THE TRADER

Morn did break, bright and clear, over the face of the sleeping earth!
It was a still and blessed hour. Man, hushed from his rushing activity,
lay reposeful in the arms of “Death’s counterfeit–sleep.” All animated
nature was quiet and calm, till, suddenly, a gush of melody broke from
the clear throats of the wildwood birds and made the air vocal. Another
day was dawning; another day born to witness sins and cruelties the most
direful. Do we not often wonder why the sky can smile so blue and
lovingly, when such outrages are enacted beneath it? But I must not
anticipate.

As soon as the sun had fairly risen I knocked at the house-door, which
was opened by Miss Bradly, whose languid face and crumpled dress, proved
that she had taken no rest during the night. Bidding her a polite
good-morning, I inquired if the ladies had risen? She answered that they
were still asleep, and had rested well during the night. I next inquired
for master’s health.

“Oh,” said she, “I think he is well, quite well again. He slept soundly.
I think he only suffered from a violent and sudden mental excitement. A
good night’s rest, and a sedative that I administered, have restored
him; but _to-day_, oh, _to-day_, how I do dread to-day.”

To the latter part of this speech I made no answer; for, of late, I had
learned to distrust her. Even if her belief was right, I could not
recognize her as one heroic enough to promulgate it from the
house-tops. I saw in her only a weak, servile soul, drawn down from the
lofty purpose of philanthropy, seduced by the charm of “vile lucre.”
Therefore I observed a rigid silence. Feeling a little embarrassed, I
began playing with the strings of my apron, for I was fearful that the
expression of my face might betray what was working in my mind.

“What is the matter, Ann?”

This recalled the tragedy that had occurred in the cabin, and I said, in
a faltering tone,

“Death has been among us. Poor Aunt Polly is gone.”

“Is it possible? When did she die? Poor old creature!”

“She died some time before midnight. When I left the house I was
surprised to find her still sleeping, so I thought perhaps she was too
sluggish, and, upon attempting to arouse her, I discovered that she was
dead!”

“Why did you not come and inform me? I would have assisted you in the
last sad offices.”

“Oh, I did not like to disturb you. I did everything very well myself.”

“Johnny and I sat up all night; that is, I suppose he was up, though he
left the room a little after midnight, and has not since returned. I
should not wonder if he has been walking the better part of the night.
He so loves solitude and the night-time–but then,” she added, musingly
“he has a bad cough, and it may be dangerous. The night was chilly, the
atmosphere heavy. What if this imprudence should rapidly develop a
fearful disease?” She seemed much concerned.

“I will go,” said she, “and search for him;” but ere these words had
fairly died upon her lips, we were startled by a cough, and, looking up,
we beheld the subject of our conversation within a few steps of us. Oh,
how wretchedly he was changed! It appeared as if the wreck of years had
been accomplished in the brief space of a night. Haggard and pale, with
his eyes roving listlessly, dark purple lines of unusual depth
surrounding them, and with his bright, gold hair, heavy with the dew,
and hanging neglected around his noble head, even his clear, pearl-like
complexion appeared dark and discolored.

“Where have you been, Johnny?” asked Miss Bradly.

“To commune with the lonely and comfort the bound; at the door of the
‘lock-up,’ our miniature Bastile, I have spent the night.” Here
commenced a paroxysm of coughing, so violent that he was obliged to seat
himself upon the door-sill.

“Oh, Johnny,” exclaimed the terrified lady.

But as he attempted to check her fears, another paroxysm, still more
frightful, took place, and this time the blood gushed copiously from his
mouth. Miss Bradly threw her arms tenderly around him, and, after a
succession of rapid gushes of blood, his head fell languidly on her
shoulder, like a pale, broken lily!

I instantly ran to call up the ladies, when master approached from his
chamber; seeing young master lying so pale, cold, and insensible in the
arms of Miss Bradly, he concluded he was dead, and, crying out in a
frantic tone, he asked,

“In h–l’s name, what has happened to my boy?”

“He has had a violent hemorrhage,” replied Miss Bradly, with an
ill-disguised composure.

The sight of the blood, which lay in puddles and clots over the steps,
increased the terror of the father, and, frantically seizing his boy in
his arms, he covered the still, pale face with kisses.

“Oh, my boy! my boy! how much you are like _her_! This is her mouth,
eyes, and nose, and now you ‘pears jist like she did when I seed her
last. These limbs are stiff and frozen. It can’t be death; no, it can’t
be. I haven’t killed you, too–say, Miss Bradly, is he dead?”

