TOBY'S PATIENT HAS A CALLER.
Mr. Bythewood had now taken his departure; Salina had been intrusted with the secret; and Penn had been put to bed (as the rover correctly surmised) in the corner bedchamber.
He had been diligently plucked; as much of the tar had been removed as could be easily taken off by methods known to Stackridge and Toby, and his wounds had been dressed. And there he lay, at last, in the soothing linen, exhausted and suffering, yet somehow happy, thinking with gratitude of the friends God had given him in his sore need.
"Bress your heart, dear young massa!" said old Toby, standing by the bed (for he would not sit down), and regarding him with an unlimited variety of winks, and nods, and grins, expressive of satisfaction with his work; "ye're jest as comf'table now as am possible under de sarcumstances. If dar's anyting in dis yer world ye wants now, say de word, and ol' Toby'll jump at de chance to fetch 'em fur ye."
"There is nothing I want now, good Toby, but that you and Carl should rest. You have done everything you can—and far more than I deserve. I will try to thank you when I am stronger."
"Can't tink ob quittin' ye dis yer night, nohow, massa! Mr. Stackridge he's gone; Carl he can go to bed,—he ain't no 'count here, no way. But I'se took de job o' gitt'n you well, Mass' Penn, and I'se gwine to put it frew 'pon honor,—do it up han'some!"
And notwithstanding Penn's remonstrances, the faithful black absolutely refused to leave him. Indeed, the most he could be prevailed upon to do for his own comfort, was to bring his blanket into the room, and promise that he would lie down upon it when he felt sleepy. Whether he kept his word or not, I cannot say; but there was no time during the night when, if Penn happened to stir uneasily, he did not see the earnest, tender, cheerful black face at his pillow in an instant, and hear the affectionate voice softly inquire,—
"What can I do fur ye, massa? Ain't dar nuffin ol' Toby can be a doin' fur ye, jes' to pass away de time?"
Sometimes it was water Penn wanted; but it did him really more good to witness the delight it gave Toby to wait upon him, than to drink the coolest and most delicious draught fresh from the well.
At length Penn began to feel hot and stifled.
"What have you hung over the window, Toby?"
"Dat ar? 'Pears like dat ar's my blanket, sar. Ye see, 'twouldn't do, nohow, to let nary a chink o' light be seen from tudder side, 'cause dat 'ud make folks s'pec' sumfin', dis yer time o' night. So I jes' sticks up my ol' blanket—'pears like I can sleep a heap better on de bar floor!"
"But I must have some fresh air, you dear old hypocrite!" said Penn, deeply touched, for he knew that the African had deprived himself of his blanket because he did not wish to disturb him by leaving the room for another.
"I'll fix him! Ill fix him!" said Toby. And he seemed raised to the very summit of happiness on discovering that there was something, requiring the exercise of his ingenuity, still to be done for his patient.
After that Penn slept a little. "Tank de good Lord," said the old negro the next morning, "you're lookin' as chirk as can be! I'se a right smart hand fur to be nussin' ob de sick; and sakes! how I likes it! I'se gwine to hab you well, sar, 'fore eber a soul knows you'se in de house." Yet Toby's words expressed a great deal more confidence than he felt; for, though he had little apprehension of Penn's retreat being discovered, he saw how weak and feverish he was, and feared the necessity of sending for a doctor.
Penn now insisted strongly that the old servant should not neglect his other duties for him.
"Now you jes' be easy in yer mind on dat pint! Dar's Carl, tends to out-door 'rangements, and I'se got him larnt so's't he's bery good, bery good indeed, to look arter my cow, and my pigs, and sech like chores, when I'se got more 'portant tings on hand myself. And dar's Miss Jinny, she's glad enough to git de breakfust herself dis mornin'; only jes' I kind o' keeps an eye on her, so she shan't do nuffin wrong. She an' Massa Villars come to 'quire bery partic'lar 'bout you, 'fore you was awake, sar."
These simple words seemed to flood Penn's heart with gratitude. Toby withdrew, but presently returned, bringing a salver.
"Nuffin but a little broff, massa. And a toasted cracker."
"O, you are too kind, Toby! Really, I can't eat this morning."
"Can't eat, sar? I declar, now!" (in a whisper), "how disappinted she'll be!"
"Who will be disappointed?"
"Who? Miss Jinny, to be sure! She made de broff wid her own hands. Under my d'rections, ob course! But she would make 'em herself, and took a heap ob pains to hab 'em good, and put in de salt wid her own purty fingers, and looked as rosy a stirrin' and toastin' ober de fire as eber you see an angel, sar!"
For some reason Penn began to think better of the broth, and, to Toby's infinite satisfaction, he consented to eat a little. Toby soon had him bolstered up in bed, and held the salver before him, and looked a perfect picture of epicurean enjoyment, just from seeing his patient eat.
"It is delicious!" said Penn; at which brief eulogium the whole rich, exuberant, tropical soul of the unselfish African seemed to expand and blossom forth with joy. "I shall be sure to get well and strong soon, under such treatment. You must let Carl go to Mrs. Sprowl's and fetch my clothes; I shall want some of them when I get up."
"Bress you, sar! you forgets nobody ain't to know whar you be! Mass' Villars he say so. You jes' lef' de clo'es alone, yit awhile. Wouldn't hab dat ar Widder Sprowl find out you'se in dis yer house, not if you'd gib me——"
Rap, rap, at the chamber door; two light, hurried knocks.
"Miss Jinny herself!" said old Toby, forgetting Mrs. Sprowl in an instant. And setting down the salver, he ran to the door.
Penn heard quick whispers of consultation; then Toby came back, his eyes rolling and his ivory shining with a ludicrous expression of wrath and amazement.
"It's de bery ol' hag herself! Speak de debil's name and he's allus at de door!"
"Who? Mrs. Sprowl?"
"Yes, sar! and I wish she was furder, sar! She's a 'quirin' fur you,—says she knows you'se in de house, and it's bery 'portant she must see ye. But, tank de Lord, massa!" chuckled the old negro, "Carl's forgot his English, and don't know nuffin what she wants! he, he, he! Or if she makes him und'stan' one ting, den he talks Dutch, and she don't und'stan.' And so dey'se habin' it, fust one, den tudder, while Miss Jinny she hears 'em and comes fur to let us know. But how de ol' critter eber found you out, dat am one ob de mysteries!"
"She merely guesses I am here," said Penn. "I'm only afraid Carl will overdo his part, and confirm her suspicions."
"'Sh!" hissed Toby in sudden alarm. "She's a comin! She's a comin' right up to dis yer door!" And he flew to fasten it.
He had scarcely done so when a hand tried the latch, and a voice called,—
"Come! ye needn't, none of ye, try to impose on me! I know you're in this very room, Penn Hapgood, and you'll let me in, old friends so, I'm shore! I've bothered long enough with that stupid Dutch boy, and now Virginny wants to keep me, and talk with me; but I've nothing to do with nobody in this house but you!"
Mrs. Sprowl had not been on amicable terms with her daughter-in-law's family since Salina and her husband separated; and this last declaration she made loud enough for all in the house to hear.
Penn motioned for Toby to open the door, believing it the better way to admit the lady and conciliate her. But Toby shook his head—and his fist with grim defiance.
"Wal!" said Mrs. Sprowl, "you can do as you please about lettin' a body in; but I'll give ye to understand one thing—I don't stir a foot from this door till it's opened. And if you want it kept secret that you're here, it'll be a great deal better for you, Penn Hapgood, to let me in, than to keep me standin' or settin' all day on the stairs."
The idea of a long siege struck Toby with dismay. He hesitated; but Penn spoke.
"I am very weak, and very ill, madam. But I have learned what it is to be driven from a door that should be opened to welcome me; and I am not willing, under any circumstances, to treat another as you last night treated me."
This was spoken to the lady's face; for Toby, seeing that concealment was at an end, had slipped the bolt, and she had come in.
"Wal! now! Mr. Hapgood!" she began, with a simper, which betrayed a little contrition and a good deal of crafty selfishness,—"you mustn't go to bein' too hard on me for that. Consider that I'm a poor widder, and my life war threatened, and I had to do as I did."
"Well, well," said Penn, "I certainly forgive you. Give her a chair, Toby."
Toby placed the chair, and widow Sprowl sat down.
"I couldn't be easy—old friends so—till I had come over to see how you be," she said, folding her hands, and regarding Penn with a solemn pucker of solicitude. "I know, 'twas a dreadful thing; but it's some comfort to think it's nothing I'm any ways to blame fur. It's hard enough for me to lose a boarder, jest at this time,—say nothing about a friend that's been jest like one of my own family, and that I've cooked, and washed, and ironed fur, as if he war my own son!"
And Mrs. Sprowl wiped her eyes, while she carefully watched the effect of her words.
"I acknowledge, you have cooked, washed, and ironed for me very faithfully," said Penn.
"And I thought," said she,—"old friends so,—may be you wouldn't mind making me a present of the trifle you've paid over and above what's due for your board; for I'm a poor widder, as you know, and my only son is a wanderer on the face of the 'arth."
