"Don't call me poor fellow!" said Tom, solemnly, "I have been poor fellow; but that's all past and gone, now. I'm right in the door, going into glory! O, Mas'r George! Heaven has come! I've got the victory! — the Lord Jesus has given it to me! Glory be to His name!"
George was awe-struck at the force, the vehemence, the power, with which these broken sentences were uttered. He sat gazing in silence.
Tom grasped his hand, and continued, — "Ye mustn't, now, tell Chloe, poor soul! how ye found me; — 't would be so drefful to her. Only tell her ye found me going into glory; and that I couldn't stay for no one. And tell her the Lord's stood by me everywhere and al'ays, and made everything light and easy. And oh, the poor chil'en, and the baby; — my old heart's been most broke for 'em, time and agin! Tell 'em all to follow me — follow me! Give my love to Mas'r, and dear good Missis, and everybody in the place! Ye don't know! 'Pears like I loves 'em all! I loves every creature everywhar! — it's nothing but love! O, Mas'r George! what a thing 't is to be a Christian!"
At this moment, Legree sauntered up to the door of the shed, looked in, with a dogged air of affected carelessness, and turned away.
"The old satan!" said George, in his indignation. "It's a comfort to think the devil will pay him for this, some of these days!"
"O, don't! — oh, ye mustn't!" said Tom, grasping his hand; "he's a poor mis'able critter! it's awful to think on 't! Oh, if he only could repent, the Lord would forgive him now; but I'm 'feared he never will!"
"I hope he won't!" said George; "I never want to see him in heaven!"
"Hush, Mas'r George! — it worries me! Don't feel so! He an't done me no real harm, — only opened the gate of the kingdom for me; that's all!"
At this moment, the sudden flush of strength which the joy of meeting his young master had infused into the dying man gave way. A sudden sinking fell upon him; he closed his eyes; and that mysterious and sublime change passed over his face, that told the approach of other worlds.
He began to draw his breath with long, deep inspirations; and his broad chest rose and fell, heavily. The expression of his face was that of a conqueror.
"Who, — who, — who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" he said, in a voice that contended with mortal weakness; and, with a smile, he fell asleep.
George sat fixed with solemn awe. It seemed to him that the place was holy; and, as he closed the lifeless eyes, and rose up from the dead, only one thought possessed him, — that expressed by his simple old friend, — "What a thing it is to be a Christian!"
He turned: Legree was standing, sullenly, behind him.
Something in that dying scene had checked the natural fierceness of youthful passion. The presence of the man was simply loathsome to George; and he felt only an impulse to get away from him, with as few words as possible.
Fixing his keen dark eyes on Legree, he simply said, pointing to the dead, "You have got all you ever can of him. What shall I pay you for the body? I will take it away, and bury it decently."
"I don't sell dead niggers," said Legree, doggedly. "You are welcome to bury him where and when you like."
"Boys," said George, in an authoritative tone, to two or three negroes, who were looking at the body, "help me lift him up, and carry him to my wagon; and get me a spade."
One of them ran for a spade; the other two assisted George to carry the body to the wagon.
George neither spoke to nor looked at Legree, who did not countermand his orders, but stood, whistling, with an air of forced unconcern. He sulkily followed them to where the wagon stood at the door.
George spread his cloak in the wagon, and had the body carefully disposed of in it, — moving the seat, so as to give it room. Then he turned, fixed his eyes on Legree, and said, with forced composure,
"I have not, as yet, said to you what I think of this most atrocious affair; — this is not the time and place. But, sir, this innocent blood shall have justice. I will proclaim this murder. I will go to the very first magistrate, and expose you."
"Do!" said Legree, snapping his fingers, scornfully. "I'd like to see you doing it. Where you going to get witnesses? — how you going to prove it? — Come, now!"
George saw, at once, the force of this defiance. There was not a white person on the place; and, in all southern courts, the testimony of colored blood is nothing. He felt, at that moment, as if he could have rent the heavens with his heart's indignant cry for justice; but in vain.
"After all, what a fuss, for a dead nigger!" said Legree.
The word was as a spark to a powder magazine. Prudence was never a cardinal virtue of the Kentucky boy. George turned, and, with one indignant blow, knocked Legree flat upon his face; and, as he stood over him, blazing with wrath and defiance, he would have formed no bad personification of his great namesake triumphing over the dragon.
Some men, however, are decidedly bettered by being knocked down. If a man lays them fairly flat in the dust, they seem immediately to conceive a respect for him; and Legree was one of this sort. As he rose, therefore, and brushed the dust from his clothes, he eyed the slowly-retreating wagon with some evident consideration; nor did he open his mouth till it was out of sight.
Beyond the boundaries of the plantation, George had noticed a dry, sandy knoll, shaded by a few trees; there they made the grave.
"Shall we take off the cloak, Mas'r?" said the negroes, when the grave was ready.
"No, no, — bury it with him! It's all I can give you, now, poor Tom, and you shall have it."
They laid him in; and the men shovelled away, silently. They banked it up, and laid green turf over it.
"You may go, boys," said George, slipping a quarter into the hand of each. They lingered about, however.
"If young Mas'r would please buy us — " said one.
"We'd serve him so faithful!" said the other.
"Hard times here, Mas'r!" said the first. "Do, Mas'r, buy us, please!"
"I can't! — I can't!" said George, with difficulty, motioning them off; "it's impossible!"
The poor fellows looked dejected, and walked off in silence.
"Witness, eternal God!" said George, kneeling on the grave of his poor friend; "oh, witness, that, from this hour, I will do what one man can to drive out this curse of slavery from my land!"
There is no monument to mark the last resting-place of our friend. He needs none! His Lord knows where he lies, and will raise him up, immortal, to appear with him when he shall appear in his glory.
Pity him not! Such a life and death is not for pity! Not in the riches of omnipotence is the chief glory of God; but in self-denying, suffering love! And blessed are the men whom he calls to fellowship with him, bearing their cross after him with patience. Of such it is written, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted."