THE MASTER’S AFFRAY WITH THE OVERSEER

That evening when the family returned, I was glad to find the young
ladies in such an excellent humor. It was seldom Miss Jane, whose
peculiar property I was, ever gave me a kind word; and I was surprised
on this occasion to hear her say, in a somewhat gentle tone:

“Well, Ann, come here, I want you to look very nice to-night, and wait
on the table in style, for I am expecting company;” and, with a sort of
half good-natured smile, she tossed an old faded neck-ribbon to me,
saying,

“There is a present for you.” I bowed low, and made a respectful
acknowledgment of thanks, which she received in an unusually complacent
manner.

Immediately I began to make arrangements for supper, and to get myself
in readiness, which was no small matter, as my scanty wardrobe furnished
no scope for the exercise of taste. In looking over my trunk, I found a
white cotton apron, which could boast of many mice-bites and
moth-workings; but with a needle and thread I soon managed to make it
appear decent, and, combing my hair as neatly as possible, and tying the
ribbon which Miss Jane had given me around it, I gave the finishing
touch to my toilette, and then set about arranging the table. I assorted
the tea-board, spoons, cups, saucers, &c., placed a nice damask napkin
at each seat, and turned down the round little plates of white French
china. The silver forks and ivory-handled knives were laid round the
table in precise order. This done, I surveyed my work with an air of
pride. Smiling complacently to myself, I proceeded to Miss Jane’s room,
to request her to come and look at it, and express her opinion.

On reaching her apartment, I found her dressed with great care, in a
pink silk, with a rich lace berthé, and pearl ornaments. Her red hair
was oiled until its fiery hue had darkened into a becoming auburn, and
the metallic polish of the French powder had effectually concealed the
huge freckles which spotted her cheeks.

Dropping a low courtesy, I requested her to come with me to the
dining-room and inspect my work. With a smile, she followed, and upon
examination, seemed well pleased.

“Now, Ann, if you do well in officiating, it will be well for you; but
if you fail, if you make one mistake, you had better never been born,
for,” and she grasped me strongly by the shoulder, “I will flay you
alive; you shall ache and smart in every limb and nerve.”

Terror-stricken at this threat, I made the most earnest promises to
exert my very best energies. Yet her angry manner and threatening words
so unnerved me, that I was not able to go on with the work in the same
spirit in which I had begun, for we all know what a paralysis fear is to
exertion.

I stepped out on the balcony for some purpose, and there, standing at
the end of the gallery, but partially concealed by the clematis
blossoms, stood Miss Jane, and a tall gentleman was leaning over the
railing talking very earnestly to her. In that uncertain light I could
see the flash of her eye and the crimson glow of her cheek. She was
twirling and tearing to pieces, petal by petal, a beautiful rose which
she held in her hand. Here, I thought here is happiness; this woman
loves and is beloved. She has tasted of that one drop which sweetens the
whole cup of existence. Oh, what a thing it is to be _free_–free and
independent, with power and privilege to go whithersoever you choose,
with no cowardly fear, no dread of espionage, with the right to hold
your head proudly aloft, and return glance for glance, not shrink and
cower before the white man’s look, as we poor slaves _must_ do. But not
many moments could I thus spend in thought, and well, perhaps, it was
for me that duty broke short all such unavailing regrets.

Hastening back to the dining-room, I gave another inquiring look at the
table, fearful that some article had been omitted. Satisfying myself on
this point, I moved on to the kitchen, where Aunt Polly was busy frying
a chicken.

“Here, child,” she exclaimed, “look in thar at them biscuits. See is
they done. Oh, that’s prime, browning beautiful-like,” she said, as I
drew from the stove a pan of nice biscuits, “and this ar’ chicken is
mighty nice. Oh, but it will make the young gemman smack his lips,” and
wiping the perspiration from her sooty brow, she drew a long breath, and
seated herself upon a broken stool.

“Wal, this ar’ nigger is tired. I’s bin cooking now this twelve years,
and never has I had ‘mission’ to let my old man come to see me, or I to
go see him.”

The children, with eyes wide open, gathered round Aunt Polly to hear a
recital of her wrongs. “Laws-a-marcy, sights I’s seen in my times, and
often it ‘pears like I’s lost my senses. I tells you, yous only got to
look at this ar’ back to know what I’s went through.” Hereupon she
exposed her back and arms, which were frightfully scarred.

“This ar’ scar,” and she pointed to a very deep one on her left
shoulder, “Masser gib me kase I cried when he sold my oldest son; poor
Jim, he was sent down the river, and I’ve never hearn from him since.”
She wiped a stray tear from her old eyes.

“Oh me! ’tis long time since my eyes hab watered, and now these tears do
feel so quare. Poor Jim is down the river, Johnny is dead, and Lucy is
sold somewhar, so I have neither chick nor child. What’s I got to live
fur?”