“No, sir, only exhausted from the violence of the paroxysm, and the
copious hemorrhage, but he requires immediate medical treatment; send,
promptly, for Dr. Mandy.”

Master turned to me, saying,

“Gal, go order Jake to mount the swiftest horse, and ride for life and
death to Dr. Mandy; tell him to come instantly, my son is dying.”

I obeyed, and, with all possible promptitude, the message was
dispatched. Oh, how different when _his_ son was ill. Then you could see
that human life was valuable; had it been a negro, he would have waited
until after breakfast before sending for a doctor.

Mr. Peterkin bore his son into the house, placed him on the bed, and,
seating himself beside him, watched with a tenderness that I did not
think belonged to his harsh nature.

In a very short time Jake returned with Dr. Mandy, who, after feeling
young master’s pulse, sounding his chest, and applying the stethescope,
said that he feared it was an incipient form of lung-fever. We had much
cause for apprehension. There was a perplexed expression upon the face
of the doctor, a tremulousness in his motions, which indicated that he
was in great fear and doubt as to the case. He left some powders, to be
administered every hour, and, after various and repeated injunctions to
Miss Bradly, who volunteered to nurse the patient, he left the house.

After taking the first powder, young master lay in a deep, unbroken
sleep. As I stood by his bedside I saw how altered he was. The cheek,
which, when he was walking, had seemed round and full, was now shrunk
and hollow, and a fiery spot burned there like a living coal; and the
dark, purple ring that encircled the eyes, and the sharp contraction of
the thin nostril, were to me convincing omens of the grave. Then, too,
the anxious, care-written face of Miss Bradly tended to deepen my
apprehension. How my friends were falling around me! Now, just when I
was beginning to live, came the fell destroyer of my happiness.
Happiness? Oh, does it not seem a mockery for the slave to employ that
word? As if he had anything to do with it! The slave, who owns nothing,
ay, literally nothing. His wife and children are all his master’s. His
very wearing apparel becomes another’s. He has no right to use it, save
as he is advised by his owner. Go, my kind reader, to the hotels of the
South and South-west, look at the worn and dejected countenances of the
slaves, and tell me if you do not read misery there. Look in at the
saloons of the restaurants, coffee-houses, &c., at late hours of the
night; there you will see them, tired, worn and weary, with their aching
heads bandaged up, sighing for a few moments’ sleep. There the proud,
luxurious, idle whites sip their sherbets, drink wine, and crack their
everlasting jokes, but there must stand your obsequious slave, with a
smile on his face, waiter in hand, ready to attend to “Master’s
slightest wish.” No matter if his tooth is aching, or his child dying,
he must smile, or be flogged for gruffness. This “chattel personal,”
though he bear the erect form of a man, has no right to any privileges
or emotions. Oh, nation of the free, how long shall this be? Poor,
suffering Africa, country of my sires, how much longer upon thy bleeding
shoulders must the cross be pressed! Is there no tomb where, for a short
space, thou shalt lie, and then, bursting the bonds of night and death,
spring up free, redeemed and regenerate?

“Oh, will he die?” I murmured, “he who reconciles me to my bondage, who
is my only friend? Another affliction I cannot bear; I’ve been so tried
in the furnace, that I have not strength to meet another.”

Those thoughts passed through my brain as I stood beside young master;
but the entrance of Mr. Peterkin diverted them, and, stepping up to him,
I said, “Master, Aunt Polly is dead.”

“You lie!” he thundered out.

“No, Mr. Peterkin, the old woman is really dead,” said Miss Bradly, in a
kind but mournful tone.

“Who killed her?” again he thundered.

Ay, who did kill her? Could I not have answered, “Thou art the man”? But
I did not. Silently I stood before him, never daring to trust myself
with a word.

“What time did she kick the bucket?” asked Mr. Peterkin, in one of the
favorite Kentucky vulgarisms, whereby the most solemn and awful debt of
nature is ridiculed by the unthinking.

I told him how I had found her, what I had done, &c., all of which is
known to the reader.

“I believe h–l is loose among the niggers. Now, here’s Poll had to die
bekase she couldn’t cut any other caper. I might have made a sight o’
money by her sale; and she, old fool, had to cut me outen it. Wal, I’ll
only have to sell some of the others, fur I’s bound to make up a sartin
sum of money to pay to some of my creditors in L—-.”

This speech was addressed to Miss Bradly, upon whom it made not half the
impression that it did upon me. How I hoped I should be one, for if
young master, as I began to believe, should die soon, the place would
become to me more horrible than a tiger’s den. Any change was desirable.

