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

JUL. 24, 1851

CHAPTER IX.—In which it appears that a Senator is but a Man.

  The light of the cheerful fire shone on the rug and carpet of a cozy parlor, and glittered on the sides of the tea-cups and well brightened tea-pot, as Senator Burr was drawing off his boots, preparatory to inserting his feet in a pair of new handsome slippers, which his wife had been working for him while away on his Senatorial tour. Mrs. Burr, looking the very picture of delight, was superintending the arrangements of the table, ever and anon mingling admonitory remarks to a number of frolicksome juveniles, who were effervescing in all those modes of untold gambol and mischief that have astonished mothers ever since the Flood.

  "Tom, let the door-knob alone, there's a man! Mary! Mary! don't pull the cat's tail—poor pussy! Jim, you mustn't climb on that table—no, no! You don't know, my dear, what a surprise it is to us all, to see you here to-night!" said she, at last, when she found a space to say something to her husband.

  "Yes, yes, I thought I'd just make a run down, spend the night, and have a little comfort at home. I'm tired to death, and my head aches."

  Mrs. Burr cast a glance at a camphor-bottle, which stood in the half-open closet, and appeared to meditate an approach to it, but her husband interposed—

  "No, no, Mary, no doctoring! a cup of your good hot tea, and some of our good home living, is what I want. It's a tiresome business, this legislating!"

  And the Senator smiled, as if he rather liked the idea of considering himself a sacrifice to his country.

  "Well," said his wife, after the business of the tea-table was getting rather slack, "and what have they been doing in the Senate?"

  Now, it was a very unusual thing for gentle little Mrs. Burr ever to trouble her head with what was going on in the House of the State, very wisely considering that she had enough to do to mind her own. Mr. Burr therefore opened his eyes in surprise, and said—

  "Not very much of importance."

  "Well, but is it true that they have been passing a law forbidding people to give meat and drink to those poor colored folks that come along? I heard they were talking of some such law, but I didn't think any Christian Legislature would pass it."

  "Why, Mary, you are getting to be a politician all at once."

  "No, nonsense! I wouldn't give a fip for all your politics, generally, but I think this is something downright cruel and unchristian. I hope, my dear, no such law has been passed."

  "There has been a law passed forbidding people to help off the slaves that come over from Kentucky; my dear, so much of that thing has been done by these reckless Abolitionists, that our brethren in Kentucky are very strongly excited, and it seems necessary, and no more than Christian and kind, that something should be done by our State to quiet the excitement."

  "And what is the law? it don't forbid us to shelter these poor creatures a night, does it, and to give 'em something comfortable to eat, and a few old clothes, and send 'em quietly about their business!"

  "Why, yes, my dear—that would be aiding and abetting, you know."

  Mrs. Burr was a timid, blushing, little woman, of about four feet in height, and with mild, blue eyes, and a peach-blow complexion, and the gentlest, sweetest voice in the world; as for courage, a moderate-sized cock turkey had been known to put her to rout at the very first gobble, and a stout house-dog, of moderate capacity, would bring her into subjection merely by a show of his teeth. Her husband and children were her entire world, and in these she ruled more by entreaty and persuasion than by command or argument. There was only one thing that was capable of arousing her, and that provocation came in on the side of her unusually gentle and sympathetic nature—anything in the shape of cruelty would throw her into a passion, which was the more alarming and inexplicable in proportion to the general softness of her nature. Generally the most indulgent and easy to be entreated of all mothers, still her boys had a very reverent remembrance of a most vehement chastisement she once bestowed on them because she found them leagued with several graceless boys of the neighborhood, stoning a defenceless kitten.

  "I'll tell you what," Master Bill used to say, "I was scared that time; mother came at me so that I thought she was crazy, and I was whipped and tumbled off to bed, without any supper, before I could get over wondering what had come about; and after that, I heard mother crying outside the door, which made me feel worse than all the rest. I'll tell you what," he'd say, "we boys never stoned another kitten!"

  On the present occasion, Mrs. Burr rose quickly, with very red cheeks, which quite improved her general appearance, and walked up to her husband with quite a resolute air, and said, in a determined tone—

  "Now John, I want to know if you think such a law as that is right and Christian?"

