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“And slight, withal, may be the things that bring
Back on the heart a weight it fain would fling
Aside forever; it may be a sound,
A flower, the wind, the ocean, which shall wound,
Striking the electric chain wherewith we’re darkly bound.
—Childe Harold’s Pil., Canto iv.
The sitting room of Legree’s establishment was a large, long room, with a wide, ample fire-place. It had once been hung with a showy and expensive paper, which now hung mouldering, torn, and discolored, from the damp walls. The place had that peculiar, sickening, unwholesome smell, compounded of mingled damp, dirt, and decay, which one often notices in close old houses. The wall-paper was defaced in spots, by slops of beer or wine, garnished with chalk memorandums and long sums footed up, as if somebody had been practicing arithmetic there. In the open fire-place stood a brazier, full of burning charcoal, for the weather was not cold, yet the evenings always seemed damp and chilly in that great room; and Legree, moreover, wanted a place to light his cigars, and heat his water for punch. The ruddy glare of the charcoal displayed the confused and unpromising aspect of the room. Saddles, bridles, several sorts of harness, riding whips, overcoats and various other articles of clothing, were scattered up and down the room in confused variety, and the dogs of whom we have before spoken had encamped themselves among them, to suit their own taste and convenience.
Legree was just mixing himself a tumbler of punch, pouring his hot water from a cracked and broken-nosed pitcher, grumbling as he did so—
“Plague on that Sambo, to kick up this yer row between me and the new hands! The fellow won’t be fit to work for a week, now, right in the press of the season!”
“Yes, just like you,” said a voice behind his chair. It was the woman Cassy, who had stolen upon his soliloquy.
“Hah! you she devil, you’ve come back, have you?”
“Yes, I have,” she said, coolly; “come to have my own way, too.”
“You lie, you jade. I’ll be up to my word. Either behave yourself, or stay down at the quarters, and fare and work with the rest!”
“I’d rather, ten thousand times,” said the woman, “live in the dirtiest hole at the quarters, than be under your hoof.”
“But you are under my hoof, for all that,” said he, turning upon her with a savage grin; “that’s one comfort. So sit down here on my knee, my dear, and hear to reason,” said he, laying hold on her wrist.
“Simon Legree, take care!” said the woman, with a sharp flash of her eye—a glance so wild and insane in its light as to be almost appalling. “You’re afraid of me, Simon,” she said, deliberately, “and you’ve reason to be. Be careful, for I’ve got the devil in me.”
The last words she whispered in a hissing tone, close to his ear.
“Get out! I believe to my soul you have,” said Legree, pushing her from him, and looking uncomfortably at her.
“After all, Cassy,” he said, “why can’t you be friends with me, as you used to?”
“Used to!” said she, bitterly. She stopped short. A world of choking feelings, rising in her heart, kept her silent.
Cassy had always kept over Legree the kind of influence that a strong, impassioned woman can keep over even the most brutal man. But of late she had grown more and more irritable and restless under the hideous yoke of her servitude, and her irritability at times broke out into raving insanity; and this liability made her a sort of object of dread to Legree, who had that superstitious horror of insane persons which is common to coarse and uninstructed minds. When Legree had brought Emmeline to the house, all the smouldering embers of womanly feeling flashed up in the worn heart of Cassy; she took part with the girl, and a fierce quarrel had ensued between her and Legree. Legree, in a fury, swore she should be put to field service, if she would not be peaceable; Cassy with proud scorn declared she
would go to the field; and she worked there this day, as we have described, to show how perfectly she scorned the threat. Legree was secretly uneasy all day; for Cassy had an influence over him from which he could not free himself. When she presented her basket at the scales, he had hoped for some concession, addressed her in a sort of half-conciliatory, half-scornful tone, and she had answered with the bitterest contempt.
The outrageous treatment of poor Tom had roused her still more, and she had followed Legree to the house, with no particular intention but to upbraid him for his brutality.
“I wish, Cassy,” said Legree, “you’d behave yourself decently.”
“You talk about behaving decently! And what have you been doing—you, who haven’t even sense enough to keep from spoiling one of your best hands, right in the most pressing season, just for your devilish temper.”
“I was a fool, it’s a fact, to let any such brangle come up. But when the boy set his will up, he had to be broken in”——
“I reckon you won’t break him in.”