When the young ladies rose from their beds I went in to attend on them,
and communicated the news of young master’s illness and Aunt Polly’s
death. For their brother they expressed much concern, but the faithful
old domestic, who had served them so long, was of no more consequence
than a dog. Miss Jane did seem provoked to think that she “had died on
their hands,” as she expressed it. “If pa had sold her months ago, we
might have had the money, or something valuable, but now we must go to
the expense of furnishing her with a coffin.”

“Coffin! hoity-toity! Father’s not going to give her a coffin, an old
store-box is good enough to put her old carcass in.” And thus they spoke
of one of God’s dead.

Usually persons respect those upon whom death has set his ghastly
signet; but these barbarians (for such I think they must have been)
spoke with an irreverence of one whose body lay still and cold, only few
steps from them. To some people no thing or person is sacred.

After breakfast I waited in great anxiety to hear how and when master
intended to have Aunt Polly buried.

I had gone into the little desolate cabin, which was now consecrated by
the presence of the dead. There _she_ lay, cold and ashen; and the long
white strip that I had thrown over her was too thin to conceal the face.
It was an old muslin curtain that I had found in looking over the boxes
of the deceased, and out of respect had flung it over the remains. So
rigid and hard-set seemed her features in that last, deep sleep, so
tightly locked were those bony fingers, so mournful looked the
straightened, stiffened form, so devoid of speculation the half-closed
eyes, that I turned away with a shudder, saying inwardly:

“Oh, death, thou art revolting!” Yet when I bethought me of the peace
passing human understanding into which she had gone, the safe bourne
that she had attained, “where the wicked cease from troubling and the
weary are at rest;” when I thought of this, death lost its horror, and
the grave its gloom. Oh, Eternity, problem that the living can never
solve. Oh, death, full of victory to the Christian! wast thou not, to my
old and weary friend, a messenger of sweet peace; and was not the tomb a
gateway to new and undreamed-of happiness? Yes, so will I believe; for
so believing am I made joyful.

Relieved thus by faith from the burden of grief, I moved gently about
the room, trying to bring something like order to its ragged appearance;
for Jake, who had been dispatched for Doctor Mandy to come and see young
master, had met on the way a colored preacher, to whom he announced Aunt
Polly’s death, and who had promised to come and preach a funeral sermon,
and attend the burial. This was to the other negroes a great treat; they
regarded a funeral as quite a gala occasion, inasmuch as we had never
had such a thing upon the farm. I had my own doubts, though I did not
express them, whether master would permit it.

Young master still slept, from the strong effects of the sleeping potion
which had been administered to him. Miss Bradly, overcome by the night’s
watching, dozed in a large chair beside the bed, and an open Bible, in
which she had been reading, lay upon her lap. The blinds were closed,
but the dim light of a small fire that blazed on the hearth gave some
appearance of life to the room. Every one who passed in and out, stepped
on tip-toe, as if fearful of arousing the sleeper.

Oh, the comfort of a white skin! No darkened room, no comfortable air,
marked the place where she my friend had died. No hushed dread nor
whispered voice paid respect to the cabin-room where lay her dead body;
but, thanks to God, in the morning of the resurrection we shall come
forth alike, regardless of the distinctions of color or race, each one
to render a faithful account of the deeds done in the body.

Mr. Peterkin came to the kitchen-door, and called Nace, saying:

“Where is that old store-box that the goods and domestics for the house
was fetched home in, from L—-, last fall?”

“It’s in de smoke-house, Masser.”

“Wal, go git it, and bury ole Poll in it.”

“It’s right dirty and greasy, Master,” I ventured to say.

“Who keres if ’tis? What right has you to speak, slut?” and he gave me a
violent kick in the side with his rough brogan.

“Take that for yer imperdence. Who tole you to put yer mouth in?”

Nace and Dan soon produced the box, which had no top, and was dirty and
greasy, as it well might be from its year’s lodgment in the meat-house.

“Now, go dig a hole and put Poll in it.”

As master was turning away, he was met by a neatly-dressed black man,
who wore a white muslin cravat and white cotton gloves, and carried two
books in his hand. He had an humble, reverent expression, and I readily
recognized him as the free colored preacher of the neighborhood–a good,
religious man, God-fearing and God-serving. No one knew or could say
aught against him. How I did long to speak to him; to sit at his feet as
a disciple, and learn from him heavenly truths.

As master turned round, the preacher, with a polite air, took off his
hat, saying:

“Your servant, Master.”

“What do you want, nigger?”

“Why, Master, I heard that one of your servants was dead, and I come to
ask your leave to convene the friends in a short prayer-meeting, if you
will please let us.”

