"A young star! which shone
O'er life--too sweet an image, for such glass!
A lovely being, scarcely formed or moulded;
A rose with all its sweetest leaves yet folded."
The Mississippi! How, as by an enchanted wand, have its
scenes been changed, since Chateaubriand wrote his prose-poetic
description of it, [In Atala; or the Love and Constancy of Two Savages in
the Desert (1801) by Francois Auguste Rene, Vicomte de Chateaubriand
(1768-1848).] as a river of mighty, unbroken solitudes,
rolling amid undreamed wonders of vegetable and animal existence.
But as in an hour, this river of dreams and wild romance
has emerged to a reality scarcely less visionary and splendid.
What other river of the world bears on its bosom to the ocean the
wealth and enterprise of such another country?--a country whose
products embrace all between the tropics and the poles! Those turbid
waters, hurrying, foaming, tearing along, an apt resemblance of
that headlong tide of business which is poured along its wave by
a race more vehement and energetic than any the old world ever saw.
Ah! would that they did not also bear along a more fearful
freight,--the tears of the oppressed, the sighs of the helpless,
the bitter prayers of poor, ignorant hearts to an unknown
God--unknown, unseen and silent, but who will yet "come out of his
place to save all the poor of the earth!"
The slanting light of the setting sun quivers on the sea-like
expanse of the river; the shivery canes, and the tall, dark cypress,
hung with wreaths of dark, funereal moss, glow in the golden ray,
as the heavily-laden steamboat marches onward.
Piled with cotton-bales, from many a plantation, up over
deck and sides, till she seems in the distance a square, massive
block of gray, she moves heavily onward to the nearing mart.
We must look some time among its crowded decks before we shall find
again our humble friend Tom. High on the upper deck, in a little
nook among the everywhere predominant cotton-bales, at last we may
Partly from confidence inspired by Mr. Shelby's representations,
and partly from the remarkably inoffensive and quiet character of
the man, Tom had insensibly won his way far into the confidence
even of such a man as Haley.
At first he had watched him narrowly through the day, and never
allowed him to sleep at night unfettered; but the uncomplaining
patience and apparent contentment of Tom's manner led him gradually
to discontinue these restraints, and for some time Tom had enjoyed
a sort of parole of honor, being permitted to come and go freely
where he pleased on the boat.
Ever quiet and obliging, and more than ready to lend a hand
in every emergency which occurred among the workmen below, he had
won the good opinion of all the hands, and spent many hours in
helping them with as hearty a good will as ever he worked on a
When there seemed to be nothing for him to do, he would
climb to a nook among the cotton-bales of the upper deck,
and busy himself in studying over his Bible,--and it
is there we see him now.
For a hundred or more miles above New Orleans, the river
is higher than the surrounding country, and rolls its tremendous
volume between massive levees twenty feet in height. The traveler
from the deck of the steamer, as from some floating castle top,
overlooks the whole country for miles and miles around. Tom,
therefore, had spread out full before him, in plantation after
plantation, a map of the life to which he was approaching.
He saw the distant slaves at their toil; he saw afar their
villages of huts gleaming out in long rows on many a plantation,
distant from the stately mansions and pleasure-grounds of the
master;--and as the moving picture passed on, his poor, foolish
heart would be turning backward to the Kentucky farm, with its old
shadowy beeches,--to the master's house, with its wide, cool halls,
and, near by, the little cabin overgrown with the multiflora and
bignonia. There he seemed to see familiar faces of comrades who
had grown up with him from infancy; he saw his busy wife, bustling
in her preparations for his evening meals; he heard the merry laugh
of his boys at their play, and the chirrup of the baby at his knee;
and then, with a start, all faded, and he saw again the canebrakes
and cypresses and gliding plantations, and heard again the creaking
and groaning of the machinery, all telling him too plainly that
all that phase of life had gone by forever.
In such a case, you write to your wife, and send messages
to your children; but Tom could not write,--the mail for him had
no existence, and the gulf of separation was unbridged by even a
friendly word or signal.
