Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Eliza’s Flight
By Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896)

IT is impossible to conceive of a human creature more wholly desolate and forlorn than Eliza, when she turned her footsteps from Uncle Tom’s cabin.  1
  Her husband’s suffering and dangers, and the danger of her child, all blended in her mind with a confused and stunning sense of the risk she was running in leaving the only home she had ever known, and cutting loose from the protection of a friend whom she loved and revered. Then there was the parting from every familiar object: the place where she had grown up, the trees under which she had played, the groves where she had walked many an evening in happier days, by the side of her young husband,—everything, as it lay in the clear, frosty starlight, seemed to speak reproachfully to her, and ask her whither she could go from a home like that?  2
  But stronger than all was maternal love, wrought into a paroxysm of frenzy by the near approach of a fearful danger. Her boy was old enough to have walked by her side, and in an indifferent case she would only have led him by the hand; but now the bare thought of putting him out of her arms made her shudder, and she strained him to her bosom with a convulsive grasp as she went rapidly forward.  3
  The frosty ground creaked beneath her feet, and she trembled at the sound; every quaking leaf and fluttering shadow sent the blood backward to her heart, and quickened her footsteps. She wondered within herself at the strength that seemed to be come upon her; for she felt the weight of her boy as if it had been a feather, and every flutter of fear seemed to increase the supernatural power that bore her on, while from her pale lips burst forth in frequent ejaculations the prayer to a Friend above: “Lord, help! Lord, save me!”  4
  If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that were going to be torn from you by a brutal trader to-morrow morning,—if you had seen the man, and heard that the papers were signed and delivered, and you had only from twelve o’clock till morning to make good your escape,—how fast could you walk? How many miles could you make in those few brief hours, with the darling at your bosom, the little sleepy head on your shoulder, the small soft arms trustingly holding on to your neck?  5
  For the child slept. At first the novelty and alarm kept him waking; but his mother so hurriedly repressed every breath or sound, and so assured him that if he were only still she would certainly save him, that he clung quietly round her neck, only asking as he found himself sinking to sleep:—  6
  “Mother, I don’t need to keep awake, do I?”  7
  “No, my darling: sleep if you want to.”  8
  “But, mother, if I do get asleep, you won’t let him get me?”  9
  “No! so may God help me!” said his mother, with a paler cheek, and a brighter light in her large dark eyes.  10
  “You’re sure, ain’t you, mother?”  11
  “Yes, sure!” said the mother, in a voice that startled herself—for it seemed to her to come from a spirit within, that was no part of her; and the boy dropped his little weary head on her shoulder and was soon asleep. How the touch of those warm arms, and gentle breathings that came in her neck, seemed to add fire and spirit to her movements! It seemed to her as if strength poured into her in electric streams from every gentle touch and movement of the sleeping, confiding child. Sublime is the dominion of the mind over the body, that for a time can make flesh and nerve impregnable, and string the sinews like steel, so that the weak become so mighty.  12
  The boundaries of the farm, the grove, the wood-lot, passed by her dizzily, as she walked on; and still she went, leaving one familiar object after another, slacking not, pausing not, till reddening daylight found her many a long mile from all traces of any familiar objects upon the open highway.  13
  She had often been with her mistress to visit some connections in the little village of T——, not far from the Ohio River; and knew the road well. To go thither, to escape across the Ohio River, were the first hurried outlines of her plan of escape; beyond that, she could only hope in God.  14
  When horses and vehicles began to move along the highway, with that alert perception peculiar to a state of excitement, and which seems to be a sort of inspiration, she became aware that her headlong pace and distracted air might bring on her remark and suspicion. She therefore put the boy on the ground; and adjusting her dress and bonnet, she walked on at as rapid a pace as she thought consistent with the preservation of appearances. In her little bundle she had provided a store of cakes and apples, which she used as expedients for quickening the speed of the child; rolling the apple some yards before them, when the boy would run with all his might after it: and this ruse, often repeated, carried them over many a half-mile.  15
  After a while they came to a thick patch of woodland, through which murmured a clear brook. As the child complained of hunger and thirst, she climbed over the fence with him; and sitting down behind a large rock which concealed them from the road, she gave him a breakfast out of her little package. The boy wondered and grieved that she could not eat; and when, putting his arms round her neck, he tried to wedge some of his cake into her mouth, it seemed to her that the rising in her throat would choke her.  16
