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   Chapter 26 No.26

A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 18792

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Strange contrasts occur in human society, even where there is such a strong tendency toward equality as there is in New England. A few hours before Queen Fashion held her splendid court in Beacon Street, a vessel from New Orleans called "The King Cotton" approached Long Wharf in Boston. Before she touched the pier, a young man jumped on board from another vessel close by. He went directly up to the captain, and said, in a low, hurried tone: "Let nobody land. You have slaves on board. Mr. Bell is in a carriage on the wharf waiting to speak to you."

Having delivered this message, he disappeared in the same direction that he came.

This brief interview was uneasily watched by one of the passengers, a young man apparently nineteen or twenty years old. He whispered to a yellow lad, who was his servant, and both attempted to land by crossing the adjoining vessel. But the captain intercepted them, saying, "All must remain on board till we draw up to the wharf."

With desperate leaps, they sprang past him. He tried to seize them, calling aloud, "Stop thief! Stop thief!" Some of his sailors rushed after them. As they ran up State Street, lads and boys, always ready to hunt anything, joined in the pursuit. A young black man, who was passing down the street as the crowd rushed up, saw the yellow lad race by him, panting for breath, and heard him cry, "Help me!"

The crowd soon turned backward, having caught the fugitives. The black man hurried after, and as they were putting them on board the vessel he pushed his way close to the yellow lad, and again heard him say, "Help me! I am a slave."

The black man paused only to look at the name of the vessel, and then hastened with all speed to the house of Mr. Willard Percival. Almost out of breath with his hurry, he said to that gentleman: "A vessel from New Orleans, named 'The King Cotton,' has come up to Long Wharf. They've got two slaves aboard. They was chasing 'em up State Street, calling out, 'Stop thief!' and I heard a mulatto lad cry, 'Help me!' I run after 'em; and just as they was going to put the mulatto lad aboard the vessel, I pushed my way close up to him, and he said, 'Help me! I'm a slave.' So I run fast as I could to tell you."

"Wait a moment till I write a note to Francis Jackson, which you must carry as quick as you can," said Mr. Percival. "I will go to Mr. Sewall for a writ of habeas corpus"

While this was going on, the captain had locked the fugitives in the hold of his vessel, and hastened to the carriage, which had been waiting for him at a short distance from the wharf.

"Good evening, Mr. Bell," said he, raising his hat as he approached the carriage door.

"Good evening, Captain Kane," replied the gentleman inside. "You've kept me waiting so long, I was nearly out of patience."

"I sent you word they'd escaped, sir," rejoined the captain. "They gave us a run; but we've got 'em fast enough in the hold. One of 'em seems to be a white man. Perhaps he's an Abolitionist, that's been helping the nigger off. It's good enough for him to be sent back to the South. If they get hold of him there, he'll never have a chance to meddle with gentlemen's property again."

"They're both slaves," replied Mr. Bell. "The telegram I received informed me that one would pass himself for a white man. But, captain, you must take 'em directly to Castle Island. One of the officers there will lock 'em up, if you tell them I sent you. And you can't be off too quick; for as likely as not the Abolitionists will get wind of it, and be raising a row before morning. There's no safety for property now-a-days."

Having given these orders, the wealthy merchant bade the captain good evening, and his carriage rolled away.

The unhappy fugitives were immediately taken from the hold of the vessel, pinioned fast, and hustled on board a boat, which urged its swift way through the waters to Castle Island, where they were safely locked up till further orders.

"O George, they'll send us back," said the younger one. "I wish we war dead."

George answered, with a deep groan: "O how I have watched the North Star! thinking always it pointed to a land of freedom. O my God, is there no place of refuge for the slave?"

"You are so white, you could have got off, if you hadn't brought me with you," sobbed the other.

"And what good would freedom do me without you, Henny?" responded the young man, drawing his companion closer to his breast. "Cheer up, honey! I'll try again; and perhaps we'll make out better next time."

