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The Christian Slave
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Boston: Phillips, Sampson, 1855

SCENE II.—A Boudoir. Evening. -- MR. and -- MRS. SHELBY.


Mrs. Shelby. [Arranging her ringlets at the mirror.]

  By the by, Arthur, who was that low-bred fellow that you lugged in to our dinner-table to-day?


Mr. Shelby. [Lounging on an ottoman, with newspaper.]

  Haley is his name.


Mrs. S.

  Haley! Who is he, and what may be his business here, pray?


Mr. S.

  Well, he's a man that I transacted some business with last time I was at Natchez.


Mrs. S.

  And he presumed on it to make himself quite at home, and call and dine here, eh?


Mr. S.

  Why, I invited him; I had some accounts with him.


Mrs. S.

  Is he a negro-trader?


Mr. S.

  Why, my dear, what put that into your head?


Mrs. S.

  Nothing—only Eliza came in here, after dinner, in a great worry, crying and taking on, and said you were talking with a trader, and that she heard him make an offer for her boy—the ridiculous little goose!


Mr. S.

  She did, eh? It will have to come out. As well now as ever. [Aside.]


Mrs. S.

  I told Eliza that she was a little fool for her pains, and that you never had anything to do with that sort of persons. Of course, I knew you never meant to sell any of our people—least of all, to such a fellow.


Mr. S.

  Well, Emily, so I have always felt and said; but the fact is, my business lies so that I cannot get on without. I shall have to sell some of my hands.


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Mrs. S.

  To that creature? Impossible! Mr. Shelby, you cannot be serious.


Mr. S.

  I am sorry to say that I am. I've agreed to sell Tom.


Mrs. S.

  What! our Tom? that good, faithful creature! been your faithful servant from a boy! O, Mr. Shelby! and you have promised him his freedom, too—you and I have spoken to him a hundred times of it. Well, I can believe anything now; I can believe now that you could sell little Harry, poor Eliza's only child!


Mr. S.

  Well, since you must know all, it is so. I have agreed to sell Tom and Harry both; and I don't know why I am to be rated as if I were a monster for doing what every one does every day.


Mrs. S.

  But why, of all others, chose these? Why sell them of all on the place, if you must sell at all?


Mr. S.

  Because they will bring the highest sum of any—that's why. I could chose another, if you say so. The fellow made me a high bid on Eliza, if that would suit you any better.


Mrs. S.

  The wretch!


Mr. S.

  Well, I did n't listen to it a moment, out of regard to your feelings, I would n't; so give me some credit.


Mrs. S.

  My dear, forgive me. I have been hasty. I was surprised, and entirely unprepared for this; but surely you will allow me to intercede for these poor creatures. Tom is a noble-hearted, faithful fellow, if he is black. I do believe, Mr. Shelby, that if he were put to it, he would lay down his life for you.


Mr. S.

  I know it—I dare say; but what's the use of all this? I can't help myself.


Mrs. S.

  Why not make a pecuniary sacrifice? I'm willing to bear my part of the inconvenience. O, Mr. Shelby, I have tried—tried most faithfully, as a Christian woman should—to do my duty to these poor, simple, dependent creatures. I have cared for them, instructed them, watched over them, and know all their little cares and joys, for years; and how can I ever hold up my head again among them, if, for the sake of a little paltry gain, we sell such a faithful, excellent, confiding creature as poor Tom? I have taught them the duties of the family, of parent and child, and husband and wife; and how can I bear to have this open acknowledgment that we care for no tie, no duty, no relation? I have talked with Eliza about her boy—her duty to him as a Christian mother, to watch over him, pray for him, and bring him up in a Christian way; I have told her that one soul is worth more than all the money in the world; and how will she believe me when she sees us turn round and sell her child? sell him, perhaps, to certain ruin of body and soul!


Mr. S.

  I'm sorry you feel so about it, Emily—indeed, I am; and I respect your feelings, too, though I don't pretend to share them to their full extent; but I tell you now, solemnly, it's of no use—I can't help myself. I didn't mean to tell you this Emily; but, in plain words, there is no choice between selling these two and selling everything. Either they must go, or all must. Haley has come into possession of a mortgage, which, if I don't clear off with him directly, will take everything before it. I've raked, and scraped, and borrowed, and all but begged, and the price of these two was needed to make up the balance, and I had to give them up. Haley fancied the child; he


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agreed to settle the matter that way, and no other. I was in his power, and had to do it. If you feel so to have them sold, would it be any better to have all sold?


Mrs. S.

  This is God's curse on slavery!—a bitter, bitter, most accursed thing!—a curse to the master, a curse to the slave! I was a fool to think I could make anything good out of such a deadly evil. It is a sin to hold a slave under laws like ours. I always felt it was—I always thought so when I was a girl—I thought so still more after I joined the church; but I thought I could gild it over. I thought, by kindness, and care, and instruction, I could make the condition of mine better than freedom—fool that I was!


Mr. S.

  Why, wife, you are getting to be an Abolitionist, quite.


Mrs. S.

  Abolitionist! If they knew all I know about slavery they might talk. We don't need them to tell us. You know I never thought slavery was right—never felt willing to own slaves.


Mr. S.

  Well, therein you differ from many wise and pious men. You remember Mr. B's sermon the other Sunday?


Mrs. S.

  I don't want to hear such sermons. I never wish to hear Mr. B. in our church again. Ministers can't help the evil, perhaps,—can't cure it, any more than we can,—but defend it!—it always went against my common sense. And I think you did n't think much of the sermon, either.


Mr. S.

  Well, I must say these ministers sometimes carry matters further than we poor sinners would exactly dare to do. We men of the world must wink pretty hard at various things, and get used to a deal that is n't the exact thing. But we don't quite fancy, when women and ministers come out broad and square, and go beyond us in matters of either modesty or morals, that's a fact. But now, my dear, I trust you see the necessity of the thing, and you see that I have done the very best that circumstances would allow.


Mrs. S. [Agitatedly.]

  O yes, yes! I have n't any jewelry of any amount; but would not this watch do something? It was an expensive one when it was bought. If I could only at least save Eliza's child, I would sacrifice anything I have.


Mr. S.

  I'm sorry, very sorry, Emily,—I'm sorry this takes hold of you so; but it will do no good. The fact is, Emily, the thing's done; the bills of sale are already signed, and in Haley's hands; and you must be thankful it is no worse. That man has had it in his power to ruin us all, and now he is fairly off. If you knew the man as I do you'd think that we had had a narrow escape.


Mrs. S.

  Is he so hard, then?


Mr. S.

  Why, not a cruel man, exactly, but a man of leather, a man alive to nothing but trade and profit; cool, and unhesitating, and unrelenting as death and the grave. He'd sell his own mother at a good percentage, not wishing the old woman any harm either.


Mrs. S.

  And this wretch owns that good, faithful Tom and Eliza's child?


Mr. S.

  Well, my dear, the fact is, that this goes rather hard with me; it's a thing I hate to think of. Haley wants to drive matters, and take possession to-morrow. I'm going to get out my horse bright and early, and be off. I can't see Tom, that's a fact; and you had


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better arrange a drive somewhere, and carry Eliza off. Let the thing be done when she is out of sight.


Mrs. S.

  No, no; I'll be in no sense accomplice or help in this cruel business. I'll go and see poor old Tom—God help him!—in his distress! They shall see, at any rate, that their mistress can feel for and with them. As to Eliza, I dare not think about it. The Lord forgive us! What have we done that this cruel necessity should come on us?