“No, I be d—-d if you shall, you rascally free nigger; if you don’t
git yourself off my place, I’ll git my cowhide to you. I wants none of
yer tom-foolery here.”

“I beg Master’s pardon, but I meant no harm. I generally go to see the
sick, and hold prayer over the dead.”

“You doesn’t do it here; and now take your dirty black hide away, or it
will be the worse for you.”

Without saying one word, the mortified preacher, who had meant well,
turned away. I trust he did as the apostles of old were bidden by their
Divine Master to do, “shook the dust from his feet against that house.”
Oh, coarse and sense-bound man, you refused entertainment to an “angel,
unawares.”

“Well, I sent that prayin’ rascal a flyin’ quick enough;” and with this
self-gratulatory remark, he entered the house.

Nace and Jake carried the box into the cabin, preceded by me.

Most reverently I laid away the muslin from the face and form; and
lifting the head, while Nace assisted at the feet, we attempted to place
the body in the box, but found it impossible, as the box was much too
short. Upon Nace’s representing this difficulty to Mr. Peterkin, he only
replied:

“Wal, bury her on a board, without any more foolin’ ’bout it.”

This harsh mandate was obeyed to the letter. With great expedition, Nace
and Jake dug a hole in the earth, and laid a few planks at the bottom,
upon which I threw an old quilt, and on that hard bed they laid her.
Good and faithful servant, even in death thou wast not allowed a bed!
Over the form I spread a covering, and the men laid a few planks,
box-fashion, over that, and then began roughly throwing on the fresh
earth. “Dust to dust,” I murmured, and, with a secret prayer, turned
from her unmarked resting-place. Mr. Peterkin expressly ordered that it
should not have a grave shape, and so it was patted and smoothed down,
until, save for the moisture and fresh color of the earth, you could not
have known that the ground had ever been broken.

About noon a gaudily-dressed and rough-looking man rode up to the gate,
and alighted from a fine bay horse. With that free and easy sort of way
so peculiar to a _certain class_ of mankind, he walked up the avenue to
the front door.

“Gal,” he said, addressing me, “whar’s yer master?”

“In the house. Will you walk in?”

“No, it is skersely worth while; jist tell him that me, Bill Tompkins,
wants to see him; but stay,” he added, as I was turning to seek my
master, “is you the gal he sold to me yesterday?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Wal, you is devilish likely. Put out yer foot. Wal, it is nice enuff to
belong to a white ‘ooman. You is a bright-colored mulatto. I _must_ have
you.”

“Heavens! I hope not,” was my half-uttered expression, as I turned away,
for I had caught the meaning of that lascivious eye, and shrank from the
threatened danger. Though I had been cruelly treated, yet had I been
allowed to retain my person inviolate; and I would rather, a
thousand-fold, have endured the brutality of Mr. Peterkin, than those
loathsome looks which I felt betokened ruin.

“Master, a man, calling himself Bill Tompkins, wishes to see you,” said
I, as I entered his private apartment.

“Can’t yer say Mr. Tompkins?”

“He told me to tell you Bill Tompkins; I only repeat his words.”

“Whar is he?”

“At the front door.”

“Didn’t yer ax him in, hussy?”

“Yes, sir, but he refused, saying it was not worth while.”

“Oh,” thought I, when left alone, “am I sold to that monster? Am I to
become so utterly degraded? No, no; rather than yield my purity I will
give up my life, and trust to God to pardon the suicide.”

In this state of mind I wandered up and down the yard, into the kitchen,
into the cabin, into the room where young master lay sleeping, into the
presence of the young ladies, and out again into the air; yet my
curious, feverish restlessness, could not be allayed. A trader was in
the house–a bold, obscene man, and into his possession I might fall!
Oh, happy indeed must be those who feel that he or they have the
exclusive custody of their own persons; but the poor negro has nothing,
not even–save in rare cases–the liberty of choosing a home.

I had not dared, since daylight, to go near the “lock-up,” for a fearful
punishment would have been due the one whom Mr. Peterkin found loitering
there.

I was so tortured by apprehension, that my eyes burned and my head
ached. I had heard master say that the unlooked-for death of Aunt Polly
would force him to sell some of the other slaves, in order to realize a
certain sum of money, and Tompkins had expressed a desire for me. It was
likely that he would offer a good price; then should I be lost. Oh,
heavenly Virtue! do not desert me! Let me bear up under the fiercest
trials!

I had wandered about, in this half-crazed manner, never daring to
venture within “ear-shot” of master and Mr. Tompkins, fearing that the
latter might, upon a second sight of me, have the fire of his wicked
passions aroused, and then my fate would be sealed.

