Uncle Tom's Cabin/Chapter XXI
Our readers may not be unwilling to glance back, for a brief interval, at Uncle Tom's Cabin, on the Kentucky farm, and see what has been transpiring among those whom he had left behind.
It was late in the summer afternoon, and the doors and windows of the large parlor all stood open, to invite any stray breeze, that might feel in a good humor, to enter. Mr. Shelby sat in a large hall opening into the room, and running through the whole length of the house, to a balcony on either end. Leisurely tipped back on one chair, with his heels in another, he was enjoying his after-dinner cigar. Mrs. Shelby sat in the door, busy about some fine sewing; she seemed like one who had something on her mind, which she was seeking an opportunity to introduce.
"Do you know," she said, "that Chloe has had a letter from Tom?"
"Ah! has she? Tom 's got some friend there, it seems. How is the old boy?"
"He has been bought by a very fine family, I should think," said Mrs. Shelby,—"is kindly treated, and has not much to do."
"Ah! well, I'm glad of it,—very glad," said Mr. Shelby, heartily. "Tom, I suppose, will get reconciled to a Southern residence;—hardly want to come up here again."
"On the contrary he inquires very anxiously," said Mrs. Shelby, "when the money for his redemption is to be raised."
"I'm sure I don't know," said Mr. Shelby. "Once get business running wrong, there does seem to be no end to it. It's like jumping from one bog to another, all through a swamp; borrow of one to pay another, and then borrow of another to pay one,—and these confounded notes falling due before a man has time to smoke a cigar and turn round,—dunning letters and dunning messages,—all scamper and hurry-scurry."
"It does seem to me, my dear, that something might be done to straighten matters. Suppose we sell off all the horses, and sell one of your farms, and pay up square?"
"O, ridiculous, Emily! You are the finest woman in Kentucky; but still you haven't sense to know that you don't understand business;—women never do, and never can.
"But, at least," said Mrs. Shelby, "could not you give me some little insight into yours; a list of all your debts, at least, and of all that is owed to you, and let me try and see if I can't help you to economize."
"O, bother! don't plague me, Emily!—I can't tell exactly. I know somewhere about what things are likely to be; but there's no trimming and squaring my affairs, as Chloe trims crust off her pies. You don't know anything about business, I tell you."
And Mr. Shelby, not knowing any other way of enforcing his ideas, raised his voice,—a mode of arguing very convenient and convincing, when a gentleman is discussing matters of business with his wife.
Mrs. Shelby ceased talking, with something of a sigh. The fact was, that though her husband had stated she was a woman, she had a clear, energetic, practical mind, and a force of character every way superior to that of her husband; so that it would not have been so very absurd a supposition, to have allowed her capable of managing, as Mr. Shelby supposed. Her heart was set on performing her promise to Tom and Aunt Chloe, and she sighed as discouragements thickened around her.
"Don't you think we might in some way contrive to raise that money? Poor Aunt Chloe! her heart is so set on it!"
"I'm sorry, if it is. I think I was premature in promising. I'm not sure, now, but it's the best way to tell Chloe, and let her make up her mind to it. Tom'll have another wife, in a year or two; and she had better take up with somebody else."
"Mr. Shelby, I have taught my people that their marriages are as sacred as ours. I never could think of giving Chloe such advice."
"It's a pity, wife, that you have burdened them with a morality above their condition and prospects. I always thought so."
"It's only the morality of the Bible, Mr. Shelby."
"Well, well, Emily, I don't pretend to interfere with your religious notions; only they seem extremely unfitted for people in that condition."
"They are, indeed," said Mrs. Shelby, "and that is why, from my soul, I hate the whole thing. I tell you, my dear, I cannot absolve myself from the promises I make to these helpless creatures. If I can get the money no other way I will take music-scholars;—I could get enough, I know, and earn the money myself."
"You wouldn't degrade yourself that way, Emily? I never could consent to it."
"Degrade! would it degrade me as much as to break my faith with the helpless? No, indeed!"
"Well, you are always heroic and transcendental," said Mr. Shelby, "but I think you had better think before you undertake such a piece of Quixotism."
Here the conversation was interrupted by the appearance of Aunt Chloe, at the end of the verandah.
"If you please, Missis," said she.
"Well, Chloe, what is it?" said her mistress, rising, and going to the end of the balcony.
"If Missis would come and look at dis yer lot o' poetry."
Chloe had a particular fancy for calling poultry poetry,—an application of language in which she always persisted, notwithstanding frequent corrections and advisings from the young members of the family.
"La sakes!" she would say, "I can't see; one jis good as turry,—poetry suthin good, any how;" and so poetry Chloe continued to call it.
Mrs. Shelby smiled as she saw a prostrate lot of chickens and ducks, over which Chloe stood, with a very grave face of consideration.
"I'm a thinkin whether Missis would be a havin a chicken pie o' dese yer."
"Really, Aunt Chloe, I don't much care;—serve them any way you like."
Chloe stood handling them over abstractedly; it was quite evident that the chickens were not what she was thinking of. At last, with the short laugh with which her tribe often introduce a doubtful proposal, she said,
"Laws me, Missis! what should Mas'r and Missis be a troublin theirselves 'bout de money, and not a usin what's right in der hands?" and Chloe laughed again.
"I don't understand you, Chloe," said Mrs. Shelby, nothing doubting, from her knowledge of Chloe's manner, that she had heard every word of the conversation that had passed between her and her husband.
"Why, laws me, Missis!" said Chloe, laughing again, "other folks hires out der niggers and makes money on 'em! Don't keep sich a tribe eatin 'em out of house and home."
"Well, Chloe, who do you propose that we should hire out?"
"Laws! I an't a proposin nothin; only Sam he said der was one of dese yer perfectioners, dey calls 'em, in Louisville, said he wanted a good hand at cake and pastry; and said he'd give four dollars a week to one, he did."
"Well, laws, I 's a thinkin, Missis, it's time Sally was put along to be doin' something. Sally 's been under my care, now, dis some time, and she does most as well as me, considerin; and if Missis would only let me go, I would help fetch up de money. I an't afraid to put my cake, nor pies nother, 'long side no perfectioner's.
"Law sakes, Missis! 'tan't no odds;—words is so curis, can't never get 'em right!"
"But, Chloe, do you want to leave your children?"
"Laws, Missis! de boys is big enough to do day's works; dey does well enough; and Sally, she'll take de baby,—she's such a peart young un, she won't take no lookin arter."
"Louisville is a good way off."
"Law sakes! who's afeard?—it's down river, somer near my old man, perhaps?" said Chloe, speaking the last in the tone of a question, and looking at Mrs. Shelby.
"No, Chloe; it's many a hundred miles off," said Mrs. Shelby.
Chloe's countenance fell.
"Never mind; your going there shall bring you nearer, Chloe. Yes, you may go; and your wages shall every cent of them be laid aside for your husband's redemption."
As when a bright sunbeam turns a dark cloud to silver, so Chloe's dark face brightened immediately,—it really shone.
"Laws! if Missis isn't too good! I was thinking of dat ar very thing; cause I shouldn't need no clothes, nor shoes, nor nothin,—I could save every cent. How many weeks is der in a year, Missis?"
"Fifty-two," said Mrs. Shelby.
"Laws! now, dere is? and four dollars for each on em. Why, how much 'd dat ar be?"
"Two hundred and eight dollars," said Mrs. Shelby.
"Why-e!" said Chloe, with an accent of surprise and delight; "and how long would it take me to work it out, Missis?"
"Some four or five years, Chloe; but, then, you needn't do it all,—I shall add something to it."
"I wouldn't hear to Missis' givin lessons nor nothin. Mas'r's quite right in dat ar;—'t wouldn't do, no ways. I hope none our family ever be brought to dat ar, while I 's got hands."
"Don't fear, Chloe; I'll take care of the honor of the family," said Mrs. Shelby, smiling. "But when do you expect to go?"
"Well, I want spectin nothin; only Sam, he's a gwine to de river with some colts, and he said I could go long with him; so I jes put my things together. If Missis was willin, I'd go with Sam tomorrow morning, if Missis would write my pass, and write me a commendation."
"Well, Chloe, I'll attend to it, if Mr. Shelby has no objections. I must speak to him."
Mrs. Shelby went up stairs, and Aunt Chloe, delighted, went out to her cabin, to make her preparation.
"Law sakes, Mas'r George! ye didn't know I 's a gwine to Louisville tomorrow!" she said to George, as entering her cabin, he found her busy in sorting over her baby's clothes. "I thought I'd jis look over sis's things, and get 'em straightened up. But I'm gwine, Mas'r George,—gwine to have four dollars a week; and Missis is gwine to lay it all up, to buy back my old man agin!"
"Whew!" said George, "here's a stroke of business, to be sure! How are you going?"
"Tomorrow, wid Sam. And now, Mas'r George, I knows you'll jis sit down and write to my old man, and tell him all about it,—won't ye?"
"To be sure," said George; "Uncle Tom'll be right glad to hear from us. I'll go right in the house, for paper and ink; and then, you know, Aunt Chloe, I can tell about the new colts and all."
"Sartin, sartin, Mas'r George; you go 'long, and I'll get ye up a bit o' chicken, or some sich; ye won't have many more suppers wid yer poor old aunty."