The Minister's Wooing
THE TEST OF THEOLOGY.
THE Doctor went immediately to his study and put on his best coat and his wig, and, surmounting them by his cocked hat, walked manfully out of the house, with his gold-headed cane in his hand.
“There he goes!" said Mrs. Scudder, looking regretfully after him. “He is such a good man!—but he has not the least idea, how to get along in the world. He never thinks of anything but what is true; he hasn’t a particle of management about him.”
“ Seems to me,” said Mary, “ that is like an Apostle. You know, mother, St. Paul says, 'In simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world.'”
“To be sure,—that is just the Doctor,” said Mrs, Seudder; “ that's as like him as if it hail been written for him. But that kind of way, somehow, don’t seem to do in our times ; it won’t answer with Simeon Brown,— I know the man. I know just as well, now, how it will all seem to him, and what will be the upshot of this talk, if the Doctor goes there ! It won't do any good; if it would, I would be willing. I feel as much desire to have this horrid trade in slaves stopped as anybody; your father, I'm sure, said enough about it in his time ; but then I know it's no use trying. Just as if Simeon Brown, when he is making his hundreds of thousands in it, is going to be persuaded to give it up! He won’t, —he’ll only turn against the Doctor, and won’t pay his part of the salary, and will use his influence to get up a party against him, and our church will be broken up and the Doctor driven away,—that’s all that will come of it; and all the good that he is doing now to these poor negroes will be overthrown,— and they never did have so good a friend. If he would stay here and work gradually, and get his System of Theology printed,— and Simeon Brown would help at that, — and only drop words in season here and there, till people are brought along with him, why, by-and-by something might be done; but now, it’s just the most imprudent thing a man could undertake.”
“But, mother, if it really is a sin to trade in slaves and hold them, I don’t see how he can help himself. I quite agree with him. I don’t see how he came to let it go so long as he has.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Seudder, “if worst comes to worst, and he will do it, I, for one, shall stand by him to the last.”
“And I, for another," said Mary.
“ I would like him to talk with Cousin Zebedee about it,” said Mrs. Seudder. “When we are up there this afternoon, we will introduce the conversation. He is a good, sound man, and the Doctor thinks much of him, and perhaps he may shed some light upon this matter.”
Meanwhile the Doctor was making the best of his way, in the strength of his purpose to test the orthodoxy of Simeon Brown.
Honest old granite boulder that he was, no sooner did he perceive a truth than he rolled after it with all the massive gravitation of his being, inconsiderate as to what might lie in his way;—from which it is to be inferred, that, with all liis intellect and goodness, he would have been a very clumsy and troublesome inmate of the modern American Church. How many societies, boards, colleges, and other good institutions, have reason to congratulate themselves that he has long been among the saints !
With him logic was everything, and to perceive a truth and not act in logical sequence from it a thing so incredible, that he had not yet enlarged his capacity to take it in as a possibility. That a man should refuse to hear truth, he could understand. In fact, he had good reason to think the majority of his townsmen had no leisure to give to that purpose. That men hearing truth should dispute it and argue stoutly against it, he could also understand ; but that a man could admit a truth and not admit the plain practice resulting from it was to him a thing incomprehensible. Therefore, spite of Mrs. Katy Scudder's discouraging observations, our good Doctor walked stoutly and with a trusting heart.
At the moment when the Doctor, with a silent uplifting of his soul to his invisible Sovereign, passed out of his study, on this errand, where was the disciple whom he went to seek ?
In a small, dirty room, down by the wharf, the windows veiled by cobwebs and dingy with the accumulated dust of ages, he sat in a greasy, leathern chair by a rickety office-table, on which was a great pewter inkstand, an account-book, and divers papers tied with red tape.
Opposite to him was seated a squarebuilt individual,—a man of about forty, whose round head, shaggy eyebrows, small, keen eyes, broad chest, and heavy muscles showed a preponderance of the animal and brutal over the intellectual and spiritual. This was Mr. Scroggs, the agent of a rice-plantation, who had come on, bringing an order for a new relay of negroes to supply the deficit occasioned by fever, dysentery, and other causes, in their last year’s stock.
