"And slight, withal, may be the things that bring
on the heart the weight which it would fling
forever; it may be a sound,
flower, the wind, the ocean, which shall wound,--
electric chain wherewith we're darkly bound."
CHILDE HAROLD'S PILGRIMAGE, CAN. 4.
The sitting-room of Legree's establishment was a large, long room,
with a wide, ample fireplace. It had once been hung with a showy and
expensive paper, which now hung mouldering, torn and discolored, from the
damp walls. The place had that peculiar sickening, unwholesome smell,
compounded of mingled damp, dirt and decay, which one often notices in close
old houses. The wall-paper was defaced, in spots, by slops of beer and
wine; or garnished with chalk memorandums, and long sums footed up, as if
somebody had been practising arithmetic there. In the fireplace stood
a brazier full of burning charcoal; for, though the weather was not cold,
the evenings always seemed damp and chilly in that great room; and Legree,
moreover, wanted a place to light his cigars, and heat his water for punch.
The ruddy glare of the charcoal displayed the confused and unpromising
aspect of the room,--saddles, bridles, several sorts of harness,
riding-whips, overcoats, and various articles of clothing, scattered up and
down the room in confused variety; and the dogs, of whom we have before
spoken, had encamped themselves among them, to suit their own taste and
Legree was just mixing himself a tumbler of punch, pouring his hot water
from a cracked and broken-nosed pitcher, grumbling, as he did so,
"Plague on that Sambo, to kick up this yer row between me and the
new hands! The fellow won't be fit to work for a week, now,--right in
the press of the season!"
"Yes, just like you," said a voice, behind his chair. It
was the woman Cassy, who had stolen upon his soliloquy.
"Hah! you she-devil! you've come back, have you?"
"Yes, I have," she said, coolly; "come to have my own way,
"You lie, you jade! I'll be up to my word. Either behave
yourself, or stay down to the quarters, and fare and work with the
"I'd rather, ten thousand times," said the woman, "live in
the dirtiest hole at the quarters, than be under your hoof!"
"But you _are_ under my hoof, for all that," said he, turning
upon her, with a savage grin; "that's one comfort. So, sit down
here on my knee, my dear, and hear to reason," said he, laying hold on
"Simon Legree, take care!" said the woman, with a sharp flash
of her eye, a glance so wild and insane in its light as to be almost
appalling. "You're afraid of me, Simon," she said,
deliberately; "and you've reason to be! But be careful, for I've
got the devil in me!"
The last words she whispered in a hissing tone, close to his ear.
"Get out! I believe, to my soul, you have!" said Legree,
pushing her from him, and looking uncomfortably at her. "After
all, Cassy," he said, "why can't you be friends with me, as you
"Used to!" said she, bitterly. She stopped short,--a word
of choking feelings, rising in her heart, kept her silent.
Cassy had always kept over Legree the kind of influence that a strong,
impassioned woman can ever keep over the most brutal man; but, of late, she
had grown more and more irritable and restless, under the hideous yoke of
her servitude, and her irritability, at times, broke out into raving
insanity; and this liability made her a sort of object of dread to Legree,
who had that superstitious horror of insane persons which is common to
coarse and uninstructed minds. When Legree brought Emmeline to the
house, all the smouldering embers of womanly feeling flashed up in the worn
heart of Cassy, and she took part with the girl; and a fierce quarrel ensued
between her and Legree. Legree, in a fury, swore she should be put to
field service, if she would not be peaceable. Cassy, with proud scorn,
declared she _would_ go to the field. And she worked there one day, as
we have described, to show how perfectly she scorned the threat.
Legree was secretly uneasy, all day; for Cassy had an influence over him
from which he could not free himself. When she presented her basket at
the scales, he had hoped for some concession, and addressed her in a sort of
half conciliatory, half scornful tone; and she had answered with the
The outrageous treatment of poor Tom had roused her still more; and she
had followed Legree to the house, with no particular intention, but to
upbraid him for his brutality.
