behold the tears of such as are oppressed; and on the side of their oppressors
there was power. Wherefore I
praised the dead that are already dead more than the living that are yet alive.
It was late at night, and Tom lay
groaning and bleeding alone, in an old forsaken room of the gin-house, among
pieces of broken machinery, piles of damaged cotton, and other rubbish which had
The night was damp and close, and the
thick air swarmed with myriads of mosquitos, which increased the restless
torture of his wounds; whilst a burning thirst--a torture beyond all
others--filled up the uttermost measure of physical anguish.
"O, good Lord! _Do_ look
down,--give me the victory!--give me the victory over all!" prayed poor
Tom, in his anguish.
A footstep entered the room, behind him,
and the light of a lantern flashed on his eyes.
O, for the Lord's massy, please give me some water!"
The woman Cassy--for it was she,--set
down her lantern, and, pouring water from a bottle, raised his head, and gave
him drink. Another and another cup
were drained, with feverish eagerness.
"Drink all ye want," she said;
"I knew how it would be. It isn't the first time I've been out in the
night, carrying water to such as you."
"Thank you, Missis," said Tom,
when he had done drinking.
"Don't call me Missis!
I'm a miserable slave, like yourself,--a lower one than you can ever
be!" said she, bitterly; "but now," said she, going to the door,
and dragging in a small pallaise, over which she had spread linen cloths wet
with cold water, "try, my poor fellow, to roll yourself on to this."
Stiff with wounds and bruises, Tom was a
long time in accomplishing this movement; but, when done, he felt a sensible
relief from the cooling application to his wounds.
The woman, whom long practice with the
victims of brutality had made familiar with many healing arts, went on to make
many applications to Tom's wounds, by means of which he was soon somewhat
"Now," said the woman, when
she had raised his head on a roll of damaged cotton, which served for a pillow,
"there's the best I can do for you."
Tom thanked her; and the woman, sitting
down on the floor, drew up her knees, and embracing them with her arms, looked
fixedly before her, with a bitter and painful expression of countenance.
Her bonnet fell back, and long wavy streams of black hair fell around her
singular and melancholy-face.
"It's no use, my poor fellow!"
she broke out, at last, "it's of no use, this you've been trying to do.
You were a brave fellow,--you had the right on your side; but it's all in
vain, and out of the question, for you to struggle.
You are in the devil's hands;--he is the strongest, and you must give
Give up! and, had not human weakness and
physical agony whispered that, before? Tom
started; for the bitter woman, with her wild eyes and melancholy voice, seemed
to him an embodiment of the temptation with which he had been wrestling.
"O Lord! O Lord!" he groaned,
"how can I give up?"
"There's no use calling on the
Lord,--he never hears," said the woman, steadily; "there isn't any
God, I believe; or, if there is, he's taken sides against us.
All goes against us, heaven and earth.
Everything is pushing us into hell.
Why shouldn't we go?"
Tom closed his eyes, and shuddered at
the dark, atheistic words.
"You see," said the woman,
"_you_ don't know anything about it--I do. I've been on this place five years, body and soul, under this
man's foot; and I hate him as I do the devil!
Here you are, on a lone plantation, ten miles from any other, in the
swamps; not a white person here, who could testify, if you were burned
alive,--if you were scalded, cut into inch-pieces, set up for the dogs to tear,
or hung up and whipped to death. There's
no law here, of God or man, that can do you, or any one of us, the least good;
and, this man! there's no earthly thing that he's too good to do.
I could make any one's hair rise, and their teeth chatter, if I should
only tell what I've seen and been knowing to, here,--and it's no use resisting!
Did I _want_ to live with him? Wasn't
I a woman delicately bred; and he,--God in heaven! what was he, and is he?
And yet, I've lived with him, these five years, and cursed every moment
of my life,--night and day! And
now, he's got a new one,--a young thing, only fifteen, and she brought up, she
says, piously. Her good mistress taught her to read the Bible; and she's
brought her Bible here--to hell with her!"--and the woman laughed a wild
and doleful laugh, that rung, with a strange, supernatural sound, through the
old ruined shed.
Tom folded his hands; all was darkness
"O Jesus! Lord Jesus! have you quite forgot us poor critturs?"
burst forth, at last;-- "help, Lord, I perish!"
