Uncle Tom's Cabin: The National Era Text
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Washington, D.C.: Gamaliel Bailey, 5 June 1851 - 1 April 1852

FEB. 19, 1852


"And slight, withal, may be the things that bring
Back on the heart a weight it fain would fling
Aside forever; it may be a sound,
A flower, the wind, the ocean, which shall wound,
Striking the electric chain wherewith we're darkly bound.
Childe Harold's Pil., Canto iv.

  The sitting room of Legree's establishment was a large, long room, with a wide, ample fire-place. It had once been hung with a showy and expensive paper, which now hung mouldering, torn, and discolored, from the damp walls. The place had that peculiar, sickening, unwholesome smell, compounded of mingled damp, dirt, and decay, which one often notices in close old houses. The wall-paper was defaced in spots, by slops of beer or wine, garnished with chalk memorandums and long sums footed up, as if somebody had been practicing arithmetic there. In the open fire-place stood a brazier, full of burning charcoal, for the weather was not cold, yet the evenings always seemed damp and chilly in that great room; and Legree, moreover, wanted a place to light his cigars, and heat his water for punch. The ruddy glare of the charcoal displayed the confused and unpromising aspect of the room. Saddles, bridles, several sorts of harness, riding whips, overcoats and various other articles of clothing, were scattered up and down the room in confused variety, and the dogs of whom we have before spoken had encamped themselves among them, to suit their own taste and convenience.

  Legree was just mixing himself a tumbler of punch, pouring his hot water from a cracked and broken-nosed pitcher, grumbling as he did so—

  "Plague on that Sambo, to kick up this yer row between me and the new hands! The fellow won't be fit to work for a week, now, right in the press of the season!"

  "Yes, just like you," said a voice behind his chair. It was the woman Cassy, who had stolen upon his soliloquy.

  "Hah! you she devil, you've come back, have you?"

  "Yes, I have," she said, coolly; "come to have my own way, too."

  "You lie, you jade. I'll be up to my word. Either behave yourself, or stay down at the quarters, and fare and work with the rest!"

  "I'd rather, ten thousand times," said the woman, "live in the dirtiest hole at the quarters, than be under your hoof."

  "But you are under my hoof, for all that," said he, turning upon her with a savage grin; "that's one comfort. So sit down here on my knee, my dear, and hear to reason," said he, laying hold on her wrist.

  "Simon Legree, take care!" said the woman, with a sharp flash of her eye—a glance so wild and insane in its light as to be almost appalling. "You're afraid of me, Simon," she said, deliberately, "and you've reason to be. Be careful, for I've got the devil in me."

  The last words she whispered in a hissing tone, close to his ear.

  "Get out! I believe to my soul you have," said Legree, pushing her from him, and looking uncomfortably at her.

  "After all, Cassy," he said, "why can't you be friends with me, as you used to?"

  "Used to!" said she, bitterly. She stopped short. A world of choking feelings, rising in her heart, kept her silent.

  Cassy had always kept over Legree the kind of influence that a strong, impassioned woman can keep over even the most brutal man. But of late she had grown more and more irritable and restless under the hideous yoke of her servitude, and her irritability at times broke out into raving insanity; and this liability made her a sort of object of dread to Legree, who had that superstitious horror of insane persons which is common to coarse and uninstructed minds. When Legree had brought Emmeline to the house, all the smouldering embers of womanly feeling flashed up in the worn heart of Cassy; she took part with the girl, and a fierce quarrel had ensued between her and Legree. Legree, in a fury, swore she should be put to field service, if she would not be peaceable; Cassy with proud scorn declared she would go to the field; and she worked there this day, as we have described, to show how perfectly she scorned the threat. Legree was secretly uneasy all day; for Cassy had an influence over him from which he could not free himself. When she presented her basket at the scales, he had hoped for some concession, addressed her in a sort of half-conciliatory, half-scornful tone, and she had answered with the bitterest contempt.

  The outrageous treatment of poor Tom had roused her still more, and she had followed Legree to the house, with no particular intention but to upbraid him for his brutality.

  "I wish, Cassy," said Legree, "you'd behave yourself decently."

  "You talk about behaving decently! And what have you been doing—you, who haven't even sense enough to keep from spoiling one of your best hands, right in the most pressing season, just for your devilish temper."

  "I was a fool, it's a fact, to let any such brangle come up. But when the boy set his will up, he had to be broken in"——

  "I reckon you won't break him in."

  "Won't I?" said Legree, rising passionately. "I'd like to know if I won't? He'll be the first nigger that ever came it round me. I'll break every bone in his body, but I'll bring him under."

  Just then the door opened, and Sambo entered. He came forward, bowing, and holding something in a paper.

  "What's that? you dog," said Legree.

  "It's a witch thing, mass'r!"

  "A what?"

  "Something that niggers gets from witches—keeps em from feelin when they's flogged. He had it tied round his neck with a black string."

  Legree, like most godless and cruel men, was superstitious. He took the paper, and opened it uneasily. There dropped out of it a silver dollar, and a long, shining curl of hair, which, like a living thing, twined itself round Legree's fingers.

  "Damnation!" he screamed, in sudden passion, stamping on the floor, and pulling furiously at the hair, as if it burned him, "where did this come from? Take it off! Burn it up! Burn it up!" he screamed, tearing it off, and throwing it into the charcoal. "What did ye bring it to me for?"

  Sambo stood with his heavy mouth wide open, and aghast with wonder; and Cassy, who was preparing to leave the apartment, stopped and looked at him in perfect amazement.

  "Don't you bring me any more of your devilish things," said he, shaking his fist at Sambo, who retreated hastily to the door; and, picking up the silver dollar, he sent it smashing through the window pane, out into the darkness.

  Sambo was glad to make his escape. When he was gone, Legree seemed a little ashamed of his fit of alarm. He sat sullenly down in his chair, and began doggedly stirring his tumbler of punch.

  Cassy prepared herself for going out, unobserved by him, and slipped away to minister to poor Tom, as we have already related.

  And what was the matter with Legree? And what was there in a simple curl of fair hair to appal that brutal man, familiar with every form of cruelty? To answer this, we must carry the reader backward in his history.

  Hard and reprobate as the godless man seemed now, there had been a time when he had been rocked on the bosom of a mother, and cradled with prayers and pious hymns—his now seared brow bedewed with the waters of holy baptism. In early childhood, a fair-haired mother had led him, at the sound of Sabbathbell, to worship and pray. Far in New England that mother had trained him, her only son, with long, unwearied love and patient prayers. Born of a hard-tempered sire, on whom that gentle woman had wasted a world of unvalued love, Legree followed in the steps of his father. Boisterous, unruly, and tyrannical, he despised all her counsel, and would none of her reproof; and at an early age broke from her, to seek his fortune at sea.

  He never came home but once after; and then his mother, with the yearning of a heart that must love something, and has nothing else to love, clung to him, and sought with passionate prayers and entreaties to win him from a life of sin to his soul's eternal good.

  That was Legree's day of grace; then good angels called him; then he was almost persuaded, and mercy held him by the hand, and his heart inly relented; then was a conflict, but sin got the victory! And he set all the force of his rough nature against the convictions of conscience; he drank and swore; was wilder and more brutal than ever; and one night, when his mother, in the last agony of her despair, knelt at his feet, he spurned her from him, threw her senseless on the floor, and with brutal curses fled to his ship.

  The next Legree heard of his mother was one night, when he was carousing among his drunken companions, a letter was put into his hand. He opened it, and a lock of long, curling hair fell from it, and twined around his fingers. The letter told him his mother was dead; and, dying, she blessed and forgave him.

  There is a dread, unhallowed necromancy of evil, that turns things sweetest and holiest to phantoms of horror and affright. That pale, loving mother, her dying prayer, her forgiving love, wrought on that demoniac heart of sin only as a damning sentence, bringing with it a fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation. Legree burnt the hair, and burnt the letter; and, when he saw them hissing and crackling in the flames, inly shuddered as he thought of everlasting fires. He tried to drink and revel, and swear away the memory. But often in the deep night, whose solemn stillness arraigns the bad soul in forced communion with herself, he had seen that pale mother rising by his bedside, and felt the soft twining of that hair round his fingers, till the cold sweat would roll down his face, and he would spring from his bed in horror.

