Now in her seventeenth year, Clotelle's personal appearance presented a great contrast to the time when she lived with old Mrs. Miller. Her tall and well developed figure; her long, silky black hair, falling in curls down her swan like neck; her bright, black eyes lighting up her olive tinted face, and a set of teeth that a Tuscarora might envy, she was a picture of tropical ripened beauty. At times, there was a heavenly smile upon her countenance, which would have warmed the heart of an anchorite. Such was the personal appearance of the girl who was now in prison by her own act to save the life of another. Would she be hanged in his stead, or would she receive a different kind of punishment? These questions Clotelle did not ask herself. Open, frank, free, and generous to a fault, she always thought of others, never of her own welfare.
The long stay of Clotelle caused some uneasiness to Miss Wilson; yet she dared not tell her father, for he had forbidden the slave girl's going to the prison to see her lover. While the clock on the church near by was striking eleven, Georgiana called Sam, and sent him to the prison in search of Clotelle.
"The girl went away from here at eight o'clock," was the jailer's answer to the servant's inquiries.
The return of Sam without having found the girl saddened the heart of the young mistress. "Sure, then," said she, "the poor, heartbroken thing has made way with herself."
Still, she waited till morning before breaking the news of Clotelle's absence to her father.
The jailer discovered, the next morning, to his utter astonishment, that his prisoner was white instead of black, and his first impression was that the change of complexion had taken place during the night, through fear of death. But this conjecture was soon dissipated; for the dark, glowing eyes, the sable curls upon the lofty brow, and the mild, sweet voice that answered his questions, informed him that the prisoner before him was another being.
On learning, in the morning, that Clotelle was in jail dressed in male attire, Miss Wilson immediately sent clothes to her to make a change in her attire. News of the heroic and daring act of the slave girl spread through the city with electric speed.
"I will sell every nigger on the place," said the parson, at the breakfast table, "I will sell them all, and get a new lot, and whip them every day."
Poor Georgiana wept for the safety of Clotelle, while she felt glad that Jerome had escaped. In vain did they try to extort from the girl the whereabouts of the man whose escape she had effected. She was not aware that he had fled on a steamer, and when questioned, she replied,
"I don't know; and if I did I would not tell you. I care not what you do with me, if Jerome but escapes."
The smile with which she uttered these words finely illustrated the poet's meaning, when he says,
"A fearful gift upon they heart is laid, Woman the power to suffer and to love."
Her sweet simplicity seemed to dare them to lay their rough hands amid her trembling curls.
Three days did the heroic young woman remain in prison, to be gazed at by an unfeeling crowd, drawn there out of curiosity. The intelligence came to her at last that the court had decided to spare her life, on condition that she should be whipped, sold, and sent out of the State within twenty-four hours.
This order of the court she would have cared but little for, had she not been sincerely attached to her young mistress.
"Do try and sell her to some one who will use her well," said Georgiana to her father, as he was about taking his hat to leave the house.
"I shall not trouble myself to do any such thing," replied the hard hearted parson. "I leave the finding of a master for her with the slave dealer."
Bathed in tears, Miss Wilson paced her room in the absence of her father. For many months Georgiana had been in a decline, and any little trouble would lay her on a sick bed for days. She was, therefore, poorly able to bear the loss of this companion, whom she so dearly loved.
Mr. Wilson had informed his daughter that Clotelle was to be flogged; and when Felice came in and informed her mistress that the poor girl had just received fifty lashes on her bare person, the young lady fainted and fell on the floor. The servants placed their mistress on the sofa, and went in pursuit of their master. Little did the preacher think, on returning to his daughter, that he should soon be bereft of her; yet such was to be his lot. A blood vessel had been ruptured, and the three physicians who were called in told the father that he must prepare to lose his child. That moral courage and calmness, which was her great characteristic, did not forsake Georgiana in her hour of death. She had ever been kind to the slaves under her charge, and they loved and respected her. At her request, the servants were all brought into her room, and took a last farewell of their mistress. Seldom, if ever, was there witnessed a more touching scene than this. There lay the young woman, pale and feeble, with death stamped upon her countenance, surrounded by the sons and daughters of Africa, some of whom had been separated from every earthly tie, and the most of whose persons had been torn and gashed by the Negro whip. Some were upon their knees at the bedside, others standing around, and all weeping.
Death is a leveler; and neither age, sex, wealth, nor condition, can avert when he is permitted to strike. The most beautiful flowers must soon fade and droop and die. So, also, with man; his days are as uncertain as the passing breeze. This hour he glows in the blush of health and vigor, but the next, he may be counted with the number no more known on earth. Oh, what a silence pervaded the house when this young flower was gone! In the midst of the buoyancy of youth, this cherished one had dropped and died. Deep were the sounds of grief and mourning heard in that stately dwelling when the stricken friends, whose office it had been to nurse and soothe the weary sufferer, beheld her pale and motionless in the sleep of death.
Who can imagine the feeling with which poor Clotelle received the intelligence of her kind friend's death? The deep gashes of the cruel whip had prostrated the lovely form of the quadroon, and she lay upon her bed of straw in the dark cell. The speculator had brought her, but had postponed her removal till she should recover. Her benefactress was dead, and
"Hope withering fled, and mercy sighed farewell."
"Is Jerome safe?" she would ask herself continually. If her lover could have but known of the sufferings of that sweet flower, that polyanthus over which he had so often been in his dreams, he would then have learned that she was worthy of his love.
It was more than a fortnight before the slave trader could take his prize to more comfortable quarters. Like Alcibiades, who defaced the images of the gods and expected to be pardoned on the ground of eccentricity, so men who abuse God's image hope to escape the vengeance of his wrath under the plea that the law sanctions their atrocious deeds.
Clotelle or The Colored Heroine, A tale of the Southern States