the wagon jogged along

I was born in one of the southern counties of Kentucky. My earliest
recollections are of a large, old-fashioned farm-house, built of hewn
rock, in which my old master, Mr. Nelson, and his family, consisting of
a widowed sister, two daughters and two sons, resided. I have but an
indistinct remembrance of my old master. At times, a shadow of an idea,
like the reflection of a kind dream, comes over my mind, and, then, I
conjure him up as a large, venerable-looking man, with scanty, gray
locks floating carelessly over an amplitude of forehead; a wide,
hard-featured face, with yet a kindly glow of honest sentiment; broad,
strong teeth, much discolored by the continued use of tobacco.

I well remember that, as a token of his good-will, he always presented
us (the slave-children) with a slice of buttered bread, when we had
finished our daily task. I have also a faint _reminiscence_ of his old
hickory cane being shaken over my head two or three times, and the
promise (which remained, until his death, unfulfilled) of a good
“_thrashing_” at some future period.

My mother was a very bright mulatto woman, and my father, I suppose,
was a white man, though I know nothing of him; for, with the most
unpaternal feeling, he deserted me. A consequence of this amalgamation
was my very fair and beautiful complexion. My skin was no perceptible
shade darker than that of my young mistresses. My eyes were large and
dark, while a profusion of nut-brown hair, straight and soft as the
whitest lady’s in the land, fell in showery redundance over my neck and
shoulders. I was often mistaken for a white child; and in my rambles
through the woods, many caresses have I received from wayside
travellers; and the exclamation, “What a beautiful child!” was quite
common. Owing to this personal beauty I was a great pet with my master’s
sister, Mrs. Woodbridge, who, I believe I have stated, was a widow, and
childless; so upon me she lavished all the fondness of a warm and loving
heart.

My mother, Keziah the cook, commonly called Aunt Kaisy, was possessed of
an indomitable ambition, and had, by the hardest means, endeavored to
acquire the rudiments of an education; but all that she had succeeded in
obtaining was a knowledge of the alphabet, and orthography in two
syllables. Being very imitative, she eschewed the ordinary negroes’
pronunciation, and adopted the mode of speech used by the higher classes
of whites. She was very much delighted when Mrs. Woodbridge or Miss
Betsy (as we called her) began to instruct me in the elements of the
English language. I inherited my mother’s thirst for knowledge; and, by
intense study, did all I could to spare Miss Betsy the usual drudgery of
a teacher. The aptitude that I displayed, may be inferred from the fact
that, in three months from the day she began teaching me the alphabet, I
was reading, with some degree of fluency, in the “First Reader.” I have
often heard her relate this as quite a literary and educational marvel.

There were so many slaves upon the farm, particularly young ones, that I
was regarded as a supernumerary; consequently, spared from nearly all
the work. I sat in Miss Betsy’s room, with book in hand, little heeding
anything else; and, if ever I manifested the least indolence, my mother,
with her wild ambition, was sure to rally me, and even offer the
tempting bribe of cakes and apples.

I have frequently heard my old master say, “Betsy, you will spoil that
girl, teaching her so much.” “She is too pretty for a slave,” was her
invariable reply.

Thus smoothly passed the early part of my life, until an event occurred
which was the cause of a change in my whole fate. My old master became
suddenly and dangerously ill. My lessons were suspended, for Miss
Betsy’s services were required in the sick chamber. I used to slyly
steal to the open door of his room, and peep in, with wonder, at the
sombre group collected there. I recollect seeing my young masters and
mistresses weeping round a curtained bed. Then there came a time when
loud screams and frightful lamentations issued thence. There were
shrieks that struck upon my ear with a strange thrill; shrieks that
seemed to rend souls and break heart-strings. My young mistresses, fair,
slender girls, fell prostrate upon the floor; and my masters, noble,
manly men, bent over the bowed forms of their sisters, whispering words
which I did not hear, but which, my mature experience tells me, must
have been of love and comfort.

There came, then, a long, narrow, black box, thickly embossed with
shining brass tacks, in which my old master was carefully laid, with his
pale, brawny hands crossed upon his wide chest. I remember that, one by
one, the slaves were called in to take a last look of him who had been,
to them, a kind master. They all came out with their cotton
handkerchiefs pressed to their eyes. I went in, with five other colored
children, to take my look. That wan, ghastly face, those sunken eyes and
pinched features, with the white winding sheet, and the dismal coffin,
impressed me with a new and wild terror; and, for weeks after, this
“vision of death” haunted my mind fearfully.

