"Find it a tight pull; — why, she's an old rack o' bones, — not worth her salt."
"You wouldn't then?" said the man.
"Anybody 'd be a fool 't would. She's half blind, crooked with rheumatis, and foolish to boot."
"Some buys up these yer old critturs, and ses there's a sight more wear in 'em than a body 'd think," said the man, reflectively.
"No go, 't all," said Haley; "wouldn't take her for a present, — fact, — I've seen, now."
"Wal, 't is kinder pity, now, not to buy her with her son, — her heart seems so sot on him, — s'pose they fling her in cheap."
"Them that's got money to spend that ar way, it's all well enough. I shall bid off on that ar boy for a plantation-hand; — wouldn't be bothered with her, no way, not if they'd give her to me," said Haley.
"She'll take on desp't," said the man.
"Nat'lly, she will," said the trader, coolly.
The conversation was here interrupted by a busy hum in the audience; and the auctioneer, a short, bustling, important fellow, elbowed his way into the crowd. The old woman drew in her breath, and caught instinctively at her son.
"Keep close to yer mammy, Albert, — close, — dey'll put us up togedder," she said.
"O, mammy, I'm feard they won't," said the boy.
"Dey must, child; I can't live, no ways, if they don't" said the old creature, vehemently.
The stentorian tones of the auctioneer, calling out to clear the way, now announced that the sale was about to commence. A place was cleared, and the bidding began. The different men on the list were soon knocked off at prices which showed a pretty brisk demand in the market; two of them fell to Haley.
"Come, now, young un," said the auctioneer, giving the boy a touch with his hammer, "be up and show your springs, now."
"Put us two up togedder, togedder, — do please, Mas'r," said the old woman, holding fast to her boy.
"Be off," said the man, gruffly, pushing her hands away; "you come last. Now, darkey, spring;" and, with the word, he pushed the boy toward the block, while a deep, heavy groan rose behind him. The boy paused, and looked back; but there was no time to stay, and, dashing the tears from his large, bright eyes, he was up in a moment.
His fine figure, alert limbs, and bright face, raised an instant competition, and half a dozen bids simultaneously met the ear of the auctioneer. Anxious, half-frightened, he looked from side to side, as he heard the clatter of contending bids, — now here, now there, — till the hammer fell. Haley had got him. He was pushed from the block toward his new master, but stopped one moment, and looked back, when his poor old mother, trembling in every limb, held out her shaking hands toward him.
"Buy me too, Mas'r, for de dear Lord's sake! — buy me, — I shall die if you don't!"
"You'll die if I do, that's the kink of it," said Haley, — "no!" And he turned on his heel.
The bidding for the poor old creature was summary. The man who had addressed Haley, and who seemed not destitute of compassion, bought her for a trifle, and the spectators began to disperse.
The poor victims of the sale, who had been brought up in one place together for years, gathered round the despairing old mother, whose agony was pitiful to see.
"Couldn't dey leave me one? Mas'r allers said I should have one, — he did," she repeated over and over, in heart-broken tones.
"Trust in the Lord, Aunt Hagar," said the oldest of the men, sorrowfully.
"What good will it do?" said she, sobbing passionately.
"Mother, mother, — don't! don't!" said the boy. "They say you 's got a good master."
"I don't care, — I don't care. O, Albert! oh, my boy! you 's my last baby. Lord, how ken I?"
"Come, take her off, can't some of ye?" said Haley, dryly; "don't do no good for her to go on that ar way."
The old men of the company, partly by persuasion and partly by force, loosed the poor creature's last despairing hold, and, as they led her off to her new master's wagon, strove to comfort her.
"Now!" said Haley, pushing his three purchases together, and producing a bundle of handcuffs, which he proceeded to put on their wrists; and fastening each handcuff to a long chain, he drove them before him to the jail.
A few days saw Haley, with his possessions, safely deposited on one of the Ohio boats. It was the commencement of his gang, to be augmented, as the boat moved on, by various other merchandise of the same kind, which he, or his agent, had stored for him in various points along shore.
The La Belle Riviere, as brave and beautiful a boat as ever walked the waters of her namesake river, was floating gayly down the stream, under a brilliant sky, the stripes and stars of free America waving and fluttering over head; the guards crowded with well-dressed ladies and gentlemen walking and enjoying the delightful day. All was full of life, buoyant and rejoicing; — all but Haley's gang, who were stored, with other freight, on the lower deck, and who, somehow, did not seem to appreciate their various privileges, as they sat in a knot, talking to each other in low tones.
"Boys," said Haley, coming up, briskly, "I hope you keep up good heart, and are cheerful. Now, no sulks, ye see; keep stiff upper lip, boys; do well by me, and I'll do well by you."
The boys addressed responded the invariable "Yes, Mas'r," for ages the watchword of poor Africa; but it's to be owned they did not look particularly cheerful; they had their various little prejudices in favor of wives, mothers, sisters, and children, seen for the last time, — and though "they that wasted them required of them mirth," it was not instantly forthcoming.
"I've got a wife," spoke out the article enumerated as "John, aged thirty," and he laid his chained hand on Tom's knee, — "and she don't know a word about this, poor girl!"
"Where does she live?" said Tom.
"In a tavern a piece down here," said John; "I wish, now, I could see her once more in this world," he added.
Poor John! It was rather natural; and the tears that fell, as he spoke, came as naturally as if he had been a white man. Tom drew a long breath from a sore heart, and tried, in his poor way, to comfort him.