Penn readily consented to make the present—perhaps reflecting that it would be equally impossible for him ever to board it out, or get her to return the money.
"Then there's that old cloak of yourn," said Mrs. Sprowl, sympathizingly. "I believe you partly promised it to me, didn't you? I can manage to get me a cape out on't."
"Yes, yes," said Penn, "you can have the cloak;" while Toby glared with rage behind her chair.
"And I considered 'twouldn't be no more'n fair that you should pay for the——I don't see how in the world I can afford to lose it, bein' a poor widder, and live geeses' feathers at that, and my only son——" She hid her face in her apron, overcome with emotion.
"What am I to pay for?" asked Penn.
"Fur, you know," she said, "I never would have parted with it fur any money, and it will take at least ten dollars to replace it, which is hard, bein' a poor widder, and as strong a linen tick as ever you see, that I made myself, and that my blessed husband died on, and helped me pick the geese with his own hands; and I never thought, when I took you to board, that ever that bed would be sacrificed by it,—for 'twas on your account, you are ware, it was took last night and done for."
"And you think I ought to pay for the bed!" said Penn, as much astonished as if Silas Ropes had sent in his bill, "To 1 coat tar and feathers, $10.00."
"They said I must look to you," whined the visitor; "and if you don't pay fur't, I don't know who will, I'm shore! for none of them have sot at my board, and drinked of my coffee, and e't of my good corn dodgers, and slep' in my best bed, all for four dollars fifty a week, washing and ironing throwed in, and a poor widder at that!"
"Mrs. Sprowl," said Penn, laughing, ill as he was, "have the kindness not to tell any one that I am here, and as soon as I am able to do so, I will pay you for your excellent feather-bed."
"Thank you,—very good in you, I'm shore!" said the worthy creature, brightening. "And if there's anything else among your things you can spare."
"I'll see! I'll see!" said Penn, wearily. "Leave me now, do!"
"But if you had a few dollars, this morning, towards the bed," she insisted, "for my son——" She almost betrayed herself; being about to say that Lysander had arrived, and must have money; but she coughed, and added, in a changed voice, "is a wanderer on the face of the 'arth."
Penn, however, reflecting that she would have more encouragement to keep his secret if he held the reward in reserve, replied, that he could not possibly spare any money before collecting what was due him from the trustees of the Academy. Her countenance fell on hearing this; and, reluctantly abandoning the object of her mission, she took her leave, and went home to her hopeful son.
THE WIDOW'S GREEN CHEST.
Mr. Villars had spoken truly when he said Penn's persecutors would not rest here. In fact, Mr. Ropes, and three of his accomplices, were even now on the way to Mrs. Sprowl's abode, to make inquiries concerning the schoolmaster.
That lone creature had scarcely reached her own door when she saw them coming. Now, though Penn was not in the house, her son was. Great, therefore, was her trepidation at the sight of visitors; and she evinced such eagerness to assure them that the object of their pursuit was not there, and appeared altogether so frightened and guilty, that Ropes winked knowingly at his companions, and said,—
"He's here, boys, safe enough."
So they forced their way into the house; her increased tremor and confusion serving only to confirm them in their suspicions.
"Not that we doubt your word in the least, Mrs. Sprowl,"—Ropes smiled sarcastically. "But of course you can't object to our searching the premises, for we're in the performance of a solemn dooty. Any whiskey in the house, widder?"
The obliging lady went to find a bottle. She was gone so long, however, that the visitors became impatient. Ropes accordingly stationed two of his men at the doors, and with the third went in pursuit of Mrs. Sprowl, whom they met coming down stairs.
"Keep your liquor up there, do ye?" said Ropes, significantly.
"I—I thought—" Mrs. Sprowl gasped for breath before she could proceed—"the master had some in his room. But I can't find it. You are at liberty to—to look in his room, if you wants to."
"Wal, it's our dooty to, I suppose. Meantime, you can be bringing the whiskey. Give some to the boys outside, then bring the bottle up to us. That's the way, Gad," said Silas, as she unwillingly obeyed; "allus be perlite to the sex, ye know."
"Sartin! allus!" said Gad.
It was evident these men fancied themselves polite.
"But he ain't here," said Silas, just glancing into Penn's room, "or else she wouldn't have been so willing for us to search. Le's begin at the top of the house, and look along down." They entered a low-roofed, empty garret. "As we can't perceed without the whiskey, we'll wait here. Meantime, I'll tell you what you wanted to know."
They sat down on a little old green chest, and Ropes, producing a plug of tobacco, gave his friend a bite, and took a bite himself.
"What I'm going to say is in perfect confidence, between friends;" chewing and crossing his legs.
Gad chewed, and crossed his legs, and said, "O, of course! in perfect confidence!"
"Wal, then, I'll tell ye whar the money fur our job comes from. It comes from Gus Bythewood."
"Sho!" said Gad, looking surprised at Silas.
"Fact!" said Silas, looking wise at Gad.
"But what's he so dead set agin' the master fur?"
"I'll tell ye, Gad." And Mr. Ropes rested a finger confidingly on his friend's knee. "Fur as I kin jedge, Gus has a sneakin' notion arter that youngest Villars gal; Virginny, ye know."
"Don't blame him!" chuckled Gad.
"But ye see, thar's that Hapgood; he's a great favoryte with the Villarses, and Gus nat'rally wants to git him out of the way. It won't do, though, for him to have it known he has any thing to do with our operations. He pays us, and backs us up with plenty of cash if we get into trouble; but he keeps dark, you understand."
"The master ought to be hung for his abolitionism!" said Gad, by way of self-excuse for being made a jealous man's tool.
"That ar's jest my sentiment," replied Silas. "But then he's allus been a peaceable sort of chap, and held his tongue; so he might have been let alone some time yet, if it hadn't been for——What in time!"
Ropes started, and changed color, glancing first at Gad, then down at the chest.
"He's in it!" whispered Gad.
Both jumped up, and, facing about, looked at the green lid, and at each other.
The chest was so small it had not occurred to them that a man could get into it. Lysander had got into it, however, and there he lay, so cramped, and stifled, and compressed, that he could not endure the torture without an effort to ease it by moving a little. He had stirred; then all was still again.
"Think he's heerd us?" said Silas.
"Must have heerd something," said Gad.
"Then he's as good as a dead man!"
Silas drew his pistol, resolved to sacrifice the schoolmaster on the altar of secrecy. But as he was about to fire into the chest at a venture (for your cowardly assassin does not like to face his victim), the lid flew open, the chivalry stepped hastily back, and up rose out of the chest—not the schoolmaster, but—Lysander Sprowl.
Silas had struck his head against a rafter, and was quite bewildered for a moment by the shock, the multitude of meteors that rushed across his firmament, and the sudden apparition. Gad, at the same time, stood ready to take a plunge down the stairs in case the schoolmaster should show fight.
"Gentlemen," said the "wanderer on the face of the 'arth," straightening his limbs, and saluting with a reckless air, "I hope I see ye well. Never mind about shooting an old friend, Sile Ropes. I reckon we're about even; and I'll keep your secret, if you'll keep mine."
"That's fair," said Ropes, recovering from the falling stars, and putting up his weapon. "Lysander, how are ye? Good joke, ain't it?" And they shook hands all around. "But whar's the schoolmaster?" And Silas rubbed his head.
"I know all about the schoolmaster," said Lysander, stepping out of the chest; "he ain't in this house, but I know just where he is. And I reckon 'twill be for the interest of me and Gus Bythewood if we can have a little talk together, tell him. If he's got money to spare, that'll be to my advantage; and what I know will be to his advantage."
So saying, Lysander closed the chest, and coolly invited the chivalry to resume their seats. They did so, much to the amazement of Mrs. Sprowl, who came up stairs with the whiskey, and found the "wanderer on the face of the 'arth" conversing in the most amicable manner with Gad and Silas.
If what Silas Ropes had said of his patron, Augustus Bythewood, was true, great must have been the chagrin of that chivalrous young gentleman when an interview was brought about between him and Lysander, and he learned that Penn, instead of being driven from the state, had found refuge in the family of Mr. Villars—that he was there even at the moment when he made his delightful little evening call, and was entertained so charmingly by Virginia.
Bythewood gave Sprowl money, and Sprowl gave Bythewood information and advice. It was in accordance with the programme decided upon by these two worthies, that Mr. Ropes at the head of his gang presented himself the next night at Mr. Villars's door.
Virginia, by her father's direction, admitted them. They crowded into the sitting-room, where the old man rose to receive them, with his usual urbanity.
"Virginia, have chairs brought for all our friends. I cannot see to recognize them individually, but I salute them all."
"No matter about the cheers," said Silas. "We can do our business standing. Sorry to trouble you with it, sir, but it's jest this. We understand you're harboring a Yankee abolitionist, and we've called to remind you that sech things can't be allowed in a well-regulated community."
