In the hollow golden bowl of echoing evening the sailor noted, too, the flicker, in golden pencilled wings and back of speckled umber and mottled white breast, with coal-black collar and neck and head of cinnamon. His golden tail droops far below his perch, and, running downward along the tree-trunk, it flashes in the air like a sceptre over the wood-lice he devours with his pickaxe bill. "Go to the ant, thou sluggard!" was an instigation to murder in the flicker, who loves young ants as much as wild-cherries or Indian corn, and is capable of taking any such satire seriously upon things to eat. Not so elfin and devilish as the small black woodpecker, he is full of bolder play.
The redbird, like the unclaimed blood of Abel, flew to the little trees that grew low, as if to cover Abel's altar; the jack-snipe chirped in the swampy spots, like a divinity student, on his clean, long legs, probing with his bill and critical eye the Scriptures of the fields; the quail piped like an old bachelor with family cares at last, as he led his mate where the wild seeds were best; and through the air darted voices of birds forsaken or on doctor's errands, crying "Phoebe? Phoebe?" or "Killed he! killed he!"
"Are you a dealer?" asked the gentleman of Jimmy Phoebus.
"Just a little that way," said Jimmy, warily, "when I kin git somethin' cheap."
The stranger had a pair of keen, dancing eyes, and a long, eloquent, silver-gray face that might have suited a great general, so fine was its command, and yet too narrowly dancing in the eyes, like spiders in a well, disturbing the mirror there.
"Ha!" chuckled the man, as if his eyes had chuckled, so poorly did that sound represent his lordly stature and look of high spirit—"ha! that's what brings them all to my neighbor Johnson: a fair quotient!"
"Quotient?" repeated Jimmy.
"Johnson's a great factor hereabout," continued the military-looking man, bending his handsome eyes on the bay captain, as if there was a business secret between them, and peering at once mischievously and nobly; "he makes the quotient to suit. He leaves the suttle large and never stints the cloff."
"He don't narry a feller down to the cloth he's got, sir?" assented Jimmy, dubiously.
"Why should he? His equation is simple: I suppose you know what it is."
"Not ezackly," answered Phoebus, pricking up his ears to learn.
"Well, it is force and class sympathy against a dead quantity: laws which have no consignees, cattle which have no lawyer and no tongue, rights which have lapsed by their assertion being suspended, till demand and supply, like a pair of bulldogs, tear what is left to pieces. Armed with his ca. sa., my neighbor Johnson offsets everybody's fi. fa., serves his writ the first, and makes to gentlemen like you a satisfactory quotient. But he cuts no capers with Isaac and Jacob Cannon!"
"I expect now that you are Jacob Cannon?" remarked the tawny sailor, not having understood a word of what preceded. "If that's the case, I'm glad to know your name, and thank you for givin' me this lift."
By a bare nod, just intelligible, Mr. Cannon signified that the guess would do; and still meditating aloud in his small, grand way, continued:
"We let neighbor Johnson and his somewhat peculiar mother-in-law make such commerce as suits him, provided he studies to give us no inconvenience. That is his equation; with his quotient we have no concern other than our slight interest in his wastage, as when Madame Cannon rides down to change a bill and leaves an order for supplies—rum, chiefly, I believe. Gentlemen like you come into this country to deal, replevin, or what not, and we say to you all, 'Don't tread on us—that is all.' We shall not look into your parcels, nor lie awake of nights to hear alarms; but harm Isaac and Jacob Cannon one ha'pence and levari facias, fi. fa.!"
"And fee-fo-fum," ejaculated Jimmy, cheerfully; "I've hearn it before."
Looking again with some curiosity at his companion, Phoebus saw that he was not beyond fifty years of age, of a spare, lofty figure—at least six feet four high—sitting straight and graceful as an Indian, his clothes well-tailored, his countenance and features both stern and refined; every feature perfected, and all keen without being hard or angular—and yet Jimmy did not like him. There seemed to have been made a commodore or a general—some one designed for deeds of chivalry and great philanthropy; and yet around and between the dancing eyes spider lines were drawn, as if the fine high brain of Jacob Cannon had put aside matters that matched it and meddled with nothing that ascended higher above the world than the long white bridge of his nose. His sentiments apparently fell no further towards his heart than that; his brain belonged to the bridge of his nose.
"Another Meshach Milburn, by smoke!" concluded Jimmy.
After a little pause Phoebus inquired into the character of the people in this apparently new region of country.
"The quotient of much misplanting and lawyering is the lands on the Nanticoke," spoke the gray-nosed Apollo; "the piece of country directly before us, in the rear of my neighbor Johnson's cross-roads, was an old Indian reservation for seventy years, and so were three thousand acres to our right, on Broad Creek. The Indian is a bad factor to civilize his white neighbors; he does not know the luxury of the law, that grand contrivance to make the equation between the business man and the herd. Ha, ha!"
Mr. Cannon chuckled as if he, at least, appreciated the law, and turned the fine horsy bridge of his nose, all gray with dancing eyelight, enjoyingly upon Mr. Phoebus.
"The Indians were long imposed upon, and when they went away, at the brink of the Revolutionary War, they left a demoralized white race; and others who moved in upon the deserted lands of the Nanticokes were, if possible, more Indian than the Indians. This peninsula never produced a great Indian, but when Ebenezer Johnson settled on Broad Creek it possessed a greater savage than Tecumseh. He took what he wanted and appealed to nature, like the Indian. He stole nothing; he merely took it. He served, with anything convenient, from his fists to a blunderbuss, his fi. fa. and his ca. sa. upon wondering but submissive mankind. Need I say that this was before the perfect day of Isaac and Jacob Cannon?"
"They would have socked it to him, I reckon," Jimmy exclaimed, consonantly.
Mr. Jacob Cannon gave a tender smile, such as the gray horse emits at the prospect of oats, and continued:
"Such was the multiplicand to make the future race. Here, too, raged the boundary-line debate between Penns and Calverts, with occasional raids and broken heads, and a noble suit in chancery of fifty years, till no man's title was known, and, instead of improving their lands, our voluptuous predecessors improved chiefly their opportunities. You cut sundry cords of wood and hauled it to the landing, and Ebenezer Johnson coolly scowed it over to his paradise at the mouth of Broad Creek. You had a little parcel of negroes, but the British war-ships, in two successive wars, lay in the river mouth and beckoned them off. Having no interest in any certain property, the foresters of the Nanticoke would rather trade with the enemy than fight for foolish ideas; and so this region was more than half Tory, and is still half passive, the other half predatory. To neither half of such a quotient belongs the house of Isaac and Jacob Cannon!"
His nostrils swelled a trifle with military spirit, and he raised the bridge of his nose delicately, turning to observe his instinctive companion.
"If it's any harm I won't ask it," the easy-going mariner spoke, "but air you two Cannons ary kin to ole Patty Cannon?"
Mr. Cannon smiled.
"In Adam all sinned—there we may have been connected," he said. "The question you ask may one day be actionable, sir. The Cannons are a numerous people in our region, of fair substance, such as we have, but they showed nothing to vary the equation of subsistence here till there arose the mother of Isaac and Jacob Cannon. She was a remarkable woman; unassisted, she procured the charter for Cannon's Ferry, and made the port settlement of that name by the importance her ferry acquired; and when she died there were found in her house nine hundred dollars in silver—for she never would take any paper money—the earnings of that sequestered ferry, to start her sons on their career. She knew the peculiar character of some of her neighbors—how lightly meum and tuum sat upon their fears or consciences—but she kept no guard except her own good gray eyes and dauntless heart over that accumulating pile of little sixpences, for there was but one spirit as bold as she in all this region of the world—"
"And that, I reckon," observed Jimmy Phoebus, "was ole Patty Cannon herself."
Mr. Jacob Cannon slightly bowed his head, and spoke aloud from an inner communion:
"Forgive me, mother, that I make the comparison! Thy frugal oil, that burned with pure and lonely widow's flame at Cannon's Ferry window, the traveller hailed with comfort in his heart, and blessed the enterprise. But to compound the equation another unknown quantity of female force arose beside my mother's lamp. A certain young Cannon, distantly of our stock, must needs go see the world, and he returned with a fair demon of a bride, and settled, too, at Cannon's Ferry. He lived to see the wondrous serpent he had warmed in his arms, and died, they say, of the sting. But she lived on, and, shrinking back into the woods to a little farm my mother's sons rented to her, she lighted there a Jack-o'-the-lantern many a traveller has pursued who never returned to tell. With Ebenezer Johnson's progeny and her own siren sisters, who followed Madame Cannon to the Nanticoke, the nucleus of a settlement began, and has existed for twenty years, that only the Almighty's venire facias can explore."
"That's my arrand, Jacob Cannon," quietly remarked Jimmy Phoebus. "I'm a pore man from Prencess Anne. If you took me for a nigger-dealer you did me as pore a compliment as when I asked if you was Patty Cannon's kin. But I have got just one gal to love and just one life to lose, an' if God takes me thar, I'm a-goin' to Johnson's Cross-roads."
Mr. Jacob Cannon turned and examined his companion with some twinkling care, but showed no personal concern.
"Every man must be his own security, my dark-skinned friend, till he can find a bailsman. That place I never take—neither the debtor's nor the security. The firm of Isaac and Jacob Cannon allows no trespass, and further concern themselves not. But we are at the Nanticoke."
"I'm obliged to you for the lift, Mr. Jacob Cannon," said Jimmy, springing down, "and hope you may never find it inconvenient to have let such a pack of wolves use your neighborhood to trespass on human natur."
Some piles of wood and an old wharf were at the river-side, and a little scow, half filled with water, and with only a broken piece of paddle in it, was the only boat the pungy captain could find. The merchant's buggy was soon out of sight, and the wide, gray Nanticoke, several hundred yards wide, and made wider by a broad river that flowed into it through low bluffs and levels immediately opposite, was receiving the strong shadows of approaching night, and the tide was running up it violent and deep.
Long lines of melancholy woods shut both these rivers in; an osprey suddenly struck the surface of the water, like a drowning man, and rose as if it had escaped from some demon in the flood; the silence following his plunge was deeper than ever, till a goatsucker, noiselessly making his zigzag chase, cried, as if out of eternal gloom, his solemn command to "Whip poor Will." Those notes repeated—as by some slave ordering his brother to be lashed or one sympathetic soul in perdition made the time-caller to another's misery—floated on the evening light as if the oars of Charon echoed on the Styx, and broken hearts were crossing over.
