Her air, her manners, all who saw admired.
GEOKGE CRABBE, Parish Register, Part II, 1807
Metta Victoria Fuller, one of Beadle's most faithful writers, was born near Erie, Pennsylvania, March 2, 1831, the third of five children of Adonijah Fuller and Lucy (Williams) Fuller. In 1839 the family removed to Wooster, Ohio, where Metta attended a female seminary. When but thirteen years of age, "The Silver Lute" was published by the local newspaper. In 1846, when she was fifteen, her first romance, "The Last Days of Tul; A Romance of the Lost Cities of Yucatan," was published in Boston, and at the same time she was writing, under the pseudonym "The Singing Sybil"(1) for the New York Home Journal—at that time published by N. P. Willis and George P. Morris. In that journal, also, her story "The Tempter" was published as a serial. This was said to have created a decided sensation in Great Britain, where it was pronounced to be a fitting conclusion for Dr. Croly's "Salathiel." Actually, it was pretty terrible, and gave no indication of the talent which later was to make her one of the most popular and charming writers of her time.
With proudly-heaving bosom, and glowing cheek, and flashing eye, the young girl stood before a mirror of polished steel, and gazed upon her bewildering loveliness. Intoxicating emotions, new and strange, were swelling her heart. Wild visions of future triumph and power were mingling with the softer pulsations of love.
But the appointed hour drew nigh. A glittering chariot, drawn by twelve snowy steeds, was in waiting; and, resplendent with jewels, and pride, and beauty, Alda was borne through the illuminated streets of the city.
In 1850 or 1851, she and her sister Frances were living in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and Metta was there married to a Dr. Morse.(2) What became of him is unknown, but soon afterwards she and her sister went east to enter the literary field, and in 1851 their "Poems of Sentiment and Imagination" apneared. In the same year was published Metta's "The Senator's Son; or, The Maine Law, A Last Refuge," and it was claimed that ten editions were issued in this country, and that 30,000 copies were sold in England. Metta was improving in style, but she was still far from good.
"Why do the ladies come away from the table first, mother? Don't they eat as much as the gentlemen?"
"I hardly think they do, Parke," replied the lady with a smile; "but the gentlemen are not eating; they are drinking wine."
"Don't the ladies drink wine?"
"A little, sometimes."
"Fresh Leaves from Western Woods" was published in Buffalo in 1852. "Fashionable Dissipations" and "Mormon Wives" followed in 1854 and 1856. She was still moralizing, but the stories were becoming more sensational. At the same time she was contributing to the Saturday Evening Post and the Saturday Evening Bulletin.
In July, 1856, †in Mansfield, Ohio, she was married to Orville J. Victor, at that time editor of the Sandusky, Ohio, My Register, and in the same month he became the editor of the quarterly Cosmopolitan Art Journal, published in Sandusky and New York City. In the summer of 1858, Mr. and Mrs. Victor removed to New York City, where both became contributors to the leading periodicals. In 1869 Mr. Victor became editor of the Illuminated Western World, a newspaper sized sheet with colored illustrations, and in it some of Mrs. Victor's longer stories appeared.
Her first work for Beadle was as editor of The Home in January, 1859, when that magazine was moved from Buffalo to New York. Her first contribution to the ten cent publications of the firm was No. I of the Handbook series, "Dime Cook-Book," which was published during the early part of the same year. The "Dime Recipe Book" followed in July, 1859, and it is barely possible that "Louis LeGrand, M.D." who edited the first four Dime Dialogues, 1859-66, and the "Letter Writer," 1860, also was Mrs. Victor—perhaps both Mr. and Mrs. Victor used the same pen name. (See under Louis LeGrand.)
Mrs. Victor's first romance for Beadle was Dime Novel No. 4, "Alice Wilde," which was published August I, 1860. This was followed by No. 10, "The Backwoods Bride," November I, and this by the first and only Half-Dime Novelette, "Myrtle, the Child of the Prairie," December 8 of the same year. The latter was published under the pseudonym "Rose Kennedy," which she used here for the first time.
By this time Mrs. Victor had developed into a very skillful and clever writer, and numerous Dime Novels followed in the succeeding years. Besides writing for Beadle she also wrote poems, sketches, and stories for other publishers, even though her husband had become Beadle's editor. In 1864 she published, under the name "Seeley Regester," her novel "The Dead Letter," which was reprinted in Beadle''s Monthly in 1866.
Several other novels were published under the same name. She wrote various humorous stories for the Cosmopolitan Art Journal, some of them under the name "Mrs. Mark Peabody."(3) Among these were "Miss Slimmens' Window," "Miss Slimmens' Boarding-House," and "Lucy in the City." Anonymously she published some very clever books of humor: "A Bad Boy's Diary," "The Rasher Family," "The Naughty Girl's Diary," and "The Blunders of a Bashful Man."(4) All of these, including the Miss Slimmens stories, which later were published in book form by Derby and Jackson in New York, 1859, are listed in Allibone under the names of both Mrs. Victor and Walter T. Gray.(5) The latter name, presumably, must be regarded as a pseudonym of Mrs. Victor.
