ALONG while ago,
soon after the commencement of the dreadful French revolution, on a
dark night in August, a French peasant woman, of the better sort,
sat knitting by the light of a dim lamp, and from time to time she
stopped to scold her wrangling children, when they disturbed the
slumber of the infant that lay in a cradle at her feet.
The black-eyed peasant woman was restless, though she did not
stir from her seat, and her hard dark hands trembled, though she
gave them no peace from the knitting-pins. She was lost in
thought; and many flashes of lightning had quivered through the
vine-leaves that formed her only window-curtain, before she roused
herself, and sent her numerous children up the crazy ladder to their
straw beds. This done, and she left in silence, the
knitting-pins dropped on her knees for a few moments; she listened
to the mutterings of the thunder, the shivering of the
mulberry-leaves, and the splashing of the rain from her roof.
Then she rose quietly, and broke a log of wood, which she laid on
her rude hearth, to revive the fire that had nearly died out.
While so doing she stood upright, and turned her head as if she
heard some expected sound; but she did not move a step till her
door had opened and shut again. Then she looked back over her
shoulder, — fear and agitation were in the gesture — but at sight of
what she had expected to see she turned, and made the accustomed
reverence, never omitted, in those days, by a French peasant, in
presence of the lords of the soil.
What, then, did the peasant woman see?
She saw, standing within her door, pale, and alarmed, and out of
breath with a hasty walk at night and the dread of discovery, a
beautiful young lady, dressed in the extravagant fashion of the day,
but her silken garments and rich laces stained with soil and torn
with briers, and her powdered tresses wet with the driving rain. She
had a young infant, in a white robe, and she was holding it to her
bosom, and seemed to have been trying to shelter it with part of her
dress and with her fan. The babe slept, and the mother, who had not
stirred since her entrance, was looking down upon it with despair in
her eyes, while she partly supported herself against a gentleman who
stood beside her with a drawn sword in his hand.
No words were spoken; the peasant sat down before the cradle, the
high-born wife came and laid the child upon her knees, and began to
divest it of its rich clothing, kneeling on the rough floor at the
peasant's feet. The husband stood listening by the door, ready in
case of attack. Some coarse little garments were produced, and put
upon the babe, and then the pale mother kissed it, and arose, and
wringing the water from the delicate robe, tore off one strip and
put it in her bosom, and then pushed the remainder between the now
Such was her courage, such her sense of extreme danger, that she
would have walked out of the house with no more words, no more
kisses to her first-born, if her husband had not left the door to
look at his child; and, seeing her dressed like a peasant child, and
remembering her extreme youth, which made it too probable that
before he saw her again she would be utterly changed in limb and
feature, he groaned, and said to the woman, "How many times shall I
adjure you that you deliver my own to me again?"
The woman, in reply, bemoaned the danger of the times, which made it
likely that, if it was discovered that she had consented to harbour
the innocent babe, she and her own children would suffer for it. She
spoke doubtfully, though she promised to do her best, and the young
mother, now sharing her husband's dread, murmured, "And if you
should die, ma bonne Marie?" "Then, how should we know our own
again?" asked the husband. The woman, who was trusted in default of
some better hope, looked sullen, but when the father counted out a
great deal of coined money and some trinkets into her lap, she gave
many promises that she would do her best; but he was examining the
edge of his sword, — it was bright and keen, — and when he had
deliberately brought the lamp and given it into his wife's hand, he
said to her, "There is no way but this;" to which speech she
answered, undauntedly, "Then take it; and I will hold the light to
So he lifted up his babe's hand and drew the sword across her arm,
about an inch above the wrist, making a cut sufficiently deep to
The child screamed, and the mother's face grew paler and more rigid
than before, but she gave back the lamp with a steady hand to her
husband, and drawing the piece of her child's dress, that she had
intended to keep for a relic, from her bosom, she bound tip the
little tender arm, and then the parents left her on the peasant's
lap, and went out into the darkness and the storm.
They went out, and fled away for their lives from their ancestral
home. They had given their babe her only chance of surviving. For no
young infant could have endured the hardships and privations that,
in common with so many of the old French nobility, they were
destined to undergo.
The one haunting fear, that they should not know their child again,
was over. They had marked her for their own with an indelible token,
but for several years they little expected even to claim her, and
could hope for little better than that she might share the life and
eat the food of her foster family.
But, after years of misery and concealment, after imprisonment and
want, the mother — for they were separated — escaped to England, and
the father, after incredible hardships, made his way into La Vendée,
and arrived in disguise at the place where he had left his child. His house had been sacked and burned, his trees cut down, the land
belonged to others, and the very villages went by new names. He also
went by a new name, and misery gave him a new and a care-worn face.
He came to the village as a labourer, with a spade on his shoulder. His child was now six years old, and
he soon recognized her among
her playmates by the mark on her wrist. The peasant woman was dead,
and the child had never been told of her parentage. How her father
enticed her away she did not afterwards remember; but she could
recall a feeling of fear as connected with him, though she had not
hesitated to obey and follow him.
All she could recollect of the journey was the exceeding hunger that
they often suffered; but that, after a long time, they were on the
sea, where they might lie down, and eat a little, and rest; and then
she remembered being in a great town, where they often walked out by
lamplight — where they found her mother — and where the people did
not understand what they said. But, though they never went out till
nightfall, — the poor parents shunning daylight, dressed, as they
were, in tatters, and barefooted, — this little hungry child
remembered London neither for its riches nor its greatness; she only
dwelt on the one fact, that it was full of bread shops, and that
people, when they passed, put bread into her hand. In after years,
and in happier circumstances, when seated at the door of a quiet
farm-house on the outskirts of the American forest, she would often
talk of this time of hunger and destitution, and call to mind the
lighted lamps shining on wet pavements, the shops pouring forth a
warm glow into the streets, and the hurrying passengers, who would
put a penny into the hand of this beggar daughter of dukes; but her
pictures of London were always night scenes — she had never once
entered its streets by day.
Some kind hand was held out to help, and the parents emigrated to
America with their child. Then, when the labour of the day was over,
they would sit under the magnolia-tree by their own door, and
describe to their child the country of her birth and the manners of
the people she belonged to. They were contented, and even gay,
though they both worked with their own hands; and, as for the child,
the mark upon her wrist wrought its effect throughput all her life. The parents, who had dared so early to put her to pain for her
future good, were not likely to fail in any discipline that she
might need, and having both embraced the Protestant religion, their
teaching was enlightened as well as loving.
Gay-hearted people, they lived in peace, and scarcely seemed to
regret their lost possessions, for they had found the "pearl of
great price;" and as for their country, they looked for a "better
country, even a heavenly." But the daughter was a perfectly
different character. She had all the gravity and calm that befitted
a birth amid racking anxiety and constant peril; deeply devout and
self-denying, she suited better with her adopted country, and
language, and people, than with her light-hearted and somewhat
thoughtless parents. And when they were dead, and she married, and
bringing up American children in a homely farm-house, there was
nothing to distinguish her from the good women among whom she dwelt
but a more refined style of manners, and — the mark on her wrist.
Of this mark on her wrist she was accustomed to make great use in
the management of her numerous children. Sometimes they would ask to
look at it. It was a long scar, narrow as a thread, on the back of
her arm, and whenever she turned back her sleeve and indulged them
with a sight of it, she would make some reflections connected with
it that were likely to impress the hearts of her little audience. "Where should I have been now, children, if my parents had not loved
me well enough to wound me? I should have been, perhaps, a poor
ignorant peasant woman to this day. You see, they did this for
my good, and when I hurt you it is always for the same cause."
When I first knew this brave, good woman, she was a widow, and her
children were all grown up, and had, literally, left her alone. It
was by her own consent, for the farm did not answer well, and she
had encouraged most of her sons to move westward. But soon after I
came to live in her house she told me, with evident pleasure, that a
widowed daughter, who had settled in a distant state, was coming
home to her, to help her and live with her. She was to bring her
only child with her. "And I shall find her presence a great
comfort," she observed, "for she and I are very much of a mind."
Though they were, doubtless, of a mind, they were remarkably
unlike in temperament and disposition; and I soon noticed, that
though the same piety shone through the conversation of both, there
was a striking difference in the way it showed itself. The mother
was always making the best of everything; brave and
heart-whole, she "justified the ways of God to man," and, in spite
of many trials suffered, she had still elasticity of mind enough to
say, "I thank God I have had a happy life — and the husband and
children that I have lost He will restore to me." The daughter, on
the other hand, was humble and patient, but had nothing brave about
her. If she had spoken, her words might have been, "I believe God,
that all shall work for good, and though he slay me, yet will I
trust in him; but I have had a sorrowful life, and I shall never
rise up and be cheerful any more."
Something of the same gentleness, humility, and pensiveness had
descended to the child. She was, when I first saw her, about ten
years of age, and as it is with her that this little sketch chiefly
concerns itself, I will describe her appearance as she looked when
first I saw her.
It was a glorious evening, and the American forest was beginning to
be tinged with those superb colours that no one can imagine to
himself if he has never sailed westward; the sky was one flush of
crimson, the heat of the day had abated, and I went down to the
ferry to meet the child and her mother, for their hostess and mine
was busy within preparing supper.
The river is very shallow, but wide; and at the ferry a horse can
cross it easily. I sent a farm boy across with the old white horse,
when I saw the parent and child alight from a coach at the opposite
bank. As the noble creature waded slowly across, beating the still
flood into rings of golden light, I saw the dark eyes of the child
fixed earnestly on me; and when I lifted her down, and gave her my
blessing, according to the custom of my people, she said, "Mother,
is this the poor pastor that was persecuted?" "He can understand
you, my child," said the mother, checking her and speaking low. "What is his name?" she then asked. "You are to call him M. le
Pasteur," the mother answered; and the child, without any shyness,
but in a sweet treble voice, accosted me with "M. le Pasteur, I did
not know you could speak English." She said it in the most winning
tone of apology, and presently, as we mounted the bank, she
continued, "M. le Pasteur, may I take hold of your hand?"
