The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 2/Number 1/A Few Scenes from a True History
A FEW SCENES FROM A TRUE HISTORY.
They had lived thus nearly a year, when, one day as they were riding on horseback, Alfred saw Mr. Grossman approaching. "Drop your veil," he said, quickly, to his companion; for he could not bear to have that Satyr even look upon his hidden flower. The cotton-broker noticed the action, but silently touched his hat, and passed with a significant smile on his uncomely countenance. A few days afterward, when Alfred had gone to his business in the city, Loo Loo strolled to her favorite recess on the hill-side, and, lounging on the rustic seat, began to read the second volume of "Thaddeus of Warsaw." She was so deeply interested in the adventures of the noble Pole, that she forgot herself and all her surroundings. Masses of glossy dark hair fell over the delicate hand that supported her head; her morning-gown, of pink French muslin, fell apart, and revealed a white embroidered skirt, from beneath which obtruded one small foot, in an open-work silk stocking; the slipper having fallen to the ground. Thus absorbed, she took no note of time, and might have remained until summoned to dinner, had not a slight rustling disturbed her. She looked up, and saw a coarse face peering at her between the pine boughs, with a most disgusting expression. She at once recognized the man they had met during their ride; and starting to her feet, she ran like a deer before the hunter. It was not till she came near the house, that she was aware of having left her slipper. A servant was sent for it, but returned, saying it was not to be found. She mourned over the loss, for the little pink kid slippers, embroidered with silver, were a birth-day present from Alfred. As soon as he returned, she told him the adventure, and went with him to search the arbor of pines. The incident troubled him greatly. "What a noxious serpent, to come crawling into our Eden!" he exclaimed. "Never come here alone again, dearest; and never go far from the house, unless Madame is with you."
Her circle of enjoyments was already small, excluded as she was from society by her anomalous position, and educated far above the caste in which the tyranny of law and custom so absurdly placed her. But it is one of the blessed laws of compensation, that the human soul cannot miss that to which it has never been accustomed. Madame's motherly care, and Alfred's unvarying tenderness, sufficed her cravings for affection; and for amusement, she took refuge in books, flowers, birds, and those changes of natural scenery for which her lover had such quickness of eye. It was a privation to give up her solitary rambles in the grounds, her inspection of birds' nests, and her readings in that pleasant alcove of pines. But she more than acquiesced in Alfred's prohibition. She said at once, that she would rather be a prisoner within the house all her days than ever see that odious face again.
Mr. Noble encountered the cotton-broker, in the way of business, a few days afterward; but his aversion to the unclean conversation of the man induced him to conceal his vexation under the veil of common courtesy. He knew what sort of remarks any remonstrance would elicit, and he shrank from subjecting Loo Loo's name to such pollution. For a short time, this prudent reserve shielded him from the attacks he dreaded. But Mr. Grossman soon began to throw out hints about the sly hypocrisy of Puritan Yankees, and other innuendoes obviously intended to annoy him. At last, one day, he drew the embroidered slipper from his pocket, and, with a rakish wink of his eye, said, "I reckon you have seen this before, Mr. Noble."
Alfred felt an impulse to seize him by the throat, and strangle him on the spot. But why should he make a scene with such a man, and thus drag Loo Loo's name into painful notoriety? The old roué was evidently trying to foment a quarrel with him. Thoroughly animal in every department of his nature, he was boastful of brute courage, and prided himself upon having killed several men in duels. Alfred conjectured his line of policy, and resolved to frustrate it. He therefore coolly replied, "I have seen such slippers; they are very pretty"; and turned away, as if the subject were indifferent to him.
"Coward!" muttered Grossman, as he left the counting-house. Mr. Noble did not hear him; and if he had, it would not have altered his course. He could see nothing enviable in the reputation of being ever ready for brawls, and a dead-shot in duels; and he knew that his life was too important to the friendless Loo Loo to be thus foolishly risked for the gratification of a villain. This incident renewed his old feelings of remorse for the false position in which he had placed the young orphan, who trusted him so entirely. To his generous nature, the wrong seemed all the greater because the object was so unconscious of it. "It is I who have subjected her to the insolence of this vile man," he said within himself. "But I will repair the wrong. Innocent, confiding soul that she is, I will protect her. The sanction of marriage shall shield her from such affronts."
