|JAN. 1, 1852
"Well, are you going to do differently now?" said Miss Ophelia.
"God only knows the future," said St. Clare. "I am braver than I was, because I have lost all; and he who has nothing to lose can afford all risks."
"And what are you going to do?"
"My duty, I hope, to the poor and lowly, as fast as I find it out," said St. Clare, "beginning with my own servants, for whom I have yet done nothing; and perhaps at some future day it may appear that I can do something for a whole class—something to save my country from the disgrace of that false position in which she now stands before all civilized nations."
"Do you suppose it possible that a nation ever will voluntarily emancipate?" said Miss Ophelia.
"I don't know," said St. Clare. "This is a day of great deeds. Heroism and disinterestedness are rising up here and there in the earth. The Hungarian nobles set free millions of serfs, at an immense pecuniary loss; and perhaps among us may be found generous spirits who do not estimate honor and justice by dollars and cents."
"I hardly think so," said Miss Ophelia.
"But, suppose we should rise up to-morrow and emancipate, who would educate these millions and teach them how to use their freedom? They never would rise to do much among us. The fact is, we are too lazy and unpractical ourselves ever to give them much of an ideal of that industry and energy which is necessary to form them into men. They will have to go North, where labor is the fashion—the universal custom; and tell me, now, is there enough Christian philanthropy among your Northern States to bear with the process of their education and elevation? You send thousands of dollars to foreign missions; but could you endure to have the heathen sent into your towns and villages, and give your time and thoughts and money to raise them to the Christian standard? That's what I want to know. If we emancipate, are you willing to educate? How many families in your town would take in a negro man and woman, teach them, bear with them, and seek to make them Christians? How many merchants would take Adolph, if I wanted to make him a clerk—or mechanics, if I wanted him taught a trade. If I wanted to put Jane and Maria to a school, how many schools are there in Northern States that would take them in? how many families that would board them? and yet they are as white as many a woman, North or South? You see, cousin, I want justice done us. We are in a bad position. We are the more obvious oppressors of the negro, but the unchristian prejudices of the North is an oppressor almost equally severe."
"Well, cousin, I know it is so," said Miss Ophelia—"I know it was so with me till I saw that it was my duty to overcome it; but I trust I have overcome it; and I know there are many good people at the North who in this matter need only to be taught what their duty is, to do it. It would certainly be a greater self-denial to receive heathen among us than to send missionaries to them, but I think we would do it."
"You would, I know," said St. Clare. "I'd like to see anything you wouldn't do if you thought it your duty."
"Well, I'm not uncommonly good," said Miss Ophelia. "Others would if they saw things as I do. I intend to take Topsy home when I go. I suppose our folks will wonder at first, but I think they will be brought to see as I do. Besides, I know there are many people at the North who do exactly what you said."
"Yes, but they are a minority; and if we should begin to emancipate to any extent, we should soon hear from you."
Miss Ophelia did not reply. There was a pause of some moments; and St. Clare's countenance was overcast by a sad, dreamy expression.
"I don't know what makes me think of my mother so much to-night," he said. "I have a strange kind of feeling, as if she were near me. I keep thinking of things she used to say. Strange what brings these past things so vividly back to us sometimes."
St. Clare walked up and down the room for some minutes more, and then said—
"I believe I'll go down street a few moments, and hear the news to-night."
He took his hat and passed out.
Tom followed him to the passage, out of the court, and asked if he should attend him.
"No, my boy," said St. Clare. "I shall be back in an hour."
Tom sat down in the verandah. It was a beautiful moonlight evening, and he sat watching the rising and falling spray of the fountain, and listening to its murmur. Tom thought of his home, and that he should soon be a free man, and able to return to it at will. He thought how he should work to buy his wife and boys. He felt the muscles of his brawny arms with a sort of joy, as he thought they would soon belong to himself, and how much they could do to work out the freedom of his family. Then he thought of his noble young master, and ever second to that came the habitual prayer that he had always offered for him; and then his thoughts passed on to the beautiful Eva, whom he now thought of among the angels; and he thought till he almost fancied that that bright face and golden hair were looking upon him, out of the spray of the fountain. And, so musing, he fell asleep, and dreamed he saw her coming bounding towards him, just as she used to come, with a wreath of jessamine in her hair, her cheeks bright, and her eyes radiant with delight; but, as he looked, she seemed to rise from the ground—her cheeks wore a paler hue—her eyes had a deep, divine radiance—a golden halo seemed around her head—and she vanished from his sight; and Tom was wakened by a loud knocking, and a sound of many voices at the gate.