I determined to hide in the cabin, to pray there, in the room that had
been hallowed by the presence of God’s angel of Death; but there,
cowering on the old brick hearth, like a hen with her brood of chickens,
I found, to my surprise, Amy, with little Ben in her arms, and the two
girls crouched close to her side, evidently feeling that her presence
was sufficient to protect them.

“Lor’, Ann,” said Amy, her wide eyes stretched to their utmost tension,
“thar is a trader talkin’ wid Masser; I won’er whose gwine to be sole. I
hope tain’t us.”

I didn’t dare reply to her. I feared for myself, and I feared for her.

Kneeling down in the corner of the cabin, I besought mercy of the
All-merciful; but somehow, my prayers fell back cold upon my heart. God
seemed a great way off, and I could not realize the presence of angels.
“Oh,” I cried, “for the uplifting faith that hath so often blest me! oh
for the hopefulness, the trustingness of times past! Why, why is the
gate of heaven shut against me? Why am I thus self-bound? Oh, for a
wider, broader and more liberal view!” But I could not pray. Great God!
had that last and only soul-stay been taken from me? With a black
hopelessness gathering at my heart, I arose from my knees, and looked
round upon those desolate orphans, shrinking terror-stricken, hiding
away from the merciless pursuit of a giant; and then I bethought me of
my own desolation, and I almost arraigned the justice of Heaven. Most
wise Father! pardon me! Thou, who wast tempted by Satan, and to whom the
cup of mortality was bitter, pity me and forgive!

Turning away from the presence of those pleading children I entered the
kitchen, and there were Jake and Dan, terror written on their strong,
hard faces; for, no matter how hard is the negro’s present master, he
always regards a change of owners as entailing new dangers; and no
wonder that, from education and experience, he is thus suspicious, for
so many troubles have come and do come upon him, that he cannot imagine
a change whereby he is to be benefited.

“Has you hearn anything, Ann?” asked Dan, with his great flabby lips
hanging loosely open, and his eyes considerably distended.

“Nothing.”

“Who’s gwine to be sole?” asked Jake.

“I don’t know?”

“Hope tisn’t me.”

“And hope tisn’t me,” burst from the lips of both of them, and to this
my heart gave a fervent though silent echo.

“He is de one dat’s bought Lindy,” said old Nace, who now entered, “and
Masser’s gwine to sell some de rest ob yer.”

“Why do yer say de rest ob yer? Why mayn’t it be you?” asked Dan.

“Bekase he ain’t gwine to sell me, ha! ha! I sarved him too long fur
dat.”

Ginsy and Sally came rushing in, frightened, like all the rest,
exclaiming,

“Oh, we’s in danger; a nigger-trader is talkin’ wid master.”

We had no time for prolonged speculation, for the voice of Mr. Peterkin
was heard in the entry, and, throwing open the door, he entered,
followed by Tompkins.

“Here’s the gang, and a devilish good-lookin’ set they is.”

“Yes, but let me fust see the one I have bought.”

“Here, Nace,” said master, “take this key, and tell Lindy to dress
herself and come here.” The last part of this sentence was said in an
under-tone.

In terror I fled from the kitchen. Scarcely knowing what I did, I rushed
into the young ladies’ room, into which Nace had conducted Lindy, upon
whom they were placing some of their old finery. A half-worn calico
dress, gingham apron and white collar, completed the costume. I never
shall forget the expression of Lindy’s face, as she looked vacantly
around her, hunting for sympathy, yet finding none, from the cold,
haughty faces that gazed upon her.

“Now go,” said Miss Jane, “and try to behave yourself in your new home.”

“Good-bye, Miss Jane,” said the humbled, weeping negro.

“Good-bye,” was coldly answered; but no hand was extended to her.

“Good-bye, Miss Tildy.”

Miss Tildy, who was standing at the glass arranging her hair, never
turned round to look upon the poor wretch, but carelessly said,

“Good-bye.”

She looked toward me; her lip was quivering and tears were rolling down
her cheeks. I turned my head away, and she walked off with the farewell
unspoken.

Quickly I heard Jake calling for me. Then I knew that my worst fears
were on the point of realization. With a timid, hesitating step, I
walked to the kitchen. There, ranged in single file, stood the servants,
with anxious faces, where a variety of contending feelings were written.
I nerved myself for what I knew was to follow, and stepping firmly up,
joined the phalanx.

“That’s the one,” said Tompkins, as he eyed me with that _same_ look.
There he stood, twirling a heavy bunch of seals which depended from a
large, curiously-wrought chain. He looked more like a fiend than a
_man_.