The old man, holding himself still erect with punctilious politeness,—for his guests were not seated,—and smiling with grand and venerable aspect, made reply in tones full of dignity and sweetness: "My friends, I am an old man; I am a native of Virginia, and a citizen of Tennessee; and all my life long I have been accustomed to regard the laws of hospitality as sacred."
"My sentiments exactly. I won't hear a word said agin' southern horsepitality, or southern perliteness." Mr. Ropes illustrated his remark by spitting copious tobacco-juice on the floor. "Horsepitality I look upon as one of the stable institootions of our country."
"No doubt it is so," said Mr. Villars, smiling at the unintentional pun.
"That's one thing," added Silas; "but harboring a abolitionist is another. That's the question we've jest took the liberty to call and have a little quiet talk about, to-night."
"Sit down, dear father, do!" entreated Virginia, remaining at his side in spite of her dread and abhorrence of these men. Holding his hand, and regarding him with pale and anxious looks, she endeavored with gentle force to get him into his chair. "My father is very feeble," she said, appealing to Silas, "and I beg you will have some consideration for him."
"Sartin, sartin," said Silas. "Keep yer settin', keep yer settin', Mr. Villars."
But the old man still remained upon his feet,—his tall, spare form, bent with age, his long, thin locks of white hair, and his wan, sightless, calm, and beautiful countenance presenting a wonderful contrast to the blooming figure at his side. It was a picture which might well command the respectful attention of Silas and his compeers.
"My friends," he said, with a grave smile, "we men of the south are rather boastful of our hospitality. But true hospitality consists in something besides eating and drinking with those whose companionship is a sufficient recompense for all that we do for them. It clothes the naked, feeds the hungry, shelters the distressed. With the Arabs, even an enemy is sacred who happens to be a guest. Shall an old Virginian think less of the honor of his house than an Arab?"
Silas looked abashed, silenced for a moment by these noble words, and the venerable and majestic mien of the blind old clergyman. It would not do, however, to give up his mission so; and after coughing, turning his quid, and spitting again, he replied,—
"That'll do very well to talk, Mr. Villars. But come to the pint. You've got a Yankee abolitionist in your house—that you won't deny."
"I have in my house," said the old man, "a person whose life is in danger from injuries received at your hands last night. He came to us in a condition which, I should have thought, would excite the pity of the hardest heart. Whether or not he is a Yankee abolitionist, I never inquired. It was enough for me that he was a fellow-creature in distress. He is well known in this community, where he has never been guilty of wrong towards any one; and, even if he were a dangerous person, he is not now in a condition to do mischief. Gentlemen, my guest is very ill with a fever."
"Can't help that; you must git red of him," said Silas. "I'm a talking now for your own good as much as any body's, Mr. Villars. You're a man we all respect; but already you've made yourself a object of suspicion, by standing up fur the old rotten Union."
"When I can no longer befriend my guests, or stand up for my country, then I shall have lived long enough!" said the old man, with impressive earnestness.
"The old Union," said Gad, coming to the aid of Silas, "is played out. We couldn't have our rights, and so we secede."
"What rights couldn't you have under the government left to us by Washington?"
"That had become corrupted," said Mr. Ropes.
"How corrupted, my friend?"
"By the infernal anti-slavery element!"
"You forget," said Mr. Villars, "that Washington, Jefferson, and indeed all the wisest and best men who assisted to frame the government under which we have been so prospered, were anti-slavery men."
"Wal, I know, some on 'em hadn't got enlightened on the subject," Mr. Ropes admitted.
"And do you know that if a stranger, endowed with all the virtues of those patriots, should come among you and preach the political doctrines of Washington and Jefferson, you would serve him as you served Penn Hapgood last night?"
"Shouldn't wonder the least mite if we should!" Silas grinned. "But that's nothing to the purpose. We claim the right to carry our slaves into the territories, and Lincoln's party is pledged to keep 'em out, and that's cause enough for secession."
"How many slaves do you own, Mr. Ropes?" Mr. Villars, still leaning on his daughter's arm, smiled as he put this mild question.
"I—wal—truth is, I don't own nary slave myself—wish I did!" said Silas.
"How many friends have you with you?"
"'Lev'n," said Gad, rapidly counting his companions.
"Well, of the eleven, how many own slaves?"
"I do!" "I do!" spoke up two eager voices.
"How many slaves do you own?"
"I've got as right smart a little nigger boy as there is anywheres in Tennessee!" said the first, proudly.
"How old is he?"
"He'll be nine year' old next grass, I reckon."
"Well, how many negroes has your friend?"
"I've got one old woman, sir."
"How old is she?"
"Wal, plaguy nigh a hunderd,—old Bess, you know her."
"Yes, I know old Bess; and an excellent creature she is. So it seems that you eleven men own two slaves. And these you wish to take into some of the territories, I suppose."
The men looked foolish, and were obliged to own that they had never dreamed of conveying either the nine-year-old lad or the female centenarian out of the state of Tennessee.
"Then what is the grievance you complain of?" asked the old man. They could not name any. "O, now, my friends, look you here! I believe in the right of revolution when a government oppresses a people beyond endurance. But in this case it appears, by your own showing, that not one of you has suffered any wrong, and that this is not a revolution in behalf of the poor and oppressed. If anybody is to be benefited by it, it is a few rich owners of slaves, who are prosperous enough already, and have really no cause of complaint. It is a revolution precipitated by political leaders, who wish to be rulers; and what grieves me at the heart is, that the poor and ignorant are thus permitting themselves to be made the tools of this tyranny, which will soon prove more despotic than it was possible for the dear old government ever to become. God bless my country! God bless my poor distracted country!"
As he finished speaking, the old man sank down overcome with emotion upon his chair, clasping his daughter's hand, while tears ran down his cheeks.
His argument was so unanswerable that nothing was left for Silas but to get angry.
"I see you're not only a Unionist, but more'n half a Yankee abolitionist yourself! We didn't come here to listen to any sech incendiary talk. Kick out the schoolmaster, if you wouldn't git into trouble,—I warn you! That's the business we've come to see to, and you must tend to't."
"Pity him—spare him!" cried Virginia, shielding her aged father as Ropes approached him. "He cannot turn a sick man out of his house, you know he cannot!"
"You're partic'larly interested in the young man, hey?" said Ropes, grinning insolently.
"I am interested that no harm comes either to my father or to his guests," said the girl. "Go, I implore you! As soon as Mr. Hapgood is able to leave us, he will do so,—he will have no wish to stay,—this I promise you."
"I'll give him three days to quit the country," said Silas. "Only three days. He'd better be dead than found here at the end of that time. Gentlemen, we've performed this yer painful dooty; now le's adjourn to Barber Jim's and take a drink."
With these words Mr. Ropes retired. While, however, he was treating his men to whiskey and cigars with Augustus Bythewood's money, advanced for the purpose, one of the eleven, separating himself from the rest, hurried back to the minister's house. He had taken part in the patriotic proceedings of his friends with great reluctance, as appeared from the manner in which he shrank from view in corners and behind the backs of his comrades, and drew down his woe-begone mouth, and rolled up his dismal eyes, during the entire interview. And he had returned now, at the risk of his life, to do Penn a service.
He crept to the kitchen door, and knocked softly. Carl opened it. There stood the wretched figure, terrified, panting for breath.
"Vat is it?" said Carl.
"I've come fur to tell ye!" said the man, glancing timidly around into the darkness to see if he was followed. "They mean to kill him! They told you they'd give him three days, but they won't. I heard them saying so among themselves. They may be back this very night, for they'll all git drunk, and nothing will stop 'em then."
Carl stared, as these hoarsely whispered words were poured forth rapidly by the frightened man at the door.
"Come in, and shpeak to Mishter Willars."
"No, no! I'll be killed if I'm found here!"
But Carl, sturdy and resolute, had no idea of permitting him to deliver so hasty and alarming a message without subjecting him to a cross-examination. He had already got him by the collar, and now he dragged him into the house, the man not daring to resist for fear of outcry and exposure.
"What is it?" asked Mr. Villars.
"A wisitor!" said Carl. And he repeated Dan's statement, while Dan was recovering his breath.
"Is this true, Mr. Pepperill?" asked the old man, deeply concerned.
"Yes, I be durned if it ain't!" said Dan.
Virginia clung to her father's chair, white with apprehension. Toby was also present, having left his patient an instant to run down stairs, and learn what was the cause of this fresh disturbance.
"He's a lyin' to ye, Mass' Villars; he's a lyin' to ye! White trash can't tell de troof if dey tries! Don't ye breeve a word he says, massa."
Yet it was evident from the consternation the old negro's face betrayed that he believed Dan's story,—or at least feared it would prove true if he did not make haste and deny it stoutly; for Toby, like many persons with whiter skins, always felt on such occasions a vague faith that if he could get the bad news sufficiently denounced and discredited in season, all would be well. As if simply setting our minds against the truth would defeat it!
"But they spoke of fittin' yer neck to a noose too!"
"Mine? Ah, if nobody but myself was in danger, I should be well content! What do you think we ought to do, Mr. Pepperill?"
