This speech, delivered partly while sitting at the table, and partly walking up and down the room, — delivered with tears, and flashing eyes, and despairing gestures, — was altogether too much for the good-natured old body to whom it was addressed, who had pulled out a great yellow silk pocket-handkerchief, and was mopping up his face with great energy.
"Blast 'em all!" he suddenly broke out. "Haven't I always said so — the infernal old cusses! I hope I an't swearing, now. Well! go ahead, George, go ahead; but be careful, my boy; don't shoot anybody, George, unless — well — you'd better not shoot, I reckon; at least, I wouldn't hit anybody, you know. Where is your wife, George?" he added, as he nervously rose, and began walking the room.
"Gone, sir gone, with her child in her arms, the Lord only knows where; — gone after the north star; and when we ever meet, or whether we meet at all in this world, no creature can tell."
"Is it possible! astonishing! from such a kind family?"
"Kind families get in debt, and the laws of our country allow them to sell the child out of its mother's bosom to pay its master's debts," said George, bitterly.
"Well, well," said the honest old man, fumbling in his pocket: "I s'pose, perhaps, I an't following my judgment, — hang it, I won't follow my judgment!" he added, suddenly; "so here, George," and, taking out a roll of bills from his pocket-book, he offered them to George.
"No, my kind, good sir!" said George, "you've done a great deal for me, and this might get you into trouble. I have money enough, I hope, to take me as far as I need it."
"No; but you must, George. Money is a great help everywhere; — can't have too much, if you get it honestly. Take it, — do take it, now, — do, my boy!"
"On condition, sir, that I may repay it at some future time, I will," said George, taking up the money.
"And now, George, how long are you going to travel in this way? — not long or far, I hope. It's well carried on, but too bold. And this black fellow, — who is he?"
"A true fellow, who went to Canada more than a year ago. He heard, after he got there, that his master was so angry at him for going off that he had whipped his poor old mother; and he has come all the way back to comfort her, and get a chance to get her away."
"Has he got her?"
"Not yet; he has been hanging about the place, and found no chance yet. Meanwhile, he is going with me as far as Ohio, to put me among friends that helped him, and then he will come back after her.
"Dangerous, very dangerous!" said the old man.
George drew himself up, and smiled disdainfully.
The old gentleman eyed him from head to foot, with a sort of innocent wonder.
"George, something has brought you out wonderfully. You hold up your head, and speak and move like another man," said Mr. Wilson.
"Because I'm a freeman!" said George, proudly. "Yes, sir; I've said Mas'r for the last time to any man. I'm free!"
"Take care! You are not sure, — you may be taken."
"All men are free and equal in the grave, if it comes to that, Mr. Wilson," said George.
"I'm perfectly dumb-founded with your boldness!" said Mr. Wilson, — "to come right here to the nearest tavern!"
"Mr. Wilson, it is so bold, and this tavern is so near, that they will never think of it; they will look for me on ahead, and you yourself wouldn't know me. Jim's master don't live in this county; he isn't known in these parts. Besides, he is given up; nobody is looking after him, and nobody will take me up from the advertisement, I think."
"But the mark in your hand?"
George drew off his glove, and showed a newly-healed scar in his hand.
"That is a parting proof of Mr. Harris' regard," he said, scornfully. "A fortnight ago, he took it into his head to give it to me, because he said he believed I should try to get away one of these days. Looks interesting, doesn't it?" he said, drawing his glove on again.
"I declare, my very blood runs cold when I think of it, — your condition and your risks!" said Mr. Wilson.
"Mine has run cold a good many years, Mr. Wilson; at present, it's about up to the boiling point," said George.
"Well, my good sir," continued George, after a few moments' silence, "I saw you knew me; I thought I'd just have this talk with you, lest your surprised looks should bring me out. I leave early tomorrow morning, before daylight; by tomorrow night I hope to sleep safe in Ohio. I shall travel by daylight, stop at the best hotels, go to the dinner-tables with the lords of the land. So, good-by, sir; if you hear that I'm taken, you may know that I'm dead!"
George stood up like a rock, and put out his hand with the air of a prince. The friendly little old man shook it heartily, and after a little shower of caution, he took his umbrella, and fumbled his way out of the room.
George stood thoughtfully looking at the door, as the old man closed it. A thought seemed to flash across his mind. He hastily stepped to it, and opening it, said,
"Mr. Wilson, one word more."
The old gentleman entered again, and George, as before, locked the door, and then stood for a few moments looking on the floor, irresolutely. At last, raising his head with a sudden effort — "Mr. Wilson, you have shown yourself a Christian in your treatment of me, — I want to ask one last deed of Christian kindness of you."
"Well, sir, — what you said was true. I am running a dreadful risk. There isn't, on earth, a living soul to care if I die," he added, drawing his breath hard, and speaking with a great effort, — "I shall be kicked out and buried like a dog, and nobody'll think of it a day after, — only my poor wife! Poor soul! she'll mourn and grieve; and if you'd only contrive, Mr. Wilson, to send this little pin to her. She gave it to me for a Christmas present, poor child! Give it to her, and tell her I loved her to the last. Will you? Will you?" he added, earnestly.
"Yes, certainly — poor fellow!" said the old gentleman, taking the pin, with watery eyes, and a melancholy quiver in his voice.
"Tell her one thing," said George; "it's my last wish, if she can get to Canada, to go there. No matter how kind her mistress is, — no matter how much she loves her home; beg her not to go back, — for slavery always ends in misery. Tell her to bring up our boy a free man, and then he won't suffer as I have. Tell her this, Mr. Wilson, will you?"
"Yes, George. I'll tell her; but I trust you won't die; take heart, — you're a brave fellow. Trust in the Lord, George. I wish in my heart you were safe through, though, — that's what I do."
"Is there a God to trust in?" said George, in such a tone of bitter despair as arrested the old gentleman's words. "O, I've seen things all my life that have made me feel that there can't be a God. You Christians don't know how these things look to us. There's a God for you, but is there any for us?"
"O, now, don't — don't, my boy!" said the old man, almost sobbing as he spoke; "don't feel so! There is — there is; clouds and darkness are around about him, but righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. There's a God, George, — believe it; trust in Him, and I'm sure He'll help you. Everything will be set right, — if not in this life, in another."
The real piety and benevolence of the simple old man invested him with a temporary dignity and authority, as he spoke. George stopped his distracted walk up and down the room, stood thoughtfully a moment, and then said, quietly,
"Thank you for saying that, my good friend; I'll think of that."