“The fact is,” said Simeon, “this last, ship-load wasn’t as good a one as usual; we lost more than a third of it, so we can’t afford to put them a penny lower.”
“ Ay,” said the other,—“ but then there are so many women ! ”
“ Well,” said Simeon, “ women a’n’t so strong, perhaps, to start with,-—but then they stan’ it out, perhaps, in the long run, better. They’re more patient;—some of these men, the Mandingoes, particularly, are pretty troublesome to manage. We lost a splendid fellow, coming over, on this very voyage. Let ’em on deck for air, and this fellow managed to get himself loose and fought like a dragon. He settled one of our men with his fist, and another with a marlinespike that be caught,—and, in fact, they had to shoot him down. You’ll have his wife ; there’s his son, too,—fine fellow, fifteen year old by his teeth.”
“ What! that lame one ? ”
“ Oh, lie a’n’t lame !—it’s nothing but the cramps from stowing. You know, of course, they are more or less stiff. He’s as sound as a nut.”
“ Don’t much like to buy relations, on account of their hatching up mischief together,” said Mr. Scroggs.
“ Oh, that’s all humbug ! You must keep ’em from coming together, anyway. It’s about as broad as ’tis long. There'll be wives and husbands and children among ’em before long, start ’em as you will. And then this woman will work better for having the boy ; she’s kinder set on him ; she jabbers lots of lingo to him, day and night.”
“ Too much, I doubt,” said the overseer, with a shrug.
“ Well, well,—I’ll tell you,” said Simeon, rising. “ I’ve got a few errands up-town, and you just step over with Matlock and look over the stock;—just set aside any that you want, and when I see ’em all together, I’ll tell you just what you shall have ’em for. I’ll be back in an hour or two.”
And so saying, Simeon Brown called an underling from an adjoining room, and, committing his customer to his care, took his way up-town, in a serene frame of mind, like a man who comes from the calm performance of duty.
Just as he came upon the street where was situated his own large and somewhat pretentious mansion, the tall figure of the Doctor loomed in sight, sailing majestically down upon him, making a signal to attract his attention.
“ Good morning, Doctor,” said Simeon.
“ Good morning, Mr. Brown,” said the Doctor. “ I was looking for you. I did not quite finish the subject we were talking about at Mrs. Scudder’s table last night. I thought I should like to go on with it a little.”
“ With all my heart, Doctor,” said Simeon, not a little flattered. “ Turn right in. Mrs. Brown will be about her housebusiness, and we will have the keepingroom all to ourselves. Come right in.”
The "keeping-room" of Mr. Simeon Brown’s house was an intermediate apartment between the ineffable glories of the front-parlor and that court of the gentiles, the kitchen ; for the presence of a large train of negro servants made the latter apartment an altogether different institution from the throne-room of Mrs. Katy Scudder.
This keeping-room was a low-studded apartment, finished with the heavy oaken beams of the wall left full in sight, boarded over and painted. Two windows looked out on the street, and another into a sort of court-yard, where three black wenches, each with a broom, pretended to be sweeping, but were, in fact, chattering and laughing, like so many crows.
On one side of the room stood a heavy mahogany sideboard, covered with decanters, labelled Gin, Brandy, Rum, etc., —for Simeon was held to be a provider of none but the best, in his housekeeping. Heavy mahogany chairs, with crewel coverings, stood sentry about the room; and the fireplace was flanked by two broad arm-chairs, covered with stamped leather.
On ushering the Doctor into this apartment, Simeon courteously led him to the sideboard.
“ We mus'n't make our discussions too dry. Doctor,” he said. “ What will you take ? ”
“ Thank you, Sir,” said the Doctor, with a wave of his hand,—“ nothing this morning.”
And depositing his cocked hat in a chair, he settled himself into of the leathern easy-chairs, and, dropping his hands upon his knees, looked fixedly before him, like a man who is studying how to enter upon an inwardly absorbing subject.
“ Well, Doctor,” said Simeon, seating himself opposite, sipping comfortably at a glass of rum-and-water, “ our views appear to be making a noise in the world. Everything is preparing for your volumes ; and when they appear, the battle of New Divinity, I think, may fairly be considered as won.”
