"I've had a h — l of a night!" he said to Cassy, who just then entered from an opposite door.
"You'll get plenty of the same sort, by and by," said she, dryly.
"What do you mean, you minx?"
"You'll find out, one of these days," returned Cassy, in the same tone. "Now Simon, I've one piece of advice to give you."
"The devil, you have!"
"My advice is," said Cassy, steadily, as she began adjusting some things about the room, "that you let Tom alone."
"What business is 't of yours?"
"What? To be sure, I don't know what it should be. If you want to pay twelve hundred for a fellow, and use him right up in the press of the season, just to serve your own spite, it's no business of mine, I've done what I could for him."
"You have? What business have you meddling in my matters?"
"None, to be sure. I've saved you some thousands of dollars, at different times, by taking care of your hands, — that's all the thanks I get. If your crop comes shorter into market than any of theirs, you won't lose your bet, I suppose? Tompkins won't lord it over you, I suppose, — and you'll pay down your money like a lady, won't you? I think I see you doing it!"
Legree, like many other planters, had but one form of ambition, — to have in the heaviest crop of the season, — and he had several bets on this very present season pending in the next town. Cassy, therefore, with woman's tact, touched the only string that could be made to vibrate.
"Well, I'll let him off at what he's got," said Legree; "but he shall beg my pardon, and promise better fashions."
"That he won't do," said Cassy.
"Won't, — eh?"
"No, he won't," said Cassy.
"I'd like to know why, Mistress," said Legree, in the extreme of scorn.
"Because he's done right, and he knows it, and won't say he's done wrong."
"Who a cuss cares what he knows? The nigger shall say what I please, or — "
"Or, you'll lose your bet on the cotton crop, by keeping him out of the field, just at this very press."
"But he will give up, — course, he will; don't I know what niggers is? He'll beg like a dog, this morning."
"He won't, Simon; you don't know this kind. You may kill him by inches, — you won't get the first word of confession out of him."
"We'll see, — where is he?" said Legree, going out.
"In the waste-room of the gin-house," said Cassy.
Legree, though he talked so stoutly to Cassy, still sallied forth from the house with a degree of misgiving which was not common with him. His dreams of the past night, mingled with Cassy's prudential suggestions, considerably affected his mind. He resolved that nobody should be witness of his encounter with Tom; and determined, if he could not subdue him by bullying, to defer his vengeance, to be wreaked in a more convenient season.
The solemn light of dawn — the angelic glory of the morning-star — had looked in through the rude window of the shed where Tom was lying; and, as if descending on that star-beam, came the solemn words, "I am the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star." The mysterious warnings and intimations of Cassy, so far from discouraging his soul, in the end had roused it as with a heavenly call. He did not know but that the day of his death was dawning in the sky; and his heart throbbed with solemn throes of joy and desire, as he thought that the wondrous all, of which he had often pondered, — the great white throne, with its ever radiant rainbow; the white-robed multitude, with voices as many waters; the crowns, the palms, the harps, — might all break upon his vision before that sun should set again. And, therefore, without shuddering or trembling, he heard the voice of his persecutor, as he drew near.
"Well, my boy," said Legree, with a contemptuous kick, "how do you find yourself? Didn't I tell yer I could larn yer a thing or two? How do yer like it — eh? How did yer whaling agree with yer, Tom? An't quite so crank as ye was last night. Ye couldn't treat a poor sinner, now, to a bit of sermon, could ye, — eh?"
Tom answered nothing.
"Get up, you beast!" said Legree, kicking him again.
This was a difficult matter for one so bruised and faint; and, as Tom made efforts to do so, Legree laughed brutally.
"What makes ye so spry, this morning, Tom? Cotched cold, may be, last night."
Tom by this time had gained his feet, and was confronting his master with a steady, unmoved front.
"The devil, you can!" said Legree, looking him over. "I believe you haven't got enough yet. Now, Tom, get right down on yer knees and beg my pardon, for yer shines last night."
Tom did not move.
"Down, you dog!" said Legree, striking him with his riding-whip.
"Mas'r Legree," said Tom, "I can't do it. I did only what I thought was right. I shall do just so again, if ever the time comes. I never will do a cruel thing, come what may."
"Yes, but ye don't know what may come, Master Tom. Ye think what you've got is something. I tell you 'tan't anything, — nothing 't all. How would ye like to be tied to a tree, and have a slow fire lit up around ye; — wouldn't that be pleasant, — eh, Tom?"
"Mas'r," said Tom, "I know ye can do dreadful things; but," — he stretched himself upward and clasped his hands, — "but, after ye've killed the body, there an't no more ye can do. And O, there's all ETERNITY to come, after that!"
ETERNITY, — the word thrilled through the black man's soul with light and power, as he spoke; it thrilled through the sinner's soul, too, like the bite of a scorpion. Legree gnashed on him with his teeth, but rage kept him silent; and Tom, like a man disenthralled, spoke, in a clear and cheerful voice,
"Mas'r Legree, as ye bought me, I'll be a true and faithful servant to ye. I'll give ye all the work of my hands, all my time, all my strength; but my soul I won't give up to mortal man. I will hold on to the Lord, and put his commands before all, — die or live; you may be sure on 't. Mas'r Legree, I ain't a grain afeard to die. I'd as soon die as not. Ye may whip me, starve me, burn me, — it'll only send me sooner where I want to go."
"I'll make ye give out, though, 'fore I've done!" said Legree, in a rage.