"There is no such thing as getting anything like a system in this family!"
"To be sure, there isn't," said St. Clare.
"Such shiftless management, such waste, such confusion, I never saw!"
"I dare say you didn't."
"You would not take it so coolly, if you were housekeeper."
"My dear cousin, you may as well understand, once for all, that we masters are divided into two classes, oppressors and oppressed. We who are good-natured and hate severity make up our minds to a good deal of inconvenience. If we will keep a shambling, loose, untaught set in the community, for our convenience, why, we must take the consequence. Some rare cases I have seen, of persons, who, by a peculiar tact, can produce order and system without severity; but I'm not one of them, — and so I made up my mind, long ago, to let things go just as they do. I will not have the poor devils thrashed and cut to pieces, and they know it, — and, of course, they know the staff is in their own hands."
"But to have no time, no place, no order, — all going on in this shiftless way!"
"My dear Vermont, you natives up by the North Pole set an extravagant value on time! What on earth is the use of time to a fellow who has twice as much of it as he knows what to do with? As to order and system, where there is nothing to be done but to lounge on the sofa and read, an hour sooner or later in breakfast or dinner isn't of much account. Now, there's Dinah gets you a capital dinner, — soup, ragout, roast fowl, dessert, ice-creams and all, — and she creates it all out of chaos and old night down there, in that kitchen. I think it really sublime, the way she manages. But, Heaven bless us! if we are to go down there, and view all the smoking and squatting about, and hurryscurryation of the preparatory process, we should never eat more! My good cousin, absolve yourself from that! It's more than a Catholic penance, and does no more good. You'll only lose your own temper, and utterly confound Dinah. Let her go her own way."
"But, Augustine, you don't know how I found things."
"Don't I? Don't I know that the rolling-pin is under her bed, and the nutmeg-grater in her pocket with her tobacco, — that there are sixty-five different sugar-bowls, one in every hole in the house, — that she washes dishes with a dinner-napkin one day, and with a fragment of an old petticoat the next? But the upshot is, she gets up glorious dinners, makes superb coffee; and you must judge her as warriors and statesmen are judged, by her success."
"But the waste, — the expense!"
"O, well! Lock everything you can, and keep the key. Give out by driblets, and never inquire for odds and ends, — it isn't best."
"That troubles me, Augustine. I can't help feeling as if these servants were not strictly honest. Are you sure they can be relied on?"
Augustine laughed immoderately at the grave and anxious face with which Miss Ophelia propounded the question.
"O, cousin, that's too good, — honest! — as if that's a thing to be expected! Honest! — why, of course, they arn't. Why should they be? What upon earth is to make them so?"
"Why don't you instruct?"
"Instruct! O, fiddlestick! What instructing do you think I should do? I look like it! As to Marie, she has spirit enough, to be sure, to kill off a whole plantation, if I'd let her manage; but she wouldn't get the cheatery out of them."
"Are there no honest ones?"
"Well, now and then one, whom Nature makes so impracticably simple, truthful and faithful, that the worst possible influence can't destroy it. But, you see, from the mother's breast the colored child feels and sees that there are none but underhand ways open to it. It can get along no other way with its parents, its mistress, its young master and missie play-fellows. Cunning and deception become necessary, inevitable habits. It isn't fair to expect anything else of him. He ought not to be punished for it. As to honesty, the slave is kept in that dependent, semi-childish state, that there is no making him realize the rights of property, or feel that his master's goods are not his own, if he can get them. For my part, I don't see how they can be honest. Such a fellow as Tom, here, is, — is a moral miracle!"
"And what becomes of their souls?" said Miss Ophelia.
"That isn't my affair, as I know of," said St. Clare; "I am only dealing in facts of the present life. The fact is, that the whole race are pretty generally understood to be turned over to the devil, for our benefit, in this world, however it may turn out in another!"
"This is perfectly horrible!" said Miss Ophelia; "you ought to be ashamed of yourselves!"
"I don't know as I am. We are in pretty good company, for all that," said St. Clare, "as people in the broad road generally are. Look at the high and the low, all the world over, and it's the same story, — the lower class used up, body, soul and spirit, for the good of the upper. It is so in England; it is so everywhere; and yet all Christendom stands aghast, with virtuous indignation, because we do the thing in a little different shape from what they do it."
"It isn't so in Vermont."
"Ah, well, in New England, and in the free States, you have the better of us, I grant. But there's the bell; so, Cousin, let us for a while lay aside our sectional prejudices, and come out to dinner."
As Miss Ophelia was in the kitchen in the latter part of the afternoon, some of the sable children called out, "La, sakes! thar's Prue a coming, grunting along like she allers does."
A tall, bony colored woman now entered the kitchen, bearing on her head a basket of rusks and hot rolls.
"Ho, Prue! you've come," said Dinah.
Prue had a peculiar scowling expression of countenance, and a sullen, grumbling voice. She set down her basket, squatted herself down, and resting her elbows on her knees said,
"O Lord! I wish't I 's dead!"
"Why do you wish you were dead?" said Miss Ophelia.
"I'd be out o' my misery," said the woman, gruffly, without taking her eyes from the floor.
"What need you getting drunk, then, and cutting up, Prue?" said a spruce quadroon chambermaid, dangling, as she spoke, a pair of coral ear-drops.
The woman looked at her with a sour surly glance.
"Maybe you'll come to it, one of these yer days. I'd be glad to see you, I would; then you'll be glad of a drop, like me, to forget your misery."
"Come, Prue," said Dinah, "let's look at your rusks. Here's Missis will pay for them."
Miss Ophelia took out a couple of dozen.
"Thar's some tickets in that ar old cracked jug on the top shelf," said Dinah. "You, Jake, climb up and get it down."
"Tickets, — what are they for?" said Miss Ophelia.