"The master has done me a good turn, and I'll do him one, if I swing fur't!" said Dan, straightening himself with sudden courage. "Get him out 'fore they suspect what you're at, and I'll take him to my house and hide him, I be durned if I won't!"
"It is a kind offer, and I thank you," said the old man. "But how can I resolve to send a guest from my house in this way? Not to save my own life would I do it!"
"But to save his, father!"
"It is only of him I am thinking, my child. Would it be safe to move him, Toby?"
"Safe to move Massa Penn!" ejaculated the old negro, choking with wrath and grief. "Neber tink o' sech a ting, massa! He'd die, shore, widout I should go 'long wid him, and tote him in my ol' arms on a fedder-bed jes' like I would a leetle baby, and den stay and nuss him arter I got him dar. For dem 'ar white trash, what ye s'pose day knows 'bout takin' keer ob a sick gemman like him? It's a bery 'tic'lar case. He's got de delirimum a comin' on him now, and I can't be away from him a minute. I mus' go back to him dis bery minute!"
And Toby departed, having suddenly conceived an idea of his own for hiding Penn in the barn until the danger was over.
He had been absent from the room but a moment, however, when those remaining in it heard a wild outcry, and presently the old negro reappeared, inspired with superstitious terror, his eyes starting from their sockets, his tongue paralyzed.
"What's the matter, Toby?" cried Virginia, perceiving that something really alarming had happened.
The negro tried to speak, but his throat only gurgled incoherently, while the whites of his eyes kept rolling up like saucers.
"Penn—has anything happened to Penn?" said Mr. Villars.
"O, debil, debil, Lord bress us!" gibbered Toby.
"Dead?" cried Virginia.
"Gone! gone, missis!"
Struck with consternation, but refusing to believe the words of the bewildered black, Virginia flew to the sick man's chamber.
Then she understood the full meaning of Toby's words. Penn was not in his bed, nor in the room, nor anywhere in the house. He had disappeared suddenly, strangely, totally.
Thus the question of what should be done with his guest, which Mr. Villars knew not how to decide, had been decided for him.
Great was the mystery. There was the bed precisely as Penn had left it a minute since. There was the candle dimly burning. The medicines remained just where Toby had placed them, on the table under the mirror. But the patient had vanished.
What had become of him? It was believed that he was too ill to leave his bed without assistance. And, even though he had been strong, it was by no means probable that one so uniformly discreet in his conduct, and ever so regardful of the feelings of others, would have quitted the house in this abrupt and inexplicable manner.
In vain the premises were searched. Not a trace of him could be anywhere discovered. Neither were there any indications of a struggle. Yet it was Toby's firm conviction that the ruffians had entered the house, and seized him; that Pepperill was in the plot, the object of whose visit was merely a diversion, while Ropes and the rest accomplished the abduction. This could not, of course, have been done without the aid of magic and the devil; but Toby believed in magic and the devil. The fact that Dan had taken advantage of the confusion to escape, appeared to the Ethiopian mind conclusive.
Nor was the negro alone in his bewilderment. Carl was utterly confounded. The old clergyman, usually so calm, was deeply troubled; while Virginia herself, pierced with the keenest solicitude, could scarce keep her mind free from horrible and superstitious doubts. The doors between the sitting-room and back stairs were all wide open, and it seemed impossible that any one could have come in or gone out that way without being observed. On the other hand, to have reached the front stairs Penn must have passed through Salina's room. But Salina, who was in her room at the time, averred that she had not been disturbed, even by a sound.
"He has got out the vinder," said Carl. But the window was fifteen feet from the ground.
Thus all reasonable conjecture failed, and it seemed necessary to accept Toby's theory of the ruffians, magic, and the devil. Only one thing was certain: Penn was gone. And, as if to add to the extreme and painful perplexity of his friends, the clothes, which had been stripped from him by the lynchers, which he had brought away in his hands, and which had been hung up in his room by Toby, were left hanging there still, untouched.
The family had not recovered from the dismay his disappearance occasioned, when they had cause to rejoice that he was gone. Ropes and his crew returned, as Pepperill had predicted. They were intoxicated and bloodthirsty. They had brought a rope, with which to hang their victim before the old clergyman's door. They were furious on finding he had eluded them, and searched the house with oaths and uproar. Virginia, on her knees, clung to her father, praying that he might not be harmed, and that Penn, whom all had been so anxious just now to find, might be safe from discovery.
Exasperated by their unsuccessful search, the villains hesitated about laying violent hands on the blind old man, and concluded to wreak their vengeance on Toby. That he was a freed negro, was alone a sufficient offence in their eyes to merit a whipping. But he had done more; he had been devoted to the schoolmaster, and they believed he had concealed him. So they seized him, dragged him from the house, bared his back, and tied him to a tree.
As long as the mob had confined itself to searching the premises, Mr. Villars had held his peace. But the moment his faithful old servant was in danger, he roused himself. He rushed to the door, bareheaded, his white hair flowing, his staff in his hand. Both his children accompanied him,—Salina, who was really not void of affection, appearing scarcely less anxious and indignant than her sister.
There, in the light of a wood-pile to which fire had been set, stood the old negro, naked to the waist, lashed fast to the trunk, writhing with pain and terror; his brutal tormentors grouped around him in the glare of the flames, preparing, with laughter, oaths, and much loose, leisurely swaggering, to flay his flesh with rods.
"My friends!" cried the old clergyman, with an energy that startled them, "what are you about to do?"
"We're gwine to sarve this nigger," said the man Gad, "jest as every free nigger'll git sarved that's found in the state three months from now."
"Free niggers is a nuisance," added Ropes, now very drunk, and very much inclined to make a speech on a barrel which his friends rolled out for him. "A nuisance!" he repeated, with a hiccough, steadying himself on his rostrum by holding a branch of the tree. "And let me say to you, feller-patriots, that one of the glorious fruits of secession is, that every free nigger in the state will either be sold for a slave, or druv out, or hung up. I tell you, gentlemen, we're a goin' to have our own way in these matters, spite of all the ministers in creation!"
The men cheered, and one of them struck Toby a couple of preliminary blows, just to try his hand, and to add the poor old negro's howls to the chorus.
"No doubt,"—the old clergyman's voice rose above the tumult,—"you will have your way for a season. You will commit injustice with a high hand. You will glut your cruelty upon the defenceless and oppressed. But, as there is a God in heaven,"—he lifted up his blind white face, and with his trembling hands shook his staff on high, like a prophet foretelling woe,—"as there is a God of justice and mercy who beholds this wickedness,—just so sure the hour of your retribution will come! so sure the treason you are breathing, and the despotism you are inaugurating, will prove a snare and a destruction to yourselves! Unbind that man! leave my house in peace! go home, and learn to practise a little of the mercy of which you will yourselves soon stand in need." His venerable aspect, and the power and authority of his words, awed even that drunken crew. But Silas, vain of his oratorical powers, was enraged that anybody should dispute his influence with the crowd. Holding the branch with one hand, and gesticulating violently with the other, he exclaimed,—
"Who is boss here? Who ye goin' to mind? that old traitor, or me? I say, lick the nigger! We're a goin' to have our way now, and we're a goin' to have our way to the end of the 'arth, sure as I am a gentleman standing on this yer barrel!"
To emphasize his declaration, he stamped with his foot; the head of the cask flew in, and down went orator, cask, and all, in a fashion rendered all the more ridiculous by the climax of oratory it illustrated.
"Just so sure will your hollow and inhuman schemes fail from under your feet!" exclaimed Mr. Villars, as soon as he learned what had happened. "So surely and so suddenly will you fall."
This incident occurred as Toby's flogging was about to begin in earnest. Virginia had instinctively covered her eyes to shut out the terrible sight, her ears to shut out the sounds of the beating and the poor old fellow's groans. Luckily, Silas had fallen partly in the barrel, and partly across the sharp edge of it, and being too tipsy to help himself, had been seriously hurt, and was now helpless. The ruffians hastened to extricate him, and raise him up. Carl, who, with an open knife concealed in his sleeve, had been waiting for an opportunity, darted at the tree, cut the negro's bonds in a twinkling, and set him free.
Both took to their heels without an instant's delay. But the trick was discovered. They were pursued immediately. Carl was lively on his legs, as we know; but poor old Toby, never a good runner, and now stiff and decrepit with age, was no match even for the slowest of their pursuers.
They ran straight into the orchard, hoping to lose themselves among the shadows. The glare of the burning wood-pile flickered but faintly and unsteadily among the trees. Carl might easily have escaped; but he thought only of Toby, and kept faithfully at his side, assisting him, urging him. A fence was near—if they could only reach that! But Toby was wheezing terribly, and the hand of the foremost ruffian was already extended to seize him.
"Jump the vence over!" was Carl's parting injunction to the old negro, who made a last desperate effort to accomplish the feat; while Carl, turning sharp about, tripped the foot of him of the extended hand, and sent him headlong. The second pursuer he grappled, and both rolled upon the ground together.
