Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Part 6 out of 12
But, to that nature, the very unbounded trust reposed in him was
bond and seal for the most scrupulous accuracy.
With Adolph the case had been different. Thoughtless and
self-indulgent, and unrestrained by a master who found it easier
to indulge than to regulate, he had fallen into an absolute confusion
as to _meum tuum_ with regard to himself and his master, which
sometimes troubled even St. Clare. His own good sense taught him
that such a training of his servants was unjust and dangerous.
A sort of chronic remorse went with him everywhere, although not
strong enough to make any decided change in his course; and this
very remorse reacted again into indulgence. He passed lightly over
the most serious faults, because he told himself that, if he had
done his part, his dependents had not fallen into them.
Tom regarded his gay, airy, handsome young master with an odd
mixture of fealty, reverence, and fatherly solicitude. That he
never read the Bible; never went to church; that he jested and
made free with any and every thing that came in the way of his wit;
that he spent his Sunday evenings at the opera or theatre; that he
went to wine parties, and clubs, and suppers, oftener than was at
all expedient,--were all things that Tom could see as plainly as
anybody, and on which he based a conviction that "Mas'r wasn't a
Christian;"--a conviction, however, which he would have been very
slow to express to any one else, but on which he founded many
prayers, in his own simple fashion, when he was by himself in his
little dormitory. Not that Tom had not his own way of speaking
his mind occasionally, with something of the tact often observable
in his class; as, for example, the very day after the Sabbath we
have described, St. Clare was invited out to a convivial party
of choice spirits, and was helped home, between one and two o'clock
at night, in a condition when the physical had decidedly attained
the upper hand of the intellectual. Tom and Adolph assisted to
get him composed for the night, the latter in high spirits,
evidently regarding the matter as a good joke, and laughing heartily
at the rusticity of Tom's horror, who really was simple enough to
lie awake most of the rest of the night, praying for his young master.
"Well, Tom, what are you waiting for?" said St. Clare, the next
day, as he sat in his library, in dressing-gown and slippers.
St. Clare had just been entrusting Tom with some money, and
various commissions. "Isn't all right there, Tom?" he added,
as Tom still stood waiting.
"I'm 'fraid not, Mas'r," said Tom, with a grave face.
St. Clare laid down his paper, and set down his coffee-cup,
and looked at Tom.
"Why Tom, what's the case? You look as solemn as a coffin."
"I feel very bad, Mas'r. I allays have thought that Mas'r
would be good to everybody."
"Well, Tom, haven't I been? Come, now, what do you want?
There's something you haven't got, I suppose, and this is
"Mas'r allays been good to me. I haven't nothing to complain
of on that head. But there is one that Mas'r isn't good to."
"Why, Tom, what's got into you? Speak out; what do you mean?"
"Last night, between one and two, I thought so. I studied
upon the matter then. Mas'r isn't good to _himself_."
Tom said this with his back to his master, and his hand on the
door-knob. St. Clare felt his face flush crimson, but he laughed.
"O, that's all, is it?" he said, gayly.
"All!" said Tom, turning suddenly round and falling on his knees.
"O, my dear young Mas'r; I'm 'fraid it will be _loss of
all--all_--body and soul. The good Book says, `it biteth like a
serpent and stingeth like an adder!' my dear Mas'r!"
Tom's voice choked, and the tears ran down his cheeks.
"You poor, silly fool!" said St. Clare, with tears in his
own eyes. "Get up, Tom. I'm not worth crying over."
But Tom wouldn't rise, and looked imploring.
"Well, I won't go to any more of their cursed nonsense, Tom,"
said St. Clare; "on my honor, I won't. I don't know why I
haven't stopped long ago. I've always despised _it_, and myself
for it,--so now, Tom, wipe up your eyes, and go about your errands.
Come, come," he added, "no blessings. I'm not so wonderfully good,
now," he said, as he gently pushed Tom to the door. "There, I'll
pledge my honor to you, Tom, you don't see me so again," he said;
and Tom went off, wiping his eyes, with great satisfaction.
"I'll keep my faith with him, too," said St. Clare, as he
closed the door.
And St. Clare did so,--for gross sensualism, in any form,
was not the peculiar temptation of his nature.
But, all this time, who shall detail the tribulations
manifold of our friend Miss Ophelia, who had begun the labors of
a Southern housekeeper?
There is all the difference in the world in the servants of
Southern establishments, according to the character and capacity
of the mistresses who have brought them up.
South as well as north, there are women who have an
extraordinary talent for command, and tact in educating. Such are
enabled, with apparent ease, and without severity, to subject to
their will, and bring into harmonious and systematic order, the
various members of their small estate,--to regulate their peculiarities,
and so balance and compensate the deficiencies of one by the excess
of another, as to produce a harmonious and orderly system.
Such a housekeeper was Mrs. Shelby, whom we have already
described; and such our readers may remember to have met with.
If they are not common at the South, it is because they are not
common in the world. They are to be found there as often as
anywhere; and, when existing, find in that peculiar state of
society a brilliant opportunity to exhibit their domestic talent.
Such a housekeeper Marie St. Clare was not, nor her mother
before her. Indolent and childish, unsystematic and improvident,
it was not to be expected that servants trained under her care
should not be so likewise; and she had very justly described to
Miss Ophelia the state of confusion she would find in the family,
though she had not ascribed it to the proper cause.
The first morning of her regency, Miss Ophelia was up at
four o'clock; and having attended to all the adjustments of her
own chamber, as she had done ever since she came there, to the
great amazement of the chambermaid, she prepared for a vigorous
onslaught on the cupboards and closets of the establishment of
which she had the keys.
The store-room, the linen-presses, the china-closet, the
kitchen and cellar, that day, all went under an awful review.
Hidden things of darkness were brought to light to an extent that
alarmed all the principalities and powers of kitchen and chamber,
and caused many wonderings and murmurings about "dese yer northern
ladies" from the domestic cabinet.
Old Dinah, the head cook, and principal of all rule and
authority in the kitchen department, was filled with wrath at
what she considered an invasion of privilege. No feudal baron in
_Magna Charta_ times could have more thoroughly resented some
incursion of the crown.
Dinah was a character in her own way, and it would be injustice
to her memory not to give the reader a little idea of her.
She was a native and essential cook, as much as Aunt Chloe,--
cooking being an indigenous talent of the African race; but
Chloe was a trained and methodical one, who moved in an orderly
domestic harness, while Dinah was a self-taught genius, and, like
geniuses in general, was positive, opinionated and erratic, to the
Like a certain class of modern philosophers, Dinah perfectly
scorned logic and reason in every shape, and always took refuge in
intuitive certainty; and here she was perfectly impregnable. No
possible amount of talent, or authority, or explanation, could ever
make her believe that any other way was better than her own, or
that the course she had pursued in the smallest matter could be in
the least modified. This had been a conceded point with her old
mistress, Marie's mother; and "Miss Marie," as Dinah always called
her young mistress, even after her marriage, found it easier to
submit than contend; and so Dinah had ruled supreme. This was the
easier, in that she was perfect mistress of that diplomatic art
which unites the utmost subservience of manner with the utmost
inflexibility as to measure.
Dinah was mistress of the whole art and mystery of excuse-making,
in all its branches. Indeed, it was an axiom with her that the
cook can do no wrong; and a cook in a Southern kitchen finds
abundance of heads and shoulders on which to lay off every sin
and frailty, so as to maintain her own immaculateness entire.
If any part of the dinner was a failure, there were fifty indisputably
good reasons for it; and it was the fault undeniably of fifty other
people, whom Dinah berated with unsparing zeal.
But it was very seldom that there was any failure in Dinah's
last results. Though her mode of doing everything was peculiarly
meandering and circuitous, and without any sort of calculation as
to time and place,--though her kitchen generally looked as if it
had been arranged by a hurricane blowing through it, and she had
about as many places for each cooking utensil as there were days
in the year,--yet, if one would have patience to wait her own good
time, up would come her dinner in perfect order, and in a style of
preparation with which an epicure could find no fault.
It was now the season of incipient preparation for dinner.
Dinah, who required large intervals of reflection and repose, and
was studious of ease in all her arrangements, was seated on the
kitchen floor, smoking a short, stumpy pipe, to which she was much
addicted, and which she always kindled up, as a sort of censer,
whenever she felt the need of an inspiration in her arrangements.
It was Dinah's mode of invoking the domestic Muses.
Seated around her were various members of that rising race
with which a Southern household abounds, engaged in shelling peas,
peeling potatoes, picking pin-feathers out of fowls, and other
preparatory arrangements,--Dinah every once in a while interrupting
her meditations to give a poke, or a rap on the head, to some of
the young operators, with the pudding-stick that lay by her side.
In fact, Dinah ruled over the woolly heads of the younger members
with a rod of iron, and seemed to consider them born for no earthly
purpose but to "save her steps," as she phrased it. It was the
spirit of the system under which she had grown up, and she carried
it out to its full extent.
Miss Ophelia, after passing on her reformatory tour through all
the other parts of the establishment, now entered the kitchen.
Dinah had heard, from various sources, what was going on, and
resolved to stand on defensive and conservative ground,--mentally
determined to oppose and ignore every new measure, without any
actual observable contest.
The kitchen was a large brick-floored apartment, with a great
old-fashioned fireplace stretching along one side of it,--an
arrangement which St. Clare had vainly tried to persuade Dinah to
exchange for the convenience of a modern cook-stove. Not she. No
Puseyite, or conservative of any school, was ever more inflexibly
attached to time-honored inconveniences than Dinah.
 Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882), champion of the orthodoxy
of revealed religion, defender of the Oxford movement, and Regius
professor of Hebrew and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford.
When St. Clare had first returned from the north, impressed
with the system and order of his uncle's kitchen arrangements, he
had largely provided his own with an array of cupboards, drawers,
and various apparatus, to induce systematic regulation, under the
sanguine illusion that it would be of any possible assistance to
Dinah in her arrangements. He might as well have provided them
for a squirrel or a magpie. The more drawers and closets there
were, the more hiding-holes could Dinah make for the accommodation
of old rags, hair-combs, old shoes, ribbons, cast-off artificial
flowers, and other articles of _vertu_, wherein her soul delighted.