This brought fresh to my mind recollections of my own mother’s grief,
when she was forced to give me up, and I could not restrain my tears.

“What fur you crying, child?” she asked. “It puts me in mind ov my poor
little Luce, she used to cry this way whenever anything happened to me.
Oh, many is the time she screamed if master struck me.”

“Poor Aunt Polly,” I said, as I walked up to her side, “I do pity you. I
will be kind to you; I’ll be your daughter.”

She looked up with a wild stare, and with a deep earnestness seized hold
of my out-stretched hand; then dropping it suddenly, she murmured,

“No, no, you ain’t my darter, you comes to me with saft words, but you
is jest like Lindy and all the rest of ’em; you’ll go to the house and
tell tales to the white folks on me. No, I’ll not trust any of you.”

Springing suddenly into the room, with his eyes flaming, came Jones,
and, cracking his whip right and left, he struck each of the listening
group. I retreated hastily to an extreme corner of the kitchen, where,
unobserved by him, I could watch the affray.

“You devilish old wretch, Polly, what are you gabbling and snubbling
here about? Up with your old hide, and git yer supper ready. Don’t you
know thar is company in the house?” and here he gave another sharp cut
of the whip, which descended upon that poor old scarred back with a
cruel force, and tore open old cicatriced wounds. The victim did not
scream, nor shrink, nor murmur; but her features resumed their wonted
hard, encrusted expression, and, rising up from her seat, she went on
with her usual work.

“Now, cut like the wind,” he added, as he flourished his whip in the
direction of the young blacks, who had been the interested auditors of
Aunt Polly’s hair-breadth escapes, and quick as lightning they were off
to their respective quarters, whilst I proceeded to assist Aunt Polly in
dishing up the supper.

“This chicken,” said I, in a tone of encouragement, “is beautifully
cooked. How brown it is, and oh, what a delightful savory odor.”

“I’ll be bound the white folks will find fault wid it. Nobody ever did
please Miss Jane. Her is got some of the most perkuler notions ’bout
cookin’. I knows she’ll be kommin’ out here, makin’ a fuss ‘long wid me
’bout dis same supper,” and the old woman shook her head knowingly.

I made no reply, for I feared the re-appearance of Mr. Jones, and too
often and too painfully had I felt the sting of his lash, to be guilty
of any wanton provocation of its severity.

Silently, but with bitter thoughts curdling my life-blood, did I arrange
the steaming cookies upon the luxurious board, and then, with a
deferential air, sought the parlor, and bade them walk out to tea.

I found Miss Jane seated near a fine rosewood piano, and standing beside
her was a gentleman, the same whom I had observed with her upon the
verandah. Miss Matilda was at the window, looking out upon the western
heaven. I spoke in a soft tone, asking them, “Please walk out to tea.”
The young gentleman rose, and offered his arm to Miss Jane, which was
graciously accepted, and Miss Matilda followed. I swung the dining-room
door open with great pomp and ceremony, for I knew that anything showy
or grand, either in the furniture of a house or the deportment of a
servant, would be acceptable to Miss Jane. Fashion, or style, was the
god of her worship, and she often declared that her principal objection
to the negro, was his great want of style in thought and action. She was
not deep enough to see, that, fathoms down below the surface, in all the
crudity of ignorance, lay a stratum of this same style, so much
worshipped by herself. Does not the African, in his love of gaud, show,
and tinsel, his odd and grotesque decorations of his person, exhibit a
love of style? But she was not philosopher enough to see that this was a
symptom of the same taste, though ungarnished and semi-barbarous.

The supper passed off very handsomely, so far as my part was concerned.
I carried the cups round on a silver salver to each one; served them
with chicken, plied them with cakes, confections, &c., and interspersed
my performance with innumerable courtesies, bows and scrapes.

“Ah,” said Miss Jane to the gentleman, “ah, Mr. Somerville, you have
visited us at the wrong season; you should be here later in the autumn,
or earlier in the summer,” and she gave one of her most benign smiles.

“Any season is pleasant here,” replied Mr. Somerville, as he held the
wing of a chicken between his thumb and fore-finger. Miss Jane simpered
and looked down; and Miss Matilda arched her brows and gave a
significant side-long glance toward her sister.

“Here, you cussed yallow gal,” cried Mr. Peterkin, in a rage, “take this
split spoon away and fetch me a fork what I ken use. These darned things
is only made for grand folks,” and he held the silver fork to me.
Instantly I replaced it with a steel one.

“Now this looks something like. We only uses them ar’ other ones when we
has company, so I suppose, Mr. Somerville, the girl sot the table in
this grand way bekase you is here.”