Alas for poor human nature! He was sincere in these resolutions, but he was not quite strong enough to face the prejudices of the society in which he lived. Their sneers would have fallen harmless. They could not take from him a single thing he really valued. But he had not learned to understand that the dreaded power of public opinion is purely fabulous, when unsustained by the voice of conscience. So he fell into the old snare of moral compromise. He thought the best he could do, under the circumstances, was to hasten the period of his departure for the North, to marry Loo Loo in Philadelphia, and remove to some part of the country where her private history would remain unknown.
To make money for this purpose, he had more and more extended his speculations, and they had uniformly proved profitable. If Mr. Grossman's offensive conduct had not forced upon him a painful consciousness of his position with regard to the object of his devoted affection, he would have liked to remain in Mobile a few years longer, and accumulate more; but, as it was, he determined to remove as soon as he could arrange his affairs satisfactorily. He set about this in good earnest. But, alas! the great pecuniary crash of 1837 was at hand. By every mail came news of failures where he expected payments. The wealth, which seemed so certain a fact a few months before, where had it vanished? It had floated away, like a prismatic bubble on the breeze. He saw that his ruin was inevitable. All he owned in the world would not cancel his debts. And now he recalled the horrible recollection that Loo Loo was a part of his property. Much as he had blamed Mr. Duncan for negligence in not manumitting her mother, he had fallen into the same snare. In the fulness of his prosperity and happiness, he did not comprehend the risk he was running by delay. He rarely thought of the fact that she was legally his slave; and when it did occur to him, it was always accompanied with the recollection that the laws of Alabama did not allow him to emancipate her without sending her away from the State. But this never troubled him, because there was always present with him that vision of going to the North and making her his wife. So time slipped away, without his taking any precautions on the subject; and now it was too late. Immersed in debt as he was, the law did not allow him to dispose of anything without consent of creditors; and he owed ten thousand dollars to Mr. Grossman. Oh, agony! sharp agony!
There was a meeting of the creditors. Mr. Noble rendered an account of all his property, in which he was compelled to include Loo Loo; but for her he offered to give a note for fifteen hundred dollars, with good endorsement, payable with interest in a year. It was known that his attachment to the orphan he had educated amounted almost to infatuation; and his proverbial integrity inspired so much respect, that the creditors were disposed to grant him any indulgence not incompatible with their own interests. They agreed to accept the proffered note, all except Mr. Grossman. He insisted that the girl should be put up at auction. For her sake, the ruined merchant condescended to plead with him. He represented that the tie between them was very different from the merely convenient connections which were so common; that Loo Loo was really good and modest, and so sensitive by nature, that exposure to public sale would nearly kill her. The selfish creditor remained inexorable. The very fact that this delicate flower had been so carefully sheltered from the mud and dust of the wayside rendered her a more desirable prize. He coolly declared, that ever since he had seen her in the arbor, he had been determined to have her; and now that fortune had put the chance in his power, no money should induce him to relinquish it.
The sale was inevitable; and the only remaining hope was that some friend might be induced to buy her. There was a gentleman in the city whom I will call Frank Helper. He was a Kentuckian by birth, kind and open-hearted,—a slave-holder by habit, not by nature. Warm feelings of regard had long existed between him and Mr. Noble; and to him the broken merchant applied for advice in this torturing emergency. Though Mr. Helper was possessed of but moderate wealth, he had originally agreed to endorse his friend's note for fifteen hundred dollars; and he now promised to empower some one to expend three thousand dollars in the purchase of Loo Loo.
"It is not likely that we shall be obliged to pay so much," said he. "Bad debts are pouring in upon Grossman, and he hasn't a mint of money to spare just now, however big he may talk. We will begin with offering fifteen hundred dollars; and she will probably be bid off for two thousand."
