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ties of the room, and said that another man must be found to attend to the case at Charlton's office. Having in this way eased his conscience, Blake ran as far as Broadway, and jumped into an omnibus. But the omnibus was too slow, so he jumped out and ran down Broadway to Bunker's. How the precious time flew by! Before he could be satisfied at Bunker's that Peek was not there, the clock indicated five minutes of five. He rushed out in the direction of the slave's lodgings. An old woman with wrinkled face, and bent form, and carrying a broom, was showing the apartments to an applicant who thought of moving from the story below. Where were the negro and his wife ? Gone! How long ago? More than two hours! The clock struck five.
Wholly disheartened, Blake ran back to Charlton's office. He found it locked. No one answered to his knock. Raising his foot he kicked open the door with a single effort. The office was deserted. No one there! He ran to the Jersey City ferry-boat that carries passengers for the Philadelphia cars ; it had left the wharf some twenty minutes before. Bafiled in all directions, he took his way to the police-station to find Iverson ; but that officer was on duty, nobody knew where. After waiting at the station till nearly midnight, Blake at last, worn out with discouragement and fatigue, went home.
What had become of Peek all this time?
Anticipating that he and his wife might at any moment find it prudent to leave for Canada at half an hour's notice, Peek had always kept his affairs in a state to enable him to do this conveniently. He had hired his rooms, furniture, and piano-forte by the week, paying for them in advance. Two small trunks were sufficient to contain all his movable property; and these might be packed in five minutes.
Flora, his wife, who like Peek was of unmixed blood, had been lady's maid in a family in Vicksburg. Here she had become an expert in washing and doing up muslins and other fine articles of female attire. But the lady she served died, and Flora became the property of Mr. Penfield, a planter, who, looking on her with the eyes that a cattle-breeder might turn on a Durham cow, ordered her to marry one Bully Bill, a lusty African with a neck like the cylinder of a steam-engine. Flora objected, and learning that her objections would not be respected, she ran away, and after various fortunes settled at Montreal. Here she married Peek, who taught her to read and write. She had been bred a pious Catholic, and Peek, finding that they agreed in the essentials of a devout and believing heart, never undertook to disturb her faith.
They moved to New York, and Peek with his wages as waiter, and Flora with the
she got for doing up muslins, earned jointly an income which placed them far above want in the region of absolute comfort and partial refinement. Few more happy and loyal couples could have been found even in freestone palaces on the Fifth Avenue.
Well, Flora, how long will it take you to get ready?” said Peek, entering the neat little kitchen, where she was at work at her ironing-board, while little Sterling sat amusing himself on the floor in building a house with small wooden bricks.
Flora, at once comprehending the intent of the question, replied, “I sha'n't want more 'n half an hour.”
“ Well, a boat leaves for Albany at five,” said Peek, taking the Sun newspaper, and cutting out an advertisement. 66 We'd better quit here, and go on board just as soon as we can.”
“ Le’m me see,” said Flora, meditatively. “ The grocer at the corner will send round these muslins, 'specially if we pay him for it. My customers owe me twenty dollars, how shall we collek that?”
“ You can write to them from Montreal.” “ Lor! so I can, Peek. Who'd have thought of it but you ?”
“ Come, then! Be lively. Tumble the things into the trunks. We'll give poor old Petticum the odds and ends we leave behind; and she 'll notify the landlord, and take care of the rooms.'
In less than an hour's time they had made all their preparations, and were all three in a coach with their luggage, rattling up Greenwich Street towards one of the Twenties. Here they went on board an old steamer, recently taken from the regular line for freighting purposes, and carrying only a few passengers. Having seen Flora and Sterling safely bestowed with the luggage, and given the former his watch and all his money, except a dollar in change, Peek said: “Now, Flora, I've got to go
be mind yet,
ashore on business. If I should n't be here when the boat starts, do you keep straight on to Montreal without me.
Go to the post-office regularly twice a week to see if there's a letter for you.”
“ What is it, Peek? Tell me all about it,” said Flora, who painfully felt there was a secret which her husband did not choose to disclose.
“Now, Flora, don't be silly,” replied Peek, wiping the tears from her face with his handkerchief. “I tell you,
may aboard again before you start, — have n't made up my - only, if you should n't see me, never you mind, but just keep on. Find out your old customers in Montreal, and wait patiently till I join you. So don't cry about it. The Lord will take care of it all. Here's a handbill that tells
the best way to get to Montreal. Look out for pickpockets. I should n't leave you if I did n't have to, Flora. I'll tell you everything about it when we meet. So good by.”
Having no suspicion of the actual cause of Peek's leaving her, and confident, through faith in him, that it must be for a right purpose, Flora cheered up, and said: “Well, Peek, I 'spec you've got some little debts to pay ; but do come back to-day if you can; and keep clar' of the hounds, Peek, keep clar of the hounds."
