Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter XII.: NO MASTER KNOWS HIS MAN IN DEMERARA. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Chapter XII.: NO MASTER KNOWS HIS MAN 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
NO MASTER KNOWS HIS MAN IN DEMERARA.
Though Alfred was mortified at the event of his meeting with the planters, he had reason to be satisfied on the whole with the result of his present visit to Demerara. Now that poor Horner's opposition was at an end, it became comparatively easy to carry two or three measures about Mitchelson's slaves that Alfred had much at heart.
“I cannot give up the point of Cassius's freedom,” said he to Mitchelson. “I feel myself pledged in honour to obtain it.”
“In honour! I will spare your honour, my young friend, and never think the worse of you if you forgot Cassius from this clay.”
“You!” exclaimed Alfred in astonishment. “I am not pledged to you but to Cassius.”
“And what should Cassius know about honour?” asked Mitchelson, laughing.
“Call it humanity, if you please. Cassius knows what humanity is; or, at any rate, what liberty is: and since my employing him at the mill-dam was the means at once of exciting his hopes and raising his ransom, I cannot lose sight of him till I lose sight of the vessel in which he shall be sailing to Africa.”
“You must keep a sharp look out then; for he may be marched off south, or west, or east any day. I can make nothing of him, and shall not keep him.”
“South, or west, or east! I thought you said he was promised to a planter in the neighbourhood!”
“He was; but the bargain is off. The fellow was so idle and mulish the day that I wanted him to show to the best advantage, that my friend will not have him, unless for a lower price than I mean to accept.”
“You had better take his ransom as it was first fixed, and let him go. You will make nothing of him at home or in the market after what tie has gone through lately.”
“I am quite of your opinion, and would end tbe business at once, but that a neighbour has been talking to me about it, and convincing me that it would be wrong.”
“Wrong! how should it be wrong?”
“We planters determined long ago never to admit the right of slaves to purchase their freedom. We mean to keep it optional on our part whether to sell them or not, ill the same manner as we deny the right of any one to make us sell any other articles of our property. Now, so much has been said about this particular slave, Cassius, that my neighbours are afraid that, if I let him go, advantage will be taken of the case to represent that we can be obliged to part with our slaves, like the Spanish planters. So you see that, in justice to the West India interest, I must refuse Cassius his freedom.”
“I remember,” replied Alfred, “that some reforms specified by an Order in Council were objected to on the ground you have stated; and the declaration is of a piece with all the declarations with which government is insulted by the landholders here. But though your neighbours disregard equally the law of nature, the law of God, and the ordinances of the government under which they live, they admit, I believe, the conventional law of honour, of which you think Cassius can know nothing; they admit that a gentleman must keep a promise, deliberately made, and often repeated.”
“A promise to a gentleman, certainly. Promises to slaves are nothing, you know, if circumstances alter, as they have done in this case. The usages of society, for whose sake alone promises are made binding, bear no relation to slaves.”
“True enough,” said Alfred, smiling. “I take you at your word, Mr. Mitchelson. You have deliberately and repeatedly promised me that Cassius should ransom himself at a certain sum. That sum is now ready, and if you refuse to take it and let the man go, I will expose your breach of promise to every planter in Demerara.”
“My dear Alfred! How strange of you to treat an old friend so ceremoniously!”
“If you will not grant my claim in a friendly way, I must urge it ceremoniously. Tell me in so many words, do you mean to keep your promise or break it ?”
“I declare I am quite at a loss what to do. My neighbours fully understand that the ransom is refused.”
“That shall be no difficulty. I will tell them that I have recalled to your memory a positive promise to myself. I will take care of your honour towards them, if you will take care of it towards myself'. And now let us go and finish this business.”
“I am sure, my dear young friend, it always gives me the greatest pleasure to oblige you, and besides——”
Alfred stopped short as he was walking, and said, “We must understand one another better before we have done. I cannot allow you to think that you are doing an act of favour. It is an act of very tardy justice to Cassius, and of ungracious necessity towards myself. I am very sorry to speak thus to an old friend, Mr. Mitchelson; and no interests of my own should make me thus fight my ground inch by inch; but for the sake of the slaves I must deny that it is any matter of favour to let a slave go free when he offers his stipulated ransom.”
Mitchelson muttered something about his being unable to cut fine like his accomplished young friend.
“You cut fine just now,” replied Alfred, “on behalf of the planters; you must allow me to do the same on behalf of the slaves.”
They presently reached the spot where Cassius was seemingly at work with others who were repairing the devastation caused by the hurricane. Alfred asked Cassius whether he still had money to buy his ransom as at first fixed. He had. How soon could he bring it in his hand and buy his freedom? “Presently; in an hour; in five minutes,” the slave said, as he saw the benevolent smile broadening on Alfred's face.
“Fetch it then, and you and I will not part till you sail away over the blue sea yonder. Mr. Mitehelson, we will join you again presently, and conclude the business.”
“You are not going with him, Alfred? He will return sooner without you.”
But Alfred determined to lose sight of his charge no more till they should have quitted Paradise.
Cassius walked so rapidly that Alfred could scarcely keep up with him. On reaching his hut, a part of which had fallen in during the hurricane, he put his spade into Alfred's hands, pointing to a place where a heap of rubbish lay, He fetched another spade for himself from a neighbour's hut, and began to dig among the rubbish with might and main. Alfred worked as hard as he, and neither had vet spoken a word. They first uncovered the bed of planks and mat on which the slave had spent so many nights of desolate grief, and which had been so often watered with his tears. Cassius, by a sudden impulse, kicked these to as great a distance as he could, snatched up a burning stick from his fire, and kindled them. As the flame shot up, he danced and sang till the last chip and shred were burned. He then spat upon the ashes and returned to his work.
A little way under ground, beneath where the bed had stood, a leathern pouch appeared. Cassius seized it, showed Alfred with a rapid and significant gesture that it was full of coin, and marched straight towards the entrance of his garden.
“Stay a moment,” said Alfred, laying his hand on his shoulder; “you are not aware that you will never come back to this place again. Is there nothing here, nothing of your own, that you wish to take with you? No clothes, no tools, or utensils?”
Cassius looked about him with an expression of intense disgust.
“Be prudent, Cassius. Your clothes and your tools will not be the less useful to you in Liberia because they belonged to you as a slave.”
Cassius slowly returned and took up a few articles, but presently seemed much disposed to throw them into the fire.
“Well, well,” said Alfred, “leave them where they are, and if your master does not allow you the value of them, I will. Now take one more look at the dwelling where you. have lived so long, and then let us be gone.”
Cassius had, however, no sentimental regrets to bestow on the abode of his captivity. He refused the last look, and strode away as an escaped malefactor from the gibbet, without any wish to look back. The first words he spoke were uttered as he passed old Robert's hut.
“Little Hester will cry when she comes home and finds that I am gone. Can you do nothing for poor little Hester, Mr. Alfred?”
This was exactly what Alfred was turning over in his mind.
When Cassius had told down his ransom with Alfred's assistance, when the necessary forms of business were gone through, and the variety of coins which the pouch contained were fairly transferred to Mitchelson, Alfred said,
“Now that our affair of justice is concluded, I am going to bring forward a matter of pure favour.” Mr. Nitchelson, who liked granting favours better than doing justice, looked very gracious. Alfred explained, that by Cassius's departure, Hester would lose her only friend. He begged that she might be taken from under the charge of Robert and Sukey, and placed with some one who would treat her kindly, and that Mr. Mitehelson would himself inquire after the friendless little girl from time to time.
“With the utmost pleasure, Alfred. I shall always pay particular attention, I am sure, to objects that interest you. But would you like to purchase her? I am sorry that I cannot offer, in the present state of my affairs, to give her to you; but the demand shall be moderate if you are disposed to purchase her.”
Alfred was also sorry that the state of his own and his father's affairs was not such as could justify his purchasing slaves. He would fain have made this child free; but as he could not, he consoled himself with the hope that he had secured better treatment for her till he might be able to render her a higher benefit still. Mr. Mitchelson passed his word of honour that she should that day be removed to the dwelling of a gentle-tempered woman, who had lately lost a daughter of about Hester's age.
“Have you nothing to say to me, Cassius?” asked Mr. Mitchelson, as Cassius was turning his back for ever upon his master's mansion. “Have you no farewell for me, so long as we have lived together?”
No, not any. Cassius cared little for good manners just at this moment, and was only in haste to be gone.