  "You won't shoot me, now, Mary, if I say I do!"

  "I never could have thought it of you, John; you didn't vote for it?"

  "Even so, my fair politician."

  "You ought to be ashamed, John! Poor, homeless, houseless creatures! It's a shameful, wicked, abominable law, and I break it for one the first time I get a chance; and I hope I shall have a chance—I do. Things have got to a pretty pass, if a woman can't give a warm supper and a bed to poor, starving creatures, just because they are slaves, and have been abused and oppressed all their lives, poor things."

  "But, Mary, just listen to me. Your feelings are all quite right, dear—and interesting—and I love you for them; but, then, dear, we mustn't suffer our feelings to run away with our judgment—you must consider it's not a matter of private feeling—there are great public interests involved—there is such a state of public agitation rising, that we must put aside our private feelings."

  "Now, John, I don't know anything about politics, but I can read my Bible; and there I see that I must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort the desolate—and that Bible I mean to follow."

  "But in cases where your doing so would involve a great public evil"——

  "Obeying God never brings on public evils. I know it can't. It's always safest all round to do as He bids us."

  "Now, listen to me, Mary, and I can state to you a very clear argument to show"——

  "Oh, nonsense, John; you can talk all night but you wouldn't do it. I put it to you, John—would you now turn away a poor, shivering, hungry creature from your door, because he was a runaway? Would you, now?"

  Now, if the truth must be told, our Senator had the misfortune to be a man who had a particularly humane and accessible nature, and turning away anybody that was in trouble never had been his forte; and what was worse for him in this particular pinch of the argument was, that his wife knew it, and of course was making an assault on rather an indefensible point—so he had recourse to the usual means of gaining time for such cases made and provided; he said "ahem," and coughed several times, took out his pocket-handkerchief and began to wipe his glasses. Mrs. Burr, seeing the defenceless condition of the enemy's territory, had no more conscience than to push her advantage.

  "I should like to see you doing that, John—I really should. Turning a woman out of doors in a snow storm, for instance; or may be you'd take her up and put her in jail, wouldn't you? You would make a grand hand at that."

  "Of course it would be a very painful duty," began Mr. Burr, in a moderate tone.

  "Duty! John! don't use that word. You know it isn't a duty—it can't be a duty. If folks want to keep their slaves from running away, let 'em treat 'em well—that's my doctrine. If I had slaves, (as I hope I never shall have,) I'd risk their wanting to run away from me or you either, John. I tell you folks don't run away when they're happy; and when they do run, poor creatures, they suffer enough with cold and hunger and fear, without everybody's turning against them; and law or no law, I never will, so help me God."

  "Mary! Mary! My dear, let me reason with you."

  "I hate reasoning, John; especially reasoning on such subjects. There's a way you political folks have of coming round and round a plain right thing—and you don't believe in it yourselves, when it comes to practice. I know you well enough, John; you don't believe it's right, any more than I do, and you wouldn't do it any sooner than I."

  At this critical juncture, old Cudjoe, the black man of all works, put his head into the door and wished "Missis would come into the kitchen;" and our Senator, tolerably relieved, looked after his little wife with a whimsical mixture of amusement and vexation, and, seating himself in the arm-chair, began to read the papers.

  After a moment, his wife's voice was heard at the door, in a quick, earnest tone, "John! John! I do wish you'd come here a moment."

  He laid down his paper, and went into the kitchen, and started, quite amazed at the sight that presented itself: A young and slender woman, with garments torn and frozen, with one shoe gone, and the stocking torn away from the cut and bleeding foot, was laid back in a deadly swoon upon two chairs. There was the impress of the despised race on her face, yet none could help feeling its mournful and pathetic beauty—while its stony sharpness, its cold, fixed, deathly aspect, struck a solemn chill over him. He drew his breath short, and stood in silence. His wife and their only colored domestic, old Aunt Dinah, were busily engaged in restorative measures; while old Cudjoe had got the boy on his knee, and was busy pulling off his shoes and stockings, and chafing his little cold feet.