Alone, unintimidated, but not altogether comfortable, Jimmy Phoebus proceeded to bail out the old scow, and wished he had accepted one of Jack Wonnell's hats to do the task, and, when he had finished it, the stars and clouds were manoeuvring around each other in the sky, with the clouds the more aggressive, and finally some drops of rain punctured the long, bare muscles of the inflowing tide, making a reticule of little pittings, like a net of beads on drifting women's tresses. As night advanced, a puffing something ascended the broad, black aisle of this forest river, and slowly the Norfolk steamboat rumbled past, with passengers for the Philadelphia stage. Then silence drew a sheet of fog around herself and passed into a cold torpor of repose, affected only by the waves that licked the shores with intermittent thirst.
The waterman, regretting a little that he had not taken his stand at Vienna, where human assistance might have been procured, and thinking that the poison airs might also afflict him with Meshach Milburn's complaints, fought sleep away till midnight, straining his eyes and ears ever and anon for signs of some sail; but nothing drew near, and he had insensibly closed his lids and might have soon been in deep sleep, but that he suddenly heard, between his dreams and this world, something like a little baby moaning in the night.
He sat up in the damp scow, where he had been lying, and listened with all his senses wide open, and once again the cry was wafted upon the river zephyrs, and before it died away the sailor's paddle was in the water, and his frail, awkward vessel was darting across the tide.
He saw, in the black night, what none but a sailor's eyes would have seen, a thing not visible, but divined, coming along on the bosom of the river; and his ears saw it the clearer as that little cry continued—now stopped, now stifled, now rising, now nearly piercing; and then there was a growl, momentary and loud, and a rattle as of feet over wood, and a stroke or thud, or heavy concussion, and then a white thing rose up against the universal ink and rushed on the little scow, sucking water as it came—the cat-boat under full sail.
Phoebus had paddled for the opposite shore of the river to prevent the object of his quest escaping up the Northwest Fork, yet to be in its path if it beat up the main fork, and, by a piece of instinctive calculation, he had run nearly under the cat-boat bows.
"Ahoy, there!" cried Jimmy, standing up in his tipsy little skiff; "ahoy the Ellenory Dennis! I'm a-comin' aboard."
And with this, the paddle still in his hand, and his knees and feet nearly sentient in their providence of uses, the sailor threw himself upon the low gunwale, and let it glide through his palms till he could see the man at the helm.
There was no light to be called so, but the helmsman was yet perceived by the sailor's experienced eyes, and he grappled the gunwale firmer, and, preparing to swing himself on board, shouted hoarsely,
"You Levin Dennis, I see you, by smoke! You know Jimmy Phoebus is your friend, an' come out of this Pangymonum an' stop a-breakin' of your mother's heart! Oh, I see you, my son!"
If he did see Levin Dennis, Levin did not see Jimmy Phoebus, nor apparently hear him, but stood motionless at the helm as a frozen man, looking straight on in the night. The rigging made a little flapping, the rudder creaked on its hooks, but every human sound was still as the grave now, and the boy at the helm seemed petrified and deaf and blind.
The pungy captain's temper rose, his superstition not being equal to that of most people, and he cried again,
"You're a disgrace to the woman that bore you. Hell's a-waitin' for your pore tender body an' soul. Heave ahoy an' let drop that gaff, an' take me aboard, Levin!"
Still silent and passive as a stone, the youthful figure at the helm did not seem to breathe, and the cat-boat cut the water like a fish-hawk.
A flash of bright fire lighted up the vessel's side, a loud pistol-shot rang out, and the sailor's hands loosened from the gunwale and clutched at the air, and he felt the black night fall on him as if he had pulled down its ebony columns upon his head.
He knew no more for hours, till he felt himself lying in cold water and saw the gray morning coming through tree-boughs over his head. He had a thirsty feeling and pain somewhere, and for a few minutes did not move, but lay there on his shoulder, holding to something and guessing what it might be, and where he might be making his bed in this chilly autumn dawn.
His hand was clutching the a-stern plank of the old scow, and was so stiff he could not for some time open it. The scow was aground upon a marshy shore, in which some large trees grew, and were the fringes of a woods that deepened farther back.
"By smoke!" muttered Jimmy, "if yer ain't hokey-pokey. But I reckon I ain't dead, nohow."
With this he lifted the other hand, that had been stretched beneath his head, and was also numb with cramp and cold, and it was full of blood.
"Well," said Jimmy, "that feller did hit me; but, if he'll lend me his pistol, I'll fire a straighter slug than his'n. I wonder where it is."
Feeling around his head, the captain came to a raw spot, the touch of which gave him acute pain, and made the blood flow freshly as he withdrew his hand, and he could just speak the words, "Water, or I'll—" when he swooned away.
The sun was up and shining cheerily in the tree-tops as Phoebus, who was its name-bearer, recovered his senses again, and he bathed his face, still lying down, and tore a piece of his raiment off for a bandage, and, by the mirror of a still, green pool of water, examined his wound, which was in the fleshy part of his cheek—a little groove or gutter, now choked with almost dried blood, where the ball had ploughed a line. It had probably struck a bone, but had not broken it, and this had stunned him.
"I was so ugly before that Ellenory wouldn't more than half look at me," Jimmy mused, "an' now, I 'spect, she'll never kiss that air cheek."
He then bandaged his cheek roughly, sitting up, and took a survey of the scenery.
The river was here a full quarter of a mile wide, on the opposite shore bluffy, and in places bold, but, on the side where Phoebus had drifted with the tide, clutching his old scow with mortal grip, there extended a point of level woods and marsh or "cripple," as if by the action of some back-water, and this low ground appeared to have a considerable area, and was nowhere tilled or fenced, or gave any signs of being visited.
But the opposite or northern shore was quite otherwise; there the river had a wide bend or hollow to receive two considerable creeks, and changed its course almost abruptly from west to southwest, giving a grand view of its wide bosom for the distance of more than two miles into Maryland; and the prospect was closed in that direction by a whitish-looking something, like lime or shell piles, standing against the background of pale blue woods and bluffs.
Right opposite the spot where Phoebus had been stranded, a cleared farm came out to the Nanticoke, affording a front of only a single field, on the crest of a considerable sand-bluff—elevations looking magnified here, where nature is so level; and at one end of this field, which was planted in corn that was now clinging dry to the naked stalks, an old lane descended to a shell-paved wharf of a stumpy, square form; and almost at the other, or western, end of the clearing stood a respectable farm-house of considerable age, with a hipped roof and three queer dormer windows slipping down the steeper half below, and two chimneys, not built outside of the house, as was the general fashion, but naturally rising out of the old English-brick gables. All between the gables was built of wood; a porch of one story occupied nearly half the centre of that side of the house facing the river; and to the right, against the house and behind it, were kitchen, smoke-house, corn-cribs, and other low tenements, in picturesque medley; while to the left crouched an old, low building on the water's edge, looking like a brandy-still or a small warehouse. The road from the wharf and lane passed along a beach, and partly through the river water, to enter a gate between this shed and the dwelling; and from the garden or lawn, on the bluff before the latter, arose two tall and elegant trees, a honey-locust and a stalwart mulberry.
"Now, I never been by this place before," Jimmy Phoebus muttered, "but, by smoke! yon house looks to me like Betty Twiford's wharf, an', to save my life, I can't help thinkin' yon white spots down this side of the river air Sharptown. If that's the case, which state am I in?"
He rose to his feet, bailed the scow, which was nearly full of water, and began to paddle along the shore, and, seeing something white, he landed and parted the bushes, and found it to be a stone of a bluish marble, bearing on one side the letter M, and on the other the letter P, and a royal crown was also carved upon it.
"Yer's one o' Lord Baltimore's boundary stones," Phoebus exclaimed. "Now see the rascality o' them kidnappers! Yon house, I know, is Twiford's, because it's a'most on the state-line, but, I'm ashamed to say, it's a leetle in Maryland. And that lane, coming down to the wharf, is my way to Joe Johnson's Pangymonum at his cross-roads."
A sound, as of some one singing, seemed to come from the woods near by, and Phoebus, listening, concluded that it was farther along the water, so he paddled softly forward till a small cove or pool led up into the swamp, and its shores nowhere offered a dry landing; yet there were recent foot-marks deeply trodden in the bog, and disclosed up the slope into the woods, and from their direction seemed to come the mysterious chanting.
"My head's bloody and I'm wet as a musk-rat, so I reckon I ain't afraid of gittin' a little muddy," and with this the navigator stepped from the scow in swamp nearly to his middle, and pulled himself up the slope by main strength.
"I believe my soul this yer is a island," Jimmy remarked; "a island surrounded with mud, that's wuss to git to than a water island."
The tall trees increased in size as he went on and entered a noble grove of pines, through whose roar, like an organ accompanied by a human voice, the singing was heard nearer and nearer, and, following the track of previous feet, which had almost made a path, Phoebus came to a space where an axe had laid the smaller bushes low around a large loblolly pine that spread its branches like a roof only a few feet from the ground; and there, fastened by a chain to the trunk, which allowed her to go around and around the tree, and tread a nearly bare place in the pine droppings or "shats," sat a black woman, singing in a long, weary, throat-sore wail. Jimmy listened to a few lines:
"Deep-en de woun' dy han's have made In dis weak, helpless soul, Till mercy wid its mighty aid De-scen to make me whole; Yes, Lord! De-scen to make me whole."
A little negro child, perhaps three years old, was lying asleep on the ground at the woman's feet, in an old tattered gray blanket that might have been discarded from a stable. Near the child was a wooden box, in which were a coarse loaf of corn-bread and some strips of bacon, and a wooden trough, hollowed out of a log, contained water. The woman's face was scratched and bruised, and, as she came to some dental sounds in her chant, her teeth were revealed, with several freshly missing in front, and her lips were swollen and the gums blistered and raw.
She glanced up as Phoebus came in sight, looked at him a minute in blank curiosity, as if she did not know what kind of animal he was, and then continued her song, wearily, as if she had been singing it for days, and her mind had gone into it and was out of her control. As she moved her feet from time to time, the chain rattled upon her ankles.
"Well," said Jimmy, "if this ain't Pangymonum, I reckon I'll find it at Johnson's Cross-roads! Git up thar, gal, an' let me see what ails you."
The woman rose mechanically, still singing in the shrill, cracked, weary drone, and, as she rose, the baby awoke and began to cry, and she stooped and took it up, and, patting it with her hands, sang on, as if she would fall asleep singing, but could not.
The chain, strong and rusty, had been very recently welded to her feet by a blacksmith; the fresh rivet attested that, and there were also pieces of charcoal in the pine strewings, as if fire had been brought there for smith's uses. Jimmy Phoebus took hold of the chain and examined it link by link till it depended from a powerful staple driven to the heart of the pine-tree; though rusty, it was perfect in every part, and the condition of the staple showed that it was permanently retained in its position, as if to secure various and successive persons, while the staple itself had been driven above the reach of the hands, as by a man standing on some platform or on another's shoulders.
Phoebus took the chain in his short, powerful arms, and, giving a little run from the root of the tree, threw all the strength of his compact, heavy body into a jerk, and let his weight fall upon it, but did not produce the slightest impression.
"There's jess two people can unfasten this chain," exclaimed Jimmy, blowing hard and kneading his palms, after two such exertions, "one of em's a blacksmith and t'other's a woodchopper. Gal, how did you git yer?"
The woman, a young and once comely person of about twenty-eight years of age, sang on a moment as if she did not understand the question, till Phoebus repeated it with a kinder tone:
"Pore, abused creatur, tell me as your friend! I ain't none of these kidnappers. Git your pore, scattered wits together an tell a friend of all women an' little childern how he kin help you, fur time's worth a dollar a second, an' bloody vultures are nigh by. Speak, Mary!"
The universal name seemed timely to this woman; she stopped her chanting and burst into tears.
"My husband brought me here," she said, between her long sobs. "He sold me. I give him everything I had and loved him, too, and he sold me—me and my baby."
"I reckon you don't belong fur down this way, Mary? You don't talk like it."
"No, sir; I belong to Philadelphia. I was a free woman and a widow; my husband left me a little money and a little house and this child; another man come and courted me, a han'some mulatto man, almost as white as you. He told me he had a farm in Delaware, and wanted me to be his wife; he promised me so much and was so anxious about it, that I listened to him. Oh, he was a beautiful talker, and I was lonesome and wanted love. I let him sell my house and give him the money, and started a week ago to come to my new home. Oh, he did deceive me so; he said he loved me dearly."
She began to cry again, and her mind seemed to wander, for the next sentence was disconnected. Jimmy took the baby in his arms and kissed it without any scruples, and the child's large, black eyes looked into his as if he might be its own father, while he dandled it tenderly.
"The foxes has come an' barked at me two nights," said the woman; "they wanted the bacon, I 'spect. The water-snakes has crawled around here in the daytime, and the buzzards flew right down before me and looked up, as if they thought I ought to be dead. But I wasn't afraid: that man I give my love to was so much worse than them, that I just sung and let them look at me."
"You say he sold you, Mary?"
The woman rubbed her weary eyes and slowly recollected where she had left off.
"We moved our things on a vessel to Delaware, and come up a creek to a little town in the marshes, and there we started for my husband's farm. He said we had come to it in the night. I couldn't tell, but I saw a house in the woods, and was so tired I went to sleep with my baby there, and in the night I found men in the room, and one of them, a white man, was tying my feet."
A crow cawed with a sound of awe in the pine tops, and squirrels were running tamely all round about as she hesitated.
"I thought then of the kidnappers of Delaware, for I had heard about them, and I jumped out of bed and fought for my life. They knocked me down and the rope around my feet tripped me up; but I fought with my teeth after my hands was tied, too, and I bit that white man's knees, and then he picked up a fire-shovel, or something of iron, and knocked my teeth out. My last hope was almost gone when I saw my husband coming in, and I cried to him, 'Save me! save me, darling!' He had a rope in his hand, and, before I could understand it, he had slipped it over my neck and choked me."
"Your own husband? I can't believe it, to save my life!"
"I didn't believe it, neither, till I heard him say, when they loosened the slipknot that had strangled me—the voice was his I had trusted so much; I never could forget it!—'Eben,' he said, 'I've took down every mole and spot on her body and can swear to' em, for I've learned 'em by heart, and you won't have no trouble a-sellin' her, as she can't testify."
"The imp of Pangymonum!" Jimmy cried. "He had married you to note down your marks, and by' em swear you to be a slave!"
"The white man tried to sell me to a farmer, and then I told what I had heard them say. He believed me, and told them the mayor of Philadelphia had a reward out for them, for kidnappin' free people, already. Then they talked together—a little scared they was—and tied me again, and brought me on a cart through the woods to the river and fetched me here, and chained me, and told me if I ever said I was free, to another man, they meant to sell my baby and to drown me in the river."
She finished with a chilly tremor and a low wail like an infant, but the sailor passed her baby into her arms to engage her, and said:
"The Lord is still a-countin' of his sparrows, or I wouldn't have been on this arrand, by smoke! To drift yer, hangin' senseless to that ole scow, must have been to save you, Mary. This is a island where they chains up property, I reckon, that is bein' follered up too close. Time's very precious, Mary, but I've got a sailor's knife yer, an' I'll stay to cut the staple out o' this ole pine if they come an' kill me. You take an' wash my face off outen that water-trough while I bite a bit of the bacon."
He took the child again and amused it while the woman carefully cleaned his wound and rebandaged it so that he could breathe and see and eat, though the cotton folds wrapped in much of his face like a mask. He then examined the chain again, especially where it was rivetted at the feet, and lifted a large iron ball weighing several pounds, which was also affixed to her ankle, so that she could not climb the tree. Her ankle he found blistered by the red-hot rivet being smithed so barbarously close to the flesh.
"Don't leave me, oh! don't leave me here to die," the woman pleaded, as he started into the woods.
"I'll stay by you an' we'll die together, if we must; but it's not my idee to die at all, Mary. I'm goin' to bring that air scow ashore while I cut a hickory, if I can find one, to break this yer chain."
Plunging again into the mud nearly to his waist, Phoebus pulled the scow up into the woods, and had barely concealed himself when he saw come out of the creek below Twiford's house a cat-boat like the Ellenora Dennis, and stand towards the island in the cripple.
"The tide's agin' em, an' they must make a tack to get yer," Jimmy muttered; "but I'm afraid this knife will have to go to the heart of some son of Pangymonum in ten minutes, or Ellenory Dennis never agin be pestered by her ugly lover."
He was seized with a certain frenzy of strength and discernment at the danger he was in, and, as he carried the scow onward and across the woodland island, heavy as it was, he also noted a single small hickory tree on that farther margin, and threw himself against it and bent it down, and plunged his knife into the straining fibres so that it crackled and splintered in his hand. He leaped to the tree and scaled it as he had often climbed a mast, and he thrust the sapling under the staple, trimming the point down with the knife as he clutched the tree by his knees, and then, catching the young hickory like a lever, he dropped down the pine trunk and got his shoulder under the sapling and brought the weight of his body desperately against it. The staple bent upward in the tree, but did not loosen.
At that instant the scraping of a boat upon the mud was heard, and the black woman fell upon her knees.
"Pray, but do it soft," Jimmy whispered; "an' not a cry from the child, or there'll be a murder!"
He had rapidly trimmed the hickory stem of its branches while he spoke, so that it could penetrate the arborage of the tree from above, and climbing higher, like a cat, he worked the point of the lever downwards into the now crooked staple, and threw himself out of the tree against the sapling, which bent like a bow nearly double, but would not break, and, as the staple yielded and flew out, the chain and the deliverer fell together on the soft pine litter.
"Hark!" exclaimed a voice through the woods.
"What was it?" asked another voice.
"Come!" Phoebus murmured, and gathered together the woman, the child, and the chain and ball, and stepped, long and silent as a rabbit's leaps, through the awe-hushed pines, carrying the whole burden on his shoulders.
He sat them in the scow, which sank to the edges, and, covered by a protruding point of woods, pushed off into the deep river, yet guiding the frail vessel in to the sides of the stream, away from the influence of the out-running tide. As the scow turned the first crease or elbow in the river, it began to sink.
"If you make a sound you are a slave fur life," whispered the waterman, as he slipped overboard and began to swim, with his hand upon the stern. As he did this, straining every muscle of his countenance to keep afloat, the wound in his cheek began to bleed again, and he felt his strength going. Down, down he began to settle, till the water reached his nostrils, and the woman heard him sigh as he was sinking:
"I'd do it—an' die—agin—fur—Ellenory. God bless her!"
The scow, now full of water, turned upside down, and threw mother and child into the stream, and the child was gone beneath the surface before the woman could catch herself upon a sunken branch of an imbedded tree; and, as she gasped there, the body of the pungy captain swept past her and she caught him by the hair, and he clutched her with the drowning instinct, and down they went together, like husband and wife, in nature's contempt of distinctions between living worms.
They went down to the very bottom, but not to drown; for the old tree, having fallen where it grew in other years, was sustained upon its limbs, and made an invisible yet sure pathway to the shore. The long chain and the iron ball fettered to the colored woman's foot, however, deprived her for a few moments of all power to step along the slippery, submerged trunk, and, with her soul full of agony for her child, which she no longer saw, she was about to let go of her deliverer's body and throw herself also into the river, to die with them, when the old scow, having emptied itself of the water, reappeared at the surface and struck the woman a buoyant blow that altered the course of her thought.
"Pore, brave man," the woman gasped. "He's got a wife, maybe. He said, 'God bless her,' an' he give his life for a poor creature like me. God has took my baby. I can't do nothing for it now, but maybe I can save this man's life before I die."
Indifferent to her personal fate, she drew intelligence from her spirit of sacrifice, which is the only thing better than learning. She pushed the scow down and under Phoebus with her remaining hand, till it relieved her of a portion of the weight of his body, and rose up, half-bearing the bronze-faced sailor's form, and animating her generous purpose with the honest and happy smile he wore upon his face, even in the vestibule of the eternal palace. Then, gathering the long meshes of the iron chain up from its termination at her feet, she threw the longer portion of it into the scow, so that it no longer became entangled in the cross-branches and knots below, and she could lift also the iron ball sufficiently to glide her feet along the tree.
With pain and difficulty, lessened by self-forgetfulness, she pushed the scow and the body to the foot of the tree, and, feeling around its old roots for further support, the red-eyed terrapins arose and swam around her, disturbed in their possessions; but she feared no reptiles any more, since Death, the mighty crocodile, had eaten the babe that she had nursed but this morning.
She had intelligent remembrance enough to think of all the precautions her deliverer had taken, and, when she had dragged his body on the shore into the dense, scrubby woods, she also drew out the little scow and heaped some dead brush upon it, and had scarcely concealed herself when she heard voices from the river, and the report of a sail swung around upon its boom, and of feet upon a deck. The voices said:
"If she's got off to Delaware, Joe Johnson won't have long to stay on his visit; for all the beaks will gather fur him an' be started by John M. Clayton."
"I'm sorry fur Joe," answered another voice; "he hoped to make one more big scoop this trip, an' quit the Corners fur good."
"Let us sail by ole Ebenezer Johnson's roost at Broad Creek mouth, an' peep up both forks of the river," said the other voice, receding; "it's only a mile and a half. If we discover nothin', we'll run down the river and inquire at the landings as fur as Vienny."
