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“Which long for death, but it fleeth from them.”
Cassy entered the room, and found Emmeline sitting, pale with fear, in the farthest corner of it. As she came in, the girl started nervously up, but, on seeing who it was, rushed forward, and catching her arm, said:
“Oh, Cassy, is it you? I’m so glad you’ve come. I was afraid it was ——. Oh, you don’t know what a horrid noise there has been down stairs, all this evening!”
“I ought to know,” said Cassy, drily, “I’ve heard it often enough.”
“Oh, Cassy, do tell me, couldn’t we get away from this place? I don’t care where—into the swamps—among the snakes—anywhere. Couldn’t we get somewhere, away from here?”
“Nowhere but into our graves!” said Cassy.
“Did you ever try?”
“I’ve seen enough of trying; and what comes of it?” said Cassy.
“I’d be willing to live in the swamps, and gnaw the bark from trees. I aint afraid even of snakes. I’d rather have one near me than—him,” said Emmeline, eagerly.
“There have been a good many here of your opinion,” said Cassy. “But you couldn’t stay in the swamps; you’d be tracked by the dogs, and brought back, and then”——
“What would he do?” said the girl, looking with breathless interest in her face.
“What wouldn’t he do, you’d better ask,” said Cassy. “He’s learnt his trade well, among the pirates in the West Indies. You wouldn’t sleep much, if I should tell you things I’ve seen—things that he tells of sometimes for good jokes. I’ve heard screams here that I haven’t been able to get out of my head for weeks and weeks. There’s a place way out, down by the quarters, where you can see a burnt, blasted tree, and the ground all covered with black ashes. Ask any one what was done there, and see if they’ll dare to tell.”
“What do you mean?”
“I won’t tell you. I hate to think of it; and I tell you the Lord only knows what we may see to-morrow, if that poor fellow holds out as he’s begun.”
“Horrid!” said Emmeline, every drop of the blood receding from her cheek. “Oh, Cassy, do tell me, what shall I do?”
“What I’ve done—do the best you can—do what you must, and make it up in hating and cursing.”
“He wanted to make me drink some of his hateful brandy,” said Emmeline, “and I hate it so!”
“You’d better drink,” said Cassy. “I hated it, too; and now I can’t live without it. One must have something; things don’t look near so dreadful when you take that.”
“Mother used to tell me never to touch any such thing,” said Emmeline.
“Mother told you,” said Cassy, with a thrilling and bitter emphasis on the word “mother;” “what use is it for mothers to say anything? You are all to be bought and paid for, and your souls belong to whoever gets you; that’s the way it goes. I say drink brandy—drink all you can, and it’ll make things come easier.”
“Oh, Cassy, do pity me.”
“Pity you—don’t I? Haven’t I a daughter? Lord knows where she is, and whose she is now—going the way her mother went before her, I suppose, and that her children must go after her. There’s no end to the curse—forever.”
“I wish I’d never been born,” said Emmeline, wringing her hands.
“That’s an old wish with me,” said Cassy. “I’ve got used to wishing that. I’d die, if I dared to,” she said, looking out into the darkness, with that still, fixed despair which was the habitual expression of her face when at rest.
“It would be wicked to kill one’s self,” said Emmeline, simply.
“I don’t know why. No wickeder than things we live and do, day after day. But the Sisters told me things when I was in the Convent, that make me afraid to die. If it would only be the end of us, why, then”——
Emmeline turned away, and hid her face with her hands.
While this conversation was passing in the chamber, Legree, overcome with his carouse, had sunk to sleep in the room below. Legree was not a habitual drunkard; his coarse, strong nature craved and could endure a continual stimulation, that would have utterly wrecked and erased a finer one; but a deep, underlying spirit of cautiousness prevented his often yielding to appetite in such measure as to lose control of himself.
This night, however, in his feverish efforts to banish from his mind those fearful elements of wo and remorse which woke within him, he had indulged more than common, so that, when he had discharged his sable attendants, he fell heavily on a settle in the room, and was sound asleep.
Ah, how dares the bad soul so enter the shadowy world of sleep?—that land whose dim outlines lie so fearfully near to the mystic scene of retribution.
