Let us follow poor human nature to the man shambles.
Gentlemen dealers in want of human property,—planters in want of a few prime people,—brokers who have large transactions in such articles,—and factors who, being rather sensitive of their dignity, give to others the negotiation of their business,—are assembled in and around the mart, a covered shed, somewhat resembling those used by railroad companies for the storing of coarse merchandise. Marston’s negroes are to be sold. Suspicious circumstances are connected with his sudden decline: rumour has sounded her seven-tongued symbols upon it, and loud are the speculations. The cholera has made mighty ravages; but the cholera could not have done all. Graspum has grasped the plantation, quietly and adroitly, but he has not raised the veil of mystery that hangs over the process. There must be long explanations before the obdurate creditors are satisfied.
The irons have been removed from the property, who are crouched round the stand-an elevated platform-in a forlorn group, where sundry customers can scrutinize their proportions. Being little or no fancy among it, the fast young gentlemen of the town, finding nothing worthy their attention and taste, make a few cursory observations, and slowly swagger out of the ring. The children are wonderfully attractive and promising; they are generally admired by the customers, who view them with suspicious glances. Annette’s clean white skin and fine features are remarkably promising,—much valued as articles of merchandise,—and will, in time, pay good interest. Her youth, however, saves her from present sacrifice,—it thwarts that spirited competition which older property of the same quality produces when about to be knocked down under the hammer of freedom.
It is a great day, a day of tribulation, with the once happy people of Marston’s plantation. No prayer is offered up for them, their souls being only embodied in their market value. Prayers are not known at the man shambles, though the hammer of the vender seals with death the lives of many. No gentleman in modest black cares aught for such death. The dealer will not pay the service fee! Good master is no longer their protector; his familiar face, so buoyant with joy and affection, has passed from them. No more will that strong attachment manifest itself in their greetings. Fathers will be fathers no longer-it is unlawful. Mothers cannot longer clasp their children in their arms with warm affections. Children will no longer cling around their mothers,—no longer fondle in that bosom where once they toyed and joyed.