"A young star! which shone O'er
life--too sweet an image, for such glass!
A lovely being, scarcely formed or moulded;
A rose with all its sweetest leaves yet folded."
Mississippi! How, as by an
enchanted wand, have its scenes been changed, since Chateaubriand wrote his
prose-poetic description of it, as a river of mighty, unbroken solitudes,
rolling amid undreamed wonders of vegetable and animal existence.
 _In Atala; or
the Love and Constantcy of Two Savages in the Desert_ (1801) by Francois Auguste
Rene, Vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768-1848).
as in an hour, this river of dreams and wild romance has emerged to a reality
scarcely less visionary and splendid. What
other river of the world bears on its bosom to the ocean the wealth and
enterprise of such another country?--a country whose products embrace all
between the tropics and the poles! Those
turbid waters, hurrying, foaming, tearing along, an apt resemblance of that
headlong tide of business which is poured along its wave by a race more vehement
and energetic than any the old world ever saw.
Ah! would that they did not also bear along a more fearful freight,--the
tears of the oppressed, the sighs of the helpless, the bitter prayers of poor,
ignorant hearts to an unknown God--unknown, unseen and silent, but who will yet
"come out of his place to save all the poor of the earth!"
The slanting light of the setting sun
quivers on the sea-like expanse of the river; the shivery canes, and the tall,
dark cypress, hung with wreaths of dark, funereal moss, glow in the golden ray,
as the heavily-laden steamboat marches onward.
Piled with cotton-bales, from many a
plantation, up over deck and sides, till she seems in the distance a square,
massive block of gray, she moves heavily onward to the nearing mart.
We must look some time among its crowded decks before we shall find again
our humble friend Tom. High on the
upper deck, in a little nook among the everywhere predominant cotton-bales, at
last we may find him.
Partly from confidence inspired by Mr.
Shelby's representations, and partly from the remarkably inoffensive and quiet
character of the man, Tom had insensibly won his way far into the confidence
even of such a man as Haley.
At first he had watched him narrowly
through the day, and never allowed him to sleep at night unfettered; but the
uncomplaining patience and apparent contentment of Tom's manner led him
gradually to discontinue these restraints, and for some time Tom had enjoyed a
sort of parole of honor, being permitted to come and go freely where he pleased
on the boat.
Ever quiet and obliging, and more than
ready to lend a hand in every emergency which occurred among the workmen below,
he had won the good opinion of all the hands, and spent many hours in helping
them with as hearty a good will as ever he worked on a Kentucky farm.
When there seemed to be nothing for him
to do, he would climb to a nook among the cotton-bales of the upper deck, and
busy himself in studying over his Bible,--and it is there we see him now.
For a hundred or more miles above New
Orleans, the river is higher than the surrounding country, and rolls its
tremendous volume between massive levees twenty feet in height.
The traveller from the deck of the steamer, as from some floating castle
top, overlooks the whole country for miles and miles around.
Tom, therefore, had spread out full before him, in plantation after
plantation, a map of the life to which he was approaching.
He saw the distant slaves at their toil;
he saw afar their villages of huts gleaming out in long rows on many a
plantation, distant from the stately mansions and pleasure-grounds of the
master;--and as the moving picture passed on, his poor, foolish heart would be
turning backward to the Kentucky farm, with its old shadowy beeches,--to the
master's house, with its wide, cool halls, and, near by, the little cabin
overgrown with the multiflora and bignonia.
There he seemed to see familiar faces of comrades who had grown up with
him from infancy; he saw his busy wife, bustling in her preparations for his
evening meals; he heard the merry laugh of his boys at their play, and the
chirrup of the baby at his knee; and then, with a start, all faded, and he saw
again the canebrakes and cypresses and gliding plantations, and heard again the
creaking and groaning of the machinery, all telling him too plainly that all
that phase of life had gone by forever.
In such a case, you write to your wife,
and send messages to your children; but Tom could not write,--the mail for him
had no existence, and the gulf of separation was unbridged by even a friendly
word or signal.