The woman sternly continued:
"And what are these miserable low
dogs you work with, that you should suffer on their account?
Every one of them would turn against you, the first time they got a
chance. They are all of 'em as low
and cruel to each other as they can be; there's no use in your suffering to keep
from hurting them."
"Poor critturs!" said Tom,--
"what made 'em cruel?--and, if I give out, I shall get used to 't, and
grow, little by little, just like 'em! No,
no, Missis! I've lost
everything,--wife, and children, and home, and a kind Mas'r,--and he would have
set me free, if he'd only lived a week longer; I've lost everything in _this_
world, and it's clean gone, forever,--and now I _can't_ lose Heaven, too; no, I
can't get to be wicked, besides all!"
"But it can't be that the Lord will
lay sin to our account," said the woman; "he won't charge it to us,
when we're forced to it; he'll charge it to them that drove us to it."
"Yes," said Tom; "but
that won't keep us from growing wicked. If
I get to be as hard-hearted as that ar' Sambo, and as wicked, it won't make much
odds to me how I come so; it's the bein' so,--that ar's what I'm a
The woman fixed a wild and startled look
on Tom, as if a new thought had struck her; and then, heavily groaning, said,
"O God a' mercy! you speak the
truth! O--O--O!"--and, with
groans, she fell on the floor, like one crushed and writhing under the extremity
of mental anguish.
There was a silence, a while, in which
the breathing of both parties could be heard, when Tom faintly said, "O,
The woman suddenly rose up, with her
face composed to its usual stern, melancholy expression.
"Please, Missis, I saw 'em throw my
coat in that ar' corner, and in my coat-pocket is my Bible;--if Missis would
please get it for me."
Cassy went and got it.
Tom opened, at once, to a heavily marked passage, much worn, of the last
scenes in the life of Him by whose stripes we are healed.
"If Missis would only be so good as
read that ar',--it's better than water."
Cassy took the book, with a dry, proud
air, and looked over the passage. She
then read aloud, in a soft voice, and with a beauty of intonation that was
peculiar, that touching account of anguish and of glory.
Often, as she read, her voice faltered, and sometimes failed her
altogether, when she would stop, with an air of frigid composure, till she had
mastered herself. When she came to
the touching words, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they
do," she threw down the book, and, burying her face in the heavy masses of
her hair, she sobbed aloud, with a convulsive violence.
Tom was weeping, also, and occasionally
uttering a smothered ejaculation.
"If we only could keep up to that
ar'!" said Tom;--"it seemed to come so natural to him, and we have to
fight so hard for 't! O Lord, help
us! O blessed Lord Jesus, do help
"Missis," said Tom, after a
while, "I can see that, some how, you're quite 'bove me in everything; but
there's one thing Missis might learn even from poor Tom.
Ye said the Lord took sides against us, because he lets us be 'bused and
knocked round; but ye see what come on his own Son,--the blessed Lord of
Glory,--wan't he allays poor? and have we, any on us, yet come so low as he
come? The Lord han't forgot
us,--I'm sartin' o' that ar'. If we
suffer with him, we shall also reign, Scripture says; but, if we deny Him, he
also will deny us. Didn't they all
suffer?--the Lord and all his? It
tells how they was stoned and sawn asunder, and wandered about in sheep-skins
and goat-skins, and was destitute, afflicted, tormented.
Sufferin' an't no reason to make us think the Lord's turned agin us; but
jest the contrary, if only we hold on to him, and doesn't give up to sin."
"But why does he put us where we
can't help but sin?" said the woman.
"I think we _can_ help it,"
"You'll see," said Cassy;
"what'll you do? Tomorrow
they'll be at you again. I know
'em; I've seen all their doings; I can't bear to think of all they'll bring you
to;--and they'll make you give out, at last!"
"Lord Jesus!" said Tom,
"you _will_ take care of my soul? O
Lord, do!--don't let me give out!"
"O dear!" said Cassy;
"I've heard all this crying and praying before; and yet, they've been
broken down, and brought under. There's
Emmeline, she's trying to hold on, and you're trying,--but what use?
You must give up, or be killed by inches."
"Well, then, I _will_ die!"
said Tom. "Spin it out as long
as they can, they can't help my dying, some time!--and, after that, they can't
do no more. I'm clar, I'm set!
I _know_ the Lord'll help me, and bring me through."
The woman did not answer; she sat with
her black eyes intently fixed on the floor.
"May be it's the way," she
murmured to herself; "but those that _have_ given up, there's no hope for
them!--none! We live in filth, and
grow loathsome, till we loathe ourselves! And
we long to die, and we don't dare to kill ourselves!--No hope! no hope! no
hope?--this girl now,--just as old as I was!
"You see me now," she said,
speaking to Tom very rapidly; "see what I am!
Well, I was brought up in luxury; the first I remember is, playing about,
when I was a child, in splendid parlors,--when I was kept dressed up like a
doll, and company and visitors used to praise me.
There was a garden opening from the saloon windows; and there I used to
play hide-and-go-seek, under the orange-trees, with my brothers and sisters.
I went to a convent, and there I learned music, French and embroidery,
and what not; and when I was fourteen, I came out to my father's funeral.
He died very suddenly, and when the property came to be settled, they
found that there was scarcely enough to cover the debts; and when the creditors
took an inventory of the property, I was set down in it.
My mother was a slave woman, and my father had always meant to set me
free; but he had not done it, and so I was set down in the list.
I'd always known who I was, but never thought much about it.
Nobody ever expects that a strong, healthy man is going to die.
My father was a well man only four hours before he died;--it was one of
the first cholera cases in New Orleans. The
day after the funeral, my father's wife took her children, and went up to her
father's plantation. I thought they
treated me strangely, but didn't know. There
was a young lawyer who they left to settle the business; and he came every day,
and was about the house, and spoke very politely to me.
He brought with him, one day, a young man, whom I thought the handsomest
I had ever seen. I shall never
forget that evening. I walked with
him in the garden. I was lonesome
and full of sorrow, and he was so kind and gentle to me; and he told me that he
had seen me before I went to the convent, and that he had loved me a great
while, and that he would be my friend and protector;--in short, though he didn't
tell me, he had paid two thousand dollars for me, and I was his property,--I
became his willingly, for I loved him. Loved!"
said the woman, stopping. "O,
how I _did_ love that man! How I
love him now,--and always shall, while I breathe!
He was so beautiful, so high, so noble!
He put me into a beautiful house, with servants, horses, and carriages,
and furniture, and dresses. Everything
that money could buy, he gave me; but I didn't set any value on all that,--I
only cared for him. I loved him
better than my God and my own soul, and, if I tried, I couldn't do any other way
from what he wanted me to.
"I wanted only one thing--I did
want him to _marry_ me. I thought, if he loved me as he said he did, and if I
was what he seemed to think I was, he would be willing to marry me and set me
free. But he convinced me that it
would be impossible; and he told me that, if we were only faithful to each
other, it was marriage before God. If
that is true, wasn't I that man's wife? Wasn't
I faithful? For seven years, didn't
I study every look and motion, and only live and breathe to please him?
He had the yellow fever, and for twenty days and nights I watched with
him. I alone,--and gave him all his
medicine, and did everything for him; and then he called me his good angel, and
said I'd saved his life. We had two
beautiful children. The first was a
boy, and we called him Henry. He
was the image of his father,--he had such beautiful eyes, such a forehead, and
his hair hung all in curls around it; and he had all his father's spirit, and
his talent, too. Little Elise, he
said, looked like me. He used to
tell me that I was the most beautiful woman in Louisiana, he was so proud of me
and the children. He used to love
to have me dress them up, and take them and me about in an open carriage, and
hear the remarks that people would make on us; and he used to fill my ears
constantly with the fine things that were said in praise of me and the children.
O, those were happy days! I thought
I was as happy as any one could be; but then there came evil times.
He had a cousin come to New Orleans, who was his particular friend,--he
thought all the world of him;--but, from the first time I saw him, I couldn't
tell why, I dreaded him; for I felt sure he was going to bring misery on us.
He got Henry to going out with him, and often he would not come home
nights till two or three o'clock. I
did not dare say a word; for Henry was so high spirited, I was afraid to.
He got him to the gaming-houses; and he was one of the sort that, when he
once got a going there, there was no holding back.
