After spreading the snowy drapery

Very lonely to me were the nights that succeeded Amy’s death. I spent
them alone in the cabin. A strange kind of superstition took possession
of me! The room was peopled with unearthly guests. I buried my face in
the bed-covering, as if that could protect me or exclude supernatural
visitors. For two weeks I scarcely slept at all; and my constitution had
begun to sink under the over-taxation. This was all the worse, as Amy’s
death entailed upon me a double portion of work.

“What!” said Mr. Peterkin to me, one day, “are you agoin to die, too,
Ann? Any time you gits in the notion, jist let me know, and I’ll give
you rope enough to do it.”

In this taunting way he frequently alluded to that fatal tragedy which
should have bowed his head with shame and remorse.

Young master had returned, but not at all benefited by his trip. A deep
carnation was burnt into his shrivelled cheek, and he walked with a
feeble, tottering step. The least physical exertion would bring on a
violent paroxysm of coughing. The unnatural glitter of his eye, with its
purple surroundings, gave me great uneasiness; but he was the same
gentle, kind-spoken young master that he had ever been. His glossy,
golden hair had a dead, dry appearance; whilst his chest was fearfully
sunken; yet his father refused to believe that all these marks were the
heralds of the great enemy’s approach.

“The spring will cure you, my boy.”

“No, father, the spring is coming fast; but long before its flowers
begin to scent the vernal gales, I shall have passed through the narrow
gateway of the tomb.”

“No, it shall not be. All my money shall go to save you.”

“I am purchased, father, with a richer price than gold; the inestimable
blood of the Lamb has long since paid my ransom; I go to my father in
heaven.”

“Oh, my son! you want to go; you want to leave me. You do not love your
father.”

“Yes, I do love you, father, very dearly; and I would that you were
going with me to that lovely land.”

“I shill never go thar.”

“‘Tis that fear that is killing me, father.”

“What could I, now, do to be saved?”

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and be baptized.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes, that is all; but it embraces a good deal, dear father; a good deal
more than most persons deserve. In order to a perfect belief in the Lord
Jesus, you must act consistently with that belief. You must deal justly.
Abundantly give to the poor, and, above all, you must love mercy, and do
mercifully to all. Now I approach the great subject upon which I fear
you will stumble. You must,” and he pronounced the words very slowly,
“liberate your slaves.” There was a fair gleam from his eyes when he
said this.

Mr. Peterkin turned uneasily in his chair. He did not wish to encourage
a conversation upon this subject.

One evening, when it had been raining for two or three days, and the
damp condition of the atmosphere had greatly increased young master’s
complaint, he called me to his bedside.

“Ann,” he said, in that deep, sepulchral tone, “I wish to ask you a
question, and I urge you not to deceive me. Remember I am dying, and it
will be a great crime to tell me a falsehood.”

I assured him that I would answer him with a faithful regard to truth.

“Then tell me what occasioned Amy’s death? Did she come to it by
violence?”

I shall never forget the deep, penetrating glance that he fixed upon
me. It was an inquiry that went to my soul. I could not have answered
him falsely.

Calmly, quietly, and without exaggeration, I told him all the
circumstances of her death.

“Murder!” he exclaimed, “murder, foul and most unnatural!”

I saw him wipe the tears from his hollow eyes, and that sunken chest
heaved with vivid emotion.

Mr. Peterkin came in, and was much surprised to find young master so
excited.

“What is the matter, my boy?”

“The same old trouble, father, these unfortunate negroes.”

“Hang ’em; let them go to the d–l, at once. They are not worth all this
consarn on your part.”

“Father, they possess immortal souls, and are a part of Christ’s
purchase.”

“Oh, that kind of talk does very well for preachers and church members.”

“It should do for all humanity.”

“I doesn’t know what pity means whar a nigger is consarned.”

“And ’tis this feeling in you that has cost me my life.”

“Confound thar black hides. Every one of ’em that ever growed in Afriky
isn’t worth that price.”

“Their souls are as precious in God’s eyes as ours, and the laws of man
should recognize their lives as valuable.”

“Oh, now, my boy! don’t talk any more ’bout it. It only ‘stresses you
for nothing.”

“No, it distresses me for a great deal. For the value of
Christ-purchased souls.”

Mr. Peterkin concluded the argument as he usually did, when it reached a
knotty point, by leaving. All that evening I noticed that young master
was unusually restless and feverish. His mournful eyes would follow me
withersoever I moved about the room. From the constant and earnest
movement of his lips, I knew that he was engaged in prayer.

