Chapter 23

MEETING OF THE COUSINS

 

THE clock in the hall had scarcely finished striking three when Mr. Taylor entered his own dwelling, a fine residence in Camp Street, New Orleans, followed by the slave-girl whom he had just purchased at the negro-pen. Clotelle looked around wildly as she passed through the hall into the presence of her new mistress. Mrs. Taylor was much pleased with her servant's appearance, and congratulated her husband on his judicious choice.

"But," said Mrs. Taylor, after Clotelle had gone into the kitchen, "how much she looks like Miss Jane Morton."

"Indeed," replied the husband, "I thought, the moment I saw her that she looked like the Mortons."

"I am sure I never saw two faces more alike in my life, than that girl's and Jane Morton's," continued Mrs. Taylor.

Dr. Morton, the purchaser of Marion, the youngest daughter of Agnes, and sister to Isabella, had resided in Camp Street, near the Taylors, for more than eight years, and the families were on very intimate terms, and visited each other frequently. Every one spoke of Clotelle's close resemblance to the Mortons, and especially to the eldest daughter. Indeed, two sisters could hardly have been more alike. The large, dark eyes, black, silk-like hair, tall, graceful figure, and mould of the face, were the same.

The morning following Clotelle's arrival in her new home, Mrs. Taylor was conversing in a low tone with her husband, and both with their eyes following Clotelle as she passed through the room.

"She is far above the station of a slave," remarked the lady. "I saw her, last night, when removing some books, open on and stand over it a moment as if she was reading; and she is as white as I am. I am almost sorry you bought her."

At this juncture the front door-bell rang, and Clotelle hurried through the room to answer it.

"Miss Morton," said the servant as she returned to the mistress' room.

"Ask her to walk in," responded the mistress.

"Now, my dear," said Mrs. Taylor to her husband, "just look and see if you do not notice a marked resemblance between the countenances of Jane and Clotelle."

Miss Morton entered the room just as Mrs. Taylor ceased speaking.

"Have you heard that the Jamisons are down with the fever?" inquired the young lady, after asking about the health of the Taylors.

"No, I had not; I was in hopes it would not get into our street," replied Mrs. Taylor.

All this while Mr. and Mrs. Taylor were keenly scrutinizing their visitor and Clotelle and even the two young women seemed to be conscious that they were in some way the objects of more than usual attention.

Miss Morton had scarcely departed before Mrs. Taylor began questioning Clotelle concerning her early childhood, and became more than ever satisfied that the slave-girl was in some way connected with the Mortons.

Every hour brought fresh news of the ravages of the fever, and the Taylors commenced preparing to leave town. As Mr. Taylor could not go at once, it was determined that his wife should leave without him, accompanied by her new maid-servant. Just as Mrs. Taylor and Clotelle were stepping into the carriage, they were informed that Dr. Morton was down with the epidemic.

It was a beautiful day, with a fine breeze for the time of year, that Mrs. Taylor and her servant found themselves in the cabin of the splendid new steamer "Walk-in-the-Water," bound from New Orleans to Mobile. Every berth in the boat was occupied by persons fleeing from the fearful contagion that was carrying off its hundreds daily.

Late in the day, as Clotelle was standing at one of the windows of the ladies' saloon, she was astonished to see near her, and with eyes fixed intently upon her, the tall young stranger whom she had observed in the slave-market a few days before. She turned hastily away, but the heated cabin and the want of fresh air soon drove her again to the window. The young gentleman again appeared, and coming to the end of the saloon, spoke to the slave-girl in broken English. This confirmed her in her previous opinion that he was a foreigner, and she rejoiced that she had not fallen into his hands.

"I want to talk with you," said the stranger.

"What do you want with me?" she inquired. "I am your friend," he answered. "I saw you in the slave-market last week, and regretted that I did not speak to you then. I returned in the evening, but you was gone."

Clotelle looked indignantly at the stranger, and was about leaving the window again when the quivering of his lips and the trembling of his voice struck her attention and caused her to remain.

"I intended to buy you and make you free and happy, but I was too late," continued he.

"Why do you wish to make me free?" inquired the girl.

"Because I once had an only and lovely sister, who died three years ago in France, and you are so much like her that had I not known of her death I should certainly have taken you for her."

"However much I may resemble your sister, you are aware that I am not she; why, then, take so much interest in one whom you have never seen before and may never see again?"

"The love," said he, "which I had for my sister is transferred to you."

Clotelle had all along suspected that the man was a knave, and this profession of love at once confirmed her in that belief. She therefore immediately turned away and left him.

Hours elapsed. Twilight was just "letting down her curtain and pinning it with a star," as the slave-girl seated herself on a sofa by the window, and began meditating upon her eventful history, meanwhile watching the white waves as they seemed to sport with each other in the wake of the noble vessel, with the rising moon reflecting its silver rays upon the splendid scene, when the foreigner once more appeared near the window. Although agitated for fear her mistress would see her talking to a stranger, and be angry, Clotelle still thought she saw something in the countenance of the young man that told her he was sincere, and she did not wish to hurt his feelings.

"Why persist in your wish to talk with me?" she said, as he again advanced and spoke to her.

"I wish to purchase you and make you happy," returned he.

"But I am not for sale now," she replied. "My present mistress will not sell me, and if you wished to do so ever so much you could not."

"Then," said he, "if I cannot buy you, when the steamer reaches Mobile, fly with me, and you shall be free."

"I cannot do it," said Clotelle; and she was just leaving the stranger when he took from his pocket a piece of paper and thrust it into her hand.

After returning to her room, she unfolded the paper, and found, to her utter astonishment that it contained a one hundred dollar note on the Bank of the United States. The first impulse of the girl was to return the paper and its contents immediately to the giver, but examining the paper more closely, she saw in faint pencil-marks, "Remember this is from one who loves you." Another thought was to give it to her mistress, and she returned to the saloon for that purpose; but on finding Mrs. Taylor engaged in conversation with some ladies, she did not deem it proper to interrupt her.

Again, therefore, Clotelle seated herself by the window, and again the stranger presented himself. She immediately took the paper from her pocket, and handed it to him; but he declined taking it, saying,--

"No, keep it; it may be of some service to you when I am far away."

"Would that I could understand you," said the slave.

"Believe that I am sincere, and then you will understand me," returned the young man. "Would you rather be a slave than be free?" inquired he, with tears that glistened in the rays of the moon.

"No," said she, "I want my freedom, but I must live a virtuous life."

"Then, if you would be free and happy, go with me. We shall be in Mobile in two hours, and when the passengers are going on shore, you take my arm. Have your face covered with a veil, and you will not be observed. We will take passage immediately for France; you can pass as my sister, and I pledge you my honor that I will marry you as soon as we arrive in France."

This solemn promise, coupled with what had previously been said, gave Clotelle confidence in the man, and she instantly determined to go with him. "But then," thought she, "what if I should be detected? I would be forever ruined, for I would be sold, and in all probability have to end my days on a cotton, rice, or sugar plantation." However, the thought of freedom in the future outweighed this danger, and her resolve was taken.

Dressing herself in some of her best clothes, and placing her veiled bonnet where she could get it without the knowledge of her mistress, Clotelle awaited with a heart filled with the deepest emotions and anxiety the moment when she was to take a step which seemed so rash, and which would either make or ruin her forever.

The ships which Mobile for Europe lie about thirty miles down the bay, and passengers are taken down from the city in small vessels. The "Walk-in-the-Water" had just made her lines fast, and the passengers were hurrying on shore, when a tall gentleman with a lady at his side descended the stage-plank, and stepped on the wharf. This was Antoine Devenant and Clotelle.

 

 

 


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