He tried to talk hopefully; but when yellow Henny, in her boy's dress, cried herself to sleep on his shoulder, his tears dropped slowly on her head, while he sat there gazing at the glittering stars, with a feeling of utter discouragement and desolation.

That same evening, the merchant who was sending them back to bondage, without the slightest inquiry into their case, was smoking his amber-lipped meerschaum, in an embroidered dressing-gown, on a luxurious lounge; his daughter, Mrs. Fitzgerald, in azure satin and pearls, was meandering through the mazes of the dance; and his exquisitely dressed grandson, Gerald, was paying nearly equal homage to Mrs. King's lambent eyes and the sparkle of her diamonds.

When young Fitzgerald descended to a late breakfast, the morning after the great party, his grandfather was lolling back in his arm-chair, his feet ensconced in embroidered slippers, and resting on the register, while he read the Boston Courier.

"Good morning, Gerald," said he, "if it be not past that time of day. If you are sufficiently rested from last night's dissipation, I should like to have you attend to a little business for me."

"I hope it won't take very long, grandfather," replied Gerald; "for I want to call on Mrs. King early, before her rooms are thronged with visitors."

"That opera-singer seems to have turned your head, though she is old enough to be your mother," rejoined Mr. Bell.

"I don't know that my head was any more turned than others," answered the young man, in a slightly offended tone. "If you call to see her, sir, as mother says you intend to do, perhaps she will make you feel as if you had a young head on your shoulders."

"Likely as not, likely as not," responded the old gentleman, smiling complacently at the idea of re-enacting the beau. "But I wish you to do an errand for me this morning, which I had rather not put in writing, for fear of accidents, and which I cannot trust verbally to a servant. I got somewhat chilled waiting in a carriage near the wharf, last evening, and I feel some rheumatic twinges in consequence. Under these circumstances, I trust you will excuse me if I ask the use of your young limbs to save my own."

"Certainly, sir," replied Gerald, with thinly disguised impatience.

"What is it you want me to do?"

"Two slaves belonging to Mr. Bruteman of New Orleans, formerly a friend of your father, have escaped in my ship, 'The King Cotton,' The oldest, it seems, is a head carpenter, and would bring a high price, Bruteman values them at twenty-five hundred dollars. He is my debtor to a considerable amount, and those negroes are mortgaged to me. But independently of that circumstance, it would be very poor policy, dealing with the South as I do, to allow negroes to be brought away in my vessels with impunity. Besides, there is a heavy penalty in all the Southern States, if the thing is proved. You see, Gerald, it is every way for my interest to make sure of returning those negroes; and your interest is somewhat connected with mine, seeing that the small pittance saved from the wreck of your father's property is quite insufficient to supply your rather expensive wants."

"I think I have been reminded of that often enough, sir, to be in no danger of forgetting it," retorted the youth, reddening as he spoke.

"Then you will perhaps think it no great hardship to transact a little business for me now and then," coolly rejoined the grandfather. "I shall send orders to have these negroes sold as soon as they arrive, and the money transmitted to me; for when they once begin to run away, the disease is apt to become chronic."

"Have you seen them, sir," inquired Gerald.

"No," replied the merchant. "That would have been unpleasant, without being of any use. When a disagreeable duty is to be done, the quicker it is done the better. Captain Kane took 'em down to Castle Island last night; but it won't do for them to stay there. The Abolitionists will ferret 'em out, and be down there with their devilish habeas corpus. I want you to go on board 'The King Cotton,' take the captain aside, and tell him, from me, to remove them forthwith from Castle Island, keep them under strong guard, and skulk round with them in the best hiding-places he can find, until a ship passes that will take them to New Orleans. Of course, I need not caution you to be silent about this affair, especially concerning the slaves being mortgaged to me. If that is whispered abroad, it will soon get into the Abolition papers that I am a man-stealer, as those rascals call the slaveholders."

The young man obeyed his instructions to the letter; and having had some difficulty in finding Captain Kane, he was unable to dress for quite so early a call at the Revere House as he had intended. "How much trouble these niggers give us!" though

t he, as he adjusted his embroidered cravat, and took his fresh kid gloves from the box.