“Won’t I?” said Legree, rising passionately. “I’d like to know if I won’t? He’ll be the first nigger that ever came it round me. I’ll break every bone in his body, but I’ll bring him under.”
Just then the door opened, and Sambo entered. He came forward, bowing, and holding something in a paper.
“What’s that? you dog,” said Legree.
“It’s a witch thing, mass’r!”
“Something that niggers gets from witches—keeps em from feelin when they’s flogged. He had it tied round his neck with a black string.”
Legree, like most godless and cruel men, was superstitious. He took the paper, and opened it uneasily. There dropped out of it a silver dollar, and a long, shining curl of hair, which, like a living thing, twined itself round Legree’s fingers.
“Damnation!” he screamed, in sudden passion, stamping on the floor, and pulling furiously at the hair, as if it burned him, “where did this come from? Take it off! Burn it up! Burn it up!” he screamed, tearing it off, and throwing it into the charcoal. “What did ye bring it to me for?”
Sambo stood with his heavy mouth wide open, and aghast with wonder; and Cassy, who was preparing to leave the apartment, stopped and looked at him in perfect amazement.
“Don’t you bring me any more of your devilish things,” said he, shaking his fist at Sambo, who retreated hastily to the door; and, picking up the silver dollar, he sent it smashing through the window pane, out into the darkness.
Sambo was glad to make his escape. When he was gone, Legree seemed a little ashamed of his fit of alarm. He sat sullenly down in his chair, and began doggedly stirring his tumbler of punch.
Cassy prepared herself for going out, unobserved by him, and slipped away to minister to poor Tom, as we have already related.
And what was the matter with Legree? And what was there in a simple curl of fair hair to appal that brutal man, familiar with every form of cruelty? To answer this, we must carry the reader backward in his history.
Hard and reprobate as the godless man seemed now, there had been a time when he had been rocked on the bosom of a mother, and cradled with prayers and pious hymns—his now seared brow bedewed with the waters of holy baptism. In early childhood, a fair-haired mother had led him, at the sound of Sabbathbell, to worship and pray. Far in New England that mother had trained him, her only son, with long, unwearied love and patient prayers. Born of a hard-tempered sire, on whom that gentle woman had wasted a world of unvalued love, Legree followed in the steps of his father. Boisterous, unruly, and tyrannical, he despised all her counsel, and would none of her reproof; and at an early age broke from her, to seek his fortune at sea.
He never came home but once after; and then his mother, with the yearning of a heart that must love something, and has nothing else to love, clung to him, and sought with passionate prayers and entreaties to win him from a life of sin to his soul’s eternal good.
That was Legree’s day of grace; then good angels called him; then he was almost persuaded, and mercy held him by the hand, and his heart inly relented; then was a conflict, but sin got the victory! And he set all the force of his rough nature against the convictions of conscience; he drank and swore; was wilder and more brutal than ever; and one night, when his mother, in the last agony of her despair, knelt at her feet, he spurned her from him, threw her senseless on the floor, and with brutal curses fled to his ship.
The next Legree heard of his mother was one night, when he was carousing among his drunken companions, a letter was put into his hand. He opened it, and a lock of long, curling hair fell from it, and twined around his fingers. The letter told him his mother was dead; and, dying, she blessed and forgave him.
There is a dread, unhallowed necromancy of evil, that turns things sweetest and holiest to phantoms of horror and affright. That pale, loving mother, her dying prayer, her forgiving love, wrought on that demoniac heart of sin only as a damning sentence, bringing with it a fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation. Legree burnt the hair, and burnt the letter; and, when he saw them hissing and crackling in the flames, inly shuddered as he thought of everlasting fires. He tried to drink and revel, and swear away the memory. But often in the deep night, whose solemn stillness arraigns the bad soul in forced communion with herself, he had seen that pale mother rising by his bedside, and felt the soft twining of that hair round his fingers, till the cold sweat would roll down his face, and he would spring from his bed in horror.
Ye who have wondered to hear in the same Evangele that God is love, and God is a consuming fire! see ye not how, to the soul resolved in evil, perfect love is the most fearful torture, the earnest and sentence of the direst despair?