"Bid off! O my God!" exclaimed the wretched man. He bowed his head upon his outstretched arms, and the table beneath him shook with his convulsive sobs. His friend was unprepared for such an overwhelming outburst of emotion. He did not understand, no one but Alfred himself could understand, the peculiarity of the ties that bound him to that dear orphan. Recovering from this unwonted mood, he inquired whether there was no possible way of avoiding a sale.
"I am sorry to say there is no way, my friend," replied Mr. Helper. "The laws invest this man with power over you; and there is nothing left for us but to undermine his projects. It is a hazardous business, as you well know. You must not appear in it; neither can I; for I am known to be your intimate friend. But trust the whole affair to me, and I think I can bring it to a successful issue."
The hardest thing of all was to apprise the poor girl of her situation. She had never thought of herself as a slave; and what a terrible awakening was this from her dream of happy security! Alfred deemed it most kind and wise to tell her of it himself; but he dreaded it worse than death. He expected she would swoon; he even feared it might kill her. But love made her stronger than he thought. When, after much cautious circumlocution, he arrived at the crisis of the story, she pressed her hand hard upon her forehead, and seemed stupefied. Then she threw herself into his arms, and they wept, wept, wept, till their heads seemed cracking with the agony.
"Oh, the avenging Nemesis!" exclaimed Alfred, at last. "I have deserved all this. It is all my own fault. I ought to have carried you away from these wicked laws. I ought to have married you. Truest, most affectionate of friends, how cruelly I have treated you! you, who put the welfare of your life so confidingly into my hands!"
She rose up from his bosom, and, looking him lovingly in the face, replied,—
"Never say that, dear Alfred! Never have such a thought again! You have been the best and kindest friend that woman ever had. If I forgot that I was a slave, is it strange that you should forget it? But, Alfred, I will never be the slave of any other man,— never! I will never be put on the auction-stand. I will die first."
"Nay, dearest, you must make no rash resolutions," he replied. "I have friends who promise to save you, and restore us to each other. The form of sale is unavoidable. So, for my sake, consent to the temporary humiliation. Will you, darling?"
He had never before seen such an expression in her face. Her eyes flashed, her nostrils dilated, and she drew her breath like one in the agonies of death. Then pressing his hand with a nervous grasp, she answered,—
"For your sake, dear Alfred, I will."
From that time, she maintained outward calmness, while in his presence; and her inward uneasiness was indicated only by a fondness more clinging than ever. Whenever she parted from him, she kept him lingering, and lingering, on the threshold. She followed him to the road; she kissed her hand to him till he was out of sight; and then her tears flowed unrestrained. Her mind was filled with the idea that she should be carried away from the home of her childhood, as she had been by the rough Mr. Jackson,— that she should become the slave of that bad man, and never, never see Alfred again. "But I can die," she often said to herself; and she revolved in her mind various means of suicide, in case the worst should happen.
Madame Labassé did not desert her in her misfortunes. She held frequent consultations with Mr. Helper and his friends, and continually brought messages to keep up her spirits. A dozen times a day, she repeated,—
"Tout sera bien arrangé. Soyez tranquille, ma chère! Soyez tranquille!"
At last the dreaded day arrived. Mr. Helper had persuaded Alfred to appear to yield to necessity, and keep completely out of sight. He consented, because Loo Loo had said she could not go through with the scene, if he were present; and, moreover, he was afraid to trust his own nerves and temper. They conveyed her to the auction-room, where she stood trembling among a group of slaves of all ages and all colors, from iron-black to the lightest brown. She wore her simplest dress, without ornament of any kind. When they placed her on the stand, she held her veil down, with a close, nervous grasp.
"Come, show us your face," said the auctioneer. "Folks don't like to buy a pig in a poke, you know."
Seeing that she stood perfectly still, with her head lowered upon her breast, he untied the bonnet, pulled it off rudely, and held up her face to public view. There was a murmur of applause.
"Show your teeth," said the auctioneer. But she only compressed her mouth more firmly. After trying in vain to coax her, he exclaimed,—
"Never mind, gentlemen. She's got a string of pearls inside them coral lips of hern. I can swear to that, for I've seen 'em. No use tryin' to trot her out. She's a leetle set up, ye see, with bein' made much of. Look at her, gentlemen! Who can blame her for bein' a bit proud? She's a fust-rate fancy-article. Who bids?"
Before he had time to repeat the question, Mr. Grossman said, in a loud voice, "Fifteen hundred dollars."
This was rather a damper upon Mr. Helper's agent, who bid sixteen hundred.
A voice from the crowd called out, "Eighteen hundred."
"Two thousand," shouted Mr. Grossman.
"Two thousand two hundred," said another voice.
"Two thousand five hundred," exclaimed Mr. Grossman.
"Two thousand eight hundred," said the incognito agent.
The prize was now completely given up to the two competitors; and the agent, excited by the contest, went beyond his orders, until he bid as high as four thousand two hundred dollars.
"Four thousand five hundred," screamed the cotton-broker.
There was no use in contending with him. He was evidently willing to stake all his fortune upon victory.
"Going! Going! Going!" repeated the auctioneer, slowly. There was a brief pause, during which every pulsation in Loo Loo's body seemed to stop. Then she heard the horrible words, "Gone, for four thousand five hundred dollars! Gone to Mr. Grossman!"
They led her to a bench at the other end of the room. She sat there, still as a marble statue, and almost as pale. The sudden cessation of excited hope had so stunned her, that she could not think. Everything seemed dark and reeling round her. In a few minutes, Mr. Grossman was at her side.
"Come, my beauty," said he. "The carriage is at the door. If you behave yourself, you shall be treated like a queen. Come, my love!"
He attempted to take her hand, but his touch roused her from her lethargy; and springing at him, like a wild-cat, she gave him a blow in the face that made him stagger,—so powerful was it, in the vehemence of her disgust and anger.
His coaxing tones changed instantly.
"We don't allow niggers to put on such airs," he said. "I'm your master. You've got to live with me; and you may as well make up your mind to it first as last."
He glowered at her savagely for a moment; and drawing from his pocket an embroidered slipper, he added,—
"Ever since I picked up this pretty thing, I've been determined to have you. I expected to be obliged to wait till Noble got tired of you, and wanted to take up with another wench; but I've had better luck than I expected."
At the sight of that gift of Alfred's in his hated hand, at the sound of those coarse words, so different from his respectful tenderness, her pride broke down, and tears welled forth. Looking up in his stern face, she said, in tones of the deepest pathos,—
"Oh, Sir, have pity on a poor, unfortunate girl! Don't persecute me!"
"Persecute you?" he replied. "No, indeed, my charmer! If you'll be kind to me, I'll treat you like a princess."
He tried to look loving, but the expression was utterly revolting. Twelve years of unbridled sensuality had rendered his countenance even more disgusting than it was when he shocked Alfred's youthful soul by his talk about "Duncan's handsome wench."
"Come, my beauty," he continued, persuasively, "I'm glad to see you in a better temper. Come with me, and behave yourself."
She curled her lip scornfully, and repeated,—
"I will never live with you! Never!"
"We'll see about that, my wench," said he. "I may as well take you down a peg, first as last. If you'd rather be in the calaboose with niggers than to ride in a carriage with me, you may try it, and see how you like it. I reckon you'll be glad to come to my terms, before long."
He beckoned to two police-officers, and said, "Take this wench into custody, and keep her on bread and water, till I give further orders."
The jail to which Loo Loo was conveyed was a wretched place. The walls were dingy, the floor covered with puddles of tobacco-juice, the air almost suffocating with the smell of pent-up tobacco-smoke, unwashed negroes, and dirty garments. She had never seen any place so loathsome. Mr. Jackson's log-house was a palace in comparison. The prison was crowded with colored people of all complexions, and almost every form of human vice and misery was huddled together there with the poor victims of misfortune. Thieves, murderers, and shameless girls, decked out with tawdry bits of finery, were mixed up with modest-looking, heart-broken wives, and mothers mourning for the children that had been torn from their arms in the recent sale. Some were laughing, and singing lewd songs. Others sat still, with tears trickling down their sable cheeks. Here and there the fierce expression of some intelligent young man indicated a volcano of revenge seething within his soul. Some were stretched out drowsily upon the filthy floor, their natures apparently stupefied to the level of brutes. When Loo Loo was brought in, most of them were roused to look at her; and she heard them saying to each other, "By gum, dat ar an't no nigger!" "What fur dey fotch her here?" "She be white lady ob quality, she be."
The tenderly-nurtured daughter of the wealthy planter remained in this miserable place two days. The jailer, touched by her beauty and extreme dejection, offered her better food than had been prescribed in his orders. She thanked him, but said she could not eat. When he invited her to occupy, for the night, a small room apart from the herd of prisoners, she accepted the offer with gratitude. But she could not sleep, and she dared not undress. In the morning, the jailer, afraid of being detected in these acts of indulgence, told her, apologetically, that he was obliged to request her to return to the common apartment.
Having recovered somewhat from the stunning effects of the blow that had fallen on her, she began to take more notice of her companions. A gang of slaves, just sold, was in keeping there, till it suited the trader's convenience to take them to New Orleans; and the parting scenes she witnessed that day made an impression she never forgot. "Can it be," she said to herself, "that such things have been going on around me all these years, and I so unconscious of them? What should I now be, if Alfred had not taken compassion on me, and prevented my being sent to the New Orleans market, before I was ten years old?" She thought with a shudder of the auction-scene the day before, and began to be afraid that her friends could not save her from that vile man's power.
She was roused from her reverie by the entrance of a white gentleman, whom she had never seen before. He came to inspect the trader's gang of slaves, to see if any one among them would suit him for a house-servant; and before long, he agreed to purchase a bright-looking mulatto lad. He stopped before Loo Loo, and said, "Are you a good sempstress?"
"She's not for sale," answered the jailer. "She belongs to Mr. Grossman, who put her here for disobedience." The man smiled, as he spoke, and Loo Loo blushed crimson.
"Ho, ho," rejoined the stranger. "I'm sorry for that. I should like to buy her, if I could."
He sauntered round the room, and took from his pocket oranges and candy, which he distributed among the black picaninnies tumbling over each other on the dirty floor. Coming round again to the place where she sat, he put an orange on her lap, and said, in low tones, "When they are not looking at you, remove the peel"; and, touching his finger to his lip, significantly, he turned away to talk with the jailer.
As soon as he was gone, she asked permission to go, for a few minutes, to the room she had occupied during the night. There she examined the orange, and found that half of the skin had been removed unbroken, a thin paper inserted, and the peel replaced. On the scrap of paper was written: "When your master comes, appear to be submissive, and go with him. Plead weariness, and gain time. You will be rescued. Destroy this, and don't seem more cheerful than you have been." Under this was written, in Madame Labassé's hand, "Soyez tranquille, ma chère."
Unaccustomed to act a part, she found it difficult to appear so sad as she had been before the reception of the note. But she did her best, and the jailer observed no change.
Late in the afternoon, Mr. Grossman made his appearance. "Well, my beauty," said he, "are you tired of the calaboose? Don't you think you should like my house rather better?"
She yawned listlessly, and, without looking up, answered, "I am very tired of staying here."
"I thought so," rejoined her master, with a chuckling laugh. "I reckoned I should bring you to terms. So you've made up your mind not to be cruel to a poor fellow so desperately in love with you,— haven't you?"
She made no answer, and he continued: "You're ready to go home with me,—are you?"
"Yes, Sir," she replied, faintly.
"Well, then, look up in my face, and let me have a peep at those devilish handsome eyes."
He chucked her under the chin, and raised her blushing face. She wanted to push him from her, he was so hateful; but she remembered the mysterious orange, and looked him in the eye, with passive obedience. Overjoyed at his success, he paid the jailer his fee, drew her arm within his, and hurried to the carriage.
How many humiliations were crowded into that short ride! How she shrank from the touch of his soft, swabby hand! How she loathed the gloating looks of the old Satyr! But she remembered the orange, and endured it all stoically.
Arrived at his stylish house, he escorted her to a large chamber elegantly furnished.
"I told you I would treat you like a princess," he said; "and I will keep my word."
He would have seated himself; but she prevented him, saying, "I have one favor to ask, and I shall be very grateful to you, if you will please to grant it."
