It is Often Darkest Just Before Dawn
THIS HOMELY PROVERB was illustrated in the case of our sufferer; for, at the period at which we have arrived in our narrative, to her the darkness seemed palpable, and the waters of affliction covered her soul; yet light was about to break in upon her.
Soon after the scenes related in our last chapter, which had harrowed up her very soul to agony, she met a man (we would like to tell you who, dear reader, but it would be doing him no kindness, even at the present day, to do so), who evidently sympathized with her, and counselled her to go to the Quakers, telling her they were already feeling very indignant at the fraudulent sale of her son, and assuring her that they would readily assist her, and direct her what to do. He pointed out to her two houses, where lived some of those people, who formerly, more than any other sect, perhaps, lived out the principles of the gospel of Christ. She wended her way to their dwellings, was listened to, unknown as she personally was to them, with patience, and soon gained their sympathies and active co-operation.
They gave her lodgings for the night; and it is very amusing to hear her tell of the ‘nice, high, clean, white, beautiful bed’ assigned her to sleep in, which contrasted so strangely with her former pallets, that she sat down and contemplated it, perfectly absorbed in wonder that such a bed should have been appropriated to one like herself. For some time she thought that she would lie down beneath it, on her usual bedstead, the floor. ‘I did, indeed,’ says she, laughing heartily at her former self. However, she finally concluded to make use of the bed, for fear that not to do so might injure the feelings of her good hostess. In the morning, the Quaker saw that she was taken and set down near Kingston, with directions to go to the Court House, and enter complaint to the Grand Jury.
By a little inquiry, she found which was the building she sought, went into the door, and taking the first man she saw of imposing appearance for the grand jury, she commenced her complaint. But he very civilly informed her there was no Grand Jury there; she must go up stairs. When she had with some difficulty ascended the flight through the crowd that filled them, she again turned to the ‘grandest’ looking man she could select, telling him she had come to enter a complaint to the Grand Jury. For his own amusement, he inquired what her complaint was; but, when he saw it was a serious matter, he said to her, ‘This is no place to enter a complaint—go in there,’ pointing in a particular direction.
She then went in, where she found the Grand Jurors indeed sitting, and again commenced to relate her injuries. After holding some conversation among themselves, one of them rose, and bidding her follow him, led the way to a side office, where he heard her story, and asked her ‘if she could swear that the child she spoke of was her son?’ ‘Yes,’ she answered, ‘I swear it's my son.’ ‘Stop, stop!’ said the lawyer, ‘you must swear by this book’—giving her a book, which she thinks must have been the Bible. She took it, and putting it to her lips, began again to swear it was her child. The clerks, unable to preserve their gravity any longer, burst into an uproarious laugh; and one of them inquired of lawyer Chip of what use it could be to make her swear. ‘It will answer the law,’ replied the officer. He then made her comprehend just what he wished her to do, and she took a lawful oath, as far as the outward ceremony could make it one. All can judge how far she understood its spirit and meaning.
He now gave her a writ, directing her to take it to the constable of New Paltz, and have him serve it on Solomon Gedney. She obeyed, walking, or rather trotting, in her haste, some eight or nine miles.
But while the constable, through mistake, served the writ on a brother of the real culprit, Solomon Gedney slipped into a boat, and was nearly across the North River, on whose banks they were standing, before the dull Dutch constable was aware of his mistake. Solomon Gedney, meanwhile, consulted a lawyer, who advised him to go to Alabama and bring back the boy, otherwise it might cost him fourteen years' imprisonment, and a thousand dollars in cash. By this time, it is hoped he began to feel that selling slaves unlawfully was not so good a business as he had wished to find it. He secreted himself till due preparations could be made, and soon set sail for Alabama. Steamboats and railroads had not then annihilated distance to the extent they now have, and although he left in the fall of the year, spring came ere he returned, bringing the boy with him—but holding on to him as his property. It had ever been Isabella's prayer, not only that her son might be returned, but that he should be delivered from bondage, and into her own hands, lest he should be punished out of mere spite to her, who was so greatly annoying and irritating to her oppressors; and if her suit was gained, her very triumph would add vastly to their irritation.
