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首页 » 儿童英文小说 » A Child's Anti-Slavery Book » CHAPTER IV.
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The following morning that sun rose warm and bright. All was bustle and excitement on the levee. Its broad top was crowded with drays and cabs conveying the freight and passengers to and from the steamboats, that lay compactly wedged together at its edge.

About ten o'clock the bell of the "Aldon Adams" announced that its time for starting had come. The cabs threaded their way through the piles of goods and bales of cotton to the plank, and delivered their loads of travelers flitting to the sunny South. The last package of freight was being carried aboard, and everything was ready for the start. But all who are going have not arrived. A sad procession is marching down to the boat. It is M'Affee's gang! the men handcuffed, the women and children walking double file, though not fettered. A little apart from the rest we recognise Mark, and by his side walks Hasty. Little is said by either, but O! they feel the more. At last they reached the plank that was to separate them forever, yes, forever.

At that same spot farewells had been exchanged; farewells, sad and tearful. Yet amid these tears, and with this sadness, hope whispered of a glad meeting in the future—of a joyful reunion. But here there was no such hope. Each felt that for them all was despair. Hark! the shrill whistle and the impatient puffing of the steam, tell them they must part. The rest have taken their places on the deck, and they too are standing on the levee alone.

[Illustration: HASTY'S GRIEF.]

"Come, come, quit your parleying. Don't you see they are hauling in the plank! Jump aboard, Mark, and don't look so glum. I'll git you another gal down in Arkansas," said the trader.

Had he seen the look which Hasty cast upon him, he might have been admonished by those words of Oriental piety; "Beware of the groans of a wounded soul. Oppress not to the utmost a single heart, for a solitary sigh has the power to overturn a world."

She turned from the trader, and, with a sob, as though the heart springs were snapped, she threw herself into her husband's arms. Again, and again he pressed her to his heart, then gently unclasping her hands, he tottered along the plank, and nearly had he ended his saddened life in the rolling stream below, but the ready hand of his owner caught him, and hurried him aboard.

The plank was hauled aboard, and in an instant the boat was moving out into the stream. The passengers congregated on the hurricane deck, cheered, and waved their handkerchiefs to friends on shore, and her crew answered the shouts of those on the other boats as she rapidly passed them. Few saw, and those who did, without noting, the sorrowing woman, who, leaning against a bale of goods, with one hand shading her eyes, and the other pressed hard upon her heart, watching the receding boat, until it turned a bend in the river, and was hidden from her sight. Yet no watcher borne away upon the boat, nor any sorrowing one left upon the shore, turned away, as the last traces of the loved ones faded, with a heavier heart, or a feeling of such utter loneliness as did poor Hasty. Despairingly, she turned toward home. No tears, no choking sobs; but only that calm, frozen look to which tears and sobs would have been a relief.

The light, elastic step of but a week before was gone. She stopped not now to gaze into the gay windows, or to watch the throng of promenaders; but, with an unsteady pace, wended her way slowly to her humble home in the lower part of the city.

"Stop, Aunt Hasty," said a colored woman belonging to Mrs. Nelson, "missus gave me leave to cum down here dis afternoon to go home with you, kase she said you would take it so hard parting with your ole man."

Hasty looked up as she heard the well known voice of the kind-hearted

"O! Sally," she said, "I'se got no home now; they has taken him away that made me a home, and I don't keer for nothing now."

"You mustn't be down-hearted, Hasty," she said, "but look right up to de Lord. He says, Call on me in de day of trouble, and I will, hear ye; and cast your burden on me, and I will care for ye. And sure enough dis is your time ob trouble, poor crittur."

"Yes," she answered, "and it has been my time of trouble ever since Mark was sold, and I has prayed to de Lord, time after time, to raise up friends to save Mark from going; but ye see how it is, Sally."

"Yes, I sees, Hasty, but ye mustn't let it shake your faith a bit, kase de Lord will bring it all right in his time."

Thus talking, and endeavoring to console her, Sally accompanied Hasty to her now desolate home. As she entered the room, the low moan of her child fell upon her ear, and awoke her to the necessity of action. It was well that there existed an immediate call on her, or her heart would have sunk under the heavy burden of sorrow. She went hastily to the side of the little sufferer, and passing her cold hand over the burning forehead of her child, whispered soothing words of endearment.

"Is father come?" asked Fanny. "Ise been dreamin', and I thought for sure he was here. 'Aint this his night to come home, mother?"

"No, honey, dis is Friday night," answered Hasty. "But never mind about father now, but go to sleep, there's a good girl."

And sitting down by the side of her child, Hasty, with a mother's tenderness, soothed her to sleep. All that long night she sat, but no sleep shed a calm upon her heart; but when morning came exhausted nature could bear up no longer, and she sank into a short but troubled slumber.

    By the sick bed of her child,
      In her cabin lone and drear.
    Listening to its ravings wild,
      Dropping on it many a tear,
    Sat the mother, broken-hearted;
      Every hope was in its shroud.
    From her husband she'd been parted,
      And to earth with grief she's bow'd.
    Now within her ear is ringing
      Drearily hope's funeral knell,
    And the night wind wild is singing
      Mournfully, the word farewell.

Day broke, and still mother and child slept on. Hasty's over-charged heart and brain were for the first time, for some days, lulled to forgetfulness. If this relief had not come, without doubt one would have broken, and the other been lost in madness. Fanny was the first to awake. The crisis of the disease had passed; the fever no longer scorched her veins, and her mind no longer wandered. She was, however, as weak as an infant, and as incapable of attending to her wants. For the first time for many days she felt a desire for food, and raising herself partly up, called to her mother to get her breakfast.