But I soon after resumed my studies under Miss Betsy’s tuition. Having
little work to do, and seldom seeing my young mistresses, I grew up in
the same house, scarcely knowing them. I was technically termed in the
family, “the child,” as I was not black; and, being a slave, my masters
and mistresses would not admit that I was white. So I reached the age of
ten, still called “a child,” and actually one in all life’s experiences,
though pretty well advanced in education. I had a very good knowledge of
the rudiments, had bestowed some attention upon Grammar, and eagerly
read every book that fell in my way. Love of study taught me seclusive
habits; I read long and late; and the desire of a finished education
became the passion of my life. Alas! these days were but a poor
preparation for the life that was to come after!

Miss Betsy, though a warm-hearted woman, was a violent advocate of
slavery. I have since been puzzled how to reconcile this with her
otherwise Christian character; and, though she professed to love me
dearly, and had bestowed so much attention upon the cultivation of my
mind, and expressed it as her opinion that I was too pretty and white to
be a slave, yet, if any one had spoken of giving me freedom, she would
have condemned it as domestic heresy. If I had belonged to her, I doubt
not but my life would have been a happy one. But, alas! a different lot
was assigned me!

About two years and six months after my old master’s death, a division
was made of the property. This involved a sale of everything, even the
household furniture. There were, I believe, heavy debts hanging over the
estate. These must be met, and the residue divided among the heirs.

When it was made known in the kitchen that a sale was to be made, the
slaves were panic-stricken. Loud cries and lamentations arose, and my
young mistresses came often to the kitchen to comfort us.

One of these young ladies, Miss Margaret, a tall, nobly-formed girl,
with big blue eyes and brown hair, frequently came and sat with us,
trying, in the most persuasive tones, to reconcile the old ones to their
destiny. Often did I see the large tears roll down her fair cheeks, and
her red lip quiver. These indications of sympathy, coming from such a
lovely being, cheered many an hour of after-captivity.

But the “sale-day” came at last; I have a confused idea of it. The
ladies left the day before. Miss Betsy took an affectionate leave of me;
ah, I did not then know that it was a final one.

The servants were all sold, as I heard one man say, at very high rates,
though not under the auctioneer’s hammer. To that my young masters were
opposed.

A tall, hard-looking man came up to me, very roughly seized my arm, bade
me open my mouth; examined my teeth; felt of my limbs; made me run a few
yards; ordered me to jump; and, being well satisfied with my activity,
said to Master Edward, “I will take her.” Little comprehending the full
meaning of that brief sentence, I rejoined the group of children from
which I had been summoned. After awhile, my mother came up to me,
holding a wallet in her hand. The tear-drops stood on her cheeks, and
her whole frame was distorted with pain. She walked toward me a few
steps, then stopped, and suddenly shaking her head, exclaimed, “No, no,
I can’t do it, I can’t do it.” I was amazed at her grief, but an
indefinable fear kept me from rushing to her.

“Here, Kitty,” she said to an old negro woman, who stood near, “you
break it to her. I can’t do it. No, it will drive me mad. Oh, heaven!
that I was ever born to see this day.” Then rocking her body back and
forward in a transport of agony, she gave full vent to her feelings in a
long, loud, piteous wail. Oh, God! that cry of grief, that knell of a
breaking heart, rang in my ears for many long and painful days. At
length Aunt Kitty approached me, and, laying her hand on my shoulder,
kindly said:

“Alas, poor chile, you mus’ place your trus’ in the good God above, you
mus’ look to Him for help; you are gwine to leave your mother now. You
are to have a new home, a new master, and I hope new friends. May the
Lord be with you.” So saying, she broke suddenly away from me; but I saw
that her wrinkled face was wet with tears.