No thunder-cloud was ever darker than Miss Jane’s brow. It gathered, and
deepened, and darkened like a thick-coming tempest, whilst lightnings
blazed from her eye.

“Father,” and she spoke through her clenched teeth, “what makes you
affect this horrid vulgarity? and how can you be so very
_idiosyncratic_” (this was a favorite word with her) “as to say you
never use them? Ever since I can remember, silver forks have been used
in our family; but,” and she smiled as she said it, “Mr. Somerville,
father thinks it is truly a Kentucky fashion, and in keeping with the
spirit of the early settlers, to rail out against fashion and style.”

To this explanation Mr. Somerville bowed blandly. “Ah, yes, I do admire
your father’s honest independence.”

“I’ll jist tell you how it is, young man, my gals has bin better
edicated than their pappy, and they pertends to be mighty ‘shamed of me,
bekase I has got no larnin’; but I wants to ax ’em one question, whar
did the money kum from that give ’em thar larning?” and with a
triumphant force he brought his hard fist down on the table, knocking
off with his elbow a fine cut-glass tumbler, which was shivered to
atoms.

“Thar now,” he exclaimed, “another piece of yer cussed frippery is
breaked to bits. What did you put it here fur? I wants that big tin-cup
that I drinks out of when nobody’s here.”

“Father, father,” said Miss Matilda, who until now had kept an austere
silence, “why will you persist in this outrageous talk? Why will you
mortify and torture us in this cruel way?” and she burst into a flood of
angry tears.

“Oh, don’t blubber about it, Tildy, I didn’t mean to hurt your
feelin’s.”

Pretty soon after this, the peace of the table being broken up, the
ladies and Mr. Somerville adjourned to the parlor, whilst Melinda, or
Lindy, as she was called, and I set about clearing off the table,
washing up the dishes, and gathering and counting over the forks and
spoons.

Now, though the young ladies made great pretensions to elegance and
splendor of living, yet were they vastly economical when there was no
company present. The silver was all carefully laid away, and locked up
in the lower drawer of an old-fashioned bureau, and the family
appropriated a commoner article to their every-day use; but let a
solitary guest appear, and forthwith the napkins and silver would be
displayed, and treated by the ladies as though it was quite a usual
thing.

“Now, Ann,” said ‘Lindy, “you wash the dishes, and I’ll count the spoons
and forks.”

To this I readily assented, for I was anxious to get clear of such a
responsible office as counting and assorting the silver ware.

Mr. Peterkin, or master, as we called him, sat near by, smoking his
cob-pipe in none the best humor; for the recent encounter at the
supper-table was by no means calculated to improve his temper.

“See here, gals,” he cried in a tone of thunder, “if thar be one silver
spoon or fork missin’, yer hides shall pay for the loss.”

“Laws, master, I’ll be ‘tickler enough,” replied Lindy, as she smiled,
more in terror than pleasure.

“Wal,” he said, half aloud, “whar is the use of my darters takin’ on in
the way they does? Jist look at the sight o’ money that has bin laid out
in that ar’ tom-foolery.”

This was a sort of soliloquy spoken in a tone audible enough to be
distinct to us.

He drew his cob-pipe from his mouth, and a huge volume of smoke curled
round his head, and filled the room with the aroma of tobacco.

“Now,” he continued, “they does not treat me wid any perliteness. They
thinks they knows a power more than I does; but if they don’t cut their
cards square, I’ll cut them short of a nigger or two, and make John all
the richer by it.”

Lindy cut her eye knowingly at this, and gave me rather a strong nudge
with her elbow.

“Keep still thar, gals, and don’t rattle them cups and sassers so
powerful hard.”

By this time Lindy had finished the assortment of the silver, and had
carefully stowed it away in a willow-basket, ready to be delivered to
Miss Jane, and thence consigned to the drawer, where it would remain in
_statu quo_ until the timely advent of another guest.

“Now,” she said, “I am ready to wipe the dishes, while you wash.”

Thereupon I handed her a saucer, which, in her carelessness, she let
slip from her hand, and it fell upon the floor, and there, with great
consternation, I beheld it lying, shattered to fragments. Mr. Peterkin
sprang to his feet, glad of an excuse to vent his temper upon some one.

“Which of you cussed wretches did this?”

“‘Twas Ann, master! She let it fall afore I got my hand on it.”

Ere I had time to vindicate myself from the charge, his iron arm felled
me to the floor, and his hoof-like foot was placed upon my shrinking
chest.

“You d–n yallow hussy, does you think I buys such expensive chany-ware
for you to break up in this ar’ way? No, you ‘bominable wench, I’ll have
revenge out of your saffer’n hide. Here, Lindy, fetch me that cowhide.”

“Mercy, master, mercy,” I cried, when he had removed his foot from my
breast, and my breath seemed to come again. “Oh, listen to me; it was
not I who broke the saucer, it was only an accident; but oh, in God’s
name, have mercy on me and Lindy.”

“Yes, I’ll tache you what marcy is. Here, quick, some of you darkies,
bring me a rope and light. I’m goin’ to take this gal to the
whippin’-post.”

This overcame me, for, though I had often been cruelly beaten, yet had I
escaped the odium of the “post;” and now for what I had not done, and
for a thing which, at the worst, was but an accident, to bear the
disgrace and the pain of a public whipping, seemed to me beyond
endurance. I fell on my knees before him:

“Oh, master, please pardon me; spare me this time. I have got a
half-dollar that Master Edward gave me when you bought me, I will give
you that to pay for the saucer, but please do not beat me.”

With a wild, fiendish grin, he caught me by the hair and swung me round
until I half-fainted with pain.

“No, you wretch, I’ll git my satisfaction out of yer body yit, and I’ll
be bound, afore this night’s work is done, yer yallow hide will be well
marked.”

A deadly, cold sensation crept over me, and a feeling as of crawling
adders seemed possessing my nerves. With all my soul pleading in my eyes
I looked at Mr. Peterkin; but one glance of his fiendish face made my
soul quail with even a newer horror. I turned my gaze from him to Jones,
but the red glare of a demon lighted up his frantic eye, and the words
of a profane bravo were on his lips. From him I turned to poor,
hardened, obdurate old Nace, but he seemed to be linked and leagued with
my torturers.

“Oh, Lindy,” I cried, as she came up with a bunch of cord in her hand,
“be kind, tell the truth, maybe master will forgive you. You are an
older servant, better known and valued in the family. Oh, let your heart
triumph. Speak the truth, and free me from the torture that awaits me.
Oh, think of me, away off here, separated from my mother, with no
friend. Oh, pity me, and do acknowledge that you broke it.”

“Well, you is crazy, you knows dat I never touched de sacer,” and she
laughed heartily.

“Come along wid you all. Now fur fun,” cried Nace.

“Hold your old jaw,” said Jones, and he raised his whip. Nace cowered
like a criminal, and made some polite speech to “Massa Jones,” and Mr.
Peterkin possessed himself of the rope which Lindy had brought.

“Now hold yer hands here,” he said to me.

For one moment I hesitated. I could not summon courage to offer my
hands. It was the only resistance that I had ever dared to make. A
severe blow from the overseer’s riding-whip reminded me that I was still
a slave, and dared have no will save that of my master. This blow, which
struck the back of my head, laid me half-lifeless upon the floor. Whilst
in this condition old Nace, at the command of his master, bound the rope
tightly around my crossed arms and dragged me to the place of torment.

