"The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations
Of cruelty." [Ps. 74:20.]
Trailing wearily behind a rude wagon, and over a ruder road,
Tom and his associates faced onward.
In the wagon was seated Simon Legree and the two women, still
fettered together, were stowed away with some baggage in the
back part of it, and the whole company were seeking Legree's
plantation, which lay a good distance off.
It was a wild, forsaken road, now winding through dreary pine
barrens, where the wind whispered mournfully, and now over log
causeways, through long cypress swamps, the doleful trees rising
out of the slimy, spongy ground, hung with long wreaths of funeral
black moss, while ever and anon the loathsome form of the mocassin
snake might be seen sliding among broken stumps and shattered
branches that lay here and there, rotting in the water.
It is disconsolate enough, this riding, to the stranger, who,
with well-filled pocket and well-appointed horse, threads the
lonely way on some errand of business; but wilder, drearier,
to the man enthralled, whom every weary step bears further from
all that man loves and prays for.
So one should have thought, that witnessed the sunken and
dejected expression on those dark faces; the wistful, patient
weariness with which those sad eyes rested on object after object
that passed them in their sad journey.
Simon rode on, however, apparently well pleased, occasionally
pulling away at a flask of spirit, which he kept in his pocket.
"I say, you!" he said, as he turned back and caught a
glance at the dispirited faces behind him. "Strike up a song,
The men looked at each other, and the "come" was repeated,
with a smart crack of the whip which the driver carried in
his hands. Tom began a Methodist hymn.
"Jerusalem, my happy home,
Name ever dear to me!
When shall my sorrows have an end,
Thy joys when shall--"
["Jerusalem, my happy home," anonymous hymn dating from
the latter part of the sixteenth century, sung to the tune of
"St. Stephen." Words derive from St. Augustine's Meditations.]
"Shut up, you black cuss!" roared Legree; "did ye think I
wanted any o' yer infernal old Methodism? I say, tune up,
now, something real rowdy,--quick!"
One of the other men struck up one of those unmeaning songs,
common among the slaves.
"Mas'r see'd me cotch a coon,
High boys, high!
He laughed to split,--d'ye see the moon,
Ho! ho! ho! boys, ho!
Ho! yo! hi--e! oh!"
The singer appeared to make up the song to his own pleasure,
generally hitting on rhyme, without much attempt at reason; and
the party took up the chorus, at intervals,
"Ho! ho! ho! boys, ho!
It was sung very boisterouly, and with a forced attempt at
merriment; but no wail of despair, no words of impassioned prayer,
could have had such a depth of woe in them as the wild notes of
the chorus. As if the poor, dumb heart, threatened,--prisoned,--took
refuge in that inarticulate sanctuary of music, and found there a
language in which to breathe its prayer to God! There was a prayer
in it, which Simon could not hear. He only heard the boys singing
noisily, and was well pleased; he was making them "keep up their spirits."
"Well, my little dear," said he, turning to Emmeline, and
laying his hand on her shoulder, "we're almost home!"
When Legree scolded and stormed, Emmeline was terrified; but
when he laid his hand on her, and spoke as he now did, she felt
as if she had rather he would strike her. The expression of his
eyes made her soul sick, and her flesh creep. Involuntarily she
clung closer to the mulatto woman by her side, as if she were
"You didn't ever wear ear-rings," he said, taking hold of
her small ear with his coarse fingers.
"No, Mas'r!" said Emmeline, trembling and looking down.
"Well, I'll give you a pair, when we get home, if you're
a good girl. You needn't be so frightened; I don't mean to make
you work very hard. You'll have fine times with me, and live like
a lady,--only be a good girl."
Legree had been drinking to that degree that he was inclining to
be very gracious; and it was about this time that the enclosures
of the plantation rose to view. The estate had formerly belonged
to a gentleman of opulence and taste, who had bestowed some
considerable attention to the adornment of his grounds. Having died
insolvent, it had been purchased, at a bargain, by Legree, who used
it, as he did everything else, merely as an implement for
money-making. The place had that ragged, forlorn appearance, which
is always produced by the evidence that the care of the former
owner has been left to go to utter decay.
What was once a smooth-shaven lawn before the house, dotted
here and there with ornamental shrubs, was now covered with frowsy
tangled grass, with horseposts set up, here and there, in it, where
the turf was stamped away, and the ground littered with broken
pails, cobs of corn, and other slovenly remains. Here and there,
a mildewed jessamine or honeysuckle hung raggedly from some ornamental
support, which had been pushed to one side by being used as a
horse-post. What once was a large garden was now all grown over
with weeds, through which, here and there, some solitary exotic
reared its forsaken head. What had been a conservatory had now no
window-shades, and on the mouldering shelves stood some dry, forsaken
flower-pots, with sticks in them, whose dried leaves showed they
had once been plants.
The wagon rolled up a weedy gravel walk, under a noble avenue
of China trees, whose graceful forms and ever-springing foliage
seemed to be the only things there that neglect could not daunt
or alter,--like noble spirits, so deeply rooted in goodness,
as to flourish and grow stronger amid discouragement and decay.
The house had been large and handsome. It was built in a manner
common at the South; a wide verandah of two stories running round
every part of the house, into which every outer door opened, the
lower tier being supported by brick pillars.
But the place looked desolate and uncomfortable; some windows
stopped up with boards, some with shattered panes, and shutters
hanging by a single hinge,--all telling of coarse neglect
Bits of board, straw, old decayed barrels and boxes, garnished
the ground in all directions; and three or four ferocious-looking
dogs, roused by the sound of the wagon-wheels, came tearing out,
and were with difficulty restrained from laying hold of Tom and
his companions, by the effort of the ragged servants who came
"Ye see what ye'd get!" said Legree, caressing the dogs
with grim satisfaction, and turning to Tom and his companions.
"Ye see what ye'd get, if ye try to run off. These yer dogs has
been raised to track niggers; and they'd jest as soon chaw one on
ye up as eat their supper. So, mind yerself! How now, Sambo!"
he said, to a ragged fellow, without any brim to his hat, who was
officious in his attentions. "How have things been going?"
Fust rate, Mas'r."
"Quimbo," said Legree to another, who was making zealous
demonstrations to attract his attention, "ye minded what I
"Guess I did, didn't I?"
These two colored men were the two principal hands on the
plantation. Legree had trained them in savageness and brutality
as systematically as he had his bull-dogs; and, by long practice
in hardness and cruelty, brought their whole nature to about the
same range of capacities. It is a common remark, and one that is
thought to militate strongly against the character of the race,
that the negro overseer is always more tyrannical and cruel than
the white one. This is simply saying that the negro mind has been
more crushed and debased than the white. It is no more true of
this race than of every oppressed race, the world over. The slave
is always a tyrant, if he can get a chance to be one.
Legree, like some potentates we read of in history, governed
his plantation by a sort of resolution of forces. Sambo and Quimbo
cordially hated each other; the plantation hands, one and all,
cordially hated them; and, by playing off one against another, he
was pretty sure, through one or the other of the three parties, to
get informed of whatever was on foot in the place.
Nobody can live entirely without social intercourse; and
Legree encouraged his two black satellites to a kind of coarse
familiarity with him,--a familiarity, however, at any moment liable
to get one or the other of them into trouble; for, on the slightest
provocation, one of them always stood ready, at a nod, to be a
minister of his vengeance on the other.
As they stood there now by Legree, they seemed an apt illustration
of the fact that brutal men are lower even than animals.
Their coarse, dark, heavy features; their great eyes, rolling
enviously on each other; their barbarous, guttural, half-brute
intonation; their dilapidated garments fluttering in the wind,--were
all in admirable keeping with the vile and unwholesome character
of everything about the place.
"Here, you Sambo," said Legree, "take these yer boys down to
the quarters; and here's a gal I've got for you," said he, as
he separated the mulatto woman from Emmeline, and pushed her towards
him;--"I promised to bring you one, you know."
The woman gave a start, and drawing back, said, suddenly,
"O, Mas'r! I left my old man in New Orleans."
"What of that, you--; won't you want one here? None o' your
words,--go long!" said Legree, raising his whip.
