This thought of dying

When the golden sun had begun to tinge with light the distant tree-tops,
and the young birds to chant their matin hymn, I awoke from my profound
sleep. Wearily I moved upon my pillow, for though my slumber had been
deep and sweet, yet now, upon awaking, I experienced no refreshment.

Rising up in the bed, and supporting myself upon my elbow, I looked
round in quest of Aunt Polly; but then I remembered that she had to be
about the breakfast. Amy was sitting on the floor, endeavoring to
arrange the clothes on a little toddler, her orphan brother, over whom
she exercised a sort of maternal care. She, her two sisters, and infant
brother, were the orphans of a woman who had once belonged to a brother
of Mr. Peterkin. Their orphanage had not fallen upon them from the
ghastly fingers of death, but from the far more cruel and cold mandate
of human cupidity. A fair, even liberal price had been offered their
owner for their mother, Dilsy, and such a speculation was not to be
resigned upon the score of philanthropy. No, the man who would refuse
nine hundred dollars for a negro woman, upon the plea that she had three
young children and a helpless infant, from whom she must not be
separated, would, in Kentucky, be pronounced insane; and I can assure
you that, on this subject, the brave Kentuckians had good right to
decide, according to their code, that Elijah Peterkin was _compos
mentis_.

“Amy,” said I, as I rubbed my eyes, to dissipate the film and mists of
sleep, “is it very late? have you heard the horn blow for the hands to
come in from work?”

“No, me hab not hearn it yet, but laws, Ann, me did tink you would
neber talk no more.”

“But you see I am talking now,” and I could not resist a smile; “have
you been nursing me?”

“No, indeed, Aunt Polly wouldn’t let me come nigh yer bed, and she keep
all de time washing your body and den rubbin’ it wid a feader an’
goose-greese. Oh, you did lay here so still, jist like somebody dead.
Aunt Polly, she wouldn’t let one ob us speak one word, sed it would
‘sturb you; but I knowed you wasn’t gwine to kere, so ebery time she
went out, I jist laughed and talked as much as I want.”

“But did you not want me to get well, Amy?”

“Why, sartin I did; but my laughin’ want gwine to kill you, was it?” She
looked up with a queer, roguish smile.

“No, but it might have increased my fever.”

“Well, if you had died, I would hab got yer close, now you knows you
promised ’em to me. So when I hearn Jake say you was dead, I run and got
yer new calico dress, and dat ribbon what Miss Jane gib you, an’ put dem
in my box; den arter while Aunt Polly say you done kum back to life; so
I neber say notin’ more, I jist tuck de close and put dem back in yer
box, and tink to myself, well, maybe I will git ’em some oder time.”

It amused me not a little to find that upon mere suspicion of my demise,
this little negro had levied upon my wardrobe, which was scanty indeed;
but so it is, be we ever so humble or poor, there is always some one to
regard us with a covetous eye. My little paraphernalia was, to this
half-savage child, a rich and wondrous possession.

“Here, hold up yer foot, Ben, or you shan’t hab any meat fur breakus.”
This threat was addressed to her young brother, whom she nursed like a
baby, and whose tiny foot seemed to resist the restraint of a shoe.

I looked long at them, and mused with a strange sorrow upon their
probable destiny. Bitter I knew it must be. For, where is there, beneath
the broad sweep of the majestic heavens, a single one of the dusky
tribe of Ethiopia who has not felt that existence was to him far more a
curse than a blessing? You, oh, my tawny brothers, who read these
tear-stained pages, ask your own hearts, which, perhaps, now ache almost
to bursting, ask, I say, your own vulture-torn hearts, if life is not a
hard, hard burden? Have you not oftentimes prayed to the All-Merciful to
sever the mystic tie that bound you here, to loosen your chains and set
you, soul and body, free? Have you not, from the broken chinks of your
lonely cabins at night, looked forth upon the free heavens, and murmured
at your fate? Is there, oh! slave, in your heart a single pleasant
memory? Do you not, captive-husband, recollect with choking pride how
the wife of your bosom has been cruelly lashed while you dared not say
one word in her defence? Have you not seen your children, precious
pledges of undying love, ruthlessly torn from you, bound hand and foot
and sold like dogs in the slave market, while you dared not offer a
single remonstrance? Has not every social and moral feeling been
outraged? Is it not the white man’s policy to degrade your race, thereby
finding an argument to favor the perpetuation of Slavery? Is there for
us one thing to sweeten bondage? Free African! in the brave old States
of the North, where the shackles of slavery exist not, to you I call.
Noble defenders of Abolition, you whose earnest eyes may scan these
pages, I call to you with a _tearful voice_; I pray you to go on in your
glorious cause; flag not, faint not, prosecute it before heaven and
against man. Fling out your banners and march on to the defence of the
suffering ones at the South. And you, oh my heart-broken sisters,
toiling beneath a tropic sun, wearing out your lives in the service of
tyrants, to you I say, hope and pray still! Trust in God! He is mighty
and willing to save, and, in an hour that you know not of, he will roll
the stone away from the portal of your hearts. My prayers are with you
and for you. I have come up from the same tribulation, and I vow, by the
sears and wounds upon my flesh, never to forget your cause. Would that
my tears, which freely flow for you, had power to dissolve the fetters
of your wasting bondage.

Thoughts like these, though with more vagueness and less form, passed
through my brain as I looked upon those poor little outcast children,
and I must be excused for thus making, regardless of the usual etiquette
of authors, an appeal to the hearts of my free friends. Never once do I
wish them to lose sight of the noble cause to which they have lent the
influence of their names. I am but a poor, unlearned woman, whose heart
is in her cause, and I should be untrue to the motive which induced me
to chronicle the dark passages in my woe-worn life if I did not urge and
importune the Apostles of Abolition to move forward and onward in their
march of reform.

“Come, Amy, near to my bed, and talk a little with me.”

“I wants to git some bread fust.”

“You are always hungry,” I pettishly replied.

“No, I isn’t, but den, Ann, I neber does git enuf to eat here. Now, we
use to hab more at Mas’ Lijah’s.”

“Was he a good master?” I asked.

“No, he wasn’t; but den mammy used to gib us nice tings to eat. She
buyed it from de store, and she let us hab plenty ob it.”

“Where is your mammy?”

“She bin sold down de ribber to a trader,” and there was a quiver in the
child’s voice.

“Did she want to go?” I inquired.

“No, she cried a heap, and tell Masser she wouldn’t mind it if he would
let her take us chilen; but Masser say no, he wouldn’t. Den she axed him
please to let her hab little Ben, any how. Masser cussed, and said,
Well, she might hab Ben, as he was too little to be ob any sarvice; den
she ‘peared so glad and got him all ready to take; but when de trader
kum to take her away, he say he wouldn’t ‘low her to take Ben, kase he
couldn’t sell her fur as much, if she hab a baby wid her; den, oh den,
how poor mammy did cry and beg; but de trader tuck his cowhide and
whipped her so hard she hab to stop cryin’ or beggin’. Den she kum to
me and make me promise to take good care ob Ben, to nurse him and tend
on him as long as I staid whar he was. Den she knelt down in de corner
of her cabin and prayed to God to take care ob us, all de days of our
life; den she kissed us all and squeezed us tight, and when she tuck
little Ben in her arms it ‘peared like her heart would break. De water
from her eyes wet Ben’s apron right ringing wet, jist like it had come
out ob a washing tub. Den de trader called to her to come along, and den
she gib dis to me, and told me dat ebery time I looked at it, I must
tink of my poor mammy dat was sold down de ribber, and ‘member my
promise to her ’bout my little brudder.”

Here the child exhibited a bored five-cent piece, which she wore
suspended by a black string around her neck.

“De chilen has tried many times to git it away frum me; but I’s allers
beat ’em off; and whenever Miss Tildy wants me fur to mind her, she
says, ‘Now, Amy, I’ll jist take yer mammy’s present from yer if yer
doesn’t do what I bids yer;’ den de way dis here chile does work isn’t
slow, I ken tell yer,” and with her characteristic gesture she run her
tongue out at the corner of her mouth in an oblique manner, and suddenly
withdrew it, as though it had passed over a scathing iron.

“Could anything induce you to part with it?” I asked.

She rolled her eyes up with a look of wonderment, and replied, half
ferociously, “Gracious! no–why, hasn’t I bin whipped, ‘bused and treed;
still I’d hold fast to this. No mortal ken take it frum me. You may kill
me in welcome,” and the child shook her head with a philosophical air,
as she said, “and I don’t kere much, so mammy’s chilen dies along wid
me, fur I didn’t see no use in our livin’ eny how. I’s done got my full
shere ob beatin’ an’ we haint no use on dis here airth–so I jist wants
fur to die.”

I looked upon her, so uncared for, so forlorn in her condition, and I
could not find it in my heart to blame her for the wish, erring and
rebellious as it must appear to the Christian. What _had_ she to live
for? To those little children, the sacred bequests of her mother, she
was no protection; for, even had she been capable of extending to them
all the guidance and watchfulness, both of soul and body, which their
delicate and immature natures required, there was every probability,
nay, there was a certainty, that this duty would be denied her. She
could not hope, at best, to live with them more than a few years. They
were but cattle, chattels, property, subject to the will and pleasure of
their owners. There would speedily come a time when a division must take
place in the estate, and that division would necessarily cause a
separation and rupture of family ties. What wonder then, that this poor
ignorant child sighed for the calm, unfearing, unbroken rest of the
grave? She dreamed not of a “more beyond;” she thought her soul mortal,
even as her body; and had she been told that there was for her a world,
even a blessed one, to succeed death, she would have shuddered and
feared to cross the threshold of the grave. She thought annihilation the
greatest, the only blessing awaiting her. The idea of another life would
have brought with it visions of a new master and protracted slavery.
Freedom and equality of souls, irrespective of _color_, was too
transcendental and chimerical an idea to take root in her practical
brain. Many times had she heard her master declare that “niggers were
jist like dogs, laid down and died, and nothin’ come of them
afterwards.” His philosophy could have proposed nothing more delightful
to her ease-coveting mind.

Some weeks afterwards, when I was trying to teach her the doctrine of
the immortality of the soul, she broke forth in an idiotic laugh, as she
said, “oh, no, dat gold city what dey sings ’bout in hymns, will do fur
de white folks; but nothin’ eber comes of niggers; dey jist dies and
rots.”

“Who do you think made negroes?” I inquired.

Looking up with a meaning grin, she said, “White folks made ’em fur der
own use, I ‘spect.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Kase white folks ken kill ’em when dey pleases; so I ‘spose dey make
’em.”

This was a species of reasoning which, for a moment, confounded my
logic. Seeing that I lacked a ready reply, she went on:

“Yes, you see, Ann, we hab no use wid a soul. De white folks won’t hab
any work to hab done up dere, and so dey won’t hab no use fur niggers.”

“Doesn’t this make you miserable?”

“What?” she asked, with amazement.

“This thought of dying, and rotting like the vilest worm.”

“No, indeed, it makes me glad; fur den I’ll not hab anybody to beat me;
knock, kick, and cuff me ’bout, like dey does now.”

“Poor child, happier far,” I thought, “in your ignorance, than I, with
all the weight of fearful responsibility that my little knowledge
entails upon me. On you, God will look with a more pitying eye than upon
me, to whom he has delegated the stewardship of two talents.”

Several days had elapsed since the morning conversation with Amy;
meanwhile matters were jogging along in their usually dull way. Of late,
since the flight of Mr. Jones, and the illness of Mr. Peterkin, there
had been considerably less fighting; but the ladies made innumerable
threats of what they would do, when their father should be well enough
to allow a suspension of nursing duties.

My wounds had rapidly healed, and I had resumed my former position in
the discharge of household duties. Lindy, my old assistant, still held
her place. I always had an aversion to her. There was that about her
entire physique which made her odious to me. A certain laxity of the
muscles and joints of her frame, which produced a floundering, shuffling
sort of gait that was peculiarly disagreeable, a narrow, soulless
countenance, an oblique leer of the eye where an ambushed fiend seemed
to lurk, full, voluptuous lips, lengthy chin, and expanded nostril,
combined to prove her very low in the scale of animals. She had a kind
of dare-devil courage, which seemed to brave a great deal, and yet she
shrank from everything like punishment. There was a union of degrading
passions in her character. I doubt if the lowest realm of hades
contained a baser spirit. This girl, I felt assured from the first time
I beheld her, was destined to be my evil genius. I felt that the baleful
comet that presided over her birth, would in his reckless and maddening
course, rush too near the little star which, through cloud and shadow,
beamed on my destiny.

She was not without a certain kind of sprightliness that passed for
intelligence; and she could by her adroitness of manoeuvre amble out of
any difficulty. With a good education she would have made an excellent
female pettifogger. She had all of the quickness and diablerie usually
summed up in that most expressive American word, “_smartness_.”

I was a good deal vexed and grieved to find myself again a partner of
hers in the discharge of my duties. It seemed to open my wounds afresh;
for I remembered that her falsehood had gained me the severe castigation
that had almost deprived me of life; and her laugh and jibe had rendered
my suffering at the accursed post even more humiliating. Yet I knew
better than to offer a demurrer to any arrangement that my mistress had
made.

One day as I was preparing to set the table for the noon meal, Lindy
came to me and whispered, in an under-tone, “You finish the table, I am
going out; and if Miss Jane or Tildy axes where I is, say dat I went to
de kitchen to wash a dish.”

“Very well,” I replied in my usual laconic style, and went on about my
work. It was well for her that she had observed this precaution; for in
a few moments Miss Tildy came in, and her first question was for Lindy.
I answered as I had been desired to do. The reply appeared to satisfy
her, and with the injunction (one she never failed to give), that I
should do my work well and briskly, she left the room.

After I had arranged the table to my satisfaction, I went to the kitchen
to assist Aunt Polly in dishing up dinner.

When I reached the kitchen I found Aunt Polly in a great quandary. The
fire was not brisk enough to brown her bread, and she dared not send it
to the table without its being as beautifully brown as a student’s
meditations.

“Oh, child,” she began, “do run somewhar’ and git me a scrap or so of
dry wood, so as to raise a smart little blaze to brown dis bread.”

“Indeed I will,” and off I bounded in quest of the combustible material.
Of late Aunt Polly and I had become as devoted as mother and child. ‘Tis
true there was a deep yearning in my heart, a thirst for intercommunion
of soul, which this untutored negress could not supply. She did not
answer, with a thrilling response, to the deep cry which my spirit sent
out; yet she was kind, and even affectionate, to me. Usually harsh to
others, with me she was gentle as a lamb. With a thousand little
motherly acts she won my heart, and I strove, by assiduous kindness, to
make her forget that I was not her daughter. I started off with great
alacrity in search of the dry wood, and remembered that on the day
previous I had seen some barrel staves lying near an out-house, and
these I knew would quickly ignite. When rapidly turning the corner of
the stable, I was surprised to see Lindy standing in close and
apparently free conversation with a strange-looking white man. The sound
of my rapid footsteps startled them; and upon seeing me, the man walked
off hastily. With a fluttering, excited manner, Lindy came up and said:

“Don’t say nothing ’bout haven’ seed me wid dat ar’ gemman; fur he used
to be my mars’er, and a good one he was too.”

I promised that I would say nothing about the matter, but first I
inquired what was the nature of the private interview.

“Oh, he jist wanted fur to see me, and know how I was gitten’ long.”

I said no more; but I was not satisfied with her explanation. I resolved
to watch her narrowly, and ferret out, if possible, this seeming
mystery. Upon my return to the kitchen, with my bundle of dry sticks, I
related what I had seen to Aunt Polly.

“Dat gal is arter sompen not very good, you mark my words fur it.”

“Oh, maybe not, Aunt Polly,” I answered, though with a conviction that I
was speaking at variance with the strong probabilities of the case.

I hurried in the viands and meats for the table, and was not surprised
to find Lindy unusually obliging, for I understood the object. There was
an abashed air and manner which argued guilt, or at least, that she was
the mistress of a secret, for the entire possession of which she
trembled. Sundry little acts of unaccustomed kindness she offered me,
but I quietly declined them. I did not desire that she should insult my
honor by the offer of a tacit bribe.

In the evening, when I was arranging Miss Jane’s hair (this was my
especial duty), she surprised me by asking, in a careless and incautious
manner:

“Ann, what is the matter with Lindy? she has such an excited manner.”

“I really don’t know, Miss Jane; I have not observed anything very
unusual in her.”

“Well, I have, and I shall speak to her about it. Oh, there! slow, girl,
slow; you pulled my hair. Don’t do it again. You niggers have become so
unruly since pa’s sickness, that if we don’t soon get another overseer,
there will be no living for you. There is Lindy in the sulks, simply
because she wants a whipping, and old Polly hasn’t given us a meal fit
to eat.”

“Have I done anything, Miss Jane?” I asked with a misgiving.

“No, nothing in particular, except showing a general and continued
sullenness. Now, I do despise to see a nigger always sour-looking; and I
can tell you, Ann, you must change your ways, or it will be worse for
you.”

“I try to be cheerful, Miss Jane, but–” here I wisely checked myself.

“_Try to be_,” she echoed with a satirical tone. “What do you mean by
_trying_? You don’t dare to say you are not happy _here_?”

Finding that I made no reply, she said, “If you don’t cut your cards
squarely, you will find yourself down the river before long, and there
you are only half-clad and half-fed, and flogged every day.” Still I
made no reply. I knew that if I spoke truthfully, and as my heart
prompted, it would only redound to my misery. What right had I to speak
of my mother. She was no more than an animal, and as destitute of the
refinement of common human feeling–so I forbore to allude to her, or my
great desire to see her. I dared not speak of the horrible manner in
which my body had been cut and slashed, the half-lifeless condition in
which I had been taken from the accursed post, and all for a fault which
was not mine. These were things which, as they were done by my master’s
commands, were nothing more than right; so with an effort, I controlled
my emotion, and checked the big tears which I felt were rushing up to my
eyes.

When I had put the finishing stroke to Miss Jane’s hair, and whilst she
was surveying herself in a large French mirror, Miss Bradly came in.
Tossing her bonnet off, she kissed Miss Jane very affectionately, nodded
to me, and asked,

“Where is Tildy?”

“I don’t know, somewhere about the house, I suppose,” replied Miss Jane.

“Well, I have a new beau for her; now it will be a fine chance for
Tildy. I would have recommended you; but, knowing of your previous
engagement, I thought it best to refer him to the fair Matilda.”

Miss Jane laughed, and answered, that “though she was engaged, she would
have no objections to trying her charms upon another beau.”

There was a strange expression upon Miss Bradly’s face, and a flurried,
excited manner, very different from her usually quiet demeanor.

Miss Jane went about the room collecting, here and there, a stray pocket
handkerchief, under-sleeve, or chemisette; and, dashing them toward me,
she said,

“Put these in wash, and do, pray, Ann, try to look more cheerful. Now,
Miss Emily,” she added, addressing Miss Bradly, “we have the worst
servants in the world. There is Lindy, I believe the d–l is in her. She
is so strange in her actions. I have to repeat a thing three or four
times before she will understand me; and, as for Ann, she looks so
sullen that it gives one the horrors to see her. I’ve a notion to bring
Amy into the house. In the kitchen she is of no earthly service, and
doesn’t earn her salt. I think I’ll persuade pa to sell some of these
worthless niggers. They are no profit, and a terrible expense.”
Thereupon she was interrupted by the entrance of Miss Tildy, whose face
was unusually excited. She did not perceive Miss Bradly, and so broke
forth in a torrent of invectives against “niggers.”

“I hate them. I wish this place were rid of every black face. Now we
can’t find that wretched Lindy anywhere, high nor low. Let me once get
hold of her, and I’ll be bound she shall remember it to the day of her
death. Oh! Miss Bradly, is that you? pray excuse me for not recognizing
you sooner; but since pa’s sickness, these wretched negroes have
half-taken the place, and I shouldn’t be surprised if I were to forget
myself,” and with a kiss she seemed to think she had atoned to Miss
Bradly for her forgetfulness.

To all of this Miss B. made no reply, I fancied (perhaps it was only
fancy) that there was a shade of discontent upon her face; but she still
preserved her silence, and Miss Tildy waxed warmer and warmer in her
denunciation of ungrateful “niggers.”

“Now, here, ours have every wish gratified; are treated well, fed well,
clothed well, and yet we can’t get work enough out of them to justify us
in retaining our present number. As soon as pa gets well I intend to
urge upon him the necessity of selling some of them. It is really too
outrageous for us to be keeping such a number of the worthless wretches;
actually eating us out of house and home. Besides, our family expenses
are rapidly increasing. Brother must be sent off to college. It will not
do to have his education neglected. I really am becoming quite ashamed
of his want of preparation for a profession. I wish him sent to Yale,
after first receiving a preparatory course in some less noted
seminary,–then he will require a handsome outfit of books, and a
wardrobe inferior to none at the institution; for, Miss Emily, I am
determined our family shall have a position in every circle.” As Miss
Tildy pronounced these words, she stamped her foot in the most emphatic
way, as if to confirm and ratify her determination.

“Yes,” said Miss Jane, “I was just telling Miss Emily of our plans; and
I think we may as well bring Amy in the house. She is of no account in
the kitchen, and Lindy, Ginsy, and those brats, can be sold for a very
pretty sum if taken to the city of L—-, and put upon the block, or
disposed of to some wealthy trader.”

“What children?” asked Miss Bradly.

“Why, Amy’s two sisters and brother, and Ginsy’s child, and Ginsy too,
if pa will let her go.”

My heart ached well-nigh to bursting, when I heard this. Poor, poor Amy,
child-sufferer! another drop of gall added to thy draught of
wormwood–another thorn added to thy wearing crown. Oh, God! how I
shuddered for the victim.

Miss Jane went on in her usual heartless tone. “It is expensive to keep
them; they are no account, no profit to us; and young niggers are my
‘special aversion. I have, for a long time, intended separating Amy from
her two little sisters; she doesn’t do anything but nurse that sickly
child, Ben, and it is scandalous. You see, Miss Emily, we want an arbor
erected in the yard, and a conservatory, and some new-style table
furniture.”

“Yes, and I want a set of jewels, and a good many additions to my
wardrobe, and Jane wishes to spend a winter in the city. She will be
forced to have a suitable outfit.”

“Yes, and I am going to have everything I want, if the farm is to be
sold,” said Miss Jane, in a voice that no one dared to gainsay.

“But come, let me tell you, Tildy, about the new beau I have for you,”
said Miss Bradly.

Instantly Miss Tildy’s eyes began to glisten. The word “beau” was the
ready “sesame” to her good humor.

“Oh, now, dear, good Miss Emily, tell me something about him. Who is he?
where from?” &c.

Miss Bradly smiled, coaxingly and lovingly, as she answered:

“Well, Tildy, darling, I have a friend from the North, who is travelling
for pleasure through the valley of the Mississippi; and I promised to
introduce him to some of the pretty ladies of the West; so, of course, I
feel pride in introducing my two pupils to him.”

This was a most agreeable sedative to their ill-nature; and both sisters
came close to Miss Bradly, fairly covering her with caresses, and
addressing to her words of flattery.

As soon as my services were dispensed with I repaired to the kitchen,
where I found Aunt Polly in no very good or amiable mood. Something had
gone wrong about the arrangements for supper. The chicken was not brown
enough, or the cakes were heavy; something troubled her, and as a
necessary consequence her temper was suffering.

“I’s in an orful humor, Ann, so jist don’t come nigh me.”

“Well, but, Aunt Polly, we should learn to control these humors. They
are not the dictates of a pure spirit; they are unchristian.”

“Oh, laws, chile, what hab us to do wid der Christians? We are like dem
poor headens what de preachers prays ’bout. We haint got no
‘sponsibility, no more den de dogs.”

“I don’t think that way, Aunt Polly; I think I am as much bound to do my
duty, and expect a reward at the hands of my Maker, as any white
person.”

“Oh, ‘taint no use of talkin’ dat ar’ way, kase ebery body knows niggers
ain’t gwine to de same place whar dar massers goes.”

I dared not confront her obstinacy with any argument; for I knew she was
unwilling to believe. Poor, apathetic creature! she was happier in
yielding up her soul to the keeping of her owner, than she would have
been in guiding it herself. This to me would have been enslavement
indeed; such as I could not have endured. He, my Creator, who gave me
this heritage of thought, and the bounty of Hope, gave me, likewise, a
strong, unbridled will, which nothing can conquer. The whip may bring my
body into subjection, but the free, free spirit soars where it lists,
and no man can check it. God is with the soul! aye, in it, animating and
encouraging it, sustaining it amid the crash, conflict, and the
elemental war of passion! The poor, weak flesh may yield; but, thanks to
God! the soul, well-girded and heaven-poised, will never shrink.

Many and long have been the unslumbering nights when I have lain upon my
heap of straw, gazing at the pallid moon, and the sorrowful stars;
weaving mystic fancies as the wailing night-wind seemed to bring me a
message from the distant and the lost! I have felt whole vials of
heavenly unction poured upon my bruised soul; rich gifts have descended,
like the manna of old, upon my famishing spirit; and I have felt that
God was nearer to me in the night time. I have imagined that the very
atmosphere grew luminous with the presence of angelic hosts; and a
strange music, audible alone to my ears, has lulled me to the gentlest
of dreams! God be thanked for the night, the stars, and the spirit’s
vision! Joy came not to me with the breaking of the morn; but peace,
undefined, enwrapped me when the mantle of darkness and the crown of
stars attested the reign of Night!

I grieved to think that my poor friend, this old, lonely negress, had
nothing to soothe and charm her wearied heart. There was not a single
flower blooming up amid the rank weeds of her nature. Hard and rocky it
seemed; yet had I found the prophet’s wand, whereby to strike the flinty
heart, and draw forth living waters! pure, genial draughts of
kindliness, sweet honey-drops, hived away in the lonely cells of her
caverned soul! I would have loved to give her a portion of that peace
which radiated with its divine light the depths of my inmost spirit. I
had come to her now for the purpose of giving her the sad intelligence
that awaited poor Amy; but I did not find her in a suitable mood. I felt
assured that her harshness would, in some way or other, jar the finer
and more sensitive harmonies of my nature. Perhaps she would say that
she did not care for the sufferings of the poor, lonely child; and that
her bereavement would be nothing more than just; yet I knew that she did
not feel thus. Deep in her secret soul there lay folded a white-winged
angel, even as the uncomely bulb envelopes the fair petals of the lily;
and I longed for the summer warmth of kindness to bid it come forth and
bloom in beauty.

But now I turned away from her, murmuring, “‘Tis not the time.” She
would not open her heart, and my own must likewise be closed and silent;
but when I met poor little Amy, looking so neglected, with scarcely
apparel sufficient to cover her nudity, my heart failed me utterly.
There she held upon her hip little Ben, her only joy; every now and then
she addressed some admonitory words to him, such as “Hush, baby, love,”
“you’s my baby,” “sissy loves it,” and similar expressions of coaxing
and endearment. And this, her only comfort, was about to be wrenched
from her. The only link of love that bound her to a weary existence, was
to be severed by the harsh mandate of another. Just God! is this right?
Oh, my soul, be thou still! Look on in patience! The cloud deepens
above! The day of God’s wrath is at hand! They who have coldly forbidden
our indulging the sweet humanities of life, who have destroyed every
social relation, severed kith and kin, ruptured the ties of blood, and
left us more lonely than the beasts of the forest, may tremble when the
avenger comes!

I ventured to speak with Amy, and I employed the kindest tone; but ever
and anon little Ben would send forth such a piteous wail, that I feared
he was in physical pain. Amy, however, very earnestly assured me that
she had administered catnip tea in plentiful quantities, and had
examined his person very carefully to discover if a pin or needle had
punctured his flesh; but everything seemed perfectly right.

I attempted to take him in my arms; but he clung so vigorously to Amy’s
shoulder, that it required strength to unfasten his grasp.

“Oh, don’tee take him; he doesn’t like fur to leab me. Him usen to me,”
cried Amy, as in a motherly way she caressed him. “Now, pretty little
boy donee cry any more. Ann shan’t hab you;–now be a good nice boy;”
and thus she expended upon him her whole vocabulary of endearing
epithets.

“Who could,” I asked myself, “have the heart to untie this sweet
fraternal bond? Who could dry up the only fountain in this benighted
soul? Oh, I have often marvelled how the white mother, who knows, in
such perfection, the binding beauty of maternal love, can look
unsympathizingly on, and see the poor black parent torn away from her
children. I once saw a white lady, of conceded _refinement_, sitting in
the portico of her own house, with her youngest born, a babe of some
seven months, dallying on her knee, and she toying with the pretty
gold-threads of its silken hair, whilst her husband was in the kitchen,
with a whip in his hand, severely lashing a negro woman, whom he had
sold to a trader–lashing her because she refused to go _cheerfully_ and
leave her infant behind. The poor wretch, as a last resource, fled to
her Mistress, and, on her knees, begged her to have her child. “Oh,
Mistress,” cried the frantic black woman, “ask Master to let me take my
baby with me.” What think you was the answer of this white mother?

“Go away, you impudent wretch, you don’t deserve to have your child. It
will be better off away from you!” Aye, this was the answer which,
accompanied by a derisive sneer, she gave to the heart-stricken black
mother. Thus she felt, spoke, and acted, even whilst caressing her own
helpless infant! Who would think it injustice to “commend the
poison-chalice to her own lips”? She, this fine lady, was known to weep
violently, because an Irish woman was unable to save a sufficiency of
money from her earnings to bring her son from Ireland to America; but,
for the African mother, who was parting eternally from her helpless
babe, she had not so much as a consolatory word. Oh, ye of the proud
Caucasian race, would that your hearts were as fair and spotless as your
complexions! Truly can the Saviour say of you, “Oh, Jerusalem,
Jerusalem, I would have gathered you together as a hen gathereth her
chickens, but ye would not!” Oh, perverse generation of vipers, how long
will you abuse the Divine forbearance!

Share