|JAN. 8, 1852
She found Marie sitting up in her easy-chair, with Mammy standing by her, combing her hair. Jane sat on the ground before her, busy in chafing her feet.
"How do you find yourself to day?" said Miss Ophelia.
A deep sigh and a closing of the eyes was the only reply, for a moment, and then Marie answered, "Oh, I don't know, cousin; I suppose I'm as well as I ever shall be;" and Marie wiped her eyes with a cambric handkerchief, bordered with an inch deep of black.
"I came," said Miss Ophelia, with a short, dry cough, such as commonly introduces a difficult subject.
"I came to speak with you about poor Rosa."
Marie's eyes were open wide enough now, and a flush rose to her sallow cheeks as she answered, sharply,
"Well, what about her?"
"She is very sorry for her fault."
"She is, is she? She'll be sorrier before I've done with her. I've endured that child's impudence long enough, and now I'll bring her down—I'll make her lie in the dust."
"But could not you punish her some other way—some way that would be less shameful?"
"I mean to shame her; that's just what I want. She has all her life presumed on her delicacy, and her good looks, and her lady-like airs, till she forgets who she is—and I'll give her one lesson that will bring her down, I fancy."
"But, cousin, consider that if you destroy delicacy and a sense of shame in a young girl, you deprave her very fast."
"Delicacy!" said Marie with a scornful laugh, "a fine word for such as she! I'll teach her, with all her airs, that she's no better than the raggedest black wench that walks the streets! She'll take no more airs with me."
"You will answer to God for such cruelty," said Miss Ophelia, with energy.
"Cruelty—I'd like to know what the cruelty is! I wrote orders for only fifteen lashes, and told him to put them on lightly. I'm sure there's no cruelty there!"
"No cruelty!" said Miss Ophelia. "I'm sure any girl might rather be killed outright."
"It might seem so to anybody with your feeling but all these creatures get used to it; it's the only way they can be kept in order. Once let them feel that they are to take any airs about delicacy and all that, and they'll run all over you, just as my servants always have. I've begun now to bring them under, and I'll have them all to know that I'll send one out to be whipped as soon as another, if they don't mind themselves," said Marie, looking around her decidedly.
Jane hung her head and cowered at this, for she felt as if it was particularly directed to her. Miss Ophelia sat for a moment, as if she had swallowed some explosive mixture, and were ready to burst. Then recollecting the utter uselessness of contention with such a nature, she shut her lips resolutely, gathered herself up, and walked out of the room.
It was hard to go back and tell Rosa that she could do nothing for her; and shortly after, one of the man servants came to say that her mistress had ordered him to take Rosa with him to the whipping house, whither she was hurried in spite of her tears and entreaties. A few days after, Tom was standing musing by the balconies, when he was joined by Adolph, who since the death of his master had been entirely crest-fallen and disconsolate. Adolph knew that he had always been an object of dislike to Marie, but while his master lived he had paid but little attention to it. Now that he was gone, he had moved about in daily dread and trembling, not knowing what might befall him next. Marie had held several consultations with her lawyer; after communicating with St. Clare's brother, it was determined to sell the place and all the servants, except her own personal property, and these she intended to take with her, and go back to her father's plantation.
"Do ye know, Tom, that we've all got to be sold?" said Adolph.
"How did you hear that?" said Tom.
"I hid myself behind the curtains when missis was talking with the lawyer. In a few days we shall all be sent off to auction, Tom."
"The Lord's will be done," said Tom, folding his arms and sighing heavily.
"We'll never get another such a master," said Adolph, apprehensively; "but I'd rather be sold than take my chance under missis."
Tom turned away; his heart was full. The hope of liberty, the thought of distant wife and children, rose up before his patient soul, as to the mariner shipwrecked almost in port rises the vision of the church-spire and loving roofs of his native village, seen over the top of some black wave only for one last farewell. He drew his arms tightly over his bosom, and choked back the bitter tears, and tried to pray. The poor old soul had such a singular, unaccountable prejudice in favor of liberty, that it was a hard wrench for him! and the more he said, "Thy will be done," the worse he felt!
He sought Miss Ophelia, who, ever since Eva's death, had treated him with marked and respectful kindness."
"Miss Pheely," he said, "mass'r St. Clare promised me my freedom. He told me that he had begun to take it out for me; and now, perhaps, if Miss Pheely would be good enough to speak about it to missis, she would feel like goin on with it, as it was mass'r St. Clare's wish."
