It was but a moment. There was one hesitating pause, — one irresolute, relenting thrill, — and the spirit of evil came back, with seven-fold vehemence; and Legree, foaming with rage, smote his victim to the ground.
Scenes of blood and cruelty are shocking to our ear and heart. What man has nerve to do, man has not nerve to hear. What brother-man and brother-Christian must suffer, cannot be told us, even in our secret chamber, it so harrows the soul! And yet, oh my country! these things are done under the shadow of thy laws! O, Christ! thy church sees them, almost in silence!
But, of old, there was One whose suffering changed an instrument of torture, degradation and shame, into a symbol of glory, honor, and immortal life; and, where His spirit is, neither degrading stripes, nor blood, nor insults, can make the Christian's last struggle less than glorious.
Was he alone, that long night, whose brave, loving spirit was bearing up, in that old shed, against buffeting and brutal stripes?
Nay! There stood by him ONE, — seen by him alone, — "like unto the Son of God."
The tempter stood by him, too, — blinded by furious, despotic will, — every moment pressing him to shun that agony by the betrayal of the innocent. But the brave, true heart was firm on the Eternal Rock. Like his Master, he knew that, if he saved others, himself he could not save; nor could utmost extremity wring from him words, save of prayers and holy trust.
"He's most gone, Mas'r," said Sambo, touched, in spite of himself, by the patience of his victim.
"Pay away, till he gives up! Give it to him! — give it to him!" shouted Legree. "I'll take every drop of blood he has, unless he confesses!"
Tom opened his eyes, and looked upon his master. "Ye poor miserable critter!" he said, "there ain't no more ye can do! I forgive ye, with all my soul!" and he fainted entirely away.
"I b'lieve, my soul, he's done for, finally," said Legree, stepping forward, to look at him. "Yes, he is! Well, his mouth's shut up, at last, — that's one comfort!"
Yes, Legree; but who shall shut up that voice in thy soul? that soul, past repentance, past prayer, past hope, in whom the fire that never shall be quenched is already burning!
Yet Tom was not quite gone. His wondrous words and pious prayers had struck upon the hearts of the imbruted blacks, who had been the instruments of cruelty upon him; and, the instant Legree withdrew, they took him down, and, in their ignorance, sought to call him back to life, — as if that were any favor to him.
"Sartin, we 's been doin' a drefful wicked thing!" said Sambo; "hopes Mas'r'll have to 'count for it, and not we."
They washed his wounds, — they provided a rude bed, of some refuse cotton, for him to lie down on; and one of them, stealing up to the house, begged a drink of brandy of Legree, pretending that he was tired, and wanted it for himself. He brought it back, and poured it down Tom's throat.
"O, Tom!" said Quimbo, "we's been awful wicked to ye!"
"I forgive ye, with all my heart!" said Tom, faintly.
"O, Tom! do tell us who is Jesus, anyhow?" said Sambo; — "Jesus, that's been a standin' by you so, all this night! — Who is he?"
The word roused the failing, fainting spirit. He poured forth a few energetic sentences of that wondrous One, — his life, his death, his everlasting presence, and power to save.
They wept, — both the two savage men.
"Why didn't I never hear this before?" said Sambo; "but I do believe! — I can't help it! Lord Jesus, have mercy on us!"
"Poor critters!" said Tom, "I'd be willing to bar' all I have, if it'll only bring ye to Christ! O, Lord! give me these two more souls, I pray!"
That prayer was answered!