Mrs. Shelby read the intelligence with the deepest concern; but any immediate action upon it was an impossibility. She was then in attendance on the sick-bed of her husband, who lay delirious in the crisis of a fever. Master George Shelby, who, in the interval, had changed from a boy to a tall young man, was her constant and faithful assistant, and her only reliance in superintending his father’s affairs. Miss Ophelia had taken the precaution to send them the name of the lawyer who did business for the St. Clares; and the most that, in the emergency, could be done, was to address a letter of inquiry to him. The sudden death of Mr. Shelby, a few days after, brought, of course, an absorbing pressure of other interests, for a season.
Mr. Shelby showed his confidence in his wife’s ability, by appointing her sole executrix upon his estates; and thus immediately a large and complicated amount of business was brought upon her hands.
Mrs. Shelby, with characteristic energy, applied herself to the work of straightening the entangled web of affairs; and she and George were for some time occupied with collecting and examining accounts, selling property and settling debts; for Mrs. Shelby was determined that everything should be brought into tangible and recognizable shape, let the consequences to her prove what they might. In the mean time, they received a letter from the lawyer to whom Miss Ophelia had referred them, saying that he knew nothing of the matter; that the man was sold at a public auction, and that, beyond receiving the money, he knew nothing of the affair.
Neither George nor Mrs. Shelby could be easy at this result; and, accordingly, some six months after, the latter, having business for his mother, down the river, resolved to visit New Orleans, in person, and push his inquiries, in hopes of discovering Tom’s whereabouts, and restoring him.
After some months of unsuccessful search, by the merest accident, George fell in with a man, in New Orleans, who happened to be possessed of the desired information; and with his money in his pocket, our hero took steamboat for Red river, resolving to find out and re-purchase his old friend.
He was soon introduced into the house, where he found Legree in the sitting-room.
Legree received the stranger with a kind of surly hospitality,
“I understand,” said the young man, “that you bought, in New Orleans, a boy, named Tom. He used to be on my father’s place, and I came to see if I couldn’t buy him back.”
Legree’s brow grew dark, and he broke out, passionately: “Yes, I did buy such a fellow,—and a h—l of a bargain I had of it, too! The most rebellious, saucy, impudent dog! Set up my niggers to run away; got off two gals, worth eight hundred or a thousand apiece. He owned to that, and, when I bid him tell me where they was, he up and said he knew, but he wouldn’t tell; and stood to it, though I gave him the cussedest flogging I ever gave nigger yet. I b’lieve he’s trying to die; but I don’t know as he’ll make it out.”