“This here one is your’n,” said Mr. Peterkin, pointing to Lindy; “and,
gal, that gentleman is yer master.”

Lindy dropped a courtesy to him, and tried to wipe away her tears; for
experience had taught her that the only safe course was to stifle
emotions.

“Here, gal, open yer mouth,” Tompkins said to Lindy. She obeyed.

“Now let me feel yer arms.”

He then examined her feet, ankles, legs, passed his hands over various
parts of her body, made her walk and move her limbs in different ways,
and then, seemingly satisfied with the bargain, said,

“Wal, that trade is closed.”

Looking toward me, his dissolute eyes began to glare furiously. Again my
soul quailed; but I tried to govern myself, and threw upon him a glance
as cold as ice itself.

“What will you take for this yallow gal?” he said, as he laid his hand
upon my shoulder. I shrank beneath his touch; yet resistance would only
have made the case worse, and I was compelled to submit.

“I ain’t much anxious to sell her; she is my darter Jane’s waitin’
‘ooman, and, you see, my darters are putty much stuck up. They thinks
they must have a waitin’-maid; but, if you offer a far price, maybe we
will close in.”

“Wal, as she is a fancy article, I’ll jist say take twelve hundred
dollars, and that’s more an’ she’s actilly worth; but I wants her fur my
_own use_; a sorter private gal like, you knows,” and he gave a
lascivious blink, which Mr. Peterkin seemed to understand. I felt a deep
crimson suffuse my face. Oh, God! this was the heaviest of all
afflictions. _Sold!_ and for _such a purpose_!

“I reckon the bargain is closed, then,” said Mr. Peterkin.

I felt despair coiling around my heart. Yet I knew that to make an
appeal to their humanity would be worse than idle.

“Who, which of them have you sold, father?” asked Miss Jane, who entered
the kitchen, doubtless for the humane object of witnessing the distress
of the poor creatures.

“Wal, Lindy’s sold, and we are ’bout closing the bargain for Ann.”

“Why, Ann belongs to me.”

“Yes, but Tompkins offers twelve hundred dollars; and six hundred of it
you shill have to git new furniture.”

“She shan’t go for six thousand. I want an accomplished maid when I go
up to the city, and she just suits me. Remember I have your deed of
gift.”

This relieved me greatly, for I understood her determination; and,
though I knew all sorts of severity would be exercised over me in my
present home, I felt assured that my honor would remain unstained.

The trader tried to persuade and coax Miss Jane; but she remained
impervious to all of his importunities.

“Wal, then,” he said, after finding she would yield to no argument,
“haven’t you none others you can let me have? I am ‘bliged to fill up my
lot.”

“Wal, since my darter won’t trade nohow, I must try and let you have
some of the others, though I don’t care much ’bout sellin’.”

Mr. Peterkin was what was called tight on a trade; now, though he was
anxious enough to sell, he affected to be perfectly indifferent. This
was what would be termed an excellent ruse de guerre.

“If you want children, I think we can supply you,” said Miss Jane, and,
looking round, she asked,

“Where are Amy and her sisters?”

My heart sank within me, and, though I knew full well where they were, I
would not speak.

Little Jim, the son of Ginsy, cried out,

“Yes, I know where dey is. I seed em in dar.”

“Well, run you young rascal, and tell ’em to come here in a minnit,”
said Mr. Peterkin; and away the boy scampered. In a few moments he
returned, followed by Amy, who was bearing Ben in her arms; and, holding
on to her skirts, were the two girls, terror limned on their dark,
shining faces.

“Step up here to this gentleman, Amy, and say how would you like him for
a master?” said Mr. Peterkin.

“Please, sir,” replied Amy, “I don’t kere whar I goes, so I takes these
chillen wid me.”

“I do not want Amy to be sold. Sell the children, father; but let us
keep Amy for a house-girl.” Cold and unfeeling looked the lady as she
pronounced these words; but could you have seen the expression of Amy’s
face! There is no human language, no painter’s power, to show forth the
eye of frantic madness with which the girl glared around on all.
Clutching little Ben tightly, savagely to her bosom, she said no word,
and all seemed struck by the extreme wildness of her manner.

“Let’s look at that boy,” said the trader, as he attempted to unfasten
Amy’s arms but were locked round her treasure.

“Dont’ee, dont’ee,” shrieked the child.

“Yes, but he will,” said Mr. Peterkin, as, with a giant’s force, he
broke asunder the slight arms, “you imperdent hussy, arn’t you my
property? mine to do what I pleases with; and do you dar’ to oppose me?”