  "Sure, now, if she aint a sight to behold," said old Dinah, compassionately; "'pears like 'twas the heat that made her faint. She was tol'able peart when she cum in, and asked if she couldn't warm herself here a spell; and I was just a askin her where she come from, and she fainted right down. Never done much hard work, guess, by the looks of her hands."

  "Poor creature!" said Mrs. Burr, compassionately, as the woman slowly unclosed her large, dark eyes, and looked vacantly at her. Suddenly an expression of agony crossed her face, and she sprung up, saying, "Oh, my Harry! Have they got him?"

  The boy, at this, jumped from Cudjoe's knee, and, running to her side, put up his arms—"Oh, he's here! he's here!"

  "Oh, ma'am," said she, mildly, to Mrs. Burr, "do protect us; don't let them get him?"

  "Nobody shall hurt you here, poor woman," said Mrs. Burr, encouragingly. "You are safe; don't be afraid."

  "God bless you!" said the woman, covering her face, and sobbing; while the little boy, seeing her crying, tried to get into her lap.

  With many gentle and womanly offices, which none knew better how to render than Mrs. Burr, the poor woman was, in time, rendered more calm. A temporary bed was provided for her on the settle, near the fire, and, after a short time, she fell into a heavy slumber, with the child, who seemed no less weary, soundly sleeping on her arm—for the mother resisted with nervous anxiety the kindest attempts to take him from her; and even in sleep her arm encircled him with an unrelaxing clasp, as if she could not even then be beguiled of her vigilant hold.

  Mr. and Mrs. Burr had gone back to the parlor, where, strange as it may appear, no reference was made on either side to the preceding conversation; but Mrs. Burr busied herself with her knitting work, and Mr. Burr pretended to be reading the paper.

  "I wonder who and what she is?" said Mr. Burr, at last, as he laid it down.

  "When she wakes up, and feels a little rested, we will see," said Mrs. Burr.

  "I say, wife!" said Mr. Burr, after musing in silence over his newspaper.

  "Well, dear!"

  "She couldn't wear one of your gowns, could she, by any letting down or such matter? She seems to be rather larger than you are."

  A quite scarce perceptible smile glimmered in Mrs. Burr's face, as she answered, "We'll see."

  Another pause, and Mr. Burr again broke out—

  "I say, wife!"

  "Well! What now?"

  "Why, there's that old bombazine cloak that you keep on purpose to put over me when I take my afternoon's nap—you might as well give her that—she needs clothes."

  At this instant, Dinah looked in to say that the woman was awake, and wanted to see missis.

  Mr. and Mrs. Burr went into the kitchen, followed by the two eldest boys—the smaller fry having, by this time, been safely disposed of in bed.

  The woman was now sitting up on the settle, by the fire. She was looking steadily into the blaze, with a calm, heart-broken expression, very different from her former agitated wildness.

  "Did you want me?" said Mrs. Burr, in gentle tones. "I hope you feel better now, poor woman."

  A long-drawn, shivering sigh was the only answer; but she lifted her dark eyes, and fixed them on her with such a forlorn and imploring expression, that the tears came into the little woman's eyes.

  "You needn't be afraid of anything; we are friends here, poor woman; tell me where you came from and what you want," said she.

  "I came from Kentucky," said the woman.

  "When?" said Mr. Burr, taking up the interrogatory.


  "How did you come?"

  "I crossed on the ice."

  "Crossed on the ice!" said every one present.

  "Yes," said the woman, slowly, "I did. God helping me, I crossed on the ice; for they were behind me—right behind—and there was no other way."

  "Law, missis," said Cudjoe, "the ice is all in broken-up blocks, a-swinging and a-tetering up and down in the water."

  "I know it was—I know it," said she, mildly; "but I did it; I wouldn't have thought I could; I didn't think I should get over, but I didn't care; I could but die if I didn't. The Lord helped me; nobody knows how much the Lord can help 'em, till they try," said the woman, with a flashing eye.

  "Were you a slave?" said Mr. Burr.

  "Yes, sir; I belonged to a man in Kentucky."