Mrs. Victor's stories were very popular, and it is said that for the stories which she wrote exclusively for the New York Weekly, beginning October 20, 1870, she received $25,000. Her "Maum Guinea," Dime Novel No. 33, published in 1861, has repeatedly been said to have been praised by Abraham Lincoln. "It is as absorbing as Uncle Tom's Cabin," are the words quoted by Harvey,(6) but the source of his information is not revealed. It was immensely popular and was several times reprinted.
Two other pseudonyms of Mrs. Victor, not mentioned above, were "Corinne Cushman" and "Eleanor Lee Edwards." For confirmation, see elsewhere in this book.
Mrs. Victor died at her home on the Franklin turnpike in Hohokus, New Jersey, June 26, 1885, and was buried in the family lot in Valleau Cemetery. Here also are buried her husband (Orville J. Victor (q.v.) and their children Lillian (Mrs. Robert Besant, 1857-1911), Bertha (1860-1895), and Lucy (1863-1882). Their other children were Alice (1859-1932),Winthrop (1861-1915, m. Eva Woodbridge), Guy (1865-1916, m. Emily Daisy Johnson), Metta (1866-1942), Vivia (1872-1931), and Florence (1872, twin now living in Boston).
REFERENCES: Cosmopolitan Art Journal, March, 1857, with portrait; The Home, VI, December, 1858, 247-50, with portrait; Allibone, Dict. Eng. Lit., III, and Supplement, II, 1469; see also Supplement I, under Walter T. Gray; New York Saturday Journal, XII, No. 589, June 25, 1881; Appleton's Cyc. Amer. Biog., 1887; Nat. Cyc. Amer. Biog., IV, 1897, 522-23; Willard and Livermore, American Women, 1897, 734—35, with a poor portrait; Lamb's Biog. Dict., VII, 1903, 444-45; John Hunter, "Metta Victoria Fuller Victor," Magazine of Poetry, VIII, 1896, 266; William T. Coggeshall, Poets and Poetry of the West; The People's Home Journal, 1906, with portrait. Letters to me from Miss Florence Victor, May 2 and 20, 1949, and Orville Winthrop Victor, May 30, 1949.
The Home. Vol. VII, The Wrong Righted.
Handbooks. Nos. 1, 2, 4
Dime Novels. Nos. 4, 10, 16, 33, 40, 49, 60, 81, 448, 487, 504, 510, 539, 544, 555
Fifteen Cent Novels. Nos. 4, 10, 16
Special Publication (London). Maum Guinea.
American Library (London). Nos. 2, 5, 8, 26, 39, 48
Sixpenny Tales (London). No. 5 American Library Tales (London). Vol. I (partim)
Standard Library of Romance. Vol. I (partim)
Beadle's Monthly. Vol. II, Who Was He?
Fifty Cent Novels. (Unnumbered), Who Was He?
Saturday Journal. Nos. 36, 590, 608, 625
New and Old Friends. Nos. 6, 8
Pocket Novels. No. 5
Cheap Edition of Popular Authors. No. 3
Twenty Cent Novels. Nos. 14, 17
Fireside Library. Nos. 43, 141
Waverley Library (quarto). No. 132
Waverley Library (octavo). No. 19
Boy's Library (octavo). No. 277
Under the name "Corinne Cushman" were published:
Saturday Journal. Nos. 330, 340, 351, 367, 412, 431, 451,
475, 501, 524, 538, 579
Banner Weekly. No. 648
Cheap Edition of Popular Authors. Nos. 18, 21, 23
Fireside Library. Nos. 9, 37, 38, 41, 48, 53, 65, 72, 75, 78, 118
Waverley Library (quarto). Nos. 13, 147, 151, 172, 178, 184, 190, 194, 200
Under the name "Eleanor Lee Edwards" was published:
Starr's Fifteen Cent Novels. No. 2
Under the name "Rose Kennedy" were published:
Dime Novels. Nos. 14, 23 (partim), 54, 520
Fifteen Cent Novels. No. 14
Half-Dime Novelette. No. 1
Dime Library of Choice Fiction. No. 5
Beadle's Monthly. I (short story)
Waverley Library (quarto). Nos. 10, 37
Waverley Library (octavo). Nos. 12, 25
Under the name "Seeley Regester" were published:
Beadle's Monthly. I (The Dead Letter).
Fifty Cent Novels. Dead Letter (unnumbered), Figure Eight (unnumbered)
Saturday Journal. No. 385
Cheap Edition of Popular Authors. No. 7
Fireside Library. Nos. 44, 46
SPECIMEN OF MRS. VICTOR'S STYLE
"Maum Guinea; or, Christmas among the Slaves." Dime Novel No. 33, pp. 83-99.