She again sought advice of Esquire Chip, whose counsel was, that the aforesaid constable serve the before-mentioned writ upon the right person. This being done, soon brought Solomon Gedney up to Kingston, where he gave bonds for his appearance at court, in the sum of $600.
Esquire Chip next informed his client, that her case must now lie over till the next session of the court, some months in the future. ‘The law must take its course,’ said he.
‘What! wait another court! wait months?’ said the persevering mother. ‘Why, long before that time, he can go clear off, and take my child with him—no one knows where. I cannot wait; I must have him now, whilst he is to be had.’ ‘Well,’ said the lawyer, very coolly, ‘if he puts the boy out of the way, he must pay the $600—one half of which will be yours;’ supposing, perhaps, that $300 would pay for a ‘heap of children,’ in the eye of a slave who never, in all her life, called a dollar her own. But in this instance, he was mistaken in his reckoning. She assured him, that she had not been seeking money, neither would money satisfy her; it was her son, and her son alone she wanted, and her son she must have. Neither could she wait court, not she. The lawyer used his every argument to convince her, that she ought to be very thankful for what they had done for her; that it was a great deal, and it was but reasonable that she should now wait patiently the time of the court.
Yet she never felt, for a moment, like being influenced by these suggestions. She felt confident she was to receive a full and literal answer to her prayer, the burden of which had been—‘O Lord, give my son into my hands, and that speedily! Let not the spoilers have him any longer.’ Notwithstanding, she very distinctly saw that those who had thus far helped her on so kindly were wearied of her, and she feared God was wearied also. She had a short time previous learned that Jesus was a Saviour, and an intercessor; and she thought that if Jesus could but be induced to plead for her in the present trial, God would listen to him, though he were wearied of her importunities. To him, of course, she applied. As she was walking about, scarcely knowing whither she went, asking within herself, ‘Who will show me any good, and lend a helping hand in this matter,’ she was accosted by a perfect stranger, and one whose name she has never learned, in the following terms: ‘Halloo, there; how do you get along with your boy? do they give him up to you?’ She told him all, adding that now every body was tired, and she had none to help her. He said, ‘Look here! I'll tell you what you'd better do. Do you see that stone house yonder?’ pointing in a particular direction. ‘Well, lawyer Demain lives there, and do you go to him, and lay your case before him; I think he'll help you. Stick to him. Don't give him peace till he does. I feel sure if you press him, he'll do it for you.’ She needed no further urging, but trotted off at her peculiar gait in the direction of his house, as fast as possible,—and she was not encumbered with stockings, shoes, or any other heavy article of dress. When she had told him her story, in her impassioned manner, he looked at her a few moments, as if to ascertain if he were contemplating a new variety of the genus Homo, and then told her, if she would give him five dollars, he would get her son for her, in twenty-four hours. ‘Why,’ she replied, ‘I have no money, and never had a dollar in my life!’ Said he, ‘If you will go to those Quakers in Poppletown, who carried you to court, they will help you to five dollars in cash, I have no doubt; and you shall have your son in twenty-four hours, from the time you bring me that sum.’ She performed the journey to Poppletown, a distance of some ten miles, very expeditiously; collected considerably more than the sum specified by the barrister; then, shutting the money tightly in her hand, she trotted back, and paid the lawyer a larger fee than he had demanded. When inquired of by people what she had done with the overplus, she answered, ‘Oh, I got it for lawyer Demain, and I gave it to him.’ They assured her she was a fool to do so; that she should have kept all over five dollars, and purchased herself shoes with it. ‘Oh, I do not want money or clothes now, I only want my son; and if five dollars will get him, more will surely get him.’ And if the lawyer had returned it to her, she avers she would not have accepted it. She was perfectly willing he should have every coin she could raise, if he would but restore her lost son to her. Moreover, the five dollars he required were for the remuneration of him who should go after her son and his master, and not for his own services.