  “No, no, Harry darling! mother can’t eat till you are safe! We must go on—on—till we come to the river!” And she hurried again into the road, and again constrained herself to walk regularly and composedly forward.  17
  She was many miles past any neighborhood where she was personally known. If she should chance to meet any who knew her, she reflected that the well-known kindness of the family would be of itself a blind to suspicion, as making it an unlikely supposition that she could be a fugitive. As she was also so white as not to be known as of colored lineage, without a critical survey, and her child was white also, it was much easier for her to pass on unsuspected.  18
  On this presumption, she stopped at noon at a neat farmhouse, to rest herself and buy some dinner for her child and self; for as the danger decreased with the distance, the supernatural tension of the nervous system lessened, and she found herself both weary and hungry.  19
  The good woman, kindly and gossiping, seemed rather pleased than otherwise with having somebody come in to talk with, and accepted without examination Eliza’s statement that she “was going on a little piece, to spend a week with her friends”: all which she hoped in her heart might prove strictly true.  20
  An hour before sunset she entered the village of T——, by the Ohio River, weary and footsore but still strong in heart. Her first glance was at the river, which lay, like Jordan, between her and the Canaan of liberty on the other side.  21
  It was now early spring, and the river was swollen and turbulent; great cakes of floating ice were swinging heavily to and fro in the turbid waters. Owing to the peculiar form of the shore on the Kentucky side, the land bending far out into the water, the ice had been lodged and detained in great quantities; and the narrow channel which swept round the bend was full of ice, piled one cake over another, thus forming a temporary barrier to the descending ice, which lodged and formed a great undulating raft, filling up the whole river and extending almost to the Kentucky shore.  22
  Eliza stood for a moment contemplating this unfavorable aspect of things, which she saw at once must prevent the usual ferry-boat from running; and then turned into a small public house on the bank to make a few inquiries.  23
  The hostess, who was busy in various fizzing and stewing operations over the fire, preparatory to the evening meal, stopped with a fork in her hand, as Eliza’s sweet and plaintive voice arrested her.  24
  “What is it?” she said.  25
  “Isn’t there any ferry or boat that takes people over to B—— now?” she said.  26
  “No, indeed!” said the woman: “the boats has stopped running.”  27
  Eliza’s look of dismay and disappointment struck the woman, and she said inquiringly:—  28
  “Maybe you’re wanting to get over? Anybody sick? Ye seem mighty anxious!”  29
  “I’ve got a child that’s very dangerous,” said Eliza. “I never heard of it till last night, and I’ve walked quite a piece to-day, in hopes to get to the ferry.”  30
  “Well, now, that’s onlucky,” said the woman, whose motherly sympathies were much aroused: “I’m re’lly consarned for ye. Solomon!” she called from the window towards a small back building. A man in leather apron and very dirty hands appeared at the door.  31
  “I say, Sol,” said the woman, “is that ar man going to tote them bar’ls over to-night?”  32
  “He said he should try, if ’twas anyway prudent,” said the man.  33
  “There’s a man a piece down here that’s going over with some truck this evening, if he durs’ to; he’ll be in here to supper to-night, so you’d better set down and wait. That’s a sweet little fellow,” added the woman, offering him a cake.  34
  But the child, wholly exhausted, cried with weariness.  35
  “Poor fellow! he isn’t used to walking, and I’ve hurried him on so,” said Eliza.  36
  “Well, take him into this room,” said the woman, opening into a small bedroom, where stood a comfortable bed. Eliza laid the weary boy upon it, and held his hands in hers till he was fast asleep. For her there was no rest. As a fire in her bones, the thought of the pursuer urged her on; and she gazed with longing eyes on the sullen, surging waters that lay between her and liberty.  37
  Here we must take our leave of her for the present, to follow the course of her pursuers.  38
  AT two o’clock Sam and Andy brought the horses up to the posts, apparently greatly refreshed and invigorated by the scamper of the morning.  39
  Sam was there, new oiled from dinner, with an abundance of zealous and ready officiousness. As Haley approached, he was boasting in flourishing style to Andy of the evident and eminent success of the operation, now that he had “farly come to it.”  40
  “Your master, I s’pose, don’t keep no dogs?” said Haley thoughtfully, as he prepared to mount.  41
  “Heaps on ’em,” said Sam triumphantly: “thar’s Bruno—he’s a roarer! and besides that, ’bout every nigger of us keeps a pup of some natur’ or other.”  42
  “Poh!” said Haley,—and he said something else too, with regard to the said dogs; at which Sam muttered:—  43
  “I don’t see no use cussin’ on ’em, noway.”  44
  “But your master don’t keep no dogs (I pretty much know he don’t) for trackin’ out niggers?”  45
  Sam knew exactly what he meant, but he kept on a look of earnest and desperate simplicity.  46
  “Our dogs all smells round consid’able sharp. I spect they’s the kind, though they hain’t never had no practice. They’s far dogs, though, at most anything, if you’d get ’em started. Here, Bruno,” he called, whistling to the lumbering Newfoundland, who came pitching tumultuously toward them.  47
  “You go hang!” said Haley, getting up. “Come, tumble up now.”  48
  Sam tumbled up accordingly, dexterously contriving to tickle Andy as he did so; which occasioned Andy to split out into a laugh, greatly to Haley’s indignation, who made a cut at him with his riding-whip.  49
  “I ’s ’stonished at yer, Andy,” said Sam with awful gravity; “this yer’s a seris bisness, Andy. Yer mustn’t be a-makin’ game. This yer ain’t no way to help Mas’r.”  50
  “I shall take the straight road to the river,” said Haley decidedly, after they had come to the boundaries of the estate. “I know the way of all of ’em: they makes tracks for the underground.”  51
  “Sartin,” said Sam, “dat’s de idee. Mas’r Haley hits de thing right in de middle. Now der’s two roads to de river,—de dirt road and der pike: which Mas’r mean to take?”  52
  Andy looked up innocently at Sam, surprised at hearing this new geographical fact; but instantly confirmed what he said by a vehement reiteration.  53
  “’Cause,” said Sam, “I’d rather be ’clined to ’magine that Lizy ’d take de dirt road, bein’ it’s the least traveled.”  54
  Haley, notwithstanding that he was a very old bird, and naturally inclined to be suspicious of chaff, was rather brought up by this view of the case.  55
  “If yer warn’t both on yer such cussed liars, now!” he said contemplatively, as he pondered a moment.  56
  The pensive, reflective tone in which this was spoken appeared to amuse Andy prodigiously, and he drew a little behind, and shook so as apparently to run a great risk of falling off his horse; while Sam’s face was immovably composed into the most doleful gravity.  57
  “Course,” said Sam, “Mas’r can do as he’d ruther; go de straight road, if Mas’r thinks best,—it’s all one to us. Now when I study ’pon it, I think the straight road the best, deridedly.”  58
  “She would naturally go a lonesome way,” said Haley, thinking aloud, and not minding Sam’s remark.  59
  “Dar ain’t no sayin’,” said Sam: “gals is pecular: they never does nothin’ ye thinks they will; mose gen’lly the contrar. Gals is nat’lly made contrary; and so if you thinks they’ve gone one road, it is sartin you’d better go t’ other, and then you’ll be sure to find ’em. Now my private ’pinion is, Lizy took der dirt road; so I think we’d better take de straight one.”  60
  This profound generic view of the female sex did not seem to dispose Haley particularly to the straight road; and he announced decidedly that he should go the other, and asked Sam when they should come to it.  61
  “A little piece ahead,” said Sam, giving a wink to Andy with the eye which was on Andy’s side of the head; and he added gravely, “but I’ve studied on the matter, and I’m quite clar we ought not to go dat ar way. I nebber been over it noway. It’s despit lonesome, and we might lose our way: whar we’d come to, de Lord only knows.”  62
  “Nevertheless,” said Haley, “I shall go that way.”  63
  “Now I think on ’t, I think I hearn ’em tell dat ar road was all fenced up and down by der creek, and thar—ain’t it, Andy?”  64
  Andy wasn’t certain; he’d only “hearn tell” about that road, but never been over it. In short, he was strictly non-committal.  65
  Haley, accustomed to strike the balance of probabilities between lies of greater or lesser magnitude, thought that it lay in favor of the dirt road aforesaid. The mention of the thing he thought he perceived was involuntary on Sam’s part at first, and his confused attempts to dissuade him he set down to a desperate lying on second thoughts, as being unwilling to implicate Eliza.  66
  When therefore Sam indicated the road, Haley plunged briskly into it, followed by Sam and Andy.  67
  Now the road, in fact, was an old one that had formerly been a thoroughfare to the river, but abandoned for many years after the laying of the new pike. It was open for about an hour’s ride, and after that it was cut across by various farms and fences. Sam knew this fact perfectly well: indeed, the road had been so long closed up that Andy had never heard of it. He therefore rode along with an air of dutiful submission, only groaning and vociferating occasionally that ’twas “desp’t rough, and bad for Jerry’s foot.”  68
  “Now I jest give yer warning,” said Haley, “I know yer: yer won’t get me to turn off this yer road, with all yer fussin’; so you shet up!”  69
  “Mas’r will go his own way!” said Sam with rueful submission; at the same time winking most portentously to Andy, whose delight was now very near the explosive point.  70