The colored woman now worked with all her strength to revive the insensible sailor, rolling him, rubbing his body till her elbows seemed almost to be dropping off, and then rubbing his great, broad breast with her head and face and neck. She breathed into his mouth the breath heaven vouchsafed to Hagar as bountifully as to Sarah, and, wringing out portions of her garments and hanging them at sunny exposures to dry, she substituted them, in her exhausted intervals, for the wet clothing of the man; and as she worked, with a hollow, desolate heart, she sobbed:
"Lord, gi' me this man's life! O Lord, that took my chile, I will have this life back!"
Crying and weeping, fainting and laboring, the moments, it seemed the very hours, ran by and still he did not waken; and still, with all that noble strength that makes the fields of white men grow and blossom under the negro's unthanked toil, the widow and childless one fought on for this cold lump of brother nature.
He warmed, he breathed, he groaned, he spoke!
His voice was like a happy sigh, as of one disturbed near the end of a comforting morning nap in summer:
"You thar, Mary?"
He stared around with difficulty, his wounded face now clotted and stained with blood, and his eyes next looked an inquiry so kind and apprehensive that she answered it, to save him breath:
"Baby's drowned. God does best!"
He reached his hand to hers—she was almost naked to the waist, having sacrificed all she had, the greatest of which was modesty, to bring back that life in him which came naked and unashamed into the world—and he put his little strength into the grasp.
"Mary," he exhaled, "why didn't you ketch the baby and leave me go?"
"Oh, dearly as I loved it," the woman answered, "I'm glad you come up under my hands instead. You can do good: you're a white man. Baby would have only been a poor slave, or a free negro nobody would care for."
"I mean to do good, if the Lord lets me," sighed the sailor; "I mean to go and die agin for human natur at Johnson's Cross-roads."
The day was far advanced when Jimmy Phoebus was strong enough to rise and walk, and leave the refuge in the woods. He advised the colored woman to crawl through the pine-trees along the margin, while he paddled in the old scow in the shadow of the forest, which now lay strong upon the river's breast.
At the distance of about a mile, Broad Creek, like a tributary river, flowed into the Nanticoke from the east, fully a quarter of a mile wide, and half a mile up this stream an old, low, extended, weather-blackened house faced the river, and seemed to grin out of its broken ribs and hollow window-sockets like a traitor's skull discolored upon a gibbet. It was falling to pieces, and along its roof-ridge a line of crows balanced and croaked, as if they had fine stories to tell and weird opinions to pass upon the former inhabitants of the tenement.
"There, I have hearn tell," said Jimmy, as he drew in to the bank, and took the woman into the scow and began to tow her along the beach, wading in the water, "there, I have hearn tell, lived the pirate of Broad Creek, ole Ebenezer Johnson, who was shot soon after the war of '12 at Twiford's house down yonder."
"For kidnapping free people?" asked the woman, without interest, the question coming from her desolate heart.
"In them days they didn't kidnap much; it was jest a-beginnin'. The war of '12 busted everything on the bay, burned half a dozen towns, kept the white men layin' out an' watchin', and made loafers of half of 'em, an' brought bad volunteers an' militia yer to trifle with the porer gals, an' some of them strangers stuck yer after the war was done. I don't know whar ole Ebenezer come from; some says this, an' some that. All we know is, that he an' the Hanlen gals, one of 'em Patty Cannon, was the head devils in an' after the war."
"It's a bad-lookin' ole house, sir. See, yonder's a coon runnin' out of the door. Oh! I hear my child cryin' everywhere I look."
"The British begun to run the black people off in the war. The black people wanted to go to 'em. The British filled the islands in Tangier yer with nigger camps; they was a goin' to take this whole peninsuly, an' collect an' drill a nigger army on it to put down Amerikey. When the war was done, the British sailed away from Chesapeake Bay with thousands of them colored folks, an' then the people yer begun to hate the free niggers."
"For lovin' liberty?" the woman sighed, looking at the ball, which had galled her ankle bloody.
"They hated free niggers as if they was all Tories an' didn't love Amerikey. So, seein' the free niggers hadn't no friends, these Johnsons an' Patty Cannon begun to steal 'em, by smoke! There was only a million niggers in the whole country; Louisiana was a-roarin' for 'em; every nigger was wuth twenty horses or thirty yokes of oxen, or two good farms around yer, an' these kidnappers made money like smoke, bought the lawyers, went into polytics, an' got sech a high hand that they tried a murderin' of the nigger traders from Georgey an' down thar, comin' yer full of gold to buy free people. That give 'em a back-set, an' they hung some of Patty's band—some at Georgetown, some at Cambridge."
"If my baby's made white in heaven, I'm afraid I won't know him," the woman said, nodding, and wandering in her mind.
"At last the Delawareans marched on Johnson's Cross-roads an' cleaned his Pangymonum thar out, an' guarded him, and sixteen pore niggers in chains he'd kidnapped, to Georgetown jail. Young John M. Clayton was paid by the Phildelfy Quakers to git him convicted. Johnson was strong in the county—we're in it now, Sussex—an' if Clayton hadn't skeered the jury almost to death, it would have disagreed. He held 'em over bilin' hell, an' dipped 'em thar till the court-room was like a Methodis' revival meetin', with half that jury cryin' 'Save me, save me, Lord!' while some of 'em had Joe Johnson's money in their pockets. Joe was licked at the post, banished from the state, an' so skeered that he laid low awhile, goin' off somewhar—to Missoury, or Floridey, or Allybamy. But Patty Cannon never flinched; she trained the young boys around yer to be her sleuth-hounds an' go stealin' for her; an', till she dies, it's safer to be a chicken than a free nigger. They stole you, pore creatur' from Phildelfy, an' they steal 'em in Jersey and away into North Carliney; fur Joe Johnson's a smart feller fur enterprise, and Patty Cannon's deep as death an' the grave."
Phoebus looked at the woman sitting in the scow, and he saw that she was fast asleep; his tale having no power to startle her senses, now worn-out by every infliction.
"I must git that ball an' chain off," the sailor said; "but iron, in these ole sandy parts, is scarce as gold."
He lifted her out of the scow and laid her in the shade, and began to explore the old house. To his joy, he found the iron crane still hanging in the chimney, and signs of recent fire.
"These yer ole cranes was valleyble once," Jimmy said, "an' in the wills they left 'em to their children like farms, an' lawsuits was had over the bilin' pots an' the biggest kittles. It broke a woman's heart to git a little kittle left her, an' the big-kittled gal was jest pestered with beaux. But, by smoke! we're a-makin' iron now in Amerikey! Kittles is cheap, and that's why this crane is left by robbers an' gypsies after they used it."
He twisted the crane out of the bricks on which it was hinged, and some of the mantel jamb fell down.
"Hallo!" cried Jimmy, "what's this a rollin' yer? A shillin', by George! I say, by George, this time caze ole George the Third's picter's on it. Maybe thar's more of 'em."
He pulled a few bricks out of the jamb, and raked the hollow space inside with his hand, and brought forth a steel purse of English manufacture, filled with shillings at one end, and fifteen golden guineas at the other; they rolled out through the decayed filigree, rusted, probably, by the rain percolating through the chimney, and the purse crumbled to iron-mould in his hand.
"'The Lord is my shepherd,'" said the sailor, reverently; "'I shall not want. He leadeth me by the still waters.' How beautiful Ellenory says it. Look thar at the waters of the Nanticoke, beautiful as silver. Lord, make 'em pure waters an' free, to every pore creatur!"
"To who! to who!" screamed a voice out of the hollow chimney.
"Well," answered Jimmy, hardly excited, "I ain't partickler. Ha! I thought I knew you, Barney," he continued, as an owl fluttered out and hopped up a ruined stairway.
"Now, British money ain't coined by Uncle Sam; what is the date? I can make figgers out easy: Eighteen hundred and fifteen!' I was about to do Ebenezer Johnson the onjustice of saying that he'd sold his country out to ole Admiral Cockburn, but the war was done when this money was coined. Whose was it?"
He removed more carefully some of the bricks, to put his hand in the hollow depository left there, and, feeling around and higher up, brought out the bronze hilt of a sword, on which was a name.
"Who would have thought this was a house of learnin'?" Jimmy said, dubiously. "I can't read it. By smoke! maybe they've murdered somebody yer. I reckon he was British. Ellenory kin read it, if I live to see her agin."
There was nothing more, and, as he left the rotting old house, a crash and a cloud of smoke rose up behind him, and the chimney fell into the middle of the floor.
With the crane's sharp wrought-iron point and long leverage the pungy captain succeeded, after tedious efforts, in breaking the links of the chain and also in removing the linked cannon-ball from the woman's foot, but he could not remove the iron band and link around her ankle.
"God bless you!" exclaimed the woman. "It's a sin to say so, but I feel as if I could fly since that dreadful weight is off. Oh, I want to fly, for I dreamed of my baby, an' he smiled at me from heaven as if he said, 'I'm happy, mamma!'"
"You don't owe me nothin', Mary. I love a widder, as you air, an' she begged me to come yer. When you git to Prencess Anne, whar I want you to go, find Ellenory Dennis, an' tell her I've seen her boy, an' I'll bring him back if I kin."
"Princess Anne? where is it?"
"It's maybe, forty mile from yer, Mary; half-way between sunrise and sunset."
"Right south, sir?"
"That's it. Now I'll tell you how to git thar. Take this old woods road along Broad Creek and walk to Laurel, five miles; it's a little town on the creek. Keep in under the woods, but don't lose the road, fur every foot of it's dangerous to niggers. You kin git thar, maybe, by dark. I don't know nobody thar, Mary, an' I can't write, fur I never learned how. But you go right to the house of some preacher of the Gospel, and tell him a lie."
Mary opened her eyes.
"I wouldn't have you tell a lie to anybody but a good man," continued Phoebus, "fur then it's so close to the Lord it won't git fur an' pizen many, as lies always does. You must tell that preacher that you're the runaway slave of Judge Custis of Prencess Anne, an' you're sorry you run away, an' want to go home."
"Oh, sir, you are not like my wicked husband, trying to sell me too?"
"No, Mary, bad as you've been used, faith's your only sure friend. If you was to tell the preacher you had been kidnapped, he'd, maybe, be afraid to help you. They're a timid set down yer on any subject concernin' niggers; these preachers will help save black folks' souls, but never rescue their pore broken bodies. When you tell him you are the slave of a rich man like Judge Custis, he'll jump at the chance to do the Judge a favor, an' tell you that you do right to go back to your master. That's whair he's a liar, Mary—so he'll scratch your lie off."
