"The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations Of cruelty."
* * Ps. 74:20.
Trailing wearily behind a rude wagon, and over a ruder road, Tom and his associates faced onward.
In the wagon was seated Simon Legree and the two women, still fettered together, were stowed away with some baggage in the back part of it, and the whole company were seeking Legree's plantation, which lay a good distance off.
It was a wild, forsaken road, now winding through dreary pine barrens, where the wind whispered mournfully, and now over log causeways, through long cypress swamps, the doleful trees rising out of the slimy, spongy ground, hung with long wreaths of funeral black moss, while ever and anon the loathsome form of the mocassin snake might be seen sliding among broken stumps and shattered branches that lay here and there, rotting in the water.
It is disconsolate enough, this riding, to the stranger, who, with well-filled pocket and well-appointed horse, threads the lonely way on some errand of business; but wilder, drearier, to the man enthralled, whom every weary step bears further from all that man loves and prays for.
So one should have thought, that witnessed the sunken and dejected expression on those dark faces; the wistful, patient weariness with which those sad eyes rested on object after object that passed them in their sad journey.
Simon rode on, however, apparently well pleased, occasionally pulling away at a flask of spirit, which he kept in his pocket.
"I say, you!" he said, as he turned back and caught a glance at the dispirited faces behind him. "Strike up a song, boys, — come!"
The men looked at each other, and the "come" was repeated, with a smart crack of the whip which the driver carried in his hands. Tom began a Methodist hymn.
"Jerusalem, my happy home, Name ever dear to me! When shall my sorrows have an end, Thy joys when shall — "
* * "Jerusalem, my happy home," anonymous hymn dating from the latter part of the sixteenth century, sung to the tune of "St. Stephen." Words derive from St. Augustine's Meditations.
"Shut up, you black cuss!" roared Legree; "did ye think I wanted any o' yer infernal old Methodism? I say, tune up, now, something real rowdy, — quick!"
One of the other men struck up one of those unmeaning songs, common among the slaves.
"Mas'r see'd me cotch a coon, High boys, high! He laughed to split, — d'ye see the moon, Ho! ho! ho! boys, ho! Ho! yo! hi — e! oh!"
The singer appeared to make up the song to his own pleasure, generally hitting on rhyme, without much attempt at reason; and the party took up the chorus, at intervals,
"Ho! ho! ho! boys, ho! High — e — oh! high — e — oh!"
It was sung very boisterouly, and with a forced attempt at merriment; but no wail of despair, no words of impassioned prayer, could have had such a depth of woe in them as the wild notes of the chorus. As if the poor, dumb heart, threatened, — prisoned, — took refuge in that inarticulate sanctuary of music, and found there a language in which to breathe its prayer to God! There was a prayer in it, which Simon could not hear. He only heard the boys singing noisily, and was well pleased; he was making them "keep up their spirits."
"Well, my little dear," said he, turning to Emmeline, and laying his hand on her shoulder, "we're almost home!"
When Legree scolded and stormed, Emmeline was terrified; but when he laid his hand on her, and spoke as he now did, she felt as if she had rather he would strike her. The expression of his eyes made her soul sick, and her flesh creep. Involuntarily she clung closer to the mulatto woman by her side, as if she were her mother.
"You didn't ever wear ear-rings," he said, taking hold of her small ear with his coarse fingers.
"No, Mas'r!" said Emmeline, trembling and looking down.
"Well, I'll give you a pair, when we get home, if you're a good girl. You needn't be so frightened; I don't mean to make you work very hard. You'll have fine times with me, and live like a lady, — only be a good girl."
Legree had been drinking to that degree that he was inclining to be very gracious; and it was about this time that the enclosures of the plantation rose to view. The estate had formerly belonged to a gentleman of opulence and taste, who had bestowed some considerable attention to the adornment of his grounds. Having died insolvent, it had been purchased, at a bargain, by Legree, who used it, as he did everything else, merely as an implement for money-making. The place had that ragged, forlorn appearance, which is always produced by the evidence that the care of the former owner has been left to go to utter decay.
What was once a smooth-shaven lawn before the house, dotted here and there with ornamental shrubs, was now covered with frowsy tangled grass, with horseposts set up, here and there, in it, where the turf was stamped away, and the ground littered with broken pails, cobs of corn, and other slovenly remains. Here and there, a mildewed jessamine or honeysuckle hung raggedly from some ornamental support, which had been pushed to one side by being used as a horse-post. What once was a large garden was now all grown over with weeds, through which, here and there, some solitary exotic reared its forsaken head. What had been a conservatory had now no window-shades, and on the mouldering shelves stood some dry, forsaken flower-pots, with sticks in them, whose dried leaves showed they had once been plants.
The wagon rolled up a weedy gravel walk, under a noble avenue of China trees, whose graceful forms and ever-springing foliage seemed to be the only things there that neglect could not daunt or alter, — like noble spirits, so deeply rooted in goodness, as to flourish and grow stronger amid discouragement and decay.
The house had been large and handsome. It was built in a manner common at the South; a wide verandah of two stories running round every part of the house, into which every outer door opened, the lower tier being supported by brick pillars.
But the place looked desolate and uncomfortable; some windows stopped up with boards, some with shattered panes, and shutters hanging by a single hinge, — all telling of coarse neglect and discomfort.
Bits of board, straw, old decayed barrels and boxes, garnished the ground in all directions; and three or four ferocious-looking dogs, roused by the sound of the wagon-wheels, came tearing out, and were with difficulty restrained from laying hold of Tom and his companions, by the effort of the ragged servants who came after them.