CHAPTER XIX

THE TRUE HEROINE

IN vain did Georgiana try to console Clotelle, when the latter heard, through one of the other slaves, that Mr. Wilson had started with the dogs in pursuit of Jerome. The poor girl well knew that he would be caught, and that severe punishment, if not death, would be the result of his capture. It was therefore with a heart filled with the deepest grief that the slave-girl heard the footsteps of her master on his return from the chase. The dogged and stern manner of the preacher forbade even his daughter inquiring as to the success of his pursuit. Georgiana secretly hoped that the fugitive had not bee caught; she wished it for the sake of the slave, and more especially for her maid-servant, whom she regarded more as a companion than a menial. But the news of the capture of Jerome soon spread through the parson's household, and found its way to the ears of the weeping and heart-stricken Clotelle.

The reverend gentleman had not been home more than an hour ere some of his parishioners called to know if they should not take the negro from the prison and execute *Lynch law* upon him.

"No negro should be permitted to live after striking a white man; let us take him and hang him at once," remarked an elderly-looking man, whose gray hairs thinly covered the crown of his head.

"I think the deacon is right," said another of the company; "if our slaves are allowed to set the will of their masters at defiance, there will be no getting along with them,-- an insurrection will be the next thing we hear of."

"No, no," said the preacher; "I am willing to let the law take its course, as it provides for the punishment of a slave with death if he strikes his master. We had better let the court decide the question. Moreover, as a Christian and God-fearing people, we ought to submit to the dictates of justice. Should we take this man's life by force, an Allwise Providence would hold us responsible for the act."

The company then quietly withdrew, showing that the preacher had some influence with his people.

"This," said Mr. Wilson, when left alone with his daughter,-- "this, my dear Georgiana, is the result of your kindness to the negroes. You have spoiled every one about the house. I can't whip one of them, without being in danger of having my life taken."

"I am sure, papa," replied the young lady,--"I am sure I never did any thing intentionally to induce any of the servants to disobey your orders."

"No, my dear," said Mr. Wilson, "but you are too kind to them. Now, there is Clotelle,--that girl is completely spoiled. She walks about the house with as dignified an air as if she was mistress of the premises. By and by you will be sorry for this foolishness of yours."

"But," answered Georgiana, "Clotelle has a superior mind, and God intended her to hold a higher position in life than that of a servant."

"Yes, my dear, and it was your letting her know that she was intended for a better station in society that is spoiling her. Always keep a negro in ignorance of what you conceive to be his abilities," returned the parson.

It was late on the Saturday afternoon, following the capture of Jerome that, while Mr. Wilson was seated in his study preparing his sermon for the next day, Georgiana entered the room and asked in an excited tone if it were true that Jerome was to hanged on the following Thursday.

The minister informed her that such was the decision of the court.

"Then," said she, "Clotelle will die of grief."

"What business has she to die of grief?" returned the father, his eyes at the moment flashing fire.

"She has neither eaten nor slept since he was captured," replied Georgiana; "and I am certain that she will not live through this."

"I cannot be disturbed now," said the parson; "I must get my sermon ready for to-morrow. I expect to have some strangers to preach to, and must, therefore, prepare a sermon that will do me credit."

While the man of God spoke, he seemed to say to himself,--

"With devotion's visage, and pious actions, We do sugar over the devil himself."

Georgiana did all in her power to soothe the feelings of Clotelle, and to induce her to put her trust in God. Unknown to her father, she allowed the poor girl to go every evening to the jail to see Jerome, and during these visits, despite her own grief, Clotelle would try to comfort her lover with the hope that justice would be meted out to him in the spirit-land.

Thus the time passed on, and the day was fast approaching when the slave was to die. Having heard that some secret meeting had been held by the negroes, previous to the attempt of Mr. Wilson to flog his slave, it occurred to a magistrate that Jerome might know something of the intended revolt. He accordingly visited the prison to see if he could learn anything from him, but all to no purpose. Having given up all hopes of escape, Jerome had resolved to die like a brave man. When questioned as to whether he knew anything of a conspiracy among the slaves against their masters, he replied,--

"Do you suppose that I would tell you if I did?"

"But if you know anything," remarked the magistrate, "and will tell us, you may possibly have your life spared."

"Life," answered the doomed man, "is worth nought to a slave. What right has a slave to himself, his wife, or his children? We are kept in heathenish darkness, by laws especially enacted to make our instruction a criminal offence; and our bones, sinews, blood, and nerves are exposed in the market for sale.

"My liberty is of as much consequence to me as Mr. Wilson's is to him. I am as sensitive to feeling as he. If I mistake not, the day will come when the negro will learn that he can get his freedom by fighting for it; and should that time arrive, the whites will be sorry that they have hated us so shamefully. I am free to say that, could I live my life over again, I would use all the energies which God has given me to get up an insurrection."

Every one present seemed startled and amazed at the intelligence with which this descendant of Africa spoke.

"He's a very dangerous man," remarked one.

"Yes," said another, "he got some book-learning somewhere, and that has spoiled him."

An effort was then made to learn from Jerome where he had learned to read, but the black refused to give any information on the subject.

The sun was just going down behind the trees as Clotelle entered the prison to see Jerome for the last time. He was to die on the next day. Her face was bent upon her hands, and the gushing tears were forcing their way through her fingers. With beating heart and trembling hands, evincing the deepest emotion, she threw her arms around her lover's neck and embraced him. But, prompted by her heart's unchanging love, she had in her own mind a plan by which she hoped to effect the escape of him to whom she had pledged her heart and hand. While the overcharged clouds which had hung over the city during the day broke, and the rain fell in torrents, amid the most terrific thunder and lightning, Clotelle revealed to Jerome her plan for his escape.

"Dress yourself in my clothes," said she, "and you can easily pass the jailer."

This Jerome at first declined doing. He did not wish to place a confiding girl in a position where, in all probability, she would have to suffer; but being assured by the young girl that her life would not be in danger, he resolved to make the attempt. Clotelle being very tall, it was not probably that the jailer would discover any difference in them.

At this moment, she took from her pocket a bunch of keys and unfastened the padlock, and freed him from the floor.

"Come, girl, it is time for you to go," said the jailer, as Jerome was holding the almost fainting girl by the hand.

Being already attired in Clotelle's clothes, the disguised man embraced the weeping girl, put his handkerchief to his face, and passed out of the jail, without the keeper's knowing that his prisoner was escaping in a disguise and under cover of the night.