It was on a lovely spring morning, and when I marked the sunlight dancing here and there, its beauty seemed to mock my sadness. For my master, whose restless, craving, vicious nature roved about day and night, seeking whom to devour, had just left me, with stinging, scorching words; words that scathed ear and brain like fire. O, how I despised him! I thought how glad I should be, if some day when he walked the earth, it would open and swallow him up, and disencumber the world of a plague.
When he told me that I was made for his use, made to obey his command in every thing; that I was nothing but a slave, whose will must and should surrender to his, never before had my puny arm felt half so strong. So deeply was I absorbed in painful reflections afterwards, that I neither saw nor heard the entrance of any one, till the voice of William sounded close beside me.
Page 30 I love you. O, Linda, isn't this a bad world? Every body seems so cross and unhappy. I wish I had died when poor father did.
But we, who were slave-children, without father or mother, could not expect to be happy. We must be good; perhaps that would bring us contentment. They are all the time troubling me. It seemed that the brother of master Nicholas had pleased himself with making up stories about William. Master Nicholas said he should be flogged, and he would do it.
Whereupon he went to work; but William fought bravely, and the young master, finding he was getting the better of him, undertook to tie his hands behind him. He failed in that likewise. By dint of kicking and fisting, William came out of the skirmish none the worse for a few scratches. He continued to discourse on his young master's meanness ; how he whipped the little boys, but was a perfect coward when a tussle ensued between him and white boys of his own size.
On such occasions he always took to his legs. William had other charges to make against him. One was his rubbing up pennies with quicksilver, and passing them off for quarters of a dollar on an old man who kept a fruit stall. William was often sent to buy fruit, and he earnestly inquired Page 31 of me what he ought to do under such circumstances. I told him it was certainly wrong to deceive the old man, and that it was his duty to tell him of the impositions practised by his young master.
I assured him the old man would not be slow to comprehend the whole, and there the matter would end. William thought it might with the old man, but not with him. He said he did not mind the smart of the whip, but he did not like the idea of being whipped. While I advised him to be good and forgiving I was not unconscious of the beam in my own eye. It was the very knowledge of my own shortcomings that urged me to retain, if possible, some sparks of my brother's God-given nature.
I had not lived fourteen years in slavery for nothing.
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I had felt, seen, and heard enough, to read the characters, and question the motives, of those around me. The war of my life had begun; and though one of God's most powerless creatures, I resolved never to be conquered. Alas, for me! If there was one pure, sunny spot for me, I believed it to be in Benjamin's heart, and in another's, whom I loved with all the ardor of a girl's first love. My owner knew of it, and sought in every way to render me miserable.
He did not resort to corporal punishment, but to all the petty, tyrannical ways that human ingenuity could devise. I remember the first time I was punished. It was in the month of February. My grandmother had taken my old shoes, and replaced them with a new pair.
I needed them; for several inches of snow had fallen, and it still continued to fall. When I walked Page 32 through Mrs. Flint's room, their creaking grated harshly on her refined nerves. She called me to her, and asked what I had about me that made such a horrid noise. I told her it was my new shoes. She then sent me a long distance, on an errand. As I went through the snow, my bare feet tingled.
That night I was very hoarse; and I went to bed thinking the next day would find me sick, perhaps dead. What was my grief on waking to find myself quite well! I had imagined if I died, or was laid up for some time, that my mistress would feel a twinge of remorse that she had so hated "the little imp," as she styled me. It was my ignorance of that mistress that gave rise to such extravagant imaginings. Flint occasionally had high prices offered for me; but he always said, "She don't belong to me.
She is my daughter's property, and I have no right to sell her. My young mistress was still a child, and I could look for no protection from her. I loved her, and she returned my affection. I once heard her father allude to her attachment to me; and his wife promptly replied that it proceeded from fear. This put unpleasant doubts into my mind. Did the child feign what she did not feel? I concluded it must be the latter. I said to myself, "Surely, little children are true. My mistress had been accusing Page 33 me of an offence, of which I assured her I was perfectly innocent; but I saw, by the contemptuous curl of her lip, that she believed I was telling a lie.
I wondered for what wise purpose God was leading me through such thorny paths, and whether still darker days were in store for me.
As I sat musing thus, the door opened softly, and William came in. My first thought was that Benjamin was killed. When he did, his master was angry, and began to whip him. He resisted. Master and slave fought, and finally the master was thrown. Benjamin had cause to tremble; for he had thrown to the ground his master—one of the richest men in town. I anxiously awaited the result. That night I stole to my grandmother's house, and Benjamin also stole thither from his master's.
My grandmother had gone to spend a day or two with an old friend living in the country. I am going away. I looked at him to see whether he was in earnest. I saw it all in his firm, set mouth.
Beyond Endurance: When a Child Dies, 2nd Edition
I implored him not Page 34 to go, but he paid no heed to my words. He said he was no longer a boy, and every day made his yoke more galling. He had raised his hand against his master, and was to be publicly whipped for the offence. I reminded him of the poverty and hardships he must encounter among strangers. I told him he might be caught and brought back; and that was terrible to think of.
He grew vexed, and asked if poverty and hardships with freedom, were not preferable to our treatment in slavery. No, I will not stay. Let them bring me back. We don't die but once.
Poor mother! Farewells were exchanged, and the bright, kind boy, endeared to us by so many acts of love, vanished from our sight.
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It is not necessary to state how he made his escape. Suffice it to say, he was on his way to New York when a violent storm overtook the vessel. The captain said he must put into the nearest port. This alarmed Benjamin, who was aware that he would be advertised in every port near his own town.
His embarrassment was Page 35 noticed by the captain. To port they went. There the advertisement met the captain's eye. Benjamin so exactly answered its description, that the captain laid hold on him, and bound him in chains. The storm passed, and they proceeded to New York. Before reaching that port Benjamin managed to get off his chains and throw them overboard. He escaped from the vessel, but was pursued, captured, and carried back to his master.
When my grandmother returned home and found her youngest child had fled, great was her sorrow; but, with characteristic piety, she said, "God's will be done. Yes, news was heard. The master was rejoicing over a letter, announcing the capture of his human chattel.