He was a tender plant, touchingly sensitive, and when I told him we were
to send word to his mother that he liked his home, his joy was a
pleasure to witness.
"Miss North says we may have some flowers, and we'd better go back,
Willie, and see about getting the spot ready - she had her seed box out
last night, but I guess she'll give us plants too, to put in the
He was very thoughtful, and would not stay too long for anything, he
said. Aunt Hildy looked after them, and sighed with the thoughts that
rose within, but said no word.
The three weeks of Mr. and Mrs. Waterman's stay were at an end.
"On the morrow," said Mary, "we go to Aunty Goodwin's. I want to go, and
dread to leave. But is that Matthias coming over the hill? It is, and I
have something to tell him. I have meant to do it before, but there was
really no opportunity. Come out with me, and let's sit down under the
elm tree while I tell him. Come, Allie," and she lifted the blue-eyed
baby tenderly. Oh, how sweet she was! and I wondered how we could bear
to lose her. She crowed with delight at Matthias' approach, and at
Mary's suggestion he took a seat beside us.
"I have something to tell you now; open wide your ears, Uncle Peter."
"What's dat you say, Miss Molly; got some news from home?"
"Yes, I have news for you from your own."
"Oh, Miss Molly, don't for de Lord's sake wait a minit!"
"Your wife, whom Mr. Sumner so cruelly sold for you, is very happy now,
for she is free, Matthias."
"Done gone to hevin, does you mean? Tell it all," said the old man, who
"She did not live two months, but she was in good hands. I accidentally
met her mistress, who told me about her. She said she had kept her in
the house to wait on her, for she liked her very much. But she seemed
sad, and grew tired, and one morning she did not appear, and they found
her in her little room, next that of Mrs. Sanders, quite dead and
looking peaceful and happy. Her mistress felt badly, for she meant to do
well by her. They thought some heart trouble caused her death."
"Oh, my! oh, my! dat heart ob hern was done broke when dat man sold our
little gal. Oh, I knowed it ud neber heal up agin! but tank de Lord
she's free up dar. Oh, Miss Emily! can't no murderers go in troo de
gate? Dat Mas'r Sumner can't neber get dar any more, Miss Molly?"
"Yes, Matthias. Dry your tears, for I've something good to tell. Your
oldest boy, John, has a good master, and is buying his freedom. They
help him along. He drives a team, and is a splendid fellow. He will be
free soon, and will come to see you, perhaps to live with you. This is
all I know, but isn't it a great deal?"
Matthias stood on his feet, his eyes dilating as they turned full on
Mary, his hands clenched, his form raised as erect as it was possible
for him, and his breast heaving with great emotion, as from his lips
came slowly these words:
"Do you mean it, Miss Molly? Is you foolin, or is you in dead earnest
"It is truth, every word I say."
"Oh, oh, oh!" and he sank on the seat beside us, covering his face with
both hands, while tears fell at his feet, and as they touched the grass
they shone in the sun like large round drops of dew. I thought they were
as white and pure as though his skin was fair. And he wept not alone,
for we wept with him.
Allie reached to bury her fingers in his mass of woolly, curling hair,
and as he felt their tender tips, he raised his head and put out his
hands to her, saying:
"Come, picaninny, come and help me be glad. Oh, Canaan, bright Canaan!
Oh, de Lord has hearn my prayer an' what kin I say, what kin I do, an'
how kin I wait fur to see dat chile? He's jes like his mother, pooty, I
know. Oh, picaninny, holler louder! le's tell it to the people that my
John is a comin' fur to see me, dat he haint got no use fur a mas'r any
more," and up and down he walked before us, while Allie made
demonstrations of joy.
It was a strange picture. "Oh, Canaan!" still he sang, and "De New
Jerusalem," until I really feared his joy would overcome him, and was
glad to see Louis coming toward us. He took a seat beside me, and I was
about to tell him the wonderful news, when Matthias, who noticed him,
handed Allie to her mother, and falling on his knees before Louis, cried
"Oh, Mas'r Louis, help me, for de good Lord's sake! will you help me,
"Oh, yes, my dear fellow!" and he laid his hand on him tenderly; "tell
me just what you want me to do."
"Oh, my boy! Miss Molly tells me my own boy John have got his freedom
mos out, an' he's comin' to find me. I can't wait, Mas'r Louis; 'pears
like a day'll be a year. I mout die, he mout die too. I'll sen' him my
buryin' money, an' ef tant enough, can't you sen' a little more? an'
I'll work it out, I will, sure, an' no mistake; fur de sake of the
right, Mas'r Louis, an' for to make my ole heart glad. Will you do it?"
"I certainly will, Matthias; but you are excited now."
"Bless ye. May de heavins open fur to swallow me in ef I don't clar up
ebery cent you pays fur me. But you can't tell. Oh, ye don't know!" and
again he walked, clapped his hands, and sang, "Oh, Canaan, bright
Canaan!" till, pausing suddenly, he said, "Guess I better shuffle ober
to tell Peg - 'pears like I'm done gone clar out whar I can't know
nothin';" and with "good arternoon" he left us, swinging his hat in his
hand, and singing still "Oh, Canaan!" as he traveled over the hill
We were all glad for Matthias, and Clara said:
"Let us rejoice with them that rejoice; and Louis, my dear boy, write at
once to the gentleman who owns John, and pay him whatever he says is
due. We can do it, and we should, for the poor, tired heart of his
father cannot afford to wait when a promise lies so near. Let us help
him to lay hold upon it."
"Amen," said Aunt Hildy. "I'll help ten dollars' worth; taint much."
"But you shall keep it for John," said Clara; "he will need something
after he gets here."
The next morning Matthias came to deliver his bank-book to Louis,
"Get the buryin' money; get it and send it fur me, please."
Louis told him to keep his bank-book.
"You shall see your boy as soon as money can get him here."
"Oh, Mas'r Louis!" and he grasped both his hands; "de Lord help this ole
nigger to pay you. I's willin' to work dese fingers clean to de bone."
Our two boys got on bravely. The first Saturday night we sent them home
with loaded baskets, and each with a pail of new milk, which we knew
would be a treat to the children, and in their little purses the amount
promised by Louis. Matthias took them to their homes, and Louis went
for them on Monday morning, and when he returned he said:
"The pictures are growing, Emily. Bright eyes and rosy cheeks will come
Mr. and Mrs. Waterman were leaving us. We were kissing "our baby"
good-bye. How we disliked to say the word! And when looking back at
Matthias after we started, she cried, "Mah, mah!" I laughed and cried
together. Louis and I parted with them reluctantly at the depot, and our
last words were:
"Send John right along."
"We will," they answered, as the train rode away and baby Allie pressed
her shining face against the window. It was only two weeks and two days
from that day that Louis, Clara and I (she said after our marriage "Call
me Clara, for we are sisters - never say 'mother Desmonde;' to say mother
when you have such a blessed one of your own is robbery to her") drove
to the depot to meet John. Matthias said to us,
"You go fur him, ef you please, fur I can never meet him in de crowd; I
want to wait by de road an' see him cum along. Mighty feared I'll make a
noony o' myself."
The train stopped, and Louis left us in the carriage and went to find
him. My heart jumped as I thought he might not be there, but ere I had
time to say it to Clara, he came in sight, walking proudly erect by the
side of Louis, as handsome a colored man as could be seen. He was quite
light, tall as Louis, and well proportioned, his mouth pleasantly shaped
and not large, his nose suited to a Greek rather than to a negro, and
over his forehead, which was broad and full, black hair fell in
tight-curling rings, - resembling Matthias in nothing save perhaps his
eyes. It did not seem possible this could be a man coming from the power
of a master - how I dislike that term, a slave - this noble looking
fellow; I shuddered involuntarily, and grasped his hand in welcome with
a fervent "God bless you, John; I welcome you heartily." Clara stretched
forth her little hand also, saying:
"John, you can never know how glad we are." He stood with his hat
raised, and his large beautiful eyes turned toward us filled with
feeling as he answered:
"Ladies, you can never realize the debt I have to pay you. It seems a
dream that I am here, a free man with an old father waiting to see his
son; oh, sir," and he turned to Louis, "my heart is full!"
"We do not doubt it, dear fellow, but get into the carriage and let
Gipsy take us to the hills. She knows your father waits. Now go, Gipsy,"
and the willing creature seemed inspired, going at a quick pace as if
she understood her mission.
I saw Matthias sitting on a log a little this side of our home, shading
his eyes with his hand, and when John spied him, he laid his hand on his
heart and said:
"Please let me get out and walk; excuse me, sir, but I cannot sit here."
We respected his feelings and held Gipsy back, that he might with his
long strides reach his father before us, which he did. When Matthias saw
him walking toward him, he rose to his feet and the two men approached
each other with uncovered heads. At last, when about ten feet apart,
Matthias stopped and cried:
"John, oh, John!"
"Father, father, I am here," and with one bound he reached him, threw
his arms about him, while Matthias' head fell on his shoulder; and here,
as we reached them, they stood speechless with the great joy that had
come to them. Two souls delivered from bondage - two white souls bathed
in pure sunlight of my native skies. I can never forget this scene. We
spoke no word to them, but as we passed them John spoke, saying:
"Sir, will you take my father's arm? He feels weak and I am not strong."
I took the reins and Louis, springing to the ground, stepped between,
and each taking his arm they walked together up to the door of our home
where Aunt Hildy, mother, father, Ben, Hal and Mary, Mrs. Davis, Jane
North and Aunt Peg, waited to receive them. When Matthias saw Peg he
"Come, Peg, come and kiss him; this is my John sure enuf." Supper waited
and the table was spread for all. Mr. Davis gave thanks and spoke
feelingly of the one among us who had been delivered from the yoke of
"May we be able to prove ourselves worthy of his great love, and
confidence, and be forever mindful of all those both in the North and
South who wait, as he has waited, for deliverance." Matthias grew calm,
and when they left us to walk home, Louis and I went with them. On the
road over John said to Louis:
"Sir, I am greatly indebted to you, and I am anxious to go to work at
once and pay my debt."
"You owe me nothing," said Louis; "I have no claim upon your money or
time; I will help you in every way possible, and my reward will be found
in the great joy and comfort you will bring to your father in his old
"This is too much," said John.
"Not enough," said Louis, and at Aunt Peg's vine-covered lattice 'neath
which he stood, we said good-night and turned toward home, while in our
hearts lay mirrored, another fadeless picture.
How the days of this year flew past us, we were borne along swiftly on
their wings, and every week was filled to overflowing with pleasant care
and work. John was called in the South after his master's name, but now
he said, inasmuch as he had left him and the old home in Newbern, it
would seem better to him to be called by his father's name, and so he
took his place among us as John Jones. He went to work with a will,
became a great friend to Ben and helped him wonderfully, for between the
saw-mill, the farm with its stock-raising and broom trade, which really
was getting to be a good business, Ben was more than busy.
John was a mechanic naturally; he was clever at most anything he put his
mind on, "and never tried to get shet of work;" and his daily work
proved his worth among us. Matthias worked and sang the long days
through, and all was bright and beautiful before him. He tried to think
John's angel mother could look down from "hevin" on him, and it gave him
pleasure to feel so.
When the fall came John said to Louis:
"I want to know something. I promised the boys and gals that when I got
free I'd speak a few words for them, and I must learn something."
So he came regularly to Louis through the winter evenings, and in a
little time he could send a readable letter to the friends down South.
Newbern was a nice place, had nice people, he told us, and he had been
well treated and permitted to learn to read, but the writing he could
not find time to master; he was skilful in figures, and Louis was very
proud of his rapid improvement.
In our meetings he gradually came to feel at home, and at last surprised
us one evening by a recital of his life, and an earnest appeal to
Christians to forget not those who looked to the star in the North as to
a light that promised them freedom and the comforts of a home. His
large, expressive eyes grew luminous with feeling, and as he stood, rapt
in his own thought, which carried him back to the old home, he seemed
like a tower of strength in our midst, and when at the close of the
meeting, as we walked behind them, he took his father's arm, I heard
"John, you's done made me proud as Loosfer."
And his handsome son bowed his head as he answered:
"Thank the God who made us all to be brothers that I have the power to
tell these thoughts that rise within me. You feel just as I do, father,
only you can't express it, because they did not let you grow. The heavy
weight of slavery has held you close to the ground, and this is the
foundation of the system. The ignorance of the chattel is the life that
feeds the master's power. Like horses, if slaves knew this power, they
could break their bondage, and no hand on earth could stop them."
