By Harriet Beecher Stowe
you must hurrah, Gracie, and throw up your bonnet," said Dick, as he
descended from the pile.
won't it lodge down in some place in the wood-pile?" suggested Grace
never fear; give it to me, and just holler now, Gracie, 'Hurrah for
liberty!' and we'll throw up your bonnet and my cap; and we'll play,
you know, that we are a whole army and I'm General Washington."
Grace gave up her little red hood, and Dick swung his cap, and up they
both went into the air; and the children shouted, and the flag snapped
and fluttered, and altogether they had a merry time of it. But then the
wind -- good-for-nothing, roguish fellow! -- made an ungenerous plunge
at poor Grace's little hood, and snipped it up in a twinkling, and
whisked it off, off, off, -- fluttering and bobbing up and down, quite
across a wide, waste, snowy field, -- and finally lodged it on the top
of a tall, strutting rail, that was leaning, very independently, quite
another way from all the other rails of the fence.
see, do see!" said Grace; "there goes my bonnet! What will Aunt Hitty
say?" and Grace began to cry.
you cry, Gracie; you offered it up to liberty, you know: it's glorious
to give up everything for liberty."
but Aunt Hitty won't think so."
don't cry, Gracie, you foolish girl! Do you think I can't get it? Now,
only play that that great rail is a fort, and your bonnet is a prisoner
in it, and see how quick I'll take the fort and get it!" and Dick
shouldered a stick, and started off.
upon airth keeps those children so long? I should think they were
making chips!" said Aunt Mehetabel; "the fire's just a-going out under
this time Grace had lugged her heavy basket to the door, and was
stamping the snow off her little feet, which were so numb that she
needed to stamp, to be quite sure they were yet there. Aunt Mehetabel's
shrewd face was the first that greeted her as the door opened.
-- What upon airth! -- wipe your nose, child; your hands are frozen.
Where alive is Dick? -- and what's kept you out all this time? -- and
where's your bonnet?"
Grace, stunned by this cataract of questions, neither wiped her nose
nor gave any answer, but sidled up into the warm corner where
grandmamma was knitting, and began quietly rubbing and blowing her
fingers, while the tears silently rolled down her cheeks, as the fire
made the former ache intolerably.
little dear!" said grandmamma, taking her hands in hers; "Hitty sha'n't
scold you. Grandma knows you've been a good girl, -- the wind blew poor
Gracie's bonnet away;" and grandmamma wiped both eyes and nose, and
gave her, moreover, a stalk of dried fennel out of her pocket, whereat
Grace took heart once more.
always makes fools of Roxy's children," said Mehetabel, puffing
zealously under the tea-kettle. "There's a little maple sugar in that
saucer up there, mother, if you will keep giving it to her," she said,
still vigorously puffing. "And now, Gracie," she said, when, after a
while, the fire seemed in tolerable order, "will you answer my
question? Where is Dick?"
over in the lot to get my bonnet."
came your bonnet off?" said Aunt Mehetabel. "I tied it on firm enough."
wanted me to take it off for him, to throw up for liberty," said Grace.
up for fiddlestick! Just one of Dick's cut-ups, and you was silly
enough to mind him!"
he put up a flagstaff on the wood-pile, and a flag to liberty, you
know, that papa's fighting for," said Grace more confidently, as she
saw her quiet, blue-eyed mother, who had silently walked into the room
during the conversation.
mother smiled, and said encouragingly, "And what then?"
he wanted me to throw up my bonnet and he his cap, and shout for
liberty; and then the wind took it and carried it off, and he said I
ought not to be sorry if I did lose it, -- it was an offering to
so I did," said Dick, who was standing as straight as a poplar behind
the group; "and I heard it in one of father's letters to mother that we
ought to offer up everything on the altar of liberty and so I made an
altar of the wood-pile."
boy!" said his mother; "always remember everything your father writes.
He has offered up everything on the altar of liberty, true enough; and
I hope you, son, will live to do the same."
if I have the hoods and caps to make," said Aunt Hitty, "I hope he
won't offer them up every week, -- that's all!"
well, Aunt Hitty, I've got the hood; let me alone for that. It blew
clear over into the Daddy Ward pasture lot, and there stuck on the top
of the great rail; and I played that the rail was a fort, and besieged
it, and took it."
yes! you're always up to taking forts, and anything else that nobody
wants done. I'll warrant, now, you left Gracie to pick up every blessed
one of them chips."
up chips is girls' work," said Dick; "and taking forts and defending
the country is men's work."
pray, Mister Pomp, how long have you been a man?" said Aunt Hitty.
