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

JUL. 31, 1851

CHAPTER IX—Continued.

  Mrs. Burr and her husband reëntered the parlor. She sat down in her little rocking-chair before the fire, swaying thoughtfully to and fro. Mr. Burr strode up and down the room, grumbling to himself—"Pish! Pshaw! Confounded awkward business!" &c. At length, striding up to his wife, he said—

  "I say, wife, she'll have to get away from here this very night. That fellow will be down on the scent bright and early to-morrow morning; if 'twas only the woman, she could lie quiet till it was over; but that little chap can't be kept still by a troop of horse and foot, I'll warrant me; he'll bring it all out, popping his head out of some window or door. A pretty kettle of fish it would be for me, too! to be caught with them both here, just now! No—they'll have to be got off to-night!"

  "To-night! How is it possible—where to?"

  "Well, I know pretty well where to," said the Senator, beginning to put on his boots with a reflective air; and stopping when his leg was half in, he embraced his knee with both hands, and seemed to go off in deep meditation. "It's a confounded awkward, ugly business," said he, at last, beginning to tug at his boot-straps again, "and that's a fact!" After one boot was fairly on, the Senator sat with the other in his hand, profoundly studying the figure of the carpet. "It will have to be done, though, for aught I see; hang it all!" and he drew the other boot anxiously on, and looked out of the window.

  Now, little Mrs. Burr was a discreet woman—a woman who never in her life said, "I told you so!" and on the present occasion, though pretty well aware of the shape her husband's meditations were taking, she very prudently forbore to meddle with them, only sat very quietly in her chair, and looked quite ready to hear her liege lord's intentions, when he should think proper to utter them.

  "You see," he said, "there's my old client, Van Trompe, has come over from Kentucky, and set all his slaves free, and he has bought a place seven miles up the creek, here, back in the woods, where nobody goes, unless they go on purpose; and it's a place that isn't found in a hurry. There she'd be safe enough; but the plague of the thing is, nobody could drive a carriage there to-night, but me."

  "Why not? Cudjoe is an excellent driver."

  "Aye, aye, but here it is. The creek has to be crossed twice; and the second crossing is quite dangerous, unless one knows it as I do. I have crossed it a hundred times on horseback, and know exactly the turns to take. And so you see there's no help for it. Cudjoe must put in the horses as quietly as may be about twelve o'clock, and I'll take her over; and then, to give color to the matter, he must carry me on to the next tavern, to take the stage for Columbus, that comes by about three or four, and so it will look as if I had had the carriage only for that. I shall get into business bright and early in the morning. But I'm thinking I shall feel rather cheap there, after all that's been said and done; but hang it, I can't help it."

  "Your heart is better than your head in this case, John," said the wife, laying her little white hand on his. "Could I ever have loved you, had I not known you better than you know yourself!" and the little woman looked so handsome, with the tears sparkling in her eyes, that the Senator thought he must be a decidedly clever fellow, to get such a pretty creature into such a passionate admiration of him; and so what could he do but walk off soberly, to see about the carriage. At the door, however, he stopped a moment, and then coming back, he said, with some hesitation—

  "Mary, I don't know how you'd feel about it, but there's that drawer full of things—of—of—poor little Henry's!" So saying, he turned quickly on his heel, and shut the door after him.

  His wife opened the little bed-room door adjoining her room, and, taking the candle, set it down on the top of a bureau there; then from a small recess she took a key, and put it thoughtfully in the lock of a drawer, and made a sudden pause—while the two boys, who, boy like, had followed close on her heels, stood looking, with silent, significant glances at their mother. And oh! mother that reads this, has there never been in your house a drawer, or a closet, the opening of which has been to you like the opening again of a little grave? Ah! happy mother that you are, if it has not been so!

  Mrs. Burr slowly opened the drawer; there were little coats of many a form and pattern, piles of aprons, and rows of small stockings; and even a pair of little shoes, worn and rubbed at the toes, were peeping from the folds of a paper. There was a toy horse and wagon, a top, a ball—memorials gathered with many a tear, and many a heartbreak! She sat down by the drawer, and leaning her head on her hands over it, wept till the tears fell through her fingers into the drawer; then suddenly raising her head, she began, with nervous haste, selecting the plainest and most substantial articles, and gathering them into a bundle—

  "Mamma," said one of the boys, softly touching her arm, "are you going to give away those things?"

  "My dear boys," she said, gently and earnestly, "if our own dear, loving little Henry looks down from Heaven, he would be glad to have us do this. I could not find it in my heart to give them away to any common person—to anybody that was happy; but I give them to a mother more heart-broken and sorrowful than I am; and I hope God will send his blessing with them!"

  There are in this world blessed souls, whose sorrows all spring up into joys for others—whose earthly hopes laid in the grave with many tears, are the seed from which spring healing flowers and balm for the desolate and the distressed. Among such was the delicate woman who sits there by the lamp, dropping slow tears, while she prepares the memorials of her own lost one for the outcast wanderer.

