“I have no mercenary motives in the matter,” she said, “With me they will be free, and this, I am sure, will be an inducement for you to consent to my proposal.”
A slave master can love his bond servant, and Hugh loved the little Mug so much that the idea of parting with her as he surely must at some future time if he assented to Alice’s plan, made him hesitate. But he decided at last, influenced not so much by need of money as by knowing how much real good the exchange of ownership would be to the two young girls. In return for Rocket, Alice should have Muggins, while for Lulu she might give what she liked.
“Heaven knows,” he added, “it is not my nature to hold any one in bondage, and I shall gladly hail the day which sees the negro free. But our slaves are our property. Take them from us and we are ruined wholly. Miss Johnson, do you honestly believe that one in forty of those Northern abolitionists would deliberately give up ten—twenty—fifty thousand dollars, just because the thing valued at that was man and not beast? No, indeed. Southern people, born and brought up in the midst of slavery, can’t see it as the North does, and there’s where the mischief lies.”
He had wandered from Lulu and Muggins to the subject which then, far more than the North believed, was agitating the Southern mind. Then they talked of ’Lina, Hugh telling Alice of her intention to pass the winter with Mrs. Ellsworth, and speaking also of Irving Stanley.
“By the way, Ad writes that Irving was interested in you, and you in him,” Hugh said, rather abruptly, stealing a glance at Alice, who answered frankly:
“I can hardly say that I know much of him, though once, long ago—”
She paused here, and Hugh waited anxiously for what she would say next. But Alice, changing her mind, only added:
“I esteem Mr. Stanley very highly. He is a gentleman, a scholar and a Christian.”
“You like him better for that, I suppose—better for being a Christian, I mean,” Hugh replied, a little bitterly.
“Oh, yes, so much better,” and reining her horse closer to Hugh, Alice rode very slowly, while in earnest tones she urged on Hugh the one great thing he needed. “You are not offended?” she asked, as he continued silent.
“No, oh, no. I never had any religious teaching, only once; an angel flitted across my path, leaving a track of glorious sunshine, but the clouds have been there since, and the sunshine is most all gone.”
Alice knew he referred to the maiden of whose existence Mug had told her, and she longed to ask him of her. Who was she, and where was she now? Alas, that she should have been so deceived, or that Hugh, when she finally did ask, “Who was the angel that crossed his path?” should answer evasively.
Just before turning into the Spring Bank fields, a horseman came dashing down the pike, checking his steed a moment as he drew near, and then, with a savage frown, spurring on his foam-covered horse, muttering between his teeth a curse on Hugh Worthington.