Harriet Wilson


Oh! did we but know of the shadows so nigh,
The world would indeed be a prison of gloom;
All light would be quenched in youth's eloquent eye,
And the prayer-lisping infant would ask for the tomb.

For if Hope be a star that may lead us astray,
And "deceiveth the heart," as the aged ones preach;
Yet 'twas Mercy that gave it, to beacon our way,
Though its halo illumes where it never can reach.


As the day closed and Mag did not appear,
surmises were expressed by the family that she
never intended to return. Mr. Bellmont was a
kind, humane man, who would not grudge hospi-
tality to the poorest wanderer, nor fail to sym-
pathize with any sufferer, however humble.
The child's desertion by her mother appealed to
his sympathy, and he felt inclined to succor her.
To do this in opposition to Mrs. Bellmont's
wishes, would be like encountering a whirlwind


charged with fire, daggers and spikes. She was
not as susceptible of fine emotions as her spouse.
Mag's opinion of her was not without founda-
tion. She was self-willed, haughty, undisciplined,
arbitrary and severe. In common parlance, she
was a scold, a thorough one. Mr. B. remained
silent during the consultation which follows,
engaged in by mother, Mary and John, or Jack,
as he was familiarly called.

"Send her to the County House," said Mary,
in reply to the query what should be done with
her, in a tone which indicated self-importance in
the speaker. She was indeed the idol of her
mother, and more nearly resembled her in dis-
position and manners than the others.
Jane, an invalid daughter, the eldest of those
at home, was reclining on a sofa apparently un-

"Keep her," said Jack. "She's real hand-
some and bright, and not very black, either."
"Yes," rejoined Mary; "that's just like you,
Jack. She'll be of no use at all these three
years, right under foot all the time."

"Poh! Miss Mary; if she should stay, it
wouldn't be two days before you would be tell-


ing the girls about our nig, our nig!" retorted

"I don't want a nigger 'round me, do you,
mother?" asked Mary.

"I don't mind the nigger in the child. I
should like a dozen better than one," replied her
mother. "If I could make her do my work in
a few years, I would keep her. I have so much
trouble with girls I hire, I am almost persuaded
if I have one to train up in my way from a
child, I shall be able to keep them awhile. I
am tired of changing every few months."

"Where could she sleep?" asked Mary. "I
don't want her near me."

"In the L chamber," answered the mother.

"How'll she get there?" asked Jack. "She'll
be afraid to go through that dark passage,
and she can't climb the ladder safely."

"She'll have to go there; it's good enough
for a nigger," was the reply.
Jack was sent on horseback to ascertain if
Mag was at her home. He returned with the
testimony of Pete Greene that they were fairly
departed, and that the child was intentionally
thrust upon their family.


The imposition was not at all relished by Mrs.
B., or the pert, haughty Mary, who had just
glided into her teens.

"Show the child to bed, Jack," said his mother.
"You seem most pleased with the little nigger,
so you may introduce her to her room."

He went to the kitchen, and, taking Frado
gently by the hand, told her he would put her
in bed now; perhaps her mother would come the
next night after her.

It was not yet quite dark, so they ascended
the stairs without any light, passing through
nicely furnished rooms, which were a source of
great amazement to the child. He opened the
door which connected with her room by a dark,
unfinished passage-way. "Don't bump your
head," said Jack, and stepped before to open
the door leading into her apartment,--an unfin-
ished chamber over the kitchen, the roof slant-
ing nearly to the floor, so that the bed could
stand only in the middle of the room. A small
half window furnished light and air. Jack
returned to the sitting room with the remark
that the child would soon outgrow those quar-


"When she does, she'll outgrow the house,"
remarked the mother.

"What can she do to help you?" asked Mary.

"She came just in the right time, didn't she?

Just the very day after Bridget left," continued

"I'll see what she can do in the morning,"
was the answer.

While this conversation was passing below,
Frado lay, revolving in her little mind whether
she would remain or not until her mother's
return. She was of wilful, determined nature,
a stranger to fear, and would not hesitate to
wander away should she decide to. She remem-
bered the conversation of her mother with Seth,
the words "given away" which she heard used
in reference to herself; and though she did not
know their full import, she thought she should,
by remaining, be in some relation to white
people she was never favored with before. So
she resolved to tarry, with the hope that mother
would come and get her some time. The hot
sun had penetrated her room, and it was long
before a cooling breeze reduced the temperature
so that she could sleep.


Frado was called early in the morning by her
new mistress. Her first work was to feed the
hens. She was shown how it was always to be
done, and in no other way; any departure from
this rule to be punished by a whipping. She
was then accompanied by Jack to drive the cows
to pasture, so she might learn the way. Upon
her return she was allowed to eat her breakfast,
consisting of a bowl of skimmed milk, with
brown bread crusts, which she was told to eat,
standing, by the kitchen table, and must not be
over ten minutes about it. Meanwhile the
family were taking their morning meal in the
dining-room. This over, she was placed on a
cricket to wash the common dishes; she was to
be in waiting always to bring wood and chips,
to run hither and thither from room to room.
A large amount of dish-washing for small
hands followed dinner. Then the same after tea
and going after the cows finished her first day's
work. It was a new discipline to the child. She
found some attractions about the place, and she
retired to rest at night more willing to remain.
The same routine followed day after day, with
slight variation; adding a little more work, and


spicing the toil with "words that burn," and fre-
quent blows on her head. These were great
annoyances to Frado, and had she known where
her mother was, she would have gone at once to
her. She was often greatly wearied, and silently
wept over her sad fate. At first she wept aloud,
which Mrs. Bellmont noticed by applying a raw-
hide, always at hand in the kitchen. It was a
symptom of discontent and complaining which
must be "nipped in the bud," she said.

Thus passed a year. No intelligence of Mag.
It was now certain Frado was to become a per-
manent member of the family. Her labors were
multiplied; she was quite indispensable, although
but seven years old. She had never learned to
read, never heard of a school until her residence
in the family.

Mrs. Bellmont was in doubt about the utility
of attempting to educate people of color, who
were incapable of elevation. This subject occa-
sioned a lengthy discussion in the family. Mr.
Bellmont, Jane and Jack arguing for Frado's
education; Mary and her mother objecting. At
last Mr. Bellmont declared decisively that she
should go to school. He was a man who seldom


decided controversies at home. The word once
spoken admitted of no appeal; so, notwithstand-
ing Mary's objection that she would have to
attend the same school she did, the word became

It was to be a new scene to Frado, and Jack
had many queries and conjectures to answer.
He was himself too far advanced to attend the
summer school, which Frado regretted, having
had too many opportunities of witnessing Miss
Mary's temper to feel safe in her company alone.
The opening day of school came. Frado
sauntered on far in the rear of Mary, who was
ashamed to be seen "walking with a nigger."
As soon as she appeared, with scanty clothing
and bared feet, the children assembled, noisily
published her approach: "See that nigger,"
shouted one. "Look! look!" cried another.
"I won't play with her," said one little girl.
"Nor I neither," replied another.

Mary evidently relished these sharp attacks,
and saw a fair prospect of lowering Nig where,
according to her views, she belonged. Poor
Frado, chagrined and grieved, felt that her an-
ticipations of pleasure at such a place were far


from being realized. She was just deciding
to return home, and never come there again,
when the teacher appeared, and observing the
downcast looks of the child, took her by the
hand, and led her into the school-room. All fol-
lowed, and, after the bustle of securing seats
was over, Miss Marsh inquired if the children
knew "any cause for the sorrow of that little
girl?" pointing to Frado. It was soon all told.
She then reminded them of their duties to the
poor and friendless; their cowardice in attack-
ing a young innocent child; referred them to
one who looks not on outward appearances, but
on the heart. "She looks like a good girl; I
think I shall love her, so lay aside all prejudice,
and vie with each other in shewing kindness
and good-will to one who seems different from
you," were the closing remarks of the kind lady.
Those kind words! The most agreeable sound
which ever meets the ear of sorrowing, griev-
ing childhood.

Example rendered her words efficacious. Day
by day there was a manifest change of de-
portment towards "Nig." Her speeches often
drew merriment from the children; no one


could do more to enliven their favorite pastimes
than Frado. Mary could not endure to see her
thus noticed, yet knew not how to prevent it.
She could not influence her schoolmates as she
wished. She had not gained their affections
by winning ways and yielding points of con-
troversy. On the contrary, she was self-willed,
domineering; every day reported "mad" by
some of her companions. She availed herself
of the only alternative, abuse and taunts, as
they returned from school. This was not satis-
factory; she wanted to use physical force "to
subdue her," to "keep her down."

There was, on their way home, a field inter-
sected by a stream over which a single plank
was placed for a crossing. It occurred to Ma-
ry that it would be a punishment to Nig to
compel her to cross over; so she dragged her
to the edge, and told her authoritatively to go
over. Nig hesitated, resisted. Mary placed
herself behind the child, and, in the struggle
to force her over, lost her footing and plunged
into the stream. Some of the larger scholars
being in sight, ran, and thus prevented Mary
from drowning and Frado from falling. Nig


scampered home fast as possible, and Mary went
to the nearest house, dripping, to procure a
change of garments. She came loitering home,
half crying, exclaiming, "Nig pushed me into
the stream!" She then related the particulars.
Nig was called from the kitchen. Mary stood
with anger flashing in her eyes. Mr. Bellmont
sat quietly reading his paper. He had wit-
nessed too many of Miss Mary's outbreaks to
be startled. Mrs. Bellmont interrogated Nig.
"I didn't do it! I didn't do it!" answered
Nig, passionately, and then related the occur-
rence truthfully.

The discrepancy greatly enraged Mrs. Bell-
mont. With loud accusations and angry ges-
tures she approached the child. Turning to
her husband, she asked,
"Will you sit still, there, and hear that
black nigger call Mary a liar?"