  "Was he unkind to you?"

  "No, sir; he was a good master."

  "And was your mistress unkind to you?"

  "No, sir—no; my mistress was always good to me."

  "What could induce you to leave a good home, then, and run away, and go through such dangers?"

  The woman looked up at Mrs. Burr with a keen, scrutinizing glance, and it did not escape her that she was dressed in deep mourning.

  "Ma'am," she said, suddenly, "have you ever lost a child?"

  The question was unexpected, and it was a thrust on a new wound; for it was only a month since a darling child of the family had been laid in the grave.

  Mr. Burr turned around and walked to the window, and Mrs. Burr burst into tears; but, recovering her voice, she said—

  "Why do you ask that? I have lost a little one."

  "Then you will feel for me. I have lost two, one after another—left 'em buried there when I came away; and I had only this one left. I never slept without him; he was all I had; he was my comfort and pride, day and night; and, ma'am, they were going to take him away from me—to sell him—sell him down South, ma'am, to go all alone—a baby that had never been away from his mother in his life. I couldn't stand it, ma'am; I knew I should never be good for anything if they did; and when I knew the papers were signed, and he was sold, I took him and came off in the night; and they chased me—the man that bought him, and some of mass'r's folks—and they were coming down right behind me, and I heard 'em; I jumped right on to the ice, and how I got across I don't know; but first I knew, a man was helping me up the bank."

  The woman did not sob nor weep—she had gone to a place where tears are dry; but every one around her was, in some way characteristic of themselves, showing signs of hearty sympathy.

  The two little boys, after a desperate rummaging in their pockets in search of those pocket-handkerchiefs which mothers know are never to be found there, had thrown themselves disconsolately into the skirts of their mother's gown, where they were sobbing and wiping their eyes and noses to their hearts' content; Mrs. Burr had her face fairly hidden in her pocket-handkerchief; and old Dinah, with tears streaming down her black, honest face, was ejaculating, "Lord have mercy on us!" with all the fervor of a camp meeting; while old Cudjoe, rubbing his eyes very hard with his cuffs, and making a most uncommon variety of wry faces, occasionally responded in the same key with great fervor. Our Senator was a statesman, and of course could not be expected to cry like other mortals—and so he turned his back to the company, and looked out of the window, and seemed particularly busy in clearing his throat and wiping his spectacle glasses, occasionally blowing his nose in a manner that was calculated to excite suspicion, had any one been in a state to observe critically.

  "How came you to tell me you had a kind master?" he suddenly exclaimed, gulping down very resolutely some kind of rising in his throat, and turning suddenly round upon the woman.

  "Because he was a kind master—I'll say that of him any way; and my mistress was kind; but they couldn't help themselves—they were owing money—and there was some way, I can't tell how, that the man had a hold on them, and they were obliged to give him his will. I listened and heard him telling mistress that, and she begging and pleading for me; and he told her he couldn't help himself, and that the papers were all drawn; and then it was I took him and left my home, and came away. I knew 'twas no use of my trying to live if they did it; for't 'pears like this child is all I have."

  "Have you no husband?"

  "Yes, but he belongs to another man; his master is real hard to him, and won't let him come to see me, hardly ever; and he has grown harder and harder upon us, and he threatens to sell him down South; it's like I'll never see him again!"

  The quiet tone in which the woman pronounced these words might have led a superficial observer to think that she was entirely apathetic; but there was a calm, settled depth of anguish in her large, dark eye, that spoke of something far otherwise.

  "And where do you mean to go, my poor woman?" said Mrs. Burr.

  "To Canada, if I only knew where that was. Is it very far off, is Canada?" said she, looking up, with a simple, confiding air, to Mrs. Burr's face.

  "Poor thing!" said Mrs. Burr, involuntarily.

  "Is't a very great way, think?" said the woman, earnestly.

  "Much farther than you think, poor child," said Mrs. Burr; "but we will try to think what can be done for you. Here, Dinah, make her up a bed in your own room, close by the kitchen, and I'll think what to do for her in the morning. Meanwhile, never fear, poor woman; put your trust in God; he will protect you."