"I wish, Cassy," said Legree, "you'd behave yourself
"_You_ talk about behaving decently! And what have you been
doing?--you, who haven't even sense enough to keep from spoiling one of your
best hands, right in the most pressing season, just for your devilish
"I was a fool, it's a fact, to let any such brangle come up,"
said Legree; "but, when the boy set up his will, he had to be broke
"I reckon you won't break _him_ in!"
"Won't I?" said Legree, rising, passionately. "I'd
like to know if I won't? He'll be the first nigger that ever came it
round me! I'll break every bone in his body, but he _shall_ give
Just then the door opened, and Sambo entered. He came forward,
bowing, and holding out something in a paper.
"What's that, you dog?" said Legree.
"It's a witch thing, Mas'r!"
"Something that niggers gets from witches. Keeps 'em from
feelin' when they 's flogged. He had it tied round his neck, with a
Legree, like most godless and cruel men, was superstitious. He took
the paper, and opened it uneasily.
There dropped out of it a silver dollar, and a long, shining curl of fair
hair,--hair which, like a living thing, twined itself round Legree's
"Damnation!" he screamed, in sudden passion, stamping on the
floor, and pulling furiously at the hair, as if it burned him.
"Where did this come from? Take it off!--burn it up!--burn it
up!" he screamed, tearing it off, and throwing it into the charcoal.
"What did you bring it to me for?"
Sambo stood, with his heavy mouth wide open, and aghast with wonder; and
Cassy, who was preparing to leave the apartment, stopped, and looked at him
in perfect amazement.
"Don't you bring me any more of your devilish things!" said he,
shaking his fist at Sambo, who retreated hastily towards the door; and,
picking up the silver dollar, he sent it smashing through the window-pane,
out into the darkness.
Sambo was glad to make his escape. When he was gone, Legree seemed
a little ashamed of his fit of alarm. He sat doggedly down in his
chair, and began sullenly sipping his tumbler of punch.
Cassy prepared herself for going out, unobserved by him; and slipped away
to minister to poor Tom, as we have already related.
And what was the matter with Legree? and what was there in a simple curl
of fair hair to appall that brutal man, familiar with every form of cruelty?
To answer this, we must carry the reader backward in his history. Hard
and reprobate as the godless man seemed now, there had been a time when he
had been rocked on the bosom of a mother,--cradled with prayers and pious
hymns,--his now seared brow bedewed with the waters of holy baptism.
In early childhood, a fair-haired woman had led him, at the sound of Sabbath
bell, to worship and to pray. Far in New England that mother had
trained her only son, with long, unwearied love, and patient prayers.
Born of a hard-tempered sire, on whom that gentle woman had wasted a world
of unvalued love, Legree had followed in the steps of his father.
Boisterous, unruly, and tyrannical, he despised all her counsel, and would
none of her reproof; and, at an early age, broke from her, to seek his
fortunes at sea. He never came home but once, after; and then, his
mother, with the yearning of a heart that must love something, and has
nothing else to love, clung to him, and sought, with passionate prayers and
entreaties, to win him from a life of sin, to his soul's eternal good.
That was Legree's day of grace; then good angels called him; then he was
almost persuaded, and mercy held him by the hand. His heart inly
relented,--there was a conflict,--but sin got the victory, and he set all
the force of his rough nature against the conviction of his conscience.
He drank and swore,--was wilder and more brutal than ever. And, one
night, when his mother, in the last agony of her despair, knelt at his feet,
he spurned her from him,--threw her senseless on the floor, and, with brutal
curses, fled to his ship. The next Legree heard of his mother was,
when, one night, as he was carousing among drunken companions, a letter was
put into his hand. He opened it, and a lock of long, curling hair fell
from it, and twined about his fingers. The letter told him his mother
was dead, and that, dying, she blest and forgave him.
There is a dread, unhallowed necromancy of evil, that turns things
sweetest and holiest to phantoms of horror and affright. That pale,
loving mother,--her dying prayers, her forgiving love,--wrought in that
demoniac heart of sin only as a damning sentence, bringing with it a fearful
looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. Legree burned the hair,
and burned the letter; and when he saw them hissing and crackling in the
flame, inly shuddered as he thought of everlasting fires. He tried to
drink, and revel, and swear away the memory; but often, in the deep night,
whose solemn stillness arraigns the bad soul in forced communion with
herself, he had seen that pale mother rising by his bedside, and felt the
soft twining of that hair around his fingers, till the cold sweat would roll
down his face, and he would spring from his bed in horror. Ye who have
wondered to hear, in the same evangel, that God is love, and that God is a
consuming fire, see ye not how, to the soul resolved in evil, perfect love
is the most fearful torture, the seal and sentence of the direst despair?