When Miss Bradly came in and looked at him, I thought, from the
frightened expression of her face, that she detected some alarming
symptoms. This apprehension was confirmed by the manner of Dr. Mandy.
All the rest of the evening I wandered near Miss Bradly and the doctor,
trying to catch, from their conversation, what they thought of young
master’s condition; but they were very guarded in what they said, well
knowing how acutely sensitive Mr. Peterkin was on the subject. Miss Jane
and Miss Tildy did not appear in the least anxious or uneasy about him.
They sewed away upon their silks and laces, never once thinking that the
angel of death was hovering over their household and about to snatch
from their embrace one of their most cherished idols. Verily, oh, Death,
thou art like a thief in the night; with thy still, feline tread, thou
enterest our chambers and stealest our very breath away without one
admonition of thy coming!

But not so came he to young master. As a small-voiced angel, with
blessings concealed beneath his shadowy wing, he came, the herald of
better days to him! As a well-loved bridegroom to a waiting bride, was
the angel of the tombs to that expectant spirit! ‘Twas painful, yet
pleasant, to watch with what patient courage he endured bodily pain.
Often, unnoticed by him, did I watch, with a terrible fascination, the
heroic struggle with which he wrestled with suffering and disease. Sad
and piteous were the shades and inflections of severe agony that passed
over his noble face! I recall now with sorrow, the memory of that time!
How well, in fancy, can I see him, as he lay upon that downy bed, with
his beautiful gold hair thrown far back from his sunken temples, his
blue, upturned eyes, fringed by their lashes of fretted gold, and those
pale, thin hands that toyed so fitfully with the drapery of the couch,
and the restless, loving look which he so frequently cast upon each of
the dear ones who drew around him. It must be that the “sun-set of life”
gives us a keener, quicker sense, else why do we love the more fondly as
the curtain of eternity begins to descend upon us? Surely, there must be
a deeper, undeveloped sense lying beneath the surface of general
feeling, which only the tightening of life’s cords can reveal! He grew
gentler, if possible, as his death approached. Very heavenly seemed he
in those last, most trying moments! All that had ever been earthly of
him, began to recede; the fleshly taints (if there were any) grew
fainter and fainter, and the glorious spiritual predominated! Angel more
than mortal, seemed he. The lessons which his life taught me have sunk
deep in my nature; and I can well say, “it was good for him to have been
here.”

It was a few weeks after the death of Amy, when Miss Tildy was
overlooking the bureau that contained the silver and glass ware, she
gave a sudden exclamation, that, without knowing why, startled me very
strangely. A thrill passed over my frame, an icy contraction of the
nerves, and I knew that something awful was about to be revealed.

“What _is_ the matter with you?” asked Miss Jane.

Still she made no reply, but buried her face in her hands, and remained
thus for several minutes; when she did look up, I saw that something
terrible was working in her breast. “Culprit,” was written all over her
face. It was visible in the downcast terror of her eye, and in the
blanched contraction of the lips, and quivered in the dilating nostril,
and was stamped upon the whitening brow!

“What ails you, Tildy?” again inquired her sister.

“_Why, look here!_” and she held up, to my terror, the two missing
forks!

Oh, heavens! and for her own carelessness and mistake had Amy been
sacrificed? I make no comment. I merely state the case, and leave others
to draw their own conclusions. Yet, this much I will add, that there
were no Caucasian witnesses to the bloody deed, therefore no legal
cognizance could be taken of it! Most noble and righteous American laws!
Who that lives beneath your shelter, would dare to say they are not wise
and sacred as the laws of the Decalogue? Thrice a day should their
authors go up into the Temple, and thank our Lord that they are not like
publicans and sinners.

One evening–oh! I shall long remember it, as one full of sacredness,
full of sorrow, and yet tinged with a hue of heaven! It was in the deep,
delicious beauty of the flowering month of May. The twilight was
unusually red and refulgent. The evening star shone like the full eye of
love upon the dreamy earth! The flowers, each with a dew-pearl
glittering on its petals, lay lulled by the calm of the hour. Young
master, fair saint, lay on his bed near the open window, through which
the scented gales stole sweetly, and fanned his wasted cheek! Thick and
hard came his breath, and we, who stood around him, could almost see the
presence of the “monster grim,” whose skeleton arms were fast locking
him about!

Flitting round the bed, like a guardian spirit, was Miss Bradly, whilst
her tearful eye never wandered for an instant from that face now growing
rigid with the kiss of death! Miss Jane stood at the head of the bed
wiping the cold damps from his brow, and Miss Tildy was striving to
impart some of her animal warmth to his icy feet. Mr. Peterkin sat with
one of those thin hands grasped within his own, as if disputing and
defying the advance of that enemy whom no man is strong enough to
baffle.