"They'll turn me back at Princess Anne, and wont know me, maybe."
"Not if you do this, Mary. Make them take you to Judge Custis's daughter—the one that's just been married. Tell her you want to speak to her privately. Then tell her the nigger-skinned man—I'm him—that she sent away with her mother, found you whar you was chained in the woods. Take this link of the chain to show her. Tell her you want to be her cook till the one that run away is found."
"I'll do it, sir. I've got no home to go to, now."
"Tell her all you remember. Tell her not to tell Ellenory any of my troubles. Tell her I'm a-startin' for Pangymonum, an', if I die, it's nothin' but a bachelor keepin' his own solitary company. Yer's a gold piece an' three silver pieces I found, Mary, to pay your way. Good-bye."
"Won't you give me your knife?" asked the woman.
"What fur, Mary?"
"To kill myself if they kidnap me again."
"I have nothin' else to fight for my life with," said Phoebus. "No, you must not do that. Keep in the woods to Laurel."
She fell on the ground and kissed his knees, and bathed them with her tears.
"I do have faith, master," she said, "faith enough to be your slave."
"I'd cry a little, too," said Jimmy, twitching his eyes, as the woman disappeared in the forest, "if I knowed how to do it; but, by smoke! the wind on the bay's dried up my tear ponds. I'll bury these curiosities right yer, with this chain and ball, and put some old bricks around' em outen the chimney they come from."
He dug a hole with his knife, carefully cutting out a piece of the sod, and restoring it over the buried articles; and, after notching some trees to mark the place, he pushed in the scow again into Broad Creek, and descended the Nanticoke on the falling tide to Twiford's wharf.
Dragging the scow up the bed of a creek to conceal it, he discovered another boundary stone. A beach led under the cover of a sandy bluff to the river gate of Twiford's comfortable house, and he boldly entered the lane and lawn, saying to himself:
"I reckon a feller can ask to buy one squar meal a day in a free country, fur I'm hungry."
Even in that day the house was probably seventy years old, roofed by an artistic shingler in lines like old lace-work, the short roofs over the three pretty dormers like laced bib-aprons, the window-casements in small checkers of dark glass, the roof capacious as an armadillo's back or land-turtle's; but half of it was almost as straight as the walls, and the small, foreign bricks in the gables, glazed black and dark-red alternately, were laid by conscientious workmen, and bade fair to stand another hundred years, as they smoked their tidy chimney pipes from hearty stomachs of fireplaces below.
Standing beneath the honey-locust tree at the lawn-gate, the sailor beheld an extensive prospect of the river Nanticoke, bending in a beautiful curve, like the rim of a silver salver, towards the south, the blue perspective of the surrounding woods fading into the azure bluffs on the farther shore, where, as he now identified it, the hamlet of Sharptown assumed the mystery and similitude of a city by the enchantment of distance. A large brig was riding up the river under the afternoon breeze, carrying the English flag at her spanker. The wild-fowl, flying in V-formed lines, like Hyads astray, flickered on the salver of the river like house-flies. Some fishermen distantly appeared, human, yet nearly stationary, as if to enliven a dream, and the bees in a row of hives kept murmuring near by, increasing the restful sense in the heart and the ears.
"Why cannot human natur be happy yer, pertickler with its gal—some one like Ellenory?" Phoebus thought; "why must it git cruel an' desperate for money, lookin' out on this dancin' water, an' want to turn this trance into a Pangymonum?"
He crossed the lane to a squatty old structure of brick by the water-side, and peeped in.
"A still, by smoke!" he said. "If it ain't apple brandy may I forgit my compass! No, it's peach brandy. Well, anyway, it's hot enough; an' this, I 'spect, is what started the Pangymonum."
He took a stout drink, and it revived his weakened system, and he bathed his head in its strong alcohol. He then returned to the lawn and walked around the house, peeping into the lower rooms—of which there were two in the main building, the kitchen being an appendage—but saw nobody. The porch in the rear extended the full width of the house, unlike the smaller shed in front, which only covered two doors, standing curiously side by side.
Completely sheltered by the longer porch, Phoebus, looking into a window, there saw a table already set with a clean cloth, and bread and cold chicken, and a pitcher of creamy milk, with a piece of ice floating in it. On either side of a large fireplace at the table-side was a door, one open, and leading by a small winding stair to the floor above. A bed was also in the room, which looked out by one window upon the lawn and the river, and by the other at the farm, the corn-cribs, and the small barns and pound-yard.
With a sailor's quiet, sliding feet, Jimmy walked into the low hall, and a cat-bird, in a cage there, immediately started such a shrill series of cries that his steps were unheard by himself.
"Nobody bein' yer," thought Jimmy, "an' the flies gittin 'at the victuals, I reckon I'll do as I would be done by."
So he began to eat, and soon he heard a female voice, very close by, sound down the stairs, as if reciting to another person.
"Aunt Patty says Aunt Betty's first husband, Captain Twiford, was a sea-captain and a widower, and she was one of the beautiful Hanley girls, brought up by old Ebenezer Johnson at his house across on Broad Creek; and there Captain Twiford courted her, and brought her here to live. He died early—all my aunties' husbands died early—and is buried in the vault out here behind the pound, where you can go in and see him in his shroud, lying by Aunt Betty. Her next husband, John Gillis, left her, and then she lived with William Russell, a negro-trader. Aunt Patty governed all her sisters and the Johnson boys, too. Oh, how I fear her when she looks at me sometimes with her bold, black eyes: I can't help it."
Another voice, not a woman's, yet almost as gentle, now seemed to ask a question; but the cat-bird, behaving like a detective and a tale-bearer, made such a furious screaming at seeing a stranger drinking the milk, that Phoebus could not hear it well. The pleasant female voice spoke again:
"Yes, he was killed in the room under this, before I was born, Aunt Patty says; and sometimes she likes to tell such dark and bloody tales, and laughs with joy to see me frightened at them. Aunt Betty got in debt, and this house and farm were sold under executions and bought by a Maryland man, who stole an opportunity when the men were away, and set his goods in the house and set Aunt Betty's goods outside upon the lawn. It's only a mile, or a little more, from here to Ebenezer Johnson's, and the news of the seizure was sent there."
Jimmy tore off a piece of chicken with his teeth, listening voraciously.
"Did you hear anything?" continued the voice; "I thought I did. The dogs are chained up in the smoke-house, and bad people are often coming here; I will go turn the dogs loose."
"Be dogged if you do!" Jimmy reflected. "That's the meanest cat-bird ever I see, fur now it's shut up a-purpose."
There sounded something familiar to the uninvited guest in the voice which seemed to delay this intention; but the cat-bird, with his unaccommodating mood, broke right in again. Then the female continued:
"While the men—who had come armed, expecting trouble—were removing Aunt Betty's goods out of the room, throwing many of them out of the windows, so as to be themselves in sole possession, a sound was heard in the room below, where your meal is now ready, like a panther skipping and lashing his tail; and, before the men could breathe, old Ebenezer Johnson was up the stairs and laying about him. His eyes were full of murder. One man jumped right through that window and rolled off the porch; another he pitched down the stairs; the third was a boy, Joe King, barely grown—he lives not far from this house now—and Ebenezer Johnson dashed him down the stairs, too, and started after him. All his life the boy had been taught to dread that terrible man, and now he was in his hands, or flying before him; and, as he reeled through the room below, out of the door that opens on the back porch, the boy's eyes, in the agony of the fear of death, beheld a rifle leaning there."
"Mighty good thing if it was thar now!" Jimmy inwardly remarked, finishing the chicken, and still hungry.
"Oh, there is a noise somewhere in this house," the voice exclaimed; "I never tell this story but it makes me startled at every sound. The boy, as he whirled past, grasped the long rifle, drew it to his shoulder, and, with a young volunteer's skill—for he had been drilling to fight the British—he put the two balls in that old man's brain. Both balls entered over the left eyebrow, and one passed through the head and was found in the wall; the other never was found. The lawless giant gave a trembling motion through his frame, his eyes glazed, and he sank dead upon the floor without a sound—the wicked had ceased from troubling! Aunt Betty, Aunt Patty, and Aunt Jane, three sisters shaped by him in soul, fell on his body and wept and almost prayed, but it was too late. They buried him near Aunt Betty, in the field behind the pound."
Undertaking to rise from his chair, Jimmy Phoebus made a loud scraping on the floor, and the table-knife fell with a ringing sound.
"Who's there?" cried a voice, and added, "I knew the dogs ought to be loose."
"Who's there?" also asked the other voice, with something very familiar to Phoebus in its sounds.
"E-b-e-n-e-z-e-r John-son!" answered Jimmy, in his deepest bass tones, mentally considering that a ghost might carry more terror than a robber, after that tale.
A little scream followed, and a whispered consultation, and then a girl's bare feet, beautifully moulded, slowly descended the steep stairway, and next a slender, graceful body came into view, and finally a face, delicious as a ripe peach, looked once at the intruder below, and all the pink and bright color faded from it to see, standing there, where Ebenezer Johnson had given up the ghost, a stalwart effigy, bandaged in white all round the head, and over the left eye and cheek, where the dead river-pirate had received his double bullet, the blood was hideously matted and not wholly stanched even yet. She sank slowly down upon the steps and saw no more.
"Now, if I don't git out, the dogs will be set loose," muttered Jimmy, as he disappeared up the farm-house lane and put the barn and pound between him and the house; and scarcely had he done so when Levin Dennis appeared coming down the stairs, all unconscious of the apparition, and, finding the beautiful girl insensible, he raised her in his arms and stole a kiss.
Paying for his one act of deceit by losing the principal object of his quest, Jimmy Phoebus stopped a minute by Ebenezer Johnson's grave.
In a level field of deep sand—the soil here being the poorest in the region—and between the cattle-pound and the pines, which were everywhere jealous of their other indigenous brother, the Indian corn, an old family burial-lot lay under some low cedar-trees, with wild berry bushes growing all around. There were several little stones over Twifords that had died early, and a large heap of sand, planted with some flowers, that might have covered a favorite horse, but which Phoebus believed was the resting-place of the river buccaneer; and there was also a vault of brick and plaster, with the little door ajar, where prurient visitors, themselves with Saul's own selfish curiosity to raise the dead, had poked and peeped about until the coffin lids had been drawn back and the dead pair exposed to the dry peninsular air.
The bay captain looked in and beheld his predecessor, Captain Twiford, who also sailed the bay, lying in his shroud—not in full clothing, as men are buried now, for clothing was too valuable in the scanty-peopled country to feed it to the worms. Twiford lay shrivelled up, shroud and flesh making but one skin, the face of a walnut color, the hair complete, the teeth sound, and severe dignity unrelaxed by the exposure he was condemned to for his evil alliance with Betty Hanley.