* * * * *

When Mr. Blumenthal went home to dine that day, the ladies of the household noticed that he was unusually serious. As he sat after dinner, absently playing a silent tune on the table-cloth, his wife touched his hand with her napkin, and said, "What was it so long ago, Florimond?"

He turned and smiled upon her, as he answered: "So my fingers were moving to the tune of 'Long, long ago,' were they? I was not conscious of it, but my thoughts were with the long ago. Yesterday afternoon, as I was passing across State Street, I heard a cry of 'Stop thief!' and I saw them seize a young man, who looked like an Italian. I gave no further thought to the matter, and pursued the business I had in hand. But to-day I have learned that he was a slave, who escaped in 'The King Cotton' from New Orleans. I seem to see the poor fellow's terrified look now; and it brings vividly to mind something dreadful that came very near happening, long ago, to a person whose complexion is similar to his. I was thinking how willingly I would then have given the services of my whole life for a portion of the money which our best friend here has enabled me to acquire."

"What was the dreadful thing that was going to happen, papa?" inquired Rosa.

"That is a secret between mamma and I," he replied. "It is something not exactly suitable to talk with little girls about, Rosy Posy." He took her hand, as it lay on the table, and pressed it affectionately, by way of apology for refusing his confidence.

Then, looking at Mrs. Delano, he said: "If I had only known the poor fellow was a slave, I might, perhaps, have done something to rescue him. But the Abolitionists are doing what can be done. They procured a writ of habeas corpus, and went on board 'The King Cotton'; but they could neither find the slaves nor obtain any information from the captain. They are keeping watch on all vessels bound South, in which Mr. Goldwin and I are assisting them. There are at least twenty spies out on the wharves."

"I heartily wish you as much success as I have had in that kind of business," replied Mrs. Delano with a smile.

"O, I do hope they'll be rescued," exclaimed Flora. "How shameful it is to have such laws, while we keep singing, in the face of the world, about 'the land of the free, and the home of the brave.' I don't mean to sing that again; for it's false."

"There'll come an end to this some time or other, as surely as God reigns in the heavens," rejoined Blumenthal.

* * * * *

Two days passed, and the unremitting efforts of Mr. Percival and Mr. Jackson proved unavailing to obtain any clew to the fugitives. After an anxious consultation with Samuel E. Sewall, the wisest and kindest legal adviser in such cases, they reluctantly came to the conclusion that nothing more could be done without further information. As a last resort, Mr. Percival suggested a personal appeal to Mr. Bell.

"Rather a forlorn hope that," replied Francis Jackson. "He has named his ship for the king that rules over us all, trampling on freedom of petition, freedom of debate, and even on freedom of locomotion."

"We will try," said Mr. Percival. "It is barely possible we may obtain some light on the subject."

Early in the evening they accordingly waited upon the merchant at his residence. When the servant informed him that two gentlemen wished to see him on business, he laid aside his meerschaum and the Courier, and said, "Show them in."

Captain Kane had informed him that the Abolitionists were "trying to get up a row"; but he had not anticipated that they would call upon him, and it was an unpleasant surprise when he saw who his visitors were. He bowed stiffly, and waited in silence for them to explain their business.

"We have called," said Mr. Percival, "to make some inquiries concerning two fugitives from slavery, who, it is said, were found on board your ship, 'The King Cotton.'"

"I know nothing about it," replied Mr. Bell. "My captains understand the laws of the ports they sail from; and it is their business to see that those laws are respected."

"But," urged Mr. Percival "that a man is claimed as a slave by no means proves that he is a slave. The law presumes that every man has a right to personal liberty, until it is proved otherwise; and in order to secure a fair trial of the question, the writ of habeas corpus has been provided."

"It's a great disgrace to Massachusetts, sir, that she puts so many obstacles in the way of enforcing the laws of the United States," replied Mr. Bell.