Among the pleasant occurrences of this summer were the picnics of the
mill children, who enjoyed two days in July and two days in August
rambling in the woods and taking dinner in the old hemlock grove, where
the trees had been so lavish of their gifts that a soft carpet of their
fallen leaves covered the ground the long year through. The coolness of
this beautiful shelter was most refreshing, and it seemed as if nature
knew just how much room was needed to spread our lunch-cloth, for there
was the nicest spot in the world right in the heart of the grove, and as
we sat around our lowly table every third or fourth person had a
splendid hemlock tree to lean against. This was a rare treat to the mill
children, and oh, the faces of the pictures we painted in these days.
Willie and Burton both had their own friends with them, and when in
conversation Louis spoke of the work of repairing the church and putting
in new pews, Burton Brown said:
"My father can do such work."
"Can you, Mr. Brown?" said Louis.
"Yes, sir," he replied; "working in lumber is my trade; change and hard
luck forced me into the mill."
I cannot tell you of all the events that occurred among us, but when the
smoke from a new chimney rose in the very spot almost where Aunt Hildy's
cottage stood, it was due to the fact that a new double house had been
erected on a splendid lot, and Willie and Burton were living there with
Mrs. Moore had grown young looking, though the grey hairs that mingled
with the brown still held their places. Mr. Brown did not meet
temptations here, and as Aunt Hildy said:
"Headin' him off in a Christian way was the thing that saved him; poor
critter, his stomach gnawed, and he needed just them bitters I made for
him, and Louis' kind treatment and planning to help him be born agin,
and its done good and strong, jest as I knew it would be."
Two more little mill boys were brought to Jane to take the places of
Willie and Burton, and Louis kept walking forward, turning neither to
the right nor left, bringing the comforts of living to the hearts that
had known only the gathering of crumbs from the tables of the rich, and
the few scattering pennies that chanced occasionally to fall from their
Clara's glad smile and happy words made a line of sunshine in our lives,
and the three years following this one, which had brought so many
pleasant changes, were as jewels in the coronet of active thought and
work, which we were day by day weaving for ourselves and each other.
When Southern Mary left us, she gave to Aunt Hildy something to help
make out Jane North's pension papers, and the first step Aunt Hildy took
toward doing this was in the fall of 1853, when she painted Jane's house
inside and out. Then in the next year she built a new fence for her, and
insisted on helping Louis make some improvements needed to give more
room, and from this time the old homestead where Jane's father and
mother had lived and died, became the children's home, with Jane as its
presiding genius, having help to do the work. From six to eight children
were with her; three darling little girls whom Louis found in the
streets of a city in the winter of 1855, were brought to the Home by
him, and he considered them prizes.
To be independent in thought and action was Louis' wisdom. He had regard
for the needs of children as well as of adults, for he remembered that
the girls and boys are to be the men and women of the years to come, and
to help them help themselves was his great endeavor.
"For this," he would say, "is just what our God does for us, Emily. He
teaches the man who constantly observes all things around him, that the
proper use of his bounty is what he most needs to know, and to live by
the side of natural laws, moving parallel with them, is the only way to
truthfully solve life's master problem. Yea, Emily, painting pictures is
grand work; to see the ideal growing as a reality about us, to know we
are the instruments in God's hands for doing great good; and are not the
years verifying the truth of what I said to you, when a boy I told you I
needed your help, and also that you did not know yourself? I knew the
depth of your wondrous nature. My own Emily, you are a glorious woman,"
and as tenderly as in the olden days, with the great strength of his
undying love, he gathered me in silence to his heart. How many nights I
passed to the land of dreams thinking, "Oh, if my Louis should die!"
Father and mother were enjoying life, and when Aunt Phebe came to see
us, bringing a wee bit of a blue-eyed daughter, she said, "If I should
have to leave her, I should die with the knowledge that she would find a
home among you here."
"I don't see why we haint thought out sooner," said Aunt Hildy; "you see
folks are ready, waitin', only they don't know whar to begin such work,
and now there's Jane North, I'll be bound she'd a gone deeper and deeper
into tattlin', ef the right one hadn't teched her in a tender spot, and
now she's jest sot her heart into the work, and as true as you live,
she's growin' handsome in doin' it. I'm ashamed of myself to think I
have wasted so much time. Oh, ef I'd got my eyes open thirty years ago."