In a kind of half-whisper, enough in itself to make what she said impressive, and which chilled through her susceptible audience like a breath of north wind, Sophy began her story:
"I was born in Southampton county, in ole Virginny; I lived on massa's plantation all de time; I was kind of kitchen-girl, and done chores, and learned to cook, and w'en I was fifteen I was married. Me and my man, we had a cabin of our own, and lived togedder berry comfortable. Massa's farm was a tobacky farm. My man's name was Nelson. He was good to me; t'ought mighty sight o' me, and w'en I had my fust baby—laws! he was de tickledest and de most sot-up nigger you eber saw. Ah, Lord-a-mighty, don' I recolleck dat yit?
"He was good to me; but somehow anodder he got into trouble wid oberseer purty often; I 'spect he was sometimes a little sassy. You know some bosses and oxen dey hab to be drove, and whipped, and scolded more'n oders, to make 'em go de ways dey's wanted— dey's kind o' stubborn. Well, so it was wid Nelson. I 'spect he'd got some notion in his head 'bout not liking to be ordered 'round so; and our oberseer was mighty cross man, allers knocking niggers about.
"One day, w'en my baby was 'bout t'ree months ole, I'd got done de work at de house; 'twas summer ebening, and warm, and I'd come home to cook my man's supper, and nuss my baby. Troo' de day I hav to leave my young'un wid all de rest, in care of old brack woman too ole to do much work. Dey keep de babies in a kind o' pen, w'ere dey could crawl 'round widout much tendin'—I could go and nuss it once in a w'ile—well, I come here at night, and got his supper ready for him, and den sot down in de door to play wid my little one. I felt very nice dat time, 'kase de head-cook had gib me piece of cold chicken and rice-pudding for my man, for helpin' her right smart wid de big dinner for company; and I was t'inking w'at a treat it would be to Nelson. But Nelson didn' come home. He usually got home by dark, summer days; but de clocks strike nine, ten, and he didn' come. I began to stop singing, and to feel drefful oppressed 'bout breathing. I t'ought mebbe it was because de night was so warm. Little Sam was soun' asleep, so I laid him down on de bed, and started off to look for my husband. Suthin took me right straight to de corn-house; and as I came dost to it, I hearn somebody groanin'. I knew 'twas him, and I flew and tore open de door, and dar he lay. De oberseer had gib him awful whipping—awful! and den, here de weather was so warm, he'd jist turn de salt and water over his back and let him lay.
"I helped him up and got him home; he didn't eat no cold chicken nor no rice puddin' dat night. Massa scold de oberseer for whippin' Nelson so hard, 'kase he was one of his best hands, and he couldn't go to work ag'in fer 'most two weeks. After dat he let my husband alone for a long time; but dar wasn't any good feeling between de two. I use to beg Nelson not to aggrawate him, 'cause he was a bad-tempered man, anyhow, and he wouldn't gain nothing but blows and cusses by going contrawise to him; but he was spunky too, Nelson was, and once-and-a-while de fire would blaze up dat he tried so hard fer to keep down. I knew he did try, for my sake, 'cause I begged him so hard.
"Our Sam was a beautiful pickaninny: so round, and fat, and shiny, and so full of fun. Wen he got big enough to roll around and kick, to laugh, and, bym-bye, to holler 'Pop, Pop!' w'en his fadder come home, den Nelson grew more happy-like. He lubbed his boy so much, he forgot his bad feelings tow'd de oberseer; he didn't set no more of ebenings glooming over de whipping he got. Massa liked him berry much, 'kase Nelson had more sense'n most niggers, and he use to get him to do all de pertikeler jobs 'bout de farm. Sometimes he'd gib him few shillings silber; den Nelson he'd buy suthin for his boy, and he got him a red calico frock—real turkey calico—the purtiest you eber see.
"One day I was up to de house wid Sam; Nelson was pickin tobacky in de field. Sam was goin' on two year old, and used to play about de yard or kitchen w'ile I was working 'round. I'd jist dropped de taters I was peeling, and run out to see w'at he was doing, w'en I met massa and a strange gemman walking through de yard, and dey stopped to look at my boy, and dey praised him up wonderful. He had on his red dress, and I wan't surprised dat dey t'ought him a right smart, purty chile; but I didn't t'ink netting farder, for 'tain't often, yer know, dat masters sell little chil'ren 'way from der mudders. Bym-bye I heard de gemman say, kind of low:
"'I'll give you five hundred for him—not a cent more.'
"My heart jumped right up in my mouf; I went and picked my boy up, and stood a-looking at 'em, wild-like.
"'Sophy,' says massa, kind of laughin', but shamed-like, 'How'd you like to give up your boy to this nice gemman here? He'd be took good care of—jest as good as you could give him.'
"'Oh, massa!' dat was every word I could say; but I didn't belieb him den, 'kase he was a kind of laughin', and I t'ought he was tryin' me for a joke.
"'I've partly promised him to dis gemman; so you may wash him up and get him ready, for he's got to leab in two hours, in de stage.'
"'Oh, massa, I can't! I can't!'—I kind of screamed it out, which made him a little angry, for he spoke more sharp.
"Pshaw!' says he, 'don't be foolish, Sophy. He'll be well treated. You see, dis gemman has got a girl has lost her baby, and she wants annoder, and she'll be extra kind to it. You'll hab anodder in a month or two, and den you won't mind de loss of dis so much,' and he laughed. 'One'll be 'nuff for you to take care of; don't be selfish, my girl. Go and get de boy ready, and bring him back here; and be spry 'bout it—ain't no time to spare. I'll show you de girl as is to keep him, and you'll see she's a nice pusson.'
"'Can't I take him down to de field to bid his pop good-bye?' I asked.
"'Dar won't be time; besides, it'll only make you both feel wuss. Wen your oder baby is born, you won't miss dis. Come, Sophy, be spry.'
"I went to my cabin wid my boy. I tried to get out a little apron to put on him, and to wash his face and hands. But I was too weak; I jist staggered to de bed, and set down and cried ober him, and kissed him. T'ree, four times I tried to get up, for I knew massa would be awful mad; but I couldn't and dar I sot w'en he come after us.
"Wy didn't you bring him up to de house? De stage is going by in a few minutes. You don't behave yourself berry well, Sophy,' says he, and he takes my boy out of my arms, and walks out of de room wid him—and dat's de last I eber see of Sam.
"I sot dar, kind of stupid; and bym-bye I heerd de stage coach coming 'long de road, and it stopped afore de house. I tried to get up, but I was too weak. Den, w'en it started on again, I flew out like a wild creature, and up de lane to de gate, jes' in time to see it whirlin' ober de hill—and dat was all. I guess I kind of fainted, till I come to, and heerd old Bess, de head-cook speaking to me, and she put her arm round me and lifted me up.
"'Nebber mind," says she, 'you'll get used to it. I's had five sold away, in my time. Come, I'll go back to your cabin wid you. I's got a little sperits here will rewive you up.'
"'Nelson! Nelson!' was all I said.
"'Yis, he'll take it harder dan most men would. But he'll get ober it. Don' fret, honey. Eberybody has trouble. Las' year, massa hisself had a purty little girl die; your baby ain't dead; cheer up, honey.'
"'I wish it was dead,' I muttered.
"She took me in de house and made me drink some brandy, and staid wid me as long as she could, till she hed to go back and get supper. Den I sat alone, t'inking what Nelson would say w'en he came in, and his boy gone. It didn't 'pear to me as if 'twas so; I'd git up and look in de bed, see if Sam wasn't dar, fast asleep—den I set down ag'in, and wish my husband nebber would come home.
"I heerd him comin' along, whistlin', and he puts his head in de door, and calls out:
"'Sam! Sam! here's poppy cotched a squirrel in de fence. Come, Sam!' Den he looked at me, and says he, 'Is he asleep?'—den for de fust time, I bust out a-cryin', and he let de squirrel drop, and looks round sharp, and says: 'Wat's happened?—is de boy hurt?'
"'Oh, Nelson, massa's sold him, and dey's took him far away.'
"He dropped down on de step 'sif he was shot, and nebber spoke. I crawled up to him and leaned my head on his shoulder, and dar we sot' 'most all night. He didn't say much—he wasn't no great talker no time— and all he t'ought not eben I could tell. But arter dat he was changed berry much. He was so silent and stubborn, I was almost 'fraid of him; but he did his work well—nobody complained of him.
"Well, w'en my next baby come along, I felt a little happier. It was a boy too, and I 'spected Nelson would get over his trouble, and take to de new pickaninny. He did. He was softer to it den he'd eber been to Sam; he never spanked it, nor got fretted wid it. But he didn't seem to play wid it so much, and he nebber come home whistlin'—ef I heard him whistlin' far oft, w'en he turned into de lane he allers stopped. 'Feared like as if he was allers afraid, w'en he opened de door, he shouldn't see no pickaninny dar. He was still, and hardworking, so dat eben dat ugly oberseer couldn't find much fault wid him.
"Dan was a likely boy, too—we called our second, Dan'l, after de good man in de Bible, who was took up from de den of lions, as de hymn says—jist as pert and healthy as little Sam had been. He was a favorite wid white and brack folks, jist as bright as a dollar, and so full of funny tricks. We tried not to set our hearts on him, for he'd be sold away too; but it 'peared as if de harder we tried not to, de closter he grew to us. We knew de smartest chil'ren sold de fust.
"Well, frien's, Dan'1 was spared to us till he was nigh six years old; and den massa had a bad crop, and a hard time, and he was getting more slaves den he could 'ford to keep and Dan was sold, wid a hull lot more, large and small.
"I asked massa to sell us 'long wid our child; but he sot so much store by Nelson, he didn't want to part wid him; 'sides, de cook was gettin' ole, and I mos'ly took her place. So our boy went away, and we nebber knew whar, †nor w'edder he be dead or libing now.
