hear often of the distress of the negro servants, on the loss of a kind master;
and with good reason, for no creature on God's earth is left more utterly
unprotected and desolate than the slave in these circumstances.
The child who has lost a father has
still the protection of friends, and of the law; he is something, and can do
something,--has acknowledged rights and position; the slave has none.
The law regards him, in every respect, as devoid of rights as a bale of
merchandise. The only possible
ackowledgment of any of the longings and wants of a human and immortal creature,
which are given to him, comes to him through the sovereign and irresponsible
will of his master; and when that master is stricken down, nothing remains.
The number of those men who know how to
use wholly irresponsible power humanely and generously is small.
Everybody knows this, and the slave knows it best of all; so that he
feels that there are ten chances of his finding an abusive and tyrannical
master, to one of his finding a considerate and kind one.
Therefore is it that the wail over a kind master is loud and long, as
well it may be.
When St. Clare breathed his last, terror
and consternation took hold of all his household. He had been stricken down so in a moment, in the flower and
strength of his youth! Every room
and gallery of the house resounded with sobs and shrieks of despair.
Marie, whose nervous system had been
enervated by a constant course of self-indulgence, had nothing to support the
terror of the shock, and, at the time her husband breathed his last, was passing
from one fainting fit to another; and he to whom she had been joined in the
mysterious tie of marriage passed from her forever, without the possibility of
even a parting word.
Miss Ophelia, with characteristic
strength and self-control, had remained with her kinsman to the last,--all eye,
all ear, all attention; doing everything of the little that could be done, and
joining with her whole soul in the tender and impassioned prayers which the poor
slave had poured forth for the soul of his dying master.
When they were arranging him for his
last rest, they found upon his bosom a small, plain miniature case, opening with
a spring. It was the miniature of a
noble and beautiful female face; and on the reverse, under a crystal, a lock of
dark hair. They laid them back on
the lifeless breast,--dust to dust,--poor mournful relics of early dreams, which
once made that cold heart beat so warmly!
Tom's whole soul was filled with
thoughts of eternity; and while he ministered around the lifeless clay, he did
not once think that the sudden stroke had left him in hopeless slavery.
He felt at peace about his master; for in that hour, when he had poured
forth his prayer into the bosom of his Father, he had found an answer of
quietness and assurance springing up within himself.
In the depths of his own affectionate nature, he felt able to perceive
something of the fulness of Divine love; for an old oracle hath thus
written,--"He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him."
Tom hoped and trusted, and was at peace.
But the funeral passed, with all its
pageant of black crape, and prayers, and solemn faces; and back rolled the cool,
muddy waves of every-day life; and up came the everlasting hard inquiry of
"What is to be done next?"
It rose to the mind of Marie, as,
dressed in loose morning-robes, and surrounded by anxious servants, she sat up
in a great easy-chair, and inspected samples of crape and bombazine.
It rose to Miss Ophelia, who began to turn her thoughts towards her
northern home. It rose, in silent
terrors, to the minds of the servants, who well knew the unfeeling, tyrannical
character of the mistress in whose hands they were left.
All knew, very well, that the indulgences which had been accorded to them
were not from their mistress, but from their master; and that, now he was gone,
there would be no screen between them and every tyrannous infliction which a
temper soured by affliction might devise.
It was about a fortnight after the
funeral, that Miss Ophelia, busied one day in her apartment, heard a gentle tap
at the door. She opened it, and
there stood Rosa, the pretty young quadroon, whom we have before often noticed,
her hair in disorder, and her eyes swelled with crying.
"O, Miss Feeley," she said,
falling on her knees, and catching the skirt of her dress, "_do, do go_ to
Miss Marie for me! do plead for me! She's
goin' to send me out to be whipped--look there!"
And she handed to Miss Ophelia a paper.
It was an order, written in Marie's
delicate Italian hand, to the master of a whipping-establishment to give the
bearer fifteen lashes.
"What have you been doing?"
said Miss Ophelia.
"You know, Miss Feely, I've got
such a bad temper; it's very bad of me. I
was trying on Miss Marie's dress, and she slapped my face; and I spoke out
before I thought, and was saucy; and she said that she'd bring me down, and have
me know, once for all, that I wasn't going to be so topping as I had been; and
she wrote this, and says I shall carry it.
I'd rather she'd kill me, right out."
Miss Ophelia stood considering, with the
paper in her hand.
"You see, Miss Feely," said
Rosa, "I don't mind the whipping so much, if Miss Marie or you was to do
it; but, to be sent to a _man!_ and such a horrid man,--the shame of it, Miss
Miss Ophelia well knew that it was the
universal custom to send women and young girls to whipping-houses, to the hands
of the lowest of men,--men vile enough to make this their profession,--there to
be subjected to brutal exposure and shameful correction. She had _known_ it before; but hitherto she had never
realized it, till she saw the slender form of Rosa almost convulsed with
distress. All the honest blood of
womanhood, the strong New England blood of liberty, flushed to her cheeks, and
throbbed bitterly in her indignant heart; but, with habitual prudence and
self-control, she mastered herself, and, crushing the paper firmly in her hand,
she merely said to Rosa,
"Sit down, child, while I go to
outrageous!" she said to herself, as she was crossing the parlor.
She found Marie sitting up in her
easy-chair, with Mammy standing by her, combing her hair; Jane sat on the ground
before her, busy in chafing her feet.
"How do you find yourself,
today?" said Miss Ophelia.
A deep sigh, and a closing of the eyes,
was the only reply, for a moment; and then Marie answered, "O, I don't
know, Cousin; I suppose I'm as well as I ever shall be!" and Marie wiped
her eyes with a cambric handkerchief, bordered with an inch deep of black.
"I came," said Miss Ophelia,
with a short, dry cough, such as commonly introduces a difficult
subject,--"I came to speak with you about poor Rosa."
Marie's eyes were open wide enough now,
and a flush rose to her sallow cheeks, as she answered, sharply,
"Well, what about her?"
"She is very sorry for her
"She is, is she?
She'll be sorrier, before I've done with her!
I've endured that child's impudence long enough; and now I'll bring her
down,--I'll make her lie in the dust!"
"But could not you punish her some
other way,--some way that would be less shameful?"
"I mean to shame her; that's just
what I want. She has all her life
presumed on her delicacy, and her good looks, and her lady-like airs, till she
forgets who she is;--and I'll give her one lesson that will bring her down, I
"But, Cousin, consider that, if you
destroy delicacy and a sense of shame in a young girl, you deprave her very
"Delicacy!" said Marie, with a
scornful laugh,--"a fine word for such as she! I'll teach her, with all her airs, that she's no better than
the raggedest black wench that walks the streets!
She'll take no more airs with me!"
"You will answer to God for such
cruelty!" said Miss Ophelia, with energy.
"Cruelty,--I'd like to know what
the cruelty is! I wrote orders for
only fifteen lashes, and told him to put them on lightly.
I'm sure there's no cruelty there!"
"No cruelty!" said Miss
Ophelia. "I'm sure any girl
might rather be killed outright!"
"It might seem so to anybody with
your feeling; but all these creatures get used to it; it's the only way they can
be kept in order. Once let them
feel that they are to take any airs about delicacy, and all that, and they'll
run all over you, just as my servants always have.
I've begun now to bring them under; and I'll have them all to know that
I'll send one out to be whipped, as soon as another, if they don't mind
themselves!" said Marie, looking around her decidedly.
Jane hung her head and cowered at this,
for she felt as if it was particularly directed to her. Miss Ophelia sat for a moment, as if she had swallowed some
explosive mixture, and were ready to burst.
Then, recollecting the utter uselessness of contention with such a
nature, she shut her lips resolutely, gathered herself up, and walked out of the
It was hard to go back and tell Rosa
that she could do nothing for her; and, shortly after, one of the man-servants
came to say that her mistress had ordered him to take Rosa with him to the
whipping-house, whither she was hurried, in spite of her tears and entreaties.
A few days after, Tom was standing
musing by the balconies, when he was joined by Adolph, who, since the death of
his master, had been entirely crest-fallen and disconsolate.
Adolph knew that he had always been an object of dislike to Marie; but
while his master lived he had paid but little attention to it.
Now that he was gone, he had moved about in daily dread and trembling,
not knowing what might befall him next. Marie
had held several consultations with her lawyer; after communicating with St.
Clare's brother, it was determined to sell the place, and all the servants,
except her own personal property, and these she intended to take with her, and
go back to her father's plantation.
"Do ye know, Tom, that we've all
got to be sold?" said Adolph, and go back to her father's plantation.
"How did you hear that?" said
"I hid myself behind the curtains
when Missis was talking with the lawyer. In
a few days we shall be sent off to auction, Tom."
"The Lord's will be done!"
said Tom, folding his arms and sighing heavily.
"We'll never get another such a
master, said Adolph, apprehensively; "but I'd rather be sold than take my
chance under Missis."
Tom turned away; his heart was full.
The hope of liberty, the thought of distant wife and children, rose up
before his patient soul, as to the mariner shipwrecked almost in port rises the
vision of the church-spire and loving roofs of his native village, seen over the
top of some black wave only for one last farewell.
He drew his arms tightly over his bosom, and choked back the bitter
tears, and tried to pray. The poor
old soul had such a singular, unaccountable prejudice in favor of liberty, that
it was a hard wrench for him; and the more he said, "Thy will be
done," the worse he felt.
He sought Miss Ophelia, who, ever since
Eva's death, had treated him with marked and respectful kindness.
"Miss Feely," he said,
"Mas'r St. Clare promised me my freedom.
