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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Strange Scene

By Philander Chase (1775–1852)

[Born in Cornish, N. H., 1775. Died at Peoria, Ill., 1852. Bishop Chase’s Reminiscences. Second Edition. 1848.]

WHILE we lived “down the coast,” two persons, a gentleman and a lady, of genteel appearance, used to pass in their phaeton back and forth often to town. It was Mr. X—— and the widow of his deceased brother. Their object was amusement and pleasure, by attending public balls, the theatre and gaming tables. They had purchased a plantation some few miles below the city, hired an overseer, and left it to its own productiveness.

In the course of the summer, the writer and his wife were sent for to visit this family in sickness. The mother of Mr. X—— was suffering from the effects of a long-protracted fever, evidently much neglected by her son and daughter-in-law, who were too much taken up with the amusements of the town to stay at their retired home, and minister to the necessities of their venerable, sick, and apparently dying mother. In ordering the means of relief to this aged and very worthy woman, a female slave of uncommon comeliness of person and tenderness of manner was observed. There were also two little girls, the children of the widow, who hung round the sick-bed of their suffering grandmother—the eldest about twelve years of age, and of attracting sweetness. The lady, old Mrs. X——, recovered from her bed of sickness, and the painful neglects of her pleasure-seeking son and daughter were forgotten and banished from her charitable heart.

Nearly a year after this, the writer was sitting in his study in the city, in Dauphin Street. It was late at night, and all was silent as if gone to rest. A gentle rap was heard at the door of the study which communicated with the street. On opening it he discovered a person, poorly clad in a blanket great-coat, standing by the side of a mule attached to a cart, all covered with mud, as if the roads had been very bad after a long rain. The first word uttered was mingled with sobs, and evidently from a female breast, no stranger to grief. “Who are you, and what do you wish, in calling here with your cart at this time of the night?” The poor creature could scarce make her words understood, while she stated that she was the servant of Mr. X——, and that she had seen the writer when her mistress was sick—that she had come to town with the corpse of her dear young mistress, which was now in the cart, and which she begged the writer to receive into his house and to bury in the morning—that her old mistress had been left alone, and her granddaughter, her dear, little young mistress, had died in her arms—that she was now too ill to come so far up to town—that, being left by her son and daughter, she had no other way but this of getting the corpse buried, and no one to send but her—that if the writer would allow her to carry in her dead young mistress, she would be very thankful, and then if he would bury her in the morning, she would return to the plantation, where she knew her old mistress would be waiting, and would take no rest nor victuals till she came home. Here the sympathetic heart of the poor slave, having restrained its pent-up feelings till her errand was done and her petition finished, now allowed her the luxury of bursting into a flood of refreshing tears.

It need not be stated what was said and done in answer to all this. The lifeless corpse of that innocent young person was received into the study of the writer, and the night was spent in deep reflection. On the morrow the whole school and many pious neighbors joined in a procession to the grave. In going thither, and while the earth was throwing in and covering from our sight the remains of this sweet creature, the writer looked around for her mother and her uncle, but they were not there: the world’s pleasures had unfitted them for a scene like this. No one but a poor slave negress wept over the untimely tomb of one who, if cherished by Christian and not worldly-minded parents, might have lived to be a blessing to her family and friends.