Favored by this diversion, Toby reached the fence, climbed it, and without looking how, he leaped, jumped down upon—a human figure, stretched there upon the ground!
Notwithstanding his own danger, Toby thought of his patient, and stopped.
"Is it you, massa?"
The man rose slowly to his feet. It was not Penn; it was, on the contrary, the worst of Penn's enemies, who had stationed himself here, in order to observe, unseen, and from a safe distance, the operations of Silas Ropes and his band of patriots.
"O, Massa Bythewood!" ejaculated Toby, inspired with sudden joy and hope; "help a poor old niggah! Help! De Villarses will remember it ob ye de longest day you live, if you on'y will."
"Why, what's the matter, Toby?" said Augustus, full of rage at having been thus discovered, yet assuming a gracious and patronizing manner.
Toby did not make a very coherent reply; but probably the young gentleman was already sufficiently aware of what was going on. He had no especial regard for Toby, yet his credit with Virginia and her father was to be sustained. And so Toby was saved.
Augustus met and rebuked his pursuers, released Carl, who was suffering at the hands of his antagonist, and led the way back to the house. There he expressed to Mr. Villars and his daughters the utmost regret and indignation for what had occurred, and took Mr. Ropes aside to remonstrate with him for such violent proceedings. His influence over that fallen orator was extraordinary. Ropes excused himself on the plea of his patriotic zeal, and called off his men.
"How fortunate," said Augustus, conducting the old man, with an excessive show of deference and politeness, back into the sitting-room,—"how extremely fortunate that I happened to be walking this way! I trust no serious harm has been done, my dear Virginia?"
Bythewood no doubt thought himself entitled to use this affectionate term, after the service he had rendered the family.
After he was gone, Toby, having recovered from his fright and the fatigue of running, and got his clothes on again, rushed into the presence of his master and the young ladies.
"I've seed Mass' Penn!" he said. "Arter Bythewood done got up from under de fence whar I jumped on him, I seed anoder man a crawlin' away on his hands and knees jest a little ways off. 'Twas Mass' Penn! I know 'twas Mass' Penn."
But Toby was mistaken. The second figure he had seen was Mr. Lysander Sprowl, now the confidential adviser and secret companion of Augustus.
THE OLD CLERGYMAN'S NIGHTGOWN HAS AN ADVENTURE.
Where, then, all this time, was Penn? He was himself almost as profoundly ignorant on that subject as anybody. For two or three hours he had been lost to himself no less than to his friends.
When he recovered his consciousness he found that he was lying on the ground, in the open air, in what seemed a barren field, covered with rocks and stunted shrubs.
How he came there he did not know. He had nothing on but his night-dress,—a loan from the old clergyman,—besides a blanket wrapped about him. His feet were bare, and he now perceived that they were painfully aching.
Almost too weak to lift a hand to his head, he yet tried to sit up and look around him. All was darkness; not a sign of human habitation, not a twinkling light was visible. The cold night wind swept over him, sighing drearily among the leafless bushes. Chilled, shivering, his temples throbbing, his brain sick and giddy, he sat down again upon the rocks, so ill and suffering that he could scarcely feel astonishment at his situation, or care whether he lived or died.
Where had he been during those hours of oblivion? He seemed to have slept, and to have had terrible dreams. Could he have remembered these dreams, it seemed to him that the whole mystery of his removal to this desolate spot would be explained. And he knew that it required but an effort of his will to remember them. But his soul was too weak: he could not make the effort.
To get upon his feet and walk was impossible. What, then, was left him but to perish here, alone, uncared for, unconsoled by a word of love from any human being? Death he would have welcomed as a relief from his sufferings. Yet when he thought of his home far away, in the peaceful community of Friends, of his parents and sisters now anxiously expecting his return,—and again when he remembered the hospitable roof under which he lay, so tenderly nursed, but a little while ago, and thought of the blind old clergyman, of Virginia fresh as a rose, of kind-hearted Carl, and the affectionate old negro,—he was stung with the desire to live, and he called feebly,—
Was his cry heard? Surely, there were footsteps on the rocks! And was not that a human form moving dimly between him and the sky? It passed on, and was lost in the shadows of the pines. Was it some animal, or only a phantom of his feverish brain?
"Toby!" he called again, exerting all his force. But only the wailing wind answered him, and, overcome by the effort, he sunk into a swoon. In that swoon it seemed to him that Toby had heard his voice, and that he came to him. Hands, gentle human hands, groped on him, felt the blanket, felt his bare feet, and his head, pillowed on stones. Then there seemed to be two Tobys, one good and the other evil, holding a strange consultation over him, which he heard as in a dream.
"We can't leave him dying here!" said the good Toby.
"What dat to me, if him die, or whar him die?" said the other Toby. "Straight har!" He seemed to be feeling Penn's locks, in order to ascertain to which race he belonged. "Dat's nuff fur me! Lef him be, I tell ye, and come 'long!"
"Straight hair or curly, it's all the same," said Toby the Good. "Take hold here; we must save him!"
"Hyah-yah! ye don't cotch dis niggah!" chuckled Toby the Bad, maliciously. "Nuff more ob his kind, in all conscience! Reckon we kin spar' much as one! Hyah-yah!"
Something like a quarrel ensued, the result of which was, that Toby the Good finally prevailed upon Toby the Malevolent to assist him. Then Penn was dreamily aware of being lifted in the strong arms of this double individual, and borne away, over rocks, and among thickets, along the mountain side; until even this misty ray of consciousness deserted him, and he fell into a stupor like death.
And what was this he saw on awaking? Had he really died, and was this unearthly place a vestibule of the infernal regions? Days and nights of anguish, burning, and delirium, relieved at intervals by the same death-like stupor, had passed over him; and here he lay at length, exhausted, the terrible fever conquered, and his soul looking feebly forth and taking note of things.
And strange enough things appeared to him! He was in an apartment of prodigious and uncouth architecture, dimly lighted from one side by some opening invisible to him, and by a blazing fire in a little fireplace built on the broad stone floor. The fireplace was without chimney, but a steady draught of air, from the side where the opening seemed to be, swept the smoke away into sombre recesses, where it mingled with the shadows of the place, and was lost in gloom which even the glare of the flames failed to illumine.
Such a cavernous room Penn seemed to have seen in his dreams. The same irregular, rocky roof started up from the wall by his bed, and stretched away into vague and obscure distance. All was familiar to him, but all was somehow mixed up with frightful fantasies which had vanished with the fever that had so recently left him. The awful shapes, the struggles of demoniac men, the processions of strange and beautiful forms, which had visited him in his delirious visions,—all these were airy nothings; but the cave was real.
Here he lay, on a rude bed constructed of four logs, forming the ends and sides, with canvas stretched across them, and secured with nails. Under him was a mattress of moss, over him a blanket like that which he remembered to have had wrapped about him last night in the field.
Last night! Poor Penn was deeply perplexed when he endeavored to remember whether his mysterious awaking in the open air occurred last night, or many nights ago. He moved his head feebly to look for Toby. Which Toby? for all through his sufferings the same two Tobys, one good and the other evil, who had taken him from the field, had appeared still to attend him, and he now more than half expected to see the faithful old negro duplicated, and waiting upon him with two bodies and four hands.
But neither the better nor even the worse half of that double being was near him now. Penn was alone, in that subterranean solitude. There burned the fire, the shadows flickered, the smoke floated away into the depths of the dark cavern, in such loneliness and silence as he had never experienced before. He would have thought himself in some grotto of the gnomes, or some awful cell of enchantment, whose supernatural fire never went out, and whose smoke rolled away into darkness the same perpetually,—but for the sound of the crackling flames, and the sight of piles of wood on the floor, so strongly suggestive of human agency.
On one side was what appeared to be an artificial chamber built of stones, its door open towards the fire. Ranged about the cave, in something like regular order, were several massy blocks of different sizes, like the stools of a family of giants. But where were the giants?
Ah, here came Toby at last, or, at any rate, the twin of him. He approached from the side where the daylight shone, bearing an armful of sticks, and whistling a low tune. With his broad back turned towards Penn, he crouched before the fire, which he poked and scolded with malicious energy, his grotesque and gigantic shadow projected on the wall of the cave.
"Burn, ye debil! K-r-r-r! sputter! snap! git mad, why don't ye?"
Then throwing himself back upon a heap of skins, with his heels at the fire, and his long arms swinging over his head, in a savage and picturesque attitude, he burst into a shout, like the cry of a wild beast. This he repeated several times, appearing to take delight in hearing the echoes resound through the cavern. Then he began to sing, keeping time with his feet, and pausing after each strain of his wild melody to hear it die away in the hollow depths of the cave.
"De glory ob de Lord, it am comin', it am comin', De glory ob de Lord, let it come! De angel ob de Lord, hear his trumpet, hear his trumpet, De angel ob de Lord, he ar come!"
At the last words, "He ar come!" a shadow darkened the entrance, and Penn looked, almost expecting to see a literal fulfilment of the prophecy. A form of imposing stature appeared. It was that of a negro upwards of six feet in height, magnificently proportioned, straight as a pillar, and black as ebony. He wore a dress of skins, carried a gun in his hand, and had an opossum slung over his shoulder.
