The hens cackled drowsily in the barn-yard of the white Marvyn-house; in the blue June-afternoon sky sported great sailing islands of cloud, whose white, glistening heads looked in and out through the green apertures of maple and blossoming apple-boughs; the shadows of the trees had already turned eastward, when the one-horse waggon of Mrs. Katy Scudder appeared at the door, where Mrs. Marvyn stood, with a pleased, quiet welcome in her soft brown eyes. Mrs. Scudder herself drove, sitting on a seat in front,—while the Doctor, apparelled in the most faultless style, with white wrist-ruffles, plaited shirt-bosom, immaculate wig, and well-brushed coat, sat by Mary’s side, serenely unconscious how many feminine cares had gone to his getting-up. He did not know of the privy consultations, the sewings, stitchings, and starchings, the ironings, the brushings, the foldings and unfoldings and timely arrangements, that gave such dignity and respectability to his outer man, any more than the serene moon rising tranquilly behind a purple mountain-top troubles her calm head with treatises on astronomy; it is enough for her to shine,—she thinks not how or why.

There is a vast amount of latent gratitude to women lying undeveloped in the hearts of men, which would come out plentifully, if they only knew what they did for them. The Doctor was so used to being well dressed, that he never asked why. That his wig always sat straight, and even around his ample forehead, not facetiously poked to one side, nor assuming rakish airs, unsuited to clerical dignity, was entirely owing to Mrs. Katy Scudder. That his best broadcloth coat was not illustrated with shreds and patches, fluff and dust, and hanging in ungainly folds, was owing to the same. That his long silk stockings never had a treacherous stitch allowed to break out into a long running ladder was due to her watchfulness; and that he wore spotless ruffles on his wrists or at his bosom was her doing also. The Doctor little thought, while he, in common with good ministers generally, gently traduced the Scriptural Martha and insisted on the duty of heavenly abstractedness, how much of his own leisure for spiritual contemplation was due to the Martha-like talents of his hostess. But then, the good soul had it in him to be grateful, and would have been unboundedly so, if he had known his indebtedness,—as, we trust, most of our magnanimous masters would be.

Mr. Zebedee Marvyn was quietly sitting in the front summer parlour, listening to the story of two of his brother church-members, between whom some difficulty had arisen in the settling of accounts: Jim Bigelow, a small, dry, dapper little individual, known as general jobber and factotum, and Abram Griswold, a stolid, wealthy, well-to-do farmer. And the fragments of conversation we catch are not uninteresting, as showing Mr. Zebedee’s habits of thought and mode of treating those who came to him for advice.

‘I could ’ave got along better, if he’d ’a’ paid me regular every night,’ said the squeaky voice of little Jim;—‘but he was allers puttin’ me off till it come even change, he said.’

‘Well, ’t’aint always handy,’ replied the other; ‘one doesn’t like to break into a five-pound note for nothing; and I like to let it run till it comes even change.’

‘But, brother,’ said Mr. Zebedee, turning over the great Bible that lay on the mahogany stand in the corner, ‘we must go to the law and to the testimony,’—and, turning over the leaves, he read from Deuteronomy xxiv.:—

‘Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates. At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee.’

‘You see what the Bible has to say on the matter,’ he said.

‘Well, now, Deacon, I rather think you’ve got me in a tight place,’ said Mr. Griswold, rising; and turning confusedly round, he saw the placid figure of the Doctor, who had entered the room unobserved in the midst of the conversation, and was staring with that look of calm, dreamy abstraction which often led people to suppose that he heard and saw nothing of what was going forward.

All rose reverently; and while Mr. Zebedee was shaking hands with the Doctor, and welcoming him to his house, the other two silently withdrew, making respectful obeisance.

Mrs. Marvyn had drawn Mary’s hand gently under her arm and taken her to her own sleeping-room, as it was her general habit to do, that she might show her the last book she had been reading, and pour into her ear the thoughts that had been kindled up by it.

Mrs. Scudder, after carefully brushing every speck of dust from the Doctor’s coat and seeing him seated in an arm-chair by the open window, took out a long stocking of blue-mixed yarn which she was knitting for his winter-wear, and, pinning her knitting-sheath on her side, was soon trotting her needles contentedly in front of him.

The ill-success of the Doctor’s morning attempt at enforcing his theology in practice rather depressed his spirits. There was a noble innocence of nature in him which looked at hypocrisy with a puzzled and incredulous astonishment. How a man could do so and be so was to him a problem at which his thoughts vainly laboured. Not that he was in the least discouraged or hesitating in regard to his own course. When he had made up his mind to perform a duty, the question of success no more entered his thoughts than those of the granite boulder to which we have before compared him. When the time came for him to roll, he did roll with the whole force of his being;—where he was to land was not his concern.

Mildly and placidly he sat with his hands resting on his knees, while Mr. Zebedee and Mrs. Scudder compared notes respecting the relative prospects of corn, flax, and buckwheat, and thence passed to the doings of Congress and the last proclamation of General Washington, pausing once in a while, if, peradventure, the Doctor might take up the conversation. Still he sat dreamily eyeing the flies as they fizzed down the panes of the half-open window.