He hastened to undo it; and with smothered voices and heavy tread came several men, bringing a body, wrapped in a cloak and lying on a shutter. The light of the lamp fell full on the face, and Tom gave a wild cry of amazement and despair that rung through all the galleries, as the men advanced with their burden to the open parlor door, where Miss Ophelia still sat knitting!
St. Clare had turned into a café to look over an evening paper. As he was reading, an affray arose between two gentlemen in the room, who were both partially intoxicated. St. Clare and one or two others made an effort to separate them, and St. Clare received a fatal stab in the side with the bowie-knife which he was attempting to wrest from one of them.
The house was full of cries and lamentations, shrieks and screams—servants frantically tearing their hair, throwing themselves on the ground, or running distractedly about, lamenting. Tom and Miss Ophelia alone seemed to have any presence of mind; for Marie was in strong hysteric convulsions. At Miss Ophelia's direction, one of the lounges in the parlor was hastily prepared, and the bleeding form laid upon it. St. Clare had fainted through pain and loss of blood; but as Miss Ophelia applied restoratives, he revived, opened his eyes, looked fixedly on them, looked earnestly around the room, his eyes travelling wistfully over every object, and finally they rested on his mother's picture.
The physician now arrived, and made his examination. It was evident, from the expression of his face, that there was no hope; but he applied himself to dressing the wound, and he and Miss Ophelia and Tom proceeded composedly with this work, amid the lamentations and sobs and cries of the affrighted servants, who had clustered about the doors and windows of the verandah.
"Now," said the physician, "we must turn all these creatures out; all depends on his being kept quiet."
St. Clare opened his eyes, and looked fixedly on the distressed beings whom Miss Ophelia and the Doctor were trying to urge from the apartment. "Poor creatures!" he said, and an expression of bitter self-reproach passed over his face. Adolph absolutely refused to go. Terror had deprived him of all presence of mind; he threw himself along on the floor, and nothing could persuade him to rise. The rest yielded to Miss Ophelia's urgent representations, that their master's safety depended on their stillness and obedience.
St. Clare could say but little; he lay with his eyes shut, but it was evident that he wrestled with bitter thoughts. After a while, he laid his hand on Tom's, who was kneeling beside him, and said, "Tom! poor fellow!"
"What, mass'r?" said Tom, earnestly.
"I am dying!" said St. Clare, pressing his hand; "pray!"
"If you would like a clergyman"——said the physician.
St. Clare hastily shook his head, and said again to Tom, more earnestly, "pray!"
And Tom did pray, with all his mind and strength, for the soul that was passing—the soul that seemed looking so steadily and mournfully from those those large, melancholy blue eyes. It was literally prayer offered, with strong crying and tears.
When Tom ceased to speak, St. Clare reached out and took his hand, looking earnestly at him, but saying nothing. He closed his eyes, but still retained his hold—for in the gates of eternity the black hand and the white hold each other with an equal clasp. He murmured softly to himself, at broken intervals—
"Recordare Jesu pie—
It was evident that the words he had been singing that evening were passing through his mind—words of entreaty addressed to Infinite Pity. His lips moved at intervals, as parts of the hymn fell brokenly from them.
"His mind is wandering," said the Doctor.
"No! it is coming HOME at last!" said St. Clare, energetically; "at last! at last!"
The effort of speaking exhausted him. The sinking paleness of death fell on him—but with it there fell, as if shed from the wings of some pitying spirit, a beautiful expression of peace, like that of a wearied child who sleeps.
So he lay for a few moments. They saw that the mighty hand was on him. Just before the spirit parted, he opened his eyes with a sudden light, as of joy and recognition, and said, "Mother!" and then he was gone!
We hear often of the distress of the negro servants, on the loss of a kind master; and with good reason, for no creature on God's earth is left more utterly unprotected and desolate, than the slave in these circumstances.
The child who has lost a father has still the protection of friends, and of the law; he is something, and can do something—has acknowledged rights and position; the slave has none. The law regards him as in every respect as devoid of rights as a bale of merchandise. The only possible acknowledgment of any of the longings and wants of a human and immortal creature, which are given to him, comes to him through the sovereign and irresponsible will of his master; and when that master is stricken down, nothing remains.