"Hush your noise!" he said to the singer, in a tone of authority. "Haven't I told you not to wake him?"
"No fear o' dat!" chuckled the other. "Him's past dat! Ki! how fat he ar!" seizing the opossum, and beginning to dress him on the spot.
"Past waking! I tell you he's asleep, and every thing depends on his waking up right. But you set up a howl that would disturb the dead!"
"Howl! dat's what ye call singin'; me singin', Pomp."
"Well, keep your singing to yourself till he is able to stand it, you unfeeling, ungrateful fellow!"
"What dat ye call dis nigger?" cried the singer, jumping up in a passion, with his blood-stained knife in his hand. "Ongrateful! Say dat ar agin, will ye?"
"Yes, Cudjo, as often as you please," said Pomp, calmly placing his gun in the artificial chamber. "You are an unfeeling, ungrateful fellow."
He turned, and stood regarding him with a proud, lofty, compassionating smile. Cudjo's anger cooled at once. Penn had already recognized in them the twin Tobys of his dreams. And what a contrast between the two! There was Toby the Good, otherwise called Pomp, dignified, erect, of noble features; while before him cringed and grimaced Toby the Malign, alias Cudjo, ugly, deformed, with immensely long arms, short bow legs resembling a parenthesis, a body like a frog's, and the countenance of an ape.
"You know," said Pomp, "you would have left this man to die there on the rocks, if it hadn't been for me."
"Gorry! why not?" said Cudjo. "What's use ob all dis trouble on his 'count?"
"He has had trouble enough on our account," said Pomp.
"On our 'count? Hiyah-yah!" laughed Cudjo, getting down on his knees over the opossum; "how ye make dat out, by?"
"Pay attention, Cudjo, while I tell ye," said Pomp, stooping, and laying his finger on the deformed shoulder. Cudjo looked up, with his hands and knife still in the opossum's flesh. "This is the way of it, as I heard last night from Pepperill himself, who got into trouble, as you know, by befriending old Pete after his licking. And you know, don't you, how Pete came by his licking?"
"Bein' out nights, totin' our meal and taters to de mountains,—dough I reckon de patrol didn't know nuffin' 'bout dat ar, or him wouldn't got off so easy!" said Cudjo.
"Well, it was by befriending Pepperill, who had befriended Pete, who brings us meal and potatoes, that this man got the ill will of those villains. Do you understand?"
"Say 'em over agin, Pomp. How, now? Lef me see! Dat ar's old Pete," sticking up a finger to represent him. "Dat ar's Pepperill," sticking up a thumb. "Now, yonder is dis yer man, and here am we. Now, how is it, Pomp?"
Pomp repeated his statement, and Cudjo, pointing to his long, black finger when Pete was alluded to, and tapping his thumb when Pepperill was mentioned, succeeded in understanding that it was indirectly in consequence of kindness shown to himself that Penn had come to grief.
"Dat so, Pomp?" he said, seriously, in a changed voice. "Den 'pears like dar's two white men me don't wish dead as dis yer possom! Pepperills one, and him's tudder."
Pomp, having made this explanation, walked softly to the bedside. He had not before perceived that Penn, lying so still there, was awake. His features lighted up with intelligence and sympathy on making the discovery, and finding him free from feverish symptoms.
"Well, how are you getting on, sir?" he said, feeling Penn's pulse, and seating himself on one of the giant's stools near the bedstead.
"Where am I?" was Penn's first anxious question.
"I fancy you don't know very well where you are, sir," said the negro, with a smile; "and you don't know me either, do you?"
"I think—you are my preserver—are you not?"
"That's a subject we will not talk about just now, sir; for you must keep very quiet."
"I know," said Penn, not to be put off so, "I owe my life to you!"
"Dat's so! dat ar am a fac'!" cried Cudjo, approaching, and wrapping the warm opossum skin about his naked arm as he spoke. "Gorry! me sech a brute, me war for leavin' ye dar in de lot. But, Pomp, him wouldn't; so we toted you hyar, and him's doctored you right smart eber sence. He ar a great doctor, Pomp ar! Yah!" And Cudjo laughed, showing two tremendous rows of ivory glittering from ear to ear; capering, swinging the opossum skin over his head, and, on the whole, looking far more like a demon of the cave than a human being.
"Go about your business, Cudjo!" said Pomp. "You mustn't mind his freaks, sir," turning to Penn. "You are a great deal better; and now, if you will only remain quiet and easy in your mind, there's no doubt but you will get along."
Many questions concerning himself and his friends came crowding to Penn's lips; but the negro, with firm and gentle authority, silenced him.
"By and by, sir, I will tell you everything you wish to know. But you must rest now, while I see to making you a suitable broth."
And nothing was left for Penn but to obey.
A MAN'S STORY.
Three days longer Penn lay there on his rude bed in the cave, helpless still, and still in ignorance.
Pomp repeatedly assured him that all was well, and that he had no cause for anxiety, but refused to enlighten him. The negro's demeanor was well calculated to inspire calmness and trust. There was something truly grand and majestic, not only in his person, but in his character also. He was a superb man. Penn was never weary of watching him. He thought him the most perfect specimen of a gentleman he had ever seen; always cheerful, always courteous, always comporting himself with the ease of an equal in the presence of his guest. His strength was enormous. He lifted Penn in his arms as if he had been an infant. But his grace was no less than his vigor. He was, in short, a lion of a man.
Cudjo was more like an ape. His gibberings, his grimaces, his antics, his delight in mischief, excited in the mind of the convalescent almost as much surprise as the other's princely deportment. For hours together he would lie watching those two wonderfully contrasted beings. Petulant and malicious as Cudjo appeared, he was completely under the control of his noble companion, who would often stand looking down at his tricks and deformity, with composedly folded arms and an air of patient indulgence and compassion beautiful to witness.
Meanwhile Penn gradually regained his strength, so that on the fourth day Pomp permitted him to talk a little.
"Tell me first about my friends," said Penn. "Are they well? Do they know where I am?"
"I hope not, sir," said the negro, with a significant smile, seating himself on the giant's stool. "I trust that no one knows where you are."
"What, then, must they think?" said Penn. "How did I leave them?"
"That is what they are very much perplexed to find out, sir."
"You have heard from them, then?"
"O, yes; we have a way of getting news of people down there. Toby has nearly gone distracted on your account. He is positive that you are dead, for he believes you could never have got well out of his hands."
"And Miss—Mr. Villars——?"
"They have been so much disturbed about you, that I would have been glad to inform them of your safety, if I could. But not even they must know of this place."
"Where am I, then?"
"You are, as you perceive, in a cave. But I suppose you know so little how you came here that you would find some difficulty in tracing your way to us again?" This was spoken interrogatively, with an intelligent smile.
"I am so ignorant of the place," said Penn, "that it may be in the planet Mars, for aught I know."
"That is well! Now, sir," continued the negro, "since you have several times expressed your obligations to us for preserving your life, I wish to ask one favor in return. It is this. You are welcome to remain here as long as you find your stay beneficial; but when you conclude to go, we desire the privilege of conducting you away. That is not an unreasonable request?"
"Far from it. And I pledge you my word to make no movement without your sanction, and to keep your secret sacredly. But tell me—will you not?—how you came to inhabit this dreadful place?"
"Dreadful? There are worse places, my friend, than this. Is it gloomy? The house of bondage is gloomier. Is it damp? It is not with the cruel sweat and blood of the slave's brow and back. Is it cold? The hearts of our tyrants are colder."
"I understand you," said Penn, whose suspicion was thus confirmed that these men were fugitives. "And I am deeply interested in you. How long have you lived here?"
"Would you like to hear something of my story?" said the negro, the expression of his eyes growing deep and stern,—his black, closely curling beard stirring with a proud smile that curved his lips. "Perhaps it will amuse you."
"Amuse me? No!" said Penn. "I know by your looks that it will not amuse: it will absorb me!"
"Well, then," said Pomp, bearing his head upon his massy and flexible neck of polished ebony like a king, yet speaking in tones very gentle and low,—and he had a most mellow, musical, deep voice,—"you are talking with one who was born a slave."
"You know what I think of that!" said Penn. "Even such a birth could not debase the manhood of one like you."
"It might have done so under different circumstances. But I was so fortunate as to be brought up by a young master who was only too kind and indulgent to me, considering my station. We were playmates when children; and we were scarcely less intimate when we had both grown up to be men. He went to Paris to study medicine, and took me with him. I passed for his body servant, but I was rather his friend. He never took any important step in life without consulting me; and I am happy to know," added Pomp, with grand simplicity, "that my counsel was always good. He acknowledged as much on his death-bed. 'If I had taken your advice oftener,' said he, 'it would have been better for me. I always meant to reward you. You are to have your freedom—your freedom, my dear boy!'"
The negro knitted his brows, his breath came thick, and there was a strange moisture in his eye.