"Massa sot great store by Nelson, and it was sorry times for massa dat he did. Berry fine to like him, 'kase he honest and work hard; but he was a-playin' wid fire. w'en he sole his chil'ren away. My man wasn't like some niggers; he couldn' b'ar everyt'ing, and nebber seem to feel it. He couldn't laugh and sing, and take t'ings easy, no matter what happen. He didn' like knocks and whippins, and raising chil'ren for market, like as they was chickens and pigs.
"I wonder if dar's anybody 'round?" continued the story-teller, after a moment's pause. "Set up closter, my frien's, and fust let me look out a mink,"—and she went to the door, peered forth into the darkness, returned, and resumed her narrative in a half-whisper; "Not long after Dan was gone from us, Nelson begun to go out nights. He'd steal away after I was in bed, and wouldn't come in, sometimes, till nigh daylight. If I asked him whar he was, sometimes he'd say, huntin' coons; and ag'in, fishing, but he never brought no fish home, and I didn't believe him. 'Peared to me dar was suthin pertikeler on his mind, but he wouldn't tell me what it was. Sometimes, when de oberseer had gib him a kick or a blow, he'd speak of it at night, and laugh in such a strange way, it made my flesh creep. I didn't know what to make of Nelson. Dough he was my own husband, and good to me, and we'd bin faithful to each oder, and lubbed each oder better'n most men and wives, I didn' understan' him, in dose times. But I knew he was troubled, and I lubbed him all de more. I knew he had only me, now Dan'1 was gone, for we'd had no more chil'ren, and I tried to be a good wife to him. I nebber scolded him for staying out, but tried to get him as good breakfast as I could; and I didn't pry into his business, only to say dat I wish I knew what was on his mind, 'kase I might comfort him. Den he'd shake his head, and say I shall done know all when de right time come.
"T'ings go on dis way for five or six months. One Sunnay he go ober to neighbor's farm, in de woods, to have a fine time, roasting a pig, wid some der hands. De niggers all like barbecues, and I was glad he was going—t'ought 'twould cheer him up a little. So he starts off a little 'fore noon, and 'twas two o'clock at night when de door opens, and my husband speaks in a whisper, telling me to get up and dress myself, and be ready, 'for mighty t'ings are to be done in de land.'
"Scar't and trembling, I got out and slipped on my frock, not knowing but de judgment-day of de Lord was at hand. Wen I was dressed, he come in, and six men wid him. De moon was just going down, and shone in de little square window, so I could see der faces. Dey looked awful—all scowling, and der eyes burning: and dey had guns and big knifes. Nelson had de big butcher-knife w'ich I used in cooking, sharpened up. I begun to cry and pray, when one nigger, I knowed him well—'twas Nat Turner, over to Travis', dat all de brack folks t'ought was a prophet—hushed me up.
Did you eber hear of Nat Turner? Yis, Ginny, you has —I see it in yer face. Nat Turner, he spoke in a clear, awful whisper, dat went straight tru' me, and he says:
"De work of de Lord begins dis night. I've seen it in de heavens—I've read de signs of de times: dar's been wonders in de sky, and drops of blood on de corn. De Holy Spirit has bid me arise, and prepare myself. I am to slay mine enemies widder own weapons; de black spirits contended wid de white in de heabens, and I see de blacks victorious. Cheer up, woman. Your chil'ren shall no longer be sold from your bosom, nor your husband lashed at de whipping-post. I am come to repay. "Vengeance is mine, I will repay," saith the Lord.' Oh, Lord-a-mighty! he looked so turrible when he was a-talking; he said many more things, which I I'an't tell you as he said 'em. 'De Savior has ordered it, dat I be de liberator of my people—dat I lift 'em out of de han of de opressor. Dis night, we will begin His work. Not one white man, woman or chile, will we leave alive in Southampton county; we will conquer it, as did Washington in de Rebolution. Wen de Lord say unto us, "Smite!" den will we smite. We will not torment 'em wid de scourge, or wid fire, nor defile de women, as dey has done wid ours. But we will slay dem utterly, and consume dem from oft de face of de yearth.'
'"Oh, Nelson,' said I, clinging to him, as dey begun to go out, for de moon was sinkin', and dey were in haste to be off, 'w'atever you do to massa and missus, don't kill little Katie.'
"'Yes, we must not spare one—not one—not de baby at its mammy's breast,' he said shaking my hand berry hard. 'Good-bye, Sophy. We'll be back after you, w'en it's all over. Keep quiet. Don't let on you know anyt'ing. You shall be rich and happy—no more a slave. If de worst comes to de worst, fly to de Dismal Swamp. Dar will be frien's dar.'
"I still hung on to him. 'Don't murder Katie,' I whispered, 'I love her.'
"'So do I,' said he, 'but de Lord's work must be done.'
