Uncle Tom's Cabin Chapter V: Showing the Feelings of Living Property on Changing Owners
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Mr. and Mrs. Shelby had retired to their apartment for
the night. He was lounging in a large easy-chair, looking over
some letters that had come in the afternoon mail, and she was
standing before her mirror, brushing out the complicated braids
and curls in which Eliza had arranged her hair; for, noticing her
pale cheeks and haggard eyes, she had excused her attendance that
night, and ordered her to bed. The employment, naturally enough,
suggested her conversation with the girl in the morning; and turning
to her husband, she said, carelessly,
"By the by, Arthur, who was that low-bred fellow that you
lugged in to our dinner-table today?"
"Haley is his name," said Shelby, turning himself rather uneasily
in his chair, and continuing with his eyes fixed on a letter.
"Haley! Who is he, and what may be his business here, pray?"
"Well, he's a man that I transacted some business with,
last time I was at Natchez," said Mr. Shelby.
"And he presumed on it to make himself quite at home, and
call and dine here, ay?"
"Why, I invited him; I had some accounts with him," said Shelby.
"Is he a negro-trader?" said Mrs. Shelby, noticing a certain
embarrassment in her husband's manner.
"Why, my dear, what put that into your head?" said Shelby,
"Nothing,--only Eliza came in here, after dinner, in a great
worry, crying and taking on, and said you were talking with
a trader, and that she heard him make an offer for her boy--the
ridiculous little goose!"
"She did, hey?" said Mr. Shelby, returning to his paper, which
he seemed for a few moments quite intent upon, not perceiving
that he was holding it bottom upwards.
"It will have to come out," said he, mentally; "as well
now as ever."
"I told Eliza," said Mrs. Shelby, as she continued brushing
her hair, "that she was a little fool for her pains, and that you
never had anything to do with that sort of persons. Of course, I
knew you never meant to sell any of our people,--least of all, to
such a fellow."
"Well, Emily," said her husband, "so I have always felt and
said; but the fact is that my business lies so that I cannot
get on without. I shall have to sell some of my hands."
"To that creature? Impossible! Mr. Shelby, you cannot be serious."
"I'm sorry to say that I am," said Mr. Shelby. "I've agreed
to sell Tom."
"What! our Tom?--that good, faithful creature!--been your
faithful servant from a boy! O, Mr. Shelby!--and you have promised
him his freedom, too,--you and I have spoken to him a hundred times
of it. Well, I can believe anything now,--I can believe now that
you could sell little Harry, poor Eliza's only child!" said Mrs.
Shelby, in a tone between grief and indignation.
"Well, since you must know all, it is so. I have agreed to sell
Tom and Harry both; and I don't know why I am to be rated,
as if I were a monster, for doing what every one does every day."
"But why, of all others, choose these?" said Mrs. Shelby.
"Why sell them, of all on the place, if you must sell at all?"
"Because they will bring the highest sum of any,--that's why.
I could choose another, if you say so. The fellow made me
a high bid on Eliza, if that would suit you any better,"
said Mr. Shelby.
"The wretch!" said Mrs. Shelby, vehemently.
"Well, I didn't listen to it, a moment,--out of regard to
your feelings, I wouldn't;--so give me some credit."
"My dear," said Mrs. Shelby, recollecting herself, "forgive me.
I have been hasty. I was surprised, and entirely unprepared for
this;--but surely you will allow me to intercede for these poor
creatures. Tom is a noble-hearted, faithful fellow, if he is black.
I do believe, Mr. Shelby, that if he were put to it, he would lay
down his life for you."
"I know it,--I dare say;--but what's the use of all this?--I
can't help myself."
"Why not make a pecuniary sacrifice? I'm willing to bear
my part of the inconvenience. O, Mr. Shelby, I have tried--tried
most faithfully, as a Christian woman should--to do my duty to
these poor, simple, dependent creatures. I have cared for them,
instructed them, watched over them, and know all their little cares
and joys, for years; and how can I ever hold up my head again among
them, if, for the sake of a little paltry gain, we sell such a
faithful, excellent, confiding creature as poor Tom, and tear from
him in a moment all we have taught him to love and value? I have
taught them the duties of the family, of parent and child, and
husband and wife; and how can I bear to have this open acknowledgment
that we care for no tie, no duty, no relation, however sacred,
compared with money? I have talked with Eliza about her boy--her
duty to him as a Christian mother, to watch over him, pray for him,
and bring him up in a Christian way; and now what can I say, if
you tear him away, and sell him, soul and body, to a profane,
unprincipled man, just to save a little money? I have told her
that one soul is worth more than all the money in the world; and
how will she believe me when she sees us turn round and sell her
child?--sell him, perhaps, to certain ruin of body and soul!"
"I'm sorry you feel so about it,--indeed I am," said Mr.
Shelby; "and I respect your feelings, too, though I don't pretend
to share them to their full extent; but I tell you now, solemnly,
it's of no use--I can't help myself. I didn't mean to tell you
this Emily; but, in plain words, there is no choice between selling
these two and selling everything. Either they must go, or all
must. Haley has come into possession of a mortgage, which, if I
don't clear off with him directly, will take everything before it.
I've raked, and scraped, and borrowed, and all but begged,--and
the price of these two was needed to make up the balance, and I
had to give them up. Haley fancied the child; he agreed to settle
the matter that way, and no other. I was in his power, and had
to do it. If you feel so to have them sold, would it be any better
to have all sold?"
Mrs. Shelby stood like one stricken. Finally, turning to her
toilet, she rested her face in her hands, and gave a sort of groan.
"This is God's curse on slavery!--a bitter, bitter, most
accursed thing!--a curse to the master and a curse to the slave!
I was a fool to think I could make anything good out of such a
deadly evil. It is a sin to hold a slave under laws like ours,--I
always felt it was,--I always thought so when I was a girl,--I
thought so still more after I joined the church; but I thought I
could gild it over,--I thought, by kindness, and care, and instruction,
I could make the condition of mine better than freedom--fool that
"Why, wife, you are getting to be an abolitionist, quite."
"Abolitionist! if they knew all I know about slavery, they
might talk! We don't need them to tell us; you know I never
thought that slavery was right--never felt willing to own slaves."
"Well, therein you differ from many wise and pious men," said
Mr. Shelby. "You remember Mr. B.'s sermon, the other Sunday?"
"I don't want to hear such sermons; I never wish to hear
Mr. B. in our church again. Ministers can't help the evil,
perhaps,--can't cure it, any more than we can,--but defend it!--it
always went against my common sense. And I think you didn't think
much of that sermon, either."
"Well," said Shelby, "I must say these ministers sometimes
carry matters further than we poor sinners would exactly dare to
do. We men of the world must wink pretty hard at various things,
and get used to a deal that isn't the exact thing. But we don't
quite fancy, when women and ministers come out broad and square,
and go beyond us in matters of either modesty or morals, that's a
fact. But now, my dear, I trust you see the necessity of the thing,
and you see that I have done the very best that circumstances would
"O yes, yes!" said Mrs. Shelby, hurriedly and abstractedly
fingering her gold watch,--"I haven't any jewelry of any amount,"
she added, thoughtfully; "but would not this watch do something?--it
was an expensive one, when it was bought. If I could only at least
save Eliza's child, I would sacrifice anything I have."
"I'm sorry, very sorry, Emily," said Mr. Shelby, "I'm sorry
this takes hold of you so; but it will do no good. The fact is,
Emily, the thing's done; the bills of sale are already signed, and
in Haley's hands; and you must be thankful it is no worse. That man
has had it in his power to ruin us all,--and now he is fairly off.
If you knew the man as I do, you'd think that we had had a
"Is he so hard, then?"
"Why, not a cruel man, exactly, but a man of leather,--a man alive
to nothing but trade and profit,--cool, and unhesitating, and
unrelenting, as death and the grave. He'd sell his own mother at
a good per centage--not wishing the old woman any harm, either."
"And this wretch owns that good, faithful Tom, and Eliza's child!"
"Well, my dear, the fact is that this goes rather hard with me;
it's a thing I hate to think of. Haley wants to drive matters,
and take possession tomorrow. I'm going to get out my horse bright
and early, and be off. I can't see Tom, that's a fact; and you
had better arrange a drive somewhere, and carry Eliza off. Let the
thing be done when she is out of sight."
"No, no," said Mrs. Shelby; "I'll be in no sense accomplice
or help in this cruel business. I'll go and see poor old Tom, God
help him, in his distress! They shall see, at any rate, that their
mistress can feel for and with them. As to Eliza, I dare not think
about it. The Lord forgive us! What have we done, that this cruel
necessity should come on us?"
There was one listener to this conversation whom Mr. and
Mrs. Shelby little suspected.
Communicating with their apartment was a large closet, opening
by a door into the outer passage. When Mrs. Shelby had dismissed
Eliza for the night, her feverish and excited mind had suggested
the idea of this closet; and she had hidden herself there, and,
with her ear pressed close against the crack of the door, had
lost not a word of the conversation.
When the voices died into silence, she rose and crept
stealthily away. Pale, shivering, with rigid features and compressed
lips, she looked an entirely altered being from the soft and timid
creature she had been hitherto. She moved cautiously along the
entry, paused one moment at her mistress' door, and raised her
hands in mute appeal to Heaven, and then turned and glided
into her own room. It was a quiet, neat apartment, on the same
floor with her mistress. There was a pleasant sunny window, where
she had often sat singing at her sewing; there a little case of
books, and various little fancy articles, ranged by them, the gifts
of Christmas holidays; there was her simple wardrobe in the closet
and in the drawers:--here was, in short, her home; and, on the
whole, a happy one it had been to her. But there, on the bed, lay
her slumbering boy, his long curls falling negligently around his
unconscious face, his rosy mouth half open, his little fat hands
thrown out over the bedclothes, and a smile spread like a sunbeam
over his whole face.
"Poor boy! poor fellow!" said Eliza; "they have sold you!
but your mother will save you yet!"
No tear dropped over that pillow; in such straits as these,
the heart has no tears to give,--it drops only blood, bleeding
itself away in silence. She took a piece of paper and a pencil,
and wrote, hastily,
"O, Missis! dear Missis! don't think me ungrateful,--don't think
hard of me, any way,--I heard all you and master said tonight.
I am going to try to save my boy--you will not blame me! God bless
and reward you for all your kindness!"
Hastily folding and directing this, she went to a drawer
and made up a little package of clothing for her boy, which she
tied with a handkerchief firmly round her waist; and, so fond is
a mother's remembrance, that, even in the terrors of that hour,
she did not forget to put in the little package one or two of his
favorite toys, reserving a gayly painted parrot to amuse him, when
she should be called on to awaken him. It was some trouble to
arouse the little sleeper; but, after some effort, he sat up, and
was playing with his bird, while his mother was putting on her
bonnet and shawl.
"Where are you going, mother?" said he, as she drew near
the bed, with his little coat and cap.
His mother drew near, and looked so earnestly into his eyes,
that he at once divined that something unusual was the matter.
"Hush, Harry," she said; "mustn't speak loud, or they will
hear us. A wicked man was coming to take little Harry away from
his mother, and carry him 'way off in the dark; but mother won't
let him--she's going to put on her little boy's cap and coat, and
run off with him, so the ugly man can't catch him."
Saying these words, she had tied and buttoned on the child's
simple outfit, and, taking him in her arms, she whispered to him
to be very still; and, opening a door in her room which led into
the outer verandah, she glided noiselessly out.
It was a sparkling, frosty, starlight night, and the mother
wrapped the shawl close round her child, as, perfectly quiet with
vague terror, he clung round her neck.
Old Bruno, a great Newfoundland, who slept at the end of
the porch, rose, with a low growl, as she came near. She gently
spoke his name, and the animal, an old pet and playmate of hers,
instantly, wagging his tail, prepared to follow her, though apparently
revolving much, in this simple dog's head, what such an indiscreet
midnight promenade might mean. Some dim ideas of imprudence or
impropriety in the measure seemed to embarrass him considerably;
for he often stopped, as Eliza glided forward, and looked wistfully,
first at her and then at the house, and then, as if reassured by
reflection, he pattered along after her again. A few minutes
brought them to the window of Uncle Tom's cottage, and Eliza
stopping, tapped lightly on the window-pane.
The prayer-meeting at Uncle Tom's had, in the order of
hymn-singing, been protracted to a very late hour; and, as Uncle
Tom had indulged himself in a few lengthy solos afterwards, the
consequence was, that, although it was now between twelve and
one o'clock, he and his worthy helpmeet were not yet asleep.
"Good Lord! what's that?" said Aunt Chloe, starting up and
hastily drawing the curtain. "My sakes alive, if it an't Lizy!