‘I think,’ said Mr. Zebedee, ‘the prospects of the Federal party were never brighter.’

The Doctor was a stanch Federalist, and generally warmed to this allurement; but it did not serve this time.

Suddenly drawing himself up, a light came into his blue eyes, and he said to Mr. Marvyn,—

‘I’m thinking, Deacon, if it is wrong to keep back the wages of a servant till after the going down of the sun, what those are to do who keep them back all their lives.’

There was a way the Doctor had of hearing and seeing when he looked as if his soul were afar off, and bringing suddenly into present conversation some fragment of the past on which he had been leisurely hammering in the quiet chambers of his brain, which was sometimes quite startling.

This allusion to a passage of Scripture which Mr. Marvyn was reading when he came in, and which nobody supposed he had attended to, startled Mrs. Scudder, who thought, mentally, ‘Now for it!’ and laid down her knitting-work, and eyed her cousin anxiously. Mrs. Marvyn and Mary, who had glided in and joined the circle, looking interested; and a slight flush rose and overspread the thin cheeks of Mr. Marvyn, and his blue eyes deepened in a moment with a thoughtful shadow, as he looked inquiringly at the Doctor, who proceeded:—

‘My mind labours with this subject of the enslaving of the Africans, Mr. Marvyn. We have just been declaring to the world that all men are born with an inalienable right to liberty. We have fought for it, and the Lord of Hosts has been with us; and can we stand before Him, with our foot upon our brother’s neck?’

A generous, upright nature is always more sensitive to blame than another,—sensitive in proportion to the amount of its reverence for good,—and Mr. Marvyn’s face flushed, his eye kindled, and his compressed respiration showed how deeply the subject moved him. Mrs. Marvyn’s eyes turned on him an anxious look of inquiry. He answered, however, calmly:—

‘Doctor, I have thought of the subject myself. Mrs. Marvyn has lately been reading a pamphlet of Mr. Thomas Clarkson’s on the slave-trade, and she was saying to me only last night, that she did not see but the argument extended equally to holding slaves. One thing, I confess, stumbles me:—Was there not an express permission given to Israel to buy and hold slaves of old?’

‘Doubtless,’ said the Doctor; ‘but many permissions were given to them which were local and temporary; for if we hold them to apply to the human race, the Turks might quote the Bible for making slaves of us, if they could,—and the Algerines have the Scripture all on their side,—and our own blacks, at some future time, if they can get the power, might justify themselves in making slaves of us.’

‘I assure you, sir,’ said Mr. Marvyn, ‘if I speak, it is not to excuse myself. But I am quite sure my servants do not desire liberty, and would not take it, if it were offered.’

‘Call them in and try it,’ said the Doctor. ‘If they refuse, it is their own matter.’

There was a gentle movement in the group at the directness of this personal application; but Mr. Marvyn replied, calmly,—

‘Cato is up at the eight-acre lot, but you may call in Candace. My dear, call Candace, and let the Doctor put the question to her.’

Candace was at this moment sitting before the ample fireplace in the kitchen, with two iron kettles before her, nestled each in its bed of hickory coals, which gleamed out from their white ashes like sleepy, red eyes, opening and shutting. In one was coffee, which she was burning, stirring vigorously with a pudding-stick,—and in the other, puffy dough-nuts, in shapes of rings, hearts, and marvellous twists, which Candace had such a special proclivity for making, that Mrs. Marvyn’s table and closets never knew an intermission of their presence.

‘Candace, the Doctor wishes to see you,’ said Mrs. Marvyn.

‘Bress his heart!’ said Candace, looking up, perplexed. ‘Wants to see me, does he? Can’t nobody hab me till dis yer coffee’s done; a minnit’s a minnit in coffee;—but I’ll be in dereckly,’ she added, in a patronising tone. ‘Missis, you jes’ go ‘long in, an’ I’ll be dar dereckly.’

A few moments after Candace joined the group in the sitting-room, having hastily tied a clean white apron over her blue linsey working-dress, and donned the brilliant Madras which James had lately given her, and which she had a barbaric fashion of arranging so as to give to her head the air of a gigantic butterfly. She sunk a dutiful curtsy, and stood twirling her thumbs, while the Doctor surveyed her gravely.

‘Candace,’ said he, ‘do you think it right that the black race should be slaves to the white?’

The face and air of Candace presented a curious picture at this moment; a sort of rude sense of delicacy embarrassed her, and she turned a deprecating look, first on Mrs. Marvyn and then on her master.

‘Don’t mind us, Candace,’ said Mrs. Marvyn; ‘tell the Doctor the exact truth.’

Candace stood still a moment, and the spectators saw a deeper shadow roll over her sable face, like a cloud over a dark pool of water, and her immense person heaved with her laboured breathing.

Candace receives her Freedom.