When Miss Ophelia entered the kitchen Dinah did not rise,
but smoked on in sublime tranquillity, regarding her movements
obliquely out of the corner of her eye, but apparently intent only
on the operations around her.
Miss Ophelia commenced opening a set of drawers.
"What is this drawer for, Dinah?" she said.
"It's handy for most anything, Missis," said Dinah. So it
appeared to be. From the variety it contained, Miss Ophelia
pulled out first a fine damask table-cloth stained with blood,
having evidently been used to envelop some raw meat.
"What's this, Dinah? You don't wrap up meat in your mistress'
"O Lor, Missis, no; the towels was all a missin'--so I jest
did it. I laid out to wash that a,--that's why I put it thar."
"Shif'less!" said Miss Ophelia to herself, proceeding to
tumble over the drawer, where she found a nutmeg-grater and two or
three nutmegs, a Methodist hymn-book, a couple of soiled Madras
handkerchiefs, some yarn and knitting-work, a paper of tobacco and
a pipe, a few crackers, one or two gilded china-saucers with some
pomade in them, one or two thin old shoes, a piece of flannel
carefully pinned up enclosing some small white onions, several
damask table-napkins, some coarse crash towels, some twine and
darning-needles, and several broken papers, from which sundry sweet
herbs were sifting into the drawer.
"Where do you keep your nutmegs, Dinah?" said Miss Ophelia,
with the air of one who prayed for patience.
"Most anywhar, Missis; there's some in that cracked tea-cup,
up there, and there's some over in that ar cupboard."
"Here are some in the grater," said Miss Ophelia, holding
"Laws, yes, I put 'em there this morning,--I likes to keep my
things handy," said Dinah. "You, Jake! what are you stopping for!
You'll cotch it! Be still, thar!" she added, with a dive of
her stick at the criminal.
"What's this?" said Miss Ophelia, holding up the saucer of pomade.
"Laws, it's my har _grease_;--I put it thar to have it handy."
"Do you use your mistress' best saucers for that?"
"Law! it was cause I was driv, and in sich a hurry;--I was
gwine to change it this very day."
"Here are two damask table-napkins."
"Them table-napkins I put thar, to get 'em washed out, some day."
"Don't you have some place here on purpose for things to
"Well, Mas'r St. Clare got dat ar chest, he said, for dat;
but I likes to mix up biscuit and hev my things on it some days,
and then it an't handy a liftin' up the lid."
"Why don't you mix your biscuits on the pastry-table, there?"
"Law, Missis, it gets sot so full of dishes, and one thing
and another, der an't no room, noway--"
"But you should _wash_ your dishes, and clear them away."
"Wash my dishes!" said Dinah, in a high key, as her wrath
began to rise over her habitual respect of manner; "what does ladies
know 'bout work, I want to know? When 'd Mas'r ever get his dinner,
if I vas to spend all my time a washin' and a puttin' up dishes?
Miss Marie never telled me so, nohow."
"Well, here are these onions."
"Laws, yes!" said Dinah; "thar _is_ whar I put 'em, now.
I couldn't 'member. Them 's particular onions I was a savin' for
dis yer very stew. I'd forgot they was in dat ar old flannel."
Miss Ophelia lifted out the sifting papers of sweet herbs.
"I wish Missis wouldn't touch dem ar. I likes to keep my things
where I knows whar to go to 'em," said Dinah, rather decidedly.
"But you don't want these holes in the papers."
"Them 's handy for siftin' on 't out," said Dinah.
"But you see it spills all over the drawer."
"Laws, yes! if Missis will go a tumblin' things all up so,
it will. Missis has spilt lots dat ar way," said Dinah, coming
uneasily to the drawers. "If Missis only will go up stars
till my clarin' up time comes, I'll have everything right;
but I can't do nothin' when ladies is round, a henderin'.
You, Sam, don't you gib the baby dat ar sugar-bowl! I'll crack
ye over, if ye don't mind!"
"I'm going through the kitchen, and going to put everything
in order, _once_, Dinah; and then I'll expect you to _keep_ it so."
"Lor, now! Miss Phelia; dat ar an't no way for ladies to do.
I never did see ladies doin' no sich; my old Missis nor Miss
Marie never did, and I don't see no kinder need on 't;" and Dinah
stalked indignantly about, while Miss Ophelia piled and sorted
dishes, emptied dozens of scattering bowls of sugar into one
receptacle, sorted napkins, table-cloths, and towels, for washing;
washing, wiping, and arranging with her own hands, and with a speed
and alacrity which perfectly amazed Dinah.
"Lor now! if dat ar de way dem northern ladies do, dey an't
ladies, nohow," she said to some of her satellites, when at a safe
hearing distance. "I has things as straight as anybody, when my
clarin' up times comes; but I don't want ladies round, a henderin',
and getting my things all where I can't find 'em."
To do Dinah justice, she had, at irregular periods, paroxyms
of reformation and arrangement, which she called "clarin' up times,"
when she would begin with great zeal, and turn every drawer and
closet wrong side outward, on to the floor or tables, and make the
ordinary confusion seven-fold more confounded. Then she would
light her pipe, and leisurely go over her arrangements, looking
things over, and discoursing upon them; making all the young fry
scour most vigorously on the tin things, and keeping up for several
hours a most energetic state of confusion, which she would explain
to the satisfaction of all inquirers, by the remark that she was
a "clarin' up." "She couldn't hev things a gwine on so as they had
been, and she was gwine to make these yer young ones keep better
order;" for Dinah herself, somehow, indulged the illusion that she,
herself, was the soul of order, and it was only the _young uns_,
and the everybody else in the house, that were the cause of anything
that fell short of perfection in this respect. When all the tins
were scoured, and the tables scrubbed snowy white, and everything
that could offend tucked out of sight in holes and corners, Dinah
would dress herself up in a smart dress, clean apron, and high,
brilliant Madras turban, and tell all marauding "young uns" to keep
out of the kitchen, for she was gwine to have things kept nice.
Indeed, these periodic seasons were often an inconvenience to the
whole household; for Dinah would contract such an immoderate
attachment to her scoured tin, as to insist upon it that it shouldn't
be used again for any possible purpose,--at least, till the ardor
of the "clarin' up" period abated.
Miss Ophelia, in a few days, thoroughly reformed every
department of the house to a systematic pattern; but her labors in
all departments that depended on the cooperation of servants were
like those of Sisyphus or the Danaides. In despair, she one day
appealed to St. Clare.
"There is no such thing as getting anything like a system
in this family!"
"To be sure, there isn't," said St. Clare.
"Such shiftless management, such waste, such confusion, I
"I dare say you didn't."
"You would not take it so coolly, if you were housekeeper."
"My dear cousin, you may as well understand, once for all,
that we masters are divided into two classes, oppressors and
oppressed. We who are good-natured and hate severity make up our
minds to a good deal of inconvenience. If we _will keep_ a shambling,
loose, untaught set in the community, for our convenience, why, we
must take the consequence. Some rare cases I have seen, of persons,
who, by a peculiar tact, can produce order and system without
severity; but I'm not one of them,--and so I made up my mind, long
ago, to let things go just as they do. I will not have the poor
devils thrashed and cut to pieces, and they know it,--and, of
course, they know the staff is in their own hands."
"But to have no time, no place, no order,--all going on in
this shiftless way!"
"My dear Vermont, you natives up by the North Pole set an
extravagant value on time! What on earth is the use of time to a
fellow who has twice as much of it as he knows what to do with?
As to order and system, where there is nothing to be done but to lounge
on the sofa and read, an hour sooner or later in breakfast or dinner
isn't of much account. Now, there's Dinah gets you a capital
dinner,--soup, ragout, roast fowl, dessert, ice-creams and all,--and
she creates it all out of chaos and old night down there, in that
kitchen. I think it really sublime, the way she manages. But,
Heaven bless us! if we are to go down there, and view all the
smoking and squatting about, and hurryscurryation of the preparatory
process, we should never eat more! My good cousin, absolve yourself
from that! It's more than a Catholic penance, and does no more good.
You'll only lose your own temper, and utterly confound Dinah.
Let her go her own way."
But, Augustine, you don't know how I found things."
"Don't I? Don't I know that the rolling-pin is under her bed,
and the nutmeg-grater in her pocket with her tobacco,--that
there are sixty-five different sugar-bowls, one in every hole in
the house,--that she washes dishes with a dinner-napkin one day,
and with a fragment of an old petticoat the next? But the upshot
is, she gets up glorious dinners, makes superb coffee; and you must
judge her as warriors and statesmen are judged, _by her success_."
"But the waste,--the expense!"
"O, well! Lock everything you can, and keep the key. Give out
by driblets, and never inquire for odds and ends,--it isn't best."
"That troubles me, Augustine. I can't help feeling as if
these servants were not _strictly honest_. Are you sure they can
be relied on?"
Augustine laughed immoderately at the grave and anxious
face with which Miss Ophelia propounded the question.
"O, cousin, that's too good,--_honest!_--as if that's a
thing to be expected! Honest!--why, of course, they arn't.
Why should they be? What upon earth is to make them so?"
"Why don't you instruct?"
"Instruct! O, fiddlestick! What instructing do you think
I should do? I look like it! As to Marie, she has spirit
enough, to be sure, to kill off a whole plantation, if I'd let her
manage; but she wouldn't get the cheatery out of them."
"Are there no honest ones?"
"Well, now and then one, whom Nature makes so impracticably
simple, truthful and faithful, that the worst possible influence
can't destroy it. But, you see, from the mother's breast the
colored child feels and sees that there are none but underhand ways
open to it. It can get along no other way with its parents, its
mistress, its young master and missie play-fellows. Cunning and
deception become necessary, inevitable habits. It isn't fair to
expect anything else of him. He ought not to be punished for it.
As to honesty, the slave is kept in that dependent, semi-childish
state, that there is no making him realize the rights of property,
or feel that his master's goods are not his own, if he can get them.
For my part, I don't see how they _can_ be honest. Such a fellow
as Tom, here, is,--is a moral miracle!"
"And what becomes of their souls?" said Miss Ophelia.
"That isn't my affair, as I know of," said St. Clare; "I am
only dealing in facts of the present life. The fact is, that
the whole race are pretty generally understood to be turned over
to the devil, for our benefit, in this world, however it may turn
out in another!"
"This is perfectly horrible!" said Miss Ophelia; you ought
to be ashamed of yourselves!"
"I don't know as I am. We are in pretty good company, for all
that," said St. Clare, "as people in the broad road generally are.
Look at the high and the low, all the world over, and it's
the same story,--the lower class used up, body, soul and spirit,
for the good of the upper. It is so in England; it is so everywhere;
and yet all Christendom stands aghast, with virtuous indignation,
because we do the thing in a little different shape from what they
"It isn't so in Vermont."
"Ah, well, in New England, and in the free States, you have
the better of us, I grant. But there's the bell; so, Cousin, let
us for a while lay aside our sectional prejudices, and come out to
As Miss Ophelia was in the kitchen in the latter part of
the afternoon, some of the sable children called out, "La, sakes!
thar's Prue a coming, grunting along like she allers does."
A tall, bony colored woman now entered the kitchen, bearing
on her head a basket of rusks and hot rolls.
"Ho, Prue! you've come," said Dinah.
Prue had a peculiar scowling expression of countenance,
and a sullen, grumbling voice. She set down her basket, squatted
herself down, and resting her elbows on her knees said,
"O Lord! I wish't I 's dead!"
"Why do you wish you were dead?" said Miss Ophelia.
"I'd be out o' my misery," said the woman, gruffly, without
taking her eyes from the floor.
"What need you getting drunk, then, and cutting up, Prue?"
said a spruce quadroon chambermaid, dangling, as she spoke, a pair
of coral ear-drops.
The woman looked at her with a sour surly glance.
"Maybe you'll come to it, one of these yer days. I'd be
glad to see you, I would; then you'll be glad of a drop, like me,
to forget your misery."
"Come, Prue," said Dinah, "let's look at your rusks. Here's
Missis will pay for them."
Miss Ophelia took out a couple of dozen.
"Thar's some tickets in that ar old cracked jug on the top
shelf," said Dinah. "You, Jake, climb up and get it down."
"Tickets,--what are they for?" said Miss Ophelia.
"We buy tickets of her Mas'r, and she gives us bread for 'em."
"And they counts my money and tickets, when I gets home, to see
if I 's got the change; and if I han't, they half kills me."
"And serves you right," said Jane, the pert chambermaid,
"if you will take their money to get drunk on. That's what she
"And that's what I _will_ do,--I can't live no other
ways,--drink and forget my misery."
"You are very wicked and very foolish," said Miss Ophelia,
"to steal your master's money to make yourself a brute with."
"It's mighty likely, Missis; but I will do it,--yes, I will.
O Lord! I wish I 's dead, I do,--I wish I 's dead, and out
of my misery!" and slowly and stiffly the old creature rose, and
got her basket on her head again; but before she went out, she
looked at the quadroon girt, who still stood playing with her
"Ye think ye're mighty fine with them ar, a frolickin' and
a tossin' your head, and a lookin' down on everybody. Well, never
mind,--you may live to be a poor, old, cut-up crittur, like me.
Hope to the Lord ye will, I do; then see if ye won't
drink,--drink,--drink,--yerself into torment; and sarve ye right,
too--ugh!" and, with a malignant howl, the woman left the room.
"Disgusting old beast!" said Adolph, who was getting his
master's shaving-water. "If I was her master, I'd cut her up worse
than she is."
"Ye couldn't do that ar, no ways," said Dinah. "Her back's
a far sight now,--she can't never get a dress together over it."
"I think such low creatures ought not to be allowed to go
round to genteel families," said Miss Jane. "What do you think,
Mr. St. Clare?" she said, coquettishly tossing her head at Adolph.
It must be observed that, among other appropriations from
his master's stock, Adolph was in the habit of adopting his name
and address; and that the style under which he moved, among the
colored circles of New Orleans, was that of _Mr. St. Clare_.
"I'm certainly of your opinion, Miss Benoir," said Adolph.
Benoir was the name of Marie St. Clare's family, and Jane
was one of her servants.
"Pray, Miss Benoir, may I be allowed to ask if those drops
are for the ball, tomorrow night? They are certainly bewitching!"
"I wonder, now, Mr. St. Clare, what the impudence of you
men will come to!" said Jane, tossing her pretty head til the
ear-drops twinkled again. "I shan't dance with you for a whole
evening, if you go to asking me any more questions."
"O, you couldn't be so cruel, now! I was just dying to know
whether you would appear in your pink tarletane," said Adolph.
"What is it?" said Rosa, a bright, piquant little quadroon
who came skipping down stairs at this moment.
"Why, Mr. St. Clare's so impudent!"
"On my honor," said Adolph, "I'll leave it to Miss Rosa now."
"I know he's always a saucy creature," said Rosa, poising
herself on one of her little feet, and looking maliciously at
Adolph. "He's always getting me so angry with him."
"O! ladies, ladies, you will certainly break my heart,
between you," said Adolph. "I shall be found dead in my bed, some
morning, and you'll have it to answer for."
"Do hear the horrid creature talk!" said both ladies,
"Come,--clar out, you! I can't have you cluttering up the
kitchen," said Dinah; "in my way, foolin' round here."
"Aunt Dinah's glum, because she can't go to the ball," said Rosa.
"Don't want none o' your light-colored balls," said Dinah;
"cuttin' round, makin' b'lieve you's white folks. Arter all, you's
niggers, much as I am."
"Aunt Dinah greases her wool stiff, every day, to make it
lie straight," said Jane.
"And it will be wool, after all," said Rosa, maliciously
shaking down her long, silky curls.
"Well, in the Lord's sight, an't wool as good as bar, any
time?" said Dinah. "I'd like to have Missis say which is worth
the most,--a couple such as you, or one like me. Get out wid ye,
ye trumpery,--I won't have ye round!"
Here the conversation was interrupted in a two-fold manner.
St. Clare's voice was heard at the head of the stairs, asking Adolph
if he meant to stay all night with his shaving-water; and Miss
Ophelia, coming out of the dining-room, said,
"Jane and Rosa, what are you wasting your time for, here?
Go in and attend to your muslins."
Our friend Tom, who had been in the kitchen during the
conversation with the old rusk-woman, had followed her out into
the street. He saw her go on, giving every once in a while a
suppressed groan. At last she set her basket down on a doorstep,
and began arranging the old, faded shawl which covered her shoulders.
"I'll carry your basket a piece," said Tom, compassionately.
"Why should ye?" said the woman. "I don't want no help."
"You seem to be sick, or in trouble, or somethin'," said Tom.
"I an't sick," said the woman, shortly.
"I wish," said Tom, looking at her earnestly,--"I wish I
could persuade you to leave off drinking. Don't you know it will
be the ruin of ye, body and soul?"
"I knows I'm gwine to torment," said the woman, sullenly.
"Ye don't need to tell me that ar. I 's ugly, I 's wicked,--
I 's gwine straight to torment. O, Lord! I wish I 's thar!"
Tom shuddered at these frightful words, spoken with a
sullen, impassioned earnestness.
"O, Lord have mercy on ye! poor crittur. Han't ye never
heard of Jesus Christ?"
"Jesus Christ,--who's he?"
"Why, he's _the Lord_," said Tom.
"I think I've hearn tell o' the Lord, and the judgment and torment.
I've heard o' that."
"But didn't anybody ever tell you of the Lord Jesus, that
loved us poor sinners, and died for us?"
"Don't know nothin' 'bout that," said the woman; "nobody
han't never loved me, since my old man died."
"Where was you raised?" said Tom.
"Up in Kentuck. A man kept me to breed chil'en for market,
and sold 'em as fast as they got big enough; last of all, he sold
me to a speculator, and my Mas'r got me o' him."
"What set you into this bad way of drinkin'?"
"To get shet o' my misery. I had one child after I come here;
and I thought then I'd have one to raise, cause Mas'r wasn't
a speculator. It was de peartest little thing! and Missis she
seemed to think a heap on 't, at first; it never cried,--it was
likely and fat. But Missis tuck sick, and I tended her; and I tuck
the fever, and my milk all left me, and the child it pined to skin
and bone, and Missis wouldn't buy milk for it. She wouldn't hear
to me, when I telled her I hadn't milk. She said she knowed I
could feed it on what other folks eat; and the child kinder pined,
and cried, and cried, and cried, day and night, and got all gone
to skin and bones, and Missis got sot agin it and she said 't wan't
nothin' but crossness. She wished it was dead, she said; and she
wouldn't let me have it o' nights, cause, she said, it kept me
awake, and made me good for nothing. She made me sleep in her
room; and I had to put it away off in a little kind o' garret, and
thar it cried itself to death, one night. It did; and I tuck to
drinkin', to keep its crying out of my ears! I did,--and I will
drink! I will, if I do go to torment for it! Mas'r says I shall go
to torment, and I tell him I've got thar now!"
"O, ye poor crittur!" said Tom, "han't nobody never telled ye how
the Lord Jesus loved ye, and died for ye? Han't they telled ye
that he'll help ye, and ye can go to heaven, and have rest, at last?"
"I looks like gwine to heaven," said the woman; "an't thar
where white folks is gwine? S'pose they'd have me thar? I'd rather
go to torment, and get away from Mas'r and Missis. I had _so_,"
she said, as with her usual groan, she got her basket on her head,
and walked sullenly away.
Tom turned, and walked sorrowfully back to the house. In the
court he met little Eva,--a crown of tuberoses on her head,
and her eyes radiant with delight.
"O, Tom! here you are. I'm glad I've found you. Papa says
you may get out the ponies, and take me in my little new
carriage," she said, catching his hand. "But what's
the matter Tom?--you look sober."
"I feel bad, Miss Eva," said Tom, sorrowfully. "But I'll
get the horses for you."
"But do tell me, Tom, what is the matter. I saw you
talking to cross old Prue."