"I loved my master," he continued, with simple pathos. "And when I saw him troubled on my account, when he ought to have been thinking of his own soul, I begged him not to let a thought of me give him any uneasiness. My free papers had not been made out, and he was for sending at once for a notary. But his younger brother was with him—he who was to be his heir. 'Don't vex yourself about Pomp, Edwin,' said he. 'I will see that justice is done him.'
"'Ah, thank you, brother!' said Edwin. 'You will set him free, and give him a few hundred dollars to begin life with. Promise that, and I will rest in peace.' For you must know Edwin had neither wife nor child, and I was the only person dependent on his bounty. He was not rich; he had spent a good part of his fortune abroad, and had but recently established himself in a successful practice in Montgomery. Yet he left enough so that his brother could have well afforded to give me my freedom, and a thousand dollars."
"And did he not promise to do so?"
"He promised readily enough. And so my master died, and was buried, and I—had another master. For a few days nothing was said about free papers; and I had been too much absorbed in grief for the only man I loved to think much about them. But when the estate was settled up, and my new master was preparing to return to his home here in Tennessee, I grew uneasy.
"'Master,' said I, taking off my hat to him one morning, 'there is nothing more I can do for him who is gone; so I am thinking I would like to be for myself now, if you please.'
"'For yourself, you black rascal?' said my new master, laughing in my face.
"I wasn't used to being spoken to in that way, and it cut. But I kept down that which swelled up in here"—Pomp laid his hand on his heart—"and reminded him, respectfully as I could, of the doctor's last words about me, and of his promise.
"'You fool!' said he, 'do you think I was in earnest?'
"'If you were not,' said I, 'the doctor was.'
"'And do you think,' said he, 'that I am to be bound by the last words of a man too far gone to know his own mind in the matter?'
"'He always meant I should have my freedom,' I answered him, 'and always said so.'
"'Then why didn't he give it to you before, instead of requiring me to make such a sacrifice? Come, come, Pomp!' he patted my shoulder; 'you are altogether too valuable a nigger to throw away. Why, people say you know almost as much about medicine as my brother did. You'll be an invaluable fellow to have on a plantation; you can doctor the field hands, and, may be, if you behave yourself, get a chance to prescribe for the family. Come, my boy, you musn't get foolish ideas of freedom into your head; they're what spoil a nigger, and they'll have to be whipped out of you, which would be too bad for a fine, handsome darkey like you.'
"He patted my shoulder again, and looked as pleasant and flattering as if I had been a child to be coaxed,—I, as much a man, every bit, as he!" said Pomp, with a gleam of pride. "I could have torn him like a tiger for his insolence, his heartless injustice. But I repressed myself; I knew nothing was to be gained by violence.
"'Master,' said I, 'what you say is no doubt very flattering. But I want what my master gave me—what you promised that I should have—I shall be contented with nothing else.'
"'What! you persist?' he said, kindling up. 'Let me tell you now, Pomp, once for all, you'll have to be contented with a good deal less; and never mention the word "freedom" to me again if you would keep that precious hide of yours whole!'
"I saw he meant it, and that there was no help for me. Despair and fury were in me. Then, for the only time in my life, I felt what it was to wish to murder a man. I could have smitten the life out of that smiling, handsome face of his! Thank God I was kept from that. I concealed what was burning within. Then first I learned to pray,—I learned to trust in God. And so better thoughts came to me; and I said, 'If he uses me well, I will serve him; if not, I will run for my life.'
"Well, he brought me here to Tennessee. Here he was managing his aunt's estate, which she, soon dying, bequeathed to him. Up to this time I had got on very well; but he never liked me; he often said I knew too much, and was too proud. He was determined to humiliate me; so one day he said to me, 'Pomp, that Nance has been acting ugly of late, and you permit her.' I was a sort of overseer, you see. 'Now I'll tell you what I am going to have done. Nance is going to be whipped, and you are the fellow that's going to whip her.'
"'Pardon, master,' said I, 'that's what I never did—to whip a woman.'
"'Then it's time for you to begin. I've had enough of your fine manners, Pomp, and now you have got to come down a little.'
"'I will do any thing you please to serve your interests, sir,' said I. 'But whip a woman I never can, and never will. That's so, master.'
"'You villain!' he shouted, seizing a riding whip, 'I'll teach you to defy my authority to my face!' And he sprang at me, furious with rage.
"'Take care, sir!' I said, stepping back. ''Twill be better for both of us for you not to strike me!'
"'What! you threaten, you villain?'
"'I do not threaten, sir; but I say what I say. It will be better for both of us. You will never strike me twice. I tell you that.'
"I reckon he saw something dangerous in me, as I said this, for, instead of striking, he immediately called for help. 'Sam! Harry! Nap! bind this devil! Be quick!'
"'They won't do it!' said I. 'Woe to the man that lays a finger on me, be he master or be he slave!'
"'I'll see about that!' said he, running into the house. He came out again in a minute with his rifle. I was standing there still, the boys all keeping a safe distance, not one daring to touch me.
"'Master,' said I, 'hear one word. I am perfectly willing to die. Long enough you have robbed me of my liberty, and now you are welcome to what is less precious—my poor life. But for your own sake, for your dead brother's sake, let me warn you to beware what you do.'
"I suppose the allusion to his injustice towards me maddened him. He levelled his piece, and pulled the trigger. Luckily the percussion was damp,—or else I should not be talking with you now. His aim was straight at my head. I did not give him time for a second attempt. I was on him in an instant. I beat him down, I trampled him with rage. I snatched his gun from him, and lifted it to smash his skull. Just then a voice cried, 'Don't, Pomp! don't kill master!'
"It was Nance, pleading for the man who would have had her whipped. I couldn't stand that. Her mercy made me merciful. 'Good by, boys!' I said. They were all standing around, motionless with terror. 'Good by, Nance! I am off; live or die, I quit this man's service forever!'
"So I left him," said Pomp, "and ran for the woods. I was soon ranging these mountains, free, a wild man whom not even their blood-hounds could catch. I took the gun with me—a good one: here it is." He removed the rifle from its crevice in the rocks. "Do you know that name? It is that of its former owner—the man who called himself my master. Do you think it was taking too much from one who would have robbed me of my soul?"
He held the stock over the bed, so that Penn could make out the lettering. Delicately engraved on a surface of inlaid silver, was the well-known name,—
AN ANTI-SLAVERY DOCUMENT ON BLACK PARCHMENT.
Penn was not surprised at this discovery. He had already recognized in Pomp the hero of a story which he had heard before.
"But all this happened before I came to Tennessee, did it not? Have you lived in this cave ever since?"
"It is three years since I took to the mountains. But I have spent but a little of that time here. Sometimes, for weeks together, I am away, tramping the hills, exploring the forests, sleeping on the ground in the open air, living on fish, game, and fruits. That is in the summer time. Winters I burrow here."
"If you are so independent in your movements, why have you never escaped to the north?"
"Would I be any better off there? Does not the color of a negro's skin, even in your free states, render him an object of suspicion and hatred? What chance is there for a man like me?"
"Little—very true!" said Penn, sadly, contemplating the form of the powerful and intelligent black, and thinking with indignation and shame of the prejudice which excludes men of his race from the privileges of free men, even in the free north.
"These crags," said the African, "do not look scornfully upon me because of the color of my skin. The watercourses sing for me their gladdest songs, black as I am. And the serious trees seem to love me, even as I love them. It is a savage, lonely, but not unhappy life I lead—far better for a man like me than servitude here, or degradation at the north. I have one faithful human friend at least. Cudjo, cunning and capricious as he seems, is capable of genuine devotion."
"Have you two been together long?"
"One day, a few weeks after I took to the mountains, I was watching for an animal which I heard rustling the foliage of a tree that grows up out of a chasm. I held my gun ready to fire, when I perceived that my animal was something human. It climbed the tree, ran out on one of the branches, leaped, like a squirrel, to some bushes that grew in the wall of the chasm, and soon pulled itself up to the top. Then I saw that it was a man—and a black man. He came towards the spot where I was concealed, sauntering along, chewing now and then a leaf, and muttering to himself; appearing as happy as a savage in his native woods, and perfectly unconscious of being observed. Suddenly I rose up, levelling my gun. He uttered a yell of terror, and started to cast himself again into the chasm. But with a threat I prevented him, and he threw himself at my feet, begging me to grant him his life, and not to take him back to his master.
"'Who is your master?' said I.
"'Job Coombs was my master,' said he, 'but I left him.'
"'You are Cudjo, then!' said I,—for I had heard of him. He ran away from a tolerably good master on account of unmercifully cruel treatment from the overseer. But as he had been frightfully cut up the night before he disappeared, it was generally believed he had crawled into a hole in the rocks somewhere, and died, and been eaten by buzzards. But it seems that he had been concealed and cured by an old slave on the plantation named Pete."
"Coombs's Pete!" exclaimed Penn.