Legree dreamed in his heavy and fevered sleep—a veiled form stood beside him, and laid a cold, soft hand on him. He thought he knew who it was, and shuddered with creeping horror—the face was veiled. Then he thought he felt that hair twining round his fingers, and then that it slid smoothly round his neck, and tightened and tightened, and he could not draw his breath; and then he thought voices whispered to him—whispers that chilled him with horror. Then it seemed to him he was on the edge of a frightful abyss, holding on and struggling in mortal fear, while dark hands reached up and were pulling him over, and Cassy came behind him, laughing, and pushed him; and then rose up that solemn, veiled figure, and drew aside the veil. It was his mother—and she turned away from him, and he fell down, down, down, amid a confused noise of shrieks and groans and shouts of demon laughter—and Legree awoke.
Calmly the rosy hue of dawn was stealing into the room—the morning star stood with its solemn, holy eye of light looking down on the man of sin from out the brightening sky. Ah, with what freshness, what solemnity and beauty, is each new day born, as if to say to insensate mortals, Now, oh, man, thou hast one more chance of Heaven—strive for immortal glory. There is no speech nor language where this voice is not heard, but the bold, bad man heard it not. He woke with an oath and a curse. What to him was the gold and purple—the daily miracle of morning? What to him the sanctity of that star which the Son of God has hallowed as his own emblem? Brute-like, he saw without perceiving, and, stumbling forward, poured out a tumbler of brandy, and drank half of it.
“I’ve had a h—l of a night!” he said to Cassy, who just then entered from an opposite door.
“You’ll get plenty of the same sort by and by,” said she, drily.
“What do you mean, you minx?”
“You’ll find out one of these days,” returned Cassy, in the same tone.
“Now, Simon Legree, I’ve one piece of advice to give you.”
“The devil you have!”
“My advice is,” continued Cassy, steadily, as she began adjusting some things about the room, “that you let that Tom alone.”
“What business is’t of yours?”
“What, to be sure? I don’t know what it should be; if you want to pay twelve hundred for a fellow, and use him right up in the press of the season, just to serve your own spite, it’s no business of mine. I’ve done what I could for him.”
“You have? What business had you meddling in my matters?”
“None, to be sure. I’ve saved you some thousands of dollars at different times by taking care of your hands. That’s all the thanks I get. If your crop comes shorter into market than any of them, you won’t lose your bet, I suppose. Tompkins won’t lord it over you about it, I suppose; and you’ll pay down your money like a lady, won’t you? I think I see you doing it.”
Legree, like many other planters, had but one form of ambition—to have in the heaviest crop of the season; and he had several bets on this very present season pending in the neighboring town. Cassy, therefore, with woman’s tact, touched the only string which could be made to vibrate.
“Well, I’ll let him off at what he’s got,” said Legree. “But he shall beg my pardon, and promise better fashions.”
“That he won’t do,” said Cassy.
“No, he won’t,” said Cassy.
“I’d like to know why, mistress,” said Legree, in the extreme of scorn.
“Because he has done right, and knows it—and he won’t say he’s done wrong.”
“Who a cuss cares what he knows. The nigger shall say what I please, or”——
“Or you’ll lose your bet on the cotton crop by keeping him out of the field just at this very press.”
“But he will give up—course he will. Don’t I know what niggers is? He’ll beg like a dog this morning.”
“He won’t, Simon. You don’t know this kind. You may kill him by inches—you won’t get the first word of confession out of him.”
“We’ll see. Where is he?” said Legree, going out.
“In the waste room of the gin house,” said Cassy.
Legree, though he talked so stoutly to Cassy, still sallied forth from the house with a degree of misgiving which was not common with him. His dreams of the past night, mingled with Cassy’s prudential suggestions, considerably affected his mind. He resolved that nobody should be witness of his encounter with Tom, and determined, if he could not subdue him by bullying, to defer his vengeance, to be wreaked in a more convenient season.
The solemn light of dawn, the angelic glory of the morning star, had looked, too, through the rude window of the shed where Tom was lying; and, as if descending on that star-beam, came the solemn words—“I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star!”
The mysterious warnings and intimations of Cassy, so far from discouraging his soul, in the end had roused it as with a trumpet-call. He did not know but that the day of his death was dawning in the sky, and his heart throbbed with solemn throes of joy and desire, as he thought that the wondrous all, of which he had often pondered—the great white throne, with its ever-radiant rainbow—the white-robed multitude, with voices as many waters—the crowns, the palms, the harps, might all break upon his vision before that sun should set again—and, therefore, without shuddering or trembling, he heard the voice of his persecutor as he drew near.
“Well, my boy,” said Legree, with a contemptuous kick, “how do ye find yerself? Didn’t I tell you I could larn you a thing or two? How do ye like it, eh? How did yer whaling agree with ye, Tom? Ain’t quite so crank as ye was last night! Ye couldn’t treat a poor sinner now to a bit of a sermon, could ye, eh?”
Tom answered nothing.
“Get up, you beast,” said Legree, kicking him again.
This was a difficult matter for one so bruised and sore and bloody, and as Tom made efforts to do so, Legree laughed brutally.
“What makes ye so spry, this morning, Tom? Cotched cold, may be, last night.”
Tom by this time had gained his feet, and was confronting his master with a steady, unmoved front.
“The devil you can,” said Legree, looking him over, “I believe you haven’t got enough yet. Now, Tom, get right down on yer knees, and beg my pardon for yer shines last night.”
Tom did not move.
“Down, you dog!” said Legree, striking him with his riding-whip.
“Mass’r Legree,” said Tom, “I can’t do it. I did only what I thought was right. I shall do jest so agin, if ever the time comes. I never will do a cruel thing, come what may.”
“Yes, but ye don’t know what may come, master Tom. Ye think what you’ve got is something. I tell ye taint anything, nothing at all. How would ye like to be tied to a tree, and have a slow fire lit up round ye? wouldn’t that be pleasant? eh, Tom?”
“Mass’r,” said Tom, “I know ye can do dreadful things, but”—he stretched himself upward, and clasped his hands; “but after ye’s killed the body, there aint no more ye can do. And oh! there’s all Eternity to come after that!”
“Eternity!” The word thrilled through the black man’s soul with light and power, as he spoke; it thrilled through the sinner’s soul, too, like the sting of a scorpion.
Legree gnashed on him with his teeth, but rage kept him silent; and Tom, like a man disenthralled, spoke on in a strong and cheerful tone—
“Mass’r Legree, as ye bought me, I’ll be a true and faithful servant to ye. I’ll give ye all the work of my hands, all my time, all my strength; but my soul I won’t give up to mortal man. I will hold on to the Lord, and put His commands before all, die or live, you may be sure on’t, mass’r Legree. I aint a grain afeard to die; I’d as soon die as not. Ye may whip me, starve me, burn me; it’ll only send me sooner whar I want to go.”
“I’ll make ye give out, though, fore I’ve done,” said Legree, in a rage.
“I shall have help,” said Tom. “You’ll never do it.”
“Who the devil’s going to help you,” said Legree, scornfully.
“The Lord Almighty,” said Tom.
“D—n you,” said Legree, as with one blow of his fist he felled Tom to the earth.
A cold, soft hand fell on Legree’s at this moment; he turned—it was Cassy’s; but the cold, soft touch recalled his dream of the night before; and flashing through the chambers of his brain came all the shuddering images of the night watches, with some portion of the horror that accompanied them.
“Will you be a fool?” said Cassy, in French. “Let him go. Let me alone to get him fit to be in the field again. Aint it just as I told you?”
They say the alligator, the rhinoceros, though clothed in bullet-proof mail, have each a spot where they are vulnerable; and fierce, reckless, unbelieving reprobates commonly have this weak point in superstitious dread.
Legree turned away, determined to let the point go for the time.
“Well, have it your own way,” he said, doggedly, to Cassy.
“Hark ye,” he said, standing over Tom, “I don’t deal with you now, because the business is pressing, and I want all my hands; but I never forget. I’ll score it against ye, and some time I’ll have my pay out o’ yer old black hide, mind ye.”
Legree turned and went out.
“There you go,” said Cassy, looking darkly after him. “Your reckoning’s to come yet.”
“My poor fellow, how are you?”
“The Lord God hath sent his angel, and shut the lion’s mouth, for this time,” said Tom.
“For this time—to be sure,” said Cassy. “But now you’ve got his ill-will upon you, to follow you day in, day out—hanging like a dog on your throat—sucking your blood—bleeding away your life! I know the man.”
[to be continued.]
Copyright 2012. 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.