The lawyer now renewed his promise, that she should have her son in twenty-four hours. But Isabella, having no idea of this space of time, went several times in a day, to ascertain if her son had come. Once, when the servant opened the door and saw her, she said, in a tone expressive of much surprise, ‘Why, this woman's come again!’ She then wondered if she went too often. When the lawyer appeared, he told her the twentyfour hours would not expire till the next morning; if she would call then, she would see her son. The next morning saw Isabel at the lawyer's door, while he was yet in his bed. He now assured her it was morning till noon; and that before noon her son would be there, for he had sent the famous ‘Matty Styles’ after him, who would not fail to have the boy and his master on hand in due season, either dead or alive; of that he was sure. Telling her she need not come again; he would himself inform her of their arrival.
After dinner, he appeared at Mr. Rutzer's, (a place the lawyer had procured for her, while she awaited the arrival of her boy), assuring her, her son had come; but that he stoutly denied having any mother, or any relatives in that place; and said, ‘she must go over and identify him.’ She went to the office, but at sight of her the boy cried aloud, and regarded her as some terrible being, who was about to take him away from a kind and loving friend. He knelt, even, and begged them, with tears, not to take him away from his dear master, who had brought him from the dreadful South, and been so kind to him.
When he was questioned relative to the bad scar on his forehead, he said, ‘Fowler's horse hove him.’ And of the one on his cheek, ‘That was done by running against the carriage.’ In answering these questions, he looked imploringly at his master, as much as to say, ‘If they are falsehoods, you bade me say them; may they be satisfactory to you, at least.’
The justice, noting his appearance, bade him forget his master and attend only to him. But the boy persisted in denying his mother, and clinging to his master, saying his mother did not live in such a place as that. However, they allowed the mother to identify her son; and Esquire Demain pleaded that he claimed the boy for her, on the ground that he had been sold out of the State, contrary to the laws in such cases made and provided—spoke of the penalties annexed to said crime, and of the sum of money the delinquent was to pay, in case any one chose to prosecute him for the offence he had committed. Isabella, who was sitting in a corner, scarcely daring to breathe, thought within herself, ‘If I can but get the boy, the $200 may remain for whoever else chooses to prosecute—I have done enough to make myself enemies already’—and she trembled at the thought of the formidable enemies she had probably arrayed against herself—helpless and despised as she was. When the pleading was at an end, Isabella understood the Judge to declare, as the sentence of the Court, that the ‘boy be delivered into the hands of the mother—having no other master, no other controller, no other conductor, but his mother.’ This sentence was obeyed; he was delivered into her hands, the boy meanwhile begging, most piteously, not to be taken from his dear master, saying she was not his mother, and that his mother did not live in such a place as that. And it was some time before lawyer Demain, the clerks, and Isabella, could collectively succeed in calming the child's fears, and in convincing him that Isabella was not some terrible monster, as he had for the last months, probably, been trained to believe; and who, in taking him away from his master, was taking him from all good, and consigning him to all evil.
When at last kind words and bon bons had quieted his fears, and he could listen to their explanations, he said to Isabella—‘Well, you do look like my mother used to;’ and she was soon able to make him comprehend some of the obligations he was under, and the relation he stood in, both to herself and his master. She commenced as soon as practicable to examine the boy, and found, to her utter astonishment, that from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, the callosities and indurations on his entire body were most frightful to behold. His back she described as being like her fingers, as she laid them side by side.
‘Heavens! what is all this?’ said Isabel. He answered, ‘It is where Fowler whipped, kicked, and beat me.’ She exclaimed, ‘Oh, Lord Jesus, look! see my poor child! Oh Lord, “render unto them double” for all this! Oh my God! Pete, how did you bear it?’
‘Oh, this is nothing, mammy—if you should see Phillis, I guess you'd scare! She had a little baby, and Fowler cut her till the milk as well as blood ran down her body. You would scare to see Phillis, mammy.’
When Isabella inquired, ‘What did Miss Eliza say, Pete, when you were treated so badly?’ he replied, ‘Oh, mammy, she said she wished I was with Bell. Sometimes I crawled under the stoop, mammy, the blood running all about me, and my back would stick to the boards; and sometimes Miss Eliza would come and grease my sores, when all were abed and asleep.’