The voice of her child roused Hasty from her dreams of peace, to the dread realities of her bereavement. For a few moments she could not recall her scattered senses, but soon the remembrance of yesterday crowded upon her mind, and the anguish depicted upon her face showed that they had lost nothing of their intensity during their short oblivion.

"Why Fanny, child, is you awake? And de fever all gone, too? How is yer dis mornin', dear?" asked Hasty.

"O! I feel a heap better, mother," answered Fanny; "and I think I will be pretty near well by the time pappy comes to-night."

Every word her child uttered fell as a leaden weight upon her heart. Her mind instinctively reverted to the last time her husband had been there. Then no thought of separation clouded their minds, but together they watched beside their sick child, beguiling the long hours of the night with hopeful and loving converse. Then she thought of the incidents of the week as they followed each other in quick succession, the news of his sale, the trader's pen, the parting; all, all seemed burned upon her brain in coals of living fire, and with a moan of agony she sank insensible upon the bed.

A few moments after Mrs. Jennings entered the room. Ever since visiting Mark, and witnessing his anguish, she had constantly thought of Hasty, and longed for an opportunity of consoling her, and rendering her any assistance in her power. Feeling this morning uneasy at not hearing from her, she determined to go and see her. After some difficulty she at last found her, and, as we have seen, arrived very opportunely. Instantly, upon seeing the state of affairs, Mrs. Jennings ordered her coachman to go for a physician, while she and her maid, whom she had brought with her, used every means to restore Hasty to consciousness, and in a short time they succeeded in their efforts.

The doctor arrived shortly after, and advised rest and quiet as the best restoratives to her shattered nerves. The wants of Fanny were also attended to, and the cravings of her appetite satisfied from a basket of food which the thoughtful care of Mrs. Jennings had provided. Mrs. Jennings's next thought was to procure a nurse for Hasty. Here she had no difficulty, for the neighbors of Hasty willingly offered their services. Selecting one who appeared thoughtful and tidy, Mrs. Jennings returned home with a heart lightened by a consciousness of duty well performed.

For some days Hasty lay in a kind of stupor, without taking any notice of transpiring events, or seeming to recur to those of the past. She was daily supplied with various little dainties and luxuries suitable to an invalid, and received many other attentions from the kind-hearted Mrs. Jennings. Fanny's health improved each day, and, as the buoyancy of youth threw off the remains of disease, she regained her strength, and at the end of the following week she was able to take almost the entire charge of her mother. Hasty's eyes followed every movement of her child with the in tensest eagerness, as if fearing that she too would be taken from her.

When Fanny was fully recovered she learned the fate of her father. She did not weep, or sob, or complain, but for the first time she realized the shadow that slavery had cast over her; and the change was instantaneous, from the mirthful, happy child, to the anxious, watchful slave girl. Hereafter there was to be no trusting confidence, no careless gayety, but this consciousness of slavery must mingle with every thought, with every action.

One day, about a week after Hasty was taken sick, her mistress entered her room. This lady was the widow of a Frenchman, one of the early settlers of St. Louis, who had, by persevering industry, gained a competency. Before he had an opportunity of enjoying it he died, and left his property, consisting of a dwelling, five or six negroes, and a good sum in the stocks, to his widow. Mrs. Le Rue, on breaking up housekeeping, allowed Hasty to hire her time for two dollars a week, on condition that at the end of each month the required sum was to be forthcoming, and in the event of failure, the revocation of the permission was to be the inevitable consequence.

The monthly pay-day found Hasty prostrated on a bed of sickness, and of course it passed without the payment of the stipulated sum. This was the immediate cause of her visit.

The anxiety depicted in the countenance of Mrs. Le Rue did not arise from any sympathy for the emaciated and suffering woman before her, but only from that natural vexation with which a farmer would regard the sudden falling lame of a valuable horse. The idea of commiserating Hasty's condition as a human being, as a sister, never for a moment occurred to her; indeed, the sickness of the little poodle dog, which she led by a pink ribbon, would have elicited far more of the sympathies of her nature. In Hasty she saw only a piece of property visibly depreciated by sickness.

"What is the matter with you, girl? Why have you not come to pay me my money?" she asked harshly, as she took the seat that Fanny had carefully dusted off.

"O missus! I'se been too sick to work dis two weeks; but I'se got five dollars saved up for you, and if ever I get well I kin pay you the rest soon."

"Pay the rest soon! Yes, you look very much like that. You are just making a fool of yourself about your husband; that is the way you niggers do. You are just trying to cheat me out of the money. I'll never let one of my women get married again."

While the much-injured lady was delivering this speech, the poodle, who had been intently watching the face of his mistress, and thinking some one must be the offender, sprang at Fanny, viciously snapping at her feet. She, poor girl, had watched every expression in the face of her mistress, with the same anxiety as the courtiers of the sultan watch that autocrat, who holds their lives and fortunes in his hand; and surprised at this assault from an unlooked-for quarter, she jumped aside, and in doing so trod upon the paw of her tormentor, and sent him howling to the lap of his mistress.

This was the last drop that caused the cup of wrath to overflow. Without heeding the protestations of Fanny, she seized her by the arm, and boxed her ears soundly.

"What did you tread upon the dog for, you great clumsy nigger? I'll teach you what I'll do, if you do anything of the kind again; I'll give you a good whipping."

Then turning to Hasty, whose feeble nerves had been intensely excited by this scene, she said: "I want you to get to work again pretty soon, and not lie there too lazy to work. You need not think I am going to lose my money by your foolishness. I shall expect your month's payment as usual, and if I don't get it, I will hire you out like the rest. And there is another thing I have to say; you are not going to keep this lazy girl here to hinder you, and to spend money on. A lady I know wants just such a girl to go to the door, and to wait on her, who will give me two dollars a month for her, and it is quite time she was doing something. I will not take her away now, but next week do you tidy her up and send her to me."


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