"I'll speak for you, Tom, and do my best," said Miss Ophelia; "but, if it depends on Mrs. St. Clare, I can't hope much for you—nevertheless, I will try."
This incident occurred a few days after that of Rosa, while Miss Ophelia was busied in preparations to return North.
Seriously reflecting within herself, she considered that perhaps she had shown too hasty a warmth of language in her former interview with Marie, and she resolved that she would now endeavor to moderate her zeal and to be as conciliatory as possible. So the good soul gathered herself up, and, taking her knitting, resolved to go into Marie's room, be as agreeable as possible, and negotiate Tom's case with all the diplomatic skill of which she was mistress.
She found Marie reclining at length upon a lounge, supporting herself on one elbow by pillows, while Jane, who had been out shopping, was displaying before her certain samples of thin black stuffs.
"That will do," said Marie, selecting one; "only I'm not sure about its being properly mourning."
"Laws, missis," said Jane, volubly, "Mrs. General Derbennon wore just this very thing after the General died, last summer; it makes up lovely!"
"What do you think?" said Marie to Miss Ophelia.
"It's a matter of custom, I suppose," said Miss Ophelia. "You can judge about it better than I."
"The fact is," said Marie, "that I haven't a dress in the world that I can wear, and, as I am going to break up the establishment, and go off next week, I must decide upon something."
"Are you going so soon?"
"Yes. St. Clare's brother has written, and he and the lawyer think that the servants and furniture had better be put up at auction, and the place left with our lawyer."
"There's one thing I wanted to speak with you about," said Miss Ophelia. "Augustine promised Tom his liberty, and began the legal forms necessary to it. I hope you will use your influence to have it perfected."
"Indeed, I shall do no such thing," said Marie, sharply. "Tom is one of the most valuable servants on the place—it couldn't be afforded, any way. Besides, what does he want of liberty? He's a great deal better off as he is."
"But he does desire it, very earnestly, and his master promised it," said Miss Ophelia.
"I dare say he does want it," said Marie; "they all want it, just because they are a discontented set—always wanting what they haven't got. Now, I'm principled against emancipating, in any case. Keep a negro under the care of a master, and he does well enough, and is respectable; but set them free, and they get lazy, and won't work, and take to drinking, and go all down to be mean, worthless fellows. I've seen it tried, hundreds of times. It's no favor to set them free."
"But Tom is so steady, industrious, and pious."
"Oh, you needn't tell me; I've seen a hundred like him. He'll do very well as long as he's taken care of—that's all."
"But, then, consider," said Miss Ophelia, "when you set him up for sale, the chances of his getting a bad master."
"Oh, that's all humbug," said Marie; "it isn't one time in a hundred that a good fellow gets a bad master; most masters are good, for all the talk that is made. I've lived and grown up here, in the South, and I never yet was acquainted with a master that didn't treat his servants well—quite as well as is worth while. I don't feel any fears on that head."
"Well," said Miss Ophelia, energetically, "I know it was one of the last wishes of your husband that Tom should have his liberty—it was one of the promises that he made to dear little Eva on her death-bed, and I should not think you would feel at liberty to disregard it."
Marie had her face covered with her handkerchief at this appeal, and began sobbing and using her smelling-bottle with great vehemence.
"Everything goes against me," she said. "Everybody is so inconsiderate. I shouldn't have expected that you would bring up all these remembrances of my troubles to me—it's so inconsiderate. But nobody ever does consider—my trials are so peculiar! It's so hard, that when I had only one daughter, she should have been taken—and when I had a husband that just exactly suited me—and I'm so hard to be suited!—he should be taken! And you seem to have so little feeling for me, and keep bringing it up to me so carelessly—when you know how it overcomes me! I suppose you mean well; but it is very inconsiderate—very!" And Marie sobbed and gasped for breath, and called Mammy to open the window, and to bring her the camphor-bottle, and to bathe her head, and unhook her dress. And in the general confusion that ensued, Miss Ophelia made her escape to her apartment.
She saw, at once, that it would do no good to say anything more; for Marie had an indefifinite capacity for hysteric fits; and, after this, whenever her husband's or Eva's wishes with regard to the servants were alluded to, she always found it convenient to set one in operation. Miss Ophelia, therefore, did the next best thing she could for Tom—she wrote a letter to Mrs. Shelby for him, stating his troubles, and urging them to send to his relief.
The next day Tom and Adolph, and some half a dozen other servants, were marched down to a slave warehouse, to await the convenience of the trader, who was going to make up a lot for auction.[TO BE CONTINUED.]