Is it strange, then, that some tears fall on the pages of
his Bible, as he lays it on the cotton-bale, and, with patient
finger, threading his slow way from word to word, traces out
its promises? Having learned late in life, Tom was but a slow
reader, and passed on laboriously from verse to verse.
Fortunate for him was it that the book he was intent on
was one which slow reading cannot injure,--nay, one whose words,
like ingots of gold, seem often to need to be weighed separately,
that the mind may take in their priceless value. Let us follow
him a moment, as, pointing to each word, and pronouncing each half
aloud, he reads,
Cicero, when he buried his darling and only daughter, had
a heart as full of honest grief as poor Tom's,--perhaps no fuller,
for both were only men;--but Cicero could pause over no such sublime
words of hope, and look to no such future reunion; and if he had
seen them, ten to one he would not have believed,--he must fill
his head first with a thousand questions of authenticity of
manuscript, and correctness of translation. But, to poor Tom,
there it lay, just what he needed, so evidently true and divine
that the possibility of a question never entered his simple head.
It must be true; for, if not true, how could he live?
As for Tom's Bible, though it had no annotations and helps
in margin from learned commentators, still it had been embellished
with certain way-marks and guide-boards of Tom's own invention,
and which helped him more than the most learned expositions could
have done. It had been his custom to get the Bible read to him by
his master's children, in particular by young Master George; and,
as they read, he would designate, by bold, strong marks and dashes,
with pen and ink, the passages which more particularly gratified
his ear or affected his heart. His Bible was thus marked through,
from one end to the other, with a variety of styles and designations;
so he could in a moment seize upon his favorite passages, without
the labor of spelling out what lay between them;--and while it
lay there before him, every passage breathing of some old home
scene, and recalling some past enjoyment, his Bible seemed to
him all of this life that remained, as well as the promise of a
Among the passengers on the boat was a young gentleman of
fortune and family, resident in New Orleans, who bore the name of
St. Clare. He had with him a daughter between five and six years
of age, together with a lady who seemed to claim relationship to
both, and to have the little one especially under her charge.
Tom had often caught glimpses of this little girl,--for
she was one of those busy, tripping creatures, that can be no more
contained in one place than a sunbeam or a summer breeze,--nor was
she one that, once seen, could be easily forgotten.
Her form was the perfection of childish beauty, without
its usual chubbiness and squareness of outline. There was about
it an undulating and aerial grace, such as one might dream of for
some mythic and allegorical being. Her face was remarkable less
for its perfect beauty of feature than for a singular and dreamy
earnestness of expression, which made the ideal start when they
looked at her, and by which the dullest and most literal were
impressed, without exactly knowing why. The shape of her head and
the turn of her neck and bust was peculiarly noble, and the long
golden-brown hair that floated like a cloud around it, the deep
spiritual gravity of her violet blue eyes, shaded by heavy fringes
of golden brown,--all marked her out from other children, and made
every one turn and look after her, as she glided hither and thither
on the boat. Nevertheless, the little one was not what you would
have called either a grave child or a sad one. On the contrary,
an airy and innocent playfulness seemed to flicker like the shadow
of summer leaves over her childish face, and around her buoyant
figure. She was always in motion, always with a half smile on her
rosy mouth, flying hither and thither, with an undulating and
cloud-like tread, singing to herself as she moved as in a happy dream.
Her father and female guardian were incessantly busy in pursuit of
her,--but, when caught, she melted from them again like a summer
cloud; and as no word of chiding or reproof ever fell on her ear
for whatever she chose to do, she pursued her own way all over the
boat. Always dressed in white, she seemed to move like a shadow
through all sorts of places, without contracting spot or stain;
and there was not a corner or nook, above or below, where those
fairy footsteps had not glided, and that visionary golden head,
with its deep blue eyes, fleeted along.