I ain't a man, I soon shall be; my head is 'most up to my mother's
shoulder, and I can fire off a gun, too. I tried, the other day, when I
was up to the store. Mother, I wish you'd let me clean and load the old
gun, so that, if the British should come" --
if you are so big and grand, just lift me out that table, sir," said
Aunt Hitty; "for it's past supper-time."
sprang, and had the table out in a trice, with an abundant clatter, and
put up the leaves with quite an air. His mother, with the silent and
gliding motion characteristic of her, quietly took out the table-cloth
and spread it, and began to set the cups and saucers in order, and to
put on the plates and knives, while Aunt Hitty bustled about the tea.
"I'll be glad when the war's over, for one reason," said she. "I'm
pretty much tired of drinking sage tea, for one, I know."
Aunt Hitty, how you scolded that peddler, last week, that brought along
that real tea!"
be sure I did. S'pose I'd be taking any of his old tea, bought of the
British? -- fling every teacup in his face first."
mother," said Dick, "I never exactly understood what it was about the
tea, and why the Boston folks threw it all overboard."
there was an unlawful tax laid upon it, that the government had no
right to lay. It was n't much in itself; but it was part of a whole
system of oppressive meanness, designed to take away our rights, and
make us slaves of a foreign power."
said Dick, straightening himself proudly. "Father a slave!"
they would not be slaves! They saw clearly where it would all end, and
they would not begin to submit to it in ever so little." said the
would n't, if I was they," said Dick.
said the mother, drawing him towards her, "it was n't for themselves
alone they did it. This is a great country, and it will be greater and
greater; and it's very important that it should have free and equal
laws, because it will by and by be so great. This country, if it is a
free one, will be a light of the world, -- a city set on a hill, that
cannot be hid; and all the oppressed and distressed from other
countries shall come here to enjoy equal rights and freedom. This, dear
boy, is why your father and uncles have gone to fight, though God knows
what they suffer and" -- And the large blue eyes of the mother were
full of tears; yet a strong, bright beam of pride and exultation shone
through those tears.
well, Roxy, you can always talk, everybody knows," said Aunt Hitty, who
had been not the least attentive listener of this little patriotic
harangue; "but, you see, the tea is getting cold, and yonder I see the
sleigh is at the door, and John's come; so let's set up our chairs for
chairs were soon set up, when John, the eldest son, a lad of about
fifteen, entered with a letter. There was one general exclamation, and
stretching out of hands towards it. John threw it into his mother's
lap; the tea-table was forgotten, and the tea-kettle sang unnoticed by
the fire, as all hands crowded about mother's chair to hear the news.
It was from Captain Ward, then in the American army at Valley Forge.
Mrs. Ward ran it over hastily, and then read it aloud. A few words we
is still," it said, "much suffering. I have given away every pair of
stockings you sent me, reserving to myself only one; for I will not be
one whit better off than the poorest soldier that fights for his
country. Poor fellows! it makes my heart ache sometimes to go round
among them, and see them with their worn clothes and torn shoes, and
often bleeding feet, yet cheerful and hopeful, and every one willing to
do his very best. Often the spirit of discouragement comes over them,
particularly at night, when, weary, cold, and hungry, they turn into
their comfortless huts, on the snowy ground. Then sometimes there is a
thought of home, and warm fires, and some speak of giving up; but next
morning out come Washington's general orders, -- little short note,
but's wonderful what good it does; and then they all resolve to hold
on, come what may. There are commissioners going all through the
country to pick up supplies. If they come to you, I need not tell you
what to do. I know all that will be in your hearts."
children, see what your father suffers," said the mother, "and what it
costs these poor soldiers to gain our liberty."
Scranton told me that the commissioners had come as far as the Three
Mile Tavern, and that he rather 'spected they'd be along here
to-night," said John, as he was helping round the baked beans to the
silent company at the tea-table.
-- do tell, now!" said Aunt Hitty. "Then it's time we were awake and
stirring. Let's see what can be got."
send my new overcoat, for one," said John. "That old one is n't cut up
yet, is it, Aunt Hitty?"
said Aunt Hitty; "I was laying out to cut it over next Wednesday, when
Desire Smith could be here to do the tailoring."
the south room, " said Aunt Hitty, musing; "that bed has the two old
Aunt Ward blankets on it, and the great blue quilt, and two comforters.
Then mother's and my room, two pair -- four comforters -- two quilts --
the best chamber has got" --
Aunt Hitty, send all that's in the best chamber! If any company comes,
we can make it up off from our beds," said John. "I can send a blanket
or two off from m bed, I know, -- can't but just turn over in it, so
many clothes on, now."
Hitty, take a blanket off from our bed," said Grace and Dick at once.
well, we'll see," said Aunt Hitty, bustling up.
rose grandmamma, with great earnestness, now, and going into the next
room, and opening a large cedar-wood chest, returned, bearing in her
arms two large snow-white blankets, which she deposited flat on the
table, just as Aunt Hitty was whisking off the tablecloth.
mother, what are you going to do?" said Aunt Hitty.
she said, "I spun those, every thread of 'em, when my name was Mary
Evans. Those were my wedding-blankets, made of real nice wool and
worked with roses in all the corners. I've got them to give!" and
grandmamma stroked and smoothed the blankets, and patted them down,
with great pride and tenderness. It was evident that she was giving
something that lay very near her heart; but she never faltered.
mother, there's no need of that," said Aunt Hitty. "Use them on your
own bed, and send the blankets off from that; they are just as good for
I sha'n't!" said the old lady, waxing warm; "'t is n't a bit too good
for 'em. I'll send the very best I've got, before they shall suffer.
Send 'em the best!" and the old lady gestured oratorically.
were interrupted by a rap at the door, and two men entered, and
announced themselves as commissioned by Congress to search out supplies
for the army. Now the plot thickens. Aunt Hitty flew in every
direction, -- through entry passage, meal-room, milk-room, down cellar,
up chamber, -- her cap border on end with patriotic zeal; and followed
by John, Dick, and Grace, who eagerly bore to the kitchen the supplies
that she turned out, while Mrs. Ward busied herself in quietly sorting
and arranging, in the best possible traveling order, the various
contributions that were precipitately launched on the kitchen floor.
Hitty soon appeared in the kitchen with an armful of stockings, which,
kneeling on the floor, she began counting and laying out.
she said, laying down a large bundle on some blankets, "That leaves
just two pair apiece all round."
said John, "what's the use of saving two pair for me? I can do with one
pair; as well as father."
enough," said his mother; "besides, I can knit you another pair in a
I can do with one pair," said Dick.
will be too small, young master, I guess," said one of the
said Dick; "I've got a pretty good foot of my own, and Aunt Hitty will
always knit my stockings an inch too long, 'cause she says I grow so.
See here, -- these will do;" and the boy shook his triumphantly.
mine, too," said Grace, nothing doubting, having been busy all the time
in pulling off her little stockings.
she said to the man who was packing the things into a wide-mouthed
sack; "here's mine," and her large blue eyes looked earnestly through
Hitty flew at her. "Good land! the child's crazy. Don't think the men
could wear your stockings, -- take 'em away!"
looked around with an air of utter desolation, and began to cry. "I
wanted to give them something," said she. "I'd rather go barefoot on
the snow all day than not send 'em anything."
me the stockings, my child," said the old soldier tenderly.
I'll take 'em, and show 'em to the soldiers, and tell them what the
little girl said that sent them. And it will do them as much good as if
they could wear them. They've got little girls at home, too." Grace
fell on her mother's bosom completely happy, and Aunt Hitty only
does spile that child; and no wonder, neither!"
the old sleigh drove off from the brown house, tightly packed and
heavily loaded. And Grace and Dick were creeping up to their little
been something put on the altar of Liberty tonight, has n't there,
indeed," said Dick; and, looking up to his mother, he said, "But,
mother, what did you give?"
said the mother musingly.
you, mother; what have you given to the country?"
that I have, dears," said she, laying her hands gently on their heads,
-- "my husband and my children."
The Altar of -------, or 1850
setting sun of chill December lighted up the solitary front window of a
small tenement on ------ Street, in Boston, which we now have occasion
to visit. As we push gently aside the open door, we gain sight of a
small room, clean as busy hands can make it, where a neat, cheerful
young mulatto woman is busy at an ironing-table. A basket full of
glossy-bosomed shirts, and faultless collars and wristbands, is beside
her, into which she is placing the last few items with evident pride
and satisfaction. A bright black-eyed boy, just come in from school,
with his satchel of books over his shoulder, stands, cap in hand,
relating to his mother how he has been at the head of his class, and
showing his school tickets, which his mother, with untiring admiration,
deposits in the little real china teapot, which, as being their most
reliable article of gentility, is made the deposit of all the money and
most especial valuables of the family.
Henry," says the mother, "look out and see if father is coming along
the street;" and she begins filling the little black tea-kettle, which
is soon set singing on the stove.
the inner room now daughter Mary, a well-grown girl of thirteen, brings
the baby, just roused from a nap, and very impatient to renew his
acquaintance with his mamma.
his bright eyes! -- mother will take him," ejaculates the busy little
woman, whose hands are by this time in a very floury condition, in the
incipient stages of wetting up biscuit, -- "in a minute;" and she
quickly frees herself from the flour and paste, and, deputing Mary to
roll out her biscuit, proceeds to the consolation and< succor of
Henry," says the mother, "you'll have time, before supper, to take that
basket of clothes up to Mr. Sheldin's; put in that nice bill that you
made out last night. I shall give you a cent for every bill you write
out for me. What a comfort it is, now, for one's children to be gettin'
shouldered the basket and passed out the door, just as a neatly dressed
colored man walked up with his pail and whitewash brushes.
you've come, father, have you? Mary, are the biscuits in? You may as
well set the table now. Well, George, what's the news?"
only a pretty smart day's work. I've brought home five dollars, and
shall have as much as I can do, these two weeks;" and the man, having
washed his hands, proceeded to count out his change on the
it takes you to bring in the money," said the delighted wife; "nobody
but you could turn off that much in a day."
they do say -- those that's had me once -- that they never want any
other hand to take hold in their rooms. I s'pose it's a kinder practice
I've got, and kinder natural."
ye what," said the little woman, taking down the family strong box, --
to wit, the china teapot aforenamed, -- and pouring the contents on the
table, "we're getting mighty rich now! We can afford to get Henry his
new Sunday cap, and Mary her mousseline-de-laine dress -- Take care,
baby, you rogue!" she hastily interposed, as young master made a dive
at a dollar bill, for his share in the proceeds.
wants something, too, I suppose," said the father; "let him get his
hand in while he's young."
baby gazed, with round, astonished eyes, while mother, with some
difficulty, rescued the bill from his grasp; but, before any one could
at all anticipate his purpose, he dashed in among the small change with
such zeal as to send it flying all over the table.
Bob's a smasher!" said the father, delighted; "he'll make it fly, he
taking the baby on his knee, he laughed merrily as Mary and her mother
pursued the rolling coin all over the room.
knows now, as well as can be that he's been doing mischief," said the
delighted mother, as the baby kicked and crowed uproariously; "he's
such a forward child, now, to be only six months old! Oh, you've no
idea, father, how mischievous he grows;" and therewith the little woman
began to roll and tumble the little mischief-maker about, uttering
divers frightful threats, which appeared to contribute, in no small
degree, to the general hilarity.
come, Mary," said the mother at last, with a sudden burst of
recollection; "you must n't be always on your knees fooling with this
child! Look in the oven at them biscuits."
done exactly, mother, -- just the brown!" and, with the word, the
mother dumped baby on to his father's knee, where he sat contentedly
munching a very ancient crust of bread, occasionally improving the
flavor thereof by rubbing it on his father's coat-sleeve.
have you got in that blue dish there?" said George, when the whole
little circle were seated around the table.
now, what do you suppose?" said the little woman, delighted; "a quart
of nice oysters, -- just for a treat, you know. I would n't tell you
till this minute," said she, raising the cover.
said George , "we both work hard for our money, and we don't owe
anybody a cent; and why should n't we have our treats, now and then, as
well as rich folks?"
gayly passed the supper-hour; the tea-kettle sung, the baby crowed, and
all chatted and laughed abundantly.
tell you," said George, wiping his mouth; "wife, these times are quite
another thing from what it used to be down in Georgia. I remember then
old mas'r used to hire me out by the year; and one time, I remember, I
came and paid him in two hundred dollars, -- every cent I'd taken. He
just looked it over, counted it, and put it in his pocket-book, and
said, 'You are a good boy, George,' -- and he gave me half a dollar!"
want to know, now!" said his wife.
he did, and that was every cent I ever got of it; and, I tell you, I
was mighty bad off for clothes, them times."
well, the Lord be praised, they're over, and you are in a free country
now!" said the wife, as she rose thoughtfully from the table, and
brought her husband the great Bible. The little circle were ranged
around the stove for evening prayers.
my boy, you must read -- you are a better reader than your father --
thank God, that let you learn early!"
boy, with a cheerful readiness, read, "The Lord is my Shepherd," and
the mother gently stilled the noisy baby to listen to the holy words.
Then all kneeled, while the father, with simple earnestness, poured out
his soul to God.
had but just risen -- the words of Christian hope and trust scarce died
on their lips -- when, lo! the door was burst open, and two men
entered; and one of them, advancing, laid his hand on the father's
shoulder. "This is the fellow," said he.
are arrested in the name of the United States!" said the other.
what is this?" said the poor man, trembling.
you not the property of Mr. B., of Georgia?" said the officer.
I've been a free, hard-working man these ten years."
but you are arrested, on suit of Mr. B., as his slave."
we describe the leave-taking, -- the sorrowing wife, the dismayed
children, the tears, the anguish, that simple, honest, kindly home, in
a moment so desolated? Ah, ye who defend this because it is law, think
for one hour what if this that happens to your poor brother should
happen to you!
was a crowded court-room, and the man stood there to be tried -- for
life? -- no, but for the life of life -- for liberty! Lawyers hurried
to and fro, buzzing, consulting, bringing authorities, -- all anxious,
zealous, engaged, -- for what? To save a fellow man from bondage? No;
anxious and zealous lest he might escape; full of zeal to deliver him
over to slavery. The poor man's anxious eyes follow vainly the busy
course of affairs, from which he dimly learns that he is to be
sacrificed -- on the altar of the Union; and that his heart-break and
anguish, and the tears of his wife, and the desolation of his children
are, in the eyes of these well-informed men, only the bleat of a
sacrifice, bound to the horns of the glorious American altar!
it is a bright day, and business walks brisk in this market. Senator
and statesman, the learned and patriotic, are out, this day, to give
their countenance to an edifying and impressive and truly American
spectacle, -- the sale of a man! All the preliminaries of the scene are
there: dusky-browed mothers, looking with sad eyes while speculators
are turning round their children, looking at their teeth, and feeling
of their arms; a poor, old, trembling woman, helpless, half blind,
whose last child is to be sold, holds on to her bright boy with
trembling hands. Husbands and wives, sisters and friends, all soon to
be scattered like the chaff of the threshing-floor, look sadly on each
other with poor nature's last tears; and among them walk briskly glib,
oily politicians, and thriving men of law, letters, and religion,
exceedingly sprightly and in good spirits -- for why? --it is n't they
that are going to be sold; it's only somebody else. And so they are
very comfortable, and look on the whole thing as quite a
matter-of-course affair, and, as it is to be conducted to-day, a
decidedly valuable and judicious exhibition.
now, after so many hearts and souls have been knocked and thumped this
way and that by the auctioneer's hammer, comes the instructive part of
the whole; and the husband and father, whom we saw in his simple home,
reading and praying with his children, and rejoicing in the joy of his
poor ignorant heart that he lived in a free country, is now set up to
be admonished of his mistake. Now there is a great excitement, and
pressing to see, and exultation and approbation; for it is important
and interesting to see a man put down that has tried to be a free man.
he, is it? Could n't come it, could he?" says one. "No; and he will
never come it, that's more," says another triumphantly. "I don't
generally take much interest in scenes of this nature," says a grave
representative; "but I came here today for the sake of the principle!"
"Gentlemen," says the auctioneer, "we've got a specimen here that some
of your Northern abolitionists would give any price for; but they
sha'n't have him! no! we've looked out for that. The man that buys him
must give bonds never to sell him to go North again!" "Go it!" shout
the crowd; "good! good! hurrah!" "An impressive idea!" says a Senator;
"a noble maintaining of principle!" and the man is bid off, and the
hammer falls with a last crash on his heart, his hopes, his manhood,
and he lies a bleeding wreck on the altar of Liberty! Such was the
altar in 1776; such is the altar in 1850.