"How do we know but she has told
the truth? I shall not punish her," he re-
plied, and left the house, as he usually did
when a tempest threatened to envelop him.
No sooner was he out of sight than Mrs. B.
and Mary commenced beating her inhumanly;


then propping her mouth open with a piece
of wood, shut her up in a dark room, with-
out any supper. For employment, while the
tempest raged within, Mr. Bellmont went for
the cows, a task belonging to Frado, and thus
unintentionally prolonged her pain. At dark
Jack came in, and seeing Mary, accosted her
with, "So you thought you'd vent your spite
on Nig, did you? Why can't you let her
alone? It was good enough for you to get
a ducking, only you did not stay in half long

"Stop!" said his mother. "You shall never
talk so before me. You would have that little
nigger trample on Mary, would you? She
came home with a lie; it made Mary's story

"What was Mary's story?" asked Jack.
It was related.

"Now," said Jack, sallying into a chair, "the
school-children happened to see it all, and they
tell the same story Nig does. Which is most
likely to be true, what a dozen agree they
saw, or the contrary?"

"It is very strange you will believe what


others say against your sister," retorted his
mother, with flashing eye. "I think it is time
your father subdued you."

"Father is a sensible man," argued Jack.

"He would not wrong a dog. Where is Fra-
do?" he continued.

"Mother gave her a good whipping and
shut her up," replied Mary.

Just then Mr. Bellmont entered, and asked if
Frado was "shut up yet."

The knowledge of her innocence, the perfidy
of his sister, worked fearfully on Jack. He
bounded from his chair, searched every room
till he found the child; her mouth wedged
apart, her face swollen, and full of pain.

How Jack pitied her! He relieved her jaws,
brought her some supper, took her to her room,
comforted her as well as he knew how, sat by her
till she fell asleep, and then left for the sitting
room. As he passed his mother, he remarked,
"If that was the way Frado was to be treated, he
hoped she would never wake again!" He then
imparted her situation to his father, who seemed
untouched, till a glance at Jack exposed a tear-
ful eye. Jack went early to her next morning.


She awoke sad, but refreshed. After breakfast
Jack took her with him to the field, and kept
her through the day. But it could not be so
generally. She must return to school, to her
household duties. He resolved to do what he
could to protect her from Mary and his mother.
He bought her a dog, which became a great
favorite with both. The invalid, Jane, would
gladly befriend her; but she had not the
strength to brave the iron will of her mother.
Kind words and affectionate glances were the
only expressions of sympathy she could safely
indulge in. The men employed on the farm
were always glad to hear her prattle; she was
a great favorite with them. Mrs. Bellmont al-
lowed them the privilege of talking with her in
the kitchen. She did not fear but she should
have ample opportunity of subduing her when
they were away. Three months of schooling,
summer and winter, she enjoyed for three years.
Her winter over-dress was a cast-off overcoat,
once worn by Jack, and a sun-bonnet. It was a
source of great merriment to the scholars, but
Nig's retorts were so mirthful, and their satisfac-
tion so evident in attributing the selection to


"Old Granny Bellmont," that it was not painful
to Nig or pleasurable to Mary. Her jollity was
not to be quenched by whipping or scolding.
In Mrs. Bellmont's presence she was under re-
straint; but in the kitchen, and among her
schoolmates, the pent up fires burst forth. She
was ever at some sly prank when unseen by her
teacher, in school hours; not unfrequently some
outburst of merriment, of which she was the
original, was charged upon some innocent mate,
and punishment inflicted which she merited.
They enjoyed her antics so fully that any of
them would suffer wrongfully to keep open the
avenues of mirth. She would venture far be-
yond propriety, thus shielded and countenanced.
The teacher's desk was supplied with drawers,
in which were stored his books and other et
ceteras of the profession. The children observed
Nig very busy there one morning before school,
as they flitted in occasionally from their play
outside. The master came; called the children
to order; opened a drawer to take the book the
occasion required; when out poured a volume of
smoke. "Fire! fire!" screamed he, at the top of
his voice. By this time he had become suf-


ficiently acquainted with the peculiar odor, to
know he was imposed upon. The scholars
shouted with laughter to see the terror of the
dupe, who, feeling abashed at the needless fright,
made no very strict investigation, and Nig once
more escaped punishment. She had provided
herself with cigars, and puffing, puffing away at
the crack of the drawer, had filled it with smoke,
and then closed it tightly to deceive the teacher,
and amuse the scholars. The interim of terms
was filled up with a variety of duties new and
peculiar. At home, no matter how powerful
the heat when sent to rake hay or guard the
grazing herd, she was never permitted to shield
her skin from the sun. She was not many
shades darker than Mary now; what a calamity
it would be ever to hear the contrast spoken of.
Mrs. Bellmont was determined the sun should
have full power to darken the shade which
nature had first bestowed upon her as best