Tom, in simple, earnest phrase, told Eva the woman's history.
She did not exclaim or wonder, or weep, as other children do.
Her cheeks grew pale, and a deep, earnest shadow passed over
her eyes. She laid both hands on her bosom, and sighed heavily.
Miss Ophelia's Experiences and Opinions Continued
"Tom, you needn't get me the horses. I don't want to go,"
"Why not, Miss Eva?"
"These things sink into my heart, Tom," said Eva,--"they
sink into my heart," she repeated, earnestly. "I don't want to
go;" and she turned from Tom, and went into the house.
A few days after, another woman came, in old Prue's place,
to bring the rusks; Miss Ophelia was in the kitchen.
"Lor!" said Dinah, "what's got Prue?"
"Prue isn't coming any more," said the woman, mysteriously.
"Why not?" said Dinah. "she an't dead, is she?"
"We doesn't exactly know. She's down cellar," said the
woman, glancing at Miss Ophelia.
After Miss Ophelia had taken the rusks, Dinah followed the
woman to the door.
"What _has_ got Prue, any how?" she said.
The woman seemed desirous, yet reluctant, to speak, and
answered, in low, mysterious tone.
"Well, you mustn't tell nobody, Prue, she got drunk agin,--and
they had her down cellar,--and thar they left her all day,--and I
hearn 'em saying that the _flies had got to her_,--and _she's dead_!"
Dinah held up her hands, and, turning, saw close by her side
the spirit-like form of Evangeline, her large, mystic eyes
dilated with horror, and every drop of blood driven from her lips
"Lor bless us! Miss Eva's gwine to faint away! What go us
all, to let her har such talk? Her pa'll be rail mad."
"I shan't faint, Dinah," said the child, firmly; "and why shouldn't
I hear it? It an't so much for me to hear it, as for poor Prue
to suffer it."
"_Lor sakes_! it isn't for sweet, delicate young ladies,
like you,--these yer stories isn't; it's enough to kill 'em!"
Eva sighed again, and walked up stairs with a slow and
Miss Ophelia anxiously inquired the woman's story. Dinah gave
a very garrulous version of it, to which Tom added the
particulars which he had drawn from her that morning.
"An abominable business,--perfectly horrible!" she exclaimed,
as she entered the room where St. Clare lay reading his paper.
"Pray, what iniquity has turned up now?" said he.
"What now? why, those folks have whipped Prue to death!"
said Miss Ophelia, going on, with great strength of detail, into
the story, and enlarging on its most shocking particulars.
"I thought it would come to that, some time," said St.
Clare, going on with his paper.
"Thought so!--an't you going to _do_ anything about it?"
said Miss Ophelia. "Haven't you got any _selectmen_, or anybody,
to interfere and look after such matters?"
"It's commonly supposed that the _property_ interest is a
sufficient guard in these cases. If people choose to ruin their
own possessions, I don't know what's to be done. It seems the poor
creature was a thief and a drunkard; and so there won't be much
hope to get up sympathy for her."
"It is perfectly outrageous,--it is horrid, Augustine!
It will certainly bring down vengeance upon you."
"My dear cousin, I didn't do it, and I can't help it; I would,
if I could. If low-minded, brutal people will act like
themselves, what am I to do? they have absolute control; they are
irresponsible despots. There would be no use in interfering; there
is no law that amounts to anything practically, for such a case.
The best we can do is to shut our eyes and ears, and let it alone.
It's the only resource left us."
"How can you shut your eyes and ears? How can you let
such things alone?"
"My dear child, what do you expect? Here is a whole
class,--debased, uneducated, indolent, provoking,--put, without
any sort of terms or conditions, entirely into the hands of such
people as the majority in our world are; people who have neither
consideration nor self-control, who haven't even an enlightened
regard to their own interest,--for that's the case with the largest
half of mankind. Of course, in a community so organized, what can
a man of honorable and humane feelings do, but shut his eyes all
he can, and harden his heart? I can't buy every poor wretch I see.
I can't turn knight-errant, and undertake to redress every individual
case of wrong in such a city as this. The most I can do is to try
and keep out of the way of it."
St. Clare's fine countenance was for a moment overcast; he said,
"Come, cousin, don't stand there looking like one of the Fates;
you've only seen a peep through the curtain,--a specimen of
what is going on, the world over, in some shape or other. If we
are to be prying and spying into all the dismals of life, we should
have no heart to anything. 'T is like looking too close into the
details of Dinah's kitchen;" and St. Clare lay back on the sofa,
and busied himself with his paper.
Miss Ophelia sat down, and pulled out her knitting-work,
and sat there grim with indignation. She knit and knit,
but while she mused the fire burned; at last she broke
out--"I tell you, Augustine, I can't get over things so,
if you can. It's a perfect abomination for you to defend
such a system,--that's _my_ mind!"
"What now?" said St. Clare, looking up. "At it again, hey?"
"I say it's perfectly abominable for you to defend such a
system!" said Miss Ophelia, with increasing warmth.
"_I_ defend it, my dear lady? Who ever said I did defend it?"
said St. Clare.
"Of course, you defend it,--you all do,--all you Southerners.
What do you have slaves for, if you don't?"
"Are you such a sweet innocent as to suppose nobody in this
world ever does what they don't think is right? Don't you, or
didn't you ever, do anything that you did not think quite right?"
"If I do, I repent of it, I hope," said Miss Ophelia,
rattling her needles with energy.
"So do I," said St. Clare, peeling his orange; "I'm repenting
of it all the time."
"What do you keep on doing it for?"
"Didn't you ever keep on doing wrong, after you'd repented,
my good cousin?"
"Well, only when I've been very much tempted," said Miss Ophelia.
"Well, I'm very much tempted," said St. Clare; "that's just
"But I always resolve I won't and I try to break off."
"Well, I have been resolving I won't, off and on, these
ten years," said St. Clare; "but I haven't, some how, got clear.
Have you got clear of all your sins, cousin?"
"Cousin Augustine," said Miss Ophelia, seriously, and laying
down her knitting-work, "I suppose I deserve that you should
reprove my short-comings. I know all you say is true enough;
nobody else feels them more than I do; but it does seem to me,
after all, there is some difference between me and you. It seems
to me I would cut off my right hand sooner than keep on, from day
to day, doing what I thought was wrong. But, then, my conduct is
so inconsistent with my profession, I don't wonder you reprove me."
"O, now, cousin," said Augustine, sitting down on the floor,
and laying his head back in her lap, "don't take on so awfully
serious! You know what a good-for-nothing, saucy boy I always was.
I love to poke you up,--that's all,--just to see you get earnest.
I do think you are desperately, distressingly good; it tires me to
death to think of it."
"But this is a serious subject, my boy, Auguste," said Miss
Ophelia, laying her hand on his forehead.
"Dismally so," said he; "and I--well, I never want to talk
seriously in hot weather. What with mosquitos and all, a fellow
can't get himself up to any very sublime moral flights; and I
believe," said St. Clare, suddenly rousing himself up, "there's a
theory, now! I understand now why northern nations are always more
virtuous than southern ones,--I see into that whole subject."
"O, Augustine, you are a sad rattle-brain!"
"Am I? Well, so I am, I suppose; but for once I will be
serious, now; but you must hand me that basket of oranges;--you
see, you'll have to `stay me with flagons and comfort me with
apples,' if I'm going to make this effort. Now," said Augustine,
drawing the basket up, "I'll begin: When, in the course of human
events, it becomes necessary for a fellow to hold two or three
dozen of his fellow-worms in captivity, a decent regard to the
opinions of society requires--"
"I don't see that you are growing more serious," said Miss Ophelia.
"Wait,--I'm coming on,--you'll hear. The short of the matter
is, cousin," said he, his handsome face suddenly settling into
an earnest and serious expression, "on this abstract question
of slavery there can, as I think, be but one opinion. Planters,
who have money to make by it,--clergymen, who have planters to
please,--politicians, who want to rule by it,--may warp and bend
language and ethics to a degree that shall astonish the world at
their ingenuity; they can press nature and the Bible, and nobody
knows what else, into the service; but, after all, neither they
nor the world believe in it one particle the more. It comes from
the devil, that's the short of it;--and, to my mind, it's a pretty
respectable specimen of what he can do in his own line."
Miss Ophelia stopped her knitting, and looked surprised,
and St. Clare, apparently enjoying her astonishment, went on.
"You seem to wonder; but if you will get me fairly at it,
I'll make a clean breast of it. This cursed business, accursed of
God and man, what is it? Strip it of all its ornament, run it down
to the root and nucleus of the whole, and what is it? Why, because
my brother Quashy is ignorant and weak, and I am intelligent and
strong,--because I know how, and _can_ do it,--therefore, I may
steal all he has, keep it, and give him only such and so much as
suits my fancy. Whatever is too hard, too dirty, too disagreeable,
for me, I may set Quashy to doing. Because I don't like work,
Quashy shall work. Because the sun burns me, Quashy shall stay in
the sun. Quashy shall earn the money, and I will spend it. Quashy
shall lie down in every puddle, that I may walk over dry-shod.
Quashy shall do my will, and not his, all the days of his mortal
life, and have such chance of getting to heaven, at last, as I find
convenient. This I take to be about what slavery _is_. I defy
anybody on earth to read our slave-code, as it stands in our
law-books, and make anything else of it. Talk of the _abuses_
of slavery! Humbug! The _thing itself_ is the essence of all abuse!
And the only reason why the land don't sink under it, like Sodom
and Gomorrah, is because it is _used_ in a way infinitely better
than it is. For pity's sake, for shame's sake, because we are men
born of women, and not savage beasts, many of us do not, and dare
not,--we would _scorn_ to use the full power which our savage laws
put into our hands. And he who goes the furthest, and does the
worst, only uses within limits the power that the law gives him."
St. Clare had started up, and, as his manner was when excited,
was walking, with hurried steps, up and down the floor. His fine
face, classic as that of a Greek statue, seemed actually to burn
with the fervor of his feelings. His large blue eyes flashed,
and he gestured with an unconscious eagerness. Miss Ophelia had
never seen him in this mood before, and she sat perfectly silent.