“Blast it,” said Legree to himself, as he sipped his liquor with an unsteady hand, “where did he get that? If it didn’t look just like——whoo! I thought I’d forgot that. Curse me if I think there’s any such thing as forgetting anything! Hang it, I’m lonesome. I mean to call Em! She hates me, the monkey. I don’t care, I’ll make her come.”
Legree stepped out into a large entry, which went up stairs, by what had formerly been a superb winding staircase; but the passage was dirty and dreary, encumbered with boxes and unsightly litter; the stairs, uncarpeted, seemed rising up in the gloom to—nobody knew whither. The pale moonlight streamed through a broken fan-light over the door; the air was unwholesome and chilly, like that of a vault.
Legree stopped at the foot of the stairs, and heard a voice singing. It seemed strange and ghost-like in that dreary old house—perhaps because of the already tremulous state of his nerves. Hark! what is it?
A wild, pathetic voice was chanting a hymn common among the slaves:
“Oh, there’ll be mourning! mourning! mourning! mourning!
Oh, there’ll be mourning! at the judgment seat of Christ.”
“Blast the girl,” said Legree, “I’ll choke her! Em! Em! Em!” he called, harshly, but only a mocking echo from the mouldy walls answered him. The sweet voice still went on:
“Parents and children there must part;
Parents and children there must part;
Parents and children there must part;
Parents and children there shall part,
Shall part to meet no more.”
And clear and loud swelled the refrain:
“Oh, there’ll be mourning! mourning! mourning! mourning!
Oh, there’ll be mourning! at the judgment seat of Christ.”
Legree stopped. He would have been ashamed to tell of it; but large drops of sweat stood on his forehead, and his heart beat thick and heavy with fear. He even thought he saw something white rising and glimmering in the gloom, and shuddered to think, what if the form of his dead mother should suddenly appear to him.
“I know one thing,” he said to himself, as he stumbled back into the sitting room, and sat down, “I’ll let that fellow alone after this. What did I want of his cussed paper? I b’lieve I am bewitched, sure enough. I’ve been shivering and sweating ever since! Where did he get that hair? It couldn’t have been that!
I burnt that up, I know I did! It would be a joke if hair could rise from the dead!”
Ah, Legree, that golden hair was charmed; each hair had in it a spell of terror and remorse for thee, and was used by a mightier power to bind thy cruel hands from inflicting uttermost evils on the helpless.
“I say,” said Legree, stamping, and whistling to the dogs, “wake up, some of you, and keep me company.” But the dogs only opened one eye at him, sleepily, and closed it again.
“I’ll have Sambo and Quimbo up here to sing and dance one of their hell dances, and keep off these horrid thoughts,” said Legree; and putting on his hat, he went on to the verandah and blew a horn, with which he commonly summoned his two sable drivers.
Legree was often wont, when in a gracious humor, to get these two worthies into his sitting room, and, after warming them up with whiskey, amuse himself by setting them to singing, dancing, or fighting, as the humor took him.
It was between one and two o’clock at night, as Cassy was returning from her ministrations to poor Tom, that she heard the sound of wild shrieking, whooping, halloing, and singing, from the sitting room, mingled with the barking of dogs, and other symptoms of general uproar. She came up on the verandah steps, and looked in. Legree and both the drivers, in a state of furious intoxication, were singing, whooping, upsetting chairs, and making all manner of ludicrous and horrid grimaces at each other.
She rested her small, slender hand on the window-frame, and looked fixedly at them. There was a world of anguish, and scorn, and fierce bitterness, in her black eyes, as she did so.
“Would it be a sin to rid the world of such a wretch?” she said to herself. She turned hurriedly away, and passing round to a back door, she entered, and gliding noiselessly up stairs, tapped at the door of Emmeline’s chamber.
[to be continued.]
This Stowe Center edition reproduces the National Era serial text of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The wording of the newspaper in many cases differs from publisher John P. Jewett’s first edition. At the conclusion of each installment, notes are provided on a small selection of textual variants, those which have the greatest interpretive significance. The model for these notes is editor John Bryant’s concept of fluid-text editing, which foregrounds the interpretation of textual variants as an act of critical reading. Readers who hold alternate interpretations are encouraged to submit comments to the blog. For general comments on the text and the bibliography, see the Note on the Text.