"You are too
forward, my daughter," said the mother, gravely; and as I did not
choose, even in so slight a matter, to act contrary to the parent's
wish, I did not take the little hand in mine, and the child's
attention was soon attracted away from me to her grandmother, who
now appeared in the porch and came out to meet us. Both widowed
since they had parted, and both bereaved of more than one child, it
was no wonder that at first accosting each other the mother and
daughter wept: but I was surprised at the shrinking and alarm of the
child; she coloured exceedingly, and looked this way and that way,
as if she longed to make her escape, and as if the sight of their
grief was intolerable to her.
I had sometimes noticed this in a child before, and supposed it to
be a feeling half selfish, half cowardly. The young spirit will not,
cannot, bear to be disturbed in its serenity, and it has a dread of
a shadow which it catches a glimpse of as lying in its path. I held
out my hand to the little frightened child, and drew her forward to
her grandmother, who had already roused herself, and now kissed her
little descendant tenderly. There was no likeness between them;
timidity was as much impressed on one face, as courage on the other.
The child evidently, though free from fear of her own kind, was
without any natural power to meet danger, to endure hardship, to
deny self, to give up ease. She was very small for her years, and
slight in figure; she had, moreover, those large earnest eyes, and
long silken lashes, which are scarcely ever united with strength and
firmness of character.
But her grandmother was evidently an object of interest and of some
awe to her. She now saw her for the first time; and I noticed that
she was attracted specially to her hands, and watched the movements
of her arms, as she stood by the table, making tea for her tired
She had been told the romantic tale of her grandmother's childhood:
the fine manners and stately walk of the good lady awed her; her
quiet, depressed mother had no such evidence of gentle blood, no
such refined address as she was now contemplating; and she was so
much absorbed that it seemed impossible for her to withdraw her
Her mother presently took her away to bed, and for the next few days
she was suffered to roam about the place, free and happy. She rode
the old white horse when they took him down to water; she went with
black Clara to milk the cows, and helped her to feed the poultry. She made friends also with the poor pastor, and loved to run after
him with hat or stick when he strolled out, or ask for a seat on his
knee when he sat in the porch at sunset.
An old man can often be better understood by a child than by one of
mature age. So at least I found it in the case of this loving little
friend of mine. Her sympathy was so reverential, and her interest so
deep, that it was easier to talk with her of persecution and
proscription, of scattered pastors, of murdered and banished people,
of broken promises and treacherous smiles, than with some who could
understand these things better, but — to use an American word —
would realize them less.
"What a good thing it is," she once remarked to me, "that we can all
be Protestants here without being persecuted!"
I replied, "Yes, my child, a good thing; yet there is a blessing in
persecution that no religion can have while it prospers." And I then
explained to her that when religion "walks in her silver slippers,"
according to the expression of the good Bunyan, it is not so easy
for those who follow after to feel comforted concerning their
sincerity, as when, if they follow, it is to brave persecution and
"But," asked the child, "is it not better to go after religion here
in America than not to go at all?"
"Surely," I replied; "and there is no merit in being persecuted."
"I shall never be persecuted," she interrupted; "and what a good
"And couldst thou not find in thy heart to be persecuted for
righteousness' sake, my child?" I asked.
She drew a deep breath, and her dilating eyes flashed and then
softened; but her answer seemed to, come from the bottom of her
heart — "O, No!" and then, in a hurried voice, she went on;
be so frightened!"
"But God," said I, "is stronger than our fears, and his strength is
made perfect in weakness."
My young auditor paused to reflect, and shortly answered, with
childish simplicity, "When I hear about our Saviour and his dying
for us, I love him if I had seen him, and he had told me himself
of anything that I was to do, I am sure I could have done it."
"Child," I replied, "he does tell you; he tells you,
'Take up thy
cross, arise, and follow me.'"
Again she recurred to her former thoughts, and said, "Yes, but here
in America God will not give me anything hard to do. I shall not
have to let anything be taken away from me, you know, nor to lose
anything, because I am a Protestant."
I endeavoured to explain to her that duty frequently must run
contrary to inclination, and to show her that all must sacrifice
self-will and ease if they be followers of Him who made himself the
sacrifice for our sin. She was a more than commonly intelligent
child, and had been well instructed in religious truths; but she had
not faith to believe that she should ever be able to exercise
courage or endure hardship, and she sat silent by me a long time.
The air was pleasant and cool after a hot day, the sky was rosy, and
the glorious hues of the leaves glowed in the hollow, were reflected
in the river, and fired the opposite side of the ravine, up which we
could look from our seat. My thoughts soon wandered to my native
vale, and to the flock that I had tended among the mountains. My
heart seemed to hear the words of the prophet, "Where is the flock
that was given thee — thy beautiful flock?" when suddenly the child
turned to me and exclaimed, "M. le Pasteur, did you ever see that
mark that my grandmother has on her arm?"
"Yes, my child."
"I wish you would make one like it on my arm, because then, perhaps,
when the time came I should remember."
"When what time came?"
"O, the time when I had to do something that I did not like to do —
something like what my great-grandfather had to do when he made the
"What did he make it for?"
"That he might know her for his own."
"My child, if you are a child of God, your Father knows you for his
own without such a mark; and when the time comes that you speak of,
he can cause you to remember. Believe in God, that he is able to
make you more than conqueror in that conflict which all his children
must sustain, that strife against evil powers and an evil nature. Do
you truly desire to be his child and his servant? Why, then, look in
his word and see; the mark is already given, the servants of God
are sealed already in their foreheads."
"And you say that they must all have things to do that they do not
like? Then they must be very different to me, or else God helps
"Yes, God helps them, my child; they can do nothing without that
"And yet," she said, "I wish I had a mark on my wrist, like my
grandmother's. I think surely it would remind me."
MY little companion had drawn up her sleeve, and was looking at her
delicate wrist attentively, and with a wistful air I replied,
humouring her gravity with as much seriousness as I could command,
"I have no sword to make a mark with, little one; but," I added,
feeling in my pocket, "I have, I think I have, a penknife or
something of that kind;" and I produced a little knife, which I was
proceeding to open, when the child shrank from me with terror, and
her face became suffused with crimson.
"Well," said I, "shall I put it up again?"
She answered faintly, "Yes;" and when it was safe in my pocket, she
crept nearer again.
"So, you see, you were not in earnest in your wish," I observed;
but, seeing her still disturbed, I continued: "I thought you would
understand, my child, that I was only playing with you. I desired
just to let you see that you did not truly wish me to inflict any
pain on you."
"I did wish it; I was in earnest till the time came," she replied
with equal truth and intelligence; "and I did not mean to be so
frightened. Till you took out that knife, I was quite sure that I
should like to have a mark made on my wrist."
"Do you think so now?
"Then something worth remembering has been fixed in your mind this
morning. Do you know what it is?"
The little girl shook her head.
"It is that you are not to be depended on."
"But I knew that before," she answered, blushing.
"No, not so; or you would not have supposed that you had courage to
submit to anything painful, or to do anything that crossed your
inclination, even though you had made a resolution that seemed a
strong one beforehand. This would be of no consequence if your
inclination in general led you to do what is right, and if the
pleasant thing to do was always the right thing; but as you and all
are by nature wicked, we always wish to do what is contrary to the
will of God, we are inclined to do the wrong thing; and if we
depend on ourselves, we shall certainly do it."
"Then," said the child, with a certain vehemence of voice and
gesture, "what a sad thing it is that God does not make us a little
stronger!" Her eyes flashed as she spoke, and for a moment it was
evident that this infant of our rebel race was accusing her Maker in
her heart. But, as I have said, she was exceedingly timid by nature;
and when she observed my silence and displeased gravity, she
speedily checked herself, and presently said humbly, "I did not mean
to say anything wrong, M. le Pasteur."
I replied, "It would be a very sad thing for us if God had suffered
us to be stronger."
"Why?" she asked with surprise.
"Because then we could in some degree depend on ourselves; we should
not be obliged to depend entirely on him: therefore we should be
much worse off than we are; for God's strength is not made perfect
in our strength, but in our weakness."
An incredulous smile dawned on the features of my little friend, but
she turned her face away to hide it.
"Why do you smile?" I asked.
"Because — because —" she stammered, and then evaded the question by
saying, "You know, monsieur, my mother is always saying that I have
no courage, — none at all, — and am such a silly, weak child; and
she wishes — every day she tells me that she wishes — I was more like my
"But that is not what made you smile."
"No; but you will be displeased if I tell you."
"I will not, though I think it was something wrong; tell it me, for
if it was wrong, I may then be able to set you right."
"Well, I was thinking, M. le Pasteur, that there is no good in being
brave and strong, and I need not wish to be like my grandmother, if
what you said was true about God's strength being made perfect in
weakness; because then the weak people are the best off. Perhaps you
do not think I ever pray to God to let me trust in him; but I often
do — I am obliged."
"Obliged!" I repeated, surprised at the singularity of the expression.
"Yes, because I am often so frightened, so terribly frightened; and
my mother said if I trusted in God I should not be so frightened."
"What is it that frightens you, my child?" I inquired.
"Many things; when there is a thunder storm, and when the wind
cracks off the great boughs, and I hear them come thundering down,
and when I am awake in the night and think of robbers, I am
frightened but my grandmother never is; she is not even afraid in
the high winds: it does not come into her head to expect that
anything terrible is going to happen."
"And then when these fears come into your head you pray to God. Is
that so?" I asked.
"Yes; I know some prayers that my mother taught me, and I pray them
when I am frightened, and I say that verse about the high wind over
and over again in the night, —
'Howl, mountain winds, your force
Without His high behest
Ye shall not in the mountain pine
Disturb the sparrow's nest.'"
"Do you never pray to God excepting when you are afraid?" I now
asked my little friend.
"I always say my prayers, morning and night," she replied.
"But only pray when you are frightened?"
"I have not any occasion, you know," she answered ingenuously, and
then added, "my mothers says, to pray is to ask God for something
that we want; and I don't want anything when I am not in danger;
when I am I want God to take care of me."
"And when you pray do you feel less afraid?"
"A little less sometimes; and when it is over I know very often that
there was really no need to be afraid, and I say to myself that the
next time the storm or the wind comes I will be brave; but it is no
use; as soon as they come again I begin to tremble; or, perhaps,
something new comes, and then I am more frightened than ever, — as I
was yesterday when my mother fainted; but yet when she got better
grandmother said there had not been any danger."
"You are quite aware," I then said, "that constantly to think there
is danger when there is none is a proof of how weak you are."
"O, yes," she replied; "my mother is always telling me so."
"And you pray to God because he is strong enough to take care of and
to save you?"
"Yes; and because God hears people when they pray."
"If God answers your prayer, and does take care of you, is not that
better than if you were strong enough to take care of yourself?"
"Yes; because God is Almighty."
"Then what a good thing it is for you that you are weak, for if you
felt strong, and saw no danger, you say you should not want to pray;
but now, though you are a little, ignorant creature, and scarcely
know what danger really is, or what the protection you ask for
means, you are far better off than many who feel strong and at ease;
for God who does know all the dangers that beset you — the known and
unknown dangers — will surely protect you; and that is what is meant
by his strength being made perfect in weakness."
"Is it?" she answered with surprise; but her childish mind did not
seem able to grasp the subject that I had been trying to bring
before it; she caught but a glimpse of it; and I, thinking it not
well to lead her to dwell on her own feelings, or consider her own
character too closely, soon reverted to other matters, and suffered
her to talk to me of her rabbits, her daily lessons, and anything
that interested her.
I was ever a lover of children, and this child, though from having
lived an exceedingly secluded life she was simple, and very unlike
most other children in her habits, had an intelligence about her as
well as a singular frankness that I liked to see; it interested me
also to notice how, without any external resemblance to her
grandmother, that elegance of manner, and that refinement of mind
and sentiment, which she had never seen elsewhere, seemed naturally
to fall upon her like an inheritance; she was no sooner brought
into contact with it than it became her own.
I remembered that conversation thus distinctly, less because it was
the last I then held with my little friend, than because the subject
of it bore strongly on my then feelings and experience. In a few
days both I and the child were removed from our quiet sojourn in the
secluded farm-house; she to be educated at a school in one of the
northern cities, and I to take charge of a small congregation far
away on the borders of one of the Canadian lakes.
I thus in a great degree lost sight of my friends of the farm, for I
do not belong to a letter-writing generation, and they were too much
occupied with the active business of life to have time for
correspondence with other than the members of their own families.
Ten years passed away before I visited that sunny and beautiful spot
again, and approached the porch on a clear, hot evening in autumn;
the grandmother stood in the doorway to welcome me, and a young girl
was at her side; the mother was dead, and we, who survived to meet
again were very much changed. One had grown, and was approaching
womanhood; the other two were tottering and descending into the vale
of years. The splendid rose colour of an American sunset illuminate
the two faces, and gave a bloom to the girl that nature had not
bestowed; her white dress shared it with the fair cheek, and as she
stepped forward, the smile of her childhood stole over her modest
face, and recalled her to my recollection as I had first seen her.
They brought me in, and during the short twilight we sat talking
together as parted friends must talk when they meet again, for there
are always some changes to be spoken of, some death or removal to
occupy their thoughts: there are some natural regrets to find
expression, and there are things to be noted but not referred to in
words — evidences of the coming on of old age, the increase of
infirmity, or, on the other hand, the growth of beauty, and the
coming as of the generation that is to occupy our place when we are
The twilight deepened into night, and we sat still by the window,
from which we could see down into the deep ravine, where the
bluebird and the oriole built, and where the last evening notes of
the whip-poor-will were sounding; we could hear the tumbling of the
stream at the bottom, and farther to the right we could see the
broad river into which it fell; it was calm and clear, so that many
stars were reflected in its bosom; but just where the noisy stream
fell into it, I noticed that its surface was rippled, which gently
rocked a small white boat, that was tied to an over-hanging tree.
"That is a pretty boat," I observed to the grandmother.
"Yes," she replied; "it belongs to our Estelle."
"If I remember rightly," I continued, "it is lying near to that
cavity that there used to be in the rocky bank of the river; I hope
the water has not washed it away."
A silence followed that I thought betrayed embarrassment, and it was
not broken to answer my question, for the young Estelle rose, and as
she came forward into the full moonlight, she said, "It is time,
grandmother;" to which the old lady replied, "God go with you, my
Estelle as she stood turned her head towards the river, and
remaining with her hands slightly clasped, seemed to be considering
attentively the familiar landscape with more than common care; she
then raised her hand to her ear, as one who listens, and the
grandmother at the same time ceasing to speak, and laying down her
netting shuttle, a silence so deep followed, that we could hear
far-distant sounds, which before I had not noticed; and the longer
Estelle listened the more this seemed to be the case.
At length she dropped her hand, as if satisfied, and at the same
instant her grandmother took up her netting needle, and Estelle
quickly left the room. Just before she had concluded her watch I had
heard the distant note of the American robin, and far from
connecting it with the actions of my companion, I had said, by way
of making a remark that would not appear to be intrusive, "I never
heard the robin's note so long after sunset before."
But the words were no sooner uttered than I perceived that they
disturbed my hostess: she looked at me attentively, and after a
cautious pause said, calmly, "Probably you may be mistaken in
thinking that was the note of the robin."
"Probably," I replied, still conscious that there was something
peculiar in the conduct of my old friend, and still anxious to
dispel it by conversing on indifferent subjects, — "probably so; and
if that is the case it was doubtless a signal-call from some hunter
or fisher down the river to a comrade. I have often noticed the
peculiar aptitude of the settlers hereabouts for imitating the cries
of wild animals."
Another silence followed, and I felt hurt; for I perceived, beyond
the possibility of a doubt, that something I had said had disturbed
the tranquillity of my friend. What it might be I could not tell;
but fearful of repeating my mistake, I saw a light figure, clothed
in a dark cloak or mantle, pass across the little space in front of
the house, and begin to descend the steep path into the ravine,
without making any comment upon the circumstance.
That this person was the young Estelle I did not doubt; but I waited
for her grandmother to speak, which she did at length, by inquiring
after the welfare of two runaway slaves whom I had been happy enough
to assist after their escape to Canada.
I told her all the particulars I could remember respecting them; but
the interest of the conversation did not prevent my watching the
path into the ravine, and wondering how long it would be before the
maiden in the mantle came up by it again.
In addition to this path, I could not but notice the beauty of the
night-view, the polished stillness of the river (now flooded with
moonlight, excepting in the shadow of the two hills between which
ran the ravine), the long, waving reflection of the planet Jupiter,
and the beauty of the constellations that glittered above the trees. The moon hung at the head of the ravine; consequently her light fell
upon the river between the shadows of the hills, making a vivid but
narrow space of light. Suddenly, as my eye glanced down at it from
the height where we were seated, I beheld it ringed with ripples,
and in another instant a little white boat had shot into it, and was
crossing it with rapid oars. Only one person sat in the boat; the
moonlight was full on the face, and, distant as it was, I thought it
was not a manly face or figure, but more than this I could not
discern; moreover, the boat had soon crossed the illuminated portion
of water, and was deep under the shadow of the hills. I could not,
therefore, see more, and I made no remarks on what I had seen; but
where, I thought, was Estelle, if she was not in the boat? and why
was she there, if my conjecture was correct?
My meditations were interrupted by the entrance of black Clara, who
came in to spread a cloth for supper and bring a lighted lamp into
the room. Curtains for the windows are not much used in that
secluded part of the country — your nearest neighbour, being
generally three or four miles off, does not overlook you, and the
night and the stars are too fair to be shut out. I accordingly still
turned my face to the open window, though now the discourse of my
old friend interested me so much that I did not consider what it
revealed to me with so much attention.
She informed me that her granddaughter was about to marry an
estimable man, with whom she had become acquainted during a visit to
some friends in one of the northern states. "And young as she is,"
proceeded the old lady, "there is nothing I desire so much as to see
her speedily blessed with a good husband; for I am old, I cannot
live long, and I begin to feel the infirmities of my time of life. This marriage is almost all I could desire, though I have to regret
that the younger John Evans should have excited the angry feelings
of some of the slave-owners hereabouts. Being an Englishman, or,
rather, the son of an English settler, he does not understand the
necessity of prudence and caution, and I regret to find that he is
already a marked man."
"A marked man!" The expression, being so common, would not,
perhaps, have struck me under any other circumstances; but as it
was, I thought of the mark that my old friend bore about with her,
and remembered the childish wish of the fair Estelle.
"Please, missis," said black Clara, putting in her head, "here's
Mas'r Kilmer come to see missis."
"Show him in," said my old friend; and straightway a somewhat
pleasant-looking man entered, and Estelle following him closely, he
had no sooner spoken to her grandmother, than he faced about and
paid his compliments to her.
We seated ourselves at supper, and I noticed that Estelle had the
air of attempting to be calm and unexcited, though, in spite of her
self-restraint, her dilated eyes had somewhat of the frightened
eagerness that I had observed in her childhood, and her breath came
quickly, as if she had been exerting herself.
"So Silas is come back," said the young American, pausing in his
supper; "I met him and Minister round by his clearing. 'Well,' says
I. 'Well,' says he, 'if this aren't an abominable business enough to
drive a man clean mad!' 'Not overtaken 'em,' says I. 'No,' says he,
'they've made tracks too far away north for that. And,' says he, 'I
feel real wicked like; for what's the good of a man's doing his
duty?' 'Go along,' says Minister; 'don't talk that 'ar way. The
righteous must look for untoward providences and ingratitude from
the evil-minded in this life. You meet it in a right spirit, and
it'll all turn out for the best.' 'It jest shows,' says I, 'the
ingratitude of niggers.' 'It jest does,' says Minister. Stranger in
This question he addressed to me; and being now aware of the
sentiments of my fellow-guest, I was specially careful how I
answered his after-observations; the more so, as I noticed that
though he talked, ate, and made himself at home with unabashed
persistency, the young American never took his eyes from the face of
Estelle, though it was not admiration that they expressed so much as
At last the little white boat was spoken of. "How did she
along' in learning to row?" asked the young man of Estelle. O,
she could manage it very well now. That was strange, he
remarked; for he never saw her on the river. Estelle blushed
painfully. "You might have seen her there often a month or so
ago," replied the grandmother; and I thought Estelle's blush was
explained, for at the time mentioned her lover had doubtless
accompanied her in the boat.
The guest asserted that he had often seen her on the river a
month ago, and, it being a moonlight night, requested, as it would
shorten his way very much to go by water, that she would lend him
the boat. It seemed a natural request, but it was made rather
deliberately, and with scrutinizing eyes.
"My granddaughter will wish to take our friend down the river
to-morrow," said the old lady; for Estelle appealed to her with
"I could return the boat by noon," replied the young man; and
he still looked at Estelle. But again her grandmother answered
for her: "I believe we shall not have the pleasure of lending it to
you at present."
After this decided answer, the young man rose to take leave,
and we all accompanied him into the porch. His parting words
were, "Well, good evening, Miss Estelle. If I had my way,
ladies should not go about in boats alone. It only gets 'em
into danger; and so Silas says."
"Danger!" repeated Estelle. But he said no more, and we
stood listening to his departing footsteps as he dashed down the
steep path into the ravine, at rather too quick a pace, I thought,
to be safely pursued in the moonlight.
"Now, grandmother," exclaimed Estelle, when he was out of
hearing, "what did he mean by that?"
"They have heard something, child, it is plain, or they
suspect something," replied the old lady. "O that my limbs
were not so stiff!"
"In that case would you go down the ravine tonight?"
"Yes; I would."
"And warn them?" asked the girl, regardless of my
"No, child, no; but I would hide the boat."
"O, I cannot do that. I tried yesterday, in the
daylight, but failed. I thought I would ascertain whether it
could be done if necessary."
"Can I give any help, for any purpose?" I now inquired.
"I should not consent to receive help unless you knew the
purpose," replied the grandmother.
"Tell it me, then."
"You mentioned a cavern in the bank. You remember it,
but are mistaken as to its position. It is half a mile from
the place where the boat was moored."
"Nothing you are likely to tell me concerning that cavern
will cause me any surprise," I presently said.
"It may as well be uttered, then," she replied. "Under
its heavy roof are sheltered three runaway slaves."
slaves! When my old friend said that, my heart stood still for
an instant, and I remained fixed in alarm, to think of the peril
they were braving, she and her timid young granddaughter.
When I recovered myself, I said to Estelle, "Child, have you
counted the cost?"
She made no direct answer; but the moon shone full into her
face, and her frightened eyes seemed to be searching the darkness
under the trees. "The woman was sick, and they had beaten
her," she presently said, not looking at me, but into the summer
"Do you know that the States' law will not bear you out in
what you are doing?" I continued; but she went on with her former
"And they had taken away her children, and flogged her old
mother to death."
"And, besides that," I urged, "do you not know by frequent
experience that the planters hereabout think nothing of taking the
law into their own hands?"
"And now her master has offered a reward to any one that will
bring her back, or that, failing to secure her, will shoot her
down," continued Estelle, in the dreamy tone of one that is weary,
but with a certain suppressed vehemence. Her slack hands,
which had lightly clasped each other, when their guest departed,
dropped listlessly by her side as she spoke; but when she found that
I said no more — for, indeed, I was lost in thought, and doubtful as
to how I could help her — she raised them, clasped them firmly and
tightly over her breast, and turning to her grandmother, said, with
flashing eyes, "Is this your friend? Is he going to warn away
all the little courage I have? I want no warning; my heart
warns me enough of everything terrible that can happen. What I
want is encouragement."
"And help," I suggested.
"Yes, if you can give it, and I know you would be willing,"
said the grandmother.
"Certainly, if I first know that I am helping those who are
at work with their eyes open."
"Ah, my eyes are never closed, my heart is never secure,"
The grandmother looked at her, and then at me. The
mixture of timidity and determination in Estelle's manner was very
striking; but perhaps she might be accustomed to both, for she said
nothing to soothe these evident fears, and did not seem in the least
to doubt that whatever ought to be done would be done by Estelle, in
spite of them.
A short consultation brought us to the conclusion that it was
best at once to go down to the cavern, and warn its temporary
inhabitants. They were to be concealed somewhere else in the
wood, and we were to bring back the little white boat. Estelle
took a dark lantern with her, to show the path to me, who could
scarcely pursue it with safety in the dark, under those
thickly-leaved trees. She also carried with her a little bag
of money, consisting of small silver change, a man's hat, and a loaf
By the help of overhanging boughs, which we could clasp, and
with the lantern to guide our feet, we got down to the shore of the
river; and now, having the moon to light us, we made our way very
easily towards the place where, when I had looked out just after
sunset, the little white boat was moored. I felt Estelle's
hand tremble on my arm as she stopped me, and with bewildered
eagerness paced hither and thither. We had found the place,
and the tree to which the little white boat had been secured; but it
was not there. The end of the rope hung loose into the water;
but the boat had been cut adrift, and was gone.
Estelle sighed; she was exceedingly weary, but she said that,
by the help of the moon, we could make our way slowly through the
trees towards the cavern, for the ground was now even; but we must
shut up the lantern, lest it should betray us. I was surprised
at her determined spirit, but would say nothing to daunt it, though
I kept a keen lookout, and avoided all needless noise; for I
considered that, if our young guest had turned the boat down the
stream, he was likely to be near to watch the result. Very
slowly and silently we neared the cavern; I knew from recollection
that it was a wide opening in the limestone bank, but that its
entrance was exceedingly low, so much so as to be completely
overhung and concealed by drooling ferns, ivy, and climbing plants
from above, while only at one point, where the bank slightly
receded, it could be entered from the shore, for it faced the water,
over which its lowering roof projected.
Every leaf dripped with dew, and in the heat and stillness
the fireflies wandered about, and the scents of the various forest
flowers were oppressively sweet.
"The cavern is just below us," whispered Estelle; "I thought
I heard a voice speaking within; pray be cautious." We
approached the place where it could be entered with exceeding
caution, and stood still to listen. If the slaves were
undisturbed, they were, doubtless, asleep; but it behooved us to be
certain that they had not been discovered before we ventured to look
in. We stood so long listening and gazing about us, that,
though my body stood upright, and my eyes were open, a dream came
and passed before my mind, — a dream which, however, failed not to
mix up in its scenes the setting moon, the shooting stars that were
now falling across the sky, the deepening darkness, and the coming
out of innumerable stars. At length a low moan within, as of a
child in pain, and then sobs, and a man's voice, sleepy, but
distinct enough to be audible without, "Put thy trust in God; thee
knows he is the God of the fatherless."
"It is one of the Friends," whispered Estelle; and she
advanced and stepped into the cavern. The man who had spoken
was up in an instant; he had been sitting on the ground, with his
hands clasping his knees, and probably dozing; further back lay a
child half asleep, a negress of probably seven or eight years; and
these were the only apparent inmates of the place.
"Danger?" was his succinct inquiry. Estelle told him
what the young American had said, and asked what had become of the
parents of the child.
"The opportunity was ripe for his escape," he replied; "and I
came down to let him know just after thee left, as they told me."
"O, I am very grateful, then, he is gone," exclaimed Estelle.
"Yes, and I told him to take the boat, as we agreed,"
proceeded the friend; "he had but to drop down the river five miles,
and then land and come up to our clearing. Friend John D――
has arrived, and we have planned that he shall take the man Paul in
his covered wagon, behind his notions. Thee knows John
"O, yes; he sells brushes, and rugs, and baskets."
"Ay, that is so; he will take him three hundred miles on his
way, and feed him; thee understands."
"O, I am so grateful!" repeated Estelle; "but, Dinah," she
continued, looking round, "she seemed so feeble, so faint, when I
went away; surely she could not go with him."
"The woman Dinah is dead," said the Quaker solemnly; "she
was, as thee said, feeble and faint, and when her husband had left
her, she lay down and died. I have closed her eyes, and
covered her body with boughs, and I am waiting here till day dawns,
that I may bury her. Thee will help," he added, addressing me;
"and thee," speaking to Estelle, "will caution the child; for
children, thee knows, are not to be trusted, and this one might be
coming out to play."
Estelle assented, and we set down our dark lantern on the
floor, where it shed a little light into the dreary recesses of the
cavern; we then sat down on the stony ground, and propping our backs
against the sides, waited for the dawn, and sometimes dozed a
little, waking up to wonder where we were, when the child would moan
in her sleep, and mutter, "O mammy; O daddy!" Probably it was
past one o'clock when we entered the cavern, for the time that we
sat dozing there did not seem long, though, ever since, this scene,
so unusual, and so full of anxious interest, has been frequently
present to me in my dreams. There was the roof, so low at the
entrance, that we had been obliged to creep into it almost on our
hands and knees, but which rose afterwards to a height of thirty
feet or more; there was the sight of the sleeping slave, the child
of a degraded race; and of the prostrate Friend, with his athletic
figure, and mild, impassive face there was the strange flicker of
the lantern, and the restless flitting of a few fireflies, which had
wandered in; there was the soft gurgle of the water, that washed the
very mouth of the cave, and stirred the tips of the long leaves that
dropped over it; and there was the utter darkness without, which
permitted nothing to be seen but the deflections of the stars on the
scarcely rippled water, and but for which, and for the sound of it,
we could not have been aware whether water, land, or a blank wall
bounded the entrance of the cave.
I was asleep and dreaming when a hand on my arm awoke me, and
the Friend beckoned men to follow him. I arose quietly; it was
still quite dark, but the candle was flickering in the socket, and
by its remaining light we made our way out of the cavern.
There was already a little stir among the leaves, the morning air
was growing fresh, and the still sleepy doves and songbirds were
beginning to get restless, and to chirp and twitter on their roosts;
but it was dark even in the east.
"What are you going to do?" I asked of the young man.
"To bury the woman," he replied; "for by what our young
friend says, there is suspicion abroad."
"But we cannot bury her in the dark."
"Nay, but I guess I can find the place where I laid her
before dawn; and, if so, we shall soon fix the grave."
I had often observed the sudden coining on of morning in
those latitudes; yet when the Friend told me I could stop, for we
had gone far enough, and I looked again to the dark east, and saw
the morning star shining, and the black tree trunk scarcely visible,
I was troubled to think that he had brought me out so soon, for a
little more rest would not have been unwelcome.
But while I was thinking so, a sudden line of lurid orange
flushed behind the hills, and the morning star died out in a moment:
while I was still gazing at its vacant place, the black landscape
took a thousand colours, and the loaves that hung above us were
suddenly green, the orange sunbeams were dropping on our feet and
lighting up our tired faces, the flashing of wings, the humming of
insects, noise of singing, and chattering, and running to and fro of
the forest animals was all about us, and the river, white as milk,
was glistening between the trees. I stepped back a pace in
surprise and admiration.
"Friend," exclaimed the young Quaker, seriously, "mind where
thee sets thy foot; the dead lies behind thee."
I turned hastily at his words, and the dead woman lay at my
feet the limbs, decently composed, and clothed in the gay chintz
gown in which the poor slave had died, were further protected by
numerous small boughs of the sumach-tree, which the young Quaker had
broken off wherewith to cover her during the night. The leaves
were glistening with dew, and as the fresh morning air stirred them,
they revealed the emaciated but calm and passionless features of her
who, from birth to death, had been sinned against so much.
Close to where the body lay, a tree had been torn up by the roots,
leaving a deep cavity in the soil.
"It will be easier to fill this in than to dig a grave," said
the Quaker, "and that is why I brought thee here."
Carefully and reverently we lifted up the poor body, and laid
it in the hollow, covering it thickly with leaves and boughs first;
this done, the Friend raised the call that I had heard the night
before, namely, the note of the American robin, and not many minutes
after Estelle issued from the cavern, leading the child. The latter
walked to the hollow, and looked with listless apathy on the
features of her mother; but when some more boughs were brought and
laid upon the dead face, she moaned a little and shed a few tears.
But we had now no time to attend to her; it was full daylight, and
it behooved us, including Estelle, to cover in the grave as quickly
as possible; stones, earth, branches, anything we could get we
heaped into it; and when, after a quarter of an hour's toil, it was
level with the surrounding ground and well trodden down, we knelt,
and I read a few verses of Scripture, and offered up a short prayer
that God would soften the hearts of this poor victim's persecutors,
and grant that her husband and child might escape them.
As we rose from our knees, the extreme pallor and exhaustion of
Estelle struck both me and the Friend at the same moment, and he
requested me to take her down to the cavern and give her some food
and water which I should find there; then, without a word of
farewell, he seized the little sobbing negress by the hand, and
began swiftly to make his way with her towards some fresh place of
temporary concealment, where he had previously told her that he
intended to place her, — stopping, however, and calling to me when
at a little distance, "Come back, friend, as soon as thee can, and
cover the place with vines."
"We had best do that first," said Estelle; and I was of the same
opinion, especially as the task was neither a long nor a hard one. The prostrate tree was covered with creepers; the wild grape-vine
was there; the hop, and the plant that across the Atlantic they call
the honeysuckle, but which has little likeness to its European
namesake, excepting its love of climbing. These we drew carefully
away from the clasp of the fallen tree, and railed them across the
grave till all signs of it were obliterated; and then I took my
weary charge to the water's edge, where, though the morning was
already hot, there was freshness and beauty enough to revive her;
so, resting on a gray rock hard by the mouth of the cavern, we
brought from it the milk which Estelle had carried there the night
before, and the loaf of bread, by means of which, together with some
wild fruits, we made a sumptuous breakfast.
Excitement and fatigue had exhausted her; and though we were both
anxious to return and relieve the anxiety of her grandmother, we
were obliged to sit a while and rest till a little strength returned
for the walk.
As she sat, I now noticed on Estelle's arm a small bracelet of
nearly white hair; she had turned back her sleeve and laid aside
her heavy mantle, in order to bathe her hands and face in the river,
and thus this somewhat singular ornament became visible.
"Is that your grandmother's hair?" I asked.
She blushed and answered in the affirmative, saying that it had been
given to her by her lover; adding, "One day, when we were sitting
near here together, I told him how, when I was a child, I had wished
to have a mark such as my grandmother bears; he is a very brave man,
but I think he understands my weakness. Some time afterwards
he gave me this bracelet, and called it a mark for me."
"But you must not consider yourself so weak now, my child," I
observed; "since you are able to do things that many women would
shrink from. For how long a time have you visited this cavern
nightly in the dark?"
"For nearly three weeks; you know that it required that one who
thoroughly knew the path should
go to them and bring their food: my grandmother is too old; her
limbs are stiff now, and she is not active, so — so I did it." As
she spoke she turned the bracelet unconsciously on her arm, and
"It was a dangerous service," I observed.
"Yes," she answered; "and I often felt sick with
fear when I was coming through the wood — fear, not so much of
discovery or real danger, as of things that have no name, and to
brave people no existence — can you fancy so foolish a thing as a
grown-up woman afraid of the dark?"
"Yes, I can; when we can see we fancy that nothing is about us that
is hidden from our eyes; but when all is veiled the invisible
presences make themselves felt to some of us — a thing is 'secretly
brought to us, and our ears receive a little thereof.' [ Job iv.
12.] There can be no sense of security, then, unless paramount to
this feeling is that of the invisible and protecting presence of
"Yes," she answered frankly, for our unusual circumstances seemed to
take away her reserve; "as I go down this path I often repeat to
myself, when I am most afraid, 'The Lord is my rock, the Lord is my
My mind, on hearing her say this, reverted to the conversation that
I had held with her several years ago, and I asked her if she
remembered it; but it appeared that she did not, though it seemed,
from what she said, that she connected certain religious impressions
with my visit, and had not forgotten her
childish request that I would make a mark on her arm.
"But that haunting fear," she continued, "that I began to feel so
early in my life, — the fear lest I should utterly fail if called on
to do some painful duty, or shrink from 'enduring hardness' for
Christ's sake, — has nearly left me now. It was nothing but want of
faith that made it so strong in my heart. If I could always trust in
him, I should know and believe steadily that his strength can
overcome my weakness, and that my best strength is my dependence."
We sat silent for a few minutes after this, till Estelle, rising,
intimated that she should now like to return home. "I feel quite
rested with sitting in this delightful place," she observed.
"Morning, Miss Estelle; morning, old gentleman," said a voice
behind her; "you are out bright and early, surely."
I rose, and saw the young American, who, to do him justice, actually
looked a little ashamed of himself at being found, at this time in
the morning, spying about his neighbour's land.
"Yes," said Estelle, quite joyously; "and we have breakfasted, as
you see." A recollection of the safety of the slaves evidently
delighted her; and the young man's confusion made her certain that
he was come
to see if he could find some trace of them.
"Ain't there a sorter cavern hereabouts?" he observed, advancing to
"Yes," said Estelle.
"Well, now, it's curus; I've a notion I should like to go in and see
"Do," replied Estelle.
I shall not soon forget her happy smile as she stood, bonnet in
hand, on the ferny knoll, while the young man crept into the
deserted cavern; the thoughtful friend, before we reached the
place, had removed every crust of bread, every particle of clothing,
and had thrown the tin cup and the bottle from which the poor
creatures had drank into the river. We had carried away the lantern
with us to the grave, and from thence to our breakfast-place; it
was standing between us; but the skirts of Estelle's gown had
concealed it from the uninvited guest, and she now snatched it up
and put it into the covered basket from which we had taken our loaf,
the loaf that she had carried down the night before, and the bottle
of milk. These she set down on the shady side of the rock,
previously gathering some large leaves to lay over the bread.
"I shall send the boy for them," she observed, taking the basket on
her arm; "but, M. le Pasteur, when Mr. Kilmer comes out, would you
be kind enough to offer him some breakfast, for I ought to go
Mr. Kilmer was some time in the cavern; when he came out, it was
with rather a crestfallen air.
"Well," said I, "how did you like the place?"
"Why, stranger, it's
sorter gloomy, and makes a man shudder, it's so chill."
"Yes, I've been in it, and I thought at the time that I should not
like to sit there for an hour or two if I had anything particular on
my conscience; it is, as you say, gloomy."
The young man looked at me with an air of distrust, and seemed to
wince a little.
"The water, sobbing against its sides, makes a noise just like human
moans," I continued; "and I could not help thinking that if a man
had caused any of his fellow-creatures to moan and groan, he would
be sure to hear their voices over again there."
"It did seem uncommon full of moans," said he, still regarding me
with distrust, and moistening his parched lips.
"Will you eat and drink something?" I said, pointing to the viands;
"you see there is a breakfast left for you, and I was bidden to say
you were welcome to it."
"Well, old gentleman, I think I will." So saying, he sat down, and
appeared much to relish his meal.
"Now, what should you say to that
cave for a hiding place for runaway niggers?" he observed, stopping
after his second slice of bread.
"I say that I should be very sorry to hide there if I was a
"Why so, old gentleman?"
"Because I should expect you to walk straight up to it the first
thing in the morning, and find me there."
"I shouldn't wonder, now," proceeded the young man in a pondering
tone, "if those ongrateful critters did try that place afore
they made tracks northwards."
"Why do you think so?" I observed carelessly; "because it seemed so
full of moans?"
Not observing the satire of this speech, he rejoined, still in the
same reflective tone, "Well, it might be that, or it might be the
place being so dark, and so secret, and so dismal-like; but I've
eaten enough I must go about my business. Good morning, old
THE morning was
hot and still; so much so, that, being fatigued by the exertions of
the previous night, I was glad to sit quietly after Mr. Kilmer had
left me, till the boy arrived to carry away Estelle's basket of
provisions; the boat was down the stream some miles; we, therefore,
could not expect to have the use of it till some of the Quakers in
the next clearing brought it up for us. I accordingly plodded
homewards on foot, and on approaching the house saw a man standing
in the porch, and Estelle talking to him.
I advanced cautiously, wishing to discover who this might be, and
whether he was come to make any inquiries regarding the slaves; but
I was agreeably surprised, for Estelle's first words showed that
this was a friend in whom she could place confidence; they were, "O, John, what a good thing it would have been if you had arrived a
few days earlier!"
I advanced to the porch, and a pleasant, frank-looking young man
turned at the sound of my foot-steps.
"This is John Evans," said Estelle, blushing; "he is come over
unexpectedly, and I have been telling him what we have done this
morning, and what has been my chief employment for the last three
"Why would it have been a good thing?" asked the young man, when he
and I had greeted one another. "O, because you would have done it so
"If a thing is done effectually, could it have been done better?"
"Yes; you would have done it bravely and firmly, without all those
doubts and dreads, and that want of faith in God, and that terrible
impatience, which made it so very difficult to keep the poor
creatures in the cave till their master had almost ceased looking
"I should have found this waiting infinitely more difficult than you
did," answered the young man, looking at Estelle with admiring eyes. "Milton speaks of angels who did 'only stand and wait.'
Only! If God gives me work to do, I will thank him that he has
bestowed on me a strong arm; if he gives me danger to brave, I will
bless him that he has not made me without courage; but I will go
down on my knees and beseech him humbly to make me fit for my task,
if he tells me it is only to stand and wait."
He rose as he spoke, as if the mere thought of impassive waiting
while others were in danger was terrible to his impetuous spirit. And when he had ceased to speak, he set his lips with a firmness
that revealed very plainly the force of his character.
He presently said that he would walk over to the Quaker settlement,
and fetch back the little white boat, for there was no saying how
soon it might be wanted. "And if you should see Mr. Kilmer,"
observed Estelle, "pray do not forget to mention in passing that you
have but just arrived in these parts; for in case that poor fellow
should be traced after all, it is highly desirable that it should be
plain you have had no hand in concealing and aiding him."
"Yes, to be sure, the more one is suspected, the less chance one has
of doing the deed," answered the young man with a smile.
"So I may be trusted to remember prudence for the sake of the next
"I meant for your own sake," said Estelle.
"My own sake!" he repeated; "O, I can take care of myself, and
defend myself too, if any fellow is inclined to try the strength of
"You do not need," I remarked, "to defend yourself from strength so
much as from treachery: hand, to-hand blows you can easily ward
off; but no man can defend himself from a rifle-shot."
"Do be careful," pleaded Estelle.
"I mean to be," he replied. "I hold it a moral delinquency to risk
my life when some good, as I humbly hope, depends on its being
So saying, he ran down the steep slope of the ravine. And Estelle,
as she looked after him, said with a sigh, "He always puts me off in
that way. How far more difficult it is to be brave about him than
brave in my own person! If I cannot learn the last, how shall I ever
learn to be trustful and confident about him?"
"God will make it possible," I replied.
I remember how she watched him with her deep eyes; gazing down the
steep ravine, and listening to his retreating footsteps. I remember
the heat of the clear sky, and the cheerful chattering of the
swallows in their nests under the eaves; but I cannot recall any
conversation or incident of that morning which calls for record. We
passed an idle day, for Estelle's grandmother, not having slept all
night, through anxiety at our protracted absence, retired soon after
noon to rest, and Estelle took up at the same time some slight piece
of work; but her fair head drooped over it, and she was soon sound
asleep in her rocking-chair, close to the open window.
I myself was also asleep, and dreaming of the solemn face of the
woman so lately committed to the grave, when the striking of a clock
on the mantelpiece woke me, and my newly-opened eyes became aware of
something that they would least have desired to encounter. Outside
the window, and furtively peeping in at Estelle as she slumbered,
stood the negro child who had been concealed in the cave; she was
gorgeously dressed as to colour, her garment being of
orange-coloured chintz, with large wandering flowers imprinted on
it, and a crimson ribbon or bandeau encircled her head. This gayety
was sufficiently out of place as she stood at her mother's grave;
but now it struck me as positively dangerous, being conspicuous at a
distance, and making its wearer easily recognized. I started up on
seeing her, and she as hastily retreated behind the jessamines. I
was soon outside the house, and looked right and left for her, but
she was not to be found; and, fretted beyond measure, I walked
about, trying to discover whether any person was near at hand who
might have observed her presence.
There were many trees near, and the broken ground made it not easy
to assure one's self that there were no spies about; indeed, the
circumstance that she could so easily hide herself proved that there
was no security against the observation of strangers and perhaps
Pacing the hot gravel before the house, I now looked behind every
bush, and scrutinized every nook, trying to discover the child, and
calling to her softly to come out of her hiding-place; at last, in
the midst of a laurustinus shrub, I caught a glimpse of her
crouching figure, and the glitter of her white teeth; for a grin,
half fear, half triumph, revealed them to me as I passed. My
vexation was extreme to think that she should have left the retreat
to which the friendly Quaker had led her, and should have brought
herself and us into so much danger by this worse than childish
Though I had passed this drooping shrub at least ten times without
seeing the child, my eyes had no sooner beheld her than I fancied
her presence must be obvious to every one; but as I knew not what
to do with her, I ordered her to remain where she was, threatening
her with punishment if she disobeyed.
But the threat of punishment, to one so hardened and insensible from
ill-treatment, was not at all terrible; she knew I had aided to
conceal her, and did not believe that I would beat her; therefore
she felt no respect for me; for, strange as it may seem, the lash
and the holder of the lash absorb to themselves very frequently all
the veneration, obedience, and awe, that the slave, and especially
the slave child, is capable of yielding; and though their hearts be
sick for freedom, and their bodies wasting from misery and hardship,
they will sometimes exhibit a feeling of something like contempt for
the mildness of those who reason with them instead of striking them,
and expect to have their orders obeyed without adding to them the
stimulus of a blow.
The slave child's eyes glittered, and she showed her white teeth,
but all my questions and all my commands that she would not stir,
did not draw from her a word of answer, good or bad. Instead of appreciating danger of capture into which she had brought herself,
she was evidently chuckling from inward satisfaction, and I soon
became aware of the cause; for, unawed by my presence, she began to
untie a portion of her orange dress, which she had knotted up, and
displayed a lapful of forest berries, which she proceeded to pick
over and eat.
One reason why I had not observed her before was that a deep
gardener's basket, full of leaves and weeds, stood before the shrub,
— it was a round basket, without a handle, — some tools were lying
beside it, and the ground had evidently been freshly dug over. The
man who had been working there might be expected to return at any
moment, and I was looking for a sufficiently conspicuous spot to
which I could remove them, so as to prevent his approaching the
shrub, when voices behind me proclaimed the unwelcome fact that
young Evans and Mr. Kilmer were coming up the ravine together. I
could only return to the shrub, and in slowly passing the now
terrified child, adjure her to sit perfectly still, before the two
young men emerged from thicket; and, to my horror, Estelle's
grandmother looked out from an upper window, and cheerfully invited
them both to come in and take tea.
The young American actually required some pressing, and I, standing
before the shrub, was powerless to prevent his receiving it; while,
feeling that she had not been very hospitable the previous night,
and believing that the slaves she had harboured were now far away, my
old friend courteously repeated her invitation, and the young man,
accepting it, actually brushed the leaves of the laurustinus on his
way into the porch.
It was scarcely four o'clock in the afternoon; but they were early
folks, and black Clara was already preparing coffee. The little
discussion outside had roused Estelle, and she came to meet us,
blooming and refreshen after her sleep. I so contrived matters as to
get young Kilmer placed with his back to the window, and sitting
myself so as to command a view of the laurustinus-tree, I bore the
anxiety of that afternoon as well as I could. At first all was
still; neither sound nor motion told of the trembling child's
presence under the tree; but as if nothing, not even the dread of
the slaver's lash, could keep her quiet, she soon began to stir, and
I could see the branches shake slightly. All my hope was that my
companions could not observe this; but when small clods of earth
were flung out, and a slight noise, like the scratching of some
animal, was heard, I really was almost in despair.
"It appears like you have rats on the premises," said young Kilmer.
"I never knew it," replied my old friend, "and I never heard that
"It seems to be just outside the house," said Estelle, as several
more clods lightly struck the wall.
I looked hard at Estelle, and contrived to silence her; but the
grandmother's curiosity was excited, and she remarked to her future
son-in-law, that after tea it might be as well to loose the
house-dog and bring him to the place, if rats were really
undermining the premises.
As if the poor little negress was bent on her own recapture, the
gardener's basket now rolled over without any apparent cause, and
was lightly pulled under the branches; but most happily no one
observed this, for the window was narrow, and I had, fortunately,
time to approach and stand before it ere the locomotive basket had
done more than rock and quiver a little.
I felt seriously angry against the child, but was quite powerless in
the matter. I could neither prolong the meal nor keep up the
conversation long, and when the party rose, and, coming out into the
porch, looked about them for some signs of the rats, I believed that
the orange petticoat must assuredly be discovered, and I looked
towards the laurustinus-tree with the most lively alarm.
To my joy and astonishment the child was gone; yes, most certainly
she was not there; but how she had contrived to creep away without
being seen, remained the greatest mystery. No words can describe my
relief of mind as we walked round the shrub, and I saw lying
underneath it the leaves and rubbish that she had turned out of the
basket, and the basket itself topsy-turvy on the ground. Yet knowing
that she must be near, I was anxious to keep young Kilmer close to
the house; and was greatly relieved when, the house-dog having
failed to discover any rats, the young men sat down in the porch,
and began to relate various hunting adventures; while I, having
contrived to withdraw the ladies, made them aware of what had taken
place. Estelle's terror was extreme; her wish now was to
detain young Kilmer till after sunset, that he might not have a
chance of perceiving the child, wherever she might be hiding; but
all her efforts at persuasion, and her grandmother's courteous
invitation, failed to induce the young man to remain, and in broad
daylight he came out on the gravel to shake hands and take his
We were close to the laurustinus-shrub. "Well, good
evening, ma'am," said the guest. "You had better get that dog
tied up again; how he scratches under the trees! has he found a
I lifted up the branches and shook them, and he gave the
basket an idle kick with his foot, but it did not move; then he
turned away, and he and John Evans went down the slope together.
"Be quiet, Growler," cried the grandmother. "How the
dog scratches! Get up, Estelle — Estelle, my child — what is
it? what is the matter?"
"O, the yellow petticoat!" murmured Estelle, who, on her
knees, was moving away the leaves. "O, mercy, O, mercy! the
child is buried." A little piece of the gay chintz was peeping
out of the ground, and also a small black foot — a fearful sight
this, certainly but the foot was warm; and the truth now flashing on
me, I raised the basket — not without some trouble — and underneath
appeared the head and shoulders of the little negress; she had
actually buried herself to the waist in earth and leaves, and had
turned the basket over her head.
Well, indeed, it was for her that the earth had been so
freshly dug over, and that she had had presence of mind to conceal
herself so artfully. We pulled her out, shook her free of the
loose earth, and promised her some supper; but the terror of hearing
"Massa" Kilmer talking close to her, and of feeling his foot within
an inch of her cheek, had completely subdued her, and she shivered
in every limb.
The negro child was left under the laurustinus-shrub till
nightfall, and we then concealed her in a loft. She could not
be trusted in any way, a little low cunning being all the sense that
seemed to have survived her infancy of ill usage and toil.
Yet, still more for their own sakes than for hers, it behooved my
friends to keep her from falling again into her master's hands, lest
a few blows should unlock her tongue, and induce her to tell what
had become of her parents, and from whom they had received aid in
In this loft I visited her the next morning, and gave her, as
I suppose, her first lesson in the Christian religion. She was
not an inapt pupil; but I knew that it was her interest to appear
attentive, and I left her, feeling keenly that my friends would have
a difficult task to accomplish if they were hoping to conceal her
there for any length of time.
I remained a fortnight with Estelle and her grandmother, and,
on the morning of my withdrawal, had the pleasure to unite the young
couple, and give them my blessing. Two or three hours after
the ceremony I rode off to my little flock in the north, and had not
pursued my way more than three or four miles when I came to a log
hut, close to which was a saw-pit, and two workmen, sitting on a
fallen tree beside it, were-eating their dinner. I dismounted
to ask for some water, and, tying up my horse, began to converse
with the men. They were Englishmen who had emigrated, and as
soon as they found that I was not of American birth, they began to
exercise the Englishman's privilege of grumbling.
"Free country, indeed! when a man can't open his lips at a
public house, and speak his mind about their fevers, and their
swamps, and their mosquitoes, and their niggers, but they must
threaten him with a bowie knife."
"I like to speak my mind," observed the other; but in this
'ere State you can't so much as tell a man he's a humbug."
I introduced the subject of religion. "So you're a
parson, are you, sir? Well, you're the first parson that ever
came nigh here since I emigrated."
"But do you never go to a place of worship?"
"Can't say I do; don't like their ways," replied the one.
"I went now and then when first I came here; but, bless you,
it wasn't a bit like a church," said the other.
"Nor a meetin' either," chimed in his companion. "Now,
at home you never hear a parson say, 'My brethren, the holy duty of
poaching is plainly revealed in the Bible; 'nor you never heerd a
minister say at a Bethel (for all he knows the folks smuggle
a bit), 'My dear friends, smuggling's a pious thing.' Now,
what I ask you is, Did you ever hear such a thing said in the old
country in all your days?"
"I have not lived much in the old country; but I never did
hear such a thing, certainly. I suppose you are alluding to
the custom that they have here of defending slavery and the sale of
slaves from the pulpit."
"No, I wasn't. I was thinking of these ways of telling
folks they have a right to take the law in their own hand.
'And why,' say they, 'if war is lawful between two States, isn't a
duel lawful between two men?' As to niggers, poor souls, I
pity 'em — so I do but bless you, sir, what fools most of 'em are!"
"Give 'em a holiday and a handful of corn," added the other
with strong contempt, "and they all begin singing like mad.
You're an abolitionist, I reckon?"
"Well, so am I."
"Hold your tongue, mate," said the other gruffly; "what need
for you to tell the gentleman that? You mind your business,
and keep your notions to yourself. Do you want to get your
house pulled down over your head, and yourself dragged on a hurdle,
as they threaten to do by some folks hereabouts?"
"What folks?" I asked, with involuntary interest.
"Folks that interfere with other folks' slaves," he replied
cautiously, "and has been helping some on 'em to — some on 'em to —"
"Emigrate?" I suggested, seeing that he hesitated.
"If walls have ears, I s'pose leaves have," he answered.
"Well, emigrate, if you will — go out for change of air, you know."
"But respecting the folks that are threatened," I answered,
"are they threatened openly or only in their absence?"
"Well, not openly, I reckon; and yet I have heard things said
about them several times; but nothing has been proved again' them
"Is it only one family?" I asked.
The men looked at me, as if surprised at my curiosity.
"I thought you was a stranger in these parts," said the more
cautious of the two; and then, after reflecting, he said with a
smile, "They may be one family by this time, for aught I know; but
they was two some time back."
"I should not wonder if I have just been assisting at what
has made them one family," I replied. "Look here!"
"Well," exclaimed the man, colouring, as I produced a small
piece of wedding-cake, "I am sure I did not mean to speak so plain,
and not a single name has passed my lips."
"No, you have been cautious; but, my good fellow, did you, an
Englishman, mean to let one of your own countrymen suffer in this
cause without warning him?"
"Not I — you let me alone for that, and my mate too."
"You have warned the young man, then?"
"I've spoke to his father, and got no thanks for it.
Says he, 'Jem, don't you go spreading repoorts that they
suspect my son; it's enough to make folks suspect him. For my
part,' says the old gentleman, 'I always tell everybody that negroes
are ten times more trouble and expense than they are worth, and I
never will let one darken my doors; but you see they don't threaten
me, because I never talk about sympathy, and moral right, and all
that. I let other folks manage their own affairs, and take
care of their own consciences; for I have plenty to do with my own.'
Well, mate, we've sat here talking long enough — wish you a good
I found they did not intend to hold any further discourse
with me; for one of them immediately descended the saw-pit, and his
fellow, looking down upon him, said quite loudly enough for me to
hear, and perhaps indifferent whether I heard or not, "Queer sort of
parson this. I should not wonder if he's a spy, after all."
"Then," said the other gruffly, "you shouldn't have spoke so free to
him." And thereupon the saw began to grate in the wood, and I,
finding that they were now, or pretended to be, intent on their
work, mounted my horse and rode off; but the first opportunity that
presented itself I wrote to young Evans, detailing the remarks I had
heard, and entreating him not to forget to exercise the wisdom of
I did not hear much of these good friends during the winter,
though occasionally a Southern newspaper would reach me in my
retreat. Every little town in America supports its newspaper —
generally it supports three newspapers — and its petty interests are
all laid therein before its miniature public, as well as the private
affairs of many of its inhabitants, this being done with an
extravagance of abuse, or an excess of laudation, a daring
personality, and a vehemence of party spirit, that has no parallel
in any other part of the world.
Two years passed away, and these Southern newspapers often
made me uneasy respecting my friends. I saw that the tide of
opinion was setting against John Evans; that he was hated as holding
abolitionist views that he was suspected of favouring education
among negroes; and had been reported to have said that the tie of
marriage was no less binding on the slave than on his master.
A natural thing this for a man to have said, a self-evident
truth to have uttered; but then it could not be uttered with
impunity; and when I read it, and the remarks made upon it, I knew
that John Evans and his family could not long continue to live in
that locality with safety and comfort. But for these
newspapers I should have heard little of my friends, excepting that
their grandmother continued in good health, and that Estelle had
become the mother of two children.
The northern climate in which I was living was cold and
ungenial. The rigor of its winters deprived me of strength,
and forced me southward to feel the sunbeam that in my earlier life
I had been brought up to bask in; and when, after two years, my old
friends entreated me to come again and visit them, I resolved to
undertake the journey, long and fatiguing as it was.
It was a glorious afternoon, in the freshest part of the
American spring, when I again approached the neighbourhood of my old
friend, and was put down by a coach at a road which crossed the
highway, with directions how to reach, by its means, the river that
flowed near their house. I had not more than four miles to
walk to the river, and there I had been told that John Evans himself
would meet me, and row me down to my destination. The road I
had to pursue was little more than an opening cut through the trees
of the primeval forest — such a road, indeed, as we can scarcely
picture to ourselves, if we are only acquainted with the continent
of Europe. Some of the trees which had been cut down were
piled on either side; some of the stumps left in the soil had had
fires kindled upon them, to burn them to a level with it; where the
ruts were deep, logs had been laid in them; and in holes and
swamp-hollows wagon loads of branches, trunks, and underwood had
been flung, to render them tolerably safe for pedestrians.
I pursued my way along this road; and the air of desolation
that pervaded it, and the evidences of reckless destruction that I
saw around me, robbed it of all interest, lonely and sylvan as were
its accompaniments. At length a footpath crossed it, a natural
opening which had probably been first used by wild animals, and then
adapted by man to his own purposes. It seemed to lead
downwards; and supposing it to be my way to the river, I did not
hesitate to pursue it, nor did I discover that I had missed my way,
till, becoming suddenly steeper, the path brought me to the edge of
a deep hollow, at the bottom of which was tumbling a noisy little
I looked to the left, and to my disappointment recognized the
saw-pit which I had passed in my last journey from my friend's
house. I was, therefore, still four miles from my destination,
and had taken the wrong footpath through the wood, this being the
head of the same ravine on whose further brink, where it opened from
the river, Estelle and her grandmother lived.
There was nothing for it now but to walk to the saw-pit, for
past it lay the road to the house. I was thirsty and tired.
The men now working in it gave me some milk. They were not the
same whom I had previously seen there; and while I sat and rested my
weary limbs, they questioned me as to my former life, present
intentions, income, and opinions, in true American fashion.
I sat, as I well remember, in the glorious sunshine, and
rejoiced in the beauty of the spring. The magnolia leaves were
spreading, and all its snowy buds ready to burst; the American
cowslip thickly covered the ground on which I sat; great flocks of
pigeons were cooing and winnowing the air with their wings overhead;
the yellow-bird was chattering in the wood; and from every pore of
the warm and steaming earth life and growth were breaking forth.
My two companions were at work in the saw-pit, under the
shadow of some mighty maple-trees, and the regular movement of the
saw did not disturb my meditations. My heart, like the world
about me, came forth to meets the sunshine, and thawed after its
long winter; the pulse of life beat high, and that strange feeling
which is like short renewal of youth came over me, and held me for a
while in its thrall. At last warmth and fatigue made me doze,
and I was lost in a dream, in which the revival of strength and
renewal of the feelings of manhood made me fancy that I was young.
I was young, and moreover I was transported to ages long past.
I was no less a person than the Scottish hero Bruce. The
bloodhound was after me, and I was wading in the stream that he
might lose the scent. I remember the deep baying of the hound
in my dream, further, then nearer, mingled with shouts of
encouragement and excitement, and my own reflection, as crouching
under a rock — the very rock that my waking eyes had admired — I
felt the soft gurgle of the stream as it rippled over my feet, and
exulted, with that strange mixture of fact with fiction that
sometimes visits a dreamer, first, that I myself had become young
and strong again; and, secondly, that I should certainly escape from
my foes and come to the throne; for history, methought, assured me
of that fact, though my pursuers could not know it. For a long
time after, nothing that happened appeared to me half so like waking
fact as that dream.
The hound drew nearer; its baying was deeper and more
terrible; and now the tramping of horses galloping was in my dream.
I opened my eyes; and the next thing I recollect is a frantic cry,
and that men were pulling me out of the way of the horse, which,
with bridle flying, and no rider, was madly rushing over the very
spot where I had been sitting. There was shouting behind, and
dogs barking, and a rushing onward of horsemen, and a coming crowd
visible among the trees; and before my dazzled eyes could get
accustomed to the light, or dismiss the dream, a man on horseback
flew past, with eyes staring, and terror-stricken countenance.
Two large hounds were close on the horse's heels; and, swiftly as he
went, I noticed that his features bore slightly the negro cast,
though his complexion was fair. Another horseman, and another,
were flying past us in less time than it takes to tell of it.
These were white men; and after them, with frantic shouts, followed
the pursuers. In an instant we were in the midst of a raging
mob, consisting of probably two hundred persons, most of whom were
mounted, while the rest were in carts and gigs, and all of whom were
riding and driving with such reckless hurry, and in such a state of
wild excitement, that it was with difficulty they pulled up their
horses in time to avoid the edge of the ravine.
In two minutes they had swept past us, and the men who had
been at work in the saw-pit followed on foot. I was left alone
to collect my thoughts after this rude awakening, and to pursue my
way at my leisure, which I did, devoutly trusting that the fugitive
slaves (for which I could not doubt they were) would succeed in
making good their escape, though why two of them should be undoubted
white men I could not conjecture.
Rested and refreshed, I now quietly walked on towards my
destination; and when the distant baying of the hounds was lost in
the nearer sounds of the forest, and all was tranquil, I forgot, for
a while, the adventure of the morning in the pleasant anticipation
of meeting my friends.
Who does not know the sense of uneasy agitation which attends
a visit to places and people cared for long? A very little
circumstance at such a time surprises the mind, every little change
is noticed. I was coming up a by-path in the shrubbery, and I
observed how well the ground was cultivated, and how rich were the
beds of the spring flowers. I also noticed a strong smell as
of charcoal burning, and heard a slight crackling sound, as if John
Evans was performing this operation somewhat nearer to his house
than seemed prudent. And as I hurried onwards, longing to meet
some one or hear voices in the hospitable abode, an unexpected gap
met my eyes, where there should have been a house-wall, and roof and
chimneys. I stood a moment confused and amazed; then a light
puff of smoke came out of the ground; I rushed forward, rounded the
corner — and there was no house — the house was gone!
Burnt to the ground — not a spar left — not a wall standing.
The edifice had been of wood, and was consumed; all that remained
were the stone door-steps, which led now to nothing but ashes and
smouldering beams. The sun was shining gaily on the scene, and
every now and then a tongue-like flame shot up, but was scarcely
seen in the dazzling light; everything was perfectly still, not a
creature was near to watch the spot. I cannot call it a ruin —
for ruin implies that something was left to show what had been; here
nothing was left but the site. No efforts seemed to have been
used to check the flames — no water had been thrown — no furniture
whatever had been saved — nothing lay about which bore any
appearance of having been taken out of the house.
In my distress I looked here and there to discover, if
possible, the meaning of this frightful sight and utter desertion.
I saw that the fire was of very recent origin; it must have taken
place in broad daylight; therefore I might reasonably hope that no
lives had been lost. But what a piteous sight it was! the
young green leaves of the trees were seared; the rich damask roses,
just opening their first buds, were whitened with ashes; the ground
was dry and hard, and here and there a few blackened sticks,
standing close to the site of the house, showed what had been some
flourishing shrub a few hours previously. I shouted, but no
voice answered; and I walked about the premises, but could find no
I will not detail all the events of that miserable afternoon,
nor dwell upon my searchings in the ravine and by the river. I
came upon a broad track, trampled, and evidently of recent
formation; it led to the dell hard by where Estelle and I had
breakfasted two years previously, and here there had evidently been
a fray; but there was no one lingering about the place; so at last I
left it, and made my way to the nearest house, where, only by slow
degrees, and with many contradictions, I heard the sad story of the
I will not tell it as I then became acquainted with it, but
relate it as shortly as I can.
The feeling of suspicion and ill-will had long been growing
to an alarming height against John Evans, though, as he declared, it
had not for a long while fallen in his way to take the part of a
slave against his master. However, about a week previously to
my arrival, a man, who in the north had lectured against slavery,
had the temerity to make his appearance at the nearest town, and
though he did not attempt to open his lips on the subject, he was
recognized and told to quit the place at once. He went to John
Evans, and being a minister, and a most peaceable man, he was not
denied an asylum, and might have staid there quietly enough, but
that five days after his withdrawal two most valuable slaves, of
great intelligence and little admixture of negro blood, disappeared.
The hue and cry was immediately raised, the town turned out and
poured forth into the forest; John Evans was immediately suspected,
the riotous mob poured into his grounds and began to search his
woods, while a detachment surrounded his house and demanded the
The doors were locked, as my informant told me, but when John
Evans found that they would soon be battered down, he came to an
upper window, his wife and grandmother standing behind him, each
with a child in her arms.
"The minister, the minister!" shouted the mob "give him up,
or we will tear your house down."
"He is not here," replied the undaunted Evans.
"Then he is in the cave," screamed the ringleaders; "we know
there is a cave; you and your wife have hidden runaways there before
now; — come down and show us the cave, or we'll burn the house over
"I will come down," he replied, "and show you the cave, but I
warn you beforehand that there is no one there."
"Come down, come down!" they shouted; and he came down, the
two women following.
Estelle, as I was told, was white, and her limbs trembled,
but she and her grandmother gave the children to their servant and
followed John Evans; perhaps from a feeling that the mob would not
injure him in their presence — perhaps from an added motive.
"Now," said they, seizing him and hurrying him down the
steep, "give them up to us, one and all, or we shall hurl you into
In hot haste, with curses and execrations, the raging mob
came down, partly dragging Evans, and yet guided by him to the
neighbourhood of the cave. Kilmer was among those who had
waited below; but though he knew how to find the cave, he had not
pointed it out; and when he saw Estelle, he came up to her and
entreated her, if she knew it, to point out the place where the
fugitives were concealed.
Estelle was leaning against the trunk of a large tree, her
arms folded across her bosom, and her dark eyes intently fixed on
her husband's face, as if for encouragement or direction.
"Give him up, and let him be shot! shouted the more excited
among the slave-hunters. Where's the cave?"
"Show it them, Kilmer," cried Evans, who now perceived for
the first time his own extreme danger, and perhaps hoped to create a
Kilmer advanced to the river. Evans stood still, firmly
fronting his adversaries. Estelle never took her ardent gaze from
her husband's face.
It was soon evident that the cave was empty, and they poured
forth again more enraged than ever.
"They will take your word, Evans," cried Kilmer; don't throw
away your life; if the runaways are not on your premises, say so."
Evans was silent.
"If you have not harboured this lecturing fool, say so,"
cried Kilmer; "pacify them, for pity's sake, if you can."
Still silence; but rifles were pointed at Evans.
"Stop!" cried Kilmer; "try his wife, friends; speak out while
you have time, young woman."
"Will you spare the minister's life if I promise that he
shall go North immediately that you withdraw?" asked Evans.
A roar of laughter, derision, and curses, followed this
speech. "They shall all be flogged within an inch of their
lives," cried the ringleader, "and then he shall be shot for a
Still Kilmer urged Estelle to speak, and as he did so Evans
drew nearer; he was now aware of his danger; perhaps he wished to
reassure her, for he looked her in the face with calm and steady
eyes. Perhaps the infuriated mob thought that the husband and
wife would consult together to betray the wretched slaves, and the
still more unfortunate minister, but instead of that, stooping
quietly, he kissed her pale face, and she was heard to say, —
"What is this for, John?"
"Because, my beloved," he replied, "it seems that we must
"Speak out, speak!" cried Kilmer, taking advantage of the now
"Come on, then, you murderers," cried Evans, turning from his
wife, "but not here; don't shoot me down under my wife's eyes; let
her stand where she is, and now do your worst."
He sprang away as he spoke, with unexampled bravery, as it
afterwards appeared; desirous to lead the now raging and infuriated
mob away from the tree, and meet his fate at a distance. He
had reached the top of a knoll when they overtook him, and he was
forced to turn and face them. They all cried, "Shoot him down,
pull him down!" but unable either to defend himself or escape, he
stood erect, and seemed about to speak, when a rifle was lifted
close behind him and the trigger pulled. Kilmer, who was
unable to see his neighbour shot down, knocked it aside; it was
discharged and Evans stood unhurt; but a long, loud cry arose from
behind; horror, and rage, and triumph, seemed to mingle in it.
Alas! the rifle had done its deadly work: at the foot of the tree
lay Estelle, scarcely paler now than when she had received her last
kiss — but dead, shot through the heart. And in her fall had
become visible a hollow place in the tree, which her flowing skirts
had concealed, and which only in dying she had ceased to guard.
The awestruck crowd flew back for an instant, but rushed on again
with curses and execration; for out of the gap, and over her
prostrate figure, sprang the three fugitives, and flew for their
lives from their infuriated pursuers. Many of the more eager
searchers had dismounted, the better to beat about in the brushwood.
The unhappy men had therefore the rare good fortune to find saddled
horses at their elbows; desperation made them active; they were on
them, and some distance off, before the astonished people could
pursue them; but they soon gathered themselves together, and loosed
their hounds and horses forth after them, leaving Evans and the
grandmother alone with their dead.
The flames were already rising from the burning house, but no
one knows who set fire to it. I never heard any further
particulars respecting that dreadful day; neither my old friend nor
Evans would hear the least allusion to it.
Wonderful to relate, both the minister and the two slaves
made good their escape, so that the life of the lovely Estelle was
not sacrificed in vain. I saw her beautiful remains the day
after her death; they, with her family, had been removed to her
father-in-law's house. Very calm and peaceful was the
expression of her youthful features; no trace of dread remained upon
them, nor of the fearful anxiety that must have clouded her last
moments. All was happy and still — her work was done; she had
not fainted-in her day of trial. Evening was now come, and she
was gone to rest, but she had carried with her to her couch one of
the weapons of her warfare; for on her arm she still wore the simple
ornament given to her by her husband — the bracelet, with its
heart-inspiring words — "The Lord is my rock."