Get on your clothes, old man, quick!--there's old Bruno, too, a
pawin round; what on airth! I'm gwine to open the door."
And suiting the action to the word, the door flew open, and
the light of the tallow candle, which Tom had hastily lighted,
fell on the haggard face and dark, wild eyes of the fugitive.
"Lord bless you!--I'm skeered to look at ye, Lizy! Are ye
tuck sick, or what's come over ye?"
"I'm running away--Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe--carrying off
my child--Master sold him!"
"Sold him?" echoed both, lifting up their hands in dismay.
"Yes, sold him!" said Eliza, firmly; "I crept into the closet
by Mistress' door tonight, and I heard Master tell Missis that
he had sold my Harry, and you, Uncle Tom, both, to a trader;
and that he was going off this morning on his horse, and that the
man was to take possession today."
Tom had stood, during this speech, with his hands raised, and
his eyes dilated, like a man in a dream. Slowly and gradually,
as its meaning came over him, he collapsed, rather than seated
himself, on his old chair, and sunk his head down upon his knees.
"The good Lord have pity on us!" said Aunt Chloe. "O! it don't
seem as if it was true! What has he done, that Mas'r should
"He hasn't done anything,--it isn't for that. Master don't
want to sell, and Missis she's always good. I heard her plead and
beg for us; but he told her 't was no use; that he was in this
man's debt, and that this man had got the power over him; and that
if he didn't pay him off clear, it would end in his having to sell
the place and all the people, and move off. Yes, I heard him say
there was no choice between selling these two and selling all, the
man was driving him so hard. Master said he was sorry; but oh,
Missis--you ought to have heard her talk! If she an't a Christian
and an angel, there never was one. I'm a wicked girl to leave her
so; but, then, I can't help it. She said, herself, one soul was
worth more than the world; and this boy has a soul, and if I let
him be carried off, who knows what'll become of it? It must be
right: but, if it an't right, the Lord forgive me, for I can't help
"Well, old man!" said Aunt Chloe, "why don't you go, too?
Will you wait to be toted down river, where they kill niggers with
hard work and starving? I'd a heap rather die than go there, any
day! There's time for ye,--be off with Lizy,--you've got a pass to
come and go any time. Come, bustle up, and I'll get your things
Tom slowly raised his head, and looked sorrowfully but
quietly around, and said,
"No, no--I an't going. Let Eliza go--it's her right! I wouldn't
be the one to say no--'tan't in natur for her to stay; but
you heard what she said! If I must be sold, or all the people
on the place, and everything go to rack, why, let me be sold.
I s'pose I can b'ar it as well as any on 'em," he added, while
something like a sob and a sigh shook his broad, rough chest
convulsively. "Mas'r always found me on the spot--he always will.
I never have broke trust, nor used my pass no ways contrary to my
word, and I never will. It's better for me alone to go, than to
break up the place and sell all. Mas'r an't to blame, Chloe, and
he'll take care of you and the poor--"
Here he turned to the rough trundle bed full of little woolly
heads, and broke fairly down. He leaned over the back of the
chair, and covered his face with his large hands. Sobs, heavy,
hoarse and loud, shook the chair, and great tears fell through his
fingers on the floor; just such tears, sir, as you dropped into
the coffin where lay your first-born son; such tears, woman, as
you shed when you heard the cries of your dying babe. For, sir,
he was a man,--and you are but another man. And, woman, though
dressed in silk and jewels, you are but a woman, and, in life's
great straits and mighty griefs, ye feel but one sorrow!
"And now," said Eliza, as she stood in the door, "I saw my
husband only this afternoon, and I little knew then what was to
come. They have pushed him to the very last standing place, and
he told me, today, that he was going to run away. Do try, if you
can, to get word to him. Tell him how I went, and why I went; and
tell him I'm going to try and find Canada. You must give my love
to him, and tell him, if I never see him again," she turned away,
and stood with her back to them for a moment, and then added, in
a husky voice, "tell him to be as good as he can, and try and meet
me in the kingdom of heaven."
"Call Bruno in there," she added. "Shut the door on him,
poor beast! He mustn't go with me!"
A few last words and tears, a few simple adieus and blessings,
and clasping her wondering and affrighted child in her arms, she
glided noiselessly away.