Our Nig; or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black/Chapter Five
Life is a strange avenue of various trees and flowers; Lightsome at commencement, but darkening to its end in a distant, massy portal. It beginneth as a little path, edged with the violet and primrose, A little path of lawny grass and soft to tiny feet. Soon, spring thistles in the way.
JAMES' visit concluded. Frado had become greatly attached to him, and with sorrow she listened and joined in the farewells which pre- ceded his exit. The remembrance of his kind- ness cheered her through many a weary month, and an occasional word to her in letters to Jack, were like "cold waters to a thirsty soul." In- telligence came that James would soon marry; Frado hoped he would, and remove her from such severe treatment as she was subject to. There had been additional burdens laid on her since his return. She must now MILK the cows, she had then only to drive. Flocks of sheep had been added to the farm, which daily claimed a portion of her time. In the absence of the men, she must harness the horse for Mary and her mother to ride, go to mill, in short, do the work of a boy, could one be procured to endure the tirades of Mrs. Bellmont. She was first up in the morning, doing what she could towards breakfast. Occasionally, she would utter some funny thing for Jack's benefit, while she was waiting on the table, provoking a sharp look from his mother, or expulsion from the room.
On one such occasion, they found her on the roof of the barn. Some repairs having been necessary, a staging had been erected, and was not wholly removed. Availing herself of lad- ders, she was mounted in high glee on the top- most board. Mr. Bellmont called sternly for her to come down; poor Jane nearly fainted from fear. Mrs. B. and Mary did not care if she "broke her neck," while Jack and the men laughed at her fearlessness. Strange, one spark of playfulness could remain amid such constant toil; but her natural temperament was in a high degree mirthful, and the encouragement she received from Jack and the hired men, con- stantly nurtured the inclination. When she had none of the family around to be merry with, she would amuse herself with the animals. Among the sheep was a willful leader, who al- ways persisted in being first served, and many times in his fury he had thrown down Nig, till, provoked, she resolved to punish him. The pas- ture in which the sheep grazed was founded on three sides by a wide stream, which flowed on one side at the base of precipitous banks. The first spare moments at her command, she ran to the pasture with a dish in her hand, and mount- ing the highest point of land nearest the stream, called the flock to their mock repast. Mr. Bell- mont, with his laborers, were in sight, though unseen by Frado. They paused to see what she was about to do. Should she by any mishap lose her footing, she must roll into the stream, and, without aid, must drown. They thought of shouting; but they feared an unexpected salute might startle her, and thus ensure what they were anxious to prevent. They watched in breathless silence. The willful sheep came furi- ously leaping and bounding far in advance of the flock. Just as he leaped for the dish, she suddenly jumped to one side, when down he rolled into the river, and swimming across, remained alone till night. The men lay down, convulsed with laughter at the trick, and guessed at once its object. Mr. Bellmont talked seriously to the child for exposing herself to such danger; but she hopped about on her toes, and with laugha- ble grimaces replied, she knew she was quick enough to "give him a slide."
But to return. James married a Baltimorean lady of wealthy parentage, an indispensable requisite, his mother had always taught him. He did not marry her wealth, though; he loved HER, sincerely. She was not unlike his sister Jane, who had a social, gentle, loving nature, rather TOO yielding, her brother thought. His Susan had a firmness which Jane needed to complete her character, but which her ill health may in a measure have failed to produce. Al- though an invalid, she was not excluded from society. Was it strange SHE should seem a desir- able companion, a treasure as a wife?
Two young men seemed desirous of possess- ing her. One was a neighbor, Henry Reed, a tall, spare young man, with sandy hair, and blue, sinister eyes. He seemed to appreciate her wants, and watch with interest her improvement or decay. His kindness she received, and by it was almost won. Her mother wished her to en- courage his attentions. She had counted the acres which were to be transmitted to an only son; she knew there was silver in the purse; she would not have Jane too sentimental.
The eagerness with which he amassed wealth, was repulsive to Jane; he did not spare his per- son or beasts in its pursuit. She felt that to such a man she should be considered an incum- brance; she doubted if he would desire her, if he did not know she would bring a handsome patrimony. Her mother, full in favor with the parents of Henry, commanded her to accept him. She engaged herself, yielding to her mother's wishes, because she had not strength to oppose them; and sometimes, when witness of her mother's and Mary's tyranny, she felt any change would be preferable, even such a one as this. She knew her husband should be the man of her own selecting, one she was conscious of preferring before all others. She could not say this of Henry.