The fireman, as he looked up from his sweaty toil, sometimes
found those eyes looking wonderingly into the raging depths of the
furnace, and fearfully and pityingly at him, as if she thought him
in some dreadful danger. Anon the steersman at the wheel paused
and smiled, as the picture-like head gleamed through the window of
the round house, and in a moment was gone again. A thousand times
a day rough voices blessed her, and smiles of unwonted softness
stole over hard faces, as she passed; and when she tripped fearlessly
over dangerous places, rough, sooty hands were stretched involuntarily
out to save her, and smooth her path.
Tom, who had the soft, impressible nature of his kindly race,
ever yearning toward the simple and childlike, watched the
little creature with daily increasing interest. To him she seemed
something almost divine; and whenever her golden head and deep blue
eyes peered out upon him from behind some dusky cotton-bale, or
looked down upon him over some ridge of packages, he half believed
that he saw one of the angels stepped out of his New Testament.
Often and often she walked mournfully round the place where
Haley's gang of men and women sat in their chains. She would glide
in among them, and look at them with an air of perplexed and
sorrowful earnestness; and sometimes she would lift their chains
with her slender hands, and then sigh wofully, as she glided away.
Several times she appeared suddenly among them, with her hands full
of candy, nuts, and oranges, which she would distribute joyfully
to them, and then be gone again.
Tom watched the little lady a great deal, before he ventured
on any overtures towards acquaintanceship. He knew an abundance
of simple acts to propitiate and invite the approaches of the little
people, and he resolved to play his part right skilfully. He could
cut cunning little baskets out of cherry-stones, could make grotesque
faces on hickory-nuts, or odd-jumping figures out of elder-pith,
and he was a very Pan in the manufacture of whistles of all sizes
and sorts. His pockets were full of miscellaneous articles of
attraction, which he had hoarded in days of old for his master's
children, and which he now produced, with commendable prudence and
economy, one by one, as overtures for acquaintance and friendship.
The little one was shy, for all her busy interest in everything
going on, and it was not easy to tame her. For a while, she
would perch like a canary-bird on some box or package near Tom,
while busy in the little arts afore-named, and take from him,
with a kind of grave bashfulness, the little articles he offered.
But at last they got on quite confidential terms.
"What's little missy's name?" said Tom, at last, when he
thought matters were ripe to push such an inquiry.
"Evangeline St. Clare," said the little one, "though papa
and everybody else call me Eva. Now, what's your name?"
"My name's Tom; the little chil'en used to call me Uncle
Tom, way back thar in Kentuck."
"Then I mean to call you Uncle Tom, because, you see,
I like you," said Eva. "So, Uncle Tom, where are you going?"
"I don't know, Miss Eva."
"Don't know?" said Eva.
"No, I am going to be sold to somebody. I don't know who."
"My papa can buy you," said Eva, quickly; "and if he buys you,
you will have good times. I mean to ask him, this very day."
"Thank you, my little lady," said Tom.
The boat here stopped at a small landing to take in wood,
and Eva, hearing her father's voice, bounded nimbly away. Tom rose
up, and went forward to offer his service in wooding, and soon was
busy among the hands.
Eva and her father were standing together by the railings
to see the boat start from the landing-place, the wheel had made
two or three revolutions in the water, when, by some sudden movement,
the little one suddenly lost her balance and fell sheer over the
side of the boat into the water. Her father, scarce knowing what
he did, was plunging in after her, but was held back by some behind
him, who saw that more efficient aid had followed his child.
Tom was standing just under her on the lower deck, as she fell.
He saw her strike the water, and sink, and was after her in
a moment. A broad-chested, strong-armed fellow, it was nothing
for him to keep afloat in the water, till, in a moment or two the
child rose to the surface, and he caught her in his arms, and,
swimming with her to the boat-side, handed her up, all dripping,
to the grasp of hundreds of hands, which, as if they had all belonged
to one man, were stretched eagerly out to receive her. A few
moments more, and her father bore her, dripping and senseless, to
the ladies' cabin, where, as is usual in cases of the kind, there
ensued a very well-meaning and kind-hearted strife among the female
occupants generally, as to who should do the most things to make
a disturbance, and to hinder her recovery in every way possible.