Chapter XXXIV. | Era pg. 29
CHAPTER XXXV. | the tokens. || Jewett (1852) vol. 2, pg. 213
The 19 February Era installment, with the chapter numbered XXXIV, is numbered XXXV in the Jewett edition and entitled “the tokens.” The error in the chapter number sequence for the Era began on 23 October 1851, when the newspaper compositor failed to notice that a chapter break had occurred in the previous installment (16 October) and continued with the chapter number sequence from the opening of the previous installment, XVIII. Perhaps because the Era chapters lack titles and because no serial installment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published on 30 October, the error in chapter number sequence went unnoticed and ucorrected. As the date of an installment’s appearance was a much more powerful factor in the serial reader’s sense of progression in Stowe’s novel, this chapter numbering error more noticeable to today’s readers, who often encounter the serial text when familiar with the Jewett edition chapter numbering and titles. [Back]
In the open fire-place stood | Era pg. 29
In the fireplace stood | Jewett (1852) vol. 2, pg. 213
In the Era, the fire-place is described as “open.” In the Jewett edition, no adjective specifies whether the fireplace is open. Catharine Beecher recommended for bed-chambers an “open fireplace to admit the pure air from the exterior” (Treatise on Domestic Economy [Boston: Thomas H. Webb, 1842], 311). The removal of the term “open” for the Jewett edition may thus emphasize the closed-in quality of the air that results from Legree’s charcoal-burning fireplace. [Back]
of burning charcoal, for the weather was not cold, yet the evenings | Era pg. 29
of burning charcoal; for, though the weather not cold, [omit] the evenings | Jewett (1852) vol. 2, pg. 213
This is one of the many examples in this chapter in which wording differences between the Era installment and Jewett edition have minimal consequence for meaning. But variation of this sort occurs at a much higher rate in this and the previous installment. Therefore, it seems almost certain that the Era installment and the Jewett edition were set from independent manuscript drafts. In the installments that appeared before February 11, the frequency of such alteration, substantive differences with minimal alteration of meaning, was much lower. The contrast between these two installments and those that preceded is marked, and it suggests strongly that variants between the Jewett edition and the Era in previous installments originated in authorial revision, typesetting errors, or (in the Jewett edition) the consistent application of a printer’s or proofreader’s preferred typesetting convention. Only variants that alter meaning are highlighted in notes during the remainder of this installment. [Back]
woman can keep over even the most brutal | Era pg. 29
woman can ever keep over the most brutal | Jewett (1852) vol. 2, pg. 215
In the Era, the influence that Cassy as an “impassioned” woman has over Simon Legree, the type that she at the start of the sentence is said to have “always kept,” can be exercised over any man, “even the most brutal.” In the Jewett edition, Cassy’s influence, based on the fact that she is an “impassioned” woman, has both been characteristic of her entire past relationship with Simon Legree—she had “always kept”—and will be perennial for an impassioned woman, a quality that she “can ever keep.” The Era form emphasizes that all brutal men must yield to an impassioned woman, past and present. The Jewett edition form emphasizes Cassy’s perennial power over Legree, past, present, and future. [Back]
body, but I’ll bring him under.” ¶ Just then | Era pg. 29
body, but he shall give up!” ¶ Just then | Jewett (1852) vol. 2, pg. 216
In the Era form, Simon Legree’s phrase “I’ll bring him under” emphasizes his sense that he as the master will be the agent that subdues Uncle Tom. Legree may realize that Tom’s faith must fail if he is to triumph, a recognition that emphasizes Legree’s own belief that he on the basis of demonic power can triumph. In the Jewett edition, Legree seems to acknowledge Tom’s agency, that he can triumph only if Tom will “give up!” The latter form could imply that Legree is unable to, or too stubborn to, recognize Tom’s power over him. Also see note 4. [Back]
curl of hair, which, like | Era pg. 29
curl of fair hair,—hair which, like | Jewett (1852) vol. 2, pg. 216