  Sam was in wonderful spirits; professed to keep a very brisk lookout: at one time exclaiming that he saw “a gal’s bonnet” on the top of some distant eminence, or calling to Andy “if that thar wasn’t Lizy down in the hollow”; always making these exclamations in some rough or craggy part of the road, where the sudden quickening of speed was a special inconvenience to all parties concerned, and thus keeping Haley in a state of constant commotion.  71
  After riding about an hour in this way, the whole party made a precipitate and tumultuous descent into a barnyard belonging to a large farming establishment. Not a soul was in sight, all the hands being employed in the fields; but as the barn stood conspicuously and plainly square across the road, it was evident that their journey in that direction had reached a decided finale.  72
  “Warn’t dat ar what I telled Mas’r?” said Sam, with an air of injured innocence. “How does strange gentlemen spect to know more about a country dan de natives born and raised?”  73
  “You rascal!” said Haley, “you knew all about this.”  74
  “Didn’t I tell yer I know’d, and yer wouldn’t believe me? I telled Mas’r ’twas all shet up, and fenced up, and I didn’t spect we could get through: Andy heard me.”  75
  It was all too true to be disputed, and the unlucky man had to pocket his wrath with the best grace he was able; and all three faced to the right about, and took up their line of march for the highway.  76
  In consequence of all the various delays, it was about three-quarters of an hour after Eliza had laid her child to sleep in the village tavern that the party came riding into the same place. Eliza was standing by the window, looking out in another direction, when Sam’s quick eye caught a glimpse of her. Haley and Andy were two yards behind. At this crisis Sam contrived to have his hat blown off, and uttered a loud and characteristic ejaculation, which startled her at once; she drew suddenly back: the whole train swept by the window round to the front door.  77
  A thousand lives seemed to be concentrated in that one moment to Eliza. Her room opened by a side door to the river. She caught her child, and sprang down the steps towards it. The trader caught a full glimpse of her, just as she was disappearing down the bank; and throwing himself from his horse, and calling loudly on Sam and Andy, he was after her like a hound after a deer. In that dizzy moment her feet to her scarce seemed to touch the ground, and a moment brought her to the water’s edge. Right on behind they came; and nerved with strength such as God gives only to the desperate, with one wild cry and flying leap she vaulted sheer over the turbid current by the shore on to the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap,—impossible to anything but madness and despair; and Haley, Sam, and Andy instinctively cried out, and lifted up their hands as she did it.  78
  The huge green fragment of ice on which she alighted, pitched and creaked as her weight came on it; but she stayed there not a moment. With wild cries and desperate energy she leaped to another and still another cake; stumbling—leaping—slipping—springing upwards again! Her shoes were gone, her stockings cut from her feet, while blood marked every step; but she saw nothing, felt nothing, till dimly, as in a dream, she saw the Ohio side, and a man helping her up the bank.  79
  “Yer a brave gal, now, whoever ye are!” said the man with an oath.  80
  Eliza recognized the voice and face of a man who owned a farm not far from her old home.  81
  “O Mr. Symmes!—save me—do save me—do hide me!” said Eliza.  82
  “Why, what’s this?” said the man. “Why, if ’t ain’t Shelby’s gal!”  83
  “My child!—this boy!—he’d sold him! There is his Mas’r,” said she, pointing to the Kentucky shore. “O Mr. Symmes, you’ve got a little boy!”  84
  “So I have,” said the man, as he roughly but kindly drew her up the steep bank. “Besides, you’re a right brave gal. I like grit wherever I see it.”  85
  When they had gained the top of the bank, the man paused. “I’d be glad to do something for ye,” said he; “but then there’s nowhar I could take ye. The best I can do is to tell ye to go thar,” said he, pointing to a large white house which stood by itself, off the main street of the village. “Go thar: they’re kind folks. Thar’s no kind o’ danger but they’ll help you: they’re up to all that sort o’ thing.”  86
  “The Lord bless you!” said Eliza earnestly.  87
  “No ’casion, no ’casion in the world,” said the man. “What I’ve done’s of no ’count.”  88
  “And oh, surely, sir, you won’t tell any one!”  89
  “Go to thunder, gal! What do you take a feller for? In course not,” said the man. “Come, now, go along like a likely, sensible gal, as you are. You’ve arnt your liberty; and you shall have it, for all me.”  90
  The woman folded her child to her bosom, and walked firmly and swiftly away. The man stood and looked after her.  91
  “Shelby, now, mebbe won’t think this yer the most neighborly thing in the world; but what’s a feller to do? If he catches one of my gals in the same fix, he’s welcome to pay back. Somehow I never could see no kind o’ critter a-strivin’ and pantin’, and tryin’ to cl’ar theirselves, with the dogs arter ’em, and go agin ’em. Besides, I don’t see no kind o’ ’casion for me to be hunter and catcher for other folks, neither.”  92

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