Eliza stood, for a moment, contemplating this unfavorable aspect of things, which she saw at once must prevent the usual ferry-boat from running, and then turned into a small public house on the bank, to make a few inquiries.
The hostess, who was busy in various fizzing and stewing operations over the fire, preparatory to the evening meal, stopped, with a fork in her hand, as Eliza's sweet and plaintive voice arrested her.
"What is it?" she said.
"Isn't there any ferry or boat, that takes people over to B —— , now?" she said.
"No, indeed!" said the woman; "the boats has stopped running."
Eliza's look of dismay and disappointment struck the woman, and she said, inquiringly,
"May be you're wanting to get over? — anybody sick? Ye seem mighty anxious?"
"I've got a child that's very dangerous," said Eliza. "I never heard of it till last night, and I've walked quite a piece today, in hopes to get to the ferry."
"Well, now, that's onlucky," said the woman, whose motherly sympathies were much aroused; "I'm re'lly consarned for ye. Solomon!" she called, from the window, towards a small back building. A man, in leather apron and very dirty hands, appeared at the door.
"I say, Sol," said the woman, "is that ar man going to tote them bar'ls over tonight?"
"He said he should try, if 't was any way prudent," said the man.
"There's a man a piece down here, that's going over with some truck this evening, if he durs' to; he'll be in here to supper tonight, so you'd better set down and wait. That's a sweet little fellow," added the woman, offering him a cake.
But the child, wholly exhausted, cried with weariness.
"Poor fellow! he isn't used to walking, and I've hurried him on so," said Eliza.
"Well, take him into this room," said the woman, opening into a small bed-room, where stood a comfortable bed. Eliza laid the weary boy upon it, and held his hands in hers till he was fast asleep. For her there was no rest. As a fire in her bones, the thought of the pursuer urged her on; and she gazed with longing eyes on the sullen, surging waters that lay between her and liberty.
Here we must take our leave of her for the present, to follow the course of her pursuers.
Though Mrs. Shelby had promised that the dinner should be hurried on table, yet it was soon seen, as the thing has often been seen before, that it required more than one to make a bargain. So, although the order was fairly given out in Haley's hearing, and carried to Aunt Chloe by at least half a dozen juvenile messengers, that dignitary only gave certain very gruff snorts, and tosses of her head, and went on with every operation in an unusually leisurely and circumstantial manner.
For some singular reason, an impression seemed to reign among the servants generally that Missis would not be particularly disobliged by delay; and it was wonderful what a number of counter accidents occurred constantly, to retard the course of things. One luckless wight contrived to upset the gravy; and then gravy had to be got up de novo, with due care and formality, Aunt Chloe watching and stirring with dogged precision, answering shortly, to all suggestions of haste, that she "warn't a going to have raw gravy on the table, to help nobody's catchings." One tumbled down with the water, and had to go to the spring for more; and another precipitated the butter into the path of events; and there was from time to time giggling news brought into the kitchen that "Mas'r Haley was mighty oneasy, and that he couldn't sit in his cheer no ways, but was a walkin' and stalkin' to the winders and through the porch."
"Sarves him right!" said Aunt Chloe, indignantly. "He'll get wus nor oneasy, one of these days, if he don't mend his ways. His master'll be sending for him, and then see how he'll look!"
"He'll go to torment, and no mistake," said little Jake.
"He desarves it!" said Aunt Chloe, grimly; "he's broke a many, many, many hearts, — I tell ye all!" she said, stopping, with a fork uplifted in her hands; "it's like what Mas'r George reads in Ravelations, — souls a callin' under the altar! and a callin' on the Lord for vengeance on sich! — and by and by the Lord he'll hear 'em — so he will!"
Aunt Chloe, who was much revered in the kitchen, was listened to with open mouth; and, the dinner being now fairly sent in, the whole kitchen was at leisure to gossip with her, and to listen to her remarks.
"Sich'll be burnt up forever, and no mistake; won't ther?" said Andy.
"I'd be glad to see it, I'll be boun'," said little Jake.
"Chil'en!" said a voice, that made them all start. It was Uncle Tom, who had come in, and stood listening to the conversation at the door.
"Chil'en!" he said, "I'm afeard you don't know what ye're sayin'. Forever is a dre'ful word, chil'en; it's awful to think on 't. You oughtenter wish that ar to any human crittur."
"We wouldn't to anybody but the soul-drivers," said Andy; "nobody can help wishing it to them, they 's so awful wicked."
"Don't natur herself kinder cry out on 'em?" said Aunt Chloe. "Don't dey tear der suckin' baby right off his mother's breast, and sell him, and der little children as is crying and holding on by her clothes, — don't dey pull 'em off and sells 'em? Don't dey tear wife and husband apart?" said Aunt Chloe, beginning to cry, "when it's jest takin' the very life on 'em? — and all the while does they feel one bit, don't dey drink and smoke, and take it oncommon easy? Lor, if the devil don't get them, what's he good for?" And Aunt Chloe covered her face with her checked apron, and began to sob in good earnest.
"Pray for them that 'spitefully use you, the good book says," says Tom.
"Pray for 'em!" said Aunt Chloe; "Lor, it's too tough! I can't pray for 'em."
"It's natur, Chloe, and natur 's strong," said Tom, "but the Lord's grace is stronger; besides, you oughter think what an awful state a poor crittur's soul 's in that'll do them ar things, — you oughter thank God that you an't like him, Chloe. I'm sure I'd rather be sold, ten thousand times over, than to have all that ar poor crittur's got to answer for."
"So 'd I, a heap," said Jake. "Lor, shouldn't we cotch it, Andy?"
Andy shrugged his shoulders, and gave an acquiescent whistle.
"I'm glad Mas'r didn't go off this morning, as he looked to," said Tom; "that ar hurt me more than sellin', it did. Mebbe it might have been natural for him, but 't would have come desp't hard on me, as has known him from a baby; but I've seen Mas'r, and I begin ter feel sort o' reconciled to the Lord's will now. Mas'r couldn't help hisself; he did right, but I'm feared things will be kinder goin' to rack, when I'm gone Mas'r can't be spected to be a pryin' round everywhar, as I've done, a keepin' up all the ends. The boys all means well, but they 's powerful car'less. That ar troubles me."
The bell here rang, and Tom was summoned to the parlor.
"Tom," said his master, kindly, "I want you to notice that I give this gentleman bonds to forfeit a thousand dollars if you are not on the spot when he wants you; he's going today to look after his other business, and you can have the day to yourself. Go anywhere you like, boy."
"Thank you, Mas'r," said Tom.
"And mind yourself," said the trader, "and don't come it over your master with any o' yer nigger tricks; for I'll take every cent out of him, if you an't thar. If he'd hear to me, he wouldn't trust any on ye — slippery as eels!"