“Lived together!” said Alfred to himself, as he quitted Paradise. “These slaveholders never dream that they may not use the language of the employers of a free and reasonable service. An English gentleman may speak to his household servants of the time they have ‘lived together;’ but it is too absurd from the slaveholder who despises his slave to the degraded being who hates his owner.”
Mitehelson meanwhile was wondering as much at Alfred, thinking, as he watched them from the steps of his mansion,—
“That young man is a perfect Quixote, or he could never see anything to care about in such a sullen brute as Cassius. I am glad I was never persuaded to send any of my children to England. No man is fit to be a West Indian planter who has had what is called a good education in England.”
As Alfred was crossing his father's estate on his way home, he met the overseer looking angry, and with his anger was mingled some grief. Hie was very ready to tell what was the matter. He had just head of the “unfortunate accident,” by which Willy had been torn to pieces by bloodhounds. When Alfred had made two strange discoveries, he saw that nothing was to be made of the overseer, and rode on. One discovery was, that the man's anger was against Willy himself for the attempt at escape; the other, that he had just blurted out the whole story to Mark in Becky's absence. Of course Alfred lost no time in seeing if he could comfort the old man.
Mark was still alone when they went in, rocking himself in his chair, and apparently aware of what had happened, for he was singing, in a faint wailing voice, a funeral song in his own tongue.
He stopped when Alfred entered the hut, Cassius remaining outside, and before he could be prevented, rose from his seat, saying,
“I am ready for the burial. I see them waiting for me outside. Don't stop me; I am ready for the burial.”
In attempting to move forwards, he fell heavily.
“Help, help!” cried Alfred to his companion. “Lay him on the mat: sprinkle water on his face; chafe his hands!”
It was too late. He was gone. He was indeed “ready for the burial.” Alfred waited for Becky that he might give her the only comfort in his power, in the hope that, now her filial cares were ended, she might join her sister by the exchange of the one or the other.
“Cassius has been climbing every hour since sunrise, to where he may see the sea,” said Mr. Bruce, laughing, to Alfred, on the day preceding his return to Barbadoes. “He is like a school-boy going home for the holidays.”
“To compare great things with small,” added Alfred.
“So you ship him with a party of your own, and your neighbour's liberated slaves, for Liberia. How did you get leave? How did you gain any interest with the American Colonization Society?”
“Our object being the same, father, there was no difficulty in coming to an understanding. We planters take upon ourselves the expense of transportation, and the society receives our free blacks under the protection of its agent at Liberia.”
“And what do you suppose will become of them there?”
“That which has become of the free blacks of the United States who are settled there. They will labour, and prosper and be happy. They will become farmers, planters, merchants, or tradespeople. They will make their own laws, guard their own rights, and be as we are, men and citizens.”
“Do you expect me to believe all this, son? Do you think I know so little what blacks are?”
“Neither you nor I, father, can learn, in this place, what Africans are in a better place. I believe, and I certainly expect others to believe, what I have told you, on the strength of sound testimony. I wish you could once witness a shipment for Liberia. It would confirm the testimony wonderfully.”
“I am aware, son, that there are powerful emotions in the mind of a negro at the very mention of Africa, or of the sea, or even of a ship. When the importation of slaves was more practised than it is now, the most endearing name by which negroes called each other was ‘shipmate.’ If it was so endearing on their being brought to a foreign country, I can fancy that it must be yet more so, when they return to their own. The little feeling that blacks have is all spent upon their country.”
Alfred shook his head, observing that he believed nobody in Demerara was qualified to pronounce on that point.
“What! not I, that have had to do with negroes all my life?”
“Do you remember the Canary bird that Mary showed you when you were in England?” was Alfred's reply.
“What the little pining thing that was kept in the housekeeper's room at the Grosvenor Square the house? O yes! Mary was very fond of it, I remember.”
“Mary gave that Canary its seed and water for years, aud she would have laughed if any one had told her that she knew nothing about Canary birds; but it would have been very true; for that tame little creature, drawing up its tiny bucket of water when it was bid, seeing the sunbeams shut out as soon as ever it hailed them with a burst of song, was not like one of the same species with the wild, winged creatures that flit about its native islands, and warble unchecked till twilight settles down upon the woods. And we, father, can never guess from looking at a negro sulking in the stocks, or tilling lands which yield him no harvest, what he may be where there is no white man to fear and hate, and where he may reap whatever he has sown. Happily there are some who have been to Liberia, and can tell us what a negro may become.”