With perhaps an idle, listless air, I received this astounding news;
but a whirlwind was gathering in my breast. What could she mean by new
friends and a new home? Surely I was to take my mother with me! No
mortal power would dare to sever _us_. Why, I remember that when master
sold the gray mare, the colt went also. Who could, who would, who dared,
separate the parent from her offspring? Alas! I had yet to learn that
the white man dared do all that his avarice might suggest; and there was
no human tribunal where the outcast African could pray for “right!” Ah,
when I now think of my poor mother’s form, as it swayed like a willow in
the tempest of grief; when I remember her bitter cries, and see her arms
thrown franticly toward me, and hear her earnest–oh, how
earnest–prayer for death or madness, then I wonder where were Heaven’s
thunderbolts; but retributive Justice _will_ come sooner or later, and
He who remembers mercy _now_ will not forget justice _then_.

“Come along, gal, come along, gather up your duds, and come with me,”
said a harsh voice; and, looking up from my bewildered reverie, I beheld
the man who had so carefully examined me. I was too much startled to
fully understand the words, and stood vacantly gazing at him. This
strange manner he construed into disrespect; and, raising his
riding-whip, he brought it down with considerable force upon my back. It
was the first lash I had ever given to me in anger. I smarted beneath
the stripe, and a cry of pain broke from my lips. Mother sprang to me,
and clasping my quivering form in her arms, cried out to my young
master, “Oh, Master Eddy, have mercy on me, on my child. I have served
you faithfully, I nursed you, I grew up with your poor mother, who now
sleeps in the cold ground. I beg you now to save _my child_,” and she
sank down at his feet, whilst her tears fell fast.

Then my poor old grandfather, who was called the patriarch slave, being
the eldest one of the race in the whole neighborhood, joined us. His
gray head, wrinkled face, and bent form, told of many a year of hard
servitude.

“What is it, Massa Ed, what is it Kaisy be takin’ on so ’bout? you
haint driv the _chile_ off? No–no! young massa only playin’ trick now;
come Kais’ don’t be makin’ fool of yoursef, young massa not gwine to
separate you and the chile.”

These words seemed to reanimate my mother, and she looked up at Master
Edward with a grateful expression of face, whilst she clasped her arms
tightly around his knees, exclaiming, “Oh, bless you, young master,
bless you forever, and forgive poor Kaisy for distrusting you, but
Pompey told me the child was sold away from me, and that gemman struck
her;” and here again she sobbed, and caught hold of me convulsively, as
if she feared I might be taken.

I looked at my young master’s face, and the ghastly whiteness which
overspread it, the tearful glister of his eye, and the strange tremor of
his figure, struck me with fright. _I knew my doom._ Young as I was, my
first dread was for my mother; I forgot my own perilous situation, and
mourned alone for her. I would have given worlds could insensibility
have been granted her.

“I’ve got no time to be foolin’ longer with these niggers, come ‘long,
gal. Ann, I believe, you tole me was her name,” he said, as he turned to
Master Edward. Another wild shriek from my mother, a deep sigh from
grandpap, and I looked at master Ed, who was striking his forehead
vehemently, and the tears were trickling down his cheeks.

“Here, Mr. Peterkin, here!” exclaimed Master Edward, “here is your bill
of sale; I will refund your money; release me from my contract.”

Peterkin cast on him one contemptuous look, and with a low, chuckling
laugh, replied, “No; you must stand to your bargain. I want that gal;
she is likely, and it will do me good to thrash the devil out of her;”
turning to me he added, “quit your snuffling and snubbing, or I’ll give
you something to cry ’bout;” and, roughly catching me by the arm, he
hurried me off, despite the entreaty of Master Ed, the cries of mother,
and the feeble supplication of my grandfather. I dared to cast one look
behind, and beheld my mother wallowing in the dust, whilst her frantic
cries of “save my child, save my child!” rang with fearful agony in my
ears. Master Ed covered his face with his hands, and old grandfather
reverently raised his to Heaven, as if beseeching mercy. The sight of
this anguish-stricken group filled me with a new sense of horror, and
forgetful of the presence of Peterkin, I burst into tears: but I was
quickly recalled by a fierce and stinging blow from his stout
riding-whip.

“See here, nigger (this man, raised among negroes, used their dialect),
if you dar’ to give another whimper, I’ll beat the very life out ‘en
yer.” This terrific threat seemed to scare away every thought of
precaution; and, by a sudden and agile bound, I broke loose from him and
darted off to the sad group, from which I had been so ruthlessly torn,
and, sinking down before Master Ed, I cried out in a wild, despairing
tone, “Save me, good master, save me–kill me, or hide me from that
awful man, he’ll kill me;” and, seizing hold of the skirt of his coat, I
covered my face with it to shut out the sight of Peterkin, whose red
eye-balls were glaring with fury upon me. Oath after oath escaped his
lips. Mother saw him rapidly approaching to recapture me, and, with the
noble, maternal instinct of self-sacrifice, sprang forward only to
receive the heavy blow of his uplifted whip. She reeled, tottered and
sank stunned upon the ground.

