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THE WHITE SLAVE.
“Because immortal, therefore is indulged
This strange regard of deities to dust!
“ The creature is great, to whom it is allowed to imagine questions to which only a God can reply.” – Aimé Martin.
ro one who has travelled largely through the Southern
States will require to be told that the slave system sanctions the holding in slavery of persons who are undistinguishable in complexion from the whitest Anglo-Saxons. Several carefully authenticated cases, analogous to that developed in our story, though surpassing it in unspeakable baseness, have been recently brought to light. We need only hint at them at this stage of our narrative.
The reader has already divined that the little girl sold at the slave-auction, and placed under Mrs. Gentry's care, was no other than the unfortunate child whose parents were lost in the disaster of the Pontiac.
There is a class of minds which, either from inertness or lack of leisure, never revise the opinions they have received from others. If we might borrow a fresh illustration from Mrs. Gentry's copy-books, we might say that in her mental growth the tree was inclined precisely as the twig had been bent. She honestly believed that there was no appeal from what her sire, the judge, had once laid down as law or gospel. Having been bred in the belief that slavery was a wholesome and sacred institution, she would probably have seen her own sister dragged under it to the auction-block, and not have ventured to question the righteousness of the act.
There were only two passions which, should they ever come in direct collision with her veneration for slavery, might possibly override it; but even on this there seemed to rest much uncertainty. Her acquisitiveness, as the phrenologists would have called it, was large ; and then, although she was fast declining into the sere and yellow leaf, she had not surrendered all hope of one day finding a successor to the late Mr. Gentry in her affections.
Regarding poor little Clara Berwick (or Ellen Murray) as a slave, she could never be so far moved by the child's winning presence and ways as to look on her as entitled to the same atmosphere and sun as herself. No infantile grace, no solicitation of affection, could ever melt the icy barrier with which the pride and self-seeking, fostered by slavery, had encircled the heart, not naturally bad, of the schoolmistress. And yet she did her duty by the child to the best of her ability. Though not a highly educated person, Mrs. Gentry was shrewd enough to employ for her pupils the most accomplished teachers ; and in respect to Clara she faithfully carried out Mr. Ratcliff's directions. True, she always exacted an obedience that was unquestioning and blind. She did not care to see that the child could have been led by a silken thread, only satisfy her reason or appeal to her affections. And so it was to Esha that Clara would always have to go for sympathy, both in her sorrows and her joys; and was Esha whose influence was felt in the very depths of that fresh and sensitive nature.
From her third to her fourteenth year Clara gave little promise of beauty. Ratcliff, on receiving her photographs, used to throw them aside with a “ Psha! After all, she 'll be fit only for a household drudge."
But as she emerged into her sixteenth year, and features and form began to develop the full meaning of their outlines, she all at once appeared in the new and startling phase of a rare model of incipient womanhood. Her hair, thick and flowing, was of a softened brown tint, which yet was distinct from that cognate hue, abrun (a-brown) or auburn, a shade suggestive of red. Her complexion was clear and pure, though not of that brilliant pink and white often associated with delicacy of constitution. A profile, delicately cut as if to be the despair of
sculptors ; a forehead not high, but high enough to show Mind enthroned there; eyes - it was not till you drew quite near that you marked the peculiarity already described in the infant of the Pontiac. The mouth and lips were small and passionate, the chin bold, yet not protrusive, the nostrils having that indescribable curve which often makes this feature surpass all the others in giving a character of decision to a face. A man of the turf would have summed up his whole description of the girl in the one word “ blood.”
Such a union of the sensuous nature with pure will and intellect might well have made a watchful parent tremble for her future.
Ratcliff had been for more than a year in South Carolina, helping to fire the Southern heart, and forward the secession movement. Early in January, 1861, he made a flying visit to New Orleans, and called on Mrs. Gentry.
After some conversation on public affairs, the lady asked, "Would
like to see my pupil ? ” “ Not if she resembles the photographs you ’ve sent me,” replied Ratcliff. Then, looking at his watch, he added : “I leave for Charleston this afternoon, and have n't time to see her now. Early in March I shall be back, and will call then.”
“ You must see her a minute,” said Mrs. Gentry. “ I think you 'll admit she does no discredit to my bringing up.” And she rang the bell.
“ Tell Miss Murray, I desire her presence in the parlor.”