Slowly the invalid turned upon his couch, and, looking out upon the
setting sun, he heaved a deep sigh.

“Father,” he said, as he again turned his face toward Mr. Peterkin, who
still clasped his hand, “do you not know from my failing pulse, that my
life is almost spent?”

“Oh, my boy, it is too, too hard to give you up.”

“Yet you _must_ nerve yourself for it.

“I have no nerve to meet this trouble.”

“Go to God, He will give you ease.”

“I want Him to give me you.”

“Me He lent you for a little while. Now He demands me at your hands, and
His requisition you must obey.”

“Oh, I won’t give up; maybe you’ll yet be spared to me.”

“No, God’s decree it is, that I should go.”

“It cannot, shall not be.”

“Father, father, you do but blaspheme.”

“I will do anything rather than see you die.”

“I am willing to die. I have only one request to make of you. Will you
grant it? If you refuse me, I shall die wretched and unhappy.”

“I will promise you anything.”

“But will you keep your promise?”

“Yes, my boy.”

“Do you promise most faithfully?”

“I do.”

“Then promise me that you will instantly manumit your slaves.”

Mr. Peterkin hesitated a moment.

“Father, I shall not die happy, if you refuse me.”

“Then I promise faithfully to do it.”

A glad smile broke over the sufferer’s face, like a sunbeam over a
snow-cloud.

“Now, at least I can die contentedly! God will bless your effort, and a
great weight has been removed from my oppressed heart.”

Dr. Mandy now entered the room; and, taking young master’s hand within
his own, began to count the pulsations. A very ominous change passed
over his face.

“Oh, doctor,” cried the patient, “I read from your countenance the
thoughts that agitate your mind; but do not fear to make the disclosure
to my friends even here. It will do me no harm. I know that my hours are
numbered; but I am willing, nay, anxious to go. Life has been one round
of pain, and now, as I am about to leave the world, I take with me a
blessed assurance that I have not lived in vain. Doctor, I call upon
you, and all the dear ones here present, to witness the fact that my
father has most solemnly promised me to liberate each of his slaves and
never again become the holder of such property? Father, do you not
promise before these witnesses?”

“I do, my child, I do,” said the weeping father.

“Sisters,” continued young master, “will you promise to urge or offer
no objection to the furtherance of this sacred wish of your dying
brother?”

“I do,” “I do,” they simultaneously exclaimed.

“And neither of you will ever become the owner of slaves?”

“Never,” “never,” was the stifled reply.

“Come, now, Death, for I am ready for thee!”

“You have exerted yourself too much already,” said the doctor, “now pray
take this cordial and try to rest; you have overtaxed your power. Your
strength is waning fast.”

“No, doctor, I cannot be silent; whilst I’ve the strength, pray let me
talk. I wish this death-bed to be an example. Call in the servants. Let
me speak with them. I wish to devote my power, all that is left of me
now, to them.”

To this Mr. Peterkin and the doctor objected, alleging that his life
required quiet.

“Do not think of me, kind friends, I shall soon be safe, and am now
well-cared for. If I did not relieve myself by speech, the anxiety would
kill me. As a kind favor, I beg that you will not interrupt me. Call the
good servants.”

Instantly they all, headed by Nace, came into the chamber, each weeping
bitterly.

“Good friends,” he began, and now I noticed that his voice was weak and
trembling, “I am about to leave you. On earth you will never see me
again; but there is a better world, where I trust to meet you all. You
have been faithful and attentive to me. I thank you from the bottom of
my soul for it, and, if ever I have been harsh or unkind to you in any
way, I now beg that you will forgive me. Do not weep,” he continued, as
their loud sobs began to drown his feeble voice. “Do not weep, I am
going to a happy home, where trouble and pain will never harm me more.
Now let me tell you, that my father has promised me that each of you
shall be free immediately after my death.”

This announcement was like a panic to the poor, broken-spirited
wretches. They looked wonderingly at young master, and then at each
other, never uttering a word.

“Come, do not look so bewildered. Ah, you do not believe me; but, good
as is this news, it is true; is it not, father?”

“Yes, my son, it is true.”

When Mr. Peterkin spoke, they simultaneously started. That voice had
power to recall them from the wildest dream of romance. Though softened
by sorrow and suffering, there was still enough of the wonted harshness
to make those poor wretches know it was Mr. Peterkin who spoke, and they
quaked with fear.

