Tom sat by, with his Testament open on his knee, and his head leaning upon his hand;—but neither spoke. It was yet early, and the children lay all asleep together in their little rude trundle-bed.
Tom, who had, to the full, the gentle, domestic heart, which woe for them! has been a peculiar characteristic of his unhappy race, got up and walked silently to look at his children.
“It’s the last time,” he said.
Aunt Chloe did not answer, only rubbed away over and over on the coarse shirt, already as smooth as hands could make it; and finally setting her iron suddenly down with a despairing plunge, she sat down to the table, and “lifted up her voice and wept.”
“S’pose we must be resigned; but oh Lord! how ken I? If I know’d anything whar you ‘s goin’, or how they’d sarve you! Missis says she’ll try and ’deem ye, in a year or two; but Lor! nobody never comes up that goes down thar! They kills ’em! I’ve hearn ’em tell how dey works ’em up on dem ar plantations.”
“There’ll be the same God there, Chloe, that there is here.”
“Well,” said Aunt Chloe, “s’pose dere will; but de Lord lets drefful things happen, sometimes. I don’t seem to get no comfort dat way.”
“I’m in the Lord’s hands,” said Tom; “nothin’ can go no furder than he lets it;—and thar’s one thing I can thank him for. It’s me that’s sold and going down, and not you nur the chil’en. Here you’re safe;—what comes will come only on me; and the Lord, he’ll help me,—I know he will.”
Ah, brave, manly heart,—smothering thine own sorrow, to comfort thy beloved ones! Tom spoke with a thick utterance, and with a bitter choking in his throat,—but he spoke brave and strong.
“Let’s think on our marcies!” he added, tremulously, as if he was quite sure he needed to think on them very hard indeed.
“Marcies!” said Aunt Chloe; “don’t see no marcy in ’t! ’tan’t right! tan’t right it should be so! Mas’r never ought ter left it so that ye could be took for his debts. Ye’ve arnt him all he gets for ye, twice over. He owed ye yer freedom, and ought ter gin ’t to yer years ago. Mebbe he can’t help himself now, but I feel it’s wrong. Nothing can’t beat that ar out o’ me. Sich a faithful crittur as ye’ve been,—and allers sot his business ’fore yer own every way,—and reckoned on him more than yer own wife and chil’en! Them as sells heart’s love and heart’s blood, to get out thar scrapes, de Lord’ll be up to ’em!”
“Chloe! now, if ye love me, ye won’t talk so, when perhaps jest the last time we’ll ever have together! And I’ll tell ye, Chloe, it goes agin me to hear one word agin Mas’r. Wan’t he put in my arms a baby?—it’s natur I should think a heap of him. And he couldn’t be spected to think so much of poor Tom. Mas’rs is used to havin’ all these yer things done for ’em, and nat’lly they don’t think so much on ’t. They can’t be spected to, no way. Set him ’longside of other Mas’rs—who’s had the treatment and livin’ I’ve had? And he never would have let this yer come on me, if he could have seed it aforehand. I know he wouldn’t.”