"What's that?" said one of the woman.
"A Bible," said Tom.
"Good Lord! han't seen un since I was in Kentuck."
"Was you raised in Kentuck?" said Tom, with interest.
"Yes, and well raised, too; never 'spected to come to dis yer!" said the woman, sighing.
"What's dat ar book, any way?" said the other woman.
"Why, the Bible."
"Laws a me! what's dat?" said the woman.
"Do tell! you never hearn on 't?" said the other woman. "I used to har Missis a readin' on 't, sometimes, in Kentuck; but, laws o' me! we don't har nothin' here but crackin' and swarin'."
"Read a piece, anyways!" said the first woman, curiously, seeing Tom attentively poring over it.
Tom read, — "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
"Them's good words, enough," said the woman; "who says 'em?"
"The Lord," said Tom.
"I jest wish I know'd whar to find Him," said the woman. "I would go; 'pears like I never should get rested again. My flesh is fairly sore, and I tremble all over, every day, and Sambo's allers a jawin' at me, 'cause I doesn't pick faster; and nights it's most midnight 'fore I can get my supper; and den 'pears like I don't turn over and shut my eyes, 'fore I hear de horn blow to get up, and at it agin in de mornin'. If I knew whar de Lor was, I'd tell him."
"He's here, he's everywhere," said Tom.
"Lor, you an't gwine to make me believe dat ar! I know de Lord an't here," said the woman; "'tan't no use talking, though. I's jest gwine to camp down, and sleep while I ken."
The women went off to their cabins, and Tom sat alone, by the smouldering fire, that flickered up redly in his face.
The silver, fair-browed moon rose in the purple sky, and looked down, calm and silent, as God looks on the scene of misery and oppression, — looked calmly on the lone black man, as he sat, with his arms folded, and his Bible on his knee.
"Is God HERE?" Ah, how is it possible for the untaught heart to keep its faith, unswerving, in the face of dire misrule, and palpable, unrebuked injustice? In that simple heart waged a fierce conflict; the crushing sense of wrong, the foreshadowing, of a whole life of future misery, the wreck of all past hopes, mournfully tossing in the soul's sight, like dead corpses of wife, and child, and friend, rising from the dark wave, and surging in the face of the half-drowned mariner! Ah, was it easy here to believe and hold fast the great password of Christian faith, that "God IS, and is the REWARDER of them that diligently seek Him"?
Tom rose, disconsolate, and stumbled into the cabin that had been allotted to him. The floor was already strewn with weary sleepers, and the foul air of the place almost repelled him; but the heavy night-dews were chill, and his limbs weary, and, wrapping about him a tattered blanket, which formed his only bed-clothing, he stretched himself in the straw and fell asleep.
In dreams, a gentle voice came over his ear; he was sitting on the mossy seat in the garden by Lake Pontchartrain, and Eva, with her serious eyes bent downward, was reading to him from the Bible; and he heard her read.
"When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and the rivers they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee; for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour."
Gradually the words seemed to melt and fade, as in a divine music; the child raised her deep eyes, and fixed them lovingly on him, and rays of warmth and comfort seemed to go from them to his heart; and, as if wafted on the music, she seemed to rise on shining wings, from which flakes and spangles of gold fell off like stars, and she was gone.
Tom woke. Was it a dream? Let it pass for one. But who shall say that that sweet young spirit, which in life so yearned to comfort and console the distressed, was forbidden of God to assume this ministry after death?
It is a beautiful belief, That ever round our head Are hovering, on angel wings, The spirits of the dead.