"I declare to you," said he, suddenly stopping before his
cousin "(It's no sort of use to talk or to feel on this subject),
but I declare to you, there have been times when I have thought,
if the whole country would sink, and hide all this injustice and
misery from the light, I would willingly sink with it. When I have
been travelling up and down on our boats, or about on my collecting
tours, and reflected that every brutal, disgusting, mean, low-lived
fellow I met, was allowed by our laws to become absolute despot of
as many men, women and children, as he could cheat, steal, or gamble
money enough to buy,--when I have seen such men in actual ownership
of helpless children, of young girls and women,--I have been ready
to curse my country, to curse the human race!"
"Augustine! Augustine!" said Miss Ophelia, "I'm sure you've
said enough. I never, in my life, heard anything like this, even
at the North."
"At the North!" said St. Clare, with a sudden change of
expression, and resuming something of his habitual careless tone.
"Pooh! your northern folks are cold-blooded; you are cool
in everything! You can't begin to curse up hill and down as
we can, when we get fairly at it."
"Well, but the question is," said Miss Ophelia.
"O, yes, to be sure, the _question is_,--and a deuce of a
question it is! How came _you_ in this state of sin and misery?
Well, I shall answer in the good old words you used to teach me,
Sundays. I came so by ordinary generation. My servants were my
father's, and, what is more, my mother's; and now they are mine,
they and their increase, which bids fair to be a pretty considerable
item. My father, you know, came first from New England; and he
was just such another man as your father,--a regular old Roman,--upright,
energetic, noble-minded, with an iron will. Your father settled
down in New England, to rule over rocks and stones, and to force
an existence out of Nature; and mine settled in Louisiana, to rule
over men and women, and force existence out of them. My mother,"
said St. Clare, getting up and walking to a picture at the end of
the room, and gazing upward with a face fervent with veneration,
"_she was divine!_ Don't look at me so!--you know what I mean!
She probably was of mortal birth; but, as far as ever I could
observe, there was no trace of any human weakness or error about
her; and everybody that lives to remember her, whether bond or
free, servant, acquaintance, relation, all say the same. Why,
cousin, that mother has been all that has stood between me and
utter unbelief for years. She was a direct embodiment and
personification of the New Testament,--a living fact, to be accounted
for, and to be accounted for in no other way than by its truth. O,
mother! mother!" said St. Clare, clasping his hands, in a sort of
transport; and then suddenly checking himself, he came back, and
seating himself on an ottoman, he went on:
"My brother and I were twins; and they say, you know, that twins
ought to resemble each other; but we were in all points a contrast.
He had black, fiery eyes, coal-black hair, a strong, fine Roman
profile, and a rich brown complexion. I had blue eyes, golden
hair, a Greek outline, and fair complexion. He was active and
observing, I dreamy and inactive. He was generous to his friends
and equals, but proud, dominant, overbearing, to inferiors, and
utterly unmerciful to whatever set itself up against him.
Truthful we both were; he from pride and courage, I from a
sort of abstract ideality. We loved each other about as boys
generally do,--off and on, and in general;--he was my father's pet,
and I my mother's.
"There was a morbid sensitiveness and acuteness of feeling
in me on all possible subjects, of which he and my father had no
kind of understanding, and with which they could have no possible
sympathy. But mother did; and so, when I had quarreled with Alfred,
and father looked sternly on me, I used to go off to mother's room,
and sit by her. I remember just how she used to look, with her
pale cheeks, her deep, soft, serious eyes, her white dress,--she
always wore white; and I used to think of her whenever I read in
Revelations about the saints that were arrayed in fine linen, clean
and white. She had a great deal of genius of one sort and another,
particularly in music; and she used to sit at her organ, playing
fine old majestic music of the Catholic church, and singing with
a voice more like an angel than a mortal woman; and I would lay my
head down on her lap, and cry, and dream, and feel,--oh,
immeasurably!--things that I had no language to say!
"In those days, this matter of slavery had never been
canvassed as it has now; nobody dreamed of any harm in it.
"My father was a born aristocrat. I think, in some
preexistent state, he must have been in the higher circles of
spirits, and brought all his old court pride along with him; for
it was ingrain, bred in the bone, though he was originally of
poor and not in any way of noble family. My brother was begotten
in his image.
"Now, an aristocrat, you know, the world over, has no human
sympathies, beyond a certain line in society. In England the line
is in one place, in Burmah in another, and in America in another;
but the aristocrat of all these countries never goes over it. What
would be hardship and distress and injustice in his own class, is
a cool matter of course in another one. My father's dividing line
was that of color. _Among his equals_, never was a man more just
and generous; but he considered the negro, through all possible
gradations of color, as an intermediate link between man and animals,
and graded all his ideas of justice or generosity on this hypothesis.
I suppose, to be sure, if anybody had asked him, plump and fair,
whether they had human immortal souls, he might have hemmed and
hawed, and said yes. But my father was not a man much troubled
with spiritualism; religious sentiment he had none, beyond a
veneration for God, as decidedly the head of the upper classes.
"Well, my father worked some five hundred negroes; he was
an inflexible, driving, punctilious business man; everything was
to move by system,--to be sustained with unfailing accuracy and
precision. Now, if you take into account that all this was to be
worked out by a set of lazy, twaddling, shiftless laborers, who
had grown up, all their lives, in the absence of every possible
motive to learn how to do anything but `shirk,' as you Vermonters
say, and you'll see that there might naturally be, on his plantation,
a great many things that looked horrible and distressing to a
sensitive child, like me.
"Besides all, he had an overseer,--great, tall, slab-sided,
two-fisted renegade son of Vermont--(begging your pardon),--who
had gone through a regular apprenticeship in hardness and brutality
and taken his degree to be admitted to practice. My mother never
could endure him, nor I; but he obtained an entire ascendency over
my father; and this man was the absolute despot of the estate.
"I was a little fellow then, but I had the same love that
I have now for all kinds of human things,--a kind of passion for
the study of humanity, come in what shape it would. I was found
in the cabins and among the field-hands a great deal, and, of
course, was a great favorite; and all sorts of complaints and
grievances were breathed in my ear; and I told them to mother, and
we, between us, formed a sort of committee for a redress of
grievances. We hindered and repressed a great deal of cruelty,
and congratulated ourselves on doing a vast deal of good, till, as
often happens, my zeal overacted. Stubbs complained to my father
that he couldn't manage the hands, and must resign his position.
Father was a fond, indulgent husband, but a man that never flinched
from anything that he thought necessary; and so he put down his
foot, like a rock, between us and the field-hands. He told my
mother, in language perfectly respectful and deferential, but quite
explicit, that over the house-servants she should be entire mistress,
but that with the field-hands he could allow no interference. He
revered and respected her above all living beings; but he would
have said it all the same to the virgin Mary herself, if she had
come in the way of his system.
"I used sometimes to hear my mother reasoning cases with
him,--endeavoring to excite his sympathies. He would listen to
the most pathetic appeals with the most discouraging politeness
and equanimity. `It all resolves itself into this,' he would say;
`must I part with Stubbs, or keep him? Stubbs is the soul of
punctuality, honesty, and efficiency,--a thorough business hand,
and as humane as the general run. We can't have perfection; and
if I keep him, I must sustain his administration as a _whole_, even
if there are, now and then, things that are exceptionable. All
government includes some necessary hardness. General rules will
bear hard on particular cases.' This last maxim my father seemed
to consider a settler in most alleged cases of cruelty. After he
had said _that_, he commonly drew up his feet on the sofa, like a
man that has disposed of a business, and betook himself to a nap,
or the newspaper, as the case might be.
"The fact is my father showed the exact sort of talent for
a statesman. He could have divided Poland as easily as an orange,
or trod on Ireland as quietly and systematically as any man living.
At last my mother gave up, in despair. It never will be known,
till the last account, what noble and sensitive natures like hers
have felt, cast, utterly helpless, into what seems to them an abyss
of injustice and cruelty, and which seems so to nobody about them.
It has been an age of long sorrow of such natures, in such a
hell-begotten sort of world as ours. What remained for her, but
to train her children in her own views and sentiments? Well, after
all you say about training, children will grow up substantially
what they _are_ by nature, and only that. From the cradle, Alfred
was an aristocrat; and as he grew up, instinctively, all his
sympathies and all his reasonings were in that line, and all mother's
exhortations went to the winds. As to me, they sunk deep into me.
She never contradicted, in form, anything my father said, or seemed
directly to differ from him; but she impressed, burnt into my very
soul, with all the force of her deep, earnest nature, an idea of
the dignity and worth of the meanest human soul. I have looked in
her face with solemn awe, when she would point up to the stars in
the evening, and say to me, `See there, Auguste! the poorest,
meanest soul on our place will be living, when all these stars are
gone forever,--will live as long as God lives!'
"She had some fine old paintings; one, in particular, of Jesus
healing a blind man. They were very fine, and used to impress
me strongly. `See there, Auguste,' she would say; `the blind man
was a beggar, poor and loathsome; therefore, he would not heal him
_afar off!_ He called him to him, and put _his hands on him!_
Remember this, my boy.' If I had lived to grow up under her care,
she might have stimulated me to I know not what of enthusiasm.
I might have been a saint, reformer, martyr,--but, alas! alas!
I went from her when I was only thirteen, and I never saw her again!"
St. Clare rested his head on his hands, and did not speak
for some minutes. After a while, he looked up, and went on:
"What poor, mean trash this whole business of human virtue is!
A mere matter, for the most part, of latitude and longitude,
and geographical position, acting with natural temperament. The
greater part is nothing but an accident! Your father, for example,
settles in Vermont, in a town where all are, in fact, free and
equal; becomes a regular church member and deacon, and in due time
joins an Abolition society, and thinks us all little better than
heathens. Yet he is, for all the world, in constitution and habit,
a duplicate of my father. I can see it leaking out in fifty
different ways,--just the same strong, overbearing, dominant spirit.
You know very well how impossible it is to persuade some of the
folks in your village that Squire Sinclair does not feel above
them. The fact is, though he has fallen on democratic times, and
embraced a democratic theory, he is to the heart an aristocrat, as
much as my father, who ruled over five or six hundred slaves."