"What is it, my charmer?" he inquired. "I will consent to anything reasonable."
She answered, "I could not get a wink of sleep in that filthy prison; and I am extremely tired. Please leave me till to-morrow."
"Ah, why did you compel me to send you to that abominable place? It grieved me to cast such a pearl among swine. Well, I want to convince you that I am a kind master; so I suppose I must consent. But you must reward me with a kiss before I go."
This was the hardest trial of all; but she recollected the danger of exciting his suspicions, and complied. He returned it with so much ardor, that she pushed him away impetuously; but softening her manner immediately, she said, in pleading tones, "I am exceedingly tired; indeed I am!"
He lingered, and seemed very reluctant to go; but when she again urged her request, he said, "Good night, my beauty! I will send up some refreshments for you, before you sleep."
He went away, and she had a very uncomfortable sensation when she heard him lock the door behind him. A prisoner, with such a jailer! With a quick movement of disgust, she rushed to the water-basin and washed her lips and her hands; but she felt that the stain was one no ablution could remove. The sense of degradation was so cruelly bitter, that it seemed to her as if she should die for very shame.
In a short time, an elderly mulatto woman, with a pleasant face, entered, bearing a tray of cakes, ices, and lemonade.
"I don't wish for anything to eat," said Loo Loo, despondingly.
"Oh, don't be givin' up, in dat ar way," said the mulatto, in kind, motherly tones. "De Lord ain't a-gwine to forsake ye. Ye may jus' breeve what Aunt Debby tells yer. I'se a poor ole nigger; but I hab 'sarved dat de darkest time is allers jus afore de light come. Eat some ob dese yer goodies. Ye oughter keep yoursef strong fur de sake ob yer friends."
Loo Loo looked at her earnestly, and repeated, "Friends? How do you know I have any friends?"
"Oh, I'se poor ole nigger," rejoined the mulatto. "I don't knows nottin'."
The captive looked wistfully after her, as she left the room. She felt disappointed; for something in the woman's ways and tones had excited a hope within her. Again the key turned on the outside; but it was not long before Debby reappeared with a bouquet.
"Massa sent young Missis dese yer fowers," she said.
"Put them down," rejoined Loo Loo, languidly.
"Whar shall I put 'em?" inquired the servant.
"Anywhere, out of my way," was the curt reply.
Debby cautioned her by a shake of her finger, and whispered, "Massa's out dar, waitin' fur de key. Dar's writin' on dem ar fowers." She lighted the lamps, and, after inquiring if anything else was wanted, she went out, saying, "Good night, missis. De Lord send ye pleasant dreams."
Again the key turned, and the sound of footsteps died away. Loo Loo eagerly untwisted the paper round the bouquet, and read these words: "Be ready for travelling. About midnight your door will be unlocked. Follow Aunt Debby with your shoes in your hand, and speak no word. Destroy this paper." To this Madame Labassé had added, "Ne craigner rien, ma chère."
Loo Loo's heart palpitated violently, and the blood rushed to her cheeks. Weary as she was, she felt no inclination to sleep. As she sat there, longing for midnight, she had ample leisure to survey the apartment. It was, indeed, a bower fit for a princess. The chairs, tables, and French bedstead were all ornamented with roses and lilies gracefully intertwined on a delicate fawn-colored ground. The tent-like canopy, that partially veiled the couch, was formed of pink and white striped muslin, draped on either side in ample folds, and fastened with garlands of roses. The pillow-cases were embroidered, perfumed, and edged with frills quilled as neatly as the petals of a dahlia. In one corner stood a small table, decorated with a very elegant Parisian tea-service for two. Lamps of cut glass illumined the face of a large Pscyche mirror, and on the toilet before it a diamond necklace and ear-rings sparkled in their crimson velvet case. Loo Loo looked at them with a half-scornful smile, and repeated to herself:
"He bought me somewhat high; Since with me came a heart he couldn't buy."
She lowered the lamps to twilight softness, and tried to wait with patience. How long the hours seemed! Surely it must be past midnight. What if Aunt Debby had been detected in her plot? What if the master should come, in her stead? Full of that fear, she tried to open the windows, and found them fastened on the outside. Her heart sank within her; for she had resolved, in the last emergency, to leap out and be crushed on the pavement. Suspense became almost intolerable. She listened, and listened. There was no sound, except a loud snoring in the next apartment. Was it her tyrant, who was sleeping so near? She sat with her shoes in her hand, her eyes fastened on the door. At last it opened, and Debby's brown face peeped in. They passed out together,—the mulatto taking the precaution to lock the door and put the key in her pocket. Softly they went down stairs, through the kitchen, out into the adjoining alley. Two gentlemen with a carriage were in attendance. They sprang in, and were whirled away. After riding some miles, the carriage was stopped; one of the gentlemen alighted and handed the women out.
"My name is Dinsmore," he said. "I am uncle to your friend, Frank Helper. You are to pass for my daughter, and Debby is our servant."
"And Alfred,—Mr. Noble, I mean,—where is he?" asked Loo Loo.
"He will follow in good time. Ask no more questions now."
The carriage rolled away; and the party it had conveyed were soon on their way to the North by an express-train.
It would be impossible to describe the anxiety Alfred had endured from the time Loo Loo became the property of the cotton-broker until he heard of her escape. From motives of policy he was kept in ignorance of the persons employed, and of the measures they intended to take. In this state of suspense, his reason might have been endangered, had not Madame Labassé brought cheering messages, from time to time, assuring him that all was carefully arranged, and success nearly certain.
When Mr. Grossman, late in the day, discovered that his prey had escaped, his rage knew no bounds. He offered one thousand dollars for her apprehension, and another thousand for the detection of any one who had aided her. He made successive attempts to obtain an indictment against Mr. Noble; but he was proved to have been distant from the scene of action, and there was no evidence that he had any connection with the mysterious affair. Failing in this, the exasperated cotton-broker swore that he would have his heart's blood, for he knew the sly, smooth-spoken Yankee was at the bottom of it. He challenged him; but Mr. Noble, notwithstanding the arguments of Frank Helper, refused, on the ground that he held New England opinions on the subject of duelling. The Kentuckian could not understand that it required a far higher kind of courage to refuse than it would have done to accept. The bully proclaimed him a coward, and shot at him in the street, but without inflicting a very serious wound. Thenceforth he went armed, and his friends kept him in sight. But he probably owed his life to the fact that Mr. Grossman was compelled to go to New Orleans suddenly, on urgent business. Before leaving, the latter sent messengers to Savannah, Charleston, Louisville, and elsewhere; exact descriptions of the fugitives were posted in all public places, and the offers of reward were doubled; but the activity thus excited proved all in vain. The runaways had travelled night and day, and were in Canada before their pursuers reached New York. A few lines from Mr. Dinsmore announced this to Frank Helper, in phraseology that could not be understood, in case the letter should be inspected at the post-office. He wrote: "I told you we intended to visit Montreal; and by the date of this you will see that I have carried my plan into execution. My daughter likes the place so much that I think I shall leave her here awhile in charge of our trusty servant, while I go home to look after my affairs."
After the excitement had somewhat subsided, Mr. Noble ascertained the process by which his friends had succeeded in effecting the rescue. Aunt Debby owed her master a grudge for having repeatedly sold her children; and just at that time a fresh wound was rankling in her heart, because her only son, a bright lad of eighteen, of whom Mr. Grossman was the reputed father, had been sold to a slave-trader, to help raise the large sum he had given for Loo Loo. Frank Helper's friends, having discovered this state of affairs, opened a negotiation with the mulatto woman, promising to send both her and her son into Canada, if she would assist them in their plans. Aunt Debby chuckled over the idea of her master's disappointment, and was eager to seize the opportunity of being reunited to her last remaining child. The lad was accordingly purchased by the gentleman who distributed oranges in the prison, and was sent to Canada, according to promise. Mr. Grossman was addicted to strong drink, and Aunt Debby had long been in the habit of preparing a potion for him before he retired to rest. "I mixed it powerful, dat ar night," said the laughing mulatto; "and I put in someting dat de gemmen guv to me. I reckon he waked up awful late." Mr. Dinsmore, a maternal uncle of Frank Helper's, had been visiting the South, and was then about to return to New York. When the story was told to him, he said nothing would please him more than to take the fugitives under his own protection.
