"And slight, withal, may be the things that bring Back on the heart the weight which it would fling Aside forever; it may be a sound, A flower, the wind, the ocean, which shall wound, — Striking the electric chain wherewith we're darkly bound." CHILDE HAROLD'S PILGRIMAGE, CAN. 4.
The sitting-room of Legree's establishment was a large, long room, with a wide, ample fireplace. It had once been hung with a showy and expensive paper, which now hung mouldering, torn and discolored, from the damp walls. The place had that peculiar sickening, unwholesome smell, compounded of mingled damp, dirt and decay, which one often notices in close old houses. The wall-paper was defaced, in spots, by slops of beer and wine; or garnished with chalk memorandums, and long sums footed up, as if somebody had been practising arithmetic there. In the fireplace stood a brazier full of burning charcoal; for, though the weather was not cold, the evenings always seemed damp and chilly in that great room; and Legree, moreover, wanted a place to light his cigars, and heat his water for punch. The ruddy glare of the charcoal displayed the confused and unpromising aspect of the room, — saddles, bridles, several sorts of harness, riding-whips, overcoats, and various articles of clothing, scattered up and down the room in confused variety; and the dogs, of whom we have before spoken, had encamped themselves among them, to suit their own taste and convenience.
Legree was just mixing himself a tumbler of punch, pouring his hot water from a cracked and broken-nosed pitcher, grumbling, as he did so,
"Plague on that Sambo, to kick up this yer row between me and the new hands! The fellow won't be fit to work for a week, now, — right in the press of the season!"
"Yes, just like you," said a voice, behind his chair. It was the woman Cassy, who had stolen upon his soliloquy.
"Hah! you she-devil! you've come back, have you?"
"Yes, I have," she said, coolly; "come to have my own way, too!"
"You lie, you jade! I'll be up to my word. Either behave yourself, or stay down to the quarters, and fare and work with the rest."
"I'd rather, ten thousand times," said the woman, "live in the dirtiest hole at the quarters, than be under your hoof!"
"But you are under my hoof, for all that," said he, turning upon her, with a savage grin; "that's one comfort. So, sit down here on my knee, my dear, and hear to reason," said he, laying hold on her wrist.
"Simon Legree, take care!" said the woman, with a sharp flash of her eye, a glance so wild and insane in its light as to be almost appalling. "You're afraid of me, Simon," she said, deliberately; "and you've reason to be! But be careful, for I've got the devil in me!"
The last words she whispered in a hissing tone, close to his ear.
"Get out! I believe, to my soul, you have!" said Legree, pushing her from him, and looking uncomfortably at her. "After all, Cassy," he said, "why can't you be friends with me, as you used to?"
"Used to!" said she, bitterly. She stopped short, — a word of choking feelings, rising in her heart, kept her silent.
Cassy had always kept over Legree the kind of influence that a strong, impassioned woman can ever keep over the most brutal man; but, of late, she had grown more and more irritable and restless, under the hideous yoke of her servitude, and her irritability, at times, broke out into raving insanity; and this liability made her a sort of object of dread to Legree, who had that superstitious horror of insane persons which is common to coarse and uninstructed minds. When Legree brought Emmeline to the house, all the smouldering embers of womanly feeling flashed up in the worn heart of Cassy, and she took part with the girl; and a fierce quarrel ensued between her and Legree. Legree, in a fury, swore she should be put to field service, if she would not be peaceable. Cassy, with proud scorn, declared she would go to the field. And she worked there one day, as we have described, to show how perfectly she scorned the threat.
Legree was secretly uneasy, all day; for Cassy had an influence over him from which he could not free himself. When she presented her basket at the scales, he had hoped for some concession, and addressed her in a sort of half conciliatory, half scornful tone; and she had answered with the bitterest contempt.
The outrageous treatment of poor Tom had roused her still more; and she had followed Legree to the house, with no particular intention, but to upbraid him for his brutality.
"I wish, Cassy," said Legree, "you'd behave yourself decently."
"You talk about behaving decently! And what have you been doing? — you, who haven't even sense enough to keep from spoiling one of your best hands, right in the most pressing season, just for your devilish temper!"
"I was a fool, it's a fact, to let any such brangle come up," said Legree; "but, when the boy set up his will, he had to be broke in."
"I reckon you won't break him in!"
"Won't I?" said Legree, rising, passionately. "I'd like to know if I won't? He'll be the first nigger that ever came it round me! I'll break every bone in his body, but he shall give up!"
Just then the door opened, and Sambo entered. He came forward, bowing, and holding out something in a paper.
"What's that, you dog?" said Legree.
"It's a witch thing, Mas'r!"
"Something that niggers gets from witches. Keeps 'em from feelin' when they 's flogged. He had it tied round his neck, with a black string."
Legree, like most godless and cruel men, was superstitious. He took the paper, and opened it uneasily.
There dropped out of it a silver dollar, and a long, shining curl of fair hair, — hair which, like a living thing, twined itself round Legree's fingers.
"Damnation!" he screamed, in sudden passion, stamping on the floor, and pulling furiously at the hair, as if it burned him. "Where did this come from? Take it off! — burn it up! — burn it up!" he screamed, tearing it off, and throwing it into the charcoal. "What did you bring it to me for?"
Sambo stood, with his heavy mouth wide open, and aghast with wonder; and Cassy, who was preparing to leave the apartment, stopped, and looked at him in perfect amazement.