“In the new home and new position in life, which you will take, my
friends, I hope you will not forget me; but, above all things, try to
save your souls. Go to church; pray much and often. Place yourselves
under God’s protection, and all will be right. You, Jake, had better
select as an occupation that of a farmer, or manager of a farm for some
one of those wealthy but humane men of the Northern States. You, Dan,
can make an excellent dray driver; and at that business, in some of the
Northern cities, you would make money. Sally can get a situation as
cook; and Ann, where is Ann?” he said, as he looked around.

I stepped out from a retired corner of the room, into which I had shrunk
for the purpose of indulging my grief unobserved.

“Don’t weep, Ann,” he began; “you distress me when you do so. You ought,
rather, to rejoice, because I shall so soon be set free from this
unhappy condition. If you love me, prepare to meet me in heaven. This
earth is not our home; ’tis but a transient abiding-place, and, to one
of my sensitive temperament, it has been none the happiest. I am glad
that I am going; yet a few pangs I feel, in bidding you farewell; but
think of me only as one gone upon a pleasant journey from snow-clad
regions to a land smiling with tropic beauty, rich in summer bloom and
vocal with the melody of southern birds! Think of me as one who has
exchanged the garments of a beggar for the crown of a king and the
singing-robes of a prophet. I hope you will do well in life, and I would
advise that you improve your education, and then become a teacher. You
are fitted for that position. You could fill it with dignity. Do all
you can to elevate the mind as well as manners of your most unfortunate
race. And now, poor old Nace, what pursuit must I recommend to you?”
After a moment’s pause, he added with a smile, “I will point out none;
for you are Yankee enough, Nace, to get along anywhere.”

He then requested that we should all kneel, whilst he besought for us
and himself the blessings of Divine grace.

I can never forget the words of that beautiful prayer. How like fairy
pearls they fell from his lips! And I do not think there was a single
heart present that did not send out a fervent response! It seemed as if
his whole soul were thrown into that one burning appeal to heaven. His
mellow eyes grew purple in their intense passionateness; his pale lip
quivered; and the throbbing veins, that wandered so blue and beautifully
through his temples, were swollen with the rapid tide of emotion.

As we rose from our knees, he elevated himself upon his elbow, and
looking earnestly at each one of us, said solemnly,

“God bless all of you!” then sank back upon the pillow; a bright smile
flitted over his face, and he held his hand out to Miss Bradly, who
clasped it lovingly.

“Good-bye, kind friend,” he murmured, “never forsake the noble
Anti-slavery cause. Cling to it as a rock and anchor of safety.
Good-bye, and God bless you.”

He then gave his other hand to Dr. Mandy, but, in attempting to speak,
he was checked by a violent attack of coughing, and blood gushed from
his mouth. The doctor endeavored to arrest the flow, but in vain; the
crimson tide, like a stream broken loose from its barrier, flowed with a
stifling rush.

Soon we discovered, from the ghastly whiteness of the patient’s face,
and the calm, set stare of the eyes, that his life was almost gone. Oh,
God! how hard, pinched and contracted appeared those once beauteous
features! How terrible was the blank fixedness of those blue orbs! No
motion of the hand could distract their look.

“Heavens!” cried Miss Jane, “his eyes are set!”

“No, no,” exclaimed Mr. Peterkin, and with many gestures, he attempted
to draw the staring eyes away from the object upon which they were
fastened; but vain were all his endeavors. He had no power to call back
a parting spirit; he, who had sent others to an unblest grave, could not
now breathe fresh vigor into a frame over which Death held his skeleton
arm. Where was Remorse, the unsleeping fiend, in that moment?

I was looking earnestly at young master’s face, when the great change
passed over it. I saw Dr. Mandy slowly press down the marble eye-lids
and gently straighten the rigid limbs; then, very softly turning to the
friends, whose faces were hidden by their clasped hands, he murmured,

“All is over!”

Great heaven! what screams burst from the afflicted family.

Mr. Peterkin was crazy. His grief knew no bounds! He raved, he tore his
hair, he struck his breast violently, and then blasphemed. He did
everything but pray. And that was a thing so unfamiliar to him, that he
did not know how to do it. Miss Jane swooned, whilst Miss Tildy raved
out against the injustice of Providence in taking her brother from her.

Miss Bradly and I laid the body out, dressed it in a suit of pure white,
and filletted his golden curls with a band of white rose-buds. Like a
gentle infant resting in its first, deep sleep, lay he there!

After spreading the snowy drapery over the body, Miss Bradly covered all
the furniture with white napkins, giving to the room the appearance of a
death-like chill. There were no warm, rosy, life-like tints. Upon
entering it, the very heart grew icy and still. The family, one by one,
retired to their own apartments for the indulgence of private and sacred
grief!

When I entered the kitchen, I found the servants still weeping
violently.

“Poor soul,” said Sally, “he’s at rest now. If he hain’t gone to heaven,
‘taint no use of havin’ any; fur he war de best critter I iver seed. He
never gived me a cross word in all his life-time. Oh, Lord, he am gone
now!”

“I ‘members de time, when Mister Jones whipt me, dat young masser comed
to me wid some grease and rubbed me all over, and talked so kind to me.
Den he tell me not to say nothin’ ’bout it, and I niver did mention it
from dat day until dis.”

“Wal, he was mighty good,” added Jake, “and I’s sorry he’s dead.”

“I’se glad he got us our freedom afore he died. I wonder if we’ll git
it?” asked Nace, who was always intent upon selfishness.

“Laws! didn’t he promise? Den he mus’ keep his word,” added Jake.

I made no comment. My thoughts upon the subject I kept locked in the
depths of my own bosom. I knew then, as now, that natures like Mr.
Peterkin’s could be changed only by the interposition of a miracle. He
had now shrunk beneath the power of a sudden blow of misfortune; but
this would soon pass away, and the savage nature would re-assert itself.

All that gloomy night, I watched with Miss Bradly and Dr. Mandy beside
the corpse. Often whilst the others dozed, would I steal to the bed and
turn down the covering, to gaze upon that still pale face! Reverently I
placed my hand upon that rich golden head, with its band of flowers.

There is an angel-like calm in the repose of death; a subdued awe that
impresses the coldest and most unbelieving hearts! As I looked at that
still body, which had so lately been illumined by a radiant soul, and
saw the noble look which the face yet wore, I inwardly exclaimed, ‘Tis
well for those who sleep in the Lord!

All that long night I watched and waited, hoped and prayed. The deep,
mysterious midnight passed, with all its fearful power of passion and
mystery; the still, small hours glided on as with silver slippers, and
then came the purple glory of a spring dawn! I left the chamber of
death, and went out to muse in the hazy day-break. And, as I there
reflected, my soul grew sick and sore afraid. One by one my friends had
been falling around me, and now I stood alone. There was no kind voice
to cheer me on; no gentle, loving hand stretched forth to aid me; no
smile of friendship to encourage me. In the thickest of the fight,
unbucklered, I must go. Up the weary, craggy mountain I must climb. The
burning sands I must tread alone! What wonder that my spirit, weak and
womanly, trembled and turned away, asking for the removal of the cup of
life! Only the slave can comprehend the amount of agony that I endured.
He alone who clanks the chain of African bondage, can know what a cloud
of sorrow swept over my heart.

I saw the great sun rise, like a blood-stained gladiator, in the East,
and the diamond dew that glittered in his early light. I saw the roses
unclose fragrantly to his warming call; yet my heart was chill. Through
the flower-decked grounds I walked, and the aroma of rarest blooms
filled my senses with delight, yet woke no answering thrill in my bosom.
Must it not be wretchedness indeed, when the heart refuses to look
around upon blooming, vernal Nature, and answer her with a smile of
freshness?

A little after daylight I re-entered the house, and found Miss Bradly
dozing in a large arm-chair, with one hand thrown upon the cover of the
bed where lay young master’s body. Dr. Mandy was outstretched upon the
lounge in a profound sleep. The long candles had burnt very low in the
sockets, and every now and then sent up that flicker, which has been so
often likened to the struggles of expiring humanity. I extinguished
them, and closed the shutters, to exclude the morning rays that would
else have stolen in to mar the rest of those who needed sleep. Then
returning to the yard, I culled a fresh bouquet and placed it upon the
breast of the dead. Gently touching Miss Bradly, I roused her and begged
that she would seek some more comfortable quarters, whilst I watched
with the body. She did so, having first imprinted a kiss upon the brow
of the heavenly sleeper.

When she withdrew, I took from my apron a bundle of freshly-gathered
flowers, and set about weaving fairy chains and garlands, which I
scattered in fantastic profusion over and around the body.

A beautiful custom is it to decorate the dead with fresh flowers! There
is something in the delicate, fairy-like perfume, and in the magical
shadings and formation of flowers, that make them appropriate offerings
to the dead. Strange mystical things that they are, seemingly instinct
with a new and inchoate life; breathing in their heavenly fragrance of a
hidden blessing, telling a story which our dull ears of clay can never
comprehend. Symbols of diviner being, expressions of quickening beauty,
we understand ye not. We only _feel_ that ye are God’s richest blessing
to us, therefore we offer ye to our loved and holy dead!