  After a while, Mrs. Burr opened a wardrobe, and, taking from thence a plain serviceable dress or two, she sat down busily to her work-table, and, with needle, scissors, and thimble, at hand, quietly commenced the "letting down" process which her husband had recommended, and continued busily at it till the old clock in the corner struck twelve, and she heard the low rattling of wheels at the door.

  "Mary," said her husband, coming in, with his overcoat in his hand, "you must wake her up now—we must be off."

  Mrs. Burr hastily deposited the various articles she had collected in a small plain trunk, and locking it, desired her husband to see it in the carriage, and then proceeded to call the woman. Soon, arrayed in a cloak, bonnet, and shawl, that had belonged to her benefactress, she appeared at the door with her child in her arms. Mr. Burr hurried her into the carriage, and Mrs. Burr pressed on after her to the carriage steps. Eliza leaned out of the carriage, and put out her hand—a hand as soft and beautiful as was given in return. She fixed her large, dark eyes, full of earnest meaning, on Mrs. Burr's face, and seemed going to speak. Her lips moved—she tried once or twice, but there was no sound—and pointing upward, with a look never to be forgotten, she fell back in the seat, and covered her face. The door was shut, and the carriage drove on.

  What a situation now for a patriotic Senator, that had been all the week before spurring up the Legislature of his native State to pass more stringent resolutions against escaping fugitives, their harborers and abettors! Our good Senator in his native State had not been exceeded by any of his brethren at Washington, in the sort of eloquence which has won for them immortal renown! How sublimely he had sat with his hands in his pockets, and scouted all sentimental weakness of those who would put the welfare of a few miserable fugitives before great State interests! He was as bold as a lion about it, and "mightily convinced" not only himself, but everybody that heard him; but then his idea of a fugitive was only an idea of the letters that spell the word—or at the most, the image of a little newspaper picture of a man with a stick and bundle, with "Ran away from the subscriber" under it. The magic of the real presence of distress, the imploring human eye, the frail, trembling human hand, the despairing appeal of helpless agony—these he had never tried; he had never thought that a fugitive might be a hapless mother, a defenceless child—like that one which was now wearing his lost boy's little well known cap; and so, as our poor Senator was not stone or steel—as he was a man, and a downright noble-hearted one, too—he was, as everybody must see, in a sad case for his patriotism. And you need not exult over him, good brother of the Southern States, for we have some inklings that many of you, under similar circumstances, would not do much better. We have reason to know, in Kentucky, as in Mississippi, are noble and generous hearts, to whom never was tale of suffering told in vain. Ah! good brother! is it fair for you to expect of us services which your own brave, honorable heart would not allow you to render, were you in our place?

  Be that as it may, if our good Senator was a political sinner, he was in a fair to expiate it by* his night's penance. There had been a long continuous period of rainy weather, and the soft, rich earth of Ohio, as every one knows, is admirably suited to the manufacture of mud—and the road was an Ohio railroad of the good old times.

  "And pray, what sort of a road may that be?" says some Eastern traveller, who has been accustomed to connect no ideas with a railroad but those of smoothness or speed.

  Know, then, innocent Eastern friend, that in benighted regions of the West, where the mud is of unfathomable and sublime depth, roads are made of round rough logs, arranged transversely side by side, and coated over in their pristine freshness with earth, turf, and whatsoever may come to hand, and then the rejoicing native calleth it a road, and straightway essayeth to ride thereupon. In process of time the rains wash off all the turf and grass aforesaid, move the logs hither and thither, in picturesque positions, up, down, and crosswise, with divers chasms and ruts of black mud intervening. Over such a road as this our Senator went stumbling along, making moral reflections as continuously as under the circumstances could be expected—the carriage proceeding along much as follows—bump! bump! bump! slush! down in the mud! and the Senator, woman, and child, reversing their positions so suddenly as to come without any accurate adjustment against the windows of the down hill side. Carriage sticks fast, while Cudjoe on the outside is heard making a great muster among the horses. After various ineffectual pullings and twitchings, just as the Senator is losing all patience, the carriage suddenly rights itself with a bounce, two front wheels go down into another abyss, and Senator, woman, and child, all tumble promiscuously on to the front seat—Senator's hat is jammed over his eyes and nose quite unceremoniously, and he considers himself fairly extinguished; child cries, and Cudjoe on the outside delivers animated addresses to the horses, who are kicking and floundering and straining under repeated cracks of the whip. Carriage springs up with another bounce; down go the hind wheels; Senator, woman, and child, fly over on to the back seat, his elbows encountering her bonnet, and both her feet being jammed into his hat, which flies off in the concussion. After a few moments the "slough" is passed, and the horses stop, panting; the Senator finds his hat, the woman straightens her bonnet and hushes her child, and they brace themselves firmly for what is yet to come. For a while only the continuous bump! bump! intermingled just by way of variety with divers side plunges and compound shakes, and they begin to flatter themselves that they are not so badly off, after all. At last, with a square plunge, which puts all on to their feet, and then down into their seats with incredible quickness, the carriage stops—and after much outside commotion, Cudjoe appears at the door:

  "Please, sir, it's powerful bad spot, this yer. I don't know how we's to get clar out. I'm a thinkin we'll have to be a gettin rails."