She also lay exposed, who had lived so shamelessly, respecting not the mould of beauty God had given her, till now men leered to look upon her nearly kiln-dried bosom glued into its winding-sheet, and the glory of her hair, that had been handled by bantering outlaws, and in a rippling wave of unbleached coal covered the grinning coquetry of her skull.
"Them that mocks God shall be mocked of him," said Jimmy Phoebus, closing the door and putting some of the scattered bricks of the vault against it. "Now, I reckon, I kin git to the cross-roads by a leetle after dark."
Phoebus passed along the side of a large, black, cypress-shaded mill-pond, and found the boundary stone again, and took the angle from its northern face as a compass-point, and, proceeding in that direction, soon fell in with a sort of blind path hardly feasible for wheels, which ran almost on the line between the states of Maryland and Delaware, passing in sight of several of these old boundary stones. Not a dwelling was visible as he proceeded, not even a clearing, not a stream except one mere gutter in the sand, not a man, hardly an animal or a bird; the monotonous sand-pines, too low to moan, too thick to expand, too dry to give shade, yet grew and grew, like poor folks' sandy-headed children, and kept company only with some scrubby oaks that had strayed that way, till pine-cone and acorn seemed to have bred upon each other, and the wild hogs disdained the progeny.
"Maybe I'll git killed up yer in this Pangymonum," Jimmy reflected; "an' though I 'spose it don't make no difference whair you plant your bones, I don't want to grow up into ole pines. Good, big, preachin' kind of pines, that's a little above the world, an' says 'Holy, rolley, melancho-ly, mind your soul-y'—I could go into their sap and shats fust-rate. But to die yer an' never be found in these desert wastes is pore salvage for a man that's lived among the white sails of the bay, an' loved a woman elegant as Ellenory."
It was dark, and he could hardly see his way in half an hour. Sometimes a crow would caw, to hear strange sounds go past, like an old watchman's rattle moved one cog. The stars became bright, however, and the moon was new, and when Phoebus came to a large cleared opening in the pines, the lambent heavens broke forth and bathed the sandy fields with silver, and showed a large, high house at the middle of the clearing, with outside chimneys, one thicker than the other, and a porch of two stories facing the east.
Though not a large dwelling, it was large for those days and for that unfrequented region, and its roof seemed to Phoebus remarkably steep and long, and yet, while enclosing so much space, had not a single dormer window in it. The southern gable was turned towards the intruder, and in it were two small windows at the top, crowded between the thick chimney and the roof slope. The two main stories were well lighted, however, and the porch was enclosed at the farther end, making a double outside room there. No sheds, kitchens, or stables were attached to the premises, but an old pole-well, like some catapult, reared its long pole at half an angle between the crotch of another tree. Roads, marked by tall worm fences, crossed at the level vista where this tall house presided, and a quarter of a mile beyond the cross-roads, to the northeast, was another house, much smaller, and hip-gabled, like Twiford's, standing up a lane and surrounded by small stables, cribs, orchard, and garden.
"I never 'spected to come yer," Jimmy Phoebus observed, "but I've hearn tell of this place considabul. The big barn-roofed house is Joe Johnston's tavern for the entertainment of Georgey nigger-traders that comes to git his stolen goods. It's at the cross-roads, three miles from Cannon's Ferry, whar the passengers from below crosses the Nanticoke fur Easton and the north, an' the stages from Cambridge by the King's road meets 'em yonder at the tavern. The tavern stands in Dorchester County, with a tongue of Caroline reaching down in front of it, an' Delaware state hardly twenty yards from the porch. Thar ain't a court-house within twenty miles, nor a town in ten, except Crotcher's Ferry, whar every Sunday mornin' the people goin' to church kin pick up a basketful of ears, eyes, noses, fingers, an' hair bit off a-fightin' on Saturday afternoon. They call the country around Crotcher's, Wire Neck, caze no neck is left thar that kin be twisted off; the country in lower Car'line they calls 'Puckem,' caze the crops is so puckered up. They say Joe's a great man among his neighbors, an' kin go to the Legislater. The t'other house out in the fields is Patty Cannon's own, whar she did all her dev'lishness fur twenty years, till Joe got rich enough to build his palace."
With the rapid execution of a man who only plans with his feet and hands, the bay sailor observed that there was a grove of good high timber—oaks and pines—only a few rods from the cross-roads and to the right, under cover of which he could draw near the tavern. As he proceeded to gain its shade, he heard extraordinary sounds of turbulence from the front of the tavern, the yelling of men, the baying of hounds, oaths and laughter, and, listening as he crossed the intervening space, he fell into a ditch inadvertently, almost at the edge of the timber.
"Hallo!" cried Jimmy, lying quite still to draw his breath, since the ditch was now perfectly dry, "this ditch seems to me to pint right for that tavern."
He therefore crawled along its dry bed till it crossed under a road by a wooden culvert or little bridge of a few planks.
The noise at the tavern was now like a fight, and, as Phoebus continued to crawl forward, he heard twenty voices, crying,
"Gouge him, Owen Daw!" "Hit him agin, Cyrus James!" "Chaw him right up!" "Give' em room, boys!"
Having crawled to what he judged the nearest point of concealed approach, Phoebus lost the moment to take a single glance only, and, drawing his old slouched hat down on his face to hide the bandaging, he muttered, "Now's jess my time," and crept up to the back of the crowd, which was all facing inwards in a circle, and did not perceive him.
A fully grown man, as it seemed, was having a fight with a boy hardly fifteen years old; but the boy was the more reckless and courageous of the two, while the man, with three times the boy's strength, lacked the stomach or confidence to avail himself of it; and, having had the boy down, was now being turned by the latter, amid shouts of "Three to two on Owen Daw!" "Bite his nose off, Owen Daw!" "Five to two that Cyrus James gits gouged by Owen Daw!"
The boy with a Celtic face and supple body was full of zeal to merit favor and inflict injury, and, as the circle of vagrants and outlaws of all ages reeled and swayed to and fro, Phoebus, unobserved by anybody, put his head down among the rest and searched the faces for those of Levin Dennis or Joe Johnson.
Neither was there, and the only face which arrested his attention was a woman's, standing in the door of the enclosed space at the end of the porch, at right angles to the central door of the tavern, and just beside it. The whole building was without paint, and weather-stained, but the room on the porch was manifestly newer, as if it had been an afterthought, and its two windows revealed some of the crude appendages of a liquor bar, as a fire somewhere within flashed up and lighted it.
By this fire the woman's face was also revealed, and she was so much interested in the fight that she turned all parts of her countenance into the firelight, slapping her hands together, laughing like a man, dropping her oaths at the right places, and crying:
"I bet my money on little Owen Daw! Cy James ain't no good, by God! Yer's whiskey a-plenty for Owen Daw if he gouges him. Give it to him, Owen Daw! Shame on ye, Cy James!"
There was occasional servility and deference to this woman from members of the crowd, however they were absorbed in the fight. She was what is called a "chunky" woman, short and thick, with a rosy skin, low but pleasing forehead, coal-black hair, a rolling way of swaying and moving herself, a pair of large black eyes, at once daring, furtive, and familiar, and a large neck and large breast, uniting the bull-dog and the dam, cruelty and full womanhood.
Behind this woman, whom Phoebus thought to be Patty Cannon herself, the moonlight from the rear came through the door in the older and main building, shining quite through the house, and Phoebus saw that the rear door was also open and was unguarded.
He took the first chance, therefore, of dodging around the corner of the bar, intending to pass around the north gable of the house and dart up the stairs by the unwatched door; but he had barely got out of sight when a loud hurrah burst from the crowd as a feeble voice was heard crying "Enough, enough!" followed by jeers rapidly approaching.
The large outside chimney, where Phoebus now was, had an arched cavity in it large enough to contain a man, being the chimney of two different rooms within, whose smoke, uniting higher up, ascended through one stem. Into this cavity Phoebus dodged, in time to avoid the beaten party to the fight, the grown man, who staggered blindly by towards a well, his face dripping blood, and he was sobbing babyishly; but the concealed sailor heard him say, in a whining tone:
"She set him on me; I'll make her pay for it."
Several of the partisans or tormentors of this craven followed after him, and Jimmy himself fell in at the rear, and, instead of going with the rest towards the well, where the loser was bathing his face, Phoebus softly stepped over the low sill of the back door, the woman's back being turned to him, and, as he had anticipated, a stairway ascended there out of a large room, which answered the purposes of parlor and hall, dining and gambling room, as Jimmy drank in at one glance, from seeing tables, dishes and cards, bottles and whips, arms and saddles. This stairway had no baluster, and was not safe in the dark for strangers to the house.
Satisfying himself by an interior observation, as he had suspected exteriorly, that there was no cellar under Johnson's tavern, the sailor slipped up the stairs, intent to find where Judge Custis's property and Ellenora's wayward son had been concealed. The second story had a hall, which opened only at the front of the house and upon the upper piazza, and four doors upon this hall indicated four bedrooms. One of them was ajar, and, peeping through, Phoebus saw, extended on a bed, oblivious to all the righting and din outside, Joe Johnson the negro-trader, his form revealed by a lamp and the open fire.
An impulse, immediately repressed, came on the sailor to draw his knife and stab Johnson to the heart, as probably the villain who had shot him from the cat-boat. The negro-trader wearily turned his long length in the bed, and Phoebus slipped back along the hall to the only door besides that was not closed fast, leading into the room at the rear southern corner of the house.
This door creaked loudly as it was opened, and a man of a bandit form and dress, who was lying on a pallet within, revealed by the bright moonlight streaming in at two windows, half roused himself as Jimmy crouched at the door, where a partition, as of a very large clothes-press, taking up fully half the room, rose between the intruder and the occupant.
"Who's there?" exclaimed a voice, with a slight lisp in it.
Jimmy discovered that there was a low trap or door near the floor, opening into this remarkable closet, and he slipped inside and drew his knife again. The man was heard moving about the narrow room, and he finally seemed to walk out into the hall and down the stairs.
Feeling around his closet, which was pitch dark, Phoebus found a deep indentation in it, as of a smaller closet, and the sound of crooning voices came from above.
"By smoke!" Jimmy mentally exclaimed, "this big closet is nothin' but a blind fur a stairway in the little closet to climb up to the dungeon under the big roof."
He stole out again and found the moonlight now streaming upon an empty pallet and the burly watchman gone, and streaming, too, upon a larger door in the closet opposite the indentation he had felt, this door secured by a padlock through a staple fastening an iron bar. The key was in the padlock, and Jimmy turned it back, drew off the lock and dropped the bar.