"Come, mistress," he said to Emmeline, "you go in here with me."
A dark, wild face was seen, for a moment, to glance at the
window of the house; and, as Legree opened the door, a female voice
said something, in a quick, imperative tone. Tom, who was looking,
with anxious interest, after Emmeline, as she went in, noticed
this, and heard Legree answer, angrily, "You may hold your tongue!
I'll do as I please, for all you!"
Tom heard no more; for he was soon following Sambo to the quarters.
The quarters was a little sort of street of rude shanties,
in a row, in a part of the plantation, far off from the house.
They had a forlorn, brutal, forsaken air. Tom's heart sunk when
he saw them. He had been comforting himself with the thought of
a cottage, rude, indeed, but one which he might make neat and quiet,
and where he might have a shelf for his Bible, and a place to be
alone out of his laboring hours. He looked into several; they were
mere rude shells, destitute of any species of furniture, except a
heap of straw, foul with dirt, spread confusedly over the floor,
which was merely the bare ground, trodden hard by the tramping of
"Which of these will be mine?" said he, to Sambo, submissively.
"Dunno; ken turn in here, I spose," said Sambo; "spects thar's
room for another thar; thar's a pretty smart heap o' niggers
to each on 'em, now; sure, I dunno what I 's to do with more."
It was late in the evening when the weary occupants of the
shanties came flocking home,--men and women, in soiled and tattered
garments, surly and uncomfortable, and in no mood to look pleasantly
on new-comers. The small village was alive with no inviting sounds;
hoarse, guttural voices contending at the hand-mills where their
morsel of hard corn was yet to be ground into meal, to fit it for
the cake that was to constitute their only supper. From the earliest
dawn of the day, they had been in the fields, pressed to work
under the driving lash of the overseers; for it was now in the very
heat and hurry of the season, and no means was left untried to
press every one up to the top of their capabilities. "True," says
the negligent lounger; "picking cotton isn't hard work." Isn't it?
And it isn't much inconvenience, either, to have one drop of water
fall on your head; yet the worst torture of the inquisition is
produced by drop after drop, drop after drop, falling moment after
moment, with monotonous succession, on the same spot; and work, in
itself not hard, becomes so, by being pressed, hour after hour,
with unvarying, unrelenting sameness, with not even the consciousness
of free-will to take from its tediousness. Tom looked in vain
among the gang, as they poured along, for companionable faces.
He saw only sullen, scowling, imbruted men, and feeble, discouraged
women, or women that were not women,--the strong pushing away the
weak,--the gross, unrestricted animal selfishness of human beings,
of whom nothing good was expected and desired; and who, treated in
every way like brutes, had sunk as nearly to their level as it was
possible for human beings to do. To a late hour in the night the
sound of the grinding was protracted; for the mills were few in
number compared with the grinders, and the weary and feeble ones
were driven back by the strong, and came on last in their turn.
"Ho yo!" said Sambo, coming to the mulatto woman, and
throwing down a bag of corn before her; "what a cuss yo name?"
"Lucy," said the woman.
"Wal, Lucy, yo my woman now. Yo grind dis yer corn, and
get my supper baked, ye har?"
"I an't your woman, and I won't be!" said the woman, with
the sharp, sudden courage of despair; "you go long!"
"I'll kick yo, then!" said Sambo, raising his foot
"Ye may kill me, if ye choose,--the sooner the better!
Wish't I was dead!" said she.
"I say, Sambo, you go to spilin' the hands, I'll tell Mas'r
o' you," said Quimbo, who was busy at the mill, from which he had
viciously driven two or three tired women, who were waiting to
grind their corn.
"And, I'll tell him ye won't let the women come to the mills,
yo old nigger!" said Sambo. "Yo jes keep to yo own row."
Tom was hungry with his day's journey, and almost faint
for want of food.
"Thar, yo!" said Quimbo, throwing down a coarse bag, which
contained a peck of corn; "thar, nigger, grab, take car on 't,--yo
won't get no more, dis yer week."
