Harriet Wilson


"Hard are life's early steps; and but that youth is buoyant, con-
fident, and strong in hope, men would behold its threshold and

THE sorrow of Frado was very great for her
pet, and Mr. Bellmont by great exertion obtained
it again, much to the relief of the child. To be
thus deprived of all her sources of pleasure was a
sure way to exalt their worth, and Fido became,
in her estimation, a more valuable presence than
the human beings who surrounded her.

James had now been married a number of
years, and frequent requests for a visit from the
family were at last accepted, and Mrs. Bellmont
made great preparations for a fall sojourn in
Baltimore. Mary was installed housekeeper--in
name merely, for Nig was the only moving power
in the house. Although suffering from their joint
severity, she felt safer than to be thrown wholly


upon an ardent, passionate, unrestrained young
lady, whom she always hated and felt it hard to
be obliged to obey. The trial she must meet.
Were Jack or Jane at home she would have some
refuge; one only remained; good Aunt Abby
was still in the house.

She saw the fast receding coach which con-
veyed her master and mistress with regret, and
begged for one favor only, that James would
send for her when they returned, a hope she had
confidently cherished all these five years.
She was now able to do all the washing, iron-
ing, baking, and the common et cetera of house-
hold duties, though but fourteen. Mary left all
for her to do, though she affected great responsi-
bility. She would show herself in the kitchen
long enough to relieve herself of some command,
better withheld; or insist upon some compliance
to her wishes in some department which she was
very imperfectly acquainted with, very much less
than the person she was addressing; and so im-
petuous till her orders were obeyed, that to
escape the turmoil, Nig would often go contrary
to her own knowledge to gain a respite.

Nig was taken sick! What could be done


The work, certainly, but not by Miss Mary. So
Nig would work while she could remain erect,
then sink down upon the floor, or a chair,
till she could rally for a fresh effort. Mary would
look in upon her, chide her for her laziness,
threaten to tell mother when she came home,
and so forth.

"Nig!" screamed Mary, one of her sickest
days, "come here, and sweep these threads from
the carpet." She attempted to drag her weary
limbs along, using the broom as support. Impa-
tient of delay, she called again, but with a differ-
ent request. "Bring me some wood, you lazy
jade, quick." Nig rested the broom against the
wall, and started on the fresh behest.

Too long gone. Flushed with anger, she rose
and greeted her with, "What are you gone so
long for? Bring it in quick, I say."

"I am coming as quick as I can," she replied,
entering the door.

"Saucy, impudent nigger, you! is this the way
you answer me?" and taking a large carving
knife from the table, she hurled it, in her rage,
at the defenceless girl.

Dodging quickly, it fastened in the ceiling a


few inches from where she stood. There rushed
on Mary's mental vision a picture of bloodshed,
in which she was the perpetrator, and the sad
consequences of what was so nearly an actual

"Tell anybody of this, if you dare. If you tell
Aunt Abby, I'll certainly kill you," said she,
terrified. She returned to her room, brushed
her threads herself; was for a day or two more
guarded, and so escaped deserved and merited

Oh, how long the weeks seemed which held
Nig in subjection to Mary; but they passed like
all earth's sorrows and joys. Mr. and Mrs. B.
returned delighted with their visit, and laden
with rich presents for Mary. No word of hope
for Nig. James was quite unwell, and would
come home the next spring for a visit.

This, thought Nig, will be my time of release.
I shall go back with him.

From early dawn until after all were retired,
was she toiling, overworked, disheartened, long-
ing for relief.

Exposure from heat to cold, or the reverse,
often destroyed her health for short intervals.


She wore no shoes until after frost, and snow
even, appeared; and bared her feet again before
the last vestige of winter disappeared. These
sudden changes she was so illy guarded against,
nearly conquered her physical system. Any
word of complaint was severely repulsed or cru-
elly punished.

She was told she had much more than she
deserved. So that manual labor was not in
reality her only burden; but such an incessant
torrent of scolding and boxing and threatening,
was enough to deter one of maturer years from
remaining within sound of the strife.

It is impossible to give an impression of the
manifest enjoyment of Mrs. B. in these kitchen
scenes. It was her favorite exercise to enter
the apartment noisily, vociferate orders, give
a few sudden blows to quicken Nig's pace, then
return to the sitting room with such a satis-
fied expression, congratulating herself upon her
thorough house-keeping qualities.

She usually rose in the morning at the ring-
ing of the bell for breakfast; if she were heard
stirring before that time, Nig knew well there
was an extra amount of scolding to be borne.


No one now stood between herself and Frado,
but Aunt Abby. And if she dared to interfere
in the least, she was ordered back to her "own
quarters." Nig would creep slyly into her
room, learn what she could of her regarding the
absent, and thus gain some light in the thick
gloom of care and toil and sorrow in which she
was immersed.

The first of spring a letter came from James,
announcing declining health. He must try
northern air as a restorative; so Frado joyfully
prepared for this agreeable increase of the family,
this addition to her cares.