The motion or exertion of being pulled along over the ground, restored
me to full consciousness. With a haggard eye I looked up to the still
blue heaven, where the holy stars yet held their silent vigil; and the
serene moon moved on in her starry track, never once heeding the dire
cruelty, over which her pale beam shed its friendly light. “Oh,” thought
I, “is there no mercy throned on high? Are there no spirits in earth,
air, or sky, to lend me their gracious influence? Does God look down
with kindness upon injustice like this? Or, does He, too, curse me in my
sorrow, and in His wrath turn away His glorious face from my
supplication, and say ‘a servant of servants shalt thou be?'” These
wild, rebellious thoughts only crossed my mind; they did not linger
there. No, like the breath-stain upon the polished surface of the
mirror, they only soiled for a moment the shining faith which in my soul
reflected the perfect goodness of that God who never forgets the
humblest of His children, and who makes no distinction of color or of
race. The consoling promise, “He chasteneth whom He loveth,” flashed
through my brain with its blessed assurance, and reconciled me to a
heroic endurance. Far away I strained my gaze to the starry heaven, and
I could almost fancy the sky breaking asunder and disclosing the
wondrous splendors which were beheld by the rapt Apostle on the isle of
Patmos! Oh, transfiguring power of faith! Thou hast a wand more potent
than that of fancy, and a vision brighter than the dreams of
enchantment! What was it that reconciled me to the horrible tortures
which were awaiting me? Surely, ’twas faith alone that sustained me. The
present scene faded away from my vision, and, in fancy, I stood in the
lonely garden of Gethsemane. I saw the darkness and gloom that
overshadowed the earth, when, deserted by His disciples, our blessed
Lord prayed alone. I heard the sighs and groans that burst from his
tortured breast. I saw the bloody sweat, as prostrate on the earth he
lay in the tribulation of mortal agony. I saw the inhuman captors,
headed by one of His chosen twelve, come to seize his sacred person. I
saw his face uplifted to the mournful heavens, as He prayed to His
Father to remove the cup of sorrow. I saw Him bound and led away to
death, without a friend to solace Him. Through the various stages of His
awful passion, even to the Mount of Crucifixion, to the bloody and
sacred Calvary, I followed my Master. I saw Him nailed to the cross,
spit upon, vilified and abused, with the thorny crown pressed upon His
brow. I heard the rabble shout; then I saw the solemn mystery of Nature,
that did attestation to the awful fact that a fiendish work had been
done and the prophecy fulfilled. The vail of the great temple was rent,
the sun overcast, and the moon turned to blood; and in my ecstasy of
passion, I could have shouted, Great is Jesus of Nazareth!! Then I
beheld Him triumphing over the powers of darkness and death, when, robed
in the white garments of the grave, He broke through the rocky
sepulchre, and stood before the affrighted guards. His work was done,
the propitiation had been made, and He went to His Father. This same
Jesus, whom the civilized world now worship as their Lord, was once
lowly, outcast, and despised; born of the most hated people of the
world, belonging to a race despised alike by Jew and Gentile; laid in
the manger of a stable at Bethlehem, with no earthly possessions, having
not whereon to lay His weary head; buffetted, spit upon; condemned by
the high priests and the doctors of law; branded as an impostor, and put
to an ignominious death, with every demonstration of public contempt;
crucified between two thieves; this Jesus is worshipped now by those who
wear purple and fine linen. The class which once scorned Him, now offer
at His shrine frankincense and myrrh; but, in their adoration of the
despised Nazarene, they never remember that He has declared, not once,
but many times, that the poor and the lowly are His people. “Forasmuch
as you did it unto one of these you did it unto me.” Then let the
African trust and hope on–let him still weep and pray in Gethsemane,
for a cloud hangs round about him, and when he prays for the removal of
this cup of bondage, let him remember to ask, as his blessed Master did,
“Thy will, oh Father, and not our own, be done;” still trust in Him who
calmed the raging tempest: trust in Jesus of Nazareth! Look beyond the
cross, to Christ.

These thoughts had power to cheer; and, fortified by faith and religion,
the trial seemed to me easy to bear. One prayer I murmured, and my soul
said to my body, “pass under the rod;” and the cup which my Father has
given me to drink must be drained, even to the dregs.

In this state of mind, with a moveless eye I looked upon the
whipping-post, which loomed up before me like an ogre.

This was a quadri-lateral post, about eight feet in height, having iron
clasps on two opposing sides, in which the wrists and ankles were
tightly secured.

“Now, Lindy,” cried Jones, “jerk off that gal’s rigging, I am anxious to
put some marks on her yellow skin.”

I knew that resistance was vain; so I submitted to have my clothes torn
from my body; for modesty, so much commended in a white woman, is in a
negro pronounced affectation.

Jones drew down a huge cow-hide, which he dipped in a barrel of brine
that stood near the post.

“I guess this will sting,” he said, as he flourished the whip toward me.

“Leave that thin slip on me, Lindy,” I ventured to ask; for I dreaded
the exposure of my person even more than the whipping.

“None of your cussed impedence; strip off naked. What is a nigger’s hide
more than a hog’s?” cried Jones. Lindy and Nace tore the last article of
clothing from my back. I felt my soul shiver and shudder at this; but
what could I do? I _could pray_–thank God, I could pray!

I then submitted to have Nace clasp the iron cuffs around my hands and
ankles, and there I stood, a revolting spectacle. With what misery I
listened to obscene and ribald jests from my master and his overseer!

“Now, Jones,” said Mr. Peterkin, “I want to give that gal the first
lick, which will lay the flesh open to the bone.”

“Well, Mr. Peterkin, here is the whip; now you can lay on.”

“No, confound your whip; I wants that cow-hide, and here, let me dip it
well into the brine. I want to give her a real good warmin’; one that
she’ll ‘member for a long time.”

During this time I had remained motionless. My heart was lifted to God
in silent prayer. Oh, shall I, can I, ever forget that scene? There, in
the saintly stillness of the summer night, where the deep, o’ershadowing
heavens preached a sermon of peace, there I was loaded with contumely,
bound hand and foot in irons, with jeering faces around, vulgar eyes
glaring on my uncovered body, and two inhuman men about to lash me to
the bone.

The first lick from Mr. Peterkin laid my back open. I writhed, I
wrestled; but blow after blow descended, each harder than the preceding
one. I shrieked, I screamed, I pleaded, I prayed, but there was no mercy
shown me. Mr. Peterkin having fully gratified and quenched his spleen,
turned to Mr. Jones, and said, “Now is yer turn; you can beat her as
much as you please, only jist leave a bit o’ life in her, is all I
cares for.”

