All glory

The family with whom I now found a home, consisted of Mr. Peterkin and
his two daughters, Jane and Matilda, and a son, John, much younger than
the ladies.

The death of Mrs. Peterkin had occurred about three years before I went
to live with them. The girls had been very well educated by a Miss
Bradly, from Massachusetts, a spinster of “no particular age.” From her,
the Misses Peterkin learned to set a great value upon correct and
elegant language. She was the model and instructress of the country
round; for, under her jurisdiction, nearly all the farmers’ daughters
had been initiated into the mysteries of learning. Scattered about, over
the house, I used to frequently find odd leaves of school-books,
elementary portions of natural sciences, old readers, story-books,
novels, &c. These I eagerly devoured; but I had to be very secret about
it, studying by dying embers, reading by moonlight, sun-rise, &c. Had I
been discovered, a severe punishment would have followed. Miss Jane used
to say, “a literary negro was disgusting, not to be tolerated.” Though
she quarrelled with the vulgar talk and bad pronunciation of her father,
he was made of too rough material to receive a polish; and, though Miss
Bradly had improved the minds of the girls, her efforts to soften their
hearts had met with no success. They were the same harsh, cold and
selfish girls that she had found them. It was Jane’s boast that she had
whipped more negroes than any other girl of her age. Matilda, though
less severe, had still a touch of the tigress.

This family lived in something like “style.” They were famed for their
wealth and social position throughout the neighborhood. The house was a
low cottage structure, with large and airy apartments; an arching piazza
ran the whole length of the building, and around its trellised
balustrade the clematis vine twined in rich luxuriance. A primrose-walk
led up to the door, and the yard blossomed like a garden, with the
fairest flowers. It was a very Paradise of homes; pity, ah pity ’twas,
that human fiends marred its beauty. There the sweet flowers bloomed,
the young birds warbled, pure springs gushed forth with limpid
joy–there truly, “All, save the spirit of man, was divine.” The
traveller often paused to admire the tasteful arrangements of the
grounds, the neat and artistic plan of the house, and the thorough “air”
of everything around. It seemed to bespeak refined minds, and delicate,
noble natures; but oh, the flowers were no symbols of the graces of
their hearts, for the dwellers of this highly-adorned spot were people
of coarse natures, rough and cruel as barbarians. The nightly stars and
the gentle moon, the deep glory of the noontide, or the blowing of
twilight breezes over this chosen home, had no power to ennoble or
elevate their souls. Acts of diabolical cruelty and wickedness were
there perpetrated without the least pang of remorse or regret. Whilst
the white portion of the family were revelling in luxury, the slaves
were denied the most ordinary necessaries. The cook, who prepared the
nicest dainties, the most tempting viands, had to console herself with a
scanty diet, coarse enough to shock even a beggar. What wonder, then, if
the craving of the stomach should allow her no escape from downright
theft! Who is there that could resist? Where is the honesty that could
not, under such circumstances, find an argument to justify larceny?