Is it strange, then, that some tears
fall on the pages of his Bible, as he lays it on the cotton-bale, and, with
patient finger, threading his slow way from word to word, traces out its
promises? Having learned late in
life, Tom was but a slow reader, and passed on laboriously from verse to verse.
Fortunate for him was it that the book he was intent on was one which
slow reading cannot injure,--nay, one whose words, like ingots of gold, seem
often to need to be weighed separately, that the mind may take in their
priceless value. Let us follow him
a moment, as, pointing to each word, and pronouncing each half aloud, he reads,
Cicero, when he buried his darling and
only daughter, had a heart as full of honest grief as poor Tom's,--perhaps no
fuller, for both were only men;--but Cicero could pause over no such sublime
words of hope, and look to no such future reunion; and if he _had_ seen them,
ten to one he would not have believed,--he must fill his head first with a
thousand questions of authenticity of manuscript, and correctness of
translation. But, to poor Tom,
there it lay, just what he needed, so evidently true and divine that the
possibility of a question never entered his simple head.
It must be true; for, if not true, how could he live?
As for Tom's Bible, though it had no
annotations and helps in margin from learned commentators, still it had been
embellished with certain way-marks and guide-boards of Tom's own invention, and
which helped him more than the most learned expositions could have done.
It had been his custom to get the Bible read to him by his master's
children, in particular by young Master George; and, as they read, he would
designate, by bold, strong marks and dashes, with pen and ink, the passages
which more particularly gratified his ear or affected his heart.
His Bible was thus marked through, from one end to the other, with a
variety of styles and designations; so he could in a moment seize upon his
favorite passages, without the labor of spelling out what lay between them;--and
while it lay there before him, every passage breathing of some old home scene,
and recalling some past enjoyment, his Bible seemed to him all of this life that
remained, as well as the promise of a future one.
Among the passengers on the boat was a
young gentleman of fortune and family, resident in New Orleans, who bore the
name of St. Clare. He had with him
a daughter between five and six years of age, together with a lady who seemed to
claim relationship to both, and to have the little one especially under her
Tom had often caught glimpses of this
little girl,--for she was one of those busy, tripping creatures, that can be no
more contained in one place than a sunbeam or a summer breeze,--nor was she one
that, once seen, could be easily forgotten.
Her form was the perfection of childish
beauty, without its usual chubbiness and squareness of outline.
There was about it an undulating and aerial grace, such as one might
dream of for some mythic and allegorical being.
Her face was remarkable less for its perfect beauty of feature than for a
singular and dreamy earnestness of expression, which made the ideal start when
they looked at her, and by which the dullest and most literal were impressed,
without exactly knowing why. The
shape of her head and the turn of her neck and bust was peculiarly noble, and
the long golden-brown hair that floated like a cloud around it, the deep
spiritual gravity of her violet blue eyes, shaded by heavy fringes of golden
brown,--all marked her out from other children, and made every one turn and look
after her, as she glided hither and thither on the boat.
Nevertheless, the little one was not what you would have called either a
grave child or a sad one. On the
contrary, an airy and innocent playfulness seemed to flicker like the shadow of
summer leaves over her childish face, and around her buoyant figure. She was always in motion, always with a half smile on her
rosy mouth, flying hither and thither, with an undulating and cloud-like tread,
singing to herself as she moved as in a happy dream. Her father and female guardian were incessantly busy in
pursuit of her,--but, when caught, she melted from them again like a summer
cloud; and as no word of chiding or reproof ever fell on her ear for whatever
she chose to do, she pursued her own way all over the boat.
Always dressed in white, she seemed to move like a shadow through all
sorts of places, without contracting spot or stain; and there was not a corner
or nook, above or below, where those fairy footsteps had not glided, and that
visionary golden head, with its deep blue eyes, fleeted along.