"I was just like ice, wid fright and horror. When dey went out, I stood shivering in de dark. Purty soon, I t'ought I heerd a scream, but I wasn't certain; den, in a few minutes more, I heerd 'em go to de stables and take out all de horses, and ride away. I darsn't stir, till mornin'; den, wid de first light, I heerd old Dinah screeching wild and loud, and going out, I met her coming from de house, wringing her hands, and her eyes sticking out. 'Come! come!' she says; 'Oh, Lord-a-mercy! Oh, Lord-a-mercy!' I knew already, but I kept still, and run after her into de house. Dar, just dragged from der beds, in der night-clo'es, was massa and missus, stone dead, der throats cut, like as dey were pigs, and de carpet soaked full of blood. I jist gib one look, and run into de little bedroom off deyr's, war I knew Miss Katie slept. Oh, Christ! I see it now! I nebber shall forget it! Ebery night, w'en I wake up in de dark, I see her, jest as I see her den—dat beautiful chile—lying in her purty bed, murdered—her dimpling t'roat all cut straight across, and de blood gluing her shining curls to her neck and cheek. She was so sweet and kind, Katie was, and only ten years ole. She was like my own pickaninnies to me. She'd allers been fond of me, 'kase I took care of her w'en she was baby, de first year I was married. Dar she lay, de innocent—no mudder, no fadder, to straighten her little limbs, and wash dat cruel blood away. I sot down on de edge of de bed, and held her hand, and cried ober it, and kissed her poor little face. De whole plantation was awake, and takin' on awful. Most of de men had jined de insurrectioners, and gone off, and de women was hollerin' and prayin'. De oberseer was dead, too, and I felt glad when I heard it. But I couldn't feel glad when I looked at little Katie. I t'ought over how I felt when I found my husband, most killed with whipping, and de salt brine on his bleeding back—w'en I heard de stage-coach rumble away over de hill wid my little Sam—w'en Dan'l was took away—w'en I had been flogged myself— I t'ought of all our wrongs and hardships, and I couldn't blame my husband—I knew he b'lieved he was doin' de Lord's work—but I wished dey had spared dear Katie.
"Dar was an awful time after dat," continued the narrator, her voice rising, but still in a whisper, high and sharp. "Oh! dar was an awful time. All Mr. Travis' family was murdered too; and de're niggers joined ours, and dey rode on to de next plantation; dar dey killed all de white people, and got more help, and dey went 'round about to every house, all night, all day, all next night, all next day—for eight-and-forty hours de work went on. At ebery place de slaves rose up, and aided dem; they murdered de're own masters and missuses, and de bery chil'ren dey played wid. Dey b'lieved Nat Turner was a prophet, and de time of der deliverance was at hand. Yes, dey b'lieved it. Dey obeyed him, w'at he told 'em. All de dark spots slaves hide 'way in de're hearts, and say nothin', come to light den—all de fires break tru' de ashes den, and blaze up turrible. Do you t'ink it was right, my frien's?"
"Yes," said Hyperion.
"No," said Rose.
"Well, de most of 'em t'ought it was right, w'edder it were, or not. Liberty is sweet, even to poor brack slave—and in Virginny dar's plenty of white blood mixed wid ours, you all know. Dey murdered der own fadders, der own brudders and sisters, no doubt, many times; but w'at were dese, more dan oders, 'cept to make 'em feel more spiteful.
"We waited in fear and trembling; praying and crying, we waited. Oh, dose were awful days!—awful for de poor white women and chil'ren dat had fled for de're lives, w'en dey heerd w'at was going on. Dey were hid in de woods, night and day. I saw 'em myself, lots of 'em, w'en I went off to hear what I could hear. I pitied 'em—more'n dey'd ever pitied me. I took meat and bread to some dat were in Travis' woods, wid de're chil'ren most starved.
"I begun to t'ink that Turner was sure 'nuff a prophet—dat new times was coming for poor brack people; I begun to dream of independence and liberty, such as had been our masters', and if it hadn't been for little Katie, I'd have felt joyful enough to sing hymns of triumph. I could sew, and I took one of her white dresses and made her a little shroud, and put her in a box—for nobody come to bury the dead, and we women dug a grave and put her in. Some de foolish nigger-girls dey help derselves to missus' jewelry and fine clothes, and put 'em on, and dance and cut up; but I made 'em put 'em back and behave derselves—leastwise, till dey heard how matters was going.
"So we waited. At night we would see ghosts and hear turrible cries. Some of us didn't dar' to go near de house, 'kase of de corpses dar. And I, after little Katie was buried, didn't want to go nigh. De dead bodies begun to corrupt, for 'twas hot August weather; but we women-folks couldn't bury 'em. So we waited—Oh, Lord-a-mighty, yes!
"'Twas four nights now, and I was lying awake in my cabin, thinking over things so fast I couldn' sleep, and the latch raised softly and Nelson come in, I was so 'fraid of sperits, and awful things, I'd kept my lamp a-burning, and I could see how tired and sad he looked.
