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Chapter XL.—The Young Master.
Two days after, a young man drove a light wagon up through the avenue of China trees, and, throwing the reins hastily on the horse’s neck, sprang out, and inquired for the owner of the place.
It was George Shelby; and to show how he came to be there, we must go back in our story.
The letter of Miss Ophelia to Mrs. Shelby had, by some unfortunate accidents, been detained for a month or two at some remote post office before it reached its destination, and, of course, before they could read it, Tom was already lost to their view among the distant swamps of the Red River.
Mrs. Shelby read the intelligence with the deepest concern; but any immediate action upon it was an impossibility. She was then in attendance upon the sick bed of her husband, who lay delirious in the crisis of a fever. Master George Shelby, who in the interval had changed from a boy to a tall youth, was her constant and faithful assistant, and her only reliance in superintending his father’s affairs. Miss Ophelia had taken the precaution to send them the name of the lawyer who did business for the St. Clares; and the most that in the emergency could be done, was to address a letter of inquiry to him. The sudden death of Mr. Shelby, a few days after, brought, of course, an absorbing pressure of other interests for a season.
Mr. Shelby showed his confidence in his wife’s ability, by appointing her sole executrix upon his estates; and thus immediately a large and complicated amount of business was brought upon her hands.
Mrs. Shelby, with characteristic energy, applied herself to the work of straightening the entangled web of affairs; and she and George were for some time occupied with collecting and examining accounts, selling property, and settling debts; for Mrs. Shelby was determined that everything should be brought into tangible and recognisable shape, let the consequences to her prove what they might.
In the mean time they received a letter from the lawyer to whom Miss Ophelia had referred them, saying that he knew nothing of the matter; that the man was sold at a public auction, and that, beyond receiving the money, he knew nothing of the affair.
Neither George nor Mrs. Shelby could be easy at this result; and accordingly, some six months after, the latter having business for his mother down the river, resolved to visit New Orleans in person, and push his inquiries in hopes of discovering Tom’s whereabouts, and restoring him.
After some months of unsuccessful search, by the merest accident George fell in with a man in New Orleans who happened to be possessed of the desired information; and with his money in his pocket, our hero took steamboat for Red River, resolving to find out and repurchase his old friend.
He was soon introduced into the house, where he found Legree in the sitting-room.
Legree received the stranger with a kind of surly hospitality.
“I understood that you bought, in New Orleans, a boy named Tom. He used to be on my father’s place, and I came to see if I couldn’t buy him back.”
Legree’s brow grew dark, and he broke out, passionately—
“Yes, I did buy such a fellow, and a h—ll of a bargain I had of it, too! The most rebellious, saucy, impudent dog! Set up my niggers to run away—got off two gals worth eight hundred or a thousand dollars apiece. He owned to that; and when I bid him tell me where they was, he up and said he knew, but he wouldn’t tell, and stood to it, though I gave him the cussedest flogging I ever gave nigger yet. I b’lieve he’s trying to die, but I don’t know as he’ll make it out.”
“Where is he?” said George, impetuously; “let me see him.”
The cheeks of the young man were crimson, and his eyes flashed fire; but he prudently said nothing as yet.
“He’s in dat ar shed,” said a little fellow, who stood holding George’s horse.
Legree kicked the boy, and swore at him. But George, without saying another word, turned and strode to the spot.
Tom had been lying two days since the fatal night—not suffering; for every nerve of suffering was blunted and destroyed. He lay for the most part in a quiet stupor; for the laws of a powerful and well-knit frame would not at once release the imprisoned spirit. By stealth there had been there, in the darkness of the night, poor, desolated creatares, who stole from their scanty hours’ rest, that they might repay to him some of those ministrations of love in which he had always been so abundant. Truly, these poor disciples had little to give—only the cup of cold water—but it was given with full hearts.
Tears had fallen on that honest, insensible face—tears of late repentance in the poor, ignorant heathen, whom his dying love and patience had awakened to repentance and bitter prayers, breathed over him to a late-found Saviour, of whom they scarce knew more than the name, but whom the yearning, ignorant heart of man never implores in vain.
Cassy, who had glided out of her place of concealment, and, by overhearing, learnt the sacrifice that had been made for her and Emmeline, had been there the night before, defying the danger of detection; and, moved by the few last words which the affectionate soul had yet strength to breathe, the long winter of despair—the ice of years—had given way, and the dark, despairing woman had wept and prayed.
When George entered the shed, he felt his head giddy and his heart sick.
“Is it possible! is it possible!” said he, kneeling down by him. “Uncle Tom, my poor—poor old friend.”
Something in the voice penetrated to the ear of the dying. He moved his head gently, and smiled, and said—
“Jesus can make a dying bed
Feel soft as downy pillows are.”
Tears which did honor to his manly heart fell from the young man’s eyes, as he bent over his poor friend.
“Oh, dear Uncle Tom, do wake—do speak once more; look up, here’s mass’r George—your own little mass’r George—don’t you know me?”
“Mass’r George!” said Tom, opening his eyes, and speaking in a feeble voice. “Mass’r George!”
He looked bewildered. Slowly the idea seemed to fill his soul; the vacant eye became fixed—brightened; the whole face lighted up; the hard hands clasped, and tears ran down the cheeks.
“Bless the Lord, it is, it is—it’s all I wanted. They haven’t forgotten me. It warms my soul—it does my old heart good. Now I shall die content. Bless the Lord, oh my soul!”
“You shan’t die—you mustn’t die, nor think of it. I’ve come to buy you, and take you home,” said George, with impetuous vehemence.
“Ah, mass’r George, yer too late—the Lord’s bought me, and is going to take me home; and I long to go—Heaven is better than Kintuck.”
“Oh, don’t die—it’ll kill me—it’ll break my heart to think what you’ve suffered, and lying here in this old shed; here—poor, poor fellow.”
“Don’t call me poor fellow,” said Tom, solemnly. “I have been poor fellow, but that’s all past and gone; now I’m right in the door, going straight into glory. Oh, mass’r George, Heaven has come! I’ve got the victory! The Lord Jesus has given it to me—glory be to his name!”
George was awe-struck at the force, the vehemence and power, with which these broken sentences were uttered. He sat gazing in silence.
Tom grasped his hand, and continued:
“Ye mustn’t, now, tell Chloe, poor soul, how ye found me—’twould be so drefful to her; only tell her ye found me going into glory, and that I couldn’t stay for no one. And tell her the Lord’s stood by me everywhere and allays, and made everything light and easy. And oh, the poor children, and the baby—my old heart’s been most broke for ’em, time and agin—tell em all to follow me—follow me. Give my love to mass’r, and dear, good missis, and everybody on the place. Ye don’t know—pears like I love ’em all—I loves every creature everywhar—it’s nothing but love. Oh, mass’r George, what a thing ’tis to be a Christian!”
At this moment, Legree sauntered up to the door of the shed, looked in with a dogged air of affected carelessness, and turned away.
“The old Satan,” said George, in his indig- nation. “It’s a comfort to think the Devil will pay him for this some of these days.”
“Oh, don’t—oh, ye mustn’t,” said Tom, grasping his hand; “he’s a poor, mis’able crittur—it’s awful to think on’t. Oh, if he only could repent, the Lord would forgive him now; but I’m feard he never will.”
“I hope he won’t,” said George; “I never wan’t to see him in Heaven!”
“Hush, mass’r George, it worries me; don’t feel so. He haint done me no real harm—only opened the gate of the Kingdom for me, that’s all.”
At this moment, the sudden flush of strength which the joy of meeting his young master had infused into the dying man gave way—a sudden sinking fell upon him—he closed his eyes, and that mysterious and sublime change passed over his face that told the approach of other worlds. He began to draw his breath with long, deep inspirations, and his broad chest rose and fell heavily. The expression of his face was that of a conqueror.
“Who—who—who—shall separate us—from the love of Christ?” he said, in a voice that contended with mortal weakness, and with a smile he fell asleep.
George sat fixed with solemn awe. It seemed to him that the place was holy; and as he closed the lifeless eyes, and rose up from the dead, only one thought possessed him—that expressed by his simple old friend, “What a thing it is to be a Christian!”
“He turned; Legree was standing sullenly behind him.
Something in that dying scene had checked the natural fierceness of youthful passion. The presence of the man was simply loathsome to George, and he felt only an impulse to get away from him with as few words as possible.
Fixing his keen, dark eyes on Legree, he simply said, pointing to the dead—
“You have got all you ever can of him; what shall I pay you for the body? I will take it away and bury it decently.”
“I don’t sell dead niggers,” said Legree, doggedly. “You’re welcome to bury him when and where you like.”
“Boys,” said George, in an authoritative tone, to two or three negroes who were looking at the body, “help me lift him up and carry him to my wagon, and get me a spade.”
One of the negroes ran for a spade, and two others assisted George to carry the body to the wagon.
George neither spoke to nor looked at Legree, who did not countermand his orders, but stood whistling, with an air of unconcern. He sulkily followed them to where the wagon stood at the door. George spread his cloak in the wagon, had the body carefully disposed of in it, moving the seat, so as to give it room.
“Such a fuss for a dead nigger!” said Legree.
The word was a spark to a powder magazine. Prudence was never a cardinal virtue of the Kentucky boy. George turned, and with one indignant blow knocked Legree flat upon his face; and as he stood over him, blazing with wrath and defiance, he would have formed no bad personification of his great namesake, triumphing over the dragon.
It was a most imprudent thing, George; but it is evident you do not care for that. You are far beyond prudence just now.
Some men, however, are decidedly bettered by being knocked down. If a man lays them fairly flat in the dust, they seem immediately to conceive a respect for him; and, Legree, as he rose and brushed the dust from his clothes, eyed the slowly-retreating wagon with some evident consideration; nor did he open his mouth till it was out of sight.
Beyond the boundaries of the plantation, George had noted a dry, sandy knoll, shaded by a few trees; there they made the grave.
“Shall we take off the cloak, mass’r?”
“No, no! bury it with him. It’s all I can give you now, poor Tom—and you shall have it.”
They laid him in, and the men shovelled away silently. They banked it up, and laid green turf on it.
“You may go, boys!” said George, slipping a quarter into the hand of each. They lingered about, however.
“If young mass’r would please buy us,” said one.
“We’d sarve him so faithful,” said the other.
“Hard times, here, mass’r,” said the first; “do, mass’r, buy us, please.”
“I can’t! I can’t!” said George, with difficulty, motioning them off. “It’s impossible.”
The poor fellows looked dejected, and walked off in silence.
“Witness, Eternal God!” said George, kneeling on the grave of his poor friend, “oh! witness, that from this hour I will do what one man can, to drive out this curse of slavery from my land.”
There is no monument to mark the last resting-place of our friend. There needs none. His Lord knows where he lies, and will raise him up immortal, when he shall appear in his glory. Pity him not! such a life and death is not for pity. Self-denying suffering is the chief glory of the mighty God! and blessed are the men whom he calls to fellowship with Him, bearing their cross after him in patience. Of such truly it is written, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted!”
Chapter XLI.—An Authentic Ghost Story.
For some remarkable reason, ghostly legends were uncommonly rife, about this time, among the servants on Legree’s place.
It was whisperingly asserted that footsteps, in the dead of night, had been heard descending the garret stairs, and patrolling the house. In vain the doors of the upper entry had been locked; the ghost either carried a duplicate key in its pocket, or availed itself of a ghost’s immemorial privilege of coming through the keyhole, and promenaded as before, with a freedom that was alarming.
Authorities were somewhat divided as to the outward form of the spirit, owing to a custom quite prevalent among negroes—and, for aught we know, among whites, too—of invariably shutting the eyes, and covering up heads under blankets, petticoats, or whatever else might come in use for a shelter, on these occasions. Of course, as everybody knows, when the bodily eyes are thus out of the lists, the spiritual eyes are uncommonly vivacious and perspicuous; and therefore there were abundance of full-length portraits of the ghost, abundantly sworn and testified to, which, as is often the case with portraits, agreed with each other in no particular, except the common family peculiarity of the ghost tribe—the wearing of a white sheet. The poor souls were not versed in ancient history, and did not know that Shakspeare had authenticated this costume, by telling how
“The sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the streets of Rome.”
And therefore their all hitting upon this is a striking fact in pneumatology, which we recommend to the attention of spiritual media generally.
Be it as it may, we have private reasons for knowing that a tall figure in a white sheet did walk, at the most approved ghostly hours, around the Legree premises, pass out the doors, glide about the house, disappear at intervals, and, reappearing, pass up the silent stairway, into that fatal garret; and that in the morning the entry doors were all found shut and locked as firm as ever.
Legree could not help overhearing this whispering; and it was all the more exciting to him, from the pains that were taken to conceal it from him. He drank more brandy than usual; held up his head briskly, and swore louder than ever in the day-time; but he had bad dreams, and the visions of his head on his bed were anything but agreeable. The night after Tom’s body had been carried away, he rode to the next town for a carouse, and had a high one; got home late and tired; locked his door, took out the key, and went to bed.
After all, let a man take what pains he may to hush it down, a human soul is an awful ghostly, unquiet possession for a bad man to have. Who knows the metes and bounds of it? Who knows all its awful perhapses—those shudderings and tremblings which it can no more live down than it can outlive its own eternity! What a fool is he who locks his door to keep out spirits, who has in his own bosom a spirit he dares not meet alone—whose voice, smothered far down, and piled over with mountains of earthliness, is yet like the forewarning trumpet of doom!
But Legree locked his door and set a chair against it; he set a night-lamp at the head of his bed; and he put his pistols there. He examined the catches and fastenings of the windows, and then swore he “didn’t care for the devil and all his angels,” and went to sleep.
Well, he slept, for he was tired—slept soundly. But, finally, there came over his sleep a shadow, a horror, an apprehension of something dreadful hanging over him. It was his mother’s shroud, he thought; but Cassy had it, holding it up and showing it to him. He heard a confused noise of screams and groanings; and with it all, he knew he was asleep, and he struggled to wake himself. He was half awake. He was sure something was coming into his room. He knew the door was opening, but he could not stir hand or foot. At last he turned with a start; the door was open, and he saw a hand putting out his light.
It was a cloudy, misty moonlight, and there he saw it!—something white, gliding in! He heard the still rustle of its ghostly garments. It stood still by his bed—a cold hand touched his; a voice said, three times, in a low, fearful whisper, “Come! come! come!” And, while he lay sweating with terror, he knew not when or how, the thing was gone. He sprang out of bed, and pulled at the door. It was shut and locked, and the man fell down in a swoon.
[to be continued.]
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.