Clara entered. She was attired in a plain robe of slatecolored muslin, exquisitely fitted, and had a book in her hand, as if just interrupted in study. She stood inquiringly before the schoolmistress, and seemed unconscious of another's pres
“I wish you, Miss Murray, to play for this gentleman. Play the piece you last learnt.”
Without the slightest shyness, Clara obeyed, seating herself at the piano, and performing Schubert's delectable “ Lob der Throenen,” (Eulogy of Tears,) with Liszt's arrangement. This she did with an executive facility and precision of touch that would have charmed a competent judge, which Ratcliff was not.
And yet astonishment made him speechless. He had ex
pected an undeveloped, awkward, homely girl. Lo a beautiful young woman whose perfect composure and grace were such as few queens of society could exhibit! And all that youth and loveliness were his !
He looked at his watch. Not another moment could he remain. He drew near to Clara and took her hand, which she quickly withdrew. “Only maiden coyness,” thought he, and said : “ We must be better acquainted. But I must now hasten from your dangerous society, or I shall miss the steamer. Good by, my dear.
Good by, Mrs. Gentry. You shall hear from me very soon.”
And Mrs. Gentry rang the bell, and black Tarquin opened the door for Ratcliff. As it closed upon him, “ Who is that old man ? " asked Clara.
“ Old ? Why, he does n't look a year over forty,” replied Mrs. Gentry. 6 That's the rich Mr. Ratcliff.”
Well, I detest him,” said Clara, emphatically. “ Detest !” exclaimed Mrs. Gentry, horror-stricken ; for it was not often that Clara condescended to speak her mind so freely to that lady. “Detest ? Is this the end of all my moral and religious teachings ? O, but you 'll be come up with, if you go on in this way. Retire to your room, Miss.”
Swiftly and gladly Clara obeyed.
Apropos of the aforesaid teachings, Ratcliff was very willing that his predestined victim should be piously inclined. It would rather add to the piquancy of her degradation. He wavered somewhat as to whether she should be a Protestant or a Catholic, but finally left the whole matter to Mrs. Gentry. That profound theologian had done her best to lead Clara into her own select fold, and, as she thought, had succeeded ; but Clara was pretty sure to take up opinions the reverse of those held by her teacher. So, after sitting in weariness of spirit under the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Palmer in the morning, the perverse young lady would ventilate her religious conceptions by reading Fenelon, Madame Guyon, or Zschokke in the evening.
Mrs. Gentry believed in secession, and raved like a Pythoness against the cowardly Yankees. Clara, seeing a United States flag trampled on and torn in the street, secured a rag of it, secretly washed it, and placed it as a holy symbol on her bosom. Mrs. Gentry expatiated to her pupils on the righteousness and venerableness of slavery. Clara cut out from a pictorial paper a poor little dingy picture of Fremont, and concealed it between two leaves of her Bible, underlining on one of them these words : “ Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof."
Esha, the colored cook, a slave, was Clara's fast friend in all her youthful troubles. Esha had passed through all degrees of slavery,—from toiling in a cotton-field to serving as a lady's maid. Having had a child, a little girl, taken from her and sold, she ever afterwards refused to be again a mother. The straight hair, coppery hue, and somewhat Caucasian cast of features of this slave showed that she belonged to a race different from that of the ordinary negro. She had been named Ayesha, after one of Mahomet's wives. She generally wore a Madras handkerchief about her head, and showed a partiality for brilliant colors. Many were the stealthy interviews that she and Clara enjoyed together.
Said Esha, on one of these occasions : “ Don't b'leeb 'em, darlin', whan dey say de slabe am berry happy, an' all dat. No slabe dat hab any sense am happy. He know, he do, dat suffn's tuk away from him dat God gabe him, and meant he sh'd hole on ter; and so he feel ollerz kind o' mean afore God an man too; an' I 'fy anybody, white or black, to be happy who feel dat ar way.”
“ But it is n't the slave's fault, Esha, that he's a slave.”
“ It's de slabe's fault dat he stay a slabe, darlin',” said the old woman, with a strange kindling of the eyes. “ But den de massa hab de raisin' ob him, an' so take good car' ter break down all dar am of de man in de
slabe hab no larnin', and dunno whar' to git a libbin' or how to sabe hisself from starvin'. An' if he run away, de people Norf send him back.”
On studying Esha further, Clara discovered that she was half Mahometan, and could speak Arabic. Her mixed notions she had got partly from her father, Amri, who belonged to one of those African tribes who cultivate a pure deism, tempered only by faith in the mission of Mahomet as an inspired