Miss Ophelia felt rather disposed to cavil at this picture, and
was laying down her knitting to begin, but St. Clare stopped her.
"Now, I know every word you are going to say. I do not say
they _were_ alike, in fact. One fell into a condition where
everything acted against the natural tendency, and the other where
everything acted for it; and so one turned out a pretty wilful,
stout, overbearing old democrat, and the other a wilful, stout
old despot. If both had owned plantations in Louisiana, they
would have been as like as two old bullets cast in the same mould."
"What an undutiful boy you are!" said Miss Ophelia.
"I don't mean them any disrespect," said St. Clare. "You know
reverence is not my forte. But, to go back to my history:
"When father died, he left the whole property to us twin boys,
to be divided as we should agree. There does not breathe on
God's earth a nobler-souled, more generous fellow, than Alfred, in
all that concerns his equals; and we got on admirably with this
property question, without a single unbrotherly word or feeling.
We undertook to work the plantation together; and Alfred, whose
outward life and capabilities had double the strength of mine,
became an enthusiastic planter, and a wonderfully successful one.
"But two years' trial satisfied me that I could not be a
partner in that matter. To have a great gang of seven hundred,
whom I could not know personally, or feel any individual interest
in, bought and driven, housed, fed, worked like so many horned
cattle, strained up to military precision,--the question of how
little of life's commonest enjoyments would keep them in working
order being a constantly recurring problem,--the necessity of
drivers and overseers,--the ever-necessary whip, first, last, and
only argument,--the whole thing was insufferably disgusting and
loathsome to me; and when I thought of my mothcr's estimate of one
poor human soul, it became even frightful!
"It's all nonsense to talk to me about slaves _enjoying_
all this! To this day, I have no patience with the unutterable
trash that some of your patronizing Northerners have made up, as
in their zeal to apologize for our sins. We all know better. Tell
me that any man living wants to work all his days, from day-dawn
till dark, under the constant eye of a master, without the power
of putting forth one irresponsible volition, on the same dreary,
monotonous, unchanging toil, and all for two pairs of pantaloons
and a pair of shoes a year, with enough food and shelter to keep
him in working order! Any man who thinks that human beings can, as
a general thing, be made about as comfortable that way as any other,
I wish he might try it. I'd buy the dog, and work him, with a
"I always have supposed," said Miss Ophelia, "that you, all of you,
approved of these things, and thought them _right_--according
"Humbug! We are not quite reduced to that yet. Alfred who
is as determined a despot as ever walked, does not pretend to this
kind of defence;--no, he stands, high and haughty, on that good
old respectable ground, _the right of the strongest_; and he says,
and I think quite sensibly, that the American planter is `only
doing, in another form, what the English aristocracy and capitalists
are doing by the lower classes;' that is, I take it, _appropriating_
them, body and bone, soul and spirit, to their use and convenience.
He defends both,--and I think, at least, _consistently_. He says
that there can be no high civilization without enslavement of the
masses, either nominal or real. There must, he says, be a lower
class, given up to physical toil and confined to an animal nature;
and a higher one thereby acquires leisure and wealth for a more
expanded intelligence and improvement, and becomes the directing
soul of the lower. So he reasons, because, as I said, he is born
an aristocrat;--so I don't believe, because I was born a democrat."
"How in the world can the two things be compared?" said
Miss Ophelia. "The English laborer is not sold, traded, parted
from his family, whipped."
"He is as much at the will of his employer as if he were
sold to him. The slave-owner can whip his refractory slave to
death,--the capitalist can starve him to death. As to family
security, it is hard to say which is the worst,--to have one's
children sold, or see them starve to death at home."
"But it's no kind of apology for slavery, to prove that it
isn't worse than some other bad thing."
"I didn't give it for one,--nay, I'll say, besides, that
ours is the more bold and palpable infringement of human rights;
actually buying a man up, like a horse,--looking at his teeth,
cracking his joints, and trying his paces and then paying down for
him,--having speculators, breeders, traders, and brokers in human
bodies and souls,--sets the thing before the eyes of the civilized
world in a more tangible form, though the thing done be, after all,
in its nature, the same; that is, appropriating one set of human
beings to the use and improvement of another without any regard to
"I never thought of the matter in this light," said Miss Ophelia.
"Well, I've travelled in England some, and I've looked over
a good many documents as to the state of their lower classes; and
I really think there is no denying Alfred, when he says that his
slaves are better off than a large class of the population of
England. You see, you must not infer, from what I have told you,
that Alfred is what is called a hard master; for he isn't. He is
despotic, and unmerciful to insubordination; he would shoot a fellow
down with as little remorse as he would shoot a buck, if he opposed
him. But, in general, he takes a sort of pride in having his slaves
comfortably fed and accommodated.
"When I was with him, I insisted that he should do something
for their instruction; and, to please me, he did get a chaplain,
and used to have them catechized Sunday, though, I believe, in his
heart, that he thought it would do about as much good to set a
chaplain over his dogs and horses. And the fact is, that a mind
stupefied and animalized by every bad influence from the hour of
birth, spending the whole of every week-day in unreflecting toil,
cannot be done much with by a few hours on Sunday. The teachers
of Sunday-schools among the manufacturing population of England,
and among plantation-hands in our country, could perhaps testify
to the same result, _there and here_. Yet some striking exceptions
there are among us, from the fact that the negro is naturally more
impressible to religious sentiment than the white."
"Well," said Miss Ophelia, "how came you to give up your
"Well, we jogged on together some time, till Alfred saw
plainly that I was no planter. He thought it absurd, after he had
reformed, and altered, and improved everywhere, to suit my notions,
that I still remained unsatisfied. The fact was, it was, after
all, the THING that I hated--the using these men and women, the
perpetuation of all this ignorance, brutality and vice,--just to
make money for me!
"Besides, I was always interfering in the details. Being
myself one of the laziest of mortals, I had altogether too much
fellow-feeling for the lazy; and when poor, shiftless dogs put
stones at the bottom of their cotton-baskets to make them weigh
heavier, or filled their sacks with dirt, with cotton at the top,
it seemed so exactly like what I should do if I were they, I couldn't
and wouldn't have them flogged for it. Well, of course, there was
an end of plantation discipline; and Alf and I came to about the
same point that I and my respected father did, years before. So
he told me that I was a womanish sentimentalist, and would never
do for business life; and advised me to take the bank-stock and
the New Orleans family mansion, and go to writing poetry, and let
him manage the plantation. So we parted, and I came here."
"But why didn't you free your slaves?"
"Well, I wasn't up to that. To hold them as tools for money-making,
I could not;--have them to help spend money, you know, didn't
look quite so ugly to me. Some of them were old house-servants,
to whom I was much attached; and the younger ones were children
to the old. All were well satisfied to be as they were." He paused,
and walked reflectively up and down the room.
"There was," said St. Clare, "a time in my life when I had
plans and hopes of doing something in this world, more than to
float and drift. I had vague, indistinct yearnings to be a sort
of emancipator,--to free my native land from this spot and stain.
All young men have had such fever-fits, I suppose, some time,--
"Why didn't you?" said Miss Ophelia;--"you ought not to
put your hand to the plough, and look back."
"O, well, things didn't go with me as I expected, and I got
the despair of living that Solomon did. I suppose it was a
necessary incident to wisdom in us both; but, some how or other,
instead of being actor and regenerator in society, I became a piece
of driftwood, and have been floating and eddying about, ever since.
Alfred scolds me, every time we meet; and he has the better of me,
I grant,--for he really does something; his life is a logical result
of his opinions and mine is a contemptible _non sequitur_."
"My dear cousin, can you be satisfied with such a way of
spending your probation?"
"Satisfied! Was I not just telling you I despised it? But, then,
to come back to this point,--we were on this liberation business.
I don't think my feelings about slavery are peculiar. I find
many men who, in their hearts, think of it just as I do. The land
groans under it; and, bad as it is for the slave, it is worse,
if anything, for the master. It takes no spectacles to see
that a great class of vicious, improvident, degraded people, among
us, are an evil to us, as well as to themselves. The capitalist
and aristocrat of England cannot feel that as we do, because they
do not mingle with the class they degrade as we do. They are in
our homes; they are the associates of our children, and they form
their minds faster than we can; for they are a race that children
always will cling to and assimilate with. If Eva, now, was not
more angel than ordinary, she would be ruined. We might as well
allow the small-pox to run among them, and think our children
would not take it, as to let them be uninstructed and vicious,
and think our children will not be affected by that. Yet our
laws positively and utterly forbid any efficient general
educational system, and they do it wisely, too; for, just begin
and thoroughly educate one generation, and the whole thing would
be blown sky high. If we did not give them liberty, they would
"And what do you think will be the end of this?" said Miss Ophelia.
"I don't know. One thing is certain,--that there is a
mustering among the masses, the world over; and there is a _dies
irae_ coming on, sooner or later. The same thing is working in
Europe, in England, and in this country. My mother used to tell
me of a millennium that was coming, when Christ should reign, and
all men should be free and happy. And she taught me, when I was
a boy, to pray, `thy kingdom come.' Sometimes I think all this
sighing, and groaning, and stirring among the dry bones foretells
what she used to tell me was coming. But who may abide the day of
"Augustine, sometimes I think you are not far from the kingdom,"
said Miss Ophelia, laying down her knitting, and looking
anxiously at her cousin.
"Thank you for your good opinion, but it's up and down with
me,--up to heaven's gate in theory, down in earth's dust in practice.
But there's the teabell,--do let's go,--and don't say, now, I
haven't had one downright serious talk, for once in my life."
At table, Marie alluded to the incident of Prue. "I suppose
you'll think, cousin," she said, "that we are all barbarians."
"I think that's a barbarous thing," said Miss Ophelia, "but
I don't think you are all barbarians."
"Well, now," said Marie, "I know it's impossible to get
along with some of these creatures. They are so bad they ought
not to live. I don't feel a particle of sympathy for such cases.
If they'd only behave themselves, it would not happen."
"But, mamma," said Eva, "the poor creature was unhappy;
that's what made her drink."
"O, fiddlestick! as if that were any excuse! I'm unhappy,
very often. I presume," she said, pensively, "that I've had
greater trials than ever she had. It's just because they are
so bad. There's some of them that you cannot break in by any
kind of severity. I remember father had a man that was so
lazy he would run away just to get rid of work, and lie round
in the swamps, stealing and doing all sorts of horrid things.
That man was caught and whipped, time and again, and it never did
him any good; and the last time he crawled off, though he couldn't
but just go, and died in the swamp. There was no sort of reason
for it, for father's hands were always treated kindly."
"I broke a fellow in, once," said St. Clare, "that all the
overseers and masters had tried their hands on in vain."
"You!" said Marie; "well, I'd be glad to know when _you_
ever did anything of the sort."
"Well, he was a powerful, gigantic fellow,--a native-born
African; and he appeared to have the rude instinct of freedom in
him to an uncommon degree. He was a regular African lion. They
called him Scipio. Nobody could do anything with him; and he was
sold round from overseer to overseer, till at last Alfred bought
him, because he thought he could manage him. Well, one day he
knocked down the overseer, and was fairly off into the swamps.
I was on a visit to Alf's plantation, for it was after we had
dissolved partnership. Alfred was greatly exasperated; but
I told him that it was his own fault, and laid him any wager that
I could break the man; and finally it was agreed that, if I caught
him, I should have him to experiment on. So they mustered out a
party of some six or seven, with guns and dogs, for the hunt.
People, you know, can get up as much enthusiasm in hunting a man
as a deer, if it is only customary; in fact, I got a little excited
myself, though I had only put in as a sort of mediator, in case he
"Well, the dogs bayed and howled, and we rode and scampered,
and finally we started him. He ran and bounded like a buck, and
kept us well in the rear for some time; but at last he got caught
in an impenetrable thicket of cane; then he turned to bay, and I
tell you he fought the dogs right gallantly. He dashed them to
right and left, and actually killed three of them with only his
naked fists, when a shot from a gun brought him down, and he fell,
wounded and bleeding, almost at my feet. The poor fellow looked
up at me with manhood and despair both in his eye. I kept back
the dogs and the party, as they came pressing up, and claimed him
as my prisoner. It was all I could do to keep them from shooting
him, in the flush of success; but I persisted in my bargain, and
Alfred sold him to me. Well, I took him in hand, and in one
fortnight I had him tamed down as submissive and tractable as heart
"What in the world did you do to him?" said Marie.
"Well, it was quite a simple process. I took him to my own
room, had a good bed made for him, dressed his wounds, and tended
him myself, until he got fairly on his feet again. And, in
process of time, I had free papers made out for him, and told him
he might go where he liked."
"And did he go?" said Miss Ophelia.
"No. The foolish fellow tore the paper in two, and absolutely
refused to leave me. I never had a braver, better fellow,--trusty
and true as steel. He embraced Christianity afterwards, and became
as gentle as a child. He used to oversee my place on the lake,
and did it capitally, too. I lost him the first cholera season.
In fact, he laid down his life for me. For I was sick, almost to
death; and when, through the panic, everybody else fled, Scipio
worked for me like a giant, and actually brought me back into life
again. But, poor fellow! he was taken, right after, and there was
no saving him. I never felt anybody's loss more."
Eva had come gradually nearer and nearer to her father, as he
told the story,--her small lips apart, her eyes wide and earnest
with absorbing interest.
As he finished, she suddenly threw her arms around his
neck, burst into tears, and sobbed convulsively.
"Eva, dear child! what is the matter?" said St. Clare, as
the child's small frame trembled and shook with the violence of
her feelings. "This child," he added, "ought not to hear any of
this kind of thing,--she's nervous."
"No, papa, I'm not nervous," said Eva, controlling herself,
suddenly, with a strength of resolution singular in such a child.
"I'm not nervous, but these things _sink into my heart_."
"What do you mean, Eva?"
"I can't tell you, papa, I think a great many thoughts.
Perhaps some day I shall tell you."
"Well, think away, dear,--only don't cry and worry your papa,"
said St. Clare, "Look here,--see what a beautiful peach I
have got for you."
Eva took it and smiled, though there was still a nervous
twiching about the corners of her mouth.
"Come, look at the gold-fish," said St. Clare, taking her
hand and stepping on to the verandah. A few moments, and merry
laughs were heard through the silken curtains, as Eva and St.
Clare were pelting each other with roses, and chasing each other
among the alleys of the court.
There is danger that our humble friend Tom be neglected amid
the adventures of the higher born; but, if our readers will
accompany us up to a little loft over the stable, they may, perhaps,
learn a little of his affairs. It was a decent room, containing
a bed, a chair, and a small, rough stand, where lay Tom's Bible
and hymn-book; and where he sits, at present, with his slate before
him, intent on something that seems to cost him a great deal of
The fact was, that Tom's home-yearnings had become so strong
that he had begged a sheet of writing-paper of Eva, and, mustering
up all his small stock of literary attainment acquired by Mas'r
George's instructions, he conceived the bold idea of writing a
letter; and he was busy now, on his slate, getting out his first
draft. Tom was in a good deal of trouble, for the forms of some
of the letters he had forgotten entirely; and of what he did
remember, he did not know exactly which to use. And while he was
working, and breathing very hard, in his earnestness, Eva alighted,
like a bird, on the round of his chair behind him, and peeped over
"O, Uncle Tom! what funny things you _are_ making, there!"
"I'm trying to write to my poor old woman, Miss Eva, and
my little chil'en," said Tom, drawing the back of his hand over
his eyes; "but, some how, I'm feard I shan't make it out."
"I wish I could help you, Tom! I've learnt to write some.
Last year I could make all the letters, but I'm afraid I've
So Eva put her golden head close to his, and the two commenced
a grave and anxious discussion, each one equally earnest,
and about equally ignorant; and, with a deal of consulting and
advising over every word, the composition began, as they both
felt very sanguine, to look quite like writing.
"Yes, Uncle Tom, it really begins to look beautiful," said
Eva, gazing delightedly on it. "How pleased your wife'll be, and
the poor little children! O, it's a shame you ever had to go away
from them! I mean to ask papa to let you go back, some time."
"Missis said that she would send down money for me, as soon
as they could get it together," said Tom. "I'm 'spectin, she will.
Young Mas'r George, he said he'd come for me; and he gave me this
yer dollar as a sign;" and Tom drew from under his clothes the
"O, he'll certainly come, then!" said Eva. "I'm so glad!"
"And I wanted to send a letter, you know, to let 'em know
whar I was, and tell poor Chloe that I was well off,--cause she
felt so drefful, poor soul!"
"I say Tom!" said St. Clare's voice, coming in the door at
Tom and Eva both started.
"What's here?" said St. Clare, coming up and looking at
"O, it's Tom's letter. I'm helping him to write it," said
Eva; "isn't it nice?"
"I wouldn't discourage either of you," said St. Clare,
"but I rather think, Tom, you'd better get me to write your letter
for you. I'll do it, when I come home from my ride."
"It's very important he should write," said Eva, "because his
mistress is going to send down money to redeem him, you know,
papa; he told me they told him so."
St. Clare thought, in his heart, that this was probably only
one of those things which good-natured owners say to their
servants, to alleviate their horror of being sold, without any
intention of fulfilling the expectation thus excited. But he did
not make any audible comment upon it,--only ordered Tom to get the
horses out for a ride.
Tom's letter was written in due form for him that evening,
and safely lodged in the post-office.
Miss Ophelia still persevered in her labors in the housekeeping
line. It was universally agreed, among all the household, from
Dinah down to the youngest urchin, that Miss Ophelia was decidedly
"curis,"--a term by which a southern servant implies that his or
her betters don't exactly suit them.
The higher circle in the family--to wit, Adolph, Jane and
Rosa--agreed that she was no lady; ladies never keep working about
as she did,--that she had no _air_ at all; and they were surprised
that she should be any relation of the St. Clares. Even Marie
declared that it was absolutely fatiguing to see Cousin Ophelia
always so busy. And, in fact, Miss Ophelia's industry was so
incessant as to lay some foundation for the complaint. She sewed
and stitched away, from daylight till dark, with the energy of one
who is pressed on by some immediate urgency; and then, when the
light faded, and the work was folded away, with one turn out came
the ever-ready knitting-work, and there she was again, going on as
briskly as ever. It really was a labor to see her.
One morning, while Miss Ophelia was busy in some of her
domestic cares, St. Clare's voice was heard, calling
her at the foot of the stairs.
"Come down here, Cousin, I've something to show you."
"What is it?" said Miss Ophelia, coming down, with her
sewing in her hand.
"I've made a purchase for your department,--see here," said
St. Clare; and, with the word, he pulled along a little negro girl,
about eight or nine years of age.
She was one of the blackest of her race; and her round
shining eyes, glittering as glass beads, moved with quick and
restless glances over everything in the room. Her mouth, half open
with astonishment at the wonders of the new Mas'r's parlor, displayed
a white and brilliant set of teeth. Her woolly hair was braided
in sundry little tails, which stuck out in every direction. The
expression of her face was an odd mixture of shrewdness and cunning,
over which was oddly drawn, like a kind of veil, an expression of
the most doleful gravity and solemnity. She was dressed in a single
filthy, ragged garment, made of bagging; and stood with her hands
demurely folded before her. Altogether, there was something odd
and goblin-like about her appearance,--something, as Miss Ophelia
afterwards said, "so heathenish," as to inspire that good lady with
utter dismay; and turning to St. Clare, she said,
"Augustine, what in the world have you brought that thing
"For you to educate, to be sure, and train in the way she
should go. I thought she was rather a funny specimen in the Jim
Crow line. Here, Topsy," he added, giving a whistle, as a man
would to call the attention of a dog, "give us a song, now, and
show us some of your dancing."