"You have good cause to remember the name!" said Pomp. "As soon as Cudjo was well enough to tramp, he took to the mountains. It was a couple of years afterwards that I met him. We soon came to an understanding, and he conducted me to his cave. Here he lived. He has always kept up a communication with some of his friends—especially with old Pete, who often brings us provisions to a certain place, and supplies us with ammunition. We give him game and skins, which he disposes of when he can, generally to such men as Pepperill. He was going to Pepperill's house, after meeting Cudjo, that night when the patrolmen discovered and whipped him. That led to Pepperill's punishment, and that led to your being here."
"Does old Pete visit you since?"
"No, but he has sent us a message, and I have seen Pepperill."
"Nobody ever comes here, sir. We have a place where we meet our friends; and as for Pepperill, I went to his house."
"That was bold in you!"
"Bold?" The negro smiled. "What will you say then when I tell you I have been in Bythewood's house, since I left him? I wanted my medicine-case, and the bullet-moulds that belong with the rifle. I entered his room, where he was asleep. I stood for a long time and looked at him by the moonlight. It was well for him he didn't wake!" said Pomp, with a dancing light in his eye. "He did not; he slept well! Having got what I wanted, I came away; but I had changed knives with him, and left mine sticking in the bedstead over his head, so that he might know I had been there, and not accuse any one else of the theft."
"The sight of that knife must have given him a shudder, when he woke, and saw who had been there, and remembered his wrongs towards you!" said Penn.
"Well it might!" said Pomp. "Come here, Cudjo."
Cudjo had just entered the cave, bringing some partridges which he had caught in traps.
"It's allus 'Cudjo! Cudjo do dis! Cudjo do dat!' What ye want o' Cudjo?"
Pomp paid no heed to the ill-natured response, but said calmly, addressing Penn,—
"I have told you my reasons for escaping out of slavery: now I will show you Cudjo's."
The back of the deformed was stripped bare. Penn uttered a groan of horror at the sight.
"Dem's what ye call lickins!" said Cudjo, with a hideous grin over his shoulder. "Dat ar am de oberseer's work."
"Good Heaven!" said Penn, sick at the sight of the scars. "I can't endure it! Take him away!"
"Don't be 'fraid!" said Cudjo. "Feel of 'em, sar!" And taking Penn's hand, he seemed to experience a vindictive joy in passing it over his lash-furrowed flesh. "Not much skin dar, hey? Rough streaks along dar, hey? Needn't pull your hand away dat fashion, and shet yer eyes, and look so white! It's all ober now. What if you'd seen dat back when 'twas fust cut up? or de mornin' arter? Shouldn't blame ye, if 't had made ye sick den!"
"But what had you done to merit such cruelty?" exclaimed Penn, relieved when the back was covered.
"What me done? De oberseer didn't hap'm to like me; dat's what me done. But he did hap'm to like my gal; dat's more what me done! So he cut me up wid his own hand,—said me sassy, and wouldn't work. Coombs, him's a good man 'nuff,—neber found no fault 'long wid him; but debil take dat ar Silas Ropes!"
"Him was Coombs's oberseer dem times," said Cudjo. "Him gi' me de lickins; him got my gal—me owe him for dat!" And, with a ferocious grimace, clinching his hands together as if he felt his enemy's throat, he gave a yell of rage which resounded through the cavern.
"Go about your work, Cudjo," said Pomp. "What do you think of that back, sir?"
"It is the most powerful anti-slavery document I ever saw!" said Penn.
"He is a native African," said Pomp. "He was brought to this country a young barbarian; and he has barely got civilized—hardly got Christianized yet! I will make him tell you more of his history some day. Then you will no longer wonder that his lessons in Christian love have not made a saint of him! Now you must rest, while I help him get dinner."
The manner of cooking practised in the cave was exceedingly primitive. The partridges broiled over the fire, the potatoes roasted in the ashes, and the corn-cake baked in a kettle, the meal was prepared. The artificial chamber was Cudjo's pantry. One of the giant's stools, having a broad, flat surface, served as a table. On this were placed two or three pewter plates, and as many odd cups and saucers. Cudjo had an old coffee-pot, in which he made strong black coffee. He could afford, however, neither sugar nor milk.
Penn's wants were first attended to. He picked the bones of a partridge lying in bed, and thought he had never tasted sweeter meat.
"With how few things men can live, and be comfortable! and what simple fare suffices for a healthy appetite!" he said to himself, watching Pomp and Cudjo at their dinner. Pomp did not even drink coffee, but quenched his thirst with cold water dipped from a pool in the cave.
IN THE CAVE AND ON THE MOUNTAIN.
That afternoon, as Penn was alone, the mystery of his removal from Mr. Villars's house was suddenly revealed to him.
"I remember it very distinctly now," he said to Pomp, who presently came in and sat by his bed. "Ropes and his crew had been to the house for me. Sick and delirious as I was, I knew the danger to my friends, and it seemed to me that I must leave the house. So I watched my opportunity, and when Toby left me for a minute, I darted through his room over the kitchen, climbed down from the window to the roof of the shed, and from there descended by an apple tree to the ground. This is the dream I have been trying to recall. It is all clear to me now. But I do not remember any thing more. The delirium must have given me preternatural strength, if I walked all the distance to the spot where you found me."
"That you did walk it, your bruised and bleeding feet were a sufficient evidence," said the negro. "You had just such delirious attacks afterwards, when it was as much as Cudjo and I wanted to do to hold you."
"And the blanket—it is Toby's blanket, which I caught up as I fled," added Penn.
He now became extremely anxious to communicate with his friends, to explain his conduct to them, and let them know of his safety. Besides, he was now getting sufficiently strong to sit up a little, and other clothing was necessary than the old minister's nightgown and Toby's blanket.
"I have been thinking it all over," said Pomp, "and have concluded to pay your friends a visit."
"No, no, my dear sir!" exclaimed Penn, with gratitude. "I can't let you incur any such danger on my account. I can never repay you for half you have done for me already!" And he pressed the negro's hand as no white man had ever pressed it since the death of his good master, Dr. Bythewood.
Pomp was deeply affected. His great chest heaved, and his powerful features were charged with emotion.
"The risk will not be great," said he. "I will take Cudjo with me, and between us we will manage to bring off your clothes."
At night the two blacks departed, leaving Penn alone in the fire-lit cave, waiting for their return, picturing to himself all the difficulties of their adventure, and thinking with warm gratitude and admiration of Pomp, whose noble nature not even slavery could corrupt, whose benevolent heart not even wrong could embitter.
It was late in the evening when the two messengers arrived at Mr. Villars's house. All was dark and still about the premises. But one light was visible, and that was in the room over the kitchen.
"That is Toby's room," said Pomp. "Stay here, Cudjo, while I give him a call."
"Stay yuself," said Cudjo, "and lef dis chil' go. Me know Toby; you don't."
So Pomp remained on the watch while Cudjo climbed the tree by which Penn had descended, scrambled up over the shed-roof, reached the window, opened it, and thrust in his head.
Toby, who was just going to bed, heard the movement, saw the frightful apparition, and with a shriek dove under the bed-clothes, where he lay in an agony of fear, completely hidden from sight, while Cudjo, grinning maliciously, climbed into the room.
"See hyar, ye fool! none ob dat! none ob your playin' possum wid me!" said the visitor, rolling Toby over, while Toby held the clothes tighter and tighter, as if to show a lock of wool or the tip of an ear would have been fatal. "Me's Cudjo! don't ye know Cudjo? Me come for de gemman's clo'es!"
"Hey? dat you, Cudjo?" said Toby, venturing at length to peep out. "Wha—wha—what de debil you want hyar?"
"De gemman sent me. Dis yer letter's for your massy."
"De gemman?" cried Toby, jumping up. "Not Mass' Penn? not Mass' Hapgood?"
Immense was his astonishment on being assured that Penn was alive, recovering, and in need of garments. Carl, who had been awakened in the next room by the noise, now came in to see what was the matter. He recognized Penn's handwriting on the note, and immediately hastened with it to Virginia's room. A minute after she was reading it to her father at his bedside. It was written with a pencil on a leaf torn from a little blank book in which Pomp kept a sort of diary; but never had gilt-edged or perfumed billet afforded the blind old minister and his daughter such unalloyed delight.
It was long past midnight when Pomp and Cudjo returned to the cave, bringing with them not only Penn's garments, but a goodly stock of provisions, which Cudjo had hinted to Toby would be acceptable, and, more precious still, a letter from Mr. Villars, written by his daughter's own hand.
Penn now began to sit up a little every day. Gloomy as the cave was, it was not an unwholesome abode even for an invalid. The atmosphere was pure, cool, and bracing; the temperature uniform. Nor did Penn suffer inconvenience from dampness; though often, in the deep stillness of the night, he could hear the far-off, faint, and melancholy murmur of dropping water in the hollow recesses of the cavern beyond.
One day, as soon as he was well enough for the undertaking, Pomp ordered Cudjo to light torches and show them the hidden wonders of his habitation. Cudjo was delighted with the honor. He ran on before, waving the flaring pine knots over his head, and shouting.