"How do you find yourself, today?" said Miss Ophelia.
A deep sigh, and a closing of the eyes, was the only reply, for a moment; and then Marie answered, "O, I don't know, Cousin; I suppose I'm as well as I ever shall be!" and Marie wiped her eyes with a cambric handkerchief, bordered with an inch deep of black.
"I came," said Miss Ophelia, with a short, dry cough, such as commonly introduces a difficult subject, — "I came to speak with you about poor Rosa."
Marie's eyes were open wide enough now, and a flush rose to her sallow cheeks, as she answered, sharply,
"Well, what about her?"
"She is very sorry for her fault."
"She is, is she? She'll be sorrier, before I've done with her! I've endured that child's impudence long enough; and now I'll bring her down, — I'll make her lie in the dust!"
"But could not you punish her some other way, — some way that would be less shameful?"
"I mean to shame her; that's just what I want. She has all her life presumed on her delicacy, and her good looks, and her lady-like airs, till she forgets who she is; — and I'll give her one lesson that will bring her down, I fancy!"
"But, Cousin, consider that, if you destroy delicacy and a sense of shame in a young girl, you deprave her very fast."
"Delicacy!" said Marie, with a scornful laugh, — "a fine word for such as she! I'll teach her, with all her airs, that she's no better than the raggedest black wench that walks the streets! She'll take no more airs with me!"
"You will answer to God for such cruelty!" said Miss Ophelia, with energy.
"Cruelty, — I'd like to know what the cruelty is! I wrote orders for only fifteen lashes, and told him to put them on lightly. I'm sure there's no cruelty there!"
"No cruelty!" said Miss Ophelia. "I'm sure any girl might rather be killed outright!"
"It might seem so to anybody with your feeling; but all these creatures get used to it; it's the only way they can be kept in order. Once let them feel that they are to take any airs about delicacy, and all that, and they'll run all over you, just as my servants always have. I've begun now to bring them under; and I'll have them all to know that I'll send one out to be whipped, as soon as another, if they don't mind themselves!" said Marie, looking around her decidedly.
Jane hung her head and cowered at this, for she felt as if it was particularly directed to her. Miss Ophelia sat for a moment, as if she had swallowed some explosive mixture, and were ready to burst. Then, recollecting the utter uselessness of contention with such a nature, she shut her lips resolutely, gathered herself up, and walked out of the room.
It was hard to go back and tell Rosa that she could do nothing for her; and, shortly after, one of the man-servants came to say that her mistress had ordered him to take Rosa with him to the whipping-house, whither she was hurried, in spite of her tears and entreaties.
A few days after, Tom was standing musing by the balconies, when he was joined by Adolph, who, since the death of his master, had been entirely crest-fallen and disconsolate. Adolph knew that he had always been an object of dislike to Marie; but while his master lived he had paid but little attention to it. Now that he was gone, he had moved about in daily dread and trembling, not knowing what might befall him next. Marie had held several consultations with her lawyer; after communicating with St. Clare's brother, it was determined to sell the place, and all the servants, except her own personal property, and these she intended to take with her, and go back to her father's plantation.
"Do ye know, Tom, that we've all got to be sold?" said Adolph, and go back to her father's plantation.
"How did you hear that?" said Tom.
"I hid myself behind the curtains when Missis was talking with the lawyer. In a few days we shall be sent off to auction, Tom."
"The Lord's will be done!" said Tom, folding his arms and sighing heavily.
"We'll never get another such a master," said Adolph, apprehensively; "but I'd rather be sold than take my chance under Missis."
Tom turned away; his heart was full. The hope of liberty, the thought of distant wife and children, rose up before his patient soul, as to the mariner shipwrecked almost in port rises the vision of the church-spire and loving roofs of his native village, seen over the top of some black wave only for one last farewell. He drew his arms tightly over his bosom, and choked back the bitter tears, and tried to pray. The poor old soul had such a singular, unaccountable prejudice in favor of liberty, that it was a hard wrench for him; and the more he said, "Thy will be done," the worse he felt.
He sought Miss Ophelia, who, ever since Eva's death, had treated him with marked and respectful kindness.
"Miss Feely," he said, "Mas'r St. Clare promised me my freedom. He told me that he had begun to take it out for me; and now, perhaps, if Miss Feely would be good enough to speak bout it to Missis, she would feel like goin' on with it, was it as Mas'r St. Clare's wish."
"I'll speak for you, Tom, and do my best," said Miss Ophelia; "but, if it depends on Mrs. St. Clare, I can't hope much for you; — nevertheless, I will try."
This incident occurred a few days after that of Rosa, while Miss Ophelia was busied in preparations to return north.
Seriously reflecting within herself, she considered that perhaps she had shown too hasty a warmth of language in her former interview with Marie; and she resolved that she would now endeavor to moderate her zeal, and to be as conciliatory as possible. So the good soul gathered herself up, and, taking her knitting, resolved to go into Marie's room, be as agreeable as possible, and negotiate Tom's case with all the diplomatic skill of which she was mistress.
She found Marie reclining at length upon a lounge, supporting herself on one elbow by pillows, while Jane, who had been out shopping, was displaying before her certain samples of thin black stuffs.
"That will do," said Marie, selecting one; "only I'm not sure about its being properly mourning."
"Laws, Missis," said Jane, volubly, "Mrs. General Derbennon wore just this very thing, after the General died, last summer; it makes up lovely!"
"What do you think?" said Marie to Miss Ophelia.
"It's a matter of custom, I suppose," said Miss Ophelia. "You can judge about it better than I."
"The fact is," said Marie, "that I haven't a dress in the world that I can wear; and, as I am going to break up the establishment, and go off, next week, I must decide upon something."
"Are you going so soon?"
"Yes. St. Clare's brother has written, and he and the lawyer think that the servants and furniture had better be put up at auction, and the place left with our lawyer."