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Chapter VII.: CHRISTIANITY DIFFICULT IN DEMERARA. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 2 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 2.
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CHRISTIANITY DIFFICULT IN DEMERARA.
Mr. Mitchelson told his young friend that he must not think of leaving Paradise at present. “You have served me in one way,” he said, “and you now must do it in another. You have built up my mill-dam, and now you must give me the pleasure of your society. I shall be little flattered, if you give me to understand that you prefer intercourse with my slaves to associating with me and my family.”
Alfred was quite disposed to remain at Paradise for a few days; and they were made days of festivity, according to the hospitable customs of the West Indies. An excursion was planned for one day, the main object of which was to inspect an estate, now to be let on lease, for which Mr. Mitchelson had been authorised by a friend to negotiate. The ladies of the family cared little for the estate; but there was some pretty country a little way beyond which Alfred had never seen, and which they visited to show him. A party of pleasure was therefore formed, and all the elegant accompaniments of such an arrangement were provided in profusion. The ladies in carriages, the gentlemen on horseback, set out in the cool of the morning, saw all they meant to see, dined luxuriously at the house belonging to the plantation which Mr. Mitchelson had been left behind to survey, and returned in good time in the evening. Alfred was rather surprised at the anxiety of the ladies not to be delayed beyond a certain hour, and remembered how apt parties of pleasure in England are to transgress in this respect how faithfully they promise to be home “by ten, at latest,” and how fidgetty grandfathers, or anxious mothers, or officious servants, sit at home listening for carriage wheels, start when the clock strikes eleven, groan when it comes to twelve, and forgive everything when the weary, unsociable, young folks are at last safely housed, and yawn a good night to each other, leaving everything to be told the next day. The most unaccountable thing of all to him, was the extraordinary prudence of the young people.
“Come, Alfred,” said Mr. Mitchelson, “we can go so much faster than the carriage this cool afternoon, that it is a pity you should not see a fine sea-view there is behind the wood there. You like a sea-view, I know.”
“O papa!” exclaimed Miss Grace, as she saw them turning their horses, “what are you going to do? You do not mean to leave us!”
“Only for half an hour, my dear. We shall join you where the roads meet.”
There was a general cry from the ladies that it was too late for the party to separate. Mr. Mitchelson urged that the carriages could take care of each other, and that he and Alfred could come to no harm, for he knew the road perfectly, —a fine open road, except one bit that led through a wood;—and the gentlemen trotted off without more controversy.
It was true that the road could not be missed. It was true that, as Mr. Mitehelson protested, the view was fine enough to have tempted them twice as far out of their way; but it was not so true that he was clear about the way back. He thought he was, or he would not have ventured; and for a considerable way he guided his young friend confidently, and congratulated himself on having suggested so pleasant a variety in their journey home. But changes had been made since he last went over the ground; changes which he was long in perceiving, and of which he was not fully convinced till he had become completely bewildered about the direction in which he was proceeding. They had entered an extensive wood of which he remembered nothing: the road branched off, and he did not know whether to go right or left; and, what was worse, both roads were found to become wilder and less marked, till they ended in being no road at all. There was nothing for it but to go back; a proceeding which seemed to Alfred so easy, that he was astonished at the nervous agitation of his companion, who alternately checked and urged on his horse, talked fast, or would say nothing, and at last appeared so irritable as well as panic-struck, that Alfred despaired of managing him, and let him take his own way about what should be done. As might be expected, he lost the track again. They became more involved in shade than ever, and the short twilight of that climate was darkening every moment.
If Alfred had been alone, or favoured with a more manly and agreeable companion, he would have thought it no great hardship to be obliged to pass the night in the woods of such a country as this. There could be no richer bower than the foliage around him; no lamps in a pillared hall so beautiful as the fire-flies that began already to flit among the columnar stems which retired in long perspective on every hand; no perfumes more delicious than the fragrance of the pimento, borne through the groves by the whispering night-wind; no canopy so splendid as the deep blue heaven where the constellations appeared magnified as if the powers of the eye had been strengthened, where the milky-way seemed paved with planets, and where Venus rose like a little moon, and in the absence of the greater, casting a distinguishable shadow from trunk and waving bough. Alfred's heart leaped at the idea of watching, in so favourable a situation, the solemn march of night, and repairing before the dawn to the plains whence he might see the first sunbeams kiss the ocean. He could perceive no danger, and he felt no want. He could pluck grass for a bed; he could light a fire, if it should be necessary; and both had so lately eaten that there was no fear of being starved before morning. He turned to his companion, who had thrown himself from his horse upon the ground; but Mitchelson's countenance looked so gloomy in the dim light, that his young friend hesitated to address him.
“Lord have mercy upon us!” groaned Mitchelson. “What may happen if we cannot get home?”
“I was not aware there was any danger,” replied Alfred. “What is our danger? not wild beasts, nor cold, nor hunger; we can light a fire——”
“O! my poor wife. O! my children. Their friends will leave them, supposing we are coming.”
“I am sorry for the fright they will have,” said Alfred; “but surely they will not think any great harm can befall us before morning?”
“O! what may not have happened before morning? Alfred, I had rather you and I had to battle with wild beasts than women with slaves. If the wretches find out my absence——”
The cause of all this terror now flashed upon Alfred: the same cause which made Mitchelson carry his family with him wherever he went. He was afraid to leave his household in the power of his slaves. Yet this was the country where (so people are told in England) slaves are contented and happy, and, in every respect, better off than the free peasantry of the empire! This was the country whose proprietors dared to complain of the inefficiency of British law for the security of property! The present was not the moment, however, for venting his indignation, or pointing to the obvious truths which stared him in the face. Alfred looked on his terrified companion as he sat trembling on the trunk of a fallen tree, and felt nothing but pity. He could not triumph while he knew that the unhappy man was scared with visions of burning cane-fields, of a murdered wife and insulted children.
“Do not let us give up, if you are really very anxious to get home,” said Alfred gently. “I can guide you a little way back, I believe; and if you will but compose yourself, you may observe some familiar object before long which will help us into the right track. We may yet be home before midnight.”
It was past midnight, however, and the moon was high in the heaven before they got out of the wood and found themselves on a road—not the one they wanted, but one which would lead them home at length, after a circuit of a few miles. Mitchelson's countenance, as seen by the moonlight, was pale and haggard, and the horses were so weary that they stumbled continually. Alfred, too. was sufficiently fatigued to be glad to be relieved from all difficulty but that of going straight forward as well as he could, and from all obligation to converse. He looked at his companion from time to time, fearing that he might drop from his horse; for Mitchelson, never strong, and exposed during the whole day to unusual fatigue, was ill prepared for an adventure like the present, and appeared utterly exhausted. Alfred looked about in vain for any place where they night stop for a few minutes to refresh themselves. There were none but clusters of negro-huts here and there, where all was silent and motionless, except that smoke curled up from the roofs in little white clouds as the silvery light fell upon them. Mitchelson would not hear of calling up any one to furnish a calabash of water, or any more substantial refreshment; and he seemed particularly uneasy while in the neighbourhood of these dwellings, starting whenever a bough dangled in the breeze, and casting a suspicious glance into the shadows as he urged his horse forwards. He appeared more in a hurry than ever, though he actually tottered in his saddle, as they came to a place which seemed to Alfred as if he had seen it before.
“Surely,” said Alfred, “this is your own estate. Yes, that hut is Cassius's. You shall go no further till you have eaten and drunken, or I shall have you fainting by the road-side.”
So saying, he dismounted, and fastened his horse to some palings at a little distance from the hut. Mitchelson tried by word and gesture to restrain him; but Alfred, who thought his companion in no condition to take care of himself, was decided.
“Fear nothing,” he said, “Cassius and I are good friends, and it will give him pleasure to be of service to us.”
He approached softly, and his footsteps were not heard, though Cassius was awake, and somewhat differently engaged from what might have been expected at such a time of night.
When Alfred reached the threshold, he thought he heard the murmurs of a voice within, and stepped round to the opening, which served for a window, to observe for his guidance what was passing within. Cassius was alone: it was his voice that Alfred had heard. His night-fire was smouldering on the earthen floor, and he was kneeling beside it, his arms folded, his head drooped on his breast, except now and then when he looked up with eyes in which blazed a much brighter fire than that before him. A flickering blaze now and then shot up from the embers, and showed that his face was bathed with tears or perspiration, and that his strong limbs shook as if an icy wind was blowing upon him.
Alfred had often wondered, while in England, what Christianity could be like in a slave country. Since be arrived in Demerara he had heard tidings of the Christian teacher who had resided there for a time, which gave him a sufficiently accurate notion of the nature of his faith and of that of the planters; but he was still curious to know how the Gospel was held by the slaves. He had now an opportunity of learning, for Cassius was at prayer. These were snatches of his prayer.