  The Senator despairingly steps out, picking gingerly for some firm foothold; down goes one foot an immeasurable depth—he tries to pull it up, loses his balance, and tumbles over into the mud, and is fished out in a very despairing condition by Cudjoe.

  But we forbear, out of sympathy to our readers' bones. Western travellers, who have beguiled the midnight hour in the interesting process of pulling down rail fences, to pry their carriages out of mud holes, will have a respectful and mournful sympathy with our unfortunate hero. We beg them to drop a silent tear, and pass on.

  It was full late in the night when the carriage emerged, dripping and bespattered, out of the creek, and stood at the door of a large farm-house.

  It took no inconsiderable perseverance to arouse the inmates; but at last the respectable proprietor appeared, and undid the door. He was a great, tall, bristling Orson of a fellow, full six feet and some inches in his stockings, and arrayed in a red flannel hunting shirt. A very heavy mat of sandy hair in a decidedly tousled condition, and a beard of some days' growth, gave the worthy man an appearance, to say the least, not particularly prepossessing. He stood for a few minutes holding the candle aloft, and blinking on our travellers with a dismal and mystified expression that was truly ludicrous. It cost some effort of our Senator to induce him to comprehend the case fully; and while he is doing his best at that, we shall give him a little introduction to our readers.

  Honest old John Van Trompe was once quite a considerable landholder and slave-owner in the State of Kentucky. Having "nothing of the bear about him but the skin," and being gifted by Nature with a great, honest, just heart, quite equal to his gigantic frame, he had been for some years witnessing with repressed uneasiness the workings of a system equally bad for oppressor and oppressed. At last, one day, John's great heart had swelled altogether too big to wear his bonds any longer; so he just took his pocket-book out of his desk, and went over into Ohio, and bought a quarter of a township of good, rich land, made out free papers for all his people—men, women, and children—packed them up in wagons, and sent them off to settle down; and then honest John turned his face up the creek, and sat quietly down on a snug, retired farm, to enjoy his conscience and his reflections.

  "Are you the man that will shelter a poor woman and child from slave-catchers?" said the Senator, explicitly.

  "I rather think I am," said honest John, with some considerable emphasis.

  "I thought so," said the Senator.

  "If there's anybody comes," said the good man, stretching his tall, muscular form upward, "why here I'm ready for him; and I've got seven sons, each six foot high, and they'll be ready for 'em. Give our respects to 'em," said John; "tell 'em it's no matter how soon they call—make no kinder difference to us," said John, running his fingers through the shock of hair that thatched his head, and bursting out into a great laugh.

  Weary, jaded, and spiritless, Eliza dragged herself up to the door, with her child lying in a heavy sleep on her arm. The great, rough man held the candle to her face, and uttering a kind of compassionate grunt, opened the door of a small bed-room adjoining to the large kitchen where they were standing, and motioned her to go in. He took down a lamp, and lighting it, set it upon the table, and then addressed himself to Eliza.

  "Now I say, gal, you needn't be a bit afeard, let who will come here. I'm up to all that sort o' thing, said he, pointing to two or three goodly rifles over the mantel-piece; and most people that know me know that 'twouldn't be healthy to try to get anybody out o' my house when I'm agin it. So now you jist go to sleep now, as quiet as if yer mother was a rockin ye," said he, as he shut the door.

  "Why, this is an uncommon handsome un," he said to the Senator. "Ah, well! handsome uns has the greatest cause to run, sometimes, if they has any kind o' feelin, such as decent women should. I know all about that."

  The Senator in a few words briefly explained Eliza's history.

  "Oh! ou! aw! now, I want to know," said the good man pitifully, "sho! now sho! That's natur now! poor crittur! hunted down now like a deer! hunted down! jest for havin natural feelins, and doin what no kind o' mother could help a-doin! I tell ye what, these yer things make me come the nighest to swearin now o' most anything," said honest John, as he wiped his eyes with the back of a great, freckled, yellow hand. "I tell yer what, stranger, it was years and years before I'd jine the church, cause the ministers round in our parts used to preach that the Bible went in for these ere cuttings up—and I couldn't be up to 'em with their Greek and Hebrew, and so I took up agin 'em, Bible and all. I never jined the church till I found a minister that was up to 'em all, in Greek and all that, and he said right the contrary; and then I took right hold, and jined the church—I did now, fact," said John, who had been all this time uncorking some very frisky bottled cider, which at this juncture he presented.

  "Ye'd better jest put up here, now, till daylight," said he, heartily, "and I'll call up the old woman, and have a bed got ready for you in no time."

  "Thank you, my good friend," said the Senator, "I must be along, to take the night stage for Columbus."

  "Ah! well, then, if you must. I'll go a piece with you, and show you a cross road that will take you there better than the road you came on. That road's mighty bad."

  John equipped himself, and with a lantern in hand was soon seen guiding the Senator's carriage towards a road that ran down in a hollow back of his dwelling. When they parted, the Senator put into his hand a ten dollar bill.

  "It's for her," he said, briefly.

  "Aye, aye," said John, with equal conciseness.

  They shook hands and parted.