The black, glassy eyes glittered with a kind of wicked
drollery, and the thing struck up, in a clear shrill voice, an odd
negro melody, to which she kept time with her hands and feet,
spinning round, clapping her hands, knocking her knees together,
in a wild, fantastic sort of time, and producing in her throat all
those odd guttural sounds which distinguish the native music of
her race; and finally, turning a summerset or two, and giving a
prolonged closing note, as odd and unearthly as that of a steam-whistle,
she came suddenly down on the carpet, and stood with her hands
folded, and a most sanctimonious expression of meekness and solemnity
over her face, only broken by the cunning glances which she shot
askance from the corners of her eyes.
Miss Ophelia stood silent, perfectly paralyzed with amazement.
St. Clare, like a mischievous fellow as he was, appeared to enjoy
her astonishment; and, addressing the child again, said,
"Topsy, this is your new mistress. I'm going to give you
up to her; see now that you behave yourself."
"Yes, Mas'r," said Topsy, with sanctimonious gravity, her
wicked eyes twinkling as she spoke.
"You're going to be good, Topsy, you understand," said St. Clare.
"O yes, Mas'r," said Topsy, with another twinkle, her hands
still devoutly folded.
"Now, Augustine, what upon earth is this for?" said Miss Ophelia.
"Your house is so full of these little plagues, now, that
a body can't set down their foot without treading on 'em. I get
up in the morning, and find one asleep behind the door, and see
one black head poking out from under the table, one lying on the
door-mat,--and they are mopping and mowing and grinning between
all the railings, and tumbling over the kitchen floor! What on
earth did you want to bring this one for?"
"For you to educate--didn't I tell you? You're always
preaching about educating. I thought I would make you a present
of a fresh-caught specimen, and let you try your hand on her, and
bring her up in the way she should go."
"_I_ don't want her, I am sure;--I have more to do with
'em now than I want to."
"That's you Christians, all over!--you'll get up a society,
and get some poor missionary to spend all his days among just such
heathen. But let me see one of you that would take one into your
house with you, and take the labor of their conversion on yourselves!
No; when it comes to that, they are dirty and disagreeable, and
it's too much care, and so on."
"Augustine, you know I didn't think of it in that light,"
said Miss Ophelia, evidently softening. "Well, it might be a real
missionary work," said she, looking rather more favorably on the
St. Clare had touched the right string. Miss Ophelia's
conscientiousness was ever on the alert. "But," she added, "I
really didn't see the need of buying this one;--there are enough
now, in your house, to take all my time and skill."
"Well, then, Cousin," said St. Clare, drawing her aside,
"I ought to beg your pardon for my good-for-nothing speeches.
You are so good, after all, that there's no sense in them.
Why, the fact is, this concern belonged to a couple of drunken
creatures that keep a low restaurant that I have to pass by every
day, and I was tired of hearing her screaming, and them beating
and swearing at her. She looked bright and funny, too, as if
something might be made of her;--so I bought her, and I'll give
her to you. Try, now, and give her a good orthodox New England
bringing up, and see what it'll make of her. You know I haven't
any gift that way; but I'd like you to try."
"Well, I'll do what I can," said Miss Ophelia; and she
approached her new subject very much as a person might be supposed
to approach a black spider, supposing them to have benevolent
designs toward it.
"She's dreadfully dirty, and half naked," she said.
"Well, take her down stairs, and make some of them clean
and clothe her up."
Miss Ophelia carried her to the kitchen regions.
"Don't see what Mas'r St. Clare wants of 'nother nigger!"
said Dinah, surveying the new arrival with no friendly air.
"Won't have her around under _my_ feet, _I_ know!"
"Pah!" said Rosa and Jane, with supreme disgust; "let her
keep out of our way! What in the world Mas'r wanted another of
these low niggers for, I can't see!"
"You go long! No more nigger dan you be, Miss Rosa," said
Dinah, who felt this last remark a reflection on herself.
"You seem to tink yourself white folks. You an't nerry one,
black _nor_ white, I'd like to be one or turrer."
Miss Ophelia saw that there was nobody in the camp that would
undertake to oversee the cleansing and dressing of the new
arrival; and so she was forced to do it herself, with some very
ungracious and reluctant assistance from Jane.
It is not for ears polite to hear the particulars of the
first toilet of a neglected, abused child. In fact, in this
world, multitudes must live and die in a state that it would be
too great a shock to the nerves of their fellow-mortals even to
hear described. Miss Ophelia had a good, strong, practical deal
of resolution; and she went through all the disgusting details with
heroic thoroughness, though, it must be confessed, with no very
gracious air,--for endurance was the utmost to which her principles
could bring her. When she saw, on the back and shoulders of the
child, great welts and calloused spots, ineffaceable marks of the
system under which she had grown up thus far, her heart became
pitiful within her.
"See there!" said Jane, pointing to the marks, "don't that
show she's a limb? We'll have fine works with her, I reckon.
I hate these nigger young uns! so disgusting! I wonder that Mas'r
would buy her!"
The "young un" alluded to heard all these comments with the
subdued and doleful air which seemed habitual to her, only
scanning, with a keen and furtive glance of her flickering eyes,
the ornaments which Jane wore in her ears. When arrayed at last
in a suit of decent and whole clothing, her hair cropped short to
her head, Miss Ophelia, with some satisfaction, said she looked
more Christian-like than she did, and in her own mind began to
mature some plans for her instruction.
Sitting down before her, she began to question her.
"How old are you, Topsy?"
"Dun no, Missis," said the image, with a grin that showed
all her teeth.
"Don't know how old you are? Didn't anybody ever tell you?
Who was your mother?"
"Never had none!" said the child, with another grin.
"Never had any mother? What do you mean? Where were you born?"
"Never was born!" persisted Topsy, with another grin, that looked
so goblin-like, that, if Miss Ophelia had been at all nervous,
she might have fancied that she had got hold of some sooty gnome
from the land of Diablerie; but Miss Ophelia was not nervous,
but plain and business-like, and she said, with some sternness,
"You mustn't answer me in that way, child; I'm not playing
with you. Tell me where you were born, and who your father and
"Never was born," reiterated the creature, more emphatically;
"never had no father nor mother, nor nothin'. I was raised by a
speculator, with lots of others. Old Aunt Sue used to take car on us."
The child was evidently sincere, and Jane, breaking into
a short laugh, said,
"Laws, Missis, there's heaps of 'em. Speculators buys 'em
up cheap, when they's little, and gets 'em raised for market."
"How long have you lived with your master and mistress?"
"Dun no, Missis."
"Is it a year, or more, or less?"
"Dun no, Missis."
"Laws, Missis, those low negroes,--they can't tell; they
don't know anything about time," said Jane; "they don't know what
a year is; they don't know their own ages.
"Have you ever heard anything about God, Topsy?"
The child looked bewildered, but grinned as usual.
"Do you know who made you?"
"Nobody, as I knows on," said the child, with a short laugh.
The idea appeared to amuse her considerably; for her eyes
twinkled, and she added,
"I spect I grow'd. Don't think nobody never made me."
"Do you know how to sew?" said Miss Ophelia, who thought
she would turn her inquiries to something more tangible.
"What can you do?--what did you do for your master and mistress?"
"Fetch water, and wash dishes, and rub knives, and wait on folks."
"Were they good to you?"
"Spect they was," said the child, scanning Miss Ophelia cunningly.
Miss Ophelia rose from this encouraging colloquy; St. Clare
was leaning over the back of her chair.
"You find virgin soil there, Cousin; put in your own
ideas,--you won't find many to pull up."
Miss Ophelia's ideas of education, like all her other ideas,
were very set and definite; and of the kind that prevailed in New
England a century ago, and which are still preserved in some very
retired and unsophisticated parts, where there are no railroads.
As nearly as could be expressed, they could be comprised in very
few words: to teach them to mind when they were spoken to; to teach
them the catechism, sewing, and reading; and to whip them if they
told lies. And though, of course, in the flood of light that is
now poured on education, these are left far away in the rear, yet
it is an undisputed fact that our grandmothers raised some tolerably
fair men and women under this regime, as many of us can remember
and testify. At all events, Miss Ophelia knew of nothing else to
do; and, therefore, applied her mind to her heathen with the best
diligence she could command.
The child was announced and considered in the family as
Miss Ophelia's girl; and, as she was looked upon with no gracious
eye in the kitchen, Miss Ophelia resolved to confine her sphere of
operation and instruction chiefly to her own chamber. With a
self-sacrifice which some of our readers will appreciate, she
resolved, instead of comfortably making her own bed, sweeping and
dusting her own chamber,--which she had hitherto done, in utter scorn
of all offers of help from the chambermaid of the establishment,--to
condemn herself to the martyrdom of instructing Topsy to perform
these operations,--ah, woe the day! Did any of our readers ever do
the same, they will appreciate the amount of her self-sacrifice.
Miss Ophelia began with Topsy by taking her into her chamber,
the first morning, and solemnly commencing a course of instruction
in the art and mystery of bed-making.
Behold, then, Topsy, washed and shorn of all the little
braided tails wherein her heart had delighted, arrayed in a clean
gown, with well-starched apron, standing reverently before Miss
Ophelia, with an expression of solemnity well befitting a funeral.
"Now, Topsy, I'm going to show you just how my bed is to
be made. I am very particular about my bed. You must learn exactly
how to do it."
"Yes, ma'am," says Topsy, with a deep sigh, and a face of
"Now, Topsy, look here;--this is the hem of the sheet,--this
is the right side of the sheet, and this is the wrong;--will you
"Yes, ma'am," says Topsy, with another sigh.
"Well, now, the under sheet you must bring over the
bolster,--so--and tuck it clear down under the mattress nice and
smooth,--so,--do you see?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Topsy, with profound attention.
"But the upper sheet," said Miss Ophelia, "must be brought
down in this way, and tucked under firm and smooth at the
foot,--so,--the narrow hem at the foot."
"Yes, ma'am," said Topsy, as before;--but we will add, what
Miss Ophelia did not see, that, during the time when the good lady's
back was turned in the zeal of her manipulations, the young disciple
had contrived to snatch a pair of gloves and a ribbon, which she
had adroitly slipped into her sleeves, and stood with her hands
dutifully folded, as before.
"Now, Topsy, let's see _you_ do this," said Miss Ophelia,
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