"Blast it!" said Legree to himself, as he sipped his liquor;
"where did he get that? If it didn't look just like--whoo! I
thought I'd forgot that. Curse me, if I think there's any such thing
as forgetting anything, any how,--hang it! I'm lonesome! I mean
to call Em. She hates me--the monkey! I don't care,--I'll _make_
Legree stepped out into a large entry, which went up stairs, by what had
formerly been a superb winding staircase; but the passage-way was dirty and
dreary, encumbered with boxes and unsightly litter. The stairs,
uncarpeted, seemed winding up, in the gloom, to nobody knew where! The
pale moonlight streamed through a shattered fanlight over the door; the air
was unwholesome and chilly, like that of a vault.
Legree stopped at the foot of the stairs, and heard a voice singing.
It seemed strange and ghostlike in that dreary old house, perhaps because of
the already tremulous state of his nerves. Hark! what is it?
A wild, pathetic voice, chants a hymn common among the slaves:
there'll be mourning, mourning, mourning,
O there'll be mourning, at the judgment-seat of Christ!"
"Blast the girl!" said Legree. "I'll choke
her.--Em! Em!" he called, harshly; but only a mocking echo from
the walls answered him. The sweet voice still sung on:
"Parents and children there shall part!
Parents and children there shall part!
Shall part to meet no more!"
And clear and loud swelled through the empty halls the refrain,
there'll be mourning, mourning, mourning,
O there'll be mourning, at the judgment-seat of Christ!"
Legree stopped. He would have been ashamed to tell of it, but
large drops of sweat stood on his forehead, his heart beat heavy and thick
with fear; he even thought he saw something white rising and glimmering in
the gloom before him, and shuddered to think what if the form of his dead
mother should suddenly appear to him.
"I know one thing," he said to himself, as he stumbled back in
the sitting-room, and sat down; "I'll let that fellow alone, after
this! What did I want of his cussed paper? I b'lieve I am
bewitched, sure enough! I've been shivering and sweating, ever since!
Where did he get that hair? It couldn't have been _that!_ I burnt
_that_ up, I know I did! It would be a joke, if hair could rise from
Ah, Legree! that golden tress _was_ charmed; each hair had in it a spell
of terror and remorse for thee, and was used by a mightier power to bind thy
cruel hands from inflicting uttermost evil on the helpless!
"I say," said Legree, stamping and whistling to the dogs,
"wake up, some of you, and keep me company!" but the dogs only
opened one eye at him, sleepily, and closed it again.
"I'll have Sambo and Quimbo up here, to sing and dance one of their
hell dances, and keep off these horrid notions," said Legree; and,
putting on his hat, he went on to the verandah, and blew a horn, with which
he commonly summoned his two sable drivers.
Legree was often wont, when in a gracious humor, to get these two
worthies into his sitting-room, and, after warming them up with whiskey,
amuse himself by setting them to singing, dancing or fighting, as the humor
It was between one and two o'clock at night, as Cassy was returning from
her ministrations to poor Tom, that she heard the sound of wild shrieking,
whooping, halloing, and singing, from the sitting-room, mingled with the
barking of dogs, and other symptoms of general uproar.
She came up on the verandah steps, and looked in. Legree and both
the drivers, in a state of furious intoxication, were singing, whooping,
upsetting chairs, and making all manner of ludicrous and horrid grimaces at
She rested her small, slender hand on the window-blind, and looked
fixedly at them;--there was a world of anguish, scorn, and fierce
bitterness, in her black eyes, as she did so. "Would it be a sin
to rid the world of such a wretch?" she said to herself.
She turned hurriedly away, and, passing round to a back door, glided up
stairs, and tapped at Emmeline's door.