And over head, in the cabin, sat fathers and mothers, husbands and wives; and merry, dancing children moved round among them, like so many little butterflies, and everything was going on quite easy and comfortable.
"O, mamma," said a boy, who had just come up from below, "there's a negro trader on board, and he's brought four or five slaves down there."
"Poor creatures!" said the mother, in a tone between grief and indignation.
"What's that?" said another lady.
"Some poor slaves below," said the mother.
"And they've got chains on," said the boy.
"What a shame to our country that such sights are to be seen!" said another lady.
"O, there's a great deal to be said on both sides of the subject," said a genteel woman, who sat at her state-room door sewing, while her little girl and boy were playing round her. "I've been south, and I must say I think the negroes are better off than they would be to be free."
"In some respects, some of them are well off, I grant," said the lady to whose remark she had answered. "The most dreadful part of slavery, to my mind, is its outrages on the feelings and affections, — the separating of families, for example."
"That is a bad thing, certainly," said the other lady, holding up a baby's dress she had just completed, and looking intently on its trimmings; "but then, I fancy, it don't occur often."
"O, it does," said the first lady, eagerly; "I've lived many years in Kentucky and Virginia both, and I've seen enough to make any one's heart sick. Suppose, ma'am, your two children, there, should be taken from you, and sold?"
"We can't reason from our feelings to those of this class of persons," said the other lady, sorting out some worsteds on her lap.
"Indeed, ma'am, you can know nothing of them, if you say so," answered the first lady, warmly. "I was born and brought up among them. I know they do feel, just as keenly, — even more so, perhaps, — as we do."
The lady said "Indeed!" yawned, and looked out the cabin window, and finally repeated, for a finale, the remark with which she had begun, — "After all, I think they are better off than they would be to be free."
"It's undoubtedly the intention of Providence that the African race should be servants, — kept in a low condition," said a grave-looking gentleman in black, a clergyman, seated by the cabin door. "'Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be,' the scripture says."
* * Gen. 9:25. This is what Noah says when he wakes out of drunkenness and realizes that his youngest son, Ham, father of Canaan, has seen him naked.
"I say, stranger, is that ar what that text means?" said a tall man, standing by.
"Undoubtedly. It pleased Providence, for some inscrutable reason, to doom the race to bondage, ages ago; and we must not set up our opinion against that."
"Well, then, we'll all go ahead and buy up niggers," said the man, "if that's the way of Providence, — won't we, Squire?" said he, turning to Haley, who had been standing, with his hands in his pockets, by the stove and intently listening to the conversation.
"Yes," continued the tall man, "we must all be resigned to the decrees of Providence. Niggers must be sold, and trucked round, and kept under; it's what they's made for. 'Pears like this yer view 's quite refreshing, an't it, stranger?" said he to Haley.
"I never thought on 't," said Haley, "I couldn't have said as much, myself; I ha'nt no larning. I took up the trade just to make a living; if 'tan't right, I calculated to 'pent on 't in time, ye know."
"And now you'll save yerself the trouble, won't ye?" said the tall man. "See what 't is, now, to know scripture. If ye'd only studied yer Bible, like this yer good man, ye might have know'd it before, and saved ye a heap o' trouble. Ye could jist have said, 'Cussed be' — what's his name? — 'and 't would all have come right.'" And the stranger, who was no other than the honest drover whom we introduced to our readers in the Kentucky tavern, sat down, and began smoking, with a curious smile on his long, dry face.
A tall, slender young man, with a face expressive of great feeling and intelligence, here broke in, and repeated the words, "'All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.' I suppose," he added, "that is scripture, as much as 'Cursed be Canaan.'"
"Wal, it seems quite as plain a text, stranger," said John the drover, "to poor fellows like us, now;" and John smoked on like a volcano.
The young man paused, looked as if he was going to say more, when suddenly the boat stopped, and the company made the usual steamboat rush, to see where they were landing.
"Both them ar chaps parsons?" said John to one of the men, as they were going out.
The man nodded.
As the boat stopped, a black woman came running wildly up the plank, darted into the crowd, flew up to where the slave gang sat, and threw her arms round that unfortunate piece of merchandise before enumerate — "John, aged thirty," and with sobs and tears bemoaned him as her husband.
But what needs tell the story, told too oft, — every day told, — of heart-strings rent and broken, — the weak broken and torn for the profit and convenience of the strong! It needs not to be told; — every day is telling it, — telling it, too, in the ear of One who is not deaf, though he be long silent.
The young man who had spoken for the cause of humanity and God before stood with folded arms, looking on this scene. He turned, and Haley was standing at his side. "My friend," he said, speaking with thick utterance, "how can you, how dare you, carry on a trade like this? Look at those poor creatures! Here I am, rejoicing in my heart that I am going home to my wife and child; and the same bell which is a signal to carry me onward towards them will part this poor man and his wife forever. Depend upon it, God will bring you into judgment for this."
The trader turned away in silence.
"I say, now," said the drover, touching his elbow, "there's differences in parsons, an't there? 'Cussed be Canaan' don't seem to go down with this 'un, does it?"