"If your grandson should be claimed as a slave, I rather think you would consider the writ of habeas corpus a wise and just provision," said the plain-speaking Francis Jackson. "It is said that this young stranger, whom they chased as a thief, and carried off as a slave, had a complexion no darker than his."

"I take it for granted," added Mr. Percival, "that you do not wish for a state of things that would make every man and woman in Massachusetts liable to be carried off as slaves, without a chance to prove their right to freedom."

Mr. Bell answered, in tones of suppressed anger, his face all ablaze with excitement, "If I could choose who should be thus carried off, I would do the Commonwealth a service by ridding her of a swarm of malignant fanatics."

"If you were to try that game," quietly rejoined Francis Jackson, "I apprehend you would find some of the fire of '76 still alive under the ashes."

"A man is strongly tempted to argue," said Mr. Percival, "when he knows that all the laws of truth and justice and freedom are on his side; but we did not come here to discuss the subject of slavery, Mr. Bell. We came to appeal to your own good sense, whether it is right or safe that men should be forcibly carried from the city of Boston without any process of law."

"I stand by the Constitution," answered Mr. Bell, doggedly. "I don't presume to be wiser than the framers of that venerable document."

"That is evading the question," responded Mr. Percival. "There is no question before us concerning the framers of the Constitution. The simple proposition is, whether it is right or safe for men to be forcibly carried from Boston without process of law. Two strangers have been thus abducted; and you say it is your captain's business. You know perfectly well that a single line from you would induce your captain to give those men a chance for a fair trial. Is it not your duty so to instruct him?"

A little thrown off his guard, Mr. Bell exclaimed: "And give an

Abolition mob a chance to rescue them? I shall do no such thing."

"It is not the Abolitionists who get up mobs," rejoined Francis Jackson. "Garrison was dragged through the streets for writing against slavery; but when Yancey of Alabama had the use of Faneuil Hall, for the purpose of defending slavery, no Abolitionist attempted to disturb his speaking."

A slight smile hovered about Mr. Percival's lips; for it was well known that State Street and Ann Street clasped hands when mobs were wanted, and that money changed palms on such occasions; and the common rumor was that Mr. Bell's purse had been freely used.

The merchant probably considered it an offensive insinuation, for his face, usually rubicund from the effects of champagne and oysters, became redder, and his lips were tightly compressed; but he merely reiterated, "I stand by the Constitution, sir."

"Mr. Bell, I must again urge it upon your conscience," said Mr. Percival, "that you are more responsible than the captain in this matter. Your captains, of course, act under your orders, and would do nothing contrary to your expressed wishes. Captain Kane has, doubtless, consulted you in this business."

"That's none of your concern, sir," retorted the irascible merchant. "My captains know that I think Southern gentlemen ought to be protected in their property; and that is sufficient. I stand by the Constitution, sir. I honor the reverend gentleman who said he was ready to send his mother or his brother into slavery, if the laws required it. That's the proper spirit, sir. You fanatics, with your useless abstractions about human rights, are injuring trade, and endangering the peace of the country. You are doing all you can to incite the slaves to insurrection. I don't pretend, to be wiser than the framers of the Constitution, sir. I don't pretend to be wiser than Daniel Webster, sir, who said in Congress that he; would support, to the fullest extent, any law Southern gentlemen chose to frame for the recovery of fugitive slaves."

"I wish you a better conscience-keeper," rejoined Francis Jackson, rising as he spoke. "I don't see, my friend, that there's any use in staying here to talk any longer. There's none so deaf as those that won't hear."

Mr. Percival rose at this suggestion, and "Good evening" was exchanged, with formal bows on both sides. But sturdy Francis Jackson made no bow, and uttered no "Good evening." When they were in the street, and the subject was alluded to by his companion, he simply replied: "I've pretty much done with saying or doing what I don't mean. It's a pity that dark-complexioned grandson of his couldn't be carried off as a slave. That might, perhaps, bring him to a realizing sense of the state of things."

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