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“I can hope nothing better for her. She must have been a poor heathen creature, wholly ignorant of Scripture. Paul commands slaves to obey; and the woman who wilfully violates his injunction does it at the peril of her soul.”
Clara was silent; and Mrs. Gentry, felicitating herself on the powerful moral lesson adapted to her pupil's “new sphere of duty,” resumed, “ By the way, your master
“Master !” shrieked Clara, running with upraised hands to Mrs. Gentry, as if to dash them down on her. Then suddenly checking herself, she said pleasantly : “ You see I'm a little unused to the name. What were you going to say ? ”
“ Really, child, one would think you were out of your wits. It is n't as if you were going to be consigned to a master who'd abuse
you. There's many a poor girl in our first society who'd be glad to be taken care of as you 'll be. Only think of it! Here's a beautiful diamond ring for you. And here's a check for five hundred dollars for you to spend in dresses, and you ’re to have the selecting of them all yourself, — think of that! under my superintendence of course ; but Madame Groux tells me your taste is excellent, and I shall not interfere. 'T is now nine o'clock. We 'll drive out this very forenoon to see what there is in the shops ; for Mr. Ratcliff may be here any hour now. Run and get ready, that is a good girl. The carriage shall be here at half past ten.”
Without touching, or even looking at, the ring, Clara ran upstairs to her room, and, locking the door, knelt, with flushed, burning brow and brain, at a little prie-dieu in the corner. She did not try to put her prayer in words, for the emotions which swelled within her bosom were all unspeakable. Clara was intellectually a mystic, but the current of her individualism was too strong to be diverted from its course by ordinary influences, whether from spirits in or out of the flesh. She was too positive to be constrained by other impulses than those which her own will, enlightened by her own reason, had generated. So, while she felt assured that angelic witnesses were round about her, and that her every thought “had a critic in the skies,” - and while she believed that, in one sense, nothing of mind or body was truly her own,
that she was but a vessel or recipient, — she keenly experienced the consciousness that she was a free, responsible agent. O mystery beyond all fathoming! O reconcilement of contrarieties which only Omnipotence could effect, and only Omnipotence can explain!
She paced the floor of her little room, — looked her situation unflinchingly in the face, - and resolved, with God's help, to gird herself for the strife. Her unknown benefactor, whom her imagination had so exalted, ah! how poor a thing, hollow and corrupt, he had proved! Could she ever forgive the man who had dared claim her as his slave ?
And yet might she not misjudge him? Might he not be plotting some generous surprise ? She recalled a single expression of his face, and felt satisfied she did him no injustice. How hateful now seemed all those accomplishments she had acquired! They were but the gilding of an abhorred chain.
In the midst of her whirling thoughts, her mocking-bird, which had been pecking at some crumbs in his cage, burst into such a wild jubilate of song, that Clara's attention was withdrawn for a moment even from her own great grief. Opening the door of the cage, she said : “ Come, Dainty, you too shall be free. The window is open. Go find a pleasant home among the trees and on the plantations.”
The bird flew about her head, and alighted on her forefinger, as it had been accustomed. Clara pressed the down of its neck to her cheek, and then, taking the little songster to the window, threw it off her finger. Dainty flew back into the room, and, alighting on Clara’s head, pecked at her hair.
“ Naughty Dainty! Good by, my pet! We must part. Freedom is best for both you and me.” And, putting her head out of the window, Clara brushed Dainty off into the airy void, and closed the glass against the bird's return.
She now summoned Esha, and said : “ Esha, we've often wondered as to my true place in the world. The mystery is solved to-day. Mrs. Gentry informs me I'm a slave.”
“ What! Wha-a-a-t! You? You, too, a slabe ? My little darlin' a slabe ? O, de good Lord in hebbn won't 'low dat!”
“We've but a moment for talk, Esha. Help me to act. My owner (owner!) may be here any minute.”
66 Who am dat owner ?" “ Mr. Carberry Ratcliff.”
“No, — no,
no! Not dat man! Not him! De Lord help de dare chile if dat born debble wunst git hole ob her!”
“ What do you know of him ?”
“ He war de cruel massa ob dat slabe gal whom you hab de hair ob in
bosom." “ I'm glad of it !” cried Clara, throwing her clenched hand in the air, and looking up as if to have the heavens hear her.
“O, darlin' chile, what am dar ole Esha kn do for her?”
Clara stopped short, and, pressing both hands on her forehead, stood as if calling her best thoughts to a council of war, and then said, “ Can you get me a small valise, Esha ?”
“ Hab a carpet-bag I kn gib her. You jes wait one minute.” And Esha returned with the desired article.
“ Now help me pack it with the things I shall most need. Mrs. Gentry expects me soon to go a-shopping with her. When she calls for me, I shall be missing. I've not yet made up my mind where to go. I shall think on that as I walk along. What's the matter, Esha? What do you stare at ?"