Every evening Miss Bradly came to spend an hour or so with them. The
route from the school to her boarding-house wound by Mr. Peterkin’s
residence, and the temptation to talk to the young ladies, who were
emphatically the belles of the neighborhood, was too great for
resistance. This lady was of that class of females which we meet in
every quarter of the globe,–of perfectly kind intentions, yet without
the independence necessary for their open and free expression. Bred in
the North, and having from her infancy imbibed the spirit of its free
institutions, in her secret soul she loathed the abomination of slavery,
every pulse of her heart cried out against it, yet with a strange
compliance she lived in its midst, never once offering an objection or
an argument against it. It suited _her policy_ to laugh with the
pro-slavery man at the fanaticism of the Northern Abolitionist. With a
Judas-like hypocrisy, she sold her conscience for silver; and for a mess
of pottage, bartered the noble right of free expression. ‘Twas she, base
renegade from a glorious cause, who laughed loudest and repeated
wholesale libels and foul aspersions upon the able defenders of
abolition–noble and generous men, lofty philanthropists, who are
willing, for the sake of principle, to wear upon their brows the mark of
social and political ostracism! But a day is coming, a bright millennial
day, when the names of these inspired prophets shall be inscribed
proudly upon the litany of freedom; when their noble efforts for social
reform shall be told in wondering pride around the winter’s fire. Then
shall their fame shine with a glory which no Roman tradition can
eclipse. Freed from calumny, the names of Parker, Seward and Sumner,
will be ranked, as they deserve to be, with Washington, Franklin and
Henry. All glory to the American Abolitionists. Though they must now
possess their souls in patience, and bear the brand of social
opprobrium, yet will posterity accord them the meed of everlasting
honor. They “who sow in dishonor shall be raised in glory.” Already the
watchman upon the tower has discerned the signal. A light beameth in the
East, which no man can quench. A fire has broken forth, which needs only
a breath to fan it into a flame. The eternal law of sovereign right will
vindicate itself. In the hour of feasting and revelry the dreadful bolt
of retribution fell upon Gomorrah.

I had been living with Mr. Peterkin about three years, during which time
I had frequently seen Miss Bradly. One evening when she called (as was
her custom after the adjournment of school), she found, upon inquiry,
that the young ladies had gone out, and would not probably be back for
several hours. She looked a little disconcerted, and seemed doubtful
whether she would go home or remain. I had often observed her
attentively watching me, yet I could not interpret the look; sometimes I
thought it was of deep, earnest pity. Then it appeared only an anxious
curiosity; and as commiseration was a thing which I seldom met with, I
tried to guard my heart against anything like hope or trust; but on this
afternoon I was particularly struck by her strange and irresolute
manner. She turned several times as if to leave, then suddenly stopped,
and, looking very earnestly at me, asked, “Did you say the girls would
not return for several hours?”

Upon receiving an answer in the affirmative, she hesitated a moment, and
then inquired for Mr. Peterkin. He was also from home, and would
probably be absent for a day or two. “Is there no white person about the
place?” she asked, with some trepidation.

“No one is here but the slaves,” I replied, perhaps in a sorrowful tone,
for the word “slave” always grated upon my ear, yet I frequently used
it, in obedience to a severe and imperative conventionality.

“Well then, Ann, come and sit down near me; I want to talk with you
awhile.”

This surprised me a great deal. I scarcely knew what to do. The very
idea of sitting down to a conversation with a white lady seemed to me
the wildest improbability. A vacant stare was the only answer I could
make. Certainly, I did not dream of her being in earnest.

“Come on, Ann,” she said, coaxingly; but, seeing that my amazement
increased, she added, in a more persuasive tone, “Don’t be afraid, I am
a friend to the colored race.”

This seemed to me the strangest fiction. A white lady, and yet a friend
to the colored race! Oh, impossible! such condescension was unheard of!
What! she a refined woman, with a snowy complexion, to stoop from her
proud elevation to befriend the lowly Ethiopian! Why, she could not, she
dare not! Almost stupefied with amazement, I stood, with my eyes
intently fixed upon her.

“Come, child,” she said, in a kind tone, and placing her hand upon my
shoulder, she endeavored to seat me beside her, “look up,–be not
ashamed, for I am truly your friend. Your down-cast look and melancholy
manner have often struck me with sorrow.”

To this I could make no reply. Utterance was denied me. My tongue clove
to the roof of my mouth; a thick, filmy veil gathered before my sight;
and there I stood like one turned to stone. But upon being frequently
reassured by her gentle manner and kind words, I at length controlled my
emotions, and, seating myself at her feet, awaited her communication.

“Ann, you are not happy here?”

I said nothing, but she understood my look.

“Were you happy at home?”

“I was;” and the words were scarcely audible.

“Did they treat you kindly there?”

“Indeed they did; and there I had a mother, and was not lonely.”

