She fixed her black eyes steadily on him, her lips moved slightly, and she said something in French. What it was, no one knew; but Legree’s face became perfectly demoniacal in its expression, as she spoke; he half raised his hand, as if to strike,—a gesture which she regarded with fierce disdain, as she turned and walked away.
“And now,” said Legree, “come here, you Tom. You see, I telled ye I didn’t buy ye jest for the common work; I mean to promote ye, and make a driver of ye; and tonight ye may jest as well begin to get yer hand in. Now, ye jest take this yer gal and flog her; ye’ve seen enough on’t to know how.”
“I beg Mas’r’s pardon,” said Tom; “hopes Mas’r won’t set me at that. It’s what I an’t used to,—never did,—and can’t do, no way possible.”
“Ye’ll larn a pretty smart chance of things ye never did know, before I’ve done with ye!” said Legree, taking up a cowhide, and striking Tom a heavy blow cross the cheek, and following up the infliction by a shower of blows.
“There!” he said, as he stopped to rest; “now, will ye tell me ye can’t do it?”
“Yes, Mas’r,” said Tom, putting up his hand, to wipe the blood, that trickled down his face. “I’m willin’ to work, night and day, and work while there’s life and breath in me; but this yer thing I can’t feel it right to do;—and, Mas’r, I never shall do it,—never!”
Tom had a remarkably smooth, soft voice, and a habitually respectful manner, that had given Legree an idea that he would be cowardly, and easily subdued. When he spoke these last words, a thrill of amazement went through every one; the poor woman clasped her hands, and said, “O Lord!” and every one involuntarily looked at each other and drew in their breath, as if to prepare for the storm that was about to burst.
Legree looked stupefied and confounded; but at last burst forth,—“What! ye blasted black beast! tell me ye don’t think it right to do what I tell ye! What have any of you cussed cattle to do with thinking what’s right? I’ll put a stop to it! Why, what do ye think ye are? May be ye think ye’r a gentleman master, Tom, to be a telling your master what’s right, and what ain’t! So you pretend it’s wrong to flog the gal!”
“I think so, Mas’r,” said Tom; “the poor crittur’s sick and feeble; ’t would be downright cruel, and it’s what I never will do, nor begin to. Mas’r, if you mean to kill me, kill me; but, as to my raising my hand agin any one here, I never shall,—I’ll die first!”
Tom spoke in a mild voice, but with a decision that could not be mistaken. Legree shook with anger; his greenish eyes glared fiercely, and his very whiskers seemed to curl with passion; but, like some ferocious beast, that plays with its victim before he devours it, he kept back his strong impulse to proceed to immediate violence, and broke out into bitter raillery.