"Better late than never," said Aunt Phebe; "live and learn; it takes one
life to teach us how to prize it, but the days to come will be full of
fruit to our children, I hope."
"Wall ef we sow the wind we reap the whirlwind sure, Miss Dayton."
Aunt Phebe was very desirous that John should see Mr. Dayton, which he
did, and an offer to study with him the higher mathematics was gladly
accepted, and between these two men sprang a friendship which was
Uncle Dayton had helped many a one through the tangled maze of Euclid
problems and their like, and when John walked along by his side in ease
and pleasure, Mr. Dayton was delighted; and when he came to see us, he
"The fellow is a man, he's a man clear through.
"Why," said he, "I was just the one to carry him along all right. I was
the first man to take a colored boy into a private school, and I did it
under protest, losing some of the white boys, whose parents would not
let them stay; not much of a loss either," he added, "though they
behaved nearly as well as the colored boys I took. I belonged at the
time to the Baptist Church; the colored woman, whose two sons I received
into my school, was a member of the same church; three boys, whose
parents were my brothers and sisters in the faith, were withdrawn, and
the minister who had baptized us all, and declared us to be one in the
name of the humble Nazarene, also withdrew his son from my school, being
unwilling to have him recite in the class with these two boys, whose
skin was almost as white as his own. The natural inference was, that he
considered himself of more consequence than the Almighty, for he
certainly had given us all to him, and I had verily thought the man
meant to help God do part of his work, but this proved conclusively that
the Lord had it all to do - at any rate that which was not nice enough
for the parson - and it took a large piece of comfort out of my heart. I
was honest in trying to do my duty, and it grieved me to think he was
not. Another young colored boy whom I took, is a physician in our city
to-day, and another who came to my house to be instructed has been
graduated at the Normal School of our State with high honors, being
chosen as the valedictorian of the class, and he is to-day principal of
a Philadelphia school.
"I tell you this truth has always been before me, and I have run the
risk of my life almost daily in practising upon it. My school was really
injured for a time, and dwindled down to a few scholars, but I kept
right along, and the seed which was self-sowing, sprang up around me,
and to-day I have more than I can do, and the people know I am right."
The blue eyes of Mr. Dayton sparkled as he paused in his recital,
running his fingers through his hair, and for a time evidently wandering
in the labyrinthine walks of the soul's mathematics, whose beautifully
defined laws might make all things straight, and it was only the sight
of John's towering form in the doorway that roused him, and he said:
"I have brought to you Davies' Legendre. I thought he would receive more
thanks in the years to come than now, for is it not always so? Are not
those who move beyond the prescribed limits of the circle of to-day,
unappreciated, and must we not often wait for the grave to cover their
bodies, and their lives to be written, ere we realize what their hearts
tried to do for us? It is a sad fact, and one which shapes itself in the
mould of a selfish ignorance, which covers as a crust the tender growing
beauty of our inner natures.
It was a cold day in December, 1856, when we were startled to see Jane
coming over the hill in such a hurried way that we feared something was
the matter with the children. These children were dear to me. Hal and
Mary had a beautiful boy two and a half years old, but no bud had as yet
nestled against my heart.
I met her at the gate and asked, "What's the matter with the children?"
"Go into the house, Emily _De_-mond, 'taint the children, it's me." She
wanted us all to sit down together.
"Oh! dear, dear me, what can I do? I'm out of my head almost."
We gathered together in the middle room, and waited for her to tell us,
but she sat rocking, as if her life depended on it, full five minutes
before she could speak - it seemed an hour to me - finally she screamed
"He's come back!"
"Whom do you mean?" I cried, while mother and Aunt Hildy exchanged
"He came last night; he's over to the Home, Miss Patten, d'ye hear?"
"Jane," said Aunt Hildy in a voice that sounded so far away it
frightened me, "do you mean Daniel?"
"Yes, yes; he's come back, and he wants me to forgive him, and I must
tell it, he wants me to marry him. I sat up all night talkin' and
thinkin' what I can do."
"Jane," said Aunt Hildy, in that same strange voice, "has he got any
"Both of 'em dead. Oh, Miss Patten, you'll die, I know you'll die!"
"No, I shan't. I died when they went away."
"What can I do, Miss Patten? Oh, some of you _do_ speak! Mis' _De_-mond,