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“Of course, it would be a very painful duty,” began Mr. Bird, in a moderate tone.
“Duty, John! dont use that word! You know it isn't a duty-it can't be a duty! If folks want to keep their slaves from running away, let 'em treat 'em well—that's my doctrine. If I had slaves (as I hope I never shall have), I'd risk their wanting to run away from me, or you either, John. I tell you folks don't run away when they are happy; and when they do run, poor creatures! they suffer enough with cold and hunger, and fear, without everybody's turning against them; and, law or no law, I never will, * * * ! ”
“ Mary! Mary, my dear, let me reason with you."
“I hate reasoning, John-especially reasoning on such subjects. There's a way you political folks have of coming round and round a plain right thing; and you don't believe in it yourselves, when it comes to practice. I know you well enough, John. You don't believe it's right any more than I do; and you wouldn't do it any sooner than I.”
At this critical juncture, old Cudjoe, the black man-ofall-work, put his head in at the door, and wished “ Missis would come into the kitchen,” and our senator, tolerably relieved, looked after his little wife with a whimsical mixture of amusement and vexation, and seating himself in the arm-chair, began to read the paper.
After a moment his wife's voice was heard at the door, in a quick, earnest tone—“ John! John! I do wish you'd come here a moment.”
He laid down his paper and went into the kitchen, and started, quite amazed at the sight that presented itself:-A young and slender woman, with garments' torn and frozen, with one shoe gone, and the stocking torn away from the cut and bleeding foot, was laid back in a deadly swoon upon two chairs. There was the impress of the despised race on her face, yet none could help feeling its mournful and pathetic beauty, while its stony sharpness, its cold, fixed, deathly aspect, struck a solemn chill over him. He drew his breath short, and stood in silence. His wife, and their only coloured domestic, old Aunt Dinah, were busily
engaged in restorative measures; while old Cudjoe had got the boy on his knee, and was busy pulling off his shoes and stockings, and chafing his little feet.
“Sure, now, if she ain't a sight to behold!” said old Dinah, compassionately; " 'pears like 'twas the heat that made her faint. She was tolerable pert when she cum in, and asked if she couldn't warm herself here a spell; and I was just a askin' her where she cum from, and she fainted right down. Never done much hard work, guess, by the look of her hands."
“Poor creature !” said Mrs. Bird, compassionately, as the woman slowly unclosed her large dark eyes, and looked vacantly at her. Suddenly, an expression of agony crossed her face, and she sprang up, saying, “Oh, my Harry! Have they got him?”.
The boy, at this, jumped from Cudjoe's knee, and running to her side, put up his arms. “Oh, he's here! he's here !” she exclaimed.
“O ma'am !” said she wildly, to Mrs. Bird, “ do protect | us ! don't let them get him !”
“Nobody shall hurt you here, poor woman,” said Mrs. Bird, encouragingly. “You are safe; don't be afraid.”
“God bless you!” said the woman, covering her face and sobbing; while the little boy, seeing her crying, tried to get into her lap.
With many gentle and womanly offices, which none knew better how to render than Mrs. Bird, the poor woman was in time rendered more calm. A temporary bed was provided for her on the settle, near the fire; and, after a short time, she fell into a heavy slumber with the child, who seemed no less weary, soundly sleeping on her arm; for the mother resisted, with nervous anxiety, the kindest attempts to take him from her; and even in sleep her arm encircled him with an unrelaxing clasp, as if she could not even then be beguiled of her vigilant hold.
Mr. and Mrs. Bird had gone back to the parlour, where, strange as it may appear, no reference was made on either side to the preceding conversation ; but Mrs. Bird busied
herself with her knitting-work, and Mr. Bird pretended to be reading the paper.
"I wonder who and what she is ?” said Mr. Bird at last, as he laid it down.
“ When she wakes up and feels a little rested, we will see,” said Mrs. Bird.
“I say, wife !” said Mr. Bird, after musing in silence over his newspaper.
“She couldn't wear one of your gowns, could she, by any letting down, or such matter? She seems to be rather larger than you are."
A quite perceptible smile glimmered on Mrs. Bird's face as she answered, “We'll see."
Another pause, and Mr. Bird broke out "I say, wife !" 66 Well! What now?” “Why, there's that old bombazin cloak that you keep on purpose to put over me when I take my afternoon's nap; you might as well give her that-she needs clothes."
At this instant Dinah looked in to say that the woman was awake, and wanted to see missis.
Mr. and Mrs. Bird went into the kitchen, followed by the two eldest boys, the smaller fry having by this time been safely disposed of in bed.
The woman was now sitting up on the settle by the fire. She was looking steadily into the blaze, with a calm, heartbroken expression, very different from her former agitated wildness.
“Did you want me? ” said Mrs. Bird in gentle tones. “ I hope you feel better now, poor woman!”
A long-drawn, shivering sigh, was the only answer; but she lifted her dark eyes, and fixed them on her with such a forlorn and imploring expression that the tears came into the little woman's eyes.
You needn't be afraid of anything; we are friends here, poor woman! Teil me where you came from, and what you want,” said she.
“I came from Kentucky,” said the woman. “ When ? ” said Mr. Bird, taking up the interrogatory.
"To-night.” “How did you come ?” “I crossed on the
" Crossed on the ice ?” said everyone present.
“Yes," said the woman slowly, “I did. God helping me, I crossed on the ice ; for they were behind me-right behind- and there was no other way!"
" Law, missis,” said Cudjoe, “ the ice is all in broken-up blocks, a swinging and tettering up and down in the water!”
" I know it was—I know it!” said she wildly; “but I did it! I wouldn't have thought I could—I didn't think I should get over, but I didn't care! I could but die, if I didn't. The Lord helped me; nobody knows how much the Lord can help 'em, till they try,” said the woman with a flashing eye.
“ Were you a slave ?” said Mr. Bird.
“Was he unkind to you?” “No, sir; he was a good master.”
“And was your mistress unkind to you ? ” “No, sirno! my mistress was always good to me."
“What could induce you to leave a good home, then, and run away, and go through such dangers ? ”.
The woman looked up at Mrs. Bird with a keen, scrutinising glance, and it did not escape her that she was dressed in deep mourning.
“ Ma'am,” she said, suddenly, “ have you ever lost a child ? "
new wound; for it was only a month since a darling child | of the family had been laid in the grave.
Mr. Bird turned round and walked to the window, and Mrs. Bird burst into tears; but, recovering her voice, she said
“Why do you ask that? I have lost a little one.”
“Then you will feel for me. I have lost two, one after another-left 'em buried there when I came away; and I had only this one left. I never slept a night without him; he was all I had. He was ry comfort and pride, day and
night; and, ma'am, they were going to take him away from me—to sell him—sell him down south, ma'am, to go all alone—a baby that had never been away from his mother in his life! I couldn't stand it ma'am. I knew I never should be good for anything if they did; and when I knew the papers were signed, and he was sold, I took him and came off in the night; and they chased me—the man that bought him, and some of mas’r's folks—and they were coming down right behind me, and I heard 'em. I jumped on to the ice, and how I got across I don't know; but, first I knew, a man was helping me up the bank."
The woman did not sob nor weep. She had gone to a place where tears are dry ; but everyone around her was, in some way characteristic of themselves, showing signs of hearty sympathy.
The two little boys, after a desperate rummaging in their pockets, in search of those pocket-handkerchiefs which mothers know are never to be found there, had thrown themselves disconsolately into the skirts of their mother's gown, where they were sobbing, and wiping their eyes and noses, to their heart's content; Mrs. Bird had her face fairly hidden in her pocket-handkerchief; and old Dinah, with tears streaming down her black, honest face, was ejaculating, “ Lord have mercy on us !” with all the fervour of a camp-meeting ; while old Cudjoe, rubbing his eyes very hard with his cuffs, and making a most uncommon variety of wry faces, occasionally responded in the same key, with great fervour. Our senator was a statesman, and of course could not be expected to cry, like other mortals ; and so he turned his back to the company, and looked out of the window, and seemed particularly busy in clearing his throat and wiping his spectacle-glasses, occasionally blowing his nose in a manner that was calculated to excite suspicion, had any one been in a state to observe critically.”
And here my young friends I must leave off. I should like to have gone on with the tale of the woman and her dear boy; as well as made other quotations and remarks on this wonderful book. But my letter is already too long.