  Ye who have wondered to hear in the same Evangel that God is love, and God is a consuming fire! see ye not how, to the soul resolved in evil, perfect love is the most fearful torture, the earnest and sentence of the direst despair?

  "Blast it," said Legree to himself, as he sipped his liquor with an unsteady hand, "where did he get that? If it didn't look just like——whoo! I thought I'd forgot that. Curse me if I think there's any such thing as forgetting anything! Hang it, I'm lonesome. I mean to call Em! She hates me, the monkey. I don't care, I'll make her come."

  Legree stepped out into a large entry, which went up stairs, by what had formerly been a superb winding staircase; but the passage was dirty and dreary, encumbered with boxes and unsightly litter; the stairs, uncarpeted, seemed rising up in the gloom to—nobody knew whither. The pale moonlight streamed through a broken fan-light over the door; the air was unwholesome and chilly, like that of a vault.

  Legree stopped at the foot of the stairs, and heard a voice singing. It seemed strange and ghost-like in that dreary old house—perhaps because of the already tremulous state of his nerves. Hark! what is it?

  A wild, pathetic voice was chanting a hymn common among the slaves:

"Oh, there'll be mourning! mourning! mourning! mourning!
Oh, there'll be mourning! at the judgment seat of Christ."

  "Blast the girl," said Legree, "I'll choke her! Em! Em! Em!" he called, harshly, but only a mocking echo from the mouldy walls answered him. The sweet voice still went on:

"Parents and children there must part;
Parents and children there must part;
Parents and children there must part;
Parents and children there shall part,
Shall part to meet no more."

  And clear and loud swelled the refrain:

"Oh, there'll be mourning! mourning! mourning! mourning!
Oh, there'll be mourning! at the judgment seat of Christ."

  Legree stopped. He would have been ashamed to tell of it; but large drops of sweat stood on his forehead, and his heart beat thick and heavy with fear. He even thought he saw something white rising and glimmering in the gloom, and shuddered to think, what if the form of his dead mother should suddenly appear to him.

  "I know one thing," he said to himself, as he stumbled back into the sitting room, and sat down, "I'll let that fellow alone after this. What did I want of his cussed paper? I b'lieve I am bewitched, sure enough. I've been shivering and sweating ever since! Where did he get that hair? It couldn't have been that! I burnt that up, I know I did! It would be a joke if hair could rise from the dead!"

  Ah, Legree, that golden hair was charmed; each hair had in it a spell of terror and remorse for thee, and was used by a mightier power to bind thy cruel hands from inflicting uttermost evils on the helpless.

  "I say," said Legree, stamping, and whistling to the dogs, "wake up, some of you, and keep me company." But the dogs only opened one eye at him, sleepily, and closed it again.

  "I'll have Sambo and Quimbo up here to sing and dance one of their hell dances, and keep off these horrid thoughts," said Legree; and putting on his hat, he went on to the verandah and blew a horn, with which he commonly summoned his two sable drivers.

  Legree was often wont, when in a gracious humor, to get these two worthies into his sitting room, and, after warming them up with whiskey, amuse himself by setting them to singing, dancing, or fighting, as the humor took him.

  It was between one and two o'clock at night, as Cassy was returning from her ministrations to poor Tom, that she heard the sound of wild shrieking, whooping, halloing, and singing, from the sitting room, mingled with the barking of dogs, and other symptoms of general uproar. She came up on the verandah steps, and looked in. Legree and both the drivers, in a state of furious intoxication, were singing, whooping, upsetting chairs, and making all manner of ludicrous and horrid grimaces at each other.

  She rested her small, slender hand on the window-frame, and looked fixedly at them. There was a world of anguish, and scorn, and fierce bitterness, in her black eyes, as she did so.

  "Would it be a sin to rid the world of such a wretch?" she said to herself. She turned hurriedly away, and passing round to a back door, she entered, and gliding noiselessly up stairs, tapped at the door of Emmeline's chamber.