« AnteriorContinuar »
her assembled labourers and servants there. When they were all seated and perfectly still and attentive, she said to them, "I desired your presence here this Sabbath evening, that I might make a proposition to you. I have been thinking that we ought not to finish every day without remembering and returning thanks to our heavenly Father for His daily bounties, protection, and mercies to us, and asking a continuance of the same blessings; and I think we should not dare to lie down and commit ourselves to that helpless sleep that so resembles death without confessing to our Lord the sins we have committed against him during the day, imploring His forgiveness of them, and asking His watchful care over us during the darkness of the night and the defencelessness of sleep. Don't you think so?"
'Yes, yes, missis, we do we do, indeed," answered several of the elder negroes clearly-while a modest murmur of assent ran through the assembly. The negroes are strongly inclined to worship, and ever ready to co-operate in anything of that sacred character.
Catherine resumed, "We should each do this in private by our own bedsides; but we should also do it together as a household as the creatures of one God, the children of one Father." She paused a moment in thought, and then spoke again. "I have been also reflecting that you ought all to know more of the Bible than you have as yet had any opportunity of knowing; and I think that most of you would be pleased to know more. She paused for an answer.
Yes, yes, missis, we do," chimed in many eager voices, old and young.
"I know you do. Well, then, henceforth we will assemble in this room every evening just before bed-time, and, as a household of the Lord, a family of one Father, spend a short time together in reading and hearing the Holy Scriptures, and in prayer. In beginning to read the Bible with you, Ι shall commence with the first chapter of the New Testament, and read a chapter every night, until we regularly read it through; and afterwards, in the same manner, we will go through David's Psalms and the Prophets."
Catherine finished and sat down, made a sign for silence, and opened the New Testament and commenced her reading. Never had reader a more attentive or interested audience. She passed over the long, hard genealogical table in the first
part of the chapter, and began with the Angel's visit to the Virgin Mary, and read also the second chapter, describing the birth and infancy of the Saviour, sometimes stopping to give explanations, which she knew the simplicity of her audience made necessary. The family service was concluded with a prayer, and the servants dismissed.
And this evening service became thenceforth a daily practice; and Catherine's people learned more of the life and doctrines of the Saviour from her than they would have acquired in a lifetime's attendance upon learned ministers, who preach only for the educated.
On Monday morning, Catherine entered upon her assumed duty of overseer; and never were the affairs of a plantation better administered than by her. Her "good will was to it,' and all her faculties brought to bear upon the business; and although she kept a firm hold upon the reins of government, exacted the complete fulfilment of every duty, and kept steadily at their post every man and woman, yet never was a mistress more beloved and venerated; and certainly never was one so faithfully served. All subordinates need-not harsh nor lax government, but a steady, systematic, rational government, which they can understand and be satisfied with; and such an one was that of Catherine. Her administration was for her people a very wholesome change from the capricious tyranny of the late overseer, who had been accustomed to permit the utmost licence and laxity among the labourers for four or five days; and then, growing alarmed, to hurry and worry, and drive and maltreat them for a week, to make up for lost time. Catherine's government was regular, firm, just, and merciful; and she was loved, respected, and served accordingly. There were some exceptions; but they were very few and unimportant, and soon fell under the general rule.
And thus, in the perfect performance of every duty, domestic and social, that devolved upon her as wife, friend, mistress, and Christian, Catherine passed the winter. The spring brought the usual accession of busy work, and she gave herself up to its direction with untiring energy and activity. She prayed, and laboured, and trusted in Heaven: and Heaven prospered her work, and all went well. Before the first of June, she had paid off all those heavy notes which had been accumulating interest so long. There were
other heavy debts; but she saw her way clearly through, discharging them before the end of the current year.
But she never, never heard from Major Clifton. He seemed just as lost to her as if the grave had received him. She took all the principal newspapers, for the sake of keeping the run of the campaign; and, oh! often her cheeks and very lips paled, and her heart sickened and sank with terror, to read of the awful perils of war, and to think that he was exposed to them; but terror was not the only emotion raised by these descriptions of engagements. No-her whole soul glowed with patriotic ardour when she read of the gallant repulse of the combined land and naval forces of the British, under Admirals Warren and Cockburn, and General Sir Sydney Beckwith, from Craney Island, by the American troops; and her heart swelled with love and enthusiasm when in the same account she saw her husband's name mentioned with the highest encomiums upon his bravery, discretion, and invaluable services.