In this dilemma, a visitor came to Aunt Abby's; one of her boy-favorites, George Means, from an adjoining State. Sensible, plain looking, agreeable, talented, he could not long be a stranger to any one who wished to know him. Jane was accustomed to sit much with Aunt Abby always; her presence now seemed neces- sary to assist in entertaining this youthful friend. Jane was more pleased with him each day, and silently wished Henry possessed more refinement, and the polished manners of George. She felt dissatisfied with her relation to him. His calls while George was there, brought their opposing qualities vividly before her, and she found it disagreeable to force herself into those atten- tions belonging to him. She received him ap- parently only as a neighbor.
George returned home, and Jane endeavored to stifle the risings of dissatisfaction, and had nearly succeeded, when a letter came which needed but one glance to assure her of its birth- place; and she retired for its perusal. Well was it for her that her mother's suspicion was not aroused, or her curiosity startled to inquire who it came from. After reading it, she glided into Aunt Abby's, and placed it in her hands, who was no stranger to Jane's trials.
George could not rest after his return, he wrote, until he had communicated to Jane the emotions her presence awakened, and his desire to love and possess her as his own. He begged to know if his affections were reciprocated, or could be; if she would permit him to write to her; if she was free from all obligation to another.
"What would mother say?" queried Jane, as she received the letter from her aunt.
"Not much to comfort you."
"Now, aunt, George is just such a man as I could really love, I think, from all I have seen of him; you know I never could say that of Henry"--
"Then don't marry him," interrupted Aunt Abby.
"Mother will make me."
"Your father won't."
"Well, aunt, what can I do? Would you answer the letter, or not?"
"Yes, answer it. Tell him your situation."
"I shall not tell him all my feelings."
Jane answered that she had enjoyed his com- pany much; she had seen nothing offensive in his manner or appearance; that she was under no obligations which forbade her receiving let- ters from him as a friend and acquaintance. George was puzzled by the reply. He wrote to Aunt Abby, and from her learned all. He could not see Jane thus sacrificed, without mak- ing an effort to rescue her. Another visit fol- lowed. George heard Jane say she preferred HIM. He then conferred with Henry at his home. It was not a pleasant subject to talk upon. To be thus supplanted, was not to be thought of. He would sacrifice everything but his inheritance to secure his betrothed.
"And so you are the cause of her late cold- ness towards me. Leave! I will talk no more about it; the business is settled between us; there it will remain," said Henry.
"Have you no wish to know the real state of Jane's affections towards you?" asked George.
"No! Go, I say! go!" and Henry opened the door for him to pass out.
He retired to Aunt Abby's. Henry soon fol- lowed, and presented his cause to Mrs. Bellmont.
Provoked, surprised, indignant, she summoned Jane to her presence, and after a lengthy tirade upon Nab, and her satanic influence, told her she could not break the bonds which held her to Henry; she should not. George Means was rightly named; he was, truly, mean enough; she knew his family of old; his father had four wives, and five times as many children.
"Go to your room, Miss Jane," she continued. "Don't let me know of your being in Nab's for one while."
The storm was now visible to all beholders. Mr. Bellmont sought Jane. She told him her ob- jections to Henry; showed him George's letter; told her answer, the occasion of his visit. He bade her not make herself sick; he would see that she was not compelled to violate her free choice in so important a transaction. He then sought the two young men; told them he could not as a father see his child compelled to an un- congenial union; a free, voluntary choice was of such importance to one of her health. She must be left free to her own choice.
Jane sent Henry a letter of dismission; he her one of a legal bearing, in which he balanced his disappointment by a few hundreds.
To brave her mother's fury, nearly overcame her, but the consolation of a kind father and aunt cheered her on. After a suitable interval she was married to George, and removed to his home in Vermont. Thus another light disap- peared from Nig's horizon. Another was soon to follow. Jack was anxious to try his skill in pro- viding for his own support; so a situation as clerk in a store was procured in a Western city, and six months after Jane's departure, was Nig abandoned to the tender mercies of Mary and her mother. As if to remove the last vestige of earthly joy, Mrs. Bellmont sold the companion and pet of Frado, the dog Fido.