He told me that he had begun to take it out for me; and now, perhaps, if
Miss Feely would be good enough to speak bout it to Missis, she would feel like
goin' on with it, was it as Mas'r St. Clare's wish."
"I'll speak for you, Tom, and do my
best," said Miss Ophelia; "but, if it depends on Mrs. St. Clare, I
can't hope much for you;--nevertheless, I will try."
This incident occurred a few days after
that of Rosa, while Miss Ophelia was busied in preparations to return north.
Seriously reflecting within herself, she
considered that perhaps she had shown too hasty a warmth of language in her
former interview with Marie; and she resolved that she would now endeavor to
moderate her zeal, and to be as conciliatory as possible.
So the good soul gathered herself up, and, taking her knitting, resolved
to go into Marie's room, be as agreeable as possible, and negotiate Tom's case
with all the diplomatic skill of which she was mistress.
She found Marie reclining at length upon
a lounge, supporting herself on one elbow by pillows, while Jane, who had been
out shopping, was displaying before her certain samples of thin black stuffs.
"That will do," said Marie,
selecting one; "only I'm not sure about its being properly mourning."
"Laws, Missis," said Jane,
volubly, "Mrs. General Derbennon wore just this very thing, after the
General died, last summer; it makes up lovely!"
"What do you think?" said
Marie to Miss Ophelia.
"It's a matter of custom, I
suppose," said Miss Ophelia. "You
can judge about it better than I."
"The fact is," said Marie,
"that I haven't a dress in the world that I can wear; and, as I am going to
break up the establishment, and go off, next week, I must decide upon
"Are you going so soon?"
St. Clare's brother has written, and he and the lawyer think that the
servants and furniture had better be put up at auction, and the place left with
"There's one thing I wanted to
speak with you about," said Miss Ophelia.
"Augustine promised Tom his liberty, and began the legal forms
necessary to it. I hope you will
use your influence to have it perfected."
"Indeed, I shall do no such
thing!" said Marie, sharply. "Tom
is one of the most valuable servants on the place,--it couldn't be afforded, any
way. Besides, what does he want of
liberty? He's a great deal better
off as he is."
"But he does desire it, very
earnestly, and his master promised it," said Miss Ophelia.
"I dare say he does want it,"
said Marie; "they all want it, just because they are a discontented
set,--always wanting what they haven't got.
Now, I'm principled against emancipating, in any case.
Keep a negro under the care of a master, and he does well enough, and is
respectable; but set them free, and they get lazy, and won't work, and take to
drinking, and go all down to be mean, worthless fellows, I've seen it tried,
hundreds of times. It's no favor to set them free."
"But Tom is so steady, industrious,
"O, you needn't tell me!
I've see a hundred like him. He'll
do very well, as long as he's taken care of,--that's all."
"But, then, consider," said
Miss Ophelia, "when you set him up for sale, the chances of his getting a
"O, that's all humbug!" said
Marie; "it isn't one time in a hundred that a good fellow gets a bad
master; most masters are good, for all the talk that is made.
I've lived and grown up here, in the South, and I never yet was
acquainted with a master that didn't treat his servants well,--quite as well as
is worth while. I don't feel any
fears on that head."
"Well," said Miss Ophelia,
energetically, "I know it was one of the last wishes of your husband that
Tom should have his liberty; it was one of the promises that he made to dear
little Eva on her death-bed, and I should not think you would feel at liberty to
Marie had her face covered with her
handkerchief at this appeal, and began sobbing and using her smelting-bottle,
with great vehemence.
"Everybody goes against me!"
she said. "Everybody is so
inconsiderate! I shouldn't have
expected that _you_ would bring up all these remembrances of my troubles to
me,--it's so inconsiderate! But
nobody ever does consider,--my trials are so peculiar! It's so hard, that when I had only one daughter, she should
have been taken!--and when I had a husband that just exactly suited me,--and I'm
so hard to be suited!--he should be taken!
And you seem to have so little feeling for me, and keep bringing it up to
me so carelessly,--when you know how it overcomes me!
I suppose you mean well; but it is very inconsiderate,--very!"
And Marie sobbed, and gasped for breath, and called Mammy to open the
window, and to bring her the camphor-bottle, and to bathe her head, and unhook
her dress. And, in the general
confusion that ensued, Miss Ophelia made her escape to her apartment.
She saw, at once, that it would do no
good to say anything more; for Marie had an indefinite capacity for hysteric
fits; and, after this, whenever her husband's or Eva's wishes with regard to the
servants were alluded to, she always found it convenient to set one in
operation. Miss Ophelia, therefore,
did the next best thing she could for Tom,--she wrote a letter to Mrs. Shelby
for him, stating his troubles, and urging them to send to his relief.
The next day, Tom and Adolph, and some
half a dozen other servants, were marched down to a slave-warehouse, to await
the convenience of the trader, who was going to make up a lot for auction.