When the broad daylight began to beam in through the crevices of the
shutters, and noise of busy life sounded from without, the family rose.
Separately they entered the room, each turning down the spread, and
gazing tearfully upon the ghastly face. Often and often they kissed the
brow, cheek, and lips.

“How lovely he was in life,” said Miss Jane.

“Indeed he was, and he is now an angel,” replied Miss Tildy, with a
fresh gush of emotion.

“My poor, poor boy,” said Mr. Peterkin, as he sank down on the bed
beside the body; “how proud I was of him. I allers knowed he’d be tuck
‘way from me. He was too putty an’ smart an’ good fur this world. My
heart wus so sot on him! yit sometimes he almost run me crazy. I don’t
think it was just in Providence to take my only boy. I could have better
spared one of the gals. Oh, tain’t right, no how it can be fixed.”

And thus he rambled on, perfectly unconscious of the bold blasphemy
which he was uttering with every breath he drew. To impugn the justice
of his Maker’s decrees was a common practice with him. He had so long
rejoiced in power, and witnessed the uncomplaining vassalage of slaves,
that he began to regard himself as the very highest constituted
authority! This is but one of the corrupting influences of the
slave-system.

That long, wearing day, with its weight of speechless grief, passed at
last. The neighbors came and went. Each praised the beauty of the
corpse, and inquired who had dressed it. At length the day closed, and
was succeeded by a lovely twilight. Another night, with its star-fretted
canopy, its queenly, slow-moving moon, its soft aromatic air and pearly
dew. And another gray, hazy day-break, yet still, as before, I watched
near the dead. But on the afternoon of this day, there came a long,
black coffin, with its silver plate and mountings; its interior
trimmings of white satin and border of lace, and within this they laid
the form of young master! His pale, fair hands were crossed prayerfully
upon his breast; and a fillet of fresh white buds bound his smooth brow,
whilst a large bouquet lay on his breast, and the wreaths I had woven
were thrown round him and over his feet. Then the lid was placed on and
tightly screwed down. Then came the friends and neighbors, and a good
man who read the Bible and preached a soothing and ennobling sermon. The
friends gave one more look, another, a longer and more clinging kiss,
then all was over. The slow procession followed after the vehicle that
carried the coffin, the servants walking behind. Poor, uncared-for
slaves, as we were, we paid a heart-felt tribute to his memory, and
watered his new-made grave with as sincere tears as ever flowed from
eyes that had looked on happier times.

I lingered until long after the last shovel-full of dirt was thrown
upon him. Others, even his kindred, had left the spot ere I turned away.
That little narrow grave was dearer and nearer to me, as there it lay so
fresh and damp, shapen smoothly with the sexton’s spade, than when,
several weeks after, a patrician obelisk reared its Parian head towards
the blue sky. I have always looked upon grave-monuments as stony
barriers, shutting out the world from the form that slowly moulders
below. When the wild moss and verdant sward alone cover the grave, ’tis
easy for us to imagine death only a sleep; but the grave-stone, with its
carvings and frescoes, seems a sort of prison, cold and grim in its
aristocratic splendor. For the grave of those whom I love, I ask no
other decoration than the redundant grass, the enamelled mosaic of wild
flowers, a stream rolling by with its dirge-like chime, a weeping
willow, and a moaning dove.

The shades of evening were falling darkly ere I left the burial-ground.
There, amid the graves of his ancestors, beside the tomb of his mother,
I left him sleeping pleasantly. “Life’s fitful fever over,” his calm
soul rests well.

* * * * * * *

In a few weeks after his death, the family settled back to their
original manner of life. Mr. Peterkin grew sulky in his grief. He chewed
and drank incessantly. The remonstrances of his daughters had no effect
upon him. He took no notice of them, seemed almost to ignore their
existence. Feeding sullenly on his own rooted sorrow, he cared nothing
for those around him.

We, the servants, had been allowed a rather better time; for as he was
entirely occupied with his own moody reflections, he bestowed upon us no
thought. Yet we had heard no word about his compliance with the sacred
promise he had made to the dead. Did he feel no touch of remorse, or was
he so entirely sold to the d–l, as to be incapable of regret?

The young ladies had been busy making up their mourning, and took but
little notice of domestic affairs. Miss Jane concluded to postpone her
visit to the city, on account of their recent bereavement; but later in
the summer, she proposed going.

One afternoon, several weeks after the burial of young master, Miss
Bradly came over to see the ladies, for the purpose, as she said, of
bidding them farewell, as early on the following morning she expected to
start North, to rejoin her family, from whom she had been so long
separated. Miss Jane received the announcement with her usual haughty
smile; and Miss Tildy, who was rather more of a hypocrite, expressed
some regret at parting from her old teacher.

“I fear, dear girls, that you will soon forget me. I hoped that an
intimate friendship had grown up between us, which nothing could
destroy; but it seems as if, in the last half-year, you have ceased to
love me, or care for me.”

“I can only answer for myself, dear Miss Bradly,” said Miss Tildy, “and
I shall ever gratefully and fondly remember you, and my interesting
school-days.”

“So shall I pleasantly recollect my school-hours, and Miss Bradly as our
preceptress; and, had she not chosen to express and defend those awfully
disgraceful and incendiary principles of the North, I should have
continued to think of her with pleasure.” Miss Jane said this with her
freezing air of hauteur.

“But I remained silent, dear Jane, for years. I lived in your midst, in
the very families where slave-labor was employed; yet I molested none. I
did not inveigh against your peculiar domestic institution; though,
Heaven knows, every principle of my nature cried out against it. Surely
for all this I deserve some kind consideration.”

“‘Tis a great pity your prudence did not hold out to the last; and I can
assure you ’tis well for the safety of your life and person that you
were a woman, else would it have gone hard with you. Kited through the
streets with a coat of tar and a plumage of hen-feathers, you would have
been treated to a rail-ride, none the most complimentary.” Here Miss
Jane laughed heartily at the ridiculous picture she had drawn.

Miss Bradly’s face reddened deeply as she replied:

“And all this would have been inflicted upon me because I dared to have
an opinion upon a subject of vital import to this our proud Republic.
This would have been the gracious hospitality, which, as chivalry-loving
Southerners, you would have shown to a stranger from the North! If this
be your mode and manner of carrying out the Comity of States, I am
heartily glad that I am about returning to the other side of the
border.”

“And we give you joy of your swift return. Pray, tell all your Abolition
friends that such will be their reception, should they dare to venture
among us.”

“Yet, as with tearful eyes you stood round your brother’s death-bed, you
solemnly promised him that his dying wish, with regard to the liberation
of your father’s slaves, should be carried out, and that you would never
become the owner of such property.”

“Stop! stop!” exclaimed Miss Jane, and her face was livid with rage,
“you have no right to recur to that time. You are inhuman to introduce
it at this moment. Every one of common sense knows that brother was too
young to have formed a correct opinion upon a question of such momentous
value to the entire government; besides, a promise made to the dying is
never binding. Why should it be? We only wished to relieve him from
anxiety. Father would sell every drop of his blood before he would grant
a negro liberty. He is against it in principle. So am I. Negroes were
made to serve the whites; for that purpose only were they created, and I
am not one who is willing to thwart their Maker’s wise design.”

Miss Jane imagined she had spoken quite conclusively and displayed a
vast amount of learning. She looked around for admiration and applause,
which was readily given her by her complimentary sister.

“Ah, Jane, you should have been a man, and practiced law. The courts
would have been the place for the display of your brilliant talents.”

“But the halls of legislation would not, I fear,” said Miss Bradly,
“have had the benefit of her wise, just, and philanthropic views.”

“I should never have allowed the Abolitionists their present weight of
influence, whilst the power of speech and the strength of action
remained to me,” answered Miss Jane, very tartly.

“Oh no, doubtless you would have met the Douglas in his hall, and the
lion in his den,” laughingly replied Miss Bradly.

Thus the conversation was carried on, upon no very friendly terms, until
Miss Jane espied me, when she thundered out,

“Leave the room, Ann, we’ve no use for negro company here, unless,
indeed, as I think most probable, Miss Bradly came to visit you, in
which case she had better be shown to the kitchen.”

This insult roused Miss Bradly’s resentment, and she rose, saying,

“Young ladies, I came this evening to take a pleasant adieu, little
expecting to meet with such treatment; but be it as you wish; I take my
leave;” and, with a slight inclination of the head, she departed.

“Oh, she is insulted!” cried Miss Tildy.

“I don’t care if she is, we owe her nothing. For teaching us she was
well paid; now let her take care of herself.”

“I am going after her to say I did not wish to insult her; for really,
notwithstanding her Abolition sentiments, I like her very much, and I
wish her always to like me.”

So she started off and overtook Miss Bradly at the gate. The explanation
was, I presume, accepted, for they parted with kisses and tears.