And so, kissing wife and child, with an overflowing heart Peek quitted the boat. He did not at once leave the vicinity. There was a pile of fresh lumber not far off. Dodging out of sight behind it, and then sitting down in a little enclosure formed by the boards, where he could see the boat and not be seen, he tried to orient his conscience as to his duty under the extraordinary circumstances in which he found himself.
Go back to the life of a slave ? Leave wife and child, and return to bondage, degradation, subordination to another's will ? He looked out on the beautiful river, flashing in the warm spring sunshine; to the opposite shore of Hoboken, where he and Flora used to stroll on Sundays last summer, dragging Sterling in his little carriage. Was there to be no more of that pleasant independent life?
A slave? Liable to be kicked, cuffed, spit on, fettered, scourged by such a creature as Colonel Delancy Hyde? No! “So help
To escape the pursuing fiends who would force such a lot on an innocent human being, surely any subterfuge, any stratagem, any lie, would be justifiable !
And Peek thought of the joy that Flora would feel at seeing him return, and he rose to go back to the boat.
A single thought drew him back to his covert. me God.” Had he not pledged himself, — pledged himself in sincerity at the moment in those words? Had he not by his act promised Blake, who had befriended him, that he would return, and might not Blake lose his situation if the promise were broken?
As Peek found conscience getting the better of inclination in the dispute, he bowed his head in his hands, and wept sobbingly like a child. Such anguish was there in the thought of a surrender! Then, extending himself prostrate on the boards, his face down, and resting on his arms, he strove to shut out all except the voice of God in his soul. He uttered no word, but he felt the mastery of a great desire, and that was for guidance from above. Tender thoughtt of the sufferings and wants of the poor slaves he had left on Barnwell's plantation stole back to him. Would he not like to see them and be of service to them once more? What if he should be whipped, imprisoned? Could he not brave all such risks, for the satisfaction of keeping a pledge made to a man who had shown him kindness? And he recalled the words, ce spoken through Corinna, “ Not to be happy, but to deserve happiness.”
Besides, might he not again escape? Yes! He would go back to Charlton's office. He would surrender himself as he had promised. The words which Colonel Hyde had conceived to be of no more binding force than a wreath of tobacco-smoke were the chain stronger than steel that drew the negro back to the fulfilment of his pledge. “So help me God!” Could he profane those words, and ever look up again to Heaven for succor ?
And so he rose, took one despairing look at the boat, where he could see Flora pointing out to her little boy the wonders of the river, and then rushed away in the direction of Broadway. There was no lack of omnibuses, but no friendly driver would give him a seat on top, and he was excluded by social prejudice from the inside. It was twenty minutes to five when he reached Union Park. Thence running all the way in the middle of the street with the carriages, he reached Charlton's office before the clock had finished striking the hour.
There had been wrangling and high words just before his entrance. Colonel Delancy Hyde was ejecting his wrath against the universal Yankee nation in the choicest terms of vituperation that his limited vocabulary could supply. The loss of both his nigger and his revolver had been too much for his equanimity. Captain Skinner and his companion, Biggs, were sturdily demanding their fees, which did not seem to be forthcoming. Charlton, in abject grief of heart, was silently lamenting the loss of his fifty dollars, forfeited by the non-delivery of the slave ; and Iverson, the policeman, was delicately insinuating in the ear of the lawyer that he should look to him
for his pay.
Peek, entering in this knotty condition of affairs, was the Deus ex machina to disentangle the complication and set the wheels smoothly in motion. No one believed he would come back, and there issued from the lips of all an exclamation of surprise, not unseasoned with oaths to suit the several tastes.
“ Cuss me if here ain't the nigger himself come back!” exclaimed the Colonel. Wall, Peek, I did n't reckon you was gwine to keep yer word, and it made me swar some to see how I'd been chiselled fust out of my revolver and then out of my nigger, by a damned Yankee policeman. But here you air, and we'll fix things right off, so’s to be ready for the next Philadelphy train, if so be yer 'll go without any fuss.”
“ Yes, I'll go, Colonel,” said Peek, “but you 'll have an officer to see I don't escape from the cars.”
“ Thar's seventy-five dollars expense, blast yer!” exclaimed the Colonel. “ Yes, be Gawd! I've got to pay this man for goin' to Cincinnati and back. O, but old Hawks will take your damned hide off when we git you back in Texas, — sure!”
Peek, to serve some purpose of his own, here dropped his dignity entirely, and assumed the manner and language of the careless, rollicking plantation nigger. “Yah! yah!” laughed he. “Wall, look a-he-ah, Kunnle Delancy Hyde. Les make a trade, - we two, - and git rid of the policeman altogedder. I