"'It's all up, I'm afeared,' he said, in answer to my first question. 'We got along well enough, till they stopped ag'in our will, at Parker's—we ought to have pushed on to the village before they heerd the news there; but we didn't. The whites got after us. They've scattered us, now. I come back here, in hopes of finding Nat and getting wid him again.—I'd have some hopes, if I could get wid him.'
"'Oh, Nelson, what'll we do?' I cried, but he looked so worn and fagged, I wouldn't tell him how heavy my heart was; I sot some milk and potatoes on the table, and he eat like a starving man.
"'Sophy, I must go,' says he, as soon as he'd done eating.
"I begged him to let me go wid him, w'atever happened; but he wouldn't hear to it den; he said I'd be a drawback, 'kase dey might get wid Nat, and get to fightin' de whites ag'in, and den women-folks would be in de way.
"'You jest hold your tongue, and don't let on dat you ever knowed what was goin' on; and you won't be harmed,' says he. 'If I don't get back for you—if it's a failure after all, and de Lord widholds His help— den, if you don' hear from me, jest wait your chance, ef you have to wait a year, and run away de fus' opportunity, and make your way to de Dismal Swamp--it's only twenty-five miles from here, and you'll find frien's, dar!"
"He wrung my hand most off, and I clung to him like a burr, but he broke away, and went out into de night, and I crept back into bed to purtend to sleep, as if nothin' had happened. De next day many white men rode up to de house, all armed wid swords, pistols and guns; and dey buried massa and missus, and dey dragged off every colored man dar was, w'at had nothin' to do wid de troubles at all.
"After that, dar was white men all de time riding ober de country and soldiers 'way from Norfolk and Richmond, dey come to help put down de blacks. Oh, Lord-a-mercy! dem was awful times!
"Dey done and gone and butchered our people wid-out judge or jury—hundreds and hundreds was shot, which was a mussiful death, quick over. But shooting was too good for any but de innocent—dem dey suspected having had anyt'hing to do wid de insurrectioners, dey hanged, and whipped, and burned—yes, burned —oh, Lord!" Here the story-teller drew in her breath with a strange, inward gurgle and shriek, which made every one of her auditory jump to their feet and sink back again.
"Dey burned Nelson," she continued after several moments of silence. "I'll tell you how 'twas. You see dey came, great lot o' white folks one day, and dey took me, and dey tell me my husband was arrested, and in Jerusalem jail; and dey say if I 'fess w'edder he was guilty or not, and tell all I know 'bout Nat Turner, dey wouldn' punish me, dey'd let me be in peace—but if I didn' tell every word I knowed, dey would whip me till I couldn't stand. I tol' 'em, I shouldn' say nothin' agin my own husband, and I didn' know nothin' 'bout Nat Turner—I'd never see'd him but once, and I didn' know nothin 'bout him, good or bad. I knew w'at was comin', and I prayed deep and still to de Lord above to pity me; but I wouldn't tell on Nelson. Dey stripped me stark naked, tied me up, and whipped me till I was most dead; but I wouldn't 'fess. I fainted away, and dey trow pickle on me, and left me; and next day dey come back and tie me up ag'in and whip me on my raw back, and den dey turn me round and whip me t'odder side, till I was raw all round. I kin show you de scars, dey're on my breast, dey're on my back. But my lips was shut, only I screamed at fust; till I got beyond dat, and passed away to anodder world—a hell of misery, where it 'peared to me I'd lived a hundred years, wid devils yelling 'round me, and red-hot fire a-falling on me all de time. So at last dey give me up, 'kase dey t'ought I was dead anyhow. But I come to: de old cook, who was so old and foolish dey let her alone, she nussed me up: and dar I lay, day arter day, so sore I couldn stir, wondering what dey'd done wid Nelson. It 'peared as if de wish to hear 'bout him, to walk to de village and see him, if he was still in jail, gib me strength to get well. It was t'ree weeks before I could crawl; den I set out, and crept along as best I could; it was fifteen miles to Jerusalem, whar de jail and courthouse was, and it took me nigh two days to get dar. I asked de jailer let me see my husband; he swore at me, and giving me a kick, told me to 'cl'ar out! I'd never see him again, till I see him in h—! I asked him w'at dey did wid him; he wouldn' tell me, but I found out afterwards, one way and 'nodder, dough some folks was 'human enough not to want to let me know. Fust dey tried to make him 'fess, as dey did me, by flogging. Dey tied his han's and feet, and bent his knees up to his shoul'ers and fastened dem wid a stick; den dey rolled him on de floor like as he was a bar'l, and dey lashed him mor'n two hundred times. Wat you s'pose he t'ought of? S'pose he t'ought of Sam and Dan'1, s'pose he t'ought of blows and kicks—woll, woll! it's over now, nigh onto thirty year. Dey kept him in jail 'bout two weeks; and he had his trial; and dey proved on him, dat he was a ring-leader—dat he was Prophet Nat's right-hand man, and dey was going to hang him; but de mob got hold of him, and dragged him from de officers, and swore hanging was too good for him—and so—that's what become of Nelson!
