One most important matter, and on which depended the comfort and happiness of his people, was the selection of a proper overseer. On its becoming known that he required such a functionary, numbers of individuals who aspired to that dignified and honourable office applied forthwith; and as it was also known that the master was to be absent, and that, in consequence, the party having it under his entire control, could cut and slash without being interfered with, the value of the situation was greatly enhanced. It had also another irresistible attraction, the absence of the master would enable the overseer to engage in the customary picking and stealing operations, with less chance of detection.
In consequence of all these advantages, there was no want of applicants. Great bony New England men, traitors to the air they first breathed, came anxiously forward to secure the prize. Mean, weasen-faced, poor white Georgians, who were able to show testimonials of their having produced large crops with a small number of hands, and who could tell to a fraction how long a slave could be worked on a given quantity of corn, also put in their claims for consideration. Short, thick-set men, with fierce faces, who gloried in the fact that they had at various times killed refractory negroes, also presented themselves to undergo the necessary examination.
Mr. Garie sickened as he contemplated the motley mass of humanity that presented itself with such eagerness for the attainment of so degrading an office; and as he listened to their vulgar boastings and brutal language, he blushed to think that such men were his countrymen.
Never until now had he had occasion for an overseer. He was not ambitious of being known to produce the largest crop to the acre, and his hands had never been driven to that shocking extent, so common with his neighbours. He had been his own manager, assisted by an old negro, called Ephraim—most generally known as Eph, and to him had been entrusted the task of immediately superintending the hands engaged in the cultivation of the estate. This old man was a great favourite with the children, and Clarence, who used to accompany him on his pony over the estate, regarded him as the most wonderful and accomplished coloured gentleman in existence.
Eph was in a state of great perturbation at the anticipated change, and he earnestly sought to be permitted to accompany them to the North. Mr. Garie was, however, obliged to refuse his request, as he said, that it was impossible that the place could get on without him.
An overseer being at last procured, whose appearance and manners betokened a better heart than that of any who had yet applied for the situation, and who was also highly-recommended for skill and honesty; nothing now remained to prevent Mr. Garie’s early departure.
One evening Mr. Ellis was reading the newspaper, and Mrs. Ellis and the girls were busily engaged in sewing, when who should come in but Mr. Walters, who had entered without ceremony at the front door, which had been left open owing to the unusual heat of the weather.