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« Well,” said his wife, after the business of the tea-table was getting rather slack, “and what have they been doing in the Senate ?”
Now, it was a very unusual thing for gentle little Mrs. Bird ever to trouble her head with what was going on in the house of the state, very wisely considering that she had enough to do to mind her own. Mr. Bird, therefore, opened his eyes in surprise, and said,
“ Not very much of importance."
4. “Well; but is it true that they have been passing a law forbidding people to give meat and drink to those poor colored folks that come along? I heard that they were talking of some such law, but I didn't think that any Christian legislature would pass it !"
“ Why, Mary, you are getting to be a politician all at once."
“No, nonsense! I wouldn't give a fip for all your politics, generally, but I think this is something downright cruel and unchristian. I hope, my dear, no such law has been passed.”
5. “ There has been a law passed forbidding people to help off the slaves that come over from Kentucky, my dear; so much of that thing has been done by these reckless abolitionists, that our brethren in Kentucky are very strongly excited, and it seems necessary, and no more than Christian and kind, that something should be done by our state to quiet the excitement."
“And what is the law? It don't forbid us to shelter these poor creatures a night, does it, and to give them something comfortable to eat, and a few old clothes, and send them quietly about their business ?”
“Why, yes, my dear; that would be aiding and abetting, you know.”
6. Mrs. Bird was a timid, blushing little woman, of about four feet in height, and with mild blue eyes, and a peachblow complexion, and the gentlest, sweetest voice in the world;
-as for courage, a moderate-sized cock-turkey had been known to put her to rout at the very first gobble, and a stout house-dog, of moderate capacity, would bring her into subjection merely by the show of his teeth. Her husband and children were her entire world, and in these she ruled more by entreaty and persuasion than by command or argument.
7. There was only one thing that was capable of arousing her; and that provocation came in on the side of her unusually gentle and sympathetic nature;- anything in the shape of cruelty would throw her into a passion, which was the more alarming and inexplicable in proportion to the general softness of her nature. Generally the most indulgent and easy to be entreated of all mothers, still her boys had a very reverent remembrance of a most vehement chastisement she once bestowed on them, because she found them leagued with several graceless boys of the neighborhood, stoning a defenseless kitten.
8. “ I'll tell you what,” Master Bill used to say, "I was scared that time. Mother came at me so that I thought she was crazy, and I was whipped and tumbled off to bed, without my supper, before I could get over wondering what had come about; and, after that, I heard mother crying outside the door, which made me feel worse than all the rest. I'll tell you what,” he'd say, “we boys never stoned another kitten !”
9. On the present occasion, Mrs. Bird rose quickly, with very red cheeks, which quite improved her general appearance, and walked up to her husband with quite a resolute air, and said in a determined tone,
“Now, John, I want to know if you think such a law as that is right and Christian ?”
“ You won't shoot me, now, Mary, if I say I do!”
"I never could have thought it of you, John; you didn't vote for it?”
“Even so, my fair politician.”
10. “You ought to be ashamed, John! Poor, homeless, houseless creatures! It's a shameful, wicked, abominable law, and I'll break it, for one, the first time I get a chance ; and I hope I shall have a chance, I do. Things have got to a pretty pass, if a woman can't give a warm supper and a bed to poor, starving creatures, just because they are slaves, and have been abused and oppressed all their lives, poor things !”
11. “But, Mary, just listen to me. Your feelings are all quite right, dear, and interesting, and I love you for them; but, then, dear, we mustn't suffer our feelings to run away with our judgment; you must consider it's not a matter of private feeling, - there are great public interests involved, there is such a state of public agitation rising, that we must put aside our private feelings.”
“Now, John, I don't know anything about politics, but I can read my Bible; and there I see I must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort the desolate; and that Bible I mean to follow.”
12. “But in cases where your doing so would involve a grcat public evil —”
"Obeying God never brings on public evils. I know it can't. It's always safest, all round, to do as He bids us.”
“Now, listen to me, Mary, and I can state to you a very clear argument, to show — "
“O, nonsense, John! you can talk all night, but you wouldn't do it. I put it to you, John, — would you now turn away a poor, shivering, hungry creature from your door, because he was a runaway? Would you now?"
13. Now, if the truth must be told, our senator had the misfortune to be a man who had a particularly humane and accessible nature, and turning away anybody that was in trouble never had been his forte; and what was worse for him in this particular pinch of the argument was that his wife knew it, and, of course, was making an assault on rather an indefensible point. So he had recourse to the usual means of gaining time for such cases made and provided; he said “ahem” and coughed several times, took out his pockethandkerchief, and began to wipe his glasses. Mrs. Bird, seeing the defenseless condition of the enemy's territory, had no more conscience than to push her advantage.
14. “I should like to see you doing that, John, - I really should! Turning a woman out of doors in a snow-storm, for instance; or, may be, you'd take her up and put her in jail, wouldn't you? You would make a great hand at that!”
“Of course, it would be a very painful duty," began Mr. Bird, in a moderate tone.
15. “ Duty, John ! don't use that word! You know it is n't a duty - it can't be a duty! If folks want to keep their slaves from running away, let 'em treat 'em well, — that's my doctrine. If I had slaves (as I hope I never shall have), I'd risk their wanting to run away from me, or you either, John! I tell you folks don't run away when they are happy; and when they do run, poor creatures ! they suffer enough with cold and hunger and fear, without everybody's turning against them; and, law or no law, I never will, so help me God!”
16. “ Mary! Mary! my dear, let me reason with you.”
“I hate reasoning, John, -especially reasoning on such subjects. There's a way you political folks have of coming round and round a plain, right thing; and you don't believe in it yourselves, when it comes to practice. I know you well enough, John, you don't believe it's right any more than I do; and you wouldn't do it any sooner than I.”
CXXV.—THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED.
1. At this critical juncture, old Cudjoe, the black man-ofall-work, put his head in at the door, and wished, “Missis would come into the kitchen,” and our senator, tolerably relieved, looked after his little wife with a whimsical mixture of amusement and vexation, and, seating himself in the armchair, began to read the papers.
After a moment, his wife's voice was heard at the door, in a quick, earnest tone: “John! John! I do wish you'd come here a moment."
2. He laid down his paper, and went into the kitchen, and started quite amazed at the sight that presented itself; a young and slender woman, with garments torn and frozen, with one shoe gone, and the stocking torn away from the cut and bleeding foot, was laid back in a deadly swoon upon two chairs. There was the impress of the despised race upon her face, yet none could help feeling its mournful and pathetic beauty, while its stony sharpness, its cold, fixed, deathly aspect, struck a solemn chill over him. He drew his breath short and stood in silence. His wife and their only colored domestic, old Aunt Dinah, were busily engaged in restorative measures; while old Cudjoe had got the boy on his knee, and was busy pulling off his shoes and stockings, and chafing his little cold feet.
3. “Sure, now, if she an't a sight to behold!” said old Dinah, compassionately; "'pears like 't was the heat that made her faint. She was tol’able peart when she cum in and asked if sbe could n't warm herself here a spell; and I was just a askin' her where she cum from, and she fainted right down. Never done much hard work, guess, by the looks of her hands."