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TIDY'S WAY TO FREEDOM (chapter3)

2006-09-08 21:20

    CHAPTER III.

    SUNSHINE.

    IF ever there was a sunshiny corner of slavery, it was that into which a kind Providence dropped this little, helpless babe, now but a little more than two years old.

    It was a pleasant day in early spring when Colonel Lee alighted from his gig before the family mansion at Rosevale, and laid the child, as a present, at the feet of his daughter Matilda.

    Miss Matilda Lee was about thirty years of age,—— as active and thrifty a little woman as could be found any where within the domains of this cruel system of oppression. Slavery is like a two-edged knife, cutting both ways. It not only destroys the black, but demoralizes and ruins the white race. Those who hold slaves are usually indolent, proud, and inefficient. They think it a disgrace to work by the side of the negro, and therefore will allow things to be left in a very careless, untidy way, rather than put forth their energy to alter or improve them. And as it is impossible for slaves, untaught and degraded as they are, to give a neat and thrifty appearance to their homes, we, who have been brought up at the North, accustomed to work ourselves, assisted by well-trained domestics, can scarcely realize the many discomforts often to be experienced in Southern houses. But Miss Lee was unusually energetic and helpful, desirous of having every thing about her neat and tasteful, and not afraid to do something towards it with her own hands.

    Being the eldest daughter, the entire charge of the family had devolved upon her since the death of her mother, which had occurred about ten years before. Within this time, her brothers and sisters had been married, and now she and her father were all that were left at the old homestead.

    Their servants, too, had dwindled away. Some had been given to the sons and daughters when they left the parental roof; some had died, and others had been sold to pay debts and furnish the means of living. Old Rosa, the cook, Nancy, the waiting-maid, and Methuselah, the ancient gardener, were all the house-servants that remained. So they lived in a very quiet and frugal way; and Miss Matilda's activities, not being entirely engrossed with family cares, found employment in the nurture of flowers and pets.

    The grounds in front of the old-fashioned mansion had been laid out originally in very elaborate style; and, though of late years they had been greatly neglected, they still retained traces of their former splendor. The rose-vines on the inside of the enclosure had grown over the low, brick wall, to meet and mingle with the trees and bushes outside, till together they formed a solid and luxuriant mass of verdure. White and crimson roses shone amid the dark, glossy foliage of the mountain-laurel, which held up with sturdy stem its own rich clusters of fluted cups, that seemed to assert equality with the queen of flowers, and would not be eclipsed by the fragrant loveliness of their beautiful dependents. The borders of box, which had once been trimmed and trained into fanciful points and tufts and convolutions of verdure, had grown into misshapen clumps; and the white, pebbly walks no longer sparkled in the sunlight.

    Still Miss Matilda, by the aid of Methuselah, in appearance almost as ancient as we may suppose his namesake to have been, found great pleasure in cultivating her flower-beds; and every year, her crocuses and hyacinths, crown-imperials and tulips, pinks, lilies, and roses, none the less beautiful because they are so commonly enjoyed, gave a cheerful aspect to the place.

    Her numerous pets made the house equally bright and pleasant. There was Sir Walter Raleigh, the dog, and Mrs. Felina, the great, splendid, Maltese mother of three beautiful blue kittens; Jack and Gill, the gentle, soft-toned Java sparrows; and Ruby, the unwearying canary singer, always in loud and uninterpretable conversation with San Rosa, the mocking-bird. The birds hung in the broad, deep window of the sitting-room, in the shade of the jasmine and honeysuckle vines that embowered it and filled the air with delicious perfume. The dog and cat, when not inclined to active enjoyments, were accommodated with comfortable beds in the adjoining apartment, which was the sleeping-room of their mistress.

    The new household pet became an occupant of this same room.

    "Laws, now, Miss Tilda, ye a'n't gwine to put de chile in ther wid all de dogs and cats, now. 'Pears ye might have company enough o' nights widout takin' in a cryin' baby. She'll cry sure widout her mammy, and what ye gwine to do thin?" and old Rosa stoutly protested against the arrangement.

    "Never mind, Aunt Rosa, don't worry now; I'll manage to take good care of the little creature. I know what you're after,—— you want her yourself."

    "Ho, ho ho! Laws, now, Miss Tilda, you dun know noffing 'bout babies; takes an old mammy like me to fotch 'em up. Come here, child; what's yer name?"

    The frightened little one, whose tongue had not yet learned to utter many words, made no attempt to answer, but stood timidly looking from one to another of the surrounding group.