The moment he opened the door an almost insupportable smell came down a shallow hatchway within, up which leaned a rough step-ladder, movable, and of stout construction.
"That smell," said Phoebus, entering, and pulling the door close behind him, "might be wool, or camel, or a moral menagerie from the royal gardings of Europe, but I guess it's Nigger."
He went up the steep steps with some difficulty, as they were made to pass only one person, and at the top he entered a large garret, divided into two by a heavy partition of yellow pine, with a door at the middle of it, and from beyond this partition came the sounds of crooning and babbling he had heard.
The bright night, shining through a small gable window, revealed this outer half of the garret empty, and not furniture or other appurtenance than the hole in the floor up which he had come, and the door into the place of wailing beyond, which was fastened by a long iron spike dropping into a staple that overshot a heavy wooden bar. As he slipped up the spike and took the bar off, Phoebus heard some person in the room below mutter, and lock the great padlock upon the other door, effectually barring his escape by that egress.
"We must take things as they come," thought Jimmy, grimly, "partickler in Pangymonum, whar I am now."
He also reflected that the arrangements of this kidnappers' pen, simple as they seemed, were quite sufficient. If authority should demand to search the house, the double clothes-press below, with the ladder pulled up into the loft, became a harmless closet hung with wardrobe matters, and the inner closet a storeroom for articles of bulk; and no human being could either go up or come down without passing two inhabited floors and three different doors, besides the door to the slave-pen.
This last door Phoebus now threw open and walked into the pen itself, stooping his head to avoid the low entrance.
For some minutes he could not see the contents at all in the total darkness that prevailed, as there was no window whatever in this pen or den, but he heard various voices, and inhaled the strong, close air of many African breaths exhausting the supply of oxygen, and knew that chains and irons were being moved against the boards of the floor.
"Thair ain't nothin' to do yer," Jimmy remarked, softly, "but jess squat down an' git a-climated, as they say about strangers to our bilious shore, an' git your eyeballs tuned to the dark. But I should say that this was both hokey-pokey an' Pangymonum, by smoke!"
A man in some part of the den was praying in a highly nervous, excited way, slobbering out his agonizing sentences, and dwelling hard upon his more open vowels, and keeping several other inmates in sympathy or equal misery, as they piped in answer to his apostrophes:
"Lawd, de-scen'! De-scen', O my Lawd. I will not let dee go; no, oh my Lawd! Come, save me! Yes, my Lawd! Come walkin' on de waters! Come outen Lazarus's tomb! Come on de chario'f fire! Come in de power! De-scen' now, O my Lawd!"
Phoebus's entrance made no excitement, and he crouched down to await the strengthening of his eyes to see around him. The place appeared to be nearly twenty-five feet square, and was cross-boarded both the gable way and under the sloping roof, whose eaves were planked up a foot or two above the floor; in the middle any man could stand upright and scarcely touch the ridge beam with his hands, but along the sloping sides could barely sit upright.
The man still continuing to express his absolute subjection of spirit in a frenzy of words, and several little children crying and shouting responsively, Phoebus ordered the man to cease, after asking him kindly to do so several times; and the command being disobeyed, he slapped the praying one with his open hand, and the poor wretch rolled over in a kind of feeble fit.
A little child somewhere continuing to cry, Phoebus took it in his arms and held between it and the starlight, at the half-open door, one of the shillings he had obtained from the old cabin on Broad Creek a few hours before. The child, seeing something shine, seized it and held fast, and Phoebus next passed his hand over the face of a sleeping man, who was snoring calmly and strenuously on the floor beside him. He made room for the faint light to shine upon the sleeper's black face, and exclaimed, in a moment:
"If it ain't Samson Hat I hope I may be swallered by a whale!"
Calling his name, "Samson! Samson!" Phoebus observed a most dejected mulatto person, who had been lying back in the shadows, crawl forward, rattling his manacles. This man, when spoken to, replied with such refinement and accuracy, however his face betokened great inward misery, that the sailor took as careful a survey of him as the moonlight permitted, coming in by that one lean attic window. He was a man who had shaved himself only recently, and his dark, curling side-whiskers and clean lips, and the tuft of goatee in the hollow of his chin, and intelligent, high forehead, seemed altogether out of place in this darksome eyrie of the sad and friendless.
"Is he your friend, sir?" asked this man, turning towards Samson. "He must have a good conscience if he is, for he slept soon after he was brought here, and has never uttered a single complaint."
"And you have, I reckon?" said the waterman.
"Oh, yes, sir; I have been treated with such ingratitude. It would break any gentleman's heart to hear my tale. Who is your friend, sir?"
"Samson, wake up, old bruiser!" cried Phoebus, shaking the sleeper soundly; "you didn't give in to one or two, by smoke!"
"Is it you, Jimmy?" the old negro finally said, with a sheepish expression; "why, neighbor, I'm glad to see you, but I'm sorry, too. A black man dey don't want to kill yer, caze dey kin sell him, but a white man like you dey don't want to keep, and dey dassn't let him go."
"A white man here?" exclaimed the superior-looking person; "what can they mean?"
"I'm ironed so heavy, Jimmy," continued Samson, "dat I can't set up much. My han's is tied togedder wid cord, my feet's in an iron clevis, and a ball's chained to de clevis."
"Give me your hands," exclaimed Jimmy; "I'll settle them cords, by smoke!"
In a minute he had severed the cords at the wrist, and the intelligent yellow man pleaded that a similar favor be done for him, to which the sailor acceded ungrudgingly.
"Jimmy," said Samson, "if it's ever known in Prencess Anne—as I 'spect it never will be, fur we're in bad hands, neighbor—dar'll be a laugh instid of a cry, fur ole boxin' Samson, dat was kidnapped an' fetched to jail by a woman!"
"You licked by a woman, Samson?"
"Yes, Jimmy, a woman all by herseff frowed me down, tied my hands an' feet, an' brought me to dis garret. I hain't seen nobody but her an' dese yer people, sence I was tuk."
"Ha!" exclaimed the dejected mulatto, "that's a favorite feat of Patty Cannon. She is the only woman ever seen at a threshing-floor who can stand in a half-bushel measure and lift five bushels of grain at once upon her shoulders, weighing three hundred pounds."
"I ain't half dat," Samson smiled, quietly, "an' she handled me, shore enough. You remember, Jimmy, when I leff you by ole Spring Hill church, to go an' git a woman on a little wagon to show me de way to Laurel?"
"Why, it was only yisterday, Samson!"
"Dat was de woman, Jimmy. She was a chunky, heavy-sot woman, right purty to look at, an' maybe fifty year ole. She was de nicest woman mos' ever I see. She made me git off my mule an' ride in de wagon by her, an' take a drink of her own applejack—she said she 'stilled it on her farm. She said she knowed Judge Custis, an' asked me questions about Prencess Anne, an' wanted me to work fur her some way. We was goin froo a pore, pine country, a heap wuss dan Hardship, whar Marster Milburn come outen, an' hadn't seen nobody on de road till we come to a run she said was named de Tussocky branch, whar she got out of de wagon to water her hoss. At dat place she come up to me an' says, 'Samson, I'll wrastle you!' 'Go long,' says I, 'I kin't wrastle no woman like you.' 'You got to,' she says, swearin' like a man, an' takin' holt of me jess like a man wrastles. I felt ashamed, an' didn't know what to do, and, befo' I could wink, Jimmy, dat woman had give me de trip an' shoved me wid a blow like de kick of an ox, and was a-top of my back wid a knee like iron pinnin' of me down."
"The awful huzzy of Pangymonum!"
"De fust idee I had was dat she was a man dressed up like a woman. I started like lightnin' to jump up, an' my legs caught each oder; she had carried de cord to tie me under her gown, an' clued it aroun' me in a minute. As I run at her an' fell hard, she drew de runnin' knot tight an' danced aroun' me like a fat witch, windin' me all up in de rope. De sweat started from my head, I yelled an' fought an' fell agin, an', as I laid with my tongue out like a calf in de butcher's cart, she whispered to me, 'Maybe you're de las' nigger ole Patty Cannon'll ever tie!'
"At dat name I jess prayed to de Lord, but it was too late. She put me in de cart an' gagged me so I couldn't say a word, and blood came outen my mouth. I heard her talkin' to people as we passed by a town an' over a bridge. Nobody looked in de cart whar I laid kivered over, till we come to a ferry in de night, an' dar we passed over, and I heard her talkin' to a man on dis side of de ferry. He come to de side of de wagon an' peeped at me, layin' helpless dar, my eyes jess a-prayin' to him—and he had an elegant eye in his head, Jimmy. He says softly to hisself, 'Dis is no consignment, manifes'ly, to Isaac an' Jacob Cannon,' an' he kivered me up again, an' the woman fetched me yer, put on de irons, and shoved me into dis hole in de garret."
"I reckon that was Isaac Cannon, t'other Levite that never sees anything that ain't in his quoshint."
"How's the purty gals, Jimmy? I shall see' em in my dreams, I' spect, if I am sold Souf. I ain't got long to stay, nohow, Jimmy, fur I'm mos' sixty. If you ever git out, tell my marster to buy dat gal Virgie, an' make her free. She ain't fit to be a slave."
"Gals has their place," said Phoebus, "but not whair men has to fight for liberty. How many fighting men are we here?"
"I 'spect you's de only one, Jimmy; we's all chained up; dese nigger-dealers is all blacksmifs an' keeps balls, hobbles, gripes, an' clevises, an' loads us wid iron."
"Who is that woman back yonder so quare an' still?"
"Why, Jimmy, don't you know Aunt Hominy, Jedge Custis's ole cook? Dey brought her in dis mornin' wi' two little children outen Teackle Hall kitchen; one of dem you give dat silver to—little Ned. Hominy ain't said a word sence she come."
Jimmy Phoebus went back to the corner of the den where the old woman cowered, and called her name in many different accents and with kind assurances:
"Hominy, ole woman, don't you know Ellenory's Jimmy? Jedge Custis is comin' for you, aunty. I'm yer to take you home."
She did not speak at all, and Phoebus lifted her without resistance nearer to the moonlight. Her lips mumbled unintelligibly, her eyes were dull, she did not seem to know them.
Samson crawled forward, and also called her name kindly:
"Aunt Hominy, Miss Vesty's sent fur you. Dis yer is Jimmy Phoebus."
The little boy Ned now spoke up:
"Aunt Hominy ain't spoke sence dat Quaker man killed little Phillis."
"Jimmy," solemnly whispered Samson, "Aunt Hominy's lost her mind."
"Yes," spoke up the dejected and elegant mulatto prisoner, "she's become an idiot. They sometimes take it that way."
Phoebus bent his face close down to the poor old creature's, sitting there in her checkered turban and silver earrings, clean and tidy as servants of the olden time, and he studied her vacant countenance, her tenantless eyes, her lips moving without connection or relevance, and felt that cruelty had inflicted its last miraculous injury—whipped out her mind from its venerable residence, and left her body yet to suffer the pains of life without the understanding of them.
"Oh, shame! shame!" cried the sailor, tears finally falling from his eyes, "to deceive and steal this pore, believin' intelleck! To rob the cook of the little tin cup full o' brains she uses to git food fur bad an' fur good folks! Why, the devils in Pangymonum wouldn't treat that a way the kind heart that briled fur 'em."
"De long man said he was Quaker man," exclaimed Vince, the larger boy, "an' he come to take Hominy to de free country. Hominy was sold, she said, an' must go. De long man had a boat—Mars Dennis's boat—an' in de night little Phillis woke up an' cried. Nobody couldn't stop her. De long man picked little Phillis up by de leg an' mashed her skull in agin de flo'. Aunt Hominy ain't never spoke no mo'."
"Did you hear the long man speak after that, Vince?"
"Yes, mars'r. I heerd de long man tell Mars Dennis dat if he didn't steer de boat an' shet his mouf, he'd shoot him. I heerd de pistol go off, but Mars Dennis wasn't killed, fur I saw him steerin' afterwards."
"Thank God!" spoke the sailor, kissing the child. "Ellenory's boy was innocent, by smoke! That nigger-trader shot me an' threatened Levin's life if he listened to me hailing of him. The noise I heard was the murder of the baby, whose cries betrayed the coming of the vessel. Samson, thar's been treachery ever sence we left Salisbury, an' that nigger Dave's a part of it."
"He said he hated me caze I larned him to box. Maybe my fightin's been my punishment, Jimmy, but I never struck a man a foul blow."
"And what was your hokey-pokey?" the pungy captain cried to the man who had been making so much religious din. "Did they sell you fur never knowin' whar to stop a good thing?"
The man hoarsely explained, himself interested by the disclosures and fraternity around him:
"I was slave to a local preacher in Delaware, an' de sexton of de church. It was ole Barrett's chapel, up yer between Dover an' Murderkill—de church whar Bishop Coke an' Francis Asbury fust met on de pulpit stairs. My marster an' me was boff members of it, but he loved money bad, an' I was to be free when I got to be twenty-five years ole, accordin' to de will of his Quaker fader, dat left me to him. Las' Sunday night dey had a long class-meetin' dar, an' when nobody was leff in de church but my marster an' me, he says to me, 'Rodney, le's you an' me have one more prayer togedder befo' you put out dat las' lamp. You pray, Rodney!' I knelt an' prayed for marster after I must leave him to be free next year, an', while I was prayin' loud, people crept in de church an' tied me, and marster was gone."
"He sold you fur life to them kidnappers, boy, becaze you was goin' to be free next year. Don't your Bible tell you to watch an' pray?"
"Well, then, boys, it's all watch to-night and no more praying," cried Jimmy Phoebus, cheerily. "Here are four men, loving liberty, bound to have it or die. Thar's one of' em with a knife, an' the first kidnapper that crosses that sill, man or woman—fur we'll trust no more women, Samson—gits the knife to the hilt! The blessed light that shone onto Calvary an' Bunker Hill is a gleamin' on the blade. Work off your irons, if you kin; I'll git you rafters outen this roof to jab with if you can't do no better. Are you all with me?"
"I am, Jimmy," answered Samson, quietly.
"I'll die with ye, too," exclaimed the praying man, with rekindled spirit.
"We will all be murdered, gentlemen," protested the dejected mulatto. "I know these desperate people."
"Then you crawl over in the corner," Phoebus commanded, "and see three men fight fur you. We don't want any fine buck nigger to spile his beauty for us."
The man crawled back into the blackness of the den again, and Phoebus began to search the open half of the garret for implements of war. He found two long pieces of chain, with which determined men might beat out an adversary's brains.
"Now, boys," Jimmy delivered himself, "I hain't lost my head yisterday nor to-day neither, by smoke! I'm goin' to kill the first person that comes yer, an' git the keys of this den from him, an' lock all of you in fast, an' the dead kidnapper, too. Then they won't git at you to ship you off till I kin git to Seaford, over yer in Delaware—it's not more than six mile—whar I know three captains of pungies, and all of' em's in port thar now—all friends of Jimmy Phoebus, all well armed, and their crews enough to handle Pangymonum!"
A noise was heard at the lock of the lower door, and Phoebus slipped into the enclosed den and took his station just within the door.
"Remember," he whispered, "I open the fight."
The lock snapped at the door below the step-ladder, the bolt fell, and the light of a lamp flashed up the hatchway and upon the naked roof, and through the cracks of the boarded garret pen.
The sailor's knife was in his belt-pouch, where he carried it over the hip. As he leaned down to look through a crack in the low door, he felt a hand from the gloom behind touch him.
Instinctively he felt for his knife, and it was gone.
"Captain," cried the voice of the dejected mulatto, as the door of the pen flew open and the bandit-looking stranger appeared with the lamp, "there's a white man here going to kill you. I've taken his knife from him and saved your life. It's a rebellion, captain!"
"Help! Patty! Joe!" cried the man, with a loud voice, as Jimmy Phoebus threw himself upon him and extinguished the lamp, and the two powerful men rolled on the floor together in a grip of mortal combat.
Phoebus was a man of great power, but his antagonist was strong and slippery, too, and a spirited rough-and-tumble fighter.
The pungy captain was on top, the bandit man locked him fast in his arms and legs, and tried to stab him in the side, as Phoebus felt the handle of a clasp-knife, which seemed slow to obey its spring, strike him repeatedly all round the groin, in strokes that would have killed, inflicted by the blade.
Phoebus attempted to drag the man to the hatchway and force him down it, while the two negro assistants of Phoebus beat down the negro traitor with their chains, and searched him vainly for the knife he had filched.
At last Phoebus prevailed, and his antagonist rolled down the open hatchway, seven feet or more, still keeping his desperate hold on Phoebus, and dragging him along; and both might have cracked their skulls but for a woman just in the act of hurrying up the ladder, against whom their two bodies pitched and were cushioned upon her.
The shock, however, stunned both of them, and when Phoebus recollected himself he was tied hand and foot and lying on the garret floor again, and over him stood Joe Johnson, flourishing a cowhide.
The bandages had again been torn from Phoebus's face, and he was bleeding at the flesh-wound in his cheek, and breathless from his conflict. A woman had dashed a vessel of water into his face, and this had revived him.
The other man, called "captain," had, meantime, by the aid of this woman—the same Phoebus had seen down-stairs—subdued and tied the black insurgents, and both of them were flourishing their whips over the backs and heads of the prisoners, big and little, so that the garret was no slight reflection of the place of eternal torment, as the shadows of the monsters, under the weak light, whipped and danced against the beams and shingles, and shrieks and shouts of "Mercy!" blended in hideous dissonance.
The woman now turned her lamp on the sailor's rough, swarthy, injured countenance, and looked him over out of her dark, bold eyes:
"Joe, this is a nigger, by God!"
Johnson and the captain also examined him carefully, and, uttering an oath, the former kicked the prostrate man with his heavy boot.
"I popped this bloke last night," he said, "and thought the scold's cure had him. He's a sea-crab playin' the setter fur niggers. He sang beef to me in Princess Anne. I told him thar he'd pass for a nigger, Patty, and we'll sell him fur one to Georgey!"
"All's fish that comes to our net, Joe," the woman chuckled; "he'll sell high, too."
"That white man," spoke the voice of Samson, within the pen, his chains rattling, "has hunderds of friends a-lookin' fur him, an' you'll ketch it if you don't let him off."
"What latitat chants there?" Joe Johnson demanded of Patty Cannon.
"That's my nigger, Joe," the woman answered.
"Fetch him to the light."
The captain propped Samson up, and Joe Johnson glared into his face, and then struck him down with the handle of his heavy whip.
"Patty," he growled, "that nigger's scienced; he's the champion scrapper of Somerset. He knocked me down, and I marked him fur it; and now, by God! I'm a-goin' to burn him alive on Twiford's island."
He swore an oath, half blasphemous, half blackguard, and the captain murmured, with a lisp:
"The white man is the only witness. Make sure of him!"
Irons were produced, and the captain speedily fastened Phoebus's hands in a clevis, and hobbled his feet, and placed him, without brutality, in the pen, and, further, chained him there to a ring in the joist below. As the door was closed and bolted, a voice from the darkness of the pen cried out:
"Aunt Patty, let me out: I saved the captain's life; I took the white man's knife. I'll serve you faithfully if you only let me go."
"He blowed the gab," said Joe Johnson, "but it won't serve him."
"Zeke," cried the woman, "it's no use. You go to Georgey with the next gang—you an' the white nigger thar."
The man threw himself upon the floor and moaned and prayed, as the lamplight disappeared and the hatchway slid echoingly over the stairs, and the lower bolts were drawn. As he lay there in horror and amid contempt, a voice arrested his ears near by, singing, with musical and easy spirit, so low that it seemed a hymn, from the roads and fields far down beneath:
"Deep-en de woun' dy hands have made In dis weak, helpless soul."
The man listened with awe and silence, as if a spirit hummed the tune, and forgot his doom of slavery a moment in the deeper anguish of a treacherous heart that simple hymn bestirred. It was only Jimmy Phoebus, thinking what he could say to punish this double traitor most, who had turned his back upon his race and upon gratitude, and Jimmy had remembered the poor woman chained to the tree on Twiford's island, and her oft-reiterated hymn; and the conclusion was flashed upon his mind that the mulatto wretch who decoyed her away and sold her was none other than his renegade fellow-prisoner, in turn made merchandise of because too dangerous to set at large in the probable hue-and-cry for her.
"Poor Mary!" Phoebus slowly spoke, in his deepest tones, with solemn cadence.
The wretched man listened and trembled.
"Mary's sperrit's callin' 'Zeke!'" Phoebus continued, awful in his inflection.
The miserable procurer's heart stopped at the words, and his eyeballs turned in torment.
"Come, Zeke! poor Mary's a-waitin' for ye!" cried the sailor, suddenly, in a voice of thunder, and as suddenly relapsed into the low singing of the quiet hymn again:
"Deep-en de woun' dy hands have made In dis weak, helpless soul, Till mercy, wid its mighty aid De-scen to make me whole; Yes, Lord! De-scen to make me whole."