"We buy tickets of her Mas'r, and she gives us bread for 'em."
"And they counts my money and tickets, when I gets home, to see if I 's got the change; and if I han't, they half kills me."
"And serves you right," said Jane, the pert chambermaid, "if you will take their money to get drunk on. That's what she does, Missis."
"And that's what I will do, — I can't live no other ways, — drink and forget my misery."
"You are very wicked and very foolish," said Miss Ophelia, "to steal your master's money to make yourself a brute with."
"It's mighty likely, Missis; but I will do it, — yes, I will. O Lord! I wish I 's dead, I do, — I wish I 's dead, and out of my misery!" and slowly and stiffly the old creature rose, and got her basket on her head again; but before she went out, she looked at the quadroon girt, who still stood playing with her ear-drops.
"Ye think ye're mighty fine with them ar, a frolickin' and a tossin' your head, and a lookin' down on everybody. Well, never mind, — you may live to be a poor, old, cut-up crittur, like me. Hope to the Lord ye will, I do; then see if ye won't drink, — drink, — drink, — yerself into torment; and sarve ye right, too — ugh!" and, with a malignant howl, the woman left the room.
"Disgusting old beast!" said Adolph, who was getting his master's shaving-water. "If I was her master, I'd cut her up worse than she is."
"Ye couldn't do that ar, no ways," said Dinah. "Her back's a far sight now, — she can't never get a dress together over it."
"I think such low creatures ought not to be allowed to go round to genteel families," said Miss Jane. "What do you think, Mr. St. Clare?" she said, coquettishly tossing her head at Adolph.
It must be observed that, among other appropriations from his master's stock, Adolph was in the habit of adopting his name and address; and that the style under which he moved, among the colored circles of New Orleans, was that of Mr. St. Clare.
"I'm certainly of your opinion, Miss Benoir," said Adolph.
Benoir was the name of Marie St. Clare's family, and Jane was one of her servants.
"Pray, Miss Benoir, may I be allowed to ask if those drops are for the ball, tomorrow night? They are certainly bewitching!"
"I wonder, now, Mr. St. Clare, what the impudence of you men will come to!" said Jane, tossing her pretty head 'til the ear-drops twinkled again. "I shan't dance with you for a whole evening, if you go to asking me any more questions."
"O, you couldn't be so cruel, now! I was just dying to know whether you would appear in your pink tarletane," said Adolph.
"What is it?" said Rosa, a bright, piquant little quadroon who came skipping down stairs at this moment.
"Why, Mr. St. Clare's so impudent!"
"On my honor," said Adolph, "I'll leave it to Miss Rosa now."
"I know he's always a saucy creature," said Rosa, poising herself on one of her little feet, and looking maliciously at Adolph. "He's always getting me so angry with him."
"O! ladies, ladies, you will certainly break my heart, between you," said Adolph. "I shall be found dead in my bed, some morning, and you'll have it to answer for."
"Do hear the horrid creature talk!" said both ladies, laughing immoderately.
"Come, — clar out, you! I can't have you cluttering up the kitchen," said Dinah; "in my way, foolin' round here."
"Aunt Dinah's glum, because she can't go to the ball," said Rosa.
"Don't want none o' your light-colored balls," said Dinah; "cuttin' round, makin' b'lieve you's white folks. Arter all, you's niggers, much as I am."
"Aunt Dinah greases her wool stiff, every day, to make it lie straight," said Jane.
"And it will be wool, after all," said Rosa, maliciously shaking down her long, silky curls.
"Well, in the Lord's sight, an't wool as good as bar, any time?" said Dinah. "I'd like to have Missis say which is worth the most, — a couple such as you, or one like me. Get out wid ye, ye trumpery, — I won't have ye round!"
Here the conversation was interrupted in a two-fold manner. St. Clare's voice was heard at the head of the stairs, asking Adolph if he meant to stay all night with his shaving-water; and Miss Ophelia, coming out of the dining-room, said,
"Jane and Rosa, what are you wasting your time for, here? Go in and attend to your muslins."
Our friend Tom, who had been in the kitchen during the conversation with the old rusk-woman, had followed her out into the street. He saw her go on, giving every once in a while a suppressed groan. At last she set her basket down on a doorstep, and began arranging the old, faded shawl which covered her shoulders.
"I'll carry your basket a piece," said Tom, compassionately.
"Why should ye?" said the woman. "I don't want no help."
"You seem to be sick, or in trouble, or somethin'," said Tom.
"I an't sick," said the woman, shortly.
"I wish," said Tom, looking at her earnestly, — "I wish I could persuade you to leave off drinking. Don't you know it will be the ruin of ye, body and soul?"
"I knows I'm gwine to torment," said the woman, sullenly. "Ye don't need to tell me that ar. I 's ugly, I 's wicked, — I 's gwine straight to torment. O, Lord! I wish I 's thar!"
Tom shuddered at these frightful words, spoken with a sullen, impassioned earnestness.
"O, Lord have mercy on ye! poor crittur. Han't ye never heard of Jesus Christ?"
"Jesus Christ, — who's he?"
"Why, he's the Lord," said Tom.
"I think I've hearn tell o' the Lord, and the judgment and torment. I've heard o' that."
"But didn't anybody ever tell you of the Lord Jesus, that loved us poor sinners, and died for us?"
"Don't know nothin' 'bout that," said the woman; "nobody han't never loved me, since my old man died."
"Where was you raised?" said Tom.
"Up in Kentuck. A man kept me to breed chil'en for market, and sold 'em as fast as they got big enough; last of all, he sold me to a speculator, and my Mas'r got me o' him."
"What set you into this bad way of drinkin'?"
"To get shet o' my misery. I had one child after I come here; and I thought then I'd have one to raise, cause Mas'r wasn't a speculator. It was de peartest little thing! and Missis she seemed to think a heap on 't, at first; it never cried, — it was likely and fat. But Missis tuck sick, and I tended her; and I tuck the fever, and my milk all left me, and the child it pined to skin and bone, and Missis wouldn't buy milk for it. She wouldn't hear to me, when I telled her I hadn't milk. She said she knowed I could feed it on what other folks eat; and the child kinder pined, and cried, and cried, and cried, day and night, and got all gone to skin and bones, and Missis got sot agin it and she said 't wan't nothin' but crossness. She wished it was dead, she said; and she wouldn't let me have it o' nights, cause, she said, it kept me awake, and made me good for nothing. She made me sleep in her room; and I had to put it away off in a little kind o' garret, and thar it cried itself to death, one night. It did; and I tuck to drinkin', to keep its crying out of my ears! I did, — and I will drink! I will, if I do go to torment for it! Mas'r says I shall go to torment, and I tell him I've got thar now!"
"O, ye poor crittur!" said Tom, "han't nobody never telled ye how the Lord Jesus loved ye, and died for ye? Han't they telled ye that he'll help ye, and ye can go to heaven, and have rest, at last?"
"I looks like gwine to heaven," said the woman; "an't thar where white folks is gwine? S'pose they'd have me thar? I'd rather go to torment, and get away from Mas'r and Missis. I had so," she said, as with her usual groan, she got her basket on her head, and walked sullenly away.
Tom turned, and walked sorrowfully back to the house. In the court he met little Eva, — a crown of tuberoses on her head, and her eyes radiant with delight.
"O, Tom! here you are. I'm glad I've found you. Papa says you may get out the ponies, and take me in my little new carriage," she said, catching his hand. "But what's the matter Tom? — you look sober."
"I feel bad, Miss Eva," said Tom, sorrowfully. "But I'll get the horses for you."
"But do tell me, Tom, what is the matter. I saw you talking to cross old Prue."
Tom, in simple, earnest phrase, told Eva the woman's history. She did not exclaim or wonder, or weep, as other children do. Her cheeks grew pale, and a deep, earnest shadow passed over her eyes. She laid both hands on her bosom, and sighed heavily.