“Thar, take that, you yaller hussy, and cuss yer nigger hide for daring
to raise this rumpus here,” he said, as he rapidly strode past her.

“Gently, Mr. Peterkin,” exclaimed Master Edward, “let me speak to her; a
little encouragement is better than force.”

“This is my encouragement for them,” and he shook his whip.

Unheeding him, Master Edward turned to me, saying, “Ann, come now, be a
good girl, go with this gentleman, and be an obedient girl; he will give
you a kind, nice home; sometimes he will let you come to see your
mother. Here is some money for you to buy a pretty head-handkerchief;
now go with him.” These kind words and encouraging tones, brought a
fresh gush of tears to my eyes. Taking the half-dollar which he offered
me, and reverently kissing the skirt of his coat, I rejoined Peterkin;
one look at his cold, harsh face, chilled my resolution; yet I had
resolved to go without another word of complaint. I could not suppress a
groan when I passed the spot where my mother lay still insensible from
the effects of the blow.

One by one the servants, old and young, gave me a hearty shake of the
hand as I passed the place where they were standing in a row for the
inspection of buyers.

I had nerved myself, and now that the parting from mother was over, I
felt that the bitterness of death was past, and I could meet anything.
Nothing now could be a trial, yet I was touched when the servants
offered me little mementoes and keepsakes. One gave a yard of ribbon,
another a half-paper of pins, a third presented a painted cotton
head-tie; others gave me ginger-cakes, candies, or small coins. Out of
their little they gave abundantly, and, small as were the bestowments, I
well knew that they had made sacrifices to give even so much. I was too
deeply affected to make any other acknowledgment than a nod of the head;
for a choking thickness was gathering in my throat, and a blinding mist
obscured my sight. I did not see my young mistresses, for they had left
the house, declaring they could not bear to witness a spectacle so
revolting to their feelings.

Upon reaching the gate I observed a red-painted wagon, with an awning of
domestic cotton. Standing near it, and holding the horses, was an old,
worn, scarred, weather-beaten negro man, who instantly took off his hat
as Mr. Peterkin approached.

“Well, Nace, you see I’ve bought this wench to-day,” and he shook his
whip over my head.

“Ya! ya! Massa, but she ha’ got one goot home wid yer.”

“Yes, has she, Nace; but don’t yer think the slut has been cryin’ ’bout
it!”

“Lor’ bless us, Massa, but a little of the beech-tree will fetch that
sort of truck out of her,” and old Nace showed his broken teeth, as he
gave a forced laugh.

“I guess I can take the fool out en her, by the time I gives her two or
three swings at the whippin’-post.”

Nace shook his head knowingly, and gave a low guttural laugh, by way of
approval of his master’s capabilities.

“Jump in the wagon, gal,” said my new master, “jump in quick; I likes to
see niggers active, none of your pokes ’bout me; but this will put
sperit in ’em,” and there was another defiant flourish of the whip.

I got in with as much haste and activity as I could possibly command.
This appeared to please Mr. Peterkin, and he gave evidence of it by
saying,–

“Well, that does pretty well; a few stripes a day, and you’ll be a
valerble slave;” and, getting in the vehicle himself, he ordered Nace to
drive on “_pretty peart_,” as night would soon overtake us.

Just as we were starting I perceived Josh, one of my playmates, running
after us with a small bundle, shouting,–

“Here, Ann, you’ve lef’ yer bundle of close.”

“Stop, Nace,” said Mr. Peterkin, “let’s git the gal’s duds, or I’ll be
put to the ‘spence of gittin’ new ones for her.”

Little Josh came bounding up, and, with an affectionate manner, handed
me the little wallet that contained my entire wardrobe. I leaned
forward, and, in a muffled tone, but with my whole heart hanging on my
lip, asked Josh “how is mother?” but a cut of Nace’s whip, and a quick
“gee-up,” put me beyond the hearing of the reply. I strained my eyes
after Josh, to interpret the motion of his lips.

In a state of hopeless agony I sat through the remainder of the journey.
The coarse jokes and malignant threats of Mr. Peterkin were answered
with laughing and dutiful assent by the veteran Nace. I tried to deceive
my persecutors by feigning sleep, but, ah, a strong finger held my lids
open, and slumber fled away to gladden lighter hearts and bless brighter
eyes.

The young moon had risen in mild and meek serenity to bless the earth.
With a strange and fluctuating light the pale rays played over the
leaves and branches of the forest trees, and flickered fantastically
upon the ground! Only a few stars were discernible in the highest dome
of heaven! The lowing of wandering cows, or the chirp of a night-bird,
had power to beguile memory back to a thousand vanished joys. I mused
and wept; still the wagon jogged along. Mr. Peterkin sat half-sleeping
beside old Nace, whose occasional “gee-up” to the lagging horses, was
the only human sound that broke the soft serenity! Every moment seemed
to me an age, for I dreaded the awakening of my cruel master. Ah, little
did I dream that that horrid day’s experience was but a brief foretaste
of what I had yet to suffer; and well it was for me that a kind and
merciful Providence veiled that dismal future from my gaze. About
midnight I had fallen into a quiet sleep, gilded by the sweetest dream,
a dream of the old farm-house, of mother, grandfather, and my
companions.

From this vision I was aroused by the gruff voice of Peterkin, bidding
me get out of the wagon. That voice was to me more frightful and fearful
than the blast of the last trump. Springing suddenly up, I threw off the
shackles of sleep; and consciousness, with all its direful burden,
returned fully to me. Looking round, by the full light of the moon, I
beheld a large country house, half hidden among trees. A white paling
enclosed the ground, and the scent of dewy roses and other garden
flowers filled the atmosphere.

“Now, Nace, put up the team, and git yourself to bed,” said Peterkin.
Turning to me he added, “give this gal a blanket, and let her sleep on
the floor in Polly’s cabin; keep a good watch on her, that she don’t try
to run off.”

“Needn’t fear dat, Massa, for de bull-dog tear her to pieces if she
‘tempt dat. By gar, I’d like to see her be for tryin’ it;” and the old
negro gave a fiendish laugh, as though he thought it would be rare
sport.

Mr. Peterkin entered the handsome house, of which he was the rich and
respected owner, whilst I, conducted by Nace, repaired to a dismal
cabin. After repeated knocks at the door of this most wretched hovel, an
old crone of a negress muttered between her clenched teeth, “Who’s dar?”

“It’s me, Polly; what you be ’bout dar, dat you don’t let me in?”

“What for you be bangin’ at my cabin? I’s got no bisness wid you.”

“Yes, but I’s got bisness wid you; stir yer ole stumps now.”

“I shan’t be for troublin’ mysef and lettin’ you in my cabin at dis hour
ob de night-time; and if you doesn’t be off, I’ll make Massa gib you a
sound drubbin’ in de mornin’.”

“Ha, ha! now I’m gots you sure; for massa sends me here himsef.”

This was enough for Polly; she broke off all further colloquy, and
opened the door instantly.

The pale moonlight rested as lovingly upon that dreary, unchinked, rude,
and wretched hovel, as ever it played over the gilded roof and frescoed
dome of ancient palaces; but ah, what squalor did it not reveal! There,
resting upon pallets of straw, like pigs in a litter, were groups of
children, and upon a rickety cot the old woman reposed her aged limbs.
How strange, lonely, and forbidding appeared that tenement, as the old
woman stood in the doorway, her short and scanty kirtles but poorly
concealing her meagre limbs. A dark, scowling countenance looked out
from under a small cap of faded muslin; little bleared eyes glared upon
me, like the red light of a heated furnace. Instinctively I shrank back
from her, but Nace was tired, and not wishing to be longer kept from
his bed, pushed me within the door, saying–

“Thar, Polly, Massa say dat gal mus’ sleep in dar.”

“Come ‘long in, gal,” said the woman, and closing the door, she pointed
to a patch of straw, “sleep dar.”

The moonbeams stole in through the crevices and cracks of the cabin, and
cast a mystic gleam upon the surrounding objects. Without further word
or comment, Polly betook herself to her cot, and was soon snoring away
as though there were no such thing as care or slavery in the world. But
to me sleep was a stranger. There I lay through the remaining hours of
the night, wearily thinking of mother and home. “Sold,” I murmured.
“What is it to be sold? Why was _I_ sold? Why separated from my mother
and friends? Why couldn’t mother come with me, or I stay with her? I
never saw Mr. Peterkin before. Who gave him the right to force me from
my good home and kind friends?” These questions would arise in my mind,
and, alas! I had no answers for them. Young and ignorant as I was, I had
yet some glimmering idea of justice. Later in life, these same questions
have often come to me, as sad commentaries upon the righteousness of
human laws; and, when sitting in splendid churches listening to ornate
and _worldly_ harangues from _holy men_, these same thoughts have
tingled upon my tongue. And I have been surprised to see how strangely
these men mistake the definition of servitude. Why, from the exposition
of the worthy divines, one would suppose that servitude was a fair
synonym for slavery! Admitting that we are the descendants of the
unfortunate Ham, and endure our bondage as the penalty affixed to his
crime, there can be no argument or fact adduced, whereby to justify
slavery as a moral right. Serving and being a slave are very different.
And why may not Ham’s descendants claim a reprieve by virtue of the
passion and death of Christ? Are we excluded from the grace of that
atonement? No; there is no argument, no reason, to justify slavery, save
that of human cupidity. But there will come a day, when each and every
one who has violated that divine rule, “Do unto others as you would
have them do unto you,” will stand with a fearful accountability before
the Supreme Judge. Then will there be loud cries and lamentations, and a
wish for the mountains to hide them from the eye of Judicial Majesty.

The next morning I rose with the dawn, and sitting upright upon my
pallet, surveyed the room and its tenants. There, in comfortless
confusion, upon heaps of straw, slumbered five children, dirty and
ragged. On the broken cot, with a remnant of a coverlet thrown over her,
lay Aunt Polly. A few broken stools and one pine box, with a shelf
containing a few tins, constituted the entire furniture.

“And this wretched pen is to be my home; these dirty-looking children my
associates.” Oh, how dismal were my thoughts; but little time had I for
reflection. The shrill sound of a hunting-horn was the summons for the
servants to arise, and woe unto him or her who was found missing or
tardy when the muster-roll was called. Aunt Polly and the five children
sprang up, and soon dressed themselves. They then appeared in the yard,
where a stout, athletic man, with full beard and a dull eye, stood with
whip in hand. He called over the names of all, and portioned out their
daily task. With a smile more of terror than pleasure, they severally
received their orders. I stood at the extremity of the range. After
disposing of them in order, the overseer (for such he was) looked at me
fiercely, and said:

“Come here, gal.”

With a timid step, I obeyed.

“What are you fit for? Not much of anything, ha?” and catching hold of
my ear he pulled me round in front of him, saying,

“Well, you are likely-looking; how much work can you do?”

I stammered out something as to my willingness to do anything that was
required of me. He examined my hands, and concluding from their
dimensions that I was best suited for house-work, he bade me remain in
the kitchen until after breakfast. When I entered the room designated,
par politesse, as the kitchen, I was surprised to find such a desolate
and destitute-looking place. The apartment, which was very small, seemed
to be a sort of Pandora’s Box, into which everything of household or
domestic use had been crowded. The walls were hung round with saddles,
bridles, horse-blankets, &c. Upon a swinging shelf in the centre of the
room were ranged all the seeds, nails, ropes, dried elms, and the rest
of the thousand and one little notions of domestic economy. A rude,
wooden shelf contained a dark, dusty row of unclean tins; broken stools
and old kegs were substituted for chairs; upon these were stationed four
or five ebony children; one of them, a girl about nine years old, with a
dingy face, to which soap and water seemed foreign, and with shaggy,
moppy hair, twisted in short, stringy plaits, sat upon a broken keg,
with a squalid baby in her lap, which she jostled upon her knee, whilst
she sang in a sharp key, “hushy-by-baby.” Three other wretched children,
in tow-linen dresses, whose brevity of skirts made a sad appeal to the
modesty of spectators, were perched round this girl, whom they called
Amy. They were furiously begging Aunt Polly (the cook) to give them a
piece of hoe-cake.

