Sapphira and the Slave Girl, by Willa Cather

Book III

Old Jezebel

I

On the first day after her return from town Mrs. Colbert summoned Till and told her she meant to go out to see Aunt Jezebel this morning. “I will have a look around the yard first. Send Nancy in to dress me, and tell Tap to have the boys here in about an hour.”

The “boys” were young negroes whom Tap called in from the barn or the fields to help him carry the Mistress. On each side of her chair were two iron rings; into these the boys thrust dressed hickory saplings and bore Mrs. Colbert about the place. Tap was one of the mill-hands, but he loved to wait on ladies. He was a handsome boy, and he knew the Mistress thought so. He used to make his assistants clean up on these occasions. “Take off dat sweaty ole rag an’ put on a clean shirt fo’ de Missus.”

This morning the sunshine was so bright that the Mistress carried a tiny parasol with a jointed handle. Her bearers took her along the brick walks bordered by clipped boxwood hedges, — which were dark as yew except for the yellow-green tips of new growth. Mrs. Colbert visited all the flower-beds. The lilac arbour was now in bud, the yellow roses would soon be opening. The Mistress sent Tap for her shears and cut off sprays from the mock-orange bushes, which were filling the air with fragrance. With these in her lap she moved on, until she was carried into old Jezebel’s cabin and her chair put down beside the bed.

“You know who it is, don’t you, Aunt Jezebel?”

“Co’se I does, Miss Sapphy! Ain’t I knowed you since de day you was bawn?” The old woman turned on her side to see her mistress better.

She had wasted since Sapphira saw her last. As she lay curled up in bed, she looked very like a lean old grey monkey. (She had been a tall, strapping woman.) Her grizzled wool was twisted up in bits of rag. She was toothless, and her black skin had taken on a greyish cast. Jezebel thought she was about ninety-five. She knew she was eighteen when she was captured and sold to a British slaver, but she was not sure how many years passed before she learned English and began to keep account of time.

Mrs. Colbert put the sprays of syringa down on the pillow, close to the old woman’s face. “The mock-oranges are out, I thought you’d like to smell them. There’s not a man on the place can tend the shrubs like you did.”

“Thank ‘ee, mam. I hepped you set out most all de shrubs on dis place, didn’ I? Wasn’t nothin’ when we first come here but dat ole white lilack tree.”

“Those were good times, Auntie. I’ve been house-bound for a long while now, like you.”

“Oh, Missy, cain’t dem doctors in Winchester do nothin’ fur you? What’s dey good fur, anyways?” She broke off with a wheeze.

“There now, you mustn’t talk, it catches your breath. We must take what comes to us and be resigned.”

“Yes’m, I’se resigned,” the old woman whispered.

Mrs. Colbert went on soothingly: “When I sit out on the porch on a day like this, and look around, I often think how we used to get up early and rake over the new flower-beds and transplant before it got hot. And you used to run down to the creek and break off alder branches, and we’d stick them all around the plants we’d set out, to keep the sun off. I expect you remember those things, too.”

The old negress looked up at her and nodded.

“Now I’m going to read you a Psalm that will hearten us both.” Mrs. Colbert took from her reticule her glasses-case and a Prayer Book, but she opened neither as she repeated: “The Lord is my shepherd.”

Jezebel watched her intently, her eyes shining bright under eyelids thin as paper.

When the Mistress finished the Psalm, she called for Nancy, who was waiting in the cabin kitchen in case she might be needed.

“Are the boys outside?”

Then she turned again to the bed. “Have you quilts enough, Jezebel? Do they keep you warm?”

“Yes, Missy, the niggahs is mighty good to me. Dey keeps a flatiron to my feet, an’ a bag a hot salt undah my knees. Lizzie, she sends Bluebell down to set wid me a lot. Dat he’ps to pass de time. Her an’ Bluebell comes and sings to me, too.”

“But Till tells me you don’t eat anything. You must eat to keep ‘up your strength.”

“Don’t want nothin’, Missy.”

“Can’t you think of anything that would taste good to you? Now think a minute, and tell me. Isn’t there something?”

The old woman gave a sly chuckle; one paper eyelid winked, and her eyes gave out a flash of grim humour. “No’m, I cain’t think of nothin’ I could relish, lessen maybe it was a li’l pickaninny’s hand.”

Nancy, crouching in a corner, broke out with a startled cry and ran to the foot of the bed. “Oh, she’s a-wanderin’ agin! She wanders turrible now. Don’t stay, Missy! She’s out of her haid!”

Mrs. Colbert raised her eyes and gave the girl a cold, steady look. “No need for you to be speaking up. I know your granny through and through. She is no more out of her head than I am.” She turned back again to the bed, took up Jezebel’s cold grey claw, and patted it. “Good-bye till another time, Auntie. Now you must turn over and have a nap.”

She beckoned to the four hands standing outside, and they came with their hickory poles and carried her away.

II

Jezebel was the only one of the Colbert negroes who had come from Africa. All the others were, as they proudly said, Virginians; born and raised on the Dodderidge place or on the estates of their Loudoun County neighbours. But Jezebel was brought over from Guinea, that gold coast of the slave-traders, in the seventeen-eighties — about twenty years before the importation of slaves became illegal. She was sold to her first master on the deck of a British slaver in the port of Baltimore.

Her native village in Africa lay well inland, some four days’ journey from the sea. It was raided and destroyed by a coast tribe which early in the history of the traffic had become slave-hunters for the slavers. That night of fire and slaughter, when she saw her father brained and her four brothers cut down as they fought, old Jezebel now remembered but dimly. It was all over in a few hours; of the village nothing was left but smoking ashes and mutilated bodies. By morning she and her fellow captives were in leg chains and on their march to the sea.

When they reached the coast they were kept in the stockade only long enough to be stripped, shaved all over the body, and drenched with sea water. An English vessel, the Albert Horn, lay at anchor out in the gulf, with nearly a full cargo of negroes stowed on board. The wind was good, and the skipper was waiting impatiently for the booty of this last raid.

Jezebel and the other captives were rowed out in small boats and put on board in leg chains; they came from a fierce cannibal people, and had not been broken in by weeks of discipline in the stockade.

When the Albert Horn was under sail, and the blue lines of the inland mountains began to grow dim, the fetters were taken off the female captives. They were not likely to make trouble.

The Albert Horn, built for the slave trade, had two decks. The negroes were stowed between the upper and lower decks, on a platform as long and as wide as the vessel; but there was only three feet ten inches between the shelf on which they lay and the upper deck which roofed them over. The slaves made the long voyage of from two to three months in a sitting or recumbent position, on a plank floor, with very little space, if any, between their bare bodies. The males were stowed forward of the main hatch, the women aft. All were kept naked throughout the voyage, and their heads and bodies were shaved every fortnight. As there was no drainage of any sort, the slaves’ quarters, and the creatures in them, got very foul overnight. Every morning the “‘tween decks” and its inmates were cleaned off with streams of sea water from the hose. The Captain of the Albert Horn was not a brutal man, and his vessel was a model slaver. Except in rough weather, the males, ironed two and two, were allowed out on the lower deck for a few hours while their platform was being scrubbed and fumigated. At the same time, the women were turned out on the lower after deck without chains.

On the first night after the Albert Horn got under way, the sailors gave Jezebel the name she had borne ever since. When the two hands detailed to watch the after ‘tween decks had seen that all the females were lying in the spaces assigned to them, they put out their lanterns and went on deck to take the air. A little later the second mate, hearing shrieks and screams from the women’s quarters, ran down from his cabin to find the guards flogging a girl they had dragged out from a heap of rolling, howling blacks.

“It’s this here Jezebel made all the row, sir,” one of the men panted.

The mate made a dash and drove at her throat to throttle her, but she was too quick for him. She snapped like a mastiff and bit through the ball of his thumb.

Next morning the mate felt an ominous throbbing in his hand. He reported the fracas to the Captain, saying he didn’t see anything for it but to throw the female gorilla overboard. She could never be tamed.

The skipper feared his mate might be in for a bad infection; but he had a third interest in the cargo, and he wasn’t anxious to throw any of it overboard. He thought he would like to see a girl who could stand up against two men and the cat.

“Clean her off and put a bridle on her, and bring her up,” he told the mate. Himself, he never went near the slave deck; he couldn’t stand the smell.

Jezebel was brought up in heavy irons for his inspection. Her naked back was seamed with welts and bloody cuts, but she carried herself with proud indifference, and there was no plea for mercy in her eyes. The skipper told the seamen in charge to loosen the noose round her neck. As he walked up and down, smoking his pipe, he looked her well over. He judged this girl was worth any three of the women, — as much as the best of the men. Anatomically she was remarkable, for an African negress: tall, straight, muscular, long in the legs. The skipper had a kind of respect for a well-shaped creature; horse, cow, or woman. And he respected anybody who could take a flogging like that without buckling.

He gave orders that Jezebel was not to go back between decks. She was to be kept on the upper deck in all weathers, fastened with a light chain to the deck rail. She was to be given a sailor’s jacket to cover her wounds, and at night she was to be provided with a tarpaulin.

After she was thus isolated, the girl gave no more trouble, — though she always laughed aloud when the second mate passed with his arm in a sling. The voyage was long and rough. Jezebel was knocked about and drenched by heavy seas, and was sometimes seasick, but she made no complaint. When the seamen hosed out the scupper, she took off her jacket and invited the stream of salt water over her body. Except for a few long scars on her back and thighs, there was nothing now to show what had happened the first night she came on board.

When the Albert Horn at last reached Baltimore, her skipper kept her out at anchor until buyers from Maryland and Virginia could be notified and arrive. Jezebel, he noticed, regarded the water line of the city with lively curiosity, quite different from the hopeless indifference on the faces of her fellow captives.

“She’ll make the best sale of the lot,” he told the mate.

In the first boat-load of purchasers who came out to inspect the skipper’s cargo, there was a Dutch dairy farmer. He brought with him the country doctor of his neighbourhood. The dairyman and his friend, the doctor, were in no hurry. They looked over a great number of negroes. To Jezebel they gave a searching physical examination, talking together in the low Dutch vernacular, and asking no questions of the skipper. The dairyman called attention to the whip scars on her body, and beckoned the second mate.

“Disposition?” he asked.

“The niggers who captured her did that. She put up a fight. Strong as an ox.”

The Dutchman himself looked very like an ox, but the doctor looked kind and shrewd. He fumbled in his pocket and brought out a deerskin pouch, from which he took two squares of maple sugar. One he put in his own mouth, and smacked his lips. The other he offered to Jezebel with a questioning smile. She opened her jaws. At this the second mate, standing by, looked the other way. The doctor put the sugar on Jezebel’s tongue. She crunched it, grinned, and stuck out her tongue for more. The doctor gave his friend the deciding nod. The Dutchman paid the skipper’s price, took Jezebel into Baltimore, and stowed her in the heavy wagon in which he had come to town.

When he reached home, he set about breaking in his new wench. On the journey from Baltimore he had discovered that her personal manners were too strong for even a Dutch farmer’s household, so he lodged her in the haymow over the cow barn. She learned to milk the cows and to do all the stable work, but she was kept in the barn and was never allowed to touch the butter. The dairy farmer died in an outbreak of smallpox; his widow promptly sold Jezebel. She had been owned by several masters and had learned some English before the Dodderidge farm steward bought her. She went to the Dodderidges the year that Sapphira was born, and had been in the family ever since.

Until Jezebel was eighty years old, Sapphira had entrusted her to oversee the gardens at the Mill Farm. As late as last spring she still got out to sit in the sun and watch the boys who did the shrubbery and shaped the hedges. In wintertime she stayed in her cabin, sewed carpet-rags, and patched the farm-hands’ shirts and breeches. She meted out justice by giving a slack boy a rough seat in his breeches, and a likely boy a smooth seat. When Manuel, since dead, had come to her whining that “his pants wasn’t comf’able,” she gave him a scornful look and said:

“You ain’t no call to be comf’able, you settin’ down de minute a body’s back’s turned. I wisht I could put dock burs in yo’ pants!”

III

One morning in April Mrs. Blake arrived at the Mill House very early; she had been sent for soon after daybreak. She found her mother in the dining-room, awaiting her.

“Well, Rachel, it’s come at last. They tell me she went very quietly. I want you to go through the linen-press and take what is needed. Open the green chest in the garret and find one of the embroidered nightgowns I used to wear when I was a girl. They’ll be big enough for poor Jezebel now. If they’re yellow with lying so long, Nancy can bleach one with alum and hang it in the sun. Will Saturday be soon enough for the funeral? The weather’s not too warm?”

Her daughter agreed it was not. Mrs. Colbert motioned to the old man standing behind her chair. “Washington, tell Lizzie to come here.”

In a few moments Lizzie appeared, having slipped on a clean apron and rubbed her face vigorously with the Master’s rumpled breakfast napkin. She was barefoot, as usual, and was struggling to swallow a last mouthful of batter-cake. No matter at what hour she was sent for, she was sure to be swallowing a last mouthful of something.

“Yes, Miss Sapphy?” Her hands were meekly crossed over her clean apron.

“Lizzie, I expect you to do me credit this time. I won’t have any skimping for the watchers, as there was when Manuel died.”

Lizzie stared with astonishment and broke out fervently.

“Lawd-a’mighty, Miss Sapphy! Jest as if I’d think of bein’ savin’ fo’ ole Aunt Jezebel! It never would cross my thought! Why, dat Manuel was jist a no-‘count young boy, Missy.”

“Boy or no boy, you put disgrace on me, and it was talked about all up and down the Creek. Cold batter-cakes and ponhos (1) for the watchers; who ever heard of such stinginess! Now remember, there will be two nights to cook for. You are to boil a ham and fry up plenty of middling meat. Mrs. Blake will tell you how many loaves of light bread (2) to bake, and there must be plenty of corn bread, and sugar-cakes and ginger-cakes. Master is going to invite all Mr. Lockheart’s niggers to come over and sit up, and likely some of Jezebel’s grandchildren will come out from Winchester.”

(1) Scrapple.

(2) “Light” bread meant bread of wheat flour, in distinction from corn bread.

“Yes MAM!” Lizzie rolled her eyes that shone like black-and-white china marbles. “Yes mam! I sho’ly will put my bes’ foot for’ard fo’ ole Aunt Jezebel an’ all de yeahs she carry. But dat triflin’ li’l Manuel wa’nt no ‘count nohow, an’ his pappy not much bettah — ”

Mrs. Colbert held up her plump hand. “That will do, Lizzie. Remember this; if you don’t do me credit at Jezebel’s wake, I will send Bluebell back to Loudoun County for good, as sure as I sit here.”

Lizzie put her two hands over her great bosom as if she were taking an oath. Sending Bluebell over to Loudoun County meant selling her there, and Lizzie knew it.

A few moments later Mrs. Blake, passing the kitchen on her way to Jezebel’s cabin, heard Lizzie’s malicious giggle. She stopped and looked in at the door. Lizzie was whispering to Bluebell, who sat drooping over the kitchen table, her elbows spread wide apart, as she sat day in and day out, supposedly helping her mother.

The Colberts, like all well-to-do families, had their own private burying-ground. It lay in a green field, and was enclosed by a wall, — flat slabs of brown stone laid one upon another, with a gate of wrought iron. A wide gravelled path divided the square plot in two halves. On one side were the family graves, with marble headstones. On the other side was the slaves’ graveyard, with slate headstones bearing single names: “Dolly,” “Thomas,” “Manuel,” and so on.

The mounds of masters and servants alike were covered with thick mats of myrtle. At this season innumerable sprays of new green shoots and star-like pale-blue blossoms shot out from the dark creeping vines which clung so close to the earth.

On Saturday afternoon the procession formed to carry Jezebel to the end of all her journeyings. Everyone was in black; the family, the neighbours from up and down the Creek, the Colbert negroes, and the slaves from down in the Hayfield country. Mrs. Blake’s little girls had few dresses of any kind, so they were draped in black shawls lent by their grandmother. Mrs. Colbert herself wore the black crepe she reserved for funerals. She was carried in her chair, and the miller, in his Sunday coat, walked beside her. They followed immediately behind the coffin, which was borne by four of Jezebel’s great-grandsons, come out from Winchester.

While they stood about the grave, Mr. Fairhead made a short address. He recalled Jezebel’s long wanderings; how she had come from a heathen land where people worshipped idols and lived in bloody warfare, to become a devout Christian and an heir to all the Promises. Perhaps her long old age had been granted her that she might fill out in years the full measure of a Christian life. After his last prayer, Lizzie and Bluebell sang “In the Sweet By and By,” and the company dispersed. Jefferson and Washington, as the oldest servants, stayed behind with the great-grandsons to fill up the grave.

That night there was a big supper in the kitchen for the Colbert negroes and all the visitors; a first and second sitting at table. The darkies were always gay after a funeral, and this funeral had pleased everyone. “Miss Sapphy sho’ly give Jezebel a beautiful laying away,” they all agreed.

Washington, serving his master and mistress in the big house, noticed that they, too, were more animated than usual, expressing their satisfaction that things had gone so well and that Jezebel’s young kinsmen had been able to come and carry her. The Master sat long at table; had two helpings of pudding and drank four cups of tea. When at last he rose, his wife said persuasively:

“Surely you don’t mean to go back to the mill tonight, Henry, with your good clothes on.”

“Yes, I think I must. I have been away all day. I want to speak to those boys from town and give them a little money. They will be starting back late tonight. Good night, Sapphira. I expect you are tired, and I hope you sleep well.”

“The same to you,” she said with a placid smile, which changed to an expression of annoyance while her eyes followed him to the door. As she sat there alone, her face grew hard and bitter. A few hours ago, when she was being carried out of the graveyard after the burial, she had seen something which greatly disturbed her. Behind the dark cedars just outside the stone wall, her husband and Nancy stood in deep conversation. The girl was in an attitude of dejection, her head hanging down, her hands clasped together, and the Master, whatever he was saying, was speaking very earnestly, with affectionate solicitude. Sapphira had put her handkerchief to her eyes, afraid that her face might show her indignation. Never before had she seen him expose himself like that. Whatever he was pressing upon that girl, he was not speaking as master to servant; there was nothing to suggest that special sort of kindliness permissible under such circumstances. He was not uttering condolences. It was personal. He had forgotten himself. Now, as she sat at the table, opposite his empty chair, she felt her anger rising. She rang her bell for the old butler.

“Washington, you may take me to my room. Send Till to me.”

Till got Mrs. Colbert into her ruffled nightgown, and stood brushing out her heavy hair. She felt there was something wrong. She began to talk soothingly about the old days at Chestnut Hill. The Mistress scarcely heard her. As she walked toward her bed on Till’s arm, she paused at the window, drew aside the long chintz curtains, and looked out toward the mill. There was a red patch in the darkness down there; the lights in the miller’s room were burning. She let the curtain fall and continued her way to the wide four-post bed. Till said good-night, blew out the candles, and went away.

Left alone, the Mistress could not go to sleep. Her training and her own good sense had schooled her to know that there are very few situations in life worth getting wrought up about. But tonight she was angry. She was hurt — and remorseful. Because she was hurt, her mind kept going back to Chestnut Hill and her father. She wished she had been kinder to him in the years when he was crippled and often in pain. She wished she had shown him a little tenderness. His eyes used to ask for it sometimes, she remembered. She had been solicitous and resolutely cheerful; kept him up to the mark, saw that his body servant neglected nothing. But she knew there was something he wanted more than he wanted clean linen every morning, or to have his tea just as he liked it. She had never given in to him, never humoured his weakness. In those days she had not known the meaning of illness. To be crippled and incapacitated, not to come and go at will, to be left out of things as if one were in one’s dotage — she had no realization of what that felt like, none at all. Invalids were to be kept clean and comfortable, greeted cheerily; that was their life.

The longer she lay awake thinking of those things in the far past, the more lonely and wretched and injured she felt herself to be tonight. Her usual fortitude seemed to break up altogether. She reached for it, but it was not there. Strange alarms and suspicions began to race through her mind. How far could she be deceived and mocked by her own servants in her own house? What was the meaning of that intimate conversation which had gone on under her very eyes this afternoon?

Unable to lie still any longer, she got cautiously out of bed, reaching for her cane and her armchair. Pushing the chair along beside her, she got to the window and again held back the curtain. The ruddy square of light still burned in the dark mill. She sat down in the chair and reflected. Hours ago she had heard Nancy put her straw tick outside the door. But was she there now? Perhaps she did not always sleep there. A substitute? — There were four young coloured girls, not counting Bluebell, who might easily take Nancy’s place on that pallet. Very likely they did take her place, and everyone knew it. Could Till, even, be trusted? Besides, Till went early to her cabin — she would be the last to know.

The Mistress sat still, scarcely breathing, overcome by dread. The thought of being befooled, hoodwinked in any way, was unendurable to her. There were candles on her dressing-table, but she had no way to light them. Her throat was dry and seemed closed up. She felt afraid to call aloud, afraid to take a full breath. A faintness was coming over her. She put out her hand and resolutely rang her clapper bell.

The chamber door opened, and someone staggered in.

“Yes mam, yes mam! Whassa matter, Missy?”

Nancy’s sleepy, startled voice. Mrs. Colbert dropped back in her chair and drew a long, slow breath. It was over. Her shattered, treacherous house stood safe about her again. She was in her own room, wakened out of a dream of disaster. — But she must see it through, what she had begun.

“Nancy, I’m taken bad. Run out to the kitchen and blow up the coals and put the kettle on. Then go for your mother. I must get my feet into hot water.”

Nancy scurried down the long hall and out to the kitchen. She was wide awake now, and alarmed. She wasn’t a girl to hold a grudge.

Till came, sooner than her mistress would have thought possible. Nancy brought the foot-tub and the big iron teakettle. Till sat on the floor rhythmically stroking her mistress’s swollen ankles and knees, murmuring: “It’s all right, Missy. They is no worse than common. It’s just a chill you caught, waitin’ out there by the graveside.”

When the Mistress was again put to bed, Till begged to stay with her. But Mrs. Colbert, comforted by the promptness and sympathy of her servants, thanked them both, said the pain was gone now, and she would sleep better alone. As they helped her from her chair she had looked once more from her window: the miller’s lights were still burning in the west room of the mill. Was the man worrying over some lawsuit he had never told her about, she wondered? Or was he, perhaps, reading his religious books? She knew he pondered at times upon how we are saved or lost. That was the disadvantage of having been raised a Lutheran. In her Church all those things had been decided long ago by heads much wiser than Henry’s. She had married the only Colbert who had a conscience, and she sometimes wished he hadn’t quite so much.

Behind the square of candlelight down there, the miller, in his mill clothes, was sitting with his Bible open on the table before him, but he was no longer reading. Jezebel’s life, as Mr. Fairhead had summed it up, seemed a strange instance of predestination. For her, certainly, her capture had been a deliverance. Yet he hated the whole system of slavery. His father had never owned a slave. The Quakers who came down from Pennsylvania believed that slavery would one day be abolished. In the North there were many people who called themselves abolishers.

Henry Colbert knew he had a legal right to manumit any of his wife’s negroes; but that would be an outrage to her feelings, and an injustice to the slaves themselves. Where would they go? How would they live? They had never learned to take care of themselves or to provide for tomorrow. They were a part of the Dodderidge property and the Dodderidge household. Of all the negro men on the place, Sampson, his head mill-hand, was the only one who might be able to get work and make a living out in the world. He was a tall, straight mulatto with a good countenance, thoughtful, intelligent. His head was full behind the ears, shaped more like a melon lying down than a peanut standing on end. Colbert trusted Sampson’s judgment, and believed he could get a place for him among the Quaker mills in Philadelphia. He had considered buying Sampson from Sapphira and sending him to Pennsylvania a free man.

Three years ago he had called Sampson into his room one night, and proposed this plan to him. Sampson did not interrupt; he stood in his manly, responsible way, listening intently to his master. But when it was his turn to speak, he broke down. This was his home. Here he knew everybody. He didn’t want to go out among strangers. Besides, Belle, his wife, was a slack worker, and his children were little. He could never keep them in a city as well off as they were here. What ever had put such a notion in Mister Henry’s head? Wasn’t he real smart about his work? Belle, he knew, wasn’t much account to help down at the house, but she was good to the chillun, an’ she didn’t do no harm. Anyhow, he’d a’most sooner leave the chillun than leave the mill, when they’d got everything fixed up so nice and could bolt finer white flour than you could buy in town.

“I guess I’d miss you more than you’d miss the mill, Sampson. We’ll say no more about it, if that’s how you feel,” said the miller, rising and putting his hand on Sampson’s shoulder. There it ended. Sampson never afterward referred to this proposal, nor did his master.

On this night after Jezebel’s burial, Henry Colbert had been reading over certain marked passages in the Book he accepted as a complete guide to human life. He had turned to all the verses marked with a large S. Joseph, Daniel, and the prophets had been slaves in foreign lands, and had brought good out of their captivity. Nowhere in his Bible had he ever been able to find a clear condemnation of slavery. There were injunctions of kindness to slaves, mercy and tolerance. Remember them in bonds as bound with them. Yes, but nowhere did his Bible say that there should be no one in bonds, no one at all. — And Henry had often asked himself, were we not all in bonds? If Lizzie, the cook, was in bonds to Sapphira, was she not almost equally in bonds to Lizzie?

The miller knew the hour must be getting late. His big silver watch he had left up at the house, on his wife’s dressing-table. But he and the negroes could tell time by the stars. At this season of the year, if the Big Dipper had set under the dark spruce-clad hills behind Rachel’s house, it would be past midnight. He opened his north window and looked out. Yes, the Dipper had gone down. The air of the soft, still, spring night came in at the window. There was no sound but the creek, pouring steadily over its rocky bottom. As he stood there, he repeated to himself some verses of a favourite hymn:

God moves in a mysterious way
   His wonders to perform.

Deep in unfathomable mines
   Of never failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs
   And works His sovereign will.

We must rest, he told himself, on our confidence in His design. Design was clear enough in the stars, the seasons, in the woods and fields. But in human affairs —? Perhaps our bewilderment came from a fault in our perceptions; we could never see what was behind the next turn of the road. Whenever he went to Winchester, he called upon a wise old Quaker. This man, though now seventy, firmly believed that in his own lifetime he would see one of those great designs accomplished; that the Lord had already chosen His heralds and His captains, and a morning would break when all the black slaves would be free.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/cather/willa/sapphira/book3.html

Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30