Autumn came, bringing along with its other associations intensely distinct images of the last sweet, calm days she had passed at Hardbargain with her dying mother; and these vivid recollections stimulated afresh her devotion and her energy. During her administration, to clear the estate of debt, and, at its close, to restore it unencumbered into the hands of her husband, was now her dear object. When the harvest was gathered in, she consulted several of her most intelligent and enterprising neighbours concerning the state of the agricultural markets, and afterwards proceeded to Baltimore in person in order to obtain the best possible prices for her crops. She succeeded in effecting highly advantageous sales, and with the proceeds she returned home and paid off several of those heavy debts.
And so the autumn passed, and winter came, with its leisure, its stormy days, and its long nights. Nothing occurred to break the monotony of daily life until the last of December, when she collected the half-year's rent from Hardbargain, and paid off all the remaining debts, except one inconsiderable note of six hundred dollars. On the morning of the first of January, she sent as usual to the village postoffice for her papers. When the boy returned, he handed her a letter directed in the handwriting of Major Clifton. Oh! joy at last! she tore open the envelope, and seized the
inclosure--it was nothing but a cheque upon the Bank of Richmond for five hundred dollars. She let it fall unheeded, covered her face with her hands, and wept silently; but when her fit of silent weeping was over, she arose, took the cheque, went and collected what money she had left in the house, and ordered her carriage and drove to L, and took up that last note. Then Catherine had the joy of seeing the property entirely free from debt.
And so passed the winter and came the spring of 1814, and still she heard nothing from Major Clifton; and since reading the account of his gallant conduct on Craney Island, she learned nothing of him; and still from her loophole of retreat she anxiously watched the progress of the war, seizing upon all the published accounts, and reading them with the greatest avidity. How diligently she searched the papers to find his name! and how eagerly her eyes darted down upon any officer's name beginning with a C, which always turned out to be Crutchfield, Corbin, Carey, anything but Clifton ! Oh, how barren was all this war news, after all!
Reading frequent and extremely exaggerated accounts of the barbarities committed in the progress of an unsparing war, is it strange that Catherine sickened with terror and anxiety for the safety of him who was exposed to all its horrors?
At length the shock came. It was on the evening of the day after harvest-home, and she had given all her people a holiday, even down to the messenger whose daily duty it was to bring her papers from the post-office, telling him that he might take the whole day, and bring her the mail when he returned home at night. Thus, instead of receiving her paper, as usual, in the morning, Catherine had to wait until the boy's return in the evening. She was sitting in the spinning-room, awaiting the assembling of her servants, whom she had just summoned to evening worship, when they all entered, and with them the post-boy, who came up and laid before her the single paper that had come that day. She took it, to lay aside until after the evening's devotions were over-but a magic name on the outside arrested her attention. She caught up the paper, and read in large capitals→→
"ENGAGEMENT AT ST. LEONARD'S. British forces under Admiral Cockburn repulsed with considerable loss. Major Clifton dangerously wounded."
She read no farther the room swam around her-she reeled, and fell into the arms of Henny, who sprang forward to receive her. Her people crowded around her in great anxiety. But only one moment she fainted thus; then she recovered, controlled herself, resumed her seat, and, after sending the servants all back to their places by a wave of her hand, opened the Bible, and commenced the evening's exercises. Her face was very pale, her hands quivered in turning the leaves, and her voice faltered so as to be nearly inaudible; but she persevered, and got through with the service, even unto the benediction. After it was all over, she detained them a moment by a gesture, and then said, Your master has been dangerously wounded."
Murmurs of surprise, grief, and anxiety agitated the assembly, and testified to their affectionate concern.
"Go now quietly to your homes, and to-morrow, perhaps, may be able to tell you more."
They dispersed slowly, turning glances of uneasiness and distress at the silent anguish of her countenance.
She, too, went out. How she spent the night is best known to Heaven. In the morning, when she appeared among her household, the wasted cheeks, the sunken eyes, the hollow temples, and the written agony of the brow, alone proved the consuming sorrow of her heart.
Jack-I want Jack," she said, as soon as she reached her parlour. And the favourite servant appeared before her. "Jack, I think you love me,' she said.
'Try me, mist'ess dear, an' see ef I doesn't."
And I think you love your master ?"
Ab, my Lor'! Try me-jes on'y try me, mist'essdat's all."
"I wish you to go to him from me."
Oh, do-do sen' me, mist'ess!
It's war I longs for
"I shall. The distance is over a hundred miles. You must pick the best horse in the stable, and start within an hour, and ride day and night until you reach your destination."
'Deed, mist'ess, I won't let de grass grow onnerneaf of my feet."
Very well, then, go now. Have you had your breakfast ?" "Yes, ma'am."