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Pompilard spoke of the opera, of Maretzek, the Dusseldorf gallery, and the Rochester rappings. At length Charlton interposed with an allusion to the great steamboat disaster. Pompilard seemed to dodge the subject ; and this drove Charlton to the direct interrogatory, “ Have you had any information in addition to what the newspapers give ?”
“O nothing, — that is, nothing of consequence,” said Pompilard. “ Did you hear Grisi last night?
“It appears," resumed Charlton, “ that your wife's niece, Mrs. Berwick, was killed outright, that the child was subsequently drowned, and that Mr. Berwick survived till the next day at noon.”
“Nothing more likely!” replied Pompilard, who had not yet seen the morning papers. “Do you know any of the survivors ?” asked Charlton.
I have n't examined the list yet,” said Pompilard. And they parted at the head of Fulton Street.
Charlton built his hopes largely on the fact that Colonel Delancy Hyde was among the survivors. If, fortunately, the Colonel's memory should serve him the right way, he might turn out a very useful witness. At any rate, he (Charlton) would communicate with him by letter forthwith.
In one of the reports in the Memphis Avalanche, telegraphed to the morning papers, was the following extract :
“ Judge Onslow, late of Mississippi, and his son saved themselves by swimming. Among the bodies they identified was that of Mrs. Berwick of New York, wounded in the head. From the nature of the wound, her death must have been instantaneous. Her husband was badly scalded, and, on recognizing the body of his wife, and learning that his child was among the drowned, he became deeply agitated. He lingered till the next day at noon.
The child had been in the keeping of a mulatto nurse. Mr. Burgess of St. Louis, who was saved, saw them both go overboard. It appears, however, that the nurse, with her charge in her arms, was seen holding on to a life-preserving stool ; but they were both drowned, though every effort was made by Colonel Hyde, aided by Mr. Quattles of South Carolina, to save them.
“ We regret to learn that Colonel Hyde is a large loser in slaves. One of these, a valuable negro, named Peek, is probably drowned, as he was handcuffed to prevent his escape. The other slaves may have perished, or may have made tracks for the underground railroad to Canada. The report that Mr. Vance of New Orleans was lost proves to be untrue. The night was dark, though not cloudy. The river is very deep, and the current rapid at the place of the explosion (a few miles above Helena), and it is feared that many persons have been drowned whose bodies it will be impossible to recover.”
Pompilard read this account, and felt a million of dollars slipping away from his grasp. But not a muscle of his face betrayed emotion. Impenetrable fatalist, he still had faith in the culmination of his star.
“ We must wait for further particulars,” thought Pompilard ; “ there is hope still ”; and, stopping at a stall to buy the new novel of “Monte Cristo” by Dumas, he made his way to the cars, and returned to Harlem.
Weeks glided by. Mrs. Charlton passed away on the day she had predicted, and Toussaint, after seeing her remains deposited at Greenwood, gave away in charity the thousand dollars which she had extorted for him from her husband.
Melissa Pompilard began to fear that the marriage-day would never come round. Cecil Purling, her betrothed, had made a descent on a young publisher, just starting in business, and had induced him to put forth a volume of “playful” essays, entitled “ Skimmings and Skippings.” The result was financial ruin to the publisher, and his rapid retreat back to the clerkship from which he had emerged.
But Purling was indomitable. He began forthwith to plan another publication, and to look round for another victim; comforting Melissa with the assurance that, though the critics were now in a league to keep him in obscurity, he should make his mark some day, when all his past works would turn out the most profitable investments he could possibly have found.
To whom should the Aylesford-Berwick property descend ? That was now a question of moment, both in legal and financial circles. Pompilard read novels, made love to his wife, and romped with his daughters and grandchildren. Charlton groaned and grew thin under the horrible state of suspense in which the lawyers kept him.
“A queen on a scaffold is not so pitiful a sight as a woman on the auction-block.”Charles Sumner.
“Slavery gratifies at once the love of power, the love of money, and the love of ease ; it finds a victim for anger who cannot smite back his oppressor, and it offers to all, without measure, the seductive privileges which the Mormon gospel reserves for the true believers on earth, and the Bible of Mahomet only dares promise to the saints in heaven.” – 0. W. Holmes.
BOUT a month after the explosion of the Pontiac, a select
company were assembled, one beautiful morning in June, under a stately palmetto-tree in front of the auction store of Messrs. Ripper & Co. in New Orleans, and on the shady side of the street. There was to be a sale of prime slaves that day. A chair with a table before it, flanked on either side by a bale of cotton, afforded accommodations for the ceremony. Mr. Ripper, the auctioneer, was a young man, rather handsome, and well dressed, but with that flushed complexion and telltale expression of the eyes which a habit of dissipation generally imparts to its victims.
