"Well, George, I s'pose you're running away — leaving your lawful master, George — (I don't wonder at it) — at the same time, I'm sorry, George, — yes, decidedly — I think I must say that, George — it's my duty to tell you so."
"Why are you sorry, sir?" said George, calmly.
"Why, to see you, as it were, setting yourself in opposition to the laws of your country."
"My country!" said George, with a strong and bitter emphasis; "what country have I, but the grave, — and I wish to God that I was laid there!"
"Why, George, no — no — it won't do; this way of talking is wicked — unscriptural. George, you've got a hard master — in fact, he is — well he conducts himself reprehensibly — I can't pretend to defend him. But you know how the angel commanded Hagar to return to her mistress, and submit herself under the hand;* and the apostle sent back Onesimus to his master."
** * Gen. 16. The angel bade the pregnant Hagar return to her mistress Sarai, even though Sarai had dealt harshly with her.
** Phil. 1:10. Onesimus went back to his master to become no longer a servant but a "brother beloved."
"Don't quote Bible at me that way, Mr. Wilson," said George, with a flashing eye, "don't! for my wife is a Christian, and I mean to be, if ever I get to where I can; but to quote Bible to a fellow in my circumstances, is enough to make him give it up altogether. I appeal to God Almighty; — I'm willing to go with the case to Him, and ask Him if I do wrong to seek my freedom."
"These feelings are quite natural, George," said the good-natured man, blowing his nose. "Yes, they're natural, but it is my duty not to encourage 'em in you. Yes, my boy, I'm sorry for you, now; it's a bad case — very bad; but the apostle says, 'Let everyone abide in the condition in which he is called.' We must all submit to the indications of Providence, George, — don't you see?"
George stood with his head drawn back, his arms folded tightly over his broad breast, and a bitter smile curling his lips.
"I wonder, Mr. Wilson, if the Indians should come and take you a prisoner away from your wife and children, and want to keep you all your life hoeing corn for them, if you'd think it your duty to abide in the condition in which you were called. I rather think that you'd think the first stray horse you could find an indication of Providence — shouldn't you?"
The little old gentleman stared with both eyes at this illustration of the case; but, though not much of a reasoner, he had the sense in which some logicians on this particular subject do not excel, — that of saying nothing, where nothing could be said. So, as he stood carefully stroking his umbrella, and folding and patting down all the creases in it, he proceeded on with his exhortations in a general way.
"You see, George, you know, now, I always have stood your friend; and whatever I've said, I've said for your good. Now, here, it seems to me, you're running an awful risk. You can't hope to carry it out. If you're taken, it will be worse with you than ever; they'll only abuse you, and half kill you, and sell you down the river."
"Mr. Wilson, I know all this," said George. "I do run a risk, but — " he threw open his overcoat, and showed two pistols and a bowie-knife. "There!" he said, "I'm ready for 'em! Down south I never will go. No! if it comes to that, I can earn myself at least six feet of free soil, — the first and last I shall ever own in Kentucky!"
"Why, George, this state of mind is awful; it's getting really desperate George. I'm concerned. Going to break the laws of your country!"
"My country again! Mr. Wilson, you have a country; but what country have I, or any one like me, born of slave mothers? What laws are there for us? We don't make them, — we don't consent to them, — we have nothing to do with them; all they do for us is to crush us, and keep us down. Haven't I heard your Fourth-of-July speeches? Don't you tell us all, once a year, that governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed? Can't a fellow think, that hears such things? Can't he put this and that together, and see what it comes to?"
Mr. Wilson's mind was one of those that may not unaptly be represented by a bale of cotton, — downy, soft, benevolently fuzzy and confused. He really pitied George with all his heart, and had a sort of dim and cloudy perception of the style of feeling that agitated him; but he deemed it his duty to go on talking good to him, with infinite pertinacity.
"George, this is bad. I must tell you, you know, as a friend, you'd better not be meddling with such notions; they are bad, George, very bad, for boys in your condition, — very;" and Mr. Wilson sat down to a table, and began nervously chewing the handle of his umbrella.
"See here, now, Mr. Wilson," said George, coming up and sitting himself determinately down in front of him; "look at me, now. Don't I sit before you, every way, just as much a man as you are? Look at my face, — look at my hands, — look at my body," and the young man drew himself up proudly; "why am I not a man, as much as anybody? Well, Mr. Wilson, hear what I can tell you. I had a father — one of your Kentucky gentlemen — who didn't think enough of me to keep me from being sold with his dogs and horses, to satisfy the estate, when he died. I saw my mother put up at sheriff's sale, with her seven children. They were sold before her eyes, one by one, all to different masters; and I was the youngest. She came and kneeled down before old Mas'r, and begged him to buy her with me, that she might have at least one child with her; and he kicked her away with his heavy boot. I saw him do it; and the last that I heard was her moans and screams, when I was tied to his horse's neck, to be carried off to his place."
"My master traded with one of the men, and bought my oldest sister. She was a pious, good girl, — a member of the Baptist church, — and as handsome as my poor mother had been. She was well brought up, and had good manners. At first, I was glad she was bought, for I had one friend near me. I was soon sorry for it. Sir, I have stood at the door and heard her whipped, when it seemed as if every blow cut into my naked heart, and I couldn't do anything to help her; and she was whipped, sir, for wanting to live a decent Christian life, such as your laws give no slave girl a right to live; and at last I saw her chained with a trader's gang, to be sent to market in Orleans, — sent there for nothing else but that, — and that's the last I know of her. Well, I grew up, — long years and years, — no father, no mother, no sister, not a living soul that cared for me more than a dog; nothing but whipping, scolding, starving. Why, sir, I've been so hungry that I have been glad to take the bones they threw to their dogs; and yet, when I was a little fellow, and laid awake whole nights and cried, it wasn't the hunger, it wasn't the whipping, I cried for. No, sir, it was for my mother and my sisters, — it was because I hadn't a friend to love me on earth. I never knew what peace or comfort was. I never had a kind word spoken to me till I came to work in your factory. Mr. Wilson, you treated me well; you encouraged me to do well, and to learn to read and write, and to try to make something of myself; and God knows how grateful I am for it. Then, sir, I found my wife; you've seen her, — you know how beautiful she is. When I found she loved me, when I married her, I scarcely could believe I was alive, I was so happy; and, sir, she is as good as she is beautiful. But now what? Why, now comes my master, takes me right away from my work, and my friends, and all I like, and grinds me down into the very dirt! And why? Because, he says, I forgot who I was; he says, to teach me that I am only a nigger! After all, and last of all, he comes between me and my wife, and says I shall give her up, and live with another woman. And all this your laws give him power to do, in spite of God or man. Mr. Wilson, look at it! There isn't one of all these things, that have broken the hearts of my mother and my sister, and my wife and myself, but your laws allow, and give every man power to do, in Kentucky, and none can say to him nay! Do you call these the laws of my country? Sir, I haven't any country, anymore than I have any father. But I'm going to have one. I don't want anything of your country, except to be let alone, — to go peaceably out of it; and when I get to Canada, where the laws will own me and protect me, that shall be my country, and its laws I will obey. But if any man tries to stop me, let him take care, for I am desperate. I'll fight for my liberty to the last breath I breathe. You say your fathers did it; if it was right for them, it is right for me!"