“ Look dar! What yer see dar, darlin'?”
“ A pair of little sleeve-buttons. How pretty! Gold with a setting of coral. And on the inside, in tiny letters, C. A. B.”
“ Wall, dat 's de 'stonishin’est ting l’ze seen dis many a day. Ten— no, 'lebben- no, fourteen yars ago, as I war emptyin' suds out ob de wash-tub, I see dese little buttons shinin' on de groun'. 'T was de Monday arter you was browt here. Your little underclose had been in de wash. So what does I do but put de buttons in my pocket, tinkin' I'd gib 'em ter missis ter keep fur yer. But whan I look for 'em, dey was clean gone, — could n't fine 'em nowhar. ' So I say noting tall 'bout it. Jes now, as I tuk up fro’ my trunk a little muslin collar dat de dare saint I tell yer 'bout used ter wear, what sh'd drop from de foles but dis same little pair ob buttons dat I hab’nt seen fur all dese yars. Take 'em, darlin', fur dey 'long ter you an' ter nobody else.”
“ Thank you, Esha. I'll keep them with my other treasures”; and Clara fastened them with a pin to the piece of bunting in her bosom. “ And now, good by. Pray for me, Esha.”
“Night and day, darlin'. But Esha mus gib suffn more 'n
prayers. Take dese twenty dollars in gold, darlin'. Yer 'll want 'em, sure. Don't 'fuze 'em."
“ How long have you been saving up this money, Esha ?”
“ Bress de chile, only tree muntz. Dat's nuffn. take 'em. Dar! Dat's right. Tie 'em up safe in de corner ob yer hankerchy.”
“ But, Esha, you may not be paid back till you get to heaven.” And Clara put on her bonnet, and spoke rapidly to choke down a sob.
“ So much de better. Dar! Put 'em safe in yer pocket. Dat’s a good chile.”
Fearing a refusal would only grieve the old woman, Clara received and put away the gold-pieces. Then, closing the spring of the carpet-bag, she kissed Esha, and said, " If they inquire for me, balk them as well as you can.”
“ Leeb me alone fur dat, darlin'. An' now yer mus' go. De Lord an' his proppet bless yer! Allah keep yer! De mudder ob God watch ober yer!!
In these ejaculations Esha would hardly have been held as orthodox either by a mufti or a D.D. But what if, in the balance of the All-Seeing, the sincere heart should outweigh the speculative head ? Poor old Esha was Mahometan through reverence for her father; Catholic through influences from the family with whom she lived when a child ; and Protestant through knowedge of many good men and women of that faith. She cared not how many saints there were in her calendar. The more the merrier. All goodness in man or woman, of whatever race or sect, was deified in her simple and semibarbarous conceptions. Poor, ignorant, sinful, unregenerate creature!
“ God bless you, Esha!” said Clara. “ Look! There is poor Dainty perched on the window-sill. Plainly he is no Abolitionist. He prefers slavery. Take care of him.”
“Dat I will, if only for your sake, darlin'.”
And the old woman let the bird in and closed the window; and then — her bronzed face wet with tears she conducted Clara to a back door of the house, from which the fugitive could issue, without being observed, into an obscure carriage-way.
ENCOUNTERS AT THE ST. CHARLES.
“Hail, year of God's farming! Hail, summer of an emancipated continent, which shall lay up in storehouse and barn the great truths that were worth the costly dressing of a people's blood !" -- Rev. John Weiss.
None of the rooms of the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans
a man sat meditating. The windows looked out on a street where soldiers were going through their drill amid occasional shouts from by-standers. As the noise grew louder, the man rose and went to a window.
He was hardly above the middle stature, slim and compact, but as lithe as if jointed like an eel. His hair was slightly streaked with gray. His features, though not full, spoke health, vigor, and pure habits of life; while his white, well-preserved teeth, neatly trimmed beard, and well-cut, well-adjusted clothes showed that, as he left his youth behind him, his attention to his personal appearance did not decrease. Fourteen years had made but little change in Vance. It had not tamed the fire of his eyes nor slackened the alertness of his tread.
As he caught sight of the “stars and bars” waving in the spring sunlight, an expression of scorn was emitted in his frown, and he exclaimed : “ Detested rag! I shall yet live to trample you in the dirt on that very spot where you now flaunt so bravely. Shout on, poor fools! Continue, ye unreasoning cattle, to crop the flowery food, and lick the hand just raised to shed
blood. And you, too, leaders of the rank and file, led, in your turn, by South Carolina fire-eaters, go on and overtake that fate denounced by the prophet on evildoers. Hug the strong delusion and believe the lie! Declare, with the smatterers of the Richmond press, that Christian civilization is a mistake, and that the new Confederacy is a Godsent missionary to the nations to teach them that pollution is purity, and incest a boon from heaven. The time is not far distant when you shall learn how far the Eternal Powers are the allies of human laziness, arrogance, and lust !”