    "She ha'n't got no name, 'ta'n't likely," suggested Nance.

    "We must christen her, then," said Miss Lee.

    "Carroll called her Tidy," remarked the old gentleman, entering the room at that moment.

    "DAT'S a name of 'spectability," said Rosa, with a satisfied air. "'Tis my 'pinion chillen should allus have 'spectable names, else they're 'posed on in dis yer world. Nudd's Tidy, now, dere's a spec'men for yer. Never was no more 'complished 'fectioner dan she. She knowed how to cook all de earth, she did. Hi! couldn't she barbecue a heifer, or brile a cock's comb, jest as 'spertly as Miss Tilda here broiders a ruffle. Right smart cretur she wor. And so YE'RE a gwine to be, honey,——your old mammy sees it in de tips ob yer fingers;" and Rosa caught up the child, and well-nigh smothered it with all sorts of maternal fondnesses.

    "Now Nance," continued the old negress, turning with an air of authority to the tall, loose-jointed, reed-like maid, "Now Nance, ye mind yer doin's in dese yer premises. Don't ye go for to kick de young un round like as ef she cost noffin'. Ef ye do, look out;" and she shook her turbaned head, and doubled her fist in very threatening manner before the girl. "Now we've got a baby in dis yer house, we'll see how de tings is gwine for to go."

    A baby in the Lee mansion did indeed inaugurate a new order of things in the family. So young a servant they had not had for many a day on the estate; and Rosa felt at once the responsibility of her position, and played the mother to her heart's content. All the care of the child's education seemed from that moment to devolve upon her, notwithstanding Miss Lee's repeated assertions that SHE designed to bring up the little one after her own heart, and that Tidy should never wait upon any one but herself.

    Between them both, Tidy had things pretty much her own way. Such an infant of course could not be expected to comprehend the fact that she was a slave, and born to be ruled over, and trodden under foot. Like any other little one, she enjoyed existence, and was as happy as could be all the day long. Every thing around her,——the chickens and turkeys in the yard, the flowers in the garden, the kittens and birds in the sitting-room, and the goodies in the kitchen,—— added to her pleasure. She frisked and gamboled about the house and grounds as free and joyous as the squirrels in the woods, and without a thought or suspicion that any thing but happiness was in store for her. She not only slept at night in the room of her mistress, but when the daily meals were served, the child, seated on a low bench beside Miss Lee, was fed from her own dish. So that, in respect to her animal nature, she fared as well as any child need to; but this was all. Not a word of instruction of any kind did she receive.

    As she grew older, and her active mind, observing and wondering at the many objects of interest in nature, burst out into childish questions, "What is this for?" and "Who made that?" her mistress would answer carelessly, "I don't know," or "You'll find out by and by." Her thirst for knowledge was never satisfied; for while Miss Lee was good-natured and gentle in her ways toward the child, she took no pains to impart information of any kind. Why should she? Tidy was only a slave.

    Here, my little readers, you may see the difference between her condition and your own. You are carefully taught every thing that will be of use to you. Even before you ask questions, they are answered; and father and mother, older brothers and sisters, aunties, teachers, and friends are ready and anxious to explain to you all the curious and interesting things that come under your notice. Indeed, so desirous are they to cultivate your intellectual nature, that they seek to stimulate your appetite for knowledge, by drawing your attention to many things which otherwise you would overlook. At the same time, they point you to the great and all-wise Creator, that you may admire and love him who has made every thing for our highest happiness and good.

    But slavery depends for its existence and growth upon the ignorance of its miserable victims. If Tidy's questions had been answered, and her curiosity satisfied, she would have gone on in her investigations; and from studying objects in nature, she would have come to study books, and perhaps would have read the Bible, and thus found out a great deal which it is not considered proper for a slave to know.

    "We couldn't keep our servants, if we were to instruct them," says the slaveholder; and therefore he makes the law which constitutes it a criminal offense to teach a slave to read.

    But Tidy was taught to WORK. That is just what slaves are made for,-to work, and so save their owners the trouble of working themselves. Slaveholders do not recognize the fact that God designed us all to work, and has so arranged matters, that true comfort and happiness can only be reached through the gateway of labor. It is no blessing to be idle, and let others wait upon us; and in this respect the slaves certainly have the advantage of their masters.

    Tidy was an apt learner, and at eight years of age she could do up Miss Matilda's ruffles, clean the great brass andirons and fender in the sitting-room, and set a room to rights as neatly as any person in the house.

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