“What on earth can induce you to want to eat with a nigger?” asked Betsey, as soon as Charlie was out of hearing. “I couldn’t do it; my victuals would turn on my stomach. I never ate at the same table with a nigger in my life.”
“Nor I neither,” rejoined Eliza; “but I see no reason why I should not. The child appears to have good manners, he is neat and good-looking, and because God has curled his hair more than he has ours, and made his skin a little darker than yours or mine, that is no reason we should treat him as if he was not a human being.” Alfred, the gardener, had set down his saucer and appeared very much astonished at this declaration of sentiment on the part of Eliza, and sneeringly remarked, “You’re an Abolitionist, I suppose.”
“No, I am not,” replied she, reddening; “but I’ve been taught that God made all alike; one no better than the other. You know the Bible says God is no respecter of persons.”
“Well, if it does,” rejoined Alfred, with a stolid-look, “it don’t say that man isn’t to be either, does it? When I see anything in my Bible that tells me I’m to eat and drink with niggers, I’ll do it, and not before. I suppose you think that all the slaves ought to be free, and all the rest of the darned stuff these Abolitionists are preaching. Now if you want to eat with the nigger, you can; nobody wants to hinder you. Perhaps he may marry you when he grows up—don’t you think you had better set your cap at him?”
Eliza made no reply to this low taunt, but ate her breakfast in silence.
“I don’t see what Mrs. Bird brought him here for; she says he is sick,—had a broken arm or something; I can’t imagine what use she intends to make of him,” remarked Betsey.
“I don’t think she intends him to be a servant here, at any rate,” said Eliza; “or why should she have him put in the maple chamber, when there are empty rooms enough in the garret?”
“Well, I guess I know what she brought him for,” interposed Alfred. “I asked her before she went away to get a little boy to help me do odd jobs, now that Reuben is about to leave; we shall want a boy to clean the boots, run on errands, drive up the cows, and do other little chores.[*] I’m glad he’s a black boy; I can order him round more, you know, than if he was white, and he won’t get his back up half as often either. You may depend upon it, that’s what Mrs. Bird has brought him here for.” The gardener, having convinced himself that his view of the matter was the correct one, went into the garden for his day’s labour, and two or three things that he had intended doing he left unfinished, with the benevolent intention of setting Charlie at them the next morning.
[Footnote *: A Yankeeism, meaning little jobs about a farm.]