The company numbered some fifty. They were lounging about in groups, and were nearly all of them smoking cigars. Some were attired in thin grass-cloth coats and pantaloons, some in the perpetual black broadcloth to which Americans adhere so pertinaciously, even when the thermometer is at ninety. There was but one woman present; and she was a strong-minded widow, a Mrs. Barkdale, who by the death of her husband had come into the possession of a plantation, and now, instead of sending her overseer, had come herself, to bid off a likely field-hand.
The negroes to be sold, about a dozen in number, were in the warehouse. Mr. Ripper paced the sidewalk, looking now and then impatiently at his watch. The sale was to begin at ten. Suddenly a tall, angular, ill-formed man, dressed in a light homespun suit, came up to Ripper and drew him aside to where a young man, dressed in black and wearing a white neckcloth, stood bracing his back up against a tree. His swarthy complexion, dark eyes, and long nose made it doubtful whether the Caucasian, the Jewish, or the African blood predominated in his veins. A general languor and unsteadiness of body showed that he had been indulging in the “ ardent.”
To this individual the tall man led up the auctioneer, and said : “ The Reverend Quattles, Mr. Ripper; Mr. Ripper, the Reverend Quattles. Gemmlemen, yer both know me. I'm Delancy Hyde, - Virginia-born, be Gawd. ('Scuze me, Reverend sir.) None of your Puritan scum! My ahnces'tor, Delancy Hyde, kum over with Pocahontas and John Smith; my gra'ffther owned more niggers nor ’ary other man in the county ; my father was cheated and broke up by a damned Yankee judge, sir ; that's why the family acres ain't mine.”
“I've but five minutes more,” interposed Mr. Ripper, impatiently.
“ Wall, sir," continued the Colonel, “ this gemmleman, as I war tellin' yer, is the Reverend Quattles of Alabamy.”
The Reverend Quattles bowed, and, with fishy eyes and a maudlin smile, put his hand on his heart.
“ The little nig I've brung yer ter sell, Mr. Ripper, b’longs ter the Reverend Quattles's brother, a high-tone gemmleman, who lives in Mobile, but has been unfortnit in business, and has had ter sell off his niggers. An' as I was goin' ter Noo Orleenz, he puts this little colored gal in my hands ter sell. The Reverend Quattles wanted ter buy her, but was too poor. He then said he'd go with me ter see she mowt fall inter the right hahnds. In puttin' her up, yer must say ’t was a great ’fliction, and all that, ter part with her; that the Reverend Quattles, ruther nor see her fall inter the wrong hands, would sell his library, and so on; that she's the child of a quadroon as has been in the family all her life, and as is a sort of half-sister of the Reverend Quattles.”
“O yes ! I understand all that game,” said Ripper, knocking with his little finger the ashes from his cigar.
The Colonel, in an aside to the auctioneer, now remarked : “ The Reverend Quattles, in tryin' to stiddy his narves for the scene, has tuk too stiff a horn, yer see.”
“ Yes ; take him where he can sleep it off. It's time for the sale to begin. Remember your lot is Number 12, and will be struck off last."
The auctioneer then made his way across the street, jumped on one of the cotton-bales, and thence into the chair placed near the table.
“ Come, Quattles,” said Hyde, “ we've time for another horn afore we're wanted.”
"No yer don't, Kunnle!” exclaimed Quattles, throwing off that worthy's arm from his shoulder. “I tell yer this is too cussed mean a business for any white man; I tell yer I won't give inter it.”
“ Hush! Don't bawl so," pleaded the Colonel.
“ I will bawl. Yer think yer 've got me so drunk I hain't no conscience left.
But I tell yer, I woan't give in. I tell yer, I'll 'xpose the hull trick !”
“ Hush ! hush !” said the Colonel, patting him as he might a restive beast. “ Arter the sale 's over, we'll have a fust-rate dinner all by ou’selves at the St. Charles. Terrapin soup and pompinoe! Champagne and juleps! Ice-cream and jelly! A reg'lar blow-out! Think of that, Quattles! Think of that!”
“ Cuss the vittles ! O, I'm a poor, mis’able, used-up, goodfor-northin'creetur, wuss nor a nigger ! — yes, wuss nor a nigger!” said Quattles, bursting into maudlin sobs and weeping. The Colonel walked him away into a contiguous drinkingsaloon.
“ Brandy-smashes for two,” said the Colonel.
The decoctions were brewed, and the tumblers slid along the marble counter, with the despatch of a man who takes pride in his vocation. They were as quickly emptied. Quattles gulped down his liquor eagerly. The Colonel then hired a room containing a sofa, and, seeing his companion safely bestowed there, made his own way back to the auction.
On one of the cotton-bales stood a prime article called a negro-wench. This was Lot Number 3. She was clad in an old faded and filthy calico dress that had apparently been made for a girl half her size. A small bundle containing the rest of her wardrobe lay at her feet. Her bare arms, neck, and breasts were conspicuously displayed, and her knees were