Mr. Noble arranged the wreck of his affairs as speedily as possible, eager to be on the way to Montreal. The evening before he started, Frank Helper waited upon Mr. Grossman, and said: "That handsome slave you have been trying so hard to catch is doubtless beyond your reach, and will take good care not to come within your power. Under these circumstances, she is worth nothing to you; but for the sake of quieting the uneasiness of my friend Noble, I will give you eight hundred dollars to relinquish all claim to her."
The broker flew into a violent rage. "I'll see you both damned first," he replied. "I shall trip 'em up yet. I'll keep the sword hanging over their cursed heads as long as I live. I wouldn't mind spending ten thousand dollars to be revenged on that infernal Yankee."
Mr. Noble reached Montreal in safety, and found his Loo Loo well and cheerful. Words are inadequate to describe the emotions excited by reunion, after such dreadful perils and hairbreadth escapes. Their marriage was solemnized as soon as possible; but the wife being an article of property, according to American law, they did not venture to return to the States. Alfred obtained some writing to do for a commercial while Loo Loo instructed little girls in dancing and embroidery. Her character had strengthened under the severe ordeals through which she had passed. She began to question the rightfulness of living so indolently as she had done. Those painful scenes in the slave-prison made her reflect that sympathy that sympathy with the actual miseries of life was better than weeping over romances. She was rising above the deleterious influences of her early education, and beginning to feel the dignity of usefulness. She said to her husband, "I shall not be sorry, if we are always poor. It is so pleasant to help you, who have done so much for me! And Alfred, dear, I want to give some of my earnings to Aunt Debby. The poor old soul is trying to lay up money to pay that friend of yours who bought her son and sent him to Canada. Surely, I, of all people in the world, ought to be willing to help slaves who have been less fortunate than I have. Sometimes, when I lie awake in the night, I have very solemn thoughts come over me. It was truly a wonderful Providence that twice saved me from the dreadful fate that awaited me. I can never be grateful enough to God for sending me such a blessed friend as my good Alfred."
They were living thus contented with their humble lot, when a letter from Frank Helper announced that the extensive house of Grossman & Co. had stopped payment. Their human chattels had been put up at auction, and among them was the title to our beautiful fugitive. The chance of capture was considered so hopeless, that, when Mr. Helper bid sixty-two dollars, no one bid over him; and she became his property, until there was time to transfer the legal claim to his friend.
Feeling that they could now be safe under their own vine and fig-tree, Alfred returned to the United States, where he became first a clerk, and afterward a prosperous merchant. His natural organization unfitted him for conflict, and though his peculiar experiences had imbued him with a thorough abhorrence of slavery, he stood aloof from the ever-increasing agitation on that subject; but every New Year's day, one of the Vigilance Committees for the relief of fugitive slaves received one hundred dollars "from an unknown friend." As his pecuniary means increased, he purchased several slaves, who had been in his employ at Mobile, and established them as servants in Northern hotels. Madame Labassé was invited to spend the remainder of her days under his roof; but she came only in the summers, being unable to conquer her shivering dread of snow-storms.
Loo Loo's personal charms attracted attention wherever she made her appearance. At church, and other public places, people pointed her out to strangers, saying, "That is the wife of Mr. Alfred Noble. She was the orphan daughter of a rich planter at the South, and had a great inheritance left to her; but Mr. Noble lost it all in the financial crisis of 1837." Her real history remained a secret, locked within their own breasts. Of their three children, the youngest was named Loo Loo, and greatly resembled her beautiful mother. When she was six years old, her portrait was taken in a gypsy hat garlanded with red berries. She was dancing round a little white dog, and long streamers of ribbon were floating behind her. Her father had it framed in an arched environment of vine-work, and presented it to his wife on her thirtieth birth-day. Her eyes moistened as she gazed upon it; then kissing his hand, she looked up in the old way, and said, "I thank you, Sir, for buying me."