Tom waited till a late hour, to get a place at the mills; and
then, moved by the utter weariness of two women, whom he saw
trying to grind their corn there, he ground for them, put together
the decaying brands of the fire, where many had baked cakes before
them, and then went about getting his own supper. It was a new
kind of work there,--a deed of charity, small as it was; but it
woke an answering touch in their hearts,--an expression of womanly
kindness came over their hard faces; they mixed his cake for him,
and tended its baking; and Tom sat down by the light of the fire,
and drew out his Bible,--for he had need for comfort.
"What's that?" said one of the woman.
"A Bible," said Tom.
"Good Lord! han't seen un since I was in Kentuck."
"Was you raised in Kentuck?" said Tom, with interest.
"Yes, and well raised, too; never 'spected to come to dis
yer!" said the woman, sighing.
"What's dat ar book, any way?" said the other woman.
"Why, the Bible."
"Laws a me! what's dat?" said the woman.
"Do tell! you never hearn on 't?" said the other woman.
"I used to har Missis a readin' on 't, sometimes, in Kentuck; but,
laws o' me! we don't har nothin' here but crackin' and swarin'."
"Read a piece, anyways!" said the first woman, curiously,
seeing Tom attentively poring over it.
Tom read,-- "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy
laden, and I will give you rest."
"Them's good words, enough," said the woman; "who says 'em?"
"The Lord," said Tom.
"I jest wish I know'd whar to find Him," said the woman.
"I would go; 'pears like I never should get rested again. My flesh
is fairly sore, and I tremble all over, every day, and Sambo's
allers a jawin' at me, 'cause I doesn't pick faster; and nights
it's most midnight 'fore I can get my supper; and den 'pears like
I don't turn over and shut my eyes, 'fore I hear de horn blow to
get up, and at it agin in de mornin'. If I knew whar de Lor was,
I'd tell him."
"He's here, he's everywhere," said Tom.
"Lor, you an't gwine to make me believe dat ar! I know de
Lord an't here," said the woman; "'tan't no use talking, though.
I's jest gwine to camp down, and sleep while I ken."
The women went off to their cabins, and Tom sat alone, by
the smouldering fire, that flickered up redly in his face.
The silver, fair-browed moon rose in the purple sky, and
looked down, calm and silent, as God looks on the scene of misery
and oppression,--looked calmly on the lone black man, as he sat,
with his arms folded, and his Bible on his knee.
"Is God HERE?" Ah, how is it possible for the untaught heart
to keep its faith, unswerving, in the face of dire misrule,
and palpable, unrebuked injustice? In that simple heart waged
a fierce conflict; the crushing sense of wrong, the foreshadowing,
of a whole life of future misery, the wreck of all past hopes,
mournfully tossing in the soul's sight, like dead corpses of
wife, and child, and friend, rising from the dark wave, and
surging in the face of the half-drowned mariner! Ah, was it easy
here to believe and hold fast the great password of Christian
faith, that "God IS, and is the REWARDER of them that diligently
Tom rose, disconsolate, and stumbled into the cabin that had
been allotted to him. The floor was already strewn with weary
sleepers, and the foul air of the place almost repelled him; but
the heavy night-dews were chill, and his limbs weary, and, wrapping
about him a tattered blanket, which formed his only bed-clothing,
he stretched himself in the straw and fell asleep.
In dreams, a gentle voice came over his ear; he was sitting
on the mossy seat in the garden by Lake Pontchartrain, and Eva,
with her serious eyes bent downward, was reading to him from the
Bible; and he heard her read.
"When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee,
and the rivers they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest
through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame
kindle upon thee; for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel,
Gradually the words seemed to melt and fade, as in a divine
music; the child raised her deep eyes, and fixed them lovingly on
him, and rays of warmth and comfort seemed to go from them to his
heart; and, as if wafted on the music, she seemed to rise on shining
wings, from which flakes and spangles of gold fell off like stars,
and she was gone.
Tom woke. Was it a dream? Let it pass for one. But who
shall say that that sweet young spirit, which in life so
yearned to comfort and console the distressed, was forbidden
of God to assume this ministry after death?
It is a beautiful belief,
That ever round our head
Are hovering, on angel wings,
The spirits of the dead.