The fireman, as he looked up from his
sweaty toil, sometimes found those eyes looking wonderingly into the raging
depths of the furnace, and fearfully and pityingly at him, as if she thought him
in some dreadful danger. Anon the
steersman at the wheel paused and smiled, as the picture-like head gleamed
through the window of the round house, and in a moment was gone again.
A thousand times a day rough voices blessed her, and smiles of unwonted
softness stole over hard faces, as she passed; and when she tripped fearlessly
over dangerous places, rough, sooty hands were stretched involuntarily out to
save her, and smooth her path.
Tom, who had the soft, impressible
nature of his kindly race, ever yearning toward the simple and childlike,
watched the little creature with daily increasing interest. To him she seemed something almost divine; and whenever her
golden head and deep blue eyes peered out upon him from behind some dusky
cotton-bale, or looked down upon him over some ridge of packages, he half
believed that he saw one of the angels stepped out of his New Testament.
Often and often she walked mournfully
round the place where Haley's gang of men and women sat in their chains.
She would glide in among them, and look at them with an air of perplexed
and sorrowful earnestness; and sometimes she would lift their chains with her
slender hands, and then sigh wofully, as she glided away.
Several times she appeared suddenly among them, with her hands full of
candy, nuts, and oranges, which she would distribute joyfully to them, and then
be gone again.
Tom watched the little lady a great
deal, before he ventured on any overtures towards acquaintanceship.
He knew an abundance of simple acts to propitiate and invite the
approaches of the little people, and he resolved to play his part right
skilfully. He could cut cunning
little baskets out of cherry-stones, could make grotesque faces on hickory-nuts,
or odd-jumping figures out of elder-pith, and he was a very Pan in the
manufacture of whistles of all sizes and sorts.
His pockets were full of miscellaneous articles of attraction, which he
had hoarded in days of old for his master's children, and which he now produced,
with commendable prudence and economy, one by one, as overtures for acquaintance
The little one was shy, for all her busy
interest in everything going on, and it was not easy to tame her.
For a while, she would perch like a canary-bird on some box or package
near Tom, while busy in the little arts afore-named, and take from him, with a
kind of grave bashfulness, the little articles he offered.
But at last they got on quite confidential terms.
"What's little missy's name?"
said Tom, at last, when he thought matters were ripe to push such an inquiry.
"Evangeline St. Clare," said
the little one, "though papa and everybody else call me Eva.
Now, what's your name?"
"My name's Tom; the little chil'en
used to call me Uncle Tom, way back thar in Kentuck."
"Then I mean to call you Uncle Tom,
because, you see, I like you," said Eva.
"So, Uncle Tom, where are you going?"
"I don't know, Miss Eva."
"Don't know?" said Eva.
"No, I am going to be sold to
somebody. I don't know who."
"My papa can buy you," said
Eva, quickly; "and if he buys you, you will have good times.
I mean to ask him, this very day."
"Thank you, my little lady,"
The boat here stopped at a small landing
to take in wood, and Eva, hearing her father's voice, bounded nimbly away.
Tom rose up, and went forward to offer his service in wooding, and soon
was busy among the hands.
Eva and her father were standing
together by the railings to see the boat start from the landing-place, the wheel
had made two or three revolutions in the water, when, by some sudden movement,
the little one suddenly lost her balance and fell sheer over the side of the
boat into the water. Her father,
scarce knowing what he did, was plunging in after her, but was held back by some
behind him, who saw that more efficient aid had followed his child.
Tom was standing just under her on the
lower deck, as she fell. He saw her
strike the water, and sink, and was after her in a moment.
A broad-chested, strong-armed fellow, it was nothing for him to keep
afloat in the water, till, in a moment or two the child rose to the surface, and
he caught her in his arms, and, swimming with her to the boat-side, handed her
up, all dripping, to the grasp of hundreds of hands, which, as if they had all
belonged to one man, were stretched eagerly out to receive her.
A few moments more, and her father bore her, dripping and senseless, to
the ladies' cabin, where, as is usual in cases of the kind, there ensued a very
well-meaning and kind-hearted strife among the female occupants generally, as to
who should do the most things to make a disturbance, and to hinder her recovery
in every way possible.
was a sultry, close day, the next day, as the steamer drew near to New Orleans.
A general bustle of expectation and preparation was spread through the
boat; in the cabin, one and another were gathering their things together, and
arranging them, preparatory to going ashore.
The steward and chambermaid, and all, were busily engaged in cleaning,
furbishing, and arranging the splendid boat, preparatory to a grand entree.
On the lower deck sat our friend Tom,
with his arms folded, and anxiously, from time to time, turning his eyes towards
a group on the other side of the boat.
There stood the fair Evangeline, a
little paler than the day before, but otherwise exhibiting no traces of the
accident which had befallen her. A
graceful, elegantly-formed young man stood by her, carelessly leaning one elbow
on a bale of cotton. while a large
pocket-book lay open before him. It
was quite evident, at a glance, that the gentleman was Eva's father.
There was the same noble cast of head, the same large blue eyes, the same
golden-brown hair; yet the expression was wholly different.
In the large, clear blue eyes, though in form and color exactly similar,
there was wanting that misty, dreamy depth of expression; all was clear, bold,
and bright, but with a light wholly of this world: the beautifully cut mouth had
a proud and somewhat sarcastic expression, while an air of free-and-easy
superiority sat not ungracefully in every turn and movement of his fine form.
He was listening, with a good-humored, negligent air, half comic, half
contemptuous, to Haley, who was very volubly expatiating on the quality of the
article for which they were bargaining.
"All the moral and Christian
virtues bound in black Morocco, complete!" he said, when Haley had
finished. "Well, now, my good
fellow, what's the damage, as they say in Kentucky; in short, what's to be paid
out for this business? How much are
you going to cheat me, now? Out
"Wal," said Haley, "if I
should say thirteen hundred dollars for that ar fellow, I shouldn't but just
save myself; I shouldn't, now, re'ly."
"Poor fellow!" said the young
man, fixing his keen, mocking blue eye on him; "but I suppose you'd let me
have him for that, out of a particular regard for me."
"Well, the young lady here seems to
be sot on him, and nat'lly enough."
"O! certainly, there's a call on
your benevolence, my friend. Now,
as a matter of Christian charity, how cheap could you afford to let him go, to
oblige a young lady that's particular sot on him?"
"Wal, now, just think on 't,"
said the trader; "just look at them limbs,--broad-chested, strong as a
horse. Look at his head; them high
forrads allays shows calculatin niggers, that'll do any kind o' thing.
I've, marked that ar. Now, a
nigger of that ar heft and build is worth considerable, just as you may say, for
his body, supposin he's stupid; but come to put in his calculatin faculties, and
them which I can show he has oncommon, why, of course, it makes him come higher. Why, that ar fellow managed his master's whole farm.
He has a strornary talent for business."
"Bad, bad, very bad; knows
altogether too much!" said the young man, with the same mocking smile
playing about his mouth. "Never
will do, in the world. Your smart
fellows are always running off, stealing horses, and raising the devil
generally. I think you'll have to
take off a couple of hundred for his smartness."
"Wal, there might be something in
that ar, if it warnt for his character; but I can show recommends from his
master and others, to prove he is one of your real pious,--the most humble,
prayin, pious crittur ye ever did see. Why,
he's been called a preacher in them parts he came from."
"And I might use him for a family
chaplain, possibly," added the young man, dryly. "That's quite an idea.
Religion is a remarkably scarce article at our house."
"You're joking, now."
"How do you know I am?
Didn't you just warrant him for a preacher?
Has he been examined by any synod or council?
Come, hand over your papers."
If the trader had not been sure, by a
certain good-humored twinkle in the large eye, that all this banter was sure, in
the long run, to turn out a cash concern, he might have been somewhat out of
patience; as it was, he laid down a greasy pocket-book on the cotton-bales, and
began anxiously studying over certain papers in it, the young man standing by,
the while, looking down on him with an air of careless, easy drollery.
"Papa, do buy him! it's no matter
what you pay," whispered Eva, softly, getting up on a package, and putting
her arm around her father's neck. "You
have money enough, I know. I want
"What for, pussy?
Are you going to use him for a rattle-box, or a rocking-horse, or what?
"I want to make him happy."
"An original reason,
Here the trader handed up a certificate,
signed by Mr. Shelby, which the young man took with the tips of his long
fingers, and glanced over carelessly.
"A gentlemanly hand," he said,
"and well spelt, too. Well,
now, but I'm not sure, after all, about this religion," said he, the old
wicked expression returning to his eye; "the country is almost ruined with
pious white people; such pious politicians as we have just before
elections,--such pious goings on in all departments of church and state, that a
fellow does not know who'll cheat him next.
I don't know, either, about religion's being up in the market, just now.
I have not looked in the papers lately, to see how it sells.
How many hundred dollars, now, do you put on for this religion?"
"You like to be jokin, now,"
said the trader; "but, then, there's _sense_ under all that ar.
I know there's differences in religion.
Some kinds is mis'rable: there's your meetin pious; there's your singin,
roarin pious; them ar an't no account, in black or white;--but these rayly is;
and I've seen it in niggers as often as any, your rail softly, quiet, stiddy,
honest, pious, that the hull world couldn't tempt 'em to do nothing that they
thinks is wrong; and ye see in this letter what Tom's old master says about
"Now," said the young man,
stooping gravely over his book of bills, "if you can assure me that I
really can buy _this_ kind of pious, and that it will be set down to my account
in the book up above, as something belonging to me, I wouldn't care if I did go
a little extra for it. How d'ye
"Wal, raily, I can't do that,"
said the trader. "I'm a
thinkin that every man'll have to hang on his own hook, in them ar
"Rather hard on a fellow that pays
extra on religion, and can't trade with it in the state where he wants it most,
an't it, now?" said the young man, who had been making out a roll of bills
while he was speaking. "There,
count your money, old boy!" he added, as he handed the roll to the trader.
"All right," said Haley, his
face beaming with delight; and pulling out an old inkhorn, he proceeded to fill
out a bill of sale, which, in a few moments, he handed to the young man.
"I wonder, now, if I was divided up
and inventoried," said the latter as he ran over the paper, "how much
I might bring. Say so much for the
shape of my head, so much for a high forehead, so much for arms, and hands, and
legs, and then so much for education, learning, talent, honesty, religion!
Bless me! there would be small charge on that last, I'm thinking.
But come, Eva," he said; and taking the hand of his daughter, he
stepped across the boat, and carelessly putting the tip of his finger under
Tom's chin, said, good-humoredly, "Look-up, Tom, and see how you like your
Tom looked up. It was not in nature to look into that gay, young, handsome
face, without a feeling of pleasure; and Tom felt the tears start in his eyes as
he said, heartily, "God bless you, Mas'r!"
"Well, I hope he will.
What's your name? Tom? Quite as
likely to do it for your asking as mine, from all accounts. Can you drive horses, Tom?"
"I've been allays used to
horses," said Tom. "Mas'r
Shelby raised heaps of 'em."
"Well, I think I shall put you in
coachy, on condition that you won't be drunk more than once a week, unless in
cases of emergency, Tom."
Tom looked surprised, and rather hurt,
and said, "I never drink, Mas'r."
"I've heard that story before, Tom;
but then we'll see. It will be a
special accommodation to all concerned, if you don't. Never mind, my boy," he added, good-humoredly, seeing
Tom still looked grave; "I don't doubt you mean to do well."
"I sartin do, Mas'r," said
"And you shall have good
times," said Eva. "Papa
is very good to everybody, only he always will laugh at them."
"Papa is much obliged to you for
his recommendation," said St. Clare, laughing, as he turned on his heel and