Let us consider, that, though a woman may forget her first-born, yet a man cannot forget his own system of theology,-— because therein, if he be a true man, is the very elixir and essence of all that is valuable and hopeful to the universe ; and considering this, let us appreciate the settled purpose of our friend, whom even this tempting bait did not swerve from the end which he had in view.
“ Mr. Brown,” he said, “ all our theology is as a drop in the ocean of God’s majesty, to whose glory we must be ready to make any and every sacrifice.'”
“ Certainly,” said Mr. Brown, not exactly comprehending the turn the Doctor’s thoughts were taking,
“ And the glory of God consisteth in the happiness of all his rational universe, each in his proportion, according to his separate amount of being; so that, when we devote ourselves to God’s glory, it is the same as saying that we devote ourselves to the highest happiness of his created universe.”
“ That’s clear, Sir,” said Simeon, rubbing his hands, and taking out his watch to see the time.
The Doctor hitherto had spoken in a laborious manner, like a man who is slowly lifting a heavy bucket of thought out of an internal well.
“ I am glad to find your mind so clear on this all-important point, Mr. Brown,— the more so as I feel that we must immediately proceed to apply our principles, at whatever sacrifice of worldly goods; and I trust, Sir, that you are one who at the call of your Master would not hesitate even to lay down all your worldly possessions for the greater good of the universe.”
“ I trust so, Sir,” said Simeon, rather uneasily, and without the most distant idea what could be coming next in the mind of his reverend friend.
“ Did it never occur to you, my friend,” said the Doctor, “ that the enslaving of the African race is a clear violation of the great law which commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves,— and a dishonor upon the Christian religion, more particularly in us Americans, whom the Lord hath so marvellously protected, in our recent struggle for our own liberty?”
Simeon started at the first words of this address, much as if some one had dashed a bucket of water on his head, and after that rose uneasily, walking the room and playing with the seals of his watch.
“ I—I never regarded it in this light,” he said.
“ Possibly not, my friend,” said the Doctor,—“ so much doth established custom blind the minds of the best of men. But since I have given more particular attention to the case of the poor negroes here in Newport, the thought has more and more labored in my mind,—more especially as our own struggles for liberty have turned my attention to the rights which every human creature hath before God,—so that I find much in my former blindness and the comparative dumbness I have heretofore maintained on this subject wherewith to reproach myself; for, though J have borne somewhat of a testimony, I have not given it that force which so important a subject required. I am humbled before God for my neglect, and resolved now, by His grace, to leave no stone unturned till this iniquity be purged away from our Zion."
“Well, Doctor,” said Simeon, “you are certainly touching on a very dark and difficult subject, and one in which it is hard to find out the path of duty. Perhaps it will be well to bear it in mind, and by looking at it prayerfully some light may arise. There are such great obstacles in the way, that I do not see at present what can be done ; do you, Doctor ?”
“ I intend to preach on the subject next Sunday, and hereafter devote my best energies in the most public way to this great work,” said the Doctor.
“You, Doctor?—and now, immediately? Why, it appears to me you cannot do it. You are the most unfit man possible. Whosever duty it may be, it does not seem to me to be yours. You already have more on your shoulders than you can carry; you are hardly able to keep your ground now, with all the odium of this new theology upon you. Such an effort would break up your church,— destroy the chance you have to do good here,— prevent the publication of your system.”
“If it’s nobody’s system but mine, the world won’t lose much, if it never be published : but if it be God's system, nothing can hinder its appearing. Besides. Mr. Brown, I ought not to be one man alone. I count on your help. I hold it as a special providence, Mr. Brown, that in our own church an opportunity will be given to testify to the reality of disinterested benevolence. How glorious the opportunity for a man to come out and testify by sacrificing his worldly living and business! If you, Mr. Brown, will at once, at whatever sacrifice, quit all connection with this detestable and diabolical slave-trade, you will exhibit a spectacle over which angels will rejoice, and which will strengthen and encourage me to preach and write and testify.”
