- Page 279
- Bass faithful to his word
- His Arrival on Christmas Eve
- The Difficulty of Obtaining an Interview
- The Meeting in the Cabin
- Non-arrival of the Letter
- Bass announces his Intention to proceed
- Conversation between Epps and Bass
- Young Mistress McCoy, the Beauty of Bayou
- The "Ne plus ultra" of Dinners
- Music and Dancing
- Presence of the Mistress
- Her Exceeding Beauty
-The Last Slave Dance
- William Pierce
- Over sleep myself
- The Last Whipping
- Cold Morning
- Epps' Threats
- The Passing Carriage
- Strangers approaching through the Cotton
- Last Hour on Bayou Boeuf
his word, the day before Christmas, just at
night-fall, Bass came riding into the yard.
"How are you," said Epps, shaking him by the
hand, "glad to see you."
He would not have been very glad had he known
the object of his errand.
"Quite well, quite well," answered Bass.
"Had some business out on the bayou, and concluded
to call and see you, and stay over night.
Epps ordered one of the slaves to take charge of
his horse, and with much talk and laughter they
passed into the house together; not, however, until
Bass had looked at me significantly, as much
as to say,
"Keep dark, we understand each other." It was
ten o'clock at night before the labors of the day
were performed, when I entered the cabin. At
that time Uncle Abram and Bob occupied
it with me. I laid down upon my board and
feigned I was asleep. When my companions had
fallen into a profound slumber, I moved stealthily
out of the door, and watched, and listened
attentively for some sign or sound from Bass.
There I stood until long after midnight, but nothing
could be seen or heard. As I suspected, he
dared not leave the house, through fear of exciting
the suspicion of some of the family. I judged,
correctly, he would rise earlier than was his
custom, and take the opportunity of seeing me before
Epps was up. Accordingly I aroused
Uncle Abram an hour sooner than usual, and sent
him into the house to build a fire, which, at that
season of the year, is a part of Uncle Abram's
I also gave Bob a violent shake, and asked him
if he intended to sleep till noon, saying master
would be up before the mules were fed. He know
right well the consequence that would follow such an
event, and, jumping to his feet, was at the
horse-pasture in a twinkling.
Presently, when both were gone, Bass slipped
into the cabin.
"No letter yet, Platt," said he. The
announcement fell upon my heart like lead.
"Oh, do wright again, Master Bass,"
I cried; "I will give you the names of a great many
Surely they are not all dead. Surely some one
will pity me."
"No use," Bass replied," no use. I have
made up my mind to that. I fear the Marksville
post-master will mistrust something, I have inquired
so often at his office. Too uncertain —too
"Then it is all over," I exclaimed." Oh, my God,
how can I end my days here!"
"You're not going to end them here," he said, " unless
you die very soon. I've thought this matter
all over, and have come to a determination.
There are more ways than one to manage this
business, and a better and surer way than writing
letters. I have a job or two on hand which can
be completed by March or April. By that time I
shall have a considerable sum of money, and then,
Platt, I am going to Saratoga myself."
I could scarcely credit my own senses as the words fell
from his lips. But he assured me, in a manner
that left no doubt of the sincerity of his
intention, that, if his life was spared until
spring, he should certainly undertake the journey.
"I have lived in this region long enough," he
continued; "I may as well be in one place as
another. For a long time I have been thinking
of going back once more to the place where I was
born. I'm tired of Slavery as well as you.
If can succeed in getting you away from here, it
will be a good act that I shall like to think of all
my life. And I shall succeed,
Platt; I'm bound to do it. Now
let me tell you what I want. Epps will
be up soon, and it won't do to be caught here.
Think of a great many men at Saratoga and Sandy
Hill, and in that neighborhood, who once knew you.
I shall make excuse to come here again in the course
of the winter, when I will write down their names.
I will then know who to call on when I go north.
Think of all you can. Cheer up! Don't be
discouraged. I'm with you, life or death.
Good-bye. God bless you," and saying this he left
the cabin quickly, and entered the great house.
It was Christmas morning —the happiest day in the whole
year for the slave. That morning he need not
hurry to the field, with his gourd and cotton-bag.
Happiness sparkled in the eyes and overspread the
countenances of all. The time of feasting and
dancing had come. The cane and cotton fields
were deserted. That day the clean dress was to
be donned —the red ribbon displayed; there were to
be re-unions, and joy and laughter, and hurrying to
and fro. It was to be a day of liberty among
the children of Slavery. Wherefore they were
happy, and rejoiced.
After breakfast Epps and Bass sauntered
about the yard, conversing upon the price of cotton,
and various other topics.
"Where do your niggers hold Christmas?" Bass
"Platt is going to Tanners to-day. His
fiddle is in great demand. They want him at
day, and Miss Mary McCoy, on
the old Norwood plantation, writes me a note
that she wants him to play for her niggers Tuesday."
"He is rather a smart boy, ain't he ?" said Bass. "
Come here, Platt," he added, looking at me as
I walked up to them, as if he had never thought
before to take any special notice of me.
"Yes," replied Epps, taking hold of my arm and
feeling it, "there isn't a bad joint in him.
There ain't a boy on the bayou worth more than he is
—perfectly sound, and no bad tricks. D—n him,
he isn't like other niggers; doesn't look like 'em
—don't act like 'em. I was offered seventeen
hundred dollars for him last week."
"And didn't take it ?" Bass inquired, with an air of
"Take it —no; devilish clear of it. _.. Why, he's a
reg'lar genius; can make a plough beam, wagon tongue
— anything, as well as you can. Marshall wanted to
put up one of his niggers agin him and raffle for
them, but 1 told him I would see the devil have him
"I don't see anything remarkable about him," Bass
"Why, just feel of him,
now," Epps rejoined. "You don't see a
boy very often put together any closer than he is.
He's a thin-skin'd cuss, and won't bear as much
shipping as some; but he's got the muscle in him,
and no mistake.
Bass felt of me, turned me round, and made a
thorough examination, Epps all the while
dwelling on my good points. But his visitor
seemed to take but little interest finally in the
subject, and consequently it was dropped.
Bass soon departed, giving me an other sly look
of recognition and significance, as he trotted out
of the yard.
When he was gone I obtained a pass, and started for
Tanner's —not Peter Tanner's, of
whom mention has previously been made, but a
relative of his. I played during the day and
most of the night, spending the next day, Sunday, in
my cabin. Monday I crossed the bayou to
Douglas Marshall's, all Epps'
slaves accompanying me, and on Tuesday went to the
old Norwood place, which is the third
plantation above Marshall's, on the same side
of the water.
This estate is now owned by Miss Mary McCoy, a
lovely girl, some twenty years of age. She is
the beauty and the glory of Bayou Boeuf. She
owns about a hundred working hands, besides a great
many house servants, yard boys, and young children.
Her brother-in-law, who resides on the adjoining
estate, is her general agent. She is beloved
by all her slaves, and good reason indeed have they
to be thankful that they have fallen into such
gentle hands. Nowhere on the bayou are there
such feasts, such merrymaking,' as at young Madam
McCoy's. Thither, more than to any
other place, do the old and the young for miles
around love to repair in the time of the Christmas
holidays; for nowhere else can they find such
delicious repasts; nowhere else can they hear a
voice speaking to them
so pleasantly. No one is so well beloved —no
one fills so large a space in the hearts of a
thousand, slaves, as young Madam McCoy,
the orphan mistress of the old Norwood
On my arrival at her place, I found two or three
hundred had assembled. The table was prepared
in a long building, which she had erected expressly
for her slaves to dance in. It was covered
with every variety of food the country afforded, and
was pronounced by general acclamation to be the
rarest of dinners. Roast turkey, pig, chicken,
duck, and all kinds of meat, baked, boiled, and
broiled, formed a line the whole length of the
extended table, while the vacant spaces were filled
with tarts, jellies, and frosted cake, and pastry of
many kinds. The young mistress walked around
the table, smiling and saying a kind word to each
one, and seemed to enjoy the scene exceedingly.
When the dinner was over the tables were removed to
make room for the dancers. I tuned my violin I
and struck up a lively air; while some joined in a
nimble reel, others patted and sang their simple but
melodious songs, filling the great room with music
mingled with the sound of human voices and the
clatter of many feet.
In the evening the mistress returned, and stood in the
door a long time, looking at us. She was
magnificently arrayed. Her dark hair and eyes
contrasted strongly with her clear and delicate
complexion. Her form was slender but
commanding, and her
movement was a combination of unaffected dignity and
grace. As she stood there, clad in her rich
apparel, her face animated with pleasure, I thought
I had never looked upon a human being half so
beautiful. I dwell with delight upon the
description of this fair and gentle lady, not only
because she inspired me with emotions of gratitude
and admiration, but because I would have the reader
understand that all slave-owners on Bayou Boeuf are
not like Epps, or Tibeats, or Jim
Burns. Occasionally can be found,
rarely it may be, indeed, a good man like William
Ford, or an angel of kindness like young
Tuesday concluded the three holidays Epps yearly
allowed us. On my way home, Wednesday morning,
while passing the plantation of William
Pierce, that gentleman hailed me, saying
he had received a line from Epps, brought
down by William Varnell, permitting
him to detain me for the purpose of playing for his
slaves that night. It was the last time I was
destined to witness a slave dance on the shores of
Bayou Boeuf. The party at Pierce's
continued their jollification until broad daylight,
when I returned to my master's house, somewhat
wearied with the loss of rest, but rejoicing in the
possession of numerous bits and picayunes, which the
whites, who were pleased with my musical
performances, had contributed.
On Saturday morning, for the first time in years, I
overslept myself. I was frightened on coming
out of the cabin to find the slaves were already in
They had preceded me some fifteen minutes.
Leaving my dinner and water-gourd, I hurried after
them as fast as I could move. It was not yet
sunrise, but Epps was on the piazza as I left
the hut, and cried out to me that it was a pretty
time of day to he getting up. By extra
exertion my row was up when he came out after
breakfast. This, however, was no excuse for
the offence of oversleeping. Bidding me strip
and lie down, he gave me ten or fifteen lashes, at
the conclusion of which he inquired if I thought,
after that, I could get up sometime in the morning.
I expressed myself quite positively that I could,
and, with back stinging with pain, went about my
The following day, Sunday, my thoughts were upon
Bass, and the probabilities and hopes which hung
upon his action and determination. I
considered the uncertainty of life; that if it
should be the will of God that he should die,
my prospect of deliverance, and all expectation of
happiness in this world, would be wholly ended and
destroyed. My sore back, perhaps, did not have
a tendency to render me unusually cheerful. I
felt down-hearted and unhappy all day long, and when
I laid down upon the hard board at night, my heart
was oppressed with such a load of grief, it seemed
that it must break.
Monday morning, the third of January, 1853, we were in
the field betimes. It was a raw, cold morning, such
as is unusual in that region. I was in
advance, Uncle Abram next to me,
behind him Bob, Patsey and Wiley,
with our cotton-bags about our
necks. Epps happened (a rare tiling,
indeed,) to come out that morning without his whip.
He swore, in a manner that would shame a pirate,
that we were doing nothing. Bob
ventured to say that his fingers were so numb with
cold he couldn't pick fast. Epps cursed
himself for not having brought his rawhide, and
declared that when he came out again e would warm us
well; yes, he would make us all hotter than that
fiery realm in which I am sometimes compelled to
believe he will himself eventually reside.
With these fervent expressions, he left us. When
out of hearing, we commenced talking to each other,
saying how hard it was to be compelled to keep up
our tasks with numb fingers; how unreasonable master
was, and speaking of him generally in no flattering
terms. Our conversation was interrupted by a
carriage passing rapidly towards the house.
Looking up, we saw two men approaching us through
brought down this narrative to the last hour I was
to spend on Bayou Boeuf—having got ten through my
last cotton picking, and about to bid Master
Epps farewell —I must beg the reader to go
back with me to the month of August; to follow
Bass' letter on its long journey to Saratoga; to
learn the effect it produced —and that, while I was
repining and despairing _ in the slave hut of
Edwin Epps, through the friendship of
Bass and the goodness of Providence, all things
were working together for my deliverance.
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