and Mrs. Shelby had retired to their apartment for the night.
He was lounging in a large easy-chair, looking over some letters that had
come in the afternoon mail, and she was standing before her mirror, brushing out
the complicated braids and curls in which Eliza had arranged her hair; for,
noticing her pale cheeks and haggard eyes, she had excused her attendance that
night, and ordered her to bed. The
employment, naturally enough, suggested her conversation with the girl in the
morning; and turning to her husband, she said, carelessly,
"By the by, Arthur, who was that
low-bred fellow that you lugged in to our dinner-table today?"
"Haley is his name," said
Shelby, turning himself rather uneasily in his chair, and continuing with his
eyes fixed on a letter.
"Haley! Who is he, and what may be his business here, pray?"
"Well, he's a man that I transacted
some business with, last time I was at Natchez," said Mr. Shelby.
"And he presumed on it to make
himself quite at home, and call and dine here, ay?"
"Why, I invited him; I had some
accounts with him," said Shelby.
"Is he a negro-trader?" said
Mrs. Shelby, noticing a certain embarrassment in her husband's manner.
"Why, my dear, what put that into
your head?" said Shelby, looking up.
"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
"She did, hey?" said Mr.
Shelby, returning to his paper, which he seemed for a few moments quite intent
upon, not perceiving that he was holding it bottom upwards.
"It will have to come out,"
said he, mentally; "as well now as ever."
"I told Eliza," said Mrs.
Shelby, as she continued brushing her hair, "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."
"Well, Emily," said her
husband, "so I have always felt and said; but the fact is that my business
lies so that I cannot get on without. I
shall have to sell some of my hands."
"To that creature?
Impossible! Mr. Shelby, you
cannot be serious."
"I'm sorry to say that I am,"
said Mr. Shelby. "I've agreed
to sell Tom."
"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!" said Mrs.
Shelby, in a tone between grief and indignation.
"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."
"But why, of all others, choose
these?" said Mrs. Shelby. "Why
sell them, of all on the place, if you must sell at all?"
"Because they will bring the
highest sum of any,--that's why. I
could choose another, if you say so. The
fellow made me a high bid on Eliza, if that would suit you any better,"
said Mr. Shelby.
"The wretch!" said Mrs.
"Well, I didn't listen to it, a
moment,--out of regard to your feelings, I wouldn't;--so give me some
"My dear," said Mrs. Shelby,
recollecting herself, "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."
"I know it,--I dare say;--but
what's the use of all this?--I can't help myself."
"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, and tear from him in a moment all we
have taught him to love and value? 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, however sacred, compared with money?
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;
and now what can I say, if you tear him away, and sell him, soul and body, to a
profane, unprincipled man, just to save a little money?
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!"
"I'm sorry you feel so about
it,--indeed I am," said Mr. Shelby;
"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 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. Shelby stood like one stricken.
Finally, turning to her toilet, she rested her face in her hands, and
gave a sort of groan.
"This is God's curse on slavery!--a
bitter, bitter, most accursed thing!--a curse to the master and 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!"
"Why, wife, you are getting to be
an abolitionist, quite."
"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 that slavery was
right--never felt willing to own slaves."
"Well, therein you differ from many
wise and pious men," said Mr. Shelby.
"You remember Mr. B.'s sermon, the other Sunday?"
"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 didn't think much of that sermon, either."
"Well," said Shelby, "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
isn'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."
"O yes, yes!" said Mrs.
Shelby, hurriedly and abstractedly fingering her gold watch,--"I haven't
any jewelry of any amount," she added, thoughtfully; "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
"I'm sorry, very sorry,
Emily," said Mr. Shelby, "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."
"Is he so hard, then?"
"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 per centage--not wishing the old woman
any harm, either."
"And this wretch owns that good,
faithful Tom, and Eliza's child!"
"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 tomorrow.
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 better arrange a drive
somewhere, and carry Eliza off. Let
the thing be done when she is out of sight."
"No, no," said Mrs. Shelby;
"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?"
There was one listener to this
conversation whom Mr. and Mrs. Shelby little suspected.
Communicating with their apartment was a
large closet, opening by a door into the outer passage.