Mr. Simeon Brown’s usual demeanor was that of the most leathery imperturbability. In calm theological reasoning, he could demonstrate, in the dryest tone, that, if the eternal torment of six bodies and souls were absolutely the necessary means for preserving the eternal blessedness of thirty-six, benevolence would require us to rejoice in it, not in itself considered, but in view of greater good. And when he spoke, not a nerve quivered : the great mysterious sorrow with which the creation groaneth and travailleth. the sorrow from which angels veil their faces, never had touched one vibrating chord either of body or soul; and he laid down the obligations of man to unconditional submission in a style which would have affected a person of delicate sensibility much like being mental1y sawn in sunder. Benevolence, when Simeon Brown spoke of it, seemed the grimmest and unloveliest of Gorgons; for his mind seemed to resemble those fountains which petrify everything that falls into them. But the hardest-shelled animals have a vital and sensitive part, though only so large as the point of a needle; and the Doctor’s innocent proposition to Simeon, to abandon his whole worldly estate for his principles, touched this spot.
When benevolence required but the acquiescence in certain possible things which might be supposed to happen to his soul, which, after all, he was comfortably certain never would happen, or the acquiescence in certain supposititious sacrifices for the good of that most intangible of all abstractions, Being in general, it was a dry, calm subject. But when it concerned the immediate givingup of his slave-ships and a transfer of business, attended with all that confusion and loss which he foresaw at a glance, then he felt, and felt too much to see clearly. His swarthy face flushed, his little blue eye kindled, he walked up to the Doctor and began speaking in the short, energetic sentences of a man thoroughly awake to what he is talking about.
“ Doctor, you’re too fast. You are not a practical man, Doctor. You are good in your pulpit;—nobody better. Your theology is clear; — nobody can argue better. But come to practical matters, why, business has its laws, Doctor. Ministers are the most unfit men in the world to talk on such subjects ; it’s departing from their sphere ; they talk about what they don’t understand. Besides, you take too much for granted. I’m not sure that this trade is an evil. I want to be convinced of it. I’m sure it’s a favor to these poor creatures to bring them to a Christian land. They are a thousand times better off. Here they can hear the gospel and have some chance of salvation.”
“ If we want to get the gospel to the Africans,” said the Doctor, “ why not send whole ship-loads of missionaries to them, and carry civilization and the arts and Christianity to Africa, instead of stirring up wars, tempting them to ravage each other’s territories, that we may get the booty ? Think of the numbers killed in the wars,—of all that die on the passage ! Is there any need of killing ninety-nine men to give the hundredth one the gospel, when we could give the gospel to them all ? Ah, Mr. Brown, what if all the money spent in fitting out ships to bring the poor negroes here, so prejudiced against Christianity that they regard it with fear and aversion, had been spent in sending it to them, Africa would have been covered with towns and villages, rejoicing in civilization and Christianity ! ”
“ Doctor, you are a dreamer,” replied Simeon, “ an unpractical man. Your situation prevents your knowing anything of real life.”
"Amen ! the Lord be praised therefor!” said the Doctor, with a slowly increasing flush mounting to his check, showing the burning brand of a smouldering fire of indignation.
“ Now let me just talk common-sense, Doctor,—which has its time and place, just as much as theology;—and if you have the most theology, I flatter myself I have the most common-sense ; a business-man must have it. Now just look at your situation,—how you stand. You’ve got a most important work to do. In order to do it, you must keep your pulpit, you must keep our church together. We are few and weak. W e are a minority. Now there’s not an influential man in your society that don’t either hold slaves or engage in the trade ; and if you open upon this subject as you are going to do, you’ll just divide and destroy the church. All men are not like you ;—men are men, and will be, till they are thoroughly sanctified, which never happens in this life, —and there will be an instant and most unfavorable agitation. Minds will be turned off from the discussion of the great saving doctrines of the gospel to a side issue. You will be turned out,—and you know, Doctor, you are not appreciated as you ought to be, and it won’t be easy for you to get a new settlement; and then subscriptions will all drop off from your book, and you won’t be able to get that out; and all this good will be lost to the world, just for want of common-sense.”
“ There is a kind of wisdom in what you say, Mr. Brown,” replied the Doctor, naively; “but I fear much that it is the wisdom spoken in James, iii. 15, which ‘ descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.’ You avoid the very point of the argument, which is, Is this a sin against God? That it is, I am solemnly convinced; and shall I 'use lightness? or the things that I purpose do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea, yea, and nay, nay ? ' No, Mr. Brown, immediate repentance, unconditional submission, these are what I must preach as long as God gives me a pulpit to stand in, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear.”
“Well, Doctor,” said Simeon, shortly, “ you can do as you like ; but I give you fair warning, that I, for one, shall stop my subscription, and go to Dr. Stiles’s church.”
“ Mr. Brown,” said the Doctor, solemnly, rising, and drawing his tall figure to its full height, while a vivid light gleamed from his blue eye, “ as to that, you can do as you like; but I think it my duty, as your pastor, to warn you that I have perceived, in my conversation with you this morning, such a want of true spiritual illumination and discernment as leads me to believe that you are yet in the flesh, blinded by that ‘ carnal mind ’ which ‘ is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.’ I much fear you have no part nor lot in this matter, and that you have need, seriously, to set yourself to search into the foundations of your hope ; for you may be like him of whom it is written, (Isaiah, xliv. 20.) 'He feedeth on ashes : a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand ? ’ ”
The Doctor delivered this address to his man of influence with the calmness of an ambassador charged with a message from a sovereign, for which he is no otherwise responsible than to speak it in the most intelligible manner; and then, taking up his hat and cane, he bade him good morning, leaving Simeon Brown in a tumult of excitement which no previous theological discussion had ever raised in him.
THE PRACTICAL TEST.
THE hens cackled drowsily in the barnyard of the white Marvyn-house ; in the blue June-afternoon sky sported great sailing islands of cloud, whose white, glistening heads looked in and out through the green apertures of maple and blossoming apple-boughs ; the shadows of the trees had already turned eastward, when the one-horse wagon of Mrs. Katy Scudder appeared at the door, where Mrs. Marvyn stood, with a pleased, quiet welcome in her soft, brown eyes. Mrs. Scudder herself drove, sitting on a seat in front,—while the Doctor, apparelled in the most faultless style, with white wristruffles, plaited shirt-bosom, immaculate wig, and well-brushed coat, sat by Mary’s side, serenely unconscious how many feminine cares had gone to his getting-up. He did not know of the privy consultations, the sewings, stitcliings, and starching, the ironings, the brushing, the foldings and unfolding and timely arrangements, that gave such dignity and respectability to his outer man, any more than the serene moon rising tranquilly behind a purple mountain-top troubles her calm head with treatises on astronomy; it is enough for her to shine,—she thinks not how or why.
There is a vast amount of latent gratitude to women lying undeveloped in the hearts of men, which would come out plentifully, if they only knew what they did for them. The Doctor was so used to being well dressed, that he never asked why. That his wig always sat straight and even around his ample forehead, not facetiously poked to one side, nor assuming rakish airs, unsuited to clerical dignity, was entirely owing to Mrs. Katy Scudder. That his best broadcloth coat was not illustrated with shreds and patches, fluff and dust, and hanging in ungainly folds, was owing to the same. That his long silk stockings never had a treacherous stitch allowed to break out into a long running ladder was due to her watchfulness ; and that he wore spotless ruffles on his wrists or at his bosom was her doing also. The Doctor little thought, while he, in common with good ministers generally, gently traduced the Scriptural Martha and insisted on the duty of heavenly abstractedness, how much of his own leisure tor spiritual contemplation was due to the Martha-like talents of his hostess. But then, the good soul had it in him to be grateful, and would have been unboundedly so, if he had known his indebtedness, — as, we trust, most of our magnanimous masters would be.
Mr. Zebedee Marvyn was quietly sitting in the front summer parlor, listening to the story of two of his brother churchmembers, between whom some difficulty had arisen in the settling of accounts: Jim Bigelow, a small, dry, dapper little individual, known as general jobber and factotum, and Abram Griswold, a stolid, wealthy, well-to-do farmer. And the fragments of conversation we catch are not uninteresting, as showing Mr. Zebedee's habits of thought and mode of treating those who came to him for advice.