“May he sell no sugar, that no woman may die of the heat and hard work, and that her baby may not cry for her. If Christ came to make men free, let him send a blight that the crop may be spoiled; for when our master is poor, we shall be free. O Lord! make our master poor: make him sit under a tree and see his plantation one great waste. Let him see that his canes are dead, and that the wind is coming to blow down his house and his woods; and then he will say to us, ‘I have no bread for you, and you may go.’ O, God! pity the women who cannot sleep this night because their sons are to be flogged when the sun rises. O, pity me, because I have worked so long, and shall never be free. Do not say to me, ‘You shall never be free.’ Why shouldst thou spare Horner who never spares us? Let him die in his sleep this night, and then there will be many to sing to thee instead of wailing all the night. We will sing like the birds m the morning if thou wilt take away our fear this night. If Jesus was here, lie would speak kindly to us, and, perhaps, bring a hurricane for our sakes. O. do not help us less because he is with thee instead of with us! We have waited long, O Lord! we have not kilted any one: we have done no harm, because thou hast commanded us to be patient. If we must wait, do thou give us patience; for we are very miserable, and our grief makes us angry. If we may not be angry, be thou angry with one or two, that a great many may be happy.”
These words caught Alfred's ear amidst many which he could not hear. In deep emotion, he was about to beckon his companion to come and listen too, when lie found he was already at his elbow.
“Stand and hear him out,” whispered Alfred. “You will do him no harm, I am sure. You will not punish a man for his devotions, be their character what it may. Let Cassius be master for once. Let him teach us that which he understands better than we. He seems to have thought more than you or I on what Christ would say to our authority if He were here. I will go in when he rises, and hear more.”
“For God's sake, do not trust yourself with him. Let us go. Don't ask him for water, or anything else. I will have nothing,—I am going home this moment.”
“Then I will follow,” said Alfred, knocking at the door of the hut as soon as he saw that Cassius had risen and was about to replenish his fire.
“Cassius, I have overheard some of your prayers,” he said, when he had explained to the astonished slave the cause of his appearance. “I was glad when you told me that you had been made a Christian; but your prayer is not that of a Christian. Surely this is not the way you were taught to pray?”
“We were told to pray for the miserable, and to speak to God as our Father, and tell him all that we wish. I know none so miserable as slaves, and therefore I prayed that there might be an end of their misery. I wish nothing so much as that I and all slaves may be free, and so I prayed for it. Is it wrong to pray for this?”
“No. I pray for the same thing, perhaps, as often as you; but—”
“Do you? Do you pray the same prayer as we do?” cried the slave, falling at Alfred's feet, and looking up in his face. “Then let us be your slaves, and we will all pray together.”
“I wish to have no slaves, Cassius: I would rather you should be my servants, if you worked for me at all. But we could not pray the same prayer while you ask for revenge. How dared you ask that the overseer might die, and that your master might be poor, and see his estate laid waste, when you know Jesus prayed for pardon for his enemies, and commanded us to do them good when we could?”
“Was it revenge?” asked Cassius. “I did not mean it for revenge; but I can never understand what prayer would best please God. I would not pray for my master's sorrow and Horner's death if it would do nobody any good, or even nobody but me; but when I know that there would be joy in a hundred cottages if there was death in the overseer's, may I not pray for the hundred families? And if I know that the more barren the land grows, the more the men will eat, and the women sing, and the children play, and the sooner I myself shall be free, may I not pray that the land may be barren? And as the land grows barren, my master grows poor. You know the Gospel better than I do. Explain this to me.”
Alfred did his best to make it clear that, while blessings were prayed for, the means should be left to Divine wisdom: but though Cassius acquiesced and promised, it was plain he did not see why he should not take for granted the suitableness of means which appeared to him so obvious. When Alfred heard what provocation he had just received, he had only wondered at the moderation of his petitions, and the patience with which he bore reproof. Horner had given him notice the preceding evening, that as it appeared from his exertions at the mill-dam, that he was of more value than he had always pretended, his ransom should be doubled. In such a case, a prayer for such low prices as would lessen his own value was the most natural that could burst from the lips of a slave.
Alfred resolved, in his own mind, to obtain justice for Cassius, but refrained from exciting hopes which it might be out of his power to realize. He cheered the slave by accepting food and drink from him, and by imparting to him that luxury which it is to be hoped visits this class of beings more frequently than formerly,— sympathy. When Cassius came out to hold the stirrup for Alfred, he looked with a smile at the moon, and said that there would be time for himself to sleep before the gong should sound, and vet more for the gentleman, who need not mind the gong.
Alfred's horse had been grazing to such good purpose during the conversation with Cassius, that he carried his master home without another stumble.