And then he introduced him to another lady, and I saw soon that his heart
was gone from me. He never told me,
but I saw it,--I knew it, day after day,--I felt my heart breaking, but I could
not say a word! At this, the wretch
offered to buy me and the children of Henry, to clear off his gamblng debts,
which stood in the way of his marrying as he wished;--and _he sold us_.
He told me, one day, that he had business in the country, and should be
gone two or three weeks. He spoke
kinder than usual, and said he should come back; but it didn't deceive me.
I knew that the time had come; I was just like one turned into stone; I
couldn't speak, nor shed a tear. He
kissed me and kissed the children, a good many times, and went out.
I saw him get on his horse, and I watched him till he was quite out of
sight; and then I fell down, and fainted.
"Then _he_ came, the cursed wretch!
he came to take possession. He told
me that he had bought me and my children; and showed me the papers.
I cursed him before God, and told him I'd die sooner than live with
"`Just as you please,' said he;
`but, if you don't behave reasonably, I'll sell both the children, where you
shall never see them again.' He
told me that he always had meant to have me, from the first time he saw me; and
that he had drawn Henry on, and got him in debt, on purpose to make him willing
to sell me. That he got him in love
with another woman; and that I might know, after all that, that he should not
give up for a few airs and tears, and things of that sort.
"I gave up, for my hands were tied.
He had my children;--whenever I resisted his will anywhere, he would talk
about selling them, and he made me as submissive as he desired.
O, what a life it was! to live with my heart breaking, every day,--to
keep on, on, on, loving, when it was only misery; and to be bound, body and
soul, to one I hated. I used to
love to read to Henry, to play to him, to waltz with him, and sing to him; but
everything I did for this one was a perfect drag,--yet I was afraid to refuse
anything. He was very imperious,
and harsh to the children. Elise
was a timid little thing; but Henry was bold and high-spirited, like his father,
and he had never been brought under, in the least, by any one.
He was always finding fault, and quarrelling with him; and I used to live
in daily fear and dread. I tried to
make the child respectful;--I tried to keep them apart, for I held on to those
children like death; but it did no good. _He
sold both those children_. He took
me to ride, one day, and when I came home, they were nowhere to be found!
He told me he had sold them; he showed me the money, the price of their
blood. Then it seemed as if all good forsook me.
I raved and cursed,--cursed God and man; and, for a while, I believe, he
really was afraid of me. But he
didn't give up so. He told me that
my children were sold, but whether I ever saw their faces again, depended on
him; and that, if I wasn't quiet, they should smart for it.
Well, you can do anything with a woman, when you've got her children.
He made me submit; he made me be peaceable; he flattered me with hopes
that, perhaps, he would buy them back; and so things went on, a week or two.
One day, I was out walking, and passed by the calaboose; I saw a crowd
about the gate, and heard a child's voice,--and suddenly my Henry broke away
from two or three men who were holding the poor boy screamed and looked into my
face, and held on to me, until, in tearing him off, they tore the skirt of my
dress half away; and they carried him in, screaming `Mother! mother! mother!'
There was one man stood there seemed to pity me.
I offered him all the money I had, if he'd only interfere.
He shook his head, and said that the boy had been impudent and
disobedient, ever since he bought him; that he was going to break him in, once
for all. I turned and ran; and
every step of the way, I thought that I heard him scream.
I got into the house; ran, all out of breath, to the parlor, where I
found Butler. I told him, and
begged him to go and interfere. He
only laughed, and told me the boy had got his deserts.
He'd got to be broken in,--the sooner the better; `what did I expect?' he
"It seemed to me something in my
head snapped, at that moment. I
felt dizzy and furious. I remember
seeing a great sharp bowie-knife on the table; I remember something about
catching it, and flying upon him; and then all grew dark, and I didn't know any
more,--not for days and days.
"When I came to myself, I was in a
nice room,--but not mine. An old
black woman tended me; and a doctor came to see me, and there was a great deal
of care taken of me. After a while,
I found that he had gone away, and left me at this house to be sold; and that's
why they took such pains with me.
"I didn't mean to get well, and
hoped I shouldn't; but, in spite of me the fever went off and I grew healthy,
and finally got up. Then, they made
me dress up, every day; and gentlemen used to come in and stand and smoke their
cigars, and look at me, and ask questions, and debate my price.