“ I could ’ave got along better, if he’d 'a' paid me regular every night,” said the squeaky voice of little Jim; — “but he was allers puttin' me off till it come even change, he said.”
“ Well, ’ta’n’t always handy,” replied the other; “ one doesn’t like to break into a five-pound note for nothing; and I like to let it run till it comes even change.”
“ But, brother,” said Mr. Zebedee, turning over the great Bible that lay on the mahogany stand in the corner, “ we must go to the law and to the testimony,” —and, turning over the leaves, he read from Deuteronomy, xxiv. :—
“ Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant the is and needy, whether he be of thy brethren or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates. At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee.”
“ You see what the Bible has to say on the matter,” he said.
“Well, now, Deacon, I rather think you’ve got me in a tight place,” said Mr. Griswold, rising; and turning confusedly round, he saw the placid figure of the Doctor, who had entered the room unobserved in the midst of the conversation, and was staring with that look of calm, dreamy abstraction which often led people to suppose that he heard and saw nothing of what was going forward.
All rose reverently ; and while Mr. Zebedee was shaking hands with the Doctor, and welcoming him to his house, the other two silently withdrew, making respectful obeisance.
Mrs. Marvyn had drawn Mary’s hand gently under her arm and taken her to her own sleeping-room, as it was her general habit to do, that she might show her the last book she had been reading, and pour into her ear the thoughts that had been kindled up by it.
Mrs. Scudder, after carefully brushing every speck of dust from the Doctor’s coat and seeing him seated in an armchair by the open window, took out a long stocking of blue-mixed yarn which she was knitting for his winter wear, and, pinning her knitting-sheath on her side, was soon trotting her needles contentedly in front of him,
The ill-success of the Doctor’s morning attempt at enforcing his theology in practice rather depressed his spirits. There was a noble innocence of nature in him which looked at hypocrisy with a puzzled and incredulous astonishment, How a man could do so and be so was to him a problem at which his thoughts vainly labored. Not that he was in the least discouraged or hesitating in regard to his own course. When he had made up his mind to perform a duty, the question of success no more entered his thoughts than those of the granite boulder to which we have before compared him. When the time came for him to roll, he did roll with the whole force of his being;—where he was to land was not his concern.
Mildly and placidly he sat with his hands resting on his knees, while Mr. Zebedee and Mrs. Scudder compared notes respecting the relative prospects of corn, flax, and buckwheat, and thence passed to the doings of Congress and the last proclamation of General Washington, pausing once in a while, if, peradveuture, the Doctor might take up the conversation. Still he sat dreamily eyeing the flies as they fizzed down the panes of the half-open window.
“ I think,” said Mr. Zebedee, “ the prospects of the Federal party were never brighter.”
The Doctor was a stanch Federalist, and generally warmed to this allurement; but it did not serve this time.
Suddenly drawing himself up, a light came into his blue eyes, and he said to Mr. Marvyn,—
“I’m thinking, Deacon, if it is wrong to keep back the wages of a servant till after the going down of the sun, what those are to do who keep them back all their lives.”
There was a way the Doctor had of hearing and seeing when he looked as if his soul were afar off, and bringing suddenly into present conversation some fragment of the past on which he had been leisurely hammering in the quiet chambers of his brain, which was sometimes quite startling.
This allusion to a passage of Scripture which Mr. Marvyn was reading when he came in, and which nobody supposed he had attended to, startled Mrs. Scudder, who thought, mentally, “ Now for it! ” and laid down her knitting-work, and eyed her cousin anxiously. Mrs. Marvyn and Mary, who had glided in and joined the circle, looked interested; and a slight flush rose and overspread the thin cheeks of Mr. Marvyn, and his blue eyes deepened in a moment with a thoughtful shadow, as he looked inquiringly at the Doctor, who proceeded :—
“My mind labors with this subject of the enslaving of the Africans, Mr; -Marvyn. We have just been declaring to the world that all men are born with an inalienable right to liberty. We have fought for it, and the Lord of Hosts has been with us; and can we stand before Him with our foot upon our brother’s neck ? ”
A generous, upright nature is always more sensitive to blame than another,— sensitive in proportion to the amount of its reverence for good,— and Mr. Maryyn’s face flushed, his eye kindled, and his compressed respiration showed how deeply the subject moved him. Mrs. Marvyn’s eyes turned on him an anxious look of inquiry. He answered, however, calmly :—
“ Doctor, I have thought of the subject, myself. Mrs. Marvyn has lately been reading a pamphlet of Mr. Thomas Clarkson’s on the slave-trade, and she was saying to me only last night, that she did not see but the argument extended equally to holding slaves. One thing, I confess, stumbles me : — Was there not an express permission given to Israel to buy and hold slaves of old ? ”
“Doubtless,” said the Doctor; “but many permissions were given to them which were local and temporary; for if we hold them to apply to the human race, the Turks might quote the Bible for making slaves of us, if they could,— and the Algerines have the Scripture all on their side,— and our own blacks, at some future time, if they can get the power, might justify themselves in making slaves of us.”