The girl said nothing; but the wild expression began to grow wilder,
fiercer, and more frightful. Little Ben, who was not accustomed to any
kind of notice, and felt at home nowhere except in Amy’s arms, set up a
furious scream; but this the trader did not mind, and proceeded to
examine the limbs.

“Something is the matter with this boy, he’s got hip-disease; I knows
from his teeth he is older than you says.”

“Yes,” said Amy seizing the idea, “he is weakly, he won’t do no good
widout me; buy me too, please, Masser,” and she crouched down at the
trader’s feet, with her hands thrown up in an air of touching
supplication; but she had gone to the wrong tribunal for mercy. Who can
hope to find so fair a flower blooming amid the dreary brambles of a
negro-trader’s breast?

Tompkins took no other notice of her than to give her a contemptuous
kick, as much as to say, “thing, get out of my way.”

Turning to Mr. Peterkin he said,

“This boy is not sound. I won’t have him at any price,” and he handed
him back to Amy, who exclaimed, in a thrilling tone,

“Thank God! Bless you, Masser!” and she clasped the shy little Ben
warmly to her breast.

Ben, whose intellect seemed clouded, looked wonderingly around on the
group; then, as if slowly realizing that he had escaped a mighty
trouble, clung closer to Amy.

“Look here, nigger-wench, does you think to spile the sale of property
in that ar’ way? Wal, I’ll let you see I’ll have things my way. No
nigger that ever was born, shall dictate to me.”

“No, father, I’d punish her well, even if I had to give Ben away; he is
no account here, merely an expense; and do sell those other two girls,
Amy’s sisters.”

Mr. Peterkin then called up Lucy and Janey. I have mentioned these two
but rarely in the progress of this book, and for the reason that their
little lives were not much interwoven with the thread of mine. I saw
them often, but observed nothing particular about them. They were quiet,
taciturn, and what is usually called stupid children. They, like little
Ben, never ventured far away from Amy’s protecting wing. Now, with a shy
step and furtive glance toward the trader, they obeyed their master’s
summons. Poor Amy, with Ben clasped to her heart, strained her body
forward, and looked with stretched eyes and suspended breath toward
Tompkins, who was examining them.

“Wal, I’ll give you three hundred and fifty a-piece for ’em. Now, come,
that’s the highest I’ll give, Peterkin, and you mustn’t try to git any
more out of me. You are a hard customer; but I am in a hurry, so I makes
my largest offer right away: I ain’t got the time to waste. That’s more
‘an anybody else would give for ’em; but I sees that they has good
fingers fur to pick cotton, therefore I gives a big price.”

“It’s a bargain, then. They is yourn;” and no doubt Mr. Peterkin thought
he had a good bargain, or he never would have chewed his tobacco in that
peculiarly self-satisfied manner.

“Stand aside, then,” said the trader, pushing his new purchases, as if
they were a bundle of dry goods. Running up to Amy, they began to hold
to her skirts and tremble violently, scarcely knowing what the words of
Tompkins implied.

“Dey ain’t sold?” asked Amy, turning first from one to the other; yet no
one answered. Mr. Peterkin and Tompkins were too busy with their trade,
and the negroes too much absorbed in their own fate, to attend to her.
For my part I had not strength to confirm her half-formed doubt. There
she stood, gathering them to her side with a motherly love.

“What will you give fur this one?” and Mr. Peterkin pointed to Ginsy,
who stood with an humble countenance. When called up she made a low
courtesy, and went through the examination. Name and age were given; a
fair price was offered for her and her child, and was accepted.

“Take this boy for a hundred dollars,” said Mr. Peterkin, as he jerked
Ben from the arms of the half-petrified Amy.

“Wal, he isn’t much ‘count; but, rather then seem contrary, I’ll give
that fur him.”

And thus the trade was closed. Human beings were disposed of with as
little feeling as if they had been wild animals.

“I’m sorry you won’t, young Miss, let me have that maid of yourn; but
I’ll be ‘long next fall, and, fur a good price, I ‘spect you’ll be
willin’ to trade. I wants that yallow wench,” and he clicked his fingers
at me.

“Say, Peterkin, ken you lend me a wagen to take ’em over to my pen?”

“Oh, yes; and Nace can drive ’em over.”

Conscious of having got a good price, Mr. Peterkin was in a capital
humor.

“Come, go with me, Peterkin, and we’ll draw up the papers, and I’ll pay
you your money.”