That evening, when I was serving the table, Miss Jane reported the
conversation to her father, who applauded her manner of argument
greatly.

“Set my niggers free, indeed! Catch me doing any such foolish thing. I’d
sooner be shot. Don’t you look for anything of the kind, Ann; I’d sooner
put you in my pocket.”

And this was the way he kept a sacred promise to his dead son! But cases
such as this are numerous. The negro is lulled with promises by humane
masters–promises such as those that led the terror-stricken Macbeth on
to his fearful doom. They

“Keep the word of promise to the ear,
But break it to the hope.”

How many of them are trifled with and lured on; buoyed up from year to
year with stories, which those who tell them are resolved shall never be
realized.

My memory runs back now to some such wretched recollections; and my
heart shrivels and crumbles at the bare thought, like scorched paper.
Oh, where is there to be found injustice like that which the American
slaves daily and hourly endure, without a word of complaint? “We die
daily”–die to love, to hope, to feeling, humanity, and all the high and
noble gifts that make existence something more than a mere breathing
span. We die to all enlargement of mind and expansion of heart. Our
every energy is bound down with many bolts and bars; yet whole folios
have been written by men calling themselves wise, to prove that we are
by far the happiest portion of the population of this broad Union! What
a commentary upon the liberality of free men!

After the conversation with Miss Bradly, the young ladies began to
resume their old severity, which the death of young master had checked;
but Mr. Peterkin still seemed moody and troubled. He drank to a
frightful excess. It seemed to have increased his moroseness. He slept
sounder at night, and later in the morning, and was swollen and bloated
to almost twice his former dimensions. His face was a dark crimson
purple; he spoke but little, and then never without an oath. His
daughters remarked the change, but sought not to dissuade him. Perhaps
they cared not if his excesses were followed by death. I had long known
that they treated him with respect only out of apprehension that they
would be cut short of patrimonial favors. But the death of young master
had almost certainly insured them against this, and they were unusually
insolent to their father; but this he appeared not to notice; for he
was too sottishly drunk even to heed them.

The necessity of wearing black, and the custom of remaining away from
places of amusement, had forced Miss Jane to decline, or at least,
postpone her trip to the city.

I shall ever remember that summer as one of unusual luxuriance. It
seemed to me, that the forests were more redundant of foliage than I had
ever before seen them. The wild flowers were gayer and brighter, and the
sky of a more glorious blue; even the little feathered songsters sang
more deliciously; and oh, the moonlight nights seemed wondrously soft
and silvery, and the hosts of stars seven times multiplied! I began to
live again. Away through the old primeval woods I took occasionally a
stolen ramble! Whole volumes of romance I drained from the ever-affluent
library of Nature. I truly found–

“Tongues in the trees; books, in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

It is impossible to imagine how much I enjoyed those solitary walks, few
and far between as they were. I used to wonder why the ladies did not
more enjoy the luxury of frequent communion with Nature in her loveliest
haunts! Strange, is it not, how little the privileged class value the
pleasures and benefits by which they are surrounded! I would have given
ten years of my life (though considering my trouble, the sacrifice would
have been small) to be allowed to linger long beside the winding,
murmuring brook, or recline at the fountain, looking far away into the
impenetrable blue above; or to gather wild flowers at will, and toy with
their tiny leaflets! but indulgences such as these would have been
condemned and punished as indolence.

I cannot now, honestly, recall a single pleasure that was allowed me,
during my long slavery to Mr. Peterkin. Then who can ask me, if I would
not rather go back into bondage than _live_, aye _live_ (that is the
word), with the proud sense of freedom mine? I have often been asked if
the burden of finding food and raiment for myself was not great enough
to make me wish to resign my liberty. No, a thousand times no! Let me go
half-clad, and meanly fed, but still give me the custody of my own
person, without a master to spy into and question out my up-risings and
down-sittings, and confine me like a leashed hound! Slavery in its
mildest phases (of which I have _only_ heard, for I’ve always seen it in
its darker terrors) must be unhappy. The very knowledge that you have no
control over yourself, that you are subject to the will, even whim, of
another; that every privilege you enjoy is yours only by concession, not
right, must depress and all but madden the victim. In no situation, with
no flowery disguises, can the revolting institution be made consistent
with the free-agency of man, which we all believe to be the Divine gift.
We have been and are cruelly oppressed; why may we not come out with our
petition of right, and declare ourselves independent? For this were the
infant colonies applauded; who then shall inveigh against us for a
practice of the same heroism? Every word contained in their admirable
Declaration, applies to us.

Share