“ I assure you, Sir,” said Mr. Marvyn, “ if I speak, it is not to excuse myself. But I am quite sure my servants do not desire liberty, and would not take it, if it were offered.”
“ Call them in and try it,” said the Doctor. “ If they refuse, it is their own matter.”
There was a gentle movement in the group at the directness of this personal application; but Mr. Marvyn replied, calmly,—
“ Cato is up at the eight-acre lot, but you may call in Candace. My dear, call Candace, and let the Doctor put the question to her.”
Candace was at this moment sitting before the ample fireplace in the kitchen, with two iron kettles before her, nestled each in its bed of hickory coals, which gleamed out from their white ashes like sleepy, red eyes, opening and shutting. In one was coffee, which she was burning, stirring vigorously with a puddingstick,— and in the other, puffy doughnuts, in shapes of rings, hearts, and marvellous twists, which Candace had such a special proclivity for making, that Mrs. Marvyn’s table and closets never knew an intermission of their presence.
“ Candace, the Doctor wishes to see you,” said Mrs. Marvyn.
“ Bress his heart! ” said Candace, looking up, perplexed, “ Wants to see me, does he? Can’t nobody hab me till dis yer coffee’s done ; a minnit’s a minnit in coffee ;—but I’ll be in dereckly,” she added, in a patronizing tone. “ Missis, you jes’ go ’long in, an’ I’ll be dar dereckly.”
A few moments after, Candace joined the group in the sitting-room, having hastily tied a clean, white apron over her blue linsey working-dress, and donned the brilliant Madras which James had lately given her, and which she had a barbaric fashion of arranging so as to give to her head the air of a gigantic butterfly. She sunk a dutiful curtsy, and stood twirling her thumbs, while the Doctor surveyed her gravely.
"Candace," said he, “ do you think it right that the black race should be slaves to the white ? ”
The face and air of Candace presented a curious picture at this moment; a sort of rude sense of delicacy embarrassed her, and she turned a deprecating look, first on Mrs. Marvyn and then on her master.
“ Don’t mind us, Candace,” said Mrs. Marvyn; “ tell the Doctor the exact truth.”
Candace stood still a moment, and the spectators saw a deeper shadow roll over her sable face, like a cloud over a dark pool of water, and her immense person heaved with her labored breathing.
“ Ef I must speak, I must,” she said. "No,—I neber did tink 'twas right. When Gineral Washington was here, I hearn ’em read de Declaration ob Independence and Bill o’ Bights: an’ I tole Cato den, says I, 'Ef dat ar' true, you an’ I are as free as anybody.’ It stands to reason. Why, look at me,— I a’n’t a critter. I’s nobler huffs nor horns. I's a reasonable bein’,—a woman.—as much a woman as anybody,” she said, holding up her head with an air as majestic as a palm-tree ; — “ an’ Cato, — he’s a man, born free an’ equal, ef dar’s any truth in what you read, — dat’s all.”
“ But;, Candace, you’ve always been contented and happy with us, have you not ? ” said Mr. Marvyn.
“ Yes, Mass’r,— I ha’n’t got nuffin to complain ob in dat matter. I couldn’t hab no better friends ’n you an’ Missis.”
“ Would you like your liberty, if you could get it, though?” said Mr. Marvyn. “ Answer me honestly.”