He arrived feeble, lame, from his disease, so
changed Frado wept at his appearance, fearing
he would be removed from her forever. He
kindly greeted her, took her to the parlor to see
his wife and child, and said many things to kindle
smiles on her sad face.

Frado felt so happy in his presence, so safe
from maltreatment! He was to her a shelter.
He observed, silently, the ways of the house a
few days; Nig still took her meals in the same
manner as formerly, having the same allowance


of food. He, one day, bade her not remove the
food, but sit down to the table and eat.
"She will, mother," said he, calmly, but impera-
tively; I'm determined; she works hard; I've
watched her. Now, while I stay, she is going to
sit down here, and eat such food as we eat."
A few sparks from the mother's black eyes
were the only reply; she feared to oppose where
she knew she could not prevail. So Nig's stand-
ing attitude, and selected diet vanished.

Her clothing was yet poor and scanty; she was
not blessed with a Sunday attire; for she was
never permitted to attend church with her mis-
tress. "Religion was not meant for niggers," she
said; when the husband and brothers were
absent, she would drive Mrs. B. and Mary there,
then return, and go for them at the close of the
service, but never remain. Aunt Abby would
take her to evening meetings, held in the neigh-
borhood, which Mrs. B. never attended; and im-
part to her lessons of truth and grace as they
walked to the place of prayer.

Many of less piety would scorn to present so
doleful a figure; Mrs. B. had shaved her glossy
ringlets; and, in her coarse cloth gown and an-


cient bonnet, she was anything but an enticing
object. But Aunt Abby looked within. She
saw a soul to save, an immortality of happi-
ness to secure.

These evenings were eagerly anticipated by
Nig; it was such a pleasant release from labor.
Such perfect contrast in the melody and pray-
ers of these good people to the harsh tones which
fell on her ears during the day.

Soon she had all their sacred songs at com-
mand, and enlivened her toil by accompanying
it with this melody.

James encouraged his aunt in her efforts. He
had found the Saviour, he wished to have Frado's
desolate heart gladdened, quieted, sustained, by
His presence. He felt sure there were elements
in her heart which, transformed and purified by
the gospel, would make her worthy the esteem
and friendship of the world. A kind, affection-
ate heart, native wit, and common sense, and
the pertness she sometimes exhibited, he felt if
restrained properly, might become useful in
originating a self-reliance which would be of ser-
vice to her in after years.


Yet it was not possible to compass all this,
while she remained where she was. He wished
to be cautious about pressing too closely her
claims on his mother, as it would increase the
burdened one he so anxiously wished to relieve.
He cheered her on with the hope of returning
with his family, when he recovered sufficiently.
Nig seemed awakened to new hopes and
aspirations, and realized a longing for the future,
hitherto unknown.

To complete Nig's enjoyment, Jack arrived
unexpectedly. His greeting was as hearty to
herself as to any of the family.

"Where are your curls, Fra?" asked Jack,
after the usual salutation.

"Your mother cut them off."

"Thought you were getting handsome, did
she? Same old story, is it; knocks and bumps?
Better times coming; never fear, Nig."
How different this appellative sounded from
him; he said it in such a tone, with such a
rogueish look!

She laughed, and replied that he had better
take her West for a housekeeper.

Jack was pleased with James's innovations of


table discipline, and would often tarry in the
dining-room, to see Nig in her new place at the
family table. As he was thus sitting one day,
after the family had finished dinner, Frado seated
herself in her mistress' chair, and was just
reaching for a clean dessert plate which was on
the table, when her mistress entered.

"Put that plate down; you shall not have a
clean one; eat from mine," continued she. Nig
hesitated. To eat after James, his wife or Jack,
would have been pleasant; but to be command-
ed to do what was disagreeable by her mistress,
because it was disagreeable, was trying. Quickly
looking about, she took the plate, called Fido to
wash it, which he did to the best of his ability;
then, wiping her knife and fork on the cloth, she
proceeded to eat her dinner.

Nig never looked toward her mistress during
the process. She had Jack near; she did not
fear her now.

Insulted, full of rage, Mrs. Bellmont rushed to
her husband, and commanded him to notice
this insult; to whip that child; if he would not
do it, James ought.

James came to hear the kitchen version of the


affair. Jack was boiling over with laughter. He
related all the circumstances to James, and
pulling a bright, silver half-dollar from his
pocket, he threw it at Nig, saying, "There, take
that; 'twas worth paying for."

James sought his mother; told her he "would
not excuse or palliate Nig's impudence; but she
should not be whipped or be punished at all.
You have not treated her, mother, so as to gain
her love; she is only exhibiting your remissness
in this matter."

She only smothered her resentment until a
convenient opportunity offered. The first time
she was left alone with Nig, she gave her a
thorough beating, to bring up arrearages; and
threatened, if she ever exposed her to James,
she would "cut her tongue out."
James found her, upon his return, sobbing;
but fearful of revenge, she dared not answer his
queries. He guessed their cause, and longed for
returning health to take her under his pro-