The emphasis on “fair” and repetition of “hair” in the Jewett edition could more closely associate the curl in Legree’s mind with his mother. In the present installment, Legree associates the hair with a “fair-haired woman,” but she is designated more pointedly as his “fair-haired mother” in the Jewett edition. But the overall effect of this alteration is difficult to assess. As Eva’s head is described as “golden,” one might presume that the Jewett edition more closely associates the hair with Eva. However, Eva’s hair is designated both “golden-brown” and “golden.” Also, both phrases “curl of hair” and “curl of fair hair” echo a description of Eva St. Clare’s hair in Topsy’s memorial keepsake, which was described as a “curl of hair” and as a “fair soft curl” (25 Dec. 1851). The curl that has frightened Legree will be designated “that golden hair” whereas in the Jewett edition it is “that golden tress.” One begins to detect an element of playfulness in Stowe’s many choices, and it seems at least possible that Stowe sought to have a little fun with textual variation on the matter of the iconic keepsake, with alternate words for hair—curl and tress—and for hair color—fair, golden, or golden-brown. [Back]
He sat sullenly down in his chair, and began doggedly stirring his tumbler | Era pg. 29
He sat doggedly down in his chair, and began sullenly sipping his tumbler | Jewett (1852) vol. 2, pg. 217
In this curious variant, Simon Legree in the Era sits “sullenly” but begins to stir “doggedly.” In the Jewett edition, he sits “doggedly” but begins “sullenly sipping.” Because he is “stirring” in the Era but begins “sipping” in the Jewett edition, he begins drinking sooner in the Jewett edition. However, below, in the Era, Legree “sipped his liquor with an unsteady hand,” a description that does not appear in the Jewett edition. In the Era text, Stowe appears to place greater emphasis on Legree’s remaining self-control in the matter of liquor, a quality he was noted formerly to possess. In the Jewett edition, she foreshadows the loss of control that will characterize his later drinking. [Back]
knelt at her feet, he | Era pg. 29
knelt at his feet, he | Jewett (1852) vol. 2, pg. 218
In the Era, the person doing the action, Simon Legree’s mother, is said to have “knelt at her feet.” Shortly, Legree will “spurn her,” so the word “her” is a near certain error. The Jewett edition form, “knelt at his feet,” corrects the error. [Back]
the same Evangele that God | Era pg. 29
the same evangel, that God | Jewett (1852) vol. 2, pg. 218
Both “Evangele” in the Era and “evangel” in the Jewett edition refer to the religious teachings of the New Testament or the “Good News.” Both forms were archaic and were limited to strictly literary usage by the mid-nineteenth century. Also spelled “Evangile,” the OED records its use by John Milton and Sir Walter Scott, both authors with whom Stowe was very familiar. The use of capitalization is more characteristic of Stowe’s manuscript practice. [Back]
torture, the earnest and sentence | Era pg. 29
torture, the seal and sentence | Jewett (1852) vol. 2, pg. 219
In the Era, the word “earnest” refers to a sum or installment paid to secure a bargain or contract. As a parallel to “perfect love,” it suggests that the Christian Savior’s perfect love is the sum or installment paid to secure punishment for the “soul resolved in evil,” Simon Legree. In other words, perfect love is both a downpayment and a sealed bargain for Legree’s punishment in eternal torture and despair. This evocative and rich reading is certainly authorial. In the Jewett edition, perfect love is both “seal and sentence,” the verdict that determines Legree’s guilt and his sentence or punishment. In other words, Legree’s fate is determined and his punishment certain. Although less evocative, Stowe may have sought to appeal to a broader audience. [Back]
door, she entered, and gliding noiselessly up stairs, tapped at the door of Emmeline’s chamber. | Era pg. 29
door, and glided up stairs, and tapped at Emmeline’s door. | Jewett (1852) vol. 2, pg. 221
In the Era, Cassy’s entry into the house is noted, she is said to glide “noiselessly,” and she “tapped at the door of Emmeline’s chamber.” The punctuation, which is rhetorical, contributes to the emphasis on the sweep of Cassy’s movement, foreshadows her act of playing ghost, and labels the “chamber” as belonging to Emmeline. By contrast, in the Jewett edition, Cassy’s entry and the word “noiselessly” are omitted, and the “door” is described as belonging to Emmeline. The punctuation, which is syntactic, marks Cassy’s each discrete action as occurring in step-by-step succession. Emmeline possesses the door but not the chamber. [Back]
Copyright 2011. For introduction and annotation, all rights reserved. The text is distributed under a Creative Commons License. Uncle Tom’s Cabin: National Era by Harriet Beecher Stowe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at Copyright Commons License.