“Yes; I’ll not spile her for the market; but I does want to take a
little of the d—-d pride out of her.”

“Now, boys”–for by this time all the slaves on the place, save Aunt
Polly, had assembled round the post–“you will see what a true stroke I
ken make; but darn my buttons if I doesn’t think Mr. Peterkin has drawn
all the blood.”

So saying, Jones drew back the cow-hide at arm’s length, and, making a
few evolutions with his body, took what he called “sure aim.” I closed
my eyes in terror. More from the terrible pain, than from the frantic
shoutings of the crowd, I knew that Mr. Jones had given a lick that he
called “true blue.” The exultation of the negroes in Master Jones’
triumph was scarcely audible to my ears; for a cold, clammy sensation
was stealing over my frame; my breath was growing feebler and feebler,
and a soft melody, as of lulling summer fountains, was gently sounding
in my ears; and, as if gliding away on a moonbeam, I passed from all
consciousness of pain. A sweet oblivion, like that sleep which announces
to the wearied, fever-sick patient, that his hour of rest has come, fell
upon me! It was not a dreamful sensibility, filled with the chaos of
fragmentary visions, but a rest where the mind, nay, the very soul,
seemed to sleep with the body.

How long this stupor lasted I am unable to say; but when I awoke, I was
lying on a rough bed, a face dark, haggard, scarred and worn, was
bending over me. Disfigured as was that visage, it was pleasant to me,
for it was human. I opened my eyes, then closed them languidly,
re-opened them, then closed them again.

“Now, chile, I thinks you is a leetle better,” said the dark-faced
woman, whom I recognized as Aunt Polly; but I was too weak, too
wandering in mind, to talk, and I closed my eyes and slept again.

When I awoke (for I was afterwards told by my good nurse that I had
slept four days), I was lying on the same rude bed; but a cool, clear
sensation overspread my system. I had full and active possession of my
mental faculties. I rose and sat upright in the bed, and looked around
me. It was the deep hour of night. A little iron lamp was upon the
hearth, and, for want of a supply of oil, the wick was burning low,
flinging a red glare through the dismal room. Upon a broken stool sat
Aunt Polly, her head resting upon her breast, in what nurses call a
“stolen nap.” Amy and three other children were sleeping in a bed
opposite me.

In a few moments I was able to recall the whole of the scenes through
which I had passed, while consciousness remained; and I raised my eyes
to God in gratitude for my partial deliverance from pain and suffering.
Very softly I stole from my bed, and, wrapping an old coverlet round my
shoulders, opened the door, and looked out upon the clear, star-light
night. Of the vague thoughts that passed through my mind I will not now
speak, though they were far from pleasant or consolatory.

The fresh night air, which began to have a touch of the frost of the
advancing autumn, blew cheerily in the room, and it fell with an
awakening power upon the brow of Aunt Polly.

“Law, chile, is dat you stannin’ in de dor? What for you git up out en
yer warm bed, and go stand in the night-ar?”

“Because I feel so well, and this pleasant air seems to brace my frame,
and encourage my mind.”

“But sure you had better take to your bed again; you hab had a mighty
bad time ob it.”

“How long have I been sick? It all seems to me like a horrible dream,
from which I have been suddenly and pleasantly aroused.”

As I said this, Aunt Polly drew me from the door, and closing it, she
bade me go to bed.

“No, indeed, I cannot sleep. I feel wide awake, and if I only had some
one to talk to me, I could sit up all night.”

“Well, bress your heart, I’ll talk wid you smack, till de rise ob day,”
she said, in such a kind, good-natured tone, that I was surprised, for I
had regarded her only as an ill-natured, miserable beldame.

Seating myself on a ricketty stool beside her, I prepared for a long
conversation.

“Tell me what has happened since I have been sick?” I said. “Where are
Miss Jane and Matilda? and where is the young gentleman who supped with
them on that awful night?”

“Bress you, honey, but ’twas an awful night. Dis ole nigger will neber
forget it long as she libs;” and she bent her head upon her poor old
worn hands, and by the pale, blue flicker of the lamp, I could discern
the rapidly-falling tears.

“What,” thought I, “and this hardened, wretched old woman can weep for
me! Her heart is not all ossified if she can forget her own bitter
troubles, and weep for mine.”

This knowledge was painful, and yet joyful to me. Who of us can refuse
sympathy? Who does not want it, no matter at what costly price? Does it
not seem like dividing the burden, when we know that there is another
who will weep for us? I threw my arms round Aunt Polly. I tightly
strained that decayed and revolting form to my breast, and I inly prayed
that some young heart might thus rapturously go forth, in blessings to
my mother. This evidence of affection did not surprise Aunt Polly, nor
did she return my embrace; but a deep, hollow sigh, burst from her full
heart, and I knew that memory was far away–that, in fancy, she was
with her children, her loved and lost.