“Be off wid you, or I’ll tell Massa, or de overseer,” answered the
beldame, as their solicitations became more clamorous. This threat had
power to silence the most earnest demands of the stomach, for the fiend
of hunger was far less dreaded than the lash of Mr. Jones, the overseer.
My entrance, and the sight of a strange face, was a diversion for them.
They crowded closer to Amy, and eyed me with a half doubtful, and
altogether ludicrous air.

“Who’s her?” “whar she come from?” “when her gwyn away?” and such like
expressions, escaped them, in stifled tones.

“Come in, set down,” said Aunt Polly to me, and, turning to the group of
children, she levelled a poker at them.

“Keep still dar, or I’ll break your pates wid dis poker.”

Instantly they cowered down beside Amy, still peeping over her
shoulder, to get a better view of me. With a very uneasy feeling I
seated myself upon the broken stool, to which Aunt Polly pointed. One of
the boldest of the children came up to me, and, slyly touching my dress,
said, “tag,” then darted off to her hiding-place, with quite the air of
a victress. Amy made queer grimaces at me. Every now and then placing
her thumb to her nose, and gyrating her finger towards me, she would
drawl out, “you ka-n-t kum it.” All this was perfect jargon to me; for
at home, though we had been but imperfectly protected by clothing from
the vicissitudes of seasons, and though our fare was simple, coarse, and
frugal, had we been kindly treated, and our manners trained into
something like the softness of humanity. There, as regularly as the
Sunday dawned, were we summoned to the house to hear the Bible read, and
join (though at a respectful distance) with the family in prayer. But
this I subsequently learned was an unusual practice in the neighborhood,
and was attributed to the fact, that my master’s wife had been born in
the State of Massachusetts, where the people were crazy and fanatical
enough to believe that “niggers” had souls, and were by God held to be
responsible beings.

The loud blast of the horn was the signal for the “hands” to suspend
their labor and come to breakfast. Two negro men and three women rushed
in at the door, ravenous for their rations. I looked about for the
table, but, seeing none, concluded it had yet to be arranged; for at
home we always took our meals on a table. I was much surprised to see
each one here take a slice of fat bacon and a pone of bread in his or
her hand, and eat it standing.

“Well,” said one man, “I’d like to git a bit more bread.”

“You’s had your sher,” replied Aunt Polly. “Mister Jones ses one slice
o’ meat and a pone o’ bread is to be the ‘lowance.”

“I knows it, but if thar’s any scraps left from the house table, you
wimmin folks always gits it.”

“Who’s got de bes’ right? Sure, and arn’t de one who cooks it got de
bes’ right to it?” asked Polly, with a triumphant voice.

“Ha, ha!” cried Nace, “here comes de breakfust leavin’s, now who’s
smartest shall have ’em;” whereupon Nace, his comrade, and the three
women, seized a waiter of fragments of biscuit, broiled ham, coffee,
&c., the remains of the breakfast prepared for the white family.

“By gar,” cried Nace, “I’ve got de coffee-pot, and I’ll drink dis;” so,
without further ceremony, he applied the spout to his mouth, and, sans
cream or sugar, he quaffed off the grounds. Jake possessed himself of
the ham, whilst the two women held a considerable contest over a
biscuit. Blow and lie passed frequently between them. Aunt Polly
brandished her skimmer-spoon, as though it were Neptune’s trident of
authority; still she could not allay the confusion which these excited
cormorants raised. The children yelled out and clamored for a bit; the
sight and scent of ham and biscuits so tantalized their palates, that
they forgot even the terror of the whip. I stood all agape, looking on
with amazement.

The two belligerent women stood with eyes blazing like comets, their
arms twisted around each other in a very decided and furious rencontre.
One of them, losing her balance, fell upon the floor, and, dragging the
other after her, they rolled and wallowed in a cloud of dust, whilst the
disputed biscuit, in the heat of the affray, had been dropped on the
hearth, where, unperceived by the combatants, Nace had possessed himself
of it, and was happily masticating it.

Melinda, the girl from whom the waiter had been snatched, doubtless much
disappointed by the loss of the debris, returned to the house and made a
report of the fracas.

Instantly and unexpectedly, Jones, flaming with rage, stood in the midst
of the riotous group. Seizing hold of the women, he knocked them on
their heads with his clenched fists.

“Hold, black wretches, come, I will give you a leetle fun; off now to
the post.”

