the dungeon's floor, and worn the felon's badge of ignominy, he would have been less fastidious with regard to his accommodations.
Having awakened the overseer, and told him to rouse
immediately several of the stoutest negroes, including
Uncle Paul, and repair to the shop, which they were to
guard during the remainder of the night; he began to feel
the necessity of having his own wounds attended to,—
though not deep, the flowing of the unstanched blood, and the straining of the muscles in barricading the shutters, made him feel weak and nerveless. He therefore commissioned the overseer to act as leech, as well as guard, and sought his own dwelling.
Fearing to awake his wife, and alarm her by the sight of his blood-stained garments, he entered with noiseless steps, and the faint, soft, regular breathing that met his ear gave him a sensation of exquisite repose. Eulalia still slept, and the babe still slumbered on her bosom. Again the image of the virgin mother and the infant Jesus rose before him, as when he had knelt by her, when reclining over the cradle of her son. And once more he knelt, but without awakening her, and commended them both to the God of the South as well as the North,—"to the Monarch, and Maker, and Saviour of all!"
"Ah, my sweet wife!" thought he, when, rising from his knees, he looked down upon her with unutterable tenderness, "you are paying a sad penalty for the love that lured you from your quiet village home. Better had it been for you had I left you near the shadow of that temple where your seraph voice first waked the slumbering music of my heart."
For a moment he had forgotten his arm, and the
blood-stains on his dress; but a stiff, painful feeling reminded
him of the past conflict, and, with the same noiseless steps with
which he had entered, he left his
own room, and, seeking the one where Albert slept, committed himself to his healing hands.
In the mean time Brainard was not idle. When left by Moreland in the grim retreat with which he had made himself so familiar, he stood at first perfectly still, in the centre of the shop, where the momentum given by Moreland's releasing arm had sent him. It was not utterly dark, for silvers of moonshine penetrated the chinks of the boards, and fell on the blackened planks. He looked round him, straightened himself up to his full height, and shook his left arm in defiance, as if facing an invisible enemy.
"Fool!" he muttered. "He did not know he was dealing with an ambidextrous man. There is as much cunning in this hand as in that. Does he think these drops of blood have weakened me so that I cannot burst these bars and free myself from his power? Ha, ha! I played the part of a fainting man to put him off his guard; but I have strength enough yet to perform a good night's work. These shutters are nothing but old boards. I'll soon shiver them. I'll hurl them into fragments. Yes, yes! if the morning find me a prisoner here, may I hang from the gibbet, and the fowls of heaven feed upon my carcass!"
Guided by the light of the silver bars on the floor, he
seized the sledgehammer with his left hand, and, swinging it
high in air, brought it down upon the shutter with a
tremendous blow. There was a jarring and rattling
of boards, and a cloud of black dust, but Moreland's strong barrier resisted the effort.
"Death and fury!" he exclaimed; "are the boards lignum vitae? I'll try the door. If I cannot break that open, I'll spill my own brains on these planks!"
Swinging the huge hammer once more, he hurled it against the door with maniac force. Ha! it does begin to yield. Bravo! strike again. They hear your blows, to be sure, but they think the horses are pounding and kicking in the stable, as they are wont to do. Strike again; a desperate man can do anything. No matter if every stroke makes the blood ooze from your wounded veins, and the sultry sweat-drops gush from your pores. There! don't you see the hinges strain, tug, crack, and at length give way with a sudden crash. Jump through! the avengers are coming. Make haste! they are in the dark path now. Remember you are in the moonlight.
Yes! Brainard did remember all this, and he leaped through
the opening with supernatural agility, flew, rather than ran to
the stable, mounted the fleetest horse, and cut the air like the
arrow. He was seen, just as he reached the stable, by the
party appointed to be his guard. Paul, who seemed to have
the vigour and fire of youth miraculously restored, shouted
till the thicket reverberated the sound, and rushed after him,
his long limbs sweeping over the ground like forked
lightning. The overseer and other negroes followed, but they could
not begin to keep up with the streaking steps of Paul. As he reached the stable Brainard leaped into the road. Paul was on the back of Swiftsure, one of his master's strongest, fleetest horses, with the quickness of thought, and away he went in pursuit of the fugitive.
"Good Lord!" cried Paul, "let me only catch 'em! Just let massa know what Paul can do for him! Go it, go it, Swiftshur!—wide awake! wide awake!—keep a eye open—stretch a feet apart!—that the way to go!"
Paul lay almost horizontally on the barebacked animal, grasping his mane for a bridle, his body thrown up and down by the violence of the motion. Brainard had saddle and bridle, for he was on the same horse which had been caparisoned to bear him from the plantation, just before Moreland's arrival. The odds were in his favour, and he knew it. His scornful laugh was driven back into Paul's face, like a dash of cold water. Once he reeled in the saddle, and his speed perceptibly slackened, and the shadow of his pursuer appeared to be leaping on his back; but just as Paul stretched out his long arm, thinking him within reach, he shot ahead, with dizzying velocity, and Paul grasped a handful of moonbeams. It was all in vain. As he told his master the next day—"The devil was in him, and one might as well try to catch hold of a streak of lightning."
All the time Brainard was winging his way, thought,
swifter than his flight, was darting in his mind, bringing
messages from the future, that lit up his countenance with vindictive joy.
"Oh! I have a glorious career before me," said he to himself, dashing his spurs into his horse's smoking flanks, for he had equipped himself like a knight when he started on his midnight expedition. "I have planned it all—and when did I ever plan without executing? Who says I have failed? I tell you, you lie, sir. I have made a plenty of dupes. The flames I have kindled will not be quenched. They will burst out afresh, when people think they are gazing on ashes. Yes! I will go back to the North, and deliver such lectures on the South as will curdle the blood with horror. No matter what I say—I'll find fools to believe it all. If I pour falsehoods hot as molten lead down their throats, they will believe them all, and smack their lips with delight. Take care, Master Moreland! the devil shall be an angel of light compared to the foul demon I will represent you to be—you, and all your tribe. Thank Heaven for the gift of eloquence! Oh! I'll rave of blood-marked chains, of flesh torn from the body with red-hot pincers, of children roasted alive, of women burned at the stake! They'll believe it all! The more horrors I manufacture the more ecstasy they will feel! Curses on the arm that failed to pierce his heart's core! Curses on him for every drop of blood he has drawn! But I'll have my revenge!—a glorious revenge!—ha! ha!"
Away with him! Close the shutters of that workshop of Satan—his breast. We shudder at the glimpses revealed. Let him go, and fill up the measure of his iniquity: brimming as it now seems, it is not quite full. The crowning drop must be blacker than all.