When Mrs. Shelby had dismissed Eliza for the night, her feverish and
excited mind had suggested the idea of this closet; and she had hidden herself
there, and, with her ear pressed close against the crack of the door, had lost
not a word of the conversation.
When the voices died into silence, she
rose and crept stealthily away. Pale,
shivering, with rigid features and compressed lips, she looked an entirely
altered being from the soft and timid creature she had been hitherto.
She moved cautiously along the entry, paused one moment at her mistress'
door, and raised her hands in mute appeal to Heaven, and then turned and glided
into her own room. It was a quiet, neat apartment, on the same floor with her
mistress. There was a pleasant
sunny window, where she had often sat singing at her sewing; there a little case
of books, and various little fancy articles, ranged by them, the gifts of
Christmas holidays; there was her simple wardrobe in the closet and in the
drawers:--here was, in short, her home; and, on the whole, a happy one it had
been to her. But there, on the bed,
lay her slumbering boy, his long curls falling negligently around his
unconscious face, his rosy mouth half open, his little fat hands thrown out over
the bedclothes, and a smile spread like a sunbeam over his whole face.
"Poor boy! poor fellow!" said
Eliza; "they have sold you! but your mother will save you yet!"
No tear dropped over that pillow; in
such straits as these, the heart has no tears to give,--it drops only blood,
bleeding itself away in silence. She
took a piece of paper and a pencil, and wrote, hastily,
"O, Missis! dear Missis! don't
think me ungrateful,--don't think hard of me, any way,--I heard all you and
master said tonight. I am going to
try to save my boy--you will not blame me!
God bless and reward you for all your kindness!"
Hastily folding and directing this, she
went to a drawer and made up a little package of clothing for her boy, which she
tied with a handkerchief firmly round her waist; and, so fond is a mother's
remembrance, that, even in the terrors of that hour, she did not forget to put
in the little package one or two of his favorite toys, reserving a gayly painted
parrot to amuse him, when she should be called on to awaken him.
It was some trouble to arouse the little sleeper; but, after some effort,
he sat up, and was playing with his bird, while his mother was putting on her
bonnet and shawl.
"Where are you going, mother?"
said he, as she drew near the bed, with his little coat and cap.
His mother drew near, and looked so
earnestly into his eyes, that he at once divined that something unusual was the
"Hush, Harry," she said;
"mustn't speak loud, or they will hear us. A wicked man was coming to take little Harry away from his
mother, and carry him 'way off in the dark; but mother won't let him--she's
going to put on her little boy's cap and coat, and run off with him, so the ugly
man can't catch him."
Saying these words, she had tied and
buttoned on the child's simple outfit, and, taking him in her arms, she
whispered to him to be very still; and, opening a door in her room which led
into the outer verandah, she glided noiselessly out.
It was a sparkling, frosty, starlight
night, and the mother wrapped the shawl close round her child, as, perfectly
quiet with vague terror, he clung round her neck.
Old Bruno, a great Newfoundland, who
slept at the end of the porch, rose, with a low growl, as she came near.
She gently spoke his name, and the animal, an old pet and playmate of
hers, instantly, wagging his tail, prepared to follow her, though apparently
revolving much, in this simple dog's head, what such an indiscreet midnight
promenade might mean. Some dim ideas of imprudence or impropriety in the measure
seemed to embarrass him considerably; for he often stopped, as Eliza glided
forward, and looked wistfully, first at her and then at the house, and then, as
if reassured by reflection, he pattered along after her again.
A few minutes brought them to the window of Uncle Tom's cottage, and
Eliza stopping, tapped lightly on the window-pane.
The prayer-meeting at Uncle Tom's had,
in the order of hymn-singing, been protracted to a very late hour; and, as Uncle
Tom had indulged himself in a few lengthy solos afterwards, the consequence was,
that, although it was now between twelve and one o'clock, he and his worthy
helpmeet were not yet asleep.
"Good Lord! what's that?" said
Aunt Chloe, starting up and hastily drawing the curtain.
"My sakes alive, if it an't Lizy!
Get on your clothes, old man, quick!--there's old Bruno, too, a pawin
round; what on airth! I'm gwine to
open the door."