The number of those men who know how to use wholly irresponsible power humanely and generously, is small. Everybody knows this; and the slave knows it best of all; so that he feels that there are ten chances of his finding an abusive and tyrannical master, to one of his finding a considerate and kind one. Therefore is it that the wail over a kind master is loud and long, as well it may be.
When St. Clare breathed his last, terror and consternation took hold of all his household. He had been stricken down so in a moment, in the flower and strength of his youth. Every room and gallery of the house resounded with sobs and shrieks of despair.
Marie, whose nervous system had been enervated by a constant course of self-indulgence, had nothing to support the terror of the shock, and, at the time her husband breathed his last, was passing from one fainting fit to another; and he to whom she had been joined in the mysterious tie of marriage, passed from her forever, without the possibility of even a parting word.
Miss Ophelia, with characteristic strength and self-control, had remained with her kinsman to the last—all eye, all ear, all attention—doing everything of the little that could be done, and joining with her whole soul in the tender and impassioned prayers which the poor slave had poured forth for the soul of his dying master.
When they were arranging him for his last rest, they found upon his bosom a small, plain miniature case, opening with a spring. It was the miniature of a noble and beautiful female face, and on the reverse, under a crystal, a lock of dark hair. They laid them back on the lifeless breast, dust to dust, poor mournful relics of early dreams, which once made that cold heart beat so warmly.
Tom's whole soul was filled with thoughts of eternity; and while he ministered around the lifeless clay, he did not once think that the sudden stroke had left him in hopeless slavery. He felt at peace about his master, for in that hour when he had poured forth his prayer into the bosom of his Father, he had found an answer of quietness and assurance springing up within himself. In the depths of his own affectionate nature, he felt able to perceive something of the fullness of Divine love; for an old oracle hath thus written—"He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him." Tom hoped and trusted, and was at peace.
But the funeral passed, with all its pageant of black crape and prayers, and solemn faces; and back rolled the cool, muddy waves of everyday life; and up came the everlasting hard inquiry, of "What is to be done next?"
It rose to the mind of Marie, as dressed in loose morning robes, and surrounded by anxious servants, she sat up in a great easy chair, and inspected samples of crape and bombazine. It rose to Miss Ophelia, who began to turn her thoughts towards her Northern home. It rose in silent terrors to the minds of the servants, who well knew the unfeeling, tyrannical character of the mistress, in whose hands they were left. All knew very well that the indulgences which had been accorded to them were not from their mistress, but from their master; and that now he was gone, there would be no screen between them and every tyrannous infliction which a temper soured by affliction might devise.
It was about a fortnight after the funeral, that Miss Ophelia, busied one day in her apartment, heard a gentle tap at the door. She opened it, and there stood Rosa, the pretty young quadroon, whom we have before often noticed, her hair in disorder, and her eyes swelled with crying.
"Oh, Miss Pheely," she said, falling on her knees, and catching the skirt of her dress, "do, do go to Miss Marie for me; do plead for me. She's goin' to send me out to be whipped—look there." And she handed to Miss Ophelia a paper.
It was an order, written in Marie's delicate Italian hand, to the master of a whipping-establishment, to give the bearer fifteen lashes.
"What have you been doing?" said Miss Ophelia.
"You know, Miss Pheely, I've got such a bad temper; it's very bad of me. I was trying on Miss Marie's dress, and she slapped my face; and I spoke out before I thought, and was saucy; and she said that she'd bring me down, and have me know, once for all, that I wasn't going to be so topping as I had been; and she wrote this, and says I shall carry it. I'd rather she'd kill me right out."
Miss Ophelia stood considering, with the paper in her hand.
"You see, Miss Pheely," said Rosa, "I don't mind the whipping so much, if Miss Marie or you was to do it; but to be sent to a man! and such a horrid man—the shame of it! Miss Pheely!"
Miss Ophelia well knew that it was the universal custom to send women and young girls to whipping-houses, to the hands of the lowest of men—men brutal enough to make this their profession—there to be subjected to brutal exposure and shameful correction. She had known it before, but hitherto she had never realized it, till she saw the slender form of Rosa almost convulsed with distress. All the honest blood of womanhood, the strong New England blood of liberty flushed to her cheeks, and throbbed bitterly in her indignant heart; but, with habitual prudence and self-control, she mastered herself, and, crushing the paper firmly in her hand, she merely said to Rosa—
"Sit down, child, while I go to your mistress."
"Shameful! monstrous! outrageous!" she said to herself, as she was crossing the parlor.[TO BE CONTINUED.]