“Come, now,” said I, soothingly, “tell me all about it. How did I
suffer? What was done for me? Where is master?” and I shuddered, as I
mentioned the name of my horrible persecutor.

“Oh, chile, when Masser Jones was done a-beatin’ ob yer, dey all ob ’em
tought you was dead; den Masser got orful skeard. He cussed and swore,
and shook his fist in de oberseer’s face, and sed he had kilt you, and
dat he was gwine to law wid him ’bout de ‘struction ob his property. Den
Masser Jones he swar a mighty heap, and tell Masser he dar’ him to go to
law ’bout it. Den Miss Jane and Tilda kum out, and commenced cryin’, and
fell to ‘busin’ Masser Jones, kase Miss Jane say she want to go to de
big town, and take you long wid her fur lady’s maid. Den Mr. Jones fell
to busen ob her, and den Masser and him clinched, and fought, and fought
like two big black dogs. Den Masser Jones sticked his great big knife in
Masser’s side, and Masser fell down, and den we all tought he was clar
gone. Den away Maser Jones did run, and nobody dared take arter him, for
he had a loaded pistol and a big knife. Den we all on us, de men and
wimmin folks both, grabbed up Masser, and lifted him in de house, and
put him on de bed. Den Jake, he started off fur de doctor, while Miss
Jane and Tilda ‘gan to fix Masser’s cut side. Law, bress your heart, but
thar he laid wid his big form stretched out just as helpless as a baby.
His face was as white as a ghost, and his eyes shot right tight up. Law
bress you, but I tought his time hab kum den. Well, Lindy and de oder
wimmin was a helpin’ ob Miss Jane and Tildy, so I jist tought I would go
and look arter yer body. Thar you was, still tied to de post, all
kivered with blood. I was mighty feared ob you; but den I tought you had
been so perlite, and speaked so kind to me, dat I would take kare ob yer
body; so I tuck you down, and went wid you to de horse-trough, and dere
I poured some cold water ober yer, so as to wash away de clotted blood.
Den de cold water sorter ‘vived you, and yer cried out ‘oh, me!’ Wal
dat did skeer me, and I let you drap right down in de trough, and de way
dis nigger did run, fur de life ob her. Well, as I git back I met Jake,
who had kum back wid de doctor, and I cried out, ‘Oh Jake, de spirit ob
Ann done speaked to me!’ ‘Now, Polly,’ says he, ‘do hush your nonsense,
you does know dat Ann is done cold dead.’ ‘Well Jake,’ says I, ‘I tuck
her down frum de post, and tuck her to the trough to wash her, and
tought I’d fix de body out right nice, in de best close dat she had.
Well, jist as I got de water on it, somping hollowed out, ‘oh me!’ so
mournful like, dat it ‘peared to me it kum out ob de ground.

“‘What fur den you do?’ says Jake. ‘Why, to be sure, I lef it right dar,
and run as fas’ as my feet would carry me.’

“By dis time de house was full ob de neighbors; all hab collected in de
house, fur de news dat Masser was kilt jist fly trough de neighborhood.
Miss Bradly hearn in de house ’bout de ‘raculous ‘pearance ob de sperit,
and she kum up to me, and say ‘Polly, whar is de body of Ann?’ ‘Laws,
Miss Bradly, it is out in de trough, I won’t go agin nigh to it.’

“‘Well,’ say she, ‘where is Jake? let him kum along wid me.’

“‘What, you ain’t gwine nigh it?’ I asked.

“‘Yes I is gwine right up to it,’ she say, ‘kase I knows thar is life in
it.’ Well this sorter holpd me up, so I said, ‘well I’ll go too.’ So we
tuck Jake, and Miss Bradly walked long wid us to de berry spot, and dar
you wus a settin up in de water ob de trough where I seed you; it
skeered me worse den eber, so I fell right down on de ground, and began
to pray to de Lord to hab marcy on us all; but Miss Bradly (she is a
quare woman) walked right up to you, and spoke to you.

“‘Laws,’ says Jake, ‘jist hear dat ar’ woman talking wid a sperit,’ and
down he fell, and went to callin on de Angel Gabriel to kum and holp
him.

“Fust ting I knowed, Miss Bradly was a rollin’ her shawl round yer body,
and axed you to walk out ob de trough.