This was an agreeable sound to master. He ordered Nace to bring out the
wagon, and the order was hardly given before it was obeyed. Dismal
looked that red wagon, the same which years before had carried me away
from the insensible form of my broken-hearted mother. It appeared more
dark and dreary, to me, than a coffin or hearse.

“Say, Peterkin, don’t let ’em take many close; jist a change. It tires
’em too much if they have big bundles to carry.”

“They shan’t be troubled with that.”

“Now, niggers, git your bundles and come ‘long,” said master.

“Oh,” cried Lindy, “can I git to see young master before I start? I
wants to thank him for de comfort he gib me last night,” and she wiped
the tears from her eyes, and was starting toward the door of the house,
when Miss Jane intercepted her.

“No, you runaway hussy, you shan’t go in to disturb him, and have a
scene here.”

“Please, Miss Jane, I only wants to say good-bye.”

“You shan’t do it.”

Mournfully, and with the tears streaming far down her cheeks, she turned
to me, saying, “Please, you, Ann, tell him good-bye fur me, and good-bye
to you. I hope you will forgive me for all de harm I has done to you.”

I took her hand, but could not speak a word. Silently I pressed it.

“Whar’s your close, gal?” asked Tompkins.

“I’m gwine to git ’em.”

“Well, be in a hurry ’bout it.”

She went off to gather up a few articles, scarcely sufficient to cover
her; for we were barely allowed a change of clothing, and that not very
decent.

Ginsy, leading her child with one hand, while she held in the other a
small bundle, walked up to Miss Jane, and dropping a low courtesy, said,

“Farewell, Miss Jane; can I see Miss Tildy and young master?”

“No, John is sick, and Tildy can’t be troubled just now.”

“Yes, ma’m; please tell ’em good-bye fur me; and I hopes young Masser
will soon be well agin. I’d like to see him afore I went, but I don’t
want to ‘sturb him.”

“Well, that will do, go on now.”

“Tell young Masser good-bye,” Ginsy said, addressing her child.

“Good-bye,” repeated Miss Jane very carelessly, scarcely looking toward
them, and they moved away, and shaking hands with the servants, they
marched on to the wagon.

All this time Amy had remained like one transfixed; little Ben held one
of her hands, whilst Janey and Luce grasped her skirts firmly. These
children had no clothes, for, as they performed no regular labor, they
were not allowed a change of apparel. On a Saturday night, whilst they
slept, Amy washed out the articles which they had worn during the week;
and now, poor things, they had no bundles to be made up.

“Come ‘long wid yer, young ones,” and Tompkins took Ben by the hand;
but he stoutly refused to go, crying out:

“Go ‘way, and let me ‘lone.”

“Come on, I’ll give you a lump of sugar.”

“I won’t, I won’t.”

All of them held tightly to Amy, whose vacant face was so stony in its
deep despair, that it struck terror to my soul.

“No more fuss,” said Mr. Peterkin, and he raised his large whip to
strike the screaming Ben a blow; but that motherly instinct that had
taught Amy to protect them thus long, was not now dead, and upon her
outstretched arm the blow descended. A great, fearful gash was made,
from which the fresh blood streamed rapidly; but she minded it not.
What, to that lightning-burnt soul, were the wounds of the body?
Nothing, aye nothing!

“Oh, don’t mark ’em, Peterkin, it will spile the sale,” said Tompkins.

“Come ‘long now, niggers, I has no more time to wait;” and, with a
strong wrench, he broke Ben’s arms loose from Amy’s form, and, holding
him firmly, despite his piteous cries, he ordered Jake to bring the
other two also. This order was executed, and quickly Luce and Janey were
in the grasp of Jake, and borne shrieking to the cart, in which all
three of them were bound and laid.

Speechless, stony, petrified, stood Amy. At length, as if gifted with a
supernatural energy, she leaped forward, as the cart drove off, and fell
across the path, almost under the feet of the advancing horses. But not
yet for thee, poor suffering child, will come the Angel of Death! It has
been decreed that you shall endure and wait a while longer.

By an adroit check upon the rein, Nace stopped the wagon suddenly, and
Jake, who was standing near by, lifted Amy up.

“Take her to the house, and see that she does herself no harm,” said Mr.
Peterkin.

“Yes, Masser, I will,” was the reply of the obsequious Jake.

And so the cart drove on. I shall never forget the sight! Those poor,
down-cast creatures, tied hand and foot, were conveyed they knew not
whither. The shrieks and screams of those children ring now in my ears.
Oh, doleful, most doleful! Why came there no swift execution of that
Divine threat, “Whoso causeth harm to one of these little ones, it were
better for him that a mill-stone were hung about his neck and that he
were drowned in the sea.”

Share