“ Why, to be sure I should! Who wouldn’t? Mind ye,” she said, earnestly raising her black, heavy band, “’ta’n’t dat I want to go off, or want to shirk work; but I want to feel free. Dem dat isn’t free has nuffin to gib to nobody;— dey can’t show what dey would do.”
“ Well, Candace, from this day you are free,” said Mr. Marvyn, solemnly.
Candace covered her face with both her fat hands, and shook and trembled, and, finally, throwing her apron over her head, made a desperate rush for the door, and threw herself down in the kitchen in a perfect tropical torrent of tears and sobs.
“ You see,” said the Doctor, “ what freedom is to every human creature. The blessing of the Lord will be on this deed, Mr. Marvyn. ‘The steps of a just man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in his way.’”
At this moment, Candace reappeared at the door, her butterfly turban somewhat deranged with the violence of her prostration, giving a whimsical air to her portly person.
“ I want ye all to know,” she said, with a clearing-up snuff, “ dat it’s my will an’ pleasure to go right on doin’ my work jes’ de same ; an’, Missis, please, I’ll allers put three eggs in de crullers, now; an’ I won’t turn de wash-basin down in de sink, but hang it jam-up on de nail; an’ I won’t pick up chips in a milkpan, ef I’m in ever so big a hurry;— i’ll do eberyting jes’ as ye tells me. Now you try me an’ see ef I won’t! ”
Candace here alluded to some of the little private wilful nesses which she had always obstinately cherished as reserved rights, in pursuing domestic matters with her mistress.
"I intend,” said Mr. Marvyn, “ to make the same offer to your husband, when he returns from work to-night.”
"Laus, Mass’r,— why, Cato he’ll do jes’ as I do,—dere a’n’t no kind o’ need o’ askin’ him. ’Course he will.”
A smile passed round the circle, because between Candace and her husband there existed one of those whimsical contrasts which one sometimes sees in married life. Cato was a small-built, thin, softly-spoken negro, addicted to a gentle chronic cough ; and, though a faithful and skilful servant, seemed, in relation to his better half, much like a hill of potatoes under a spreading apple-tree. Candace held to him with a vehement and patronizing fondness, so devoid of conjugal reverence as to excite the comments of her friends.
“ You must remember, Candace,” said a good deacon to her one day, when she was ordering him about at a catechizing, “ you ought to give honor to your husband ; the wife is the weaker vessel.”
“I de weaker vessel ? ” said Candace, looking down from the tower of her ample corpulence on the small, quiet man whom she had been fledging with the ample folds of a worsted comforter, out of which his little head and shining beadeyes looked, much like a blackbird in a nest,—“I de weaker vessel ? Umph!”
A whole-woman’s-rights’ convention could not have expressed more in a day than was given in that single look and word. Candace considered a husband as a thing to be taken care of,—a rather inconsequent and somewhat troublesome species of pet, to be humored, nursed, fed, clothed, and guided in the way that he was to go,—an animal that was always losing off buttons, catching colds, wearing his best coat every day, and getling on his Sunday hat in a surreptitious manner for week-day occasions ; but she often condescended to express it as her opinion that he was a blessing, and that she didn’t know what she should do, if it wasn’t for Cato. In fact, he seemed to supply her that which we are told is the great want in woman’s situation,— an object in life. She sometimes was heard expressing herself very energetically in disapprobation of the conduct of one of her sable friends, named Jinny Stiles, who, after being presented with her own freedom, worked several years to buy that of her husband, but became afterwards so disgusted with her acquisition that she declared she would “ neber buy anoder nigger.”
“Now Jinny don’t know what she’s talkin’ about,” she would say. "S’pose he does cough and keep her awake nights, and take a little too much sometimes, a’n’t he better'n no husband at all ? A body wouldn’t seem to kab nuffin to lib for, ef dey hadn’t an ole man to look arter. Men is nate'lly foolish about some tings, — but dey’s good deal better’n nuffin.”
And Candace, after this condescending remark, would lift off with one hand a brass kettle in which poor Cato might have been drowned, and fly across the kitchen with it as if it were a feather.
[To be continued.]