“I am almost afraid I do,” I answered, yet startled by his manner. “That was why I sent for you. Would that include his son’s daughter?”
He buried his face in his hands.
“Yes,” he confessed brokenly. “To the best of my knowledge Rene Beaucaire is a slave.”
I DECIDE MY DUTY
The silence following this blunt statement was sickening. Up to that moment, in spite of every fact brought to my knowledge, I had secretly believed this condition of affairs impossible. Surely somewhere, through some legal form, Judge Beaucaire had guarded the future safety of this young woman, whom he had admitted into his household. Any other conception seemed impossible, too monstrous, too preposterous for consideration. But now the solemn words of the lawyer, his own legal counselor, brought conviction, and for the moment all power of speech deserted me. It was actually true then—the girl was a slave, a thing belonging to Kirby. Nothing broke the stillness within the cabin, except the sharp crackling of flames in the open fireplace, and the heavy breathing of the negro. He was seated on the edge of the bed, his black face showing a greenish tint, and revealing puzzled amazement, with wide-opened eyes staring blankly at Haines, who stood motionless before the fire.
“Whut wus dat yer sed, Mister Haines?” he asked thickly. “You say as how Missus Rene Beaucaire is a slave, sah? Pears like I don’t just rightfully understan’.”
“Still that is true, Pete,” and the lawyer lifted his head and surveyed us both. “She is the illegitimate daughter of Delia, Judge Beaucaire’s housekeeper; her father was Adelbert Beaucaire, the Judge’s only son. No one knows where he is, dead or alive.”
“De good Lord! An’ de ol’ Jedge never set her free?”
The lawyer shook his head, words evidently failing him.
“But are you absolutely certain of this?” I broke in impatiently. “Have you searched the records?”
“Not only searched them, Knox, but, before he left for the north on this last trip, Beaucaire was in my office, and I practically forced him to acknowledge the negligence. He even authorized me to draw up the necessary papers for him to sign on his return—for both Delia and the girl. They are in my desk now, unexecuted. There is no mistake—Rene is legally a slave, together with her mother.”
“My God!” I exclaimed. “What an indictment of slavery. Could anyone conceive a more horrible position! Here is a young girl, educated, refined, of more than ordinary attractiveness Thockmorton tells me, brought up amid every comfort, and led to believe herself the honored daughter of the house, awakening in an instant to the fact that she is a slave, with negro blood in her veins—a mere chattel, owned body and soul by a gambler, won in a card game, and to be sold to the highest bidder. Haines, I tell you Kirby knew all this.”