“They did not beat you?”

“No, no, they did not,” and large tears gushed from my burning
eyes;–for I remembered with anguish, how many a smarting blow had been
given to me by Mr. Jones, how many a cuff by Mr. Peterkin, and ten
thousand knocks, pinches, and tortures, by the young ladies.

“Don’t weep, child,” said Miss Bradly, in a soothing tone, and she laid
her arm caressingly around my neck. This kindness was too much for my
fortitude, and bursting through all restraints I gave vent to my
feelings in a violent shower of tears. She very wisely allowed me some
time for the gratification of this luxury. I at length composed myself,
and begged her pardon for this seeming disrespect.

“But ah, my dear lady, you have spoken so kindly to me that I forgot
myself.”

“No apology, my child, I tell you again that I am your friend, and with
me you can be perfectly free. Look upon me as a sister; but now that
your excited feelings have become allayed, let me ask you why your
master sold you?”

I explained to her that it was necessary to the equal division of the
estate that some of the slaves should be sold, and that I was among the
number.

“A bad institution is this one of slavery. What fearful entailments of
anguish! Manage it as the most humane will, or can, still it has
horrible results. Witness your separation from your mother. Did these
thoughts never occur to you?”

I looked surprised, but dared not tell her that often had vague doubts
of the justice of slavery crossed my mind. Ah, too much I feared the
lash, and I answered only by a mournful look of assent.

“Ann, did you never hear of the Abolition Society?”

I shook my head. She paused, as if doubtful of the propriety of making a
disclosure; but at length the better principle triumphed, and she said,
“There is in the Northern States an organization which devotes its
energies and very life to the cause of the slave. They wish to abolish
the shameful system, and make you and all your persecuted race as free
and happy as the whites.”

“Does there really exist such a society; or is it only a wild fable
that you tell me, for the purpose of allaying my present agony?”

“No, child; I do not deceive you. This noble and beneficent society
really lives; but it does not, I regret to say, flourish as it should.”

“And why?” I asked, whilst a new wonder was fastening on my mind.

“Because,” she answered, “the larger portion of the whites are mean and
avaricious enough to desire, for the sake of pecuniary aggrandizement,
the enslavement of a race, whom the force of education and hereditary
prejudice have taught them to regard as their own property.”

I did but dimly conceive her meaning. A slow light was breaking through
my cloudy brain, kindling and inflaming hopes that now shine like
beacons over the far waste of memory. Should I, could I, ever be _free_?
Oh, bright and glorious dream! how it did sparkle in my soul, and cheer
me through the lonely hours of bondage! This hope, this shadow of a
hope, shone like a mirage far away upon the horizon of a clouded future.

Miss Bradly looked thoughtfully at me, as if watching the effect of her
words; but she could not see that the seed which she had planted,
perhaps carelessly, was destined to fructify and flourish through the
coming seasons. I longed to pour out my heart to her; for she had, by
this ready “sesame,” unlocked its deepest chambers. I dared not unfold
even to her the wild dreams and strange hopes which I was indulging.

I spied Melinda coming up, and signified to Miss Bradly that it would be
unsafe to prolong the conversation, and quickly she departed; not,
however, without reassuring me of the interest which she felt in my
fate.

“What was Miss Emily Bradly talking wid you ’bout?” demanded Melinda, in
a surly tone.

“Nothing that concerns you,” I answered.

“Well, but you’ll see that it consarns yerself, when I goes and tells
Masser on you.”

“What can you tell him on me?”

“Oh, I knows, I hearn you talking wid dat ar’ woman;” and she gave a
significant leer of her eye, and lolled her tongue out of her mouth, à
la mad dog.

I was much disturbed lest she had heard the conversation, and should
make a report of it, which would redound to the disadvantage of my new
friend. I went about my usual duties with a slow and heavy heart; still,
sometimes, like a star shining through clouds, was that little bright
hope of liberty.

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