‘Ef I must speak I must,’ she said. ‘No,—I neber did tink ’twas right. When General Washington was here, I hearn ’em read de Declaration ob Independence and Bill o’ Rights; an’ I tole Cato den, says I, “Ef dat ar’ true, you an’ I are as free as anybody.” It stands to reason. Why, look at me,—I a’n’t a critter. I’s neider huffs nor horns. I’s a reasonable bein’,—a woman,—as much a woman as anybody,’ she said, holding up her head with an air as majestic as a palm-tree;—‘an’ Cato,—he’s a man born free an’ equal, ef dar’s any truth in what you read,—dat’s all.’

‘But, Candace, you’ve always been contented and happy with us, have you not?’ said Mr. Marvyn.

‘Yes, Mass’r,—I ha’n’t got nuffin to complain of in dat matter. I couldn’t hab no better friends ’n you an’ Missis.’

‘Would you like your liberty, if you could get it, though?’ said Mr. Marvyn. ‘Answer me honestly.’

‘Why, to be sure I should! Who wouldn’t? Mind ye,’ she said, earnestly raising her black, heavy hand, ‘’ta’n’t dat I want to go off, or want to shirk work; but I want to feel free. Dem dat isn’t free has nuffin to give to nobody;—dey can’t show what dey would do.’

‘Well, Candace, from this day you are free,’ said Mr. Marvyn, solemnly.

Candace covered her face with both her fat hands, and shook and trembled, and, finally, throwing her apron over her head, made a desperate rush for the door, and threw herself down in the kitchen in a perfect tropical torrent of tears and sobs.

‘You see,’ said the Doctor, ‘what freedom is to every human creature. The blessing of the Lord will be on this deed, Mr. Marvyn. “The steps of a just man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in his way.”’

At this moment, Candace reappeared at the door, her butterfly turban somewhat deranged with the violence of her prostration, giving a whimsical air to her portly person.

‘I want ye all to know,’ she said, with a clearing-up snuff, ‘dat it’s my will ’an pleasure to go right on doin’ my work jes’ de same; an’, Missis, please, I’ll allers put three eggs in de crullers, now; an’ I won’t turn de wash-basin down in de sink, but hang it jam-up on de nail; an’ I won’t pick up chips in a milkpan, ef I’m in ever so big a hurry;—I’ll do eberyting jes’ as ye tells me. Now you try me and see ef I won’t!’

Candace here alluded to some of the little private wilfulnesses which she had always obstinately cherished as reserved rights, in pursuing domestic matters with her mistress.

‘I intend,’ said Mr. Marvyn, ‘to make the same offer to your husband, when he returns from work to night.’

‘Laus, Mass’r,—why, Cato he’ll do jes’ as I do,—dere a’n’t no kind o’ need o’ askin’ him. ’Course he will.’

A smile passed round the circle, because between Candace and her husband there existed one of those whimsical contrasts which one sometimes sees in married life. Cato was a small-built, thin, softly-spoken negro, addicted to a gentle chronic cough; and, though a faithful and skilful servant, seemed, in relation to his better half, much like a hill of potatoes under a spreading apple-tree. Candace held to him with a vehement and patronizing fondness, so devoid of conjugal reverence as to excite the comments of her friends.

‘You must remember, Candace,’ said a good deacon to her one day, when she was ordering him about at a catechizing, ‘you ought to give honour to your husband; the wife is the weaker vessel.’

I de weaker vessel?’ said Candace, looking down from the tower of her ample corpulence on the small, quiet man whom she had been fledging with the ample folds of a worsted comforter, out of which his little head and shining bead-eyes looked much like a blackbird in a nest,—‘I de weaker vessel? Umph!’

A whole-woman’s-rights’ convention could not have expressed more in a day than was given in that single look and word. Candace considered a husband as a thing to be taken care of,—a rather inconsequent and somewhat troublesome species of pet, to be humoured, nursed, fed, clothed, and guided in the way that he was to go,—an animal that was always losing of buttons, catching colds, wearing his best coat every day, and getting on his Sunday hat in a surreptitious manner for week-day occasions; but she often condescended to express it as her opinion that he was a blessing, and that she didn’t know what she should do if it wasn’t for Cato. In fact, he seemed to supply her that which we are told is the great want in woman’s situation,—an object in life. She sometimes was heard expressing herself very energetically in disapprobation of the conduct of one of her sable friends, named Jinny Stiles, who, after being presented with her own freedom, worked several years to buy that of her husband, but became afterwards so disgusted with her acquisition that she declared she would, ‘neber buy anoder nigger.’

‘Now Jinny don’t know what she’s talkin’ about,’ she would say. ‘S’pose he does cough and keep her awake nights, and take a little too much sometimes, a’n’t he better’n no husband at all? A body wouldn’t seem to hab nuffin to lib for, ef dey hadn’t an ole man to look arter. Men is nate’lly foolish about some tings,—but dey’s good deal better’n nuffin.’

And Candace, after this condescending remark, would lift off with one hand a brass kettle in which poor Cato might have been drowned, and fly across the kitchen with it as if it were a feather.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook