MRS. SHELBY had gone on her visit, and Eliza stood in the verandah, rather dejectedly looking after the retreating carriage, when a hand was laid on her shoulder. She turned, and a bright smile lighted up her fine eyes.
How glad I am!why dont you smile?and look at Harryhow he grows. The boy stood shyly regarding his father through his curls, holding close to the skirts of his mothers dress. Is nt he beautiful? said Eliza, lifting his long curls and kissing him.
Yes, Eliza, it s all misery, misery, misery! My life is bitter as wormwood; the very life is burning out of me. I m a poor, miserable, forlorn drudge; I shall only drag you down with me, that s all. What s the use of our trying to do anything, trying to know anything, trying to be anything? What s the use of living? I wish I was dead!
Patient! said he, interrupting her; have nt I been patient? Did I say a word when he came and took me away, for no earthly reason, from the place where everybody was kind to me? I d paid him truly every cent of my earnings,and they all say I worked well.
My master! and who made him my master? That s what I think ofwhat right has he to me? I m a man as much as he is. I m a better man than he is. I know more about business than he does; I am a better manager than he is; I can read better than he can; I can write a better hand,and I ve learned it all myself, and no thanks to him,I ve learned it in spite of him; and now what right has he to make a dray-horse of me?to take me from things I can do, and do better than he can, and put me to work that any horse can do? He tries to do it; he says he ll bring me down and humble me, and he puts me to just the hardest, meanest and dirtiest work, on purpose!
O, George! George! you frighten me! Why, I never heard you talk so; I m afraid you ll do something dreadful. I dont wonder at your feelings, at all; but oh, do be carefuldo, dofor my sakefor Harrys!
I have been careful, and I have been patient, but it s growing worse and worse; flesh and blood cant bear it any longer;every chance he can get to insult and torment me, he takes. I thought I could do my work well, and keep on quiet, and have some time to read and learn out of work hours; but the more he sees I can do, the more he loads on. He says that though I dont say anything, he sees I ve got the devil in me, and he means to bring it out; and one of these days it will come out in a way that he wont like, or I m mistaken!
It was only yesterday, said George, as I was busy loading stones into a cart, that young Masr Tom stood there, slashing his whip so near the horse that the creature was frightened. I asked him to stop, as pleasant as I could,he just kept right on. I begged him again, and then he turned on me, and began striking me. I held his hand, and then he screamed and kicked and ran to his father, and told him that I was fighting him. He came in a rage, and said he d teach me who was my master; and he tied me to a tree, and cut switches for young master, and told him that he might whip me till he was tired;and he did do it! If I dont make him remember it, some time! and the brow of the young man grew dark, and his eyes burned with an expression that made his young wife tremble. Who made this man my master? That s what I want to know! he said.
There is some sense in it, in your case; they have brought you up like a child, fed you, clothed you, indulged you, and taught you, so that you have a good education; that is some reason why they should claim you. But I have been kicked and cuffed and sworn at, and at the best only let alone; and what do I owe? I ve paid for all my keeping a hundred times over. I wont bear it. No, I wont! he said, clenching his hand with a fierce frown.
You know poor little Carlo, that you gave me, added George; the creature has been about all the comfort that I ve had. He has slept with me nights, and followed me around days, and kind o looked at me as if he understood how I felt. Well, the other day I was just feeding him with a few old scraps I picked up by the kitchen door, and Masr came along, and said I was feeding him up at his expense, and that he could nt afford to have every nigger keeping his dog, and ordered me to tie a stone to his neck and throw him in the pond.
Do it? not I!but he did. Masr and Tom pelted the poor drowning creature with stones. Poor thing! he looked at me so mournful, as if he wondered why I did nt save him. I had to take a flogging because I would nt do it myself. I dont care. Masr will find out that I m one that whipping wont tame. My day will come yet, if he dont look out.
That s easy to say for people that are sitting on their sofas and riding in their carriages; but let em be where I am, I guess it would come some harder. I wish I could be good; but my heart burns, and cant be reconciled, anyhow. You could nt, in my place,you cant now, if I tell you all I ve got to say. You dont know the whole yet.
Well, lately Masr has been saying that he was a fool to let me marry off the place; that he hates Mr. Shelby and all his tribe, because they are proud, and hold their heads up above him, and that I ve got proud notions from you; and he says he wont let me come here any more, and that I shall take a wife and settle down on his place. At first he only scolded and grumbled these things; but yesterday he told me that I should take Mina for a wife, and settle down in a cabin with her, or he would sell me down river.
Dont you know a slave cant be married? There is no law in this country for that; I cant hold you for my wife, if he chooses to part us. That s why I wish I d never seen you,why I wish I d never been born; it would have been better for us both,it would have been better for this poor child if he had never been born. All this may happen to him yet!
Yes, but who knows?he may dieand then he may be sold to nobody knows who. What pleasure is it that he is handsome, and smart, and bright? I tell you, Eliza, that a sword will pierce through your soul for every good and pleasant thing your child is or has; it will make him worth too much for you to keep!
The words smote heavily on Elizas heart; the vision of the trader came before her eyes, and, as if some one had struck her a deadly blow, she turned pale and gasped for breath. She looked nervously out on the verandah, where the boy, tired of the grave conversation, had retired, and where he was riding triumphantly up and down on Mr. Shelbys walking-stick. She would have spoken to tell her husband her fears, but checked herself.
To Canada, said he, straightening himself up; and when I m there, I ll buy you; that s all the hope that s left us. You have a kind master, that wont refuse to sell you. I ll buy you and the boy;God helping me, I will!
O, George, for my sake, do be careful! Dont do anything wicked; dont lay hands on yourself, or anybody else! You are tempted too muchtoo much; but dontgo you mustbut go carefully, prudently; pray God to help you.
Well, then, Eliza, hear my plan. Masr took it into his head to send me right by here, with a note to Mr. Symmes, that lives a mile past. I believe he expected I should come here to tell you what I have. It would please him, if he thought it would aggravate Shelbys folks, as he calls em. I m going home quite resigned, you understand, as if all was over. I ve got some preparations made,and there are those that will help me; and, in the course of a week or so, I shall be among the missing, some day. Pray for me, Eliza; perhaps the good Lord will hear you.
Well, now, good-by, said George, holding Elizas hands, and gazing into her eyes, without moving. They stood silent; then there were last words, and sobs, and bitter weeping,such parting as those may make whose hope to meet again is as the spiders web,and the husband and wife were parted.