'Ah! He'd bought land,' said Mark, shaking his head, 'and paid for it too. Every sort of nateral advantage was connected with it, the agents said; and there certainly was ONE, quite unlimited. No end to the water!'
'It's a thing he couldn't have done without, I suppose,' observed Martin, peevishly.
'Certainly not, sir. There it was, any way; always turned on, and no water-rate. Independent of three or four slimy old rivers close by, it varied on the farm from four to six foot deep in the dry season. He couldn't say how deep it was in the rainy time, for he never had anything long enough to sound it with.'
'Is this true?' asked Martin of his companion.
'Extremely probable,' he answered. 'Some Mississippi or Missouri lot, I dare say.'
'However,' pursued Mark, 'he came from I-don't-know-where-and-all, down to New York here, to meet his wife and children; and they started off again in a steamboat this blessed afternoon, as happy to be along with each other as if they were going to Heaven. I should think they was, pretty straight, if I may judge from the poor man's looks.'
'And may I ask,' said Martin, glancing, but not with any displeasure, from Mark to the negro, 'who this gentleman is? Another friend of yours?'
'Why sir,' returned Mark, taking him aside, and speaking confidentially in his ear, 'he's a man of colour, sir!'
'Do you take me for a blind man,' asked Martin, somewhat impatiently, 'that you think it necessary to tell me that, when his face is the blackest that ever was seen?'
'No, no; when I say a man of colour,' returned Mark, 'I mean that he's been one of them as there's picters of in the shops. A man and a brother, you know, sir,' said Mr Tapley, favouring his master with a significant indication of the figure so often represented in tracts and cheap prints.
'A slave!' cried Martin, in a whisper.
'Ah!' said Mark in the same tone. 'Nothing else. A slave. Why, when that there man was young--don't look at him while I'm a-telling it--he was shot in the leg; gashed in the arm; scored in his live limbs, like crimped fish; beaten out of shape; had his neck galled with an iron collar, and wore iron rings upon his wrists and ankles. The marks are on him to this day. When I was having my dinner just now, he stripped off his coat, and took away my appetite.'
'Is THIS true?' asked Martin of his friend, who stood beside them.
'I have no reason to doubt it,' he answered, shaking his head 'It very often is.'
'Bless you,' said Mark, 'I know it is, from hearing his whole story. That master died; so did his second master from having his head cut open with a hatchet by another slave, who, when he'd done it, went and drowned himself; then he got a better one; in years and years he saved up a little money, and bought his freedom, which he got pretty cheap at last, on account of his strength being nearly gone, and he being ill. Then he come here. And now he's a-saving up to treat himself, afore he dies, to one small purchase--it's nothing to speak of. Only his own daughter; that's all!' cried Mr Tapley, becoming excited. 'Liberty for ever! Hurrah! Hail, Columbia!'
'Hush!' cried Martin, clapping his hand upon his mouth; 'and don't be an idiot. What is he doing here?'
'Waiting to take our luggage off upon a truck,' said Mark. 'He'd have come for it by-and-bye, but I engaged him for a very reasonable charge (out of my own pocket) to sit along with me and make me jolly; and I am jolly; and if I was rich enough to contract with him to wait upon me once a day, to be looked at, I'd never be anything else.'
The fact may cause a solemn impeachment of Mark's veracity, but it must be admitted nevertheless, that there was that in his face and manner at the moment, which militated strongly against this emphatic declaration of his state of mind.
'Lord love you, sir,' he added, 'they're so fond of Liberty in this part of the globe, that they buy her and sell her and carry her to market with 'em. They've such a passion for Liberty, that they can't help taking liberties with her.