It was a sultry, close day, the next day, as the steamer
drew near to New Orleans. A general bustle of expectation and
preparation was spread through the boat; in the cabin, one and
another were gathering their things together, and arranging them,
preparatory to going ashore. The steward and chambermaid, and all,
were busily engaged in cleaning, furbishing, and arranging the
splendid boat, preparatory to a grand entree.
On the lower deck sat our friend Tom, with his arms folded,
and anxiously, from time to time, turning his eyes towards a group
on the other side of the boat.
There stood the fair Evangeline, a little paler than the
day before, but otherwise exhibiting no traces of the accident
which had befallen her. A graceful, elegantly-formed young man
stood by her, carelessly leaning one elbow on a bale of cotton.
while a large pocket-book lay open before him. It was quite evident,
at a glance, that the gentleman was Eva's father. There was the
same noble cast of head, the same large blue eyes, the same
golden-brown hair; yet the expression was wholly different.
In the large, clear blue eyes, though in form and color exactly
similar, there was wanting that misty, dreamy depth of expression;
all was clear, bold, and bright, but with a light wholly of this
world: the beautifully cut mouth had a proud and somewhat sarcastic
expression, while an air of free-and-easy superiority sat not
ungracefully in every turn and movement of his fine form. He was
listening, with a good-humored, negligent air, half comic, half
contemptuous, to Haley, who was very volubly expatiating on the
quality of the article for which they were bargaining.
"All the moral and Christian virtues bound in black Morocco,
complete!" he said, when Haley had finished. "Well, now,
my good fellow, what's the damage, as they say in Kentucky; in
short, what's to be paid out for this business? How much are you
going to cheat me, now? Out with it!"
"Wal," said Haley, "if I should say thirteen hundred dollars
for that ar fellow, I shouldn't but just save myself; I shouldn't,
"Poor fellow!" said the young man, fixing his keen, mocking
blue eye on him; "but I suppose you'd let me have him for that,
out of a particular regard for me."
"Well, the young lady here seems to be sot on him, and
"O! certainly, there's a call on your benevolence, my friend.
Now, as a matter of Christian charity, how cheap could you
afford to let him go, to oblige a young lady that's particular
sot on him?"
"Wal, now, just think on 't," said the trader; "just look
at them limbs,--broad-chested, strong as a horse. Look at his
head; them high forrads allays shows calculatin niggers, that'll
do any kind o' thing. I've, marked that ar. Now, a nigger of that
ar heft and build is worth considerable, just as you may say, for
his body, supposin he's stupid; but come to put in his calculatin
faculties, and them which I can show he has oncommon, why, of
course, it makes him come higher. Why, that ar fellow managed his
master's whole farm. He has a strornary talent for business."
"Bad, bad, very bad; knows altogether too much!" said the
young man, with the same mocking smile playing about his mouth.
"Never will do, in the world. Your smart fellows are always running
off, stealing horses, and raising the devil generally. I think
you'll have to take off a couple of hundred for his smartness."
"Wal, there might be something in that ar, if it warnt for
his character; but I can show recommends from his master and others,
to prove he is one of your real pious,--the most humble, prayin,
pious crittur ye ever did see. Why, he's been called a preacher
in them parts he came from."
"And I might use him for a family chaplain, possibly," added
the young man, dryly. "That's quite an idea. Religion is
a remarkably scarce article at our house."
"You're joking, now."
"How do you know I am? Didn't you just warrant him for a preacher?
Has he been examined by any synod or council? Come, hand
over your papers."
If the trader had not been sure, by a certain good-humored
twinkle in the large eye, that all this banter was sure, in the
long run, to turn out a cash concern, he might have been somewhat
out of patience; as it was, he laid down a greasy pocket-book on
the cotton-bales, and began anxiously studying over certain papers
in it, the young man standing by, the while, looking down on him
with an air of careless, easy drollery.
"Papa, do buy him! it's no matter what you pay," whispered Eva,
softly, getting up on a package, and putting her arm around
her father's neck. "You have money enough, I know. I want him."
"What for, pussy? Are you going to use him for a rattle-box,
or a rocking-horse, or what?
"I want to make him happy."
"An original reason, certainly."
Here the trader handed up a certificate, signed by Mr. Shelby,
which the young man took with the tips of his long fingers,
and glanced over carelessly.
"A gentlemanly hand," he said, "and well spelt, too. Well, now,
but I'm not sure, after all, about this religion," said he,
the old wicked expression returning to his eye; "the country is
almost ruined with pious white people; such pious politicians as
we have just before elections,--such pious goings on in all
departments of church and state, that a fellow does not know who'll
cheat him next. I don't know, either, about religion's being up
in the market, just now. I have not looked in the papers lately,
to see how it sells. How many hundred dollars, now, do you put on
for this religion?"
"You like to be jokin, now," said the trader; "but, then,
there's sense under all that ar. I know there's differences
in religion. Some kinds is mis'rable: there's your meetin pious;
there's your singin, roarin pious; them ar an't no account, in
black or white;--but these rayly is; and I've seen it in niggers
as often as any, your rail softly, quiet, stiddy, honest, pious,
that the hull world couldn't tempt 'em to do nothing that they
thinks is wrong; and ye see in this letter what Tom's old master
says about him."
"Now," said the young man, stooping gravely over his book
of bills, "if you can assure me that I really can buy this kind
of pious, and that it will be set down to my account in the book
up above, as something belonging to me, I wouldn't care if I did
go a little extra for it. How d'ye say?"
"Wal, raily, I can't do that," said the trader. "I'm a
thinkin that every man'll have to hang on his own hook, in them
"Rather hard on a fellow that pays extra on religion, and
can't trade with it in the state where he wants it most, an't it,
now?" said the young man, who had been making out a roll of bills
while he was speaking. "There, count your money, old boy!" he
added, as he handed the roll to the trader.
"All right," said Haley, his face beaming with delight; and
pulling out an old inkhorn, he proceeded to fill out a bill of
sale, which, in a few moments, he handed to the young man.
"I wonder, now, if I was divided up and inventoried," said the
latter as he ran over the paper, "how much I might bring. Say so
much for the shape of my head, so much for a high forehead, so
much for arms, and hands, and legs, and then so much for education,
learning, talent, honesty, religion! Bless me! there would be small
charge on that last, I'm thinking. But come, Eva," he said; and
taking the hand of his daughter, he stepped across the boat, and
carelessly putting the tip of his finger under Tom's chin, said,
good-humoredly, "Look-up, Tom, and see how you like your new master."
Tom looked up. It was not in nature to look into that gay, young,
handsome face, without a feeling of pleasure; and Tom felt the
tears start in his eyes as he said, heartily, "God bless you, Mas'r!"
"Well, I hope he will. What's your name? Tom? Quite as likely
to do it for your asking as mine, from all accounts. Can you
drive horses, Tom?"
"I've been allays used to horses," said Tom. "Mas'r Shelby
raised heaps of 'em."
"Well, I think I shall put you in coachy, on condition that
you won't be drunk more than once a week, unless in cases of
Tom looked surprised, and rather hurt, and said, "I never
"I've heard that story before, Tom; but then we'll see.
It will be a special accommodation to all concerned, if you don't.
Never mind, my boy," he added, good-humoredly, seeing Tom still
looked grave; "I don't doubt you mean to do well."
"I sartin do, Mas'r," said Tom.
"And you shall have good times," said Eva. "Papa is very
good to everybody, only he always will laugh at them."
"Papa is much obliged to you for his recommendation," said
St. Clare, laughing, as he turned on his heel and walked away.