"'Spect I was kind o' crazy-like for a w'ile—next thing I knew, I was lyin' on little Katie's grave. Ole cook found me, and made me eat; and in two or t'ree days a change come ober me—I was kind o' lifted out o' my misery. It come into my head dat Nat Turner was in de woods dost by, and dat he would starve to def. You see dey hadn't found him yet, and dar was hundreds a lookin' for him. De whole country was in a trimble; women couldn't sleep a-nights, nor men lay down der guns till Prophet Nat was found.
"It come into my mind to carry him food, and I made a pocket in my dress, and put in bread and 'taters, and went a-wanderin' roun' night and day, purtendin' I was getting yerbs and fire-wood. Dar was lots of white folks, eberywhar keeping watch, all de time, on ebery road, and in de woods. Once I heard a whisper, just a short piece off—it was daytime, den, and de whisper called me —Sophy!' and I looked sharp and saw a man's face, peering out of de ground, as it were, and I see in a minit it was Nat Turner's, and I answered him low-like—purtending to pick up sticks: 'Wat is it, Nat? I see ye—can I help you any?' And he answers back—'Come to-night, and bring me food—I'm starving—don't speak now, pass on.' So dat night, I went ag'in, berry cautious, and I found him, whar he'd dug a hole beside a log, and crawled in, and hid de place wid leaves and bushes, and I gib him suthin to eat, and told him what had happened to Nelson, and all de news I could—and he tol' me if I ever see his wife, to tell her 'bout him; and I darsn't stay but a minit, for de woods was full of men, night and day. In dis way, I brought him food two, t'ree weeks; once I went, and he was gone. Nex' day I heard, he'd been seen, and driven out, but had escaped. Ten days later, dey rea'ly cotched him, and den I knew 'twas all up wid him. De mob tried to kill him on de way to jail; but he had his trial and was hung.
"When he was hung and dead, dar was rejoicing in de land. De white folks breafed free ag'in. He died like a man—Oh, he was a prophet, sure 'nuff, Nat Turner was; but he couldn' overcome dis yere wicked worl'— de time wasn't ripe.
"I went to see his wife, arter he was dead. She'd been a purty cre'tur, young and bright, wid good white blood in her, too. They'd just been whippin' her cruelly to make her give up her husband's papers. I tol' her w'at I'd done for Nat in de woods, and she t'ank me heartily.
"Bruised, and beaten, and sore, no money, no home, no massa or missus, no chil'ren, no husband—woll, I hung 'round de ole cabin a spell, and den I starts for de Dismal Swamp. I couldn' bring myself to hire out to Southampton people, and nobody claimed me yet; dough I heard de relatives of massa and missus was comin' to tend to de property, which made me hurry off de faster. So I foun' my way to de Dismal Swamp, and I live dar one whole winter, wid a band of runaways; and de hunters got on our track one day, and dey cotched me, and put me up at auction and sold me—and I'm a libin' yet.
"Sometimes I wonder if I should know Sam or Dan'l if I should meet 'em down in Louisanny—dey's growed big men now. But all I's looking forward to is to lay my poor, scarred body in de yearth, and go up to glory, see if I can find my husband dar."
It was some time after Sophy finished her story before any one felt like speaking. Then they all promised her faithfully never to repeat what they had heard—and slaves, it is proven, can keep a secret.
|1||William Cushing, Initials and Pseudonyms, 268.|
|2||This marriage is mentioned in none of the biographies found, but it is incidentally noted in the Western Literary Messenger fur March, 1851. "A volume of poems by Frances A. and Metta V. Fuller (the latter now Mrs. Dr. Morse) has lately been issued," The marriage was also mentioned in the same journal for July, 1851, and in the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser March 20, 1858. †In The Message Bird, II, 546, December 2,1850, the following notice appeared: "The gifted 'Singing Sybil' (Miss Metta Victoria Fuller) was married on the 19th of November, to Dr. Richard E. Morse, of Michigan. Hon. E. B. Sadler, of Sandusky City, and Lieut. J. McKinstry, U.S.N., were among the bridal party. Dr. Morse and lady are to reside at Ypsilanti." No place of marriage was given, but it may have been in Michigan or in Fishkill, New York, where the Fullers had relatives, the W. W. Wrights, and with whom they had spent the preceding winter months.|
|3||Mrs. Mark Peabody is given as one of Mrs. Victor's pseudonyms in The New York Weekly, XXV, No. 48, October 13, 1870.|
|4||This was originally published as a serial in the New York Weekly, XXXI, beginning in the issue for June 19, 1876.|
|5||A humorous sketch by Walter T. Gray appeared in the Chicago Ledger, XIV, November 3, 1886. Nowhere else, except in the books mentioned above, has this pseudonym been found.|
|6||Charles M. Harvey, "The Dime Novel in American Life," Atlantic Monthly, C, July, 1907, 39.|