And suiting the action to the word, the
door flew open, and the light of the tallow candle, which Tom had hastily
lighted, fell on the haggard face and dark, wild eyes of the fugitive.
"Lord bless you!--I'm skeered to
look at ye, Lizy! Are ye tuck sick,
or what's come over ye?"
"I'm running away--Uncle Tom and
Aunt Chloe--carrying off my child--Master sold him!"
"Sold him?" echoed both,
lifting up their hands in dismay.
"Yes, sold him!" said Eliza,
firmly; "I crept into the closet by Mistress' door tonight, and I heard
Master tell Missis that he had sold my Harry, and you, Uncle Tom, both, to a
trader; and that he was going off this morning on his horse, and that the man
was to take possession today."
Tom had stood, during this speech, with
his hands raised, and his eyes dilated, like a man in a dream.
Slowly and gradually, as its meaning came over him, he collapsed, rather
than seated himself, on his old chair, and sunk his head down upon his knees.
"The good Lord have pity on
us!" said Aunt Chloe. "O!
it don't seem as if it was true! What
has he done, that Mas'r should sell _him_?"
"He hasn't done anything,--it isn't
for that. Master don't want to
sell, and Missis she's always good. I
heard her plead and beg for us; but he told her 't was no use; that he was in
this man's debt, and that this man had got the power over him; and that if he
didn't pay him off clear, it would end in his having to sell the place and all
the people, and move off. Yes, I
heard him say there was no choice between selling these two and selling all, the
man was driving him so hard. Master
said he was sorry; but oh, Missis--you ought to have heard her talk!
If she an't a Christian and an angel, there never was one.
I'm a wicked girl to leave her so; but, then, I can't help it.
She said, herself, one soul was worth more than the world; and this boy
has a soul, and if I let him be carried off, who knows what'll become of it?
It must be right: but, if it an't right, the Lord forgive me, for I can't
help doing it!"
"Well, old man!" said Aunt
Chloe, "why don't you go, too? Will
you wait to be toted down river, where they kill niggers with hard work and
starving? I'd a heap rather die
than go there, any day! There's
time for ye,--be off with Lizy,--you've got a pass to come and go any time.
Come, bustle up, and I'll get your things together."
Tom slowly raised his head, and looked
sorrowfully but quietly around, and said,
"No, no--I an't going.
Let Eliza go--it's her right! I
wouldn't be the one to say no--'tan't in _natur_ for her to stay; but you heard
what she said! If I must be sold, or all the people on the place, and
everything go to rack, why, let me be sold.
I s'pose I can b'ar it as well as any on 'em," he added, while
something like a sob and a sigh shook his broad, rough chest convulsively.
"Mas'r always found me on the spot--he always will.
I never have broke trust, nor used my pass no ways contrary to my word,
and I never will. It's better for
me alone to go, than to break up the place and sell all.
Mas'r an't to blame, Chloe, and he'll take care of you and the
Here he turned to the rough trundle bed
full of little woolly heads, and broke fairly down. He leaned over the back of the chair, and covered his face
with his large hands. Sobs, heavy,
hoarse and loud, shook the chair, and great tears fell through his fingers on
the floor; just such tears, sir, as you dropped into the coffin where lay your
first-born son; such tears, woman, as you shed when you heard the cries of your
dying babe. For, sir, he was a
man,--and you are but another man. And,
woman, though dressed in silk and jewels, you are but a woman, and, in life's
great straits and mighty griefs, ye feel but one sorrow!
"And now," said Eliza, as she
stood in the door, "I saw my husband only this afternoon, and I little knew
then what was to come. They have
pushed him to the very last standing place, and he told me, today, that he was
going to run away. Do try, if you
can, to get word to him. Tell him
how I went, and why I went; and tell him I'm going to try and find Canada.
You must give my love to him, and tell him, if I never see him
again," she turned away, and stood with her back to them for a moment, and
then added, in a husky voice, "tell him to be as good as he can, and try
and meet me in the kingdom of heaven."
"Call Bruno in there," she
added. "Shut the door on him,
poor beast! He mustn't go with
A few last words and tears, a
few simple adieus and blessings, and clasping her wondering and affrighted child
in her arms, she glided noiselessly away.