Then such appeals for mercy, promises of amendment, entreaties, excuses,
&c., as the two women made, would have touched a heart of stone; but
Jones had power to resist even the prayers of an angel. To him the
cries of human suffering and the agony of distress were music. My heart
bled when I saw the two victims led away, and I put my hands to my ears
to shut out the screams of distress which rang with a strange terror on
the morning air. Poor, oppressed African! thorny and rugged is your path
of life! Many a secret sigh and bleeding tear attest your cruel
martyrdom! Surely He, who careth alike for the high and the low, looks
not unmoved upon you, wearing and groaning beneath the pressing burden
and galling yoke of a most inhuman bondage. For you there is no broad
rock of Hope or Peace to cast its shadow of rest in this “weary land.”
You must sow in tears and reap in sorrow. But He, who led the children
of Israel from the house of bondage and the fetters of captivity, will,
in His own inscrutable way, lead you from the condition of despair, even
by the pillar of fire and the cloud. Great changes are occurring daily,
old constitutions are tottering, old systems, fraught with the cruelty
of darker ages, are shaking to their centres. Master minds are
everywhere actively engaged. Keen eyes and vigilant hearts are open to
the wrongs of the poor, the lowly and the outcast. An avenging angel
sits concealed ‘mid the drapery of the wasting cloud, ready to pour the
vials of God’s wrath upon a haughty and oppressive race. In the
threatened famine, see we nothing but an accidental failure of the
crops? In the exhausted coffers and empty public treasury, is there
nothing taught but the lesson of national extravagance? In the virulence
of disease, the increasing prevalence of fatal epidemics, what do we
read? Send for the seers, the wise men of the nation, and bid them
translate the “mysterious writing on the wall.” Ah, well may ye shake,
Kings of Mammon, shake upon your tottering throne of human bones! Give
o’er your sports, suspend your orgies, dash down the jewelled cup of
unhallowed joy, sparkling as it is to the very brim. You must pay, like
him of old, the fearful price of sin. God hath not heard, unmoved, the
anguished cries of a down-trodden and enslaved nation! And it needs no
Daniel to tell, that “God hath numbered your Kingdom and it is
finished.”

As may be supposed, I had little appetite for my breakfast, but I
managed to deceive others into the belief that I had made a hearty meal.
But those screams from half-famished wretches had a fatal and terrifying
fascination; never once could I forget it.

A look of fright was on the face of all. “They be gettin’ awful beatin’
at the post,” muttered Nace, whilst a sardonic smile flitted over his
hard features. Was it not sad to behold the depths of degradation into
which this creature had fallen? He could smile at the anguish of a
fellow-creature. Originally, his nature may have been kind and gentle;
but a continuous system of brutality had so deadened his sensibilities,
that he had no humanity left. _For this_, the white man is accountable.

After the breakfast was over, I received a summons to the house.
Following Melinda, I passed the door-sill, and stood in the presence of
the assembled household. A very strange group I thought them. Two girls
were seated beside the uncleared breakfast table, “trying their fortune”
(as the phrase goes) with a cup of coffee-grounds and a spoon. The elder
of the two was a tall, thin girl, with sharp features, small gray eyes,
and red-hair done up in frizettes; the other was a prim, dark-skinned
girl, with a set of nondescript features, and hair of no particular hue,
or “just any color;” but with the same harsh expression of face that
characterized the elder. As she received the magic cup from her sister,
she exclaimed, “La, Jane, it will only be two years until you are
married,” and made a significant grimace at her father (Mr. Peterkin),
who sat near the window, indulging in the luxury of a cob-pipe. The
taller girl turned toward me, and asked,

“Father, is that the new girl you bought at old Nelson’s sale?”

“Yes, that’s the gal. Does she suit you?”

“Yes, but dear me! how very light she is–almost white! I know she will
be impudent.”

“She has come to the wrong place for the practice of that article,”
suggested the other.

“Yes, gal, you has got to mind them ar’ _wimmen_,” said Mr. Peterkin to
me, as he pointed toward his daughters.

“Father, I do wish you would quit that vulgarism; say _girl_, not gal,
and _ladies_, not women.”

“Oh, I was never _edicated_, like you.”

“_Educated_ is the word.”

“Oh, confound your dictionaries! Ever since that school-marm come out
from Yankee-land, these neighborhood gals talk so big, nobody can
understand ’em.”

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