“Well, tinks I, dese am quare times when a stone-dead nigger gits up
and walks agin like a live one. Well, widout any help from us, Miss
Bradly led you ‘long into dis cabin. I followed arter. After while she
kind o’ ‘suaded me you was a livin’. Den I helped her wash you, and got
her some goose-greese, and we rubbed you all ober, from your head to yer
feet, and den you kind ob fainted away, and I began to run off; but Miss
Bradly say you only swoon, and she tuck a little glass vial out ob her
pocket, and held it to yer nose, and dis bring you to agin. After while
you fell off to sleep, and Miss Bradly bringed de Doctor out ob de house
to look at you. Well, he feel ob yer wrist, put his ear down to yer
breast, den say, ‘may be wid care she will git well, but she hab been
powerful bad treated.’ He shuck his head, and I knowed what he was
tinkin’ ’bout, but I neber say one word. Den Miss Bradly wiped her eyes,
and de Doctor fetch anoder sigh, and say, dis is very ‘stressing,’ and
Miss Bradly say somepin agin ‘slavery,’ and de Doctor open ob his eyes
right wide and say, ”tis worth your head, Miss, for to say dat in dis
here country.’ Den she kind of ‘splained it to him, and tings just
seemed square ‘twixt ’em, for she was monstrous skeered like, and turned
white as a sheet. Den I hearn de Doctor say sompin’ ’bout ridin’ on a
rail, and tar and feaders, and abolutionist. So arter dat, Miss Bradly
went into de house, arter she had bin a tellin’ ob me to nurse you well;
dat you was way off hare from yer mammy, so eber sence den you has bin a
lying right dar on dat bed, and I hab nursed you as if you war my own
child.”

I threw my arms around her again, and imprinted kisses upon her rugged
brow; for, though her skin was sooty and her face worn with care, I
believed that somewhere in a silent corner of her tried heart there was
a ray of warm, loving, human feeling.

“Oh, child,” she begun, “can you wid yer pretty yallow face kiss an old
pitch-black nigger like me?”

“Why, yes, Aunt Polly, and love you too; if your face is dark I am sure
your heart is fair.”

“Well, I doesn’t know ’bout dat, chile; once ’twas far, but I tink all
de white man done made it black as my face.”

“Oh no, I can’t believe that, Aunt Polly,” I replied.

“Wal, I always hab said dat if dey would cut my finger and cut a white
woman’s, dey would find de blood ob de very same color,” and the old
woman laughed exultingly.

“Yes, but, Aunt Polly, if you were to go before a magistrate with a case
to be decided, he would give it against you, no matter how just were
your claims.”

“To be sartin, de white folks allers gwine to do every ting in favor ob
dar own color.”

“But, Aunt Polly,” interposed I, “there is a God above, who disregards
color.”

“Sure dare is, and dar we will all ob us git our dues, and den de white
folks will roast in de flames ob old Nick.”

I saw, from a furtive flash of her eye, that all the malignity and
revenge of her outraged nature were becoming excited, and I endeavored
to change the conversation.

“Is master getting well?”

“Why, yes, chile, de debbil can’t kill him. He is ‘termined to live jist
as long as dare is a nigger to torment. All de time he was crazy wid de
fever, he was fightin’ wid de niggers–‘pears like he don’t dream ’bout
nothin’ else.”

“Does he sit up now?” I asked this question with trepidation, for I
really dreaded to see him.

“No, he can’t set up none. De doctor say he lost a power o’ blood, and
he won’t let him eat meat or anyting strong, and I tells you, honey,
Masser does swar a heap. He wants to smoke his pipe, and to hab his
reglar grog, and dey won’t gib it to him. It do take Jim and Jake bofe
to hold him in de bed, when his tantarums comes on. He fights dem, he
calls for de oberseer, he orders dat ebery nigger on de place shall be
tuck to de post. I tells you now, I makes haste to git out ob his way.
He struck Jake a lick dat kum mighty nigh puttin’ out his eye. It’s all
bunged up now.”

“Where did Mr. Somerville go?” I asked.

“Oh, de young gemman dat dey say is a courtin’ Miss Jane, he hab gone
back to de big town what he kum from; but Lindy say Miss Jane got a
great long letter from him, and Lindy say she tink Miss Jane gwine to
marry him.”

“Well, I belong to Miss Jane; I wonder if she will take me with her to
the town.”

“Why, yes, chile, she will, for she do believe in niggers. She wants ’em
all de time right by her side, a waitin’ on her.”

This thought set me to speculating. Here, then, was the prospect of
another change in my home. The change might be auspicious; but it would
take me away from Aunt Polly, and remove me from Miss Bradly’s
influence; and this I dreaded, for she had planted hopes in my breast,
which must blossom, though at a distant season, and I wished to be often
in her company, so that I might gain many important items from her.

Aunt Polly, observing me unusually thoughtful, argued that I was sleepy,
and insisted upon my returning to bed. In order to avoid further
conversation, and preserve, unbroken, the thread of my reflections, I
obeyed her.

Throwing myself carelessly upon the rough pallet, I wandered in fancy
until leaden-winged sleep overcame me.

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