I was so gloomy and silent, that none of them wanted me.
They threatened to whip me, if I wasn't gayer, and didn't take some pains
to make myself agreeable. At
length, one day, came a gentleman named Stuart.
He seemed to have some feeling for me; he saw that something dreadful was
on my heart, and he came to see me alone, a great many times, and finally
persuaded me to tell him. He bought
me, at last, and promised to do all he could to find and buy back my children.
He went to the hotel where my Henry was; they told him he had been sold
to a planter up on Pearl river; that was the last that I ever heard.
Then he found where my daughter was; an old woman was keeping her. He offered an immense sum for her, but they would not sell
her. Butler found out that it was
for me he wanted her; and he sent me word that I should never have her.
Captain Stuart was very kind to me; he had a splendid plantation, and
took me to it. In the course of a
year, I had a son born. O, that child!--how I loved it!
How just like my poor Henry the little thing looked!
But I had made up my mind,--yes, I had.
I would never again let a child live to grow up!
I took the little fellow in my arms, when he was two weeks old, and
kissed him, and cried over him; and then I gave him laudanum, and held him close
to my bosom, while he slept to death. How
I mourned and cried over it! and who ever dreamed that it was anything but a
mistake, that had made me give it the laudanum? but it's one of the few things
that I'm glad of, now. I am not
sorry, to this day; he, at least, is out of pain.
What better than death could I give him, poor child!
After a while, the cholera came, and Captain Stuart died; everybody died
that wanted to live,--and I,--I, though I went down to death's door,--_I lived!_
Then I was sold, and passed from hand to hand, till I grew faded and
wrinkled, and I had a fever; and then this wretch bought me, and brought me
here,--and here I am!"
The woman stopped.
She had hurried on through her story, with a wild, passionate utterance;
sometimes seeming to address it to Tom, and sometimes speaking as in a
soliloquy. So vehement and
overpowering was the force with which she spoke, that, for a season, Tom was
beguiled even from the pain of his wounds, and, raising himself on one elbow,
watched her as she paced restlessly up and down, her long black hair swaying
heavily about her, as she moved.
"You tell me," she said, after
a pause, "that there is a God,--a God that looks down and sees all these
things. May be it's so.
The sisters in the convent used to tell me of a day of judgment, when
everything is coming to light;--won't there be vengeance, then!
"They think it's nothing, what we
suffer,--nothing, what our children suffer!
It's all a small matter; yet I've walked the streets when it seemed as if
I had misery enough in my one heart to sink the city.
I've wished the houses would fall on me, or the stones sink under me.
Yes! and, in the judgment day, I will stand up before God, a witness
against those that have ruined me and my children, body and soul!
"When I was a girl, I thought I was
religious; I used to love God and prayer. Now,
I'm a lost soul, pursued by devils that torment me day and night; they keep
pushing me on and on--and I'll do it, too, some of these days!" she said,
clenching her hand, while an insane light glanced in her heavy black eyes.
"I'll send him where he belongs,--a short way, too,--one of these
nights, if they burn me alive for it!"
A wild, long laugh rang through the deserted room, and ended in a
hysteric sob; she threw herself on the floor, in convulsive sobbing and
In a few moments, the frenzy fit seemed
to pass off; she rose slowly, and seemed to collect herself.
"Can I do anything more for you, my
poor fellow?" she said, approaching where Tom lay; "shall I give you
some more water?"
There was a graceful and compassionate
sweetness in her voice and manner, as she said this, that formed a strange
contrast with the former wildness.
Tom drank the water, and looked
earnestly and pitifully into her face.
"O, Missis, I wish you'd go to him
that can give you living waters!"
"Go to him! Where is he? Who
is he?" said Cassy.
"Him that you read of to me,--the
"I used to see the picture of him,
over the altar, when I was a girl," said Cassy, her dark eyes fixing
themselves in an expression of mournful reverie; "but, _he isn't here!_
there's nothing here, but sin and long, long, long despair!
O!" She laid her land
on her breast and drew in her breath, as if to lift a heavy weight.
Tom looked as if he would speak again;
but she cut him short, with a decided gesture.
"Don't talk, my poor fellow.
Try to sleep, if you can." And,
placing water in his reach, and making whatever little arrangements for his
comforts she could, Cassy left the shed.