The Babes in the Basket; or, Daph and Her Charge
BABES IN THE BASKET;
Daph and her Charge.
BY THE AUTHOR OF
“TIMID LUCY,” “HEART AND HAND,” ETC.
ANSON D. F. RANDOLPH,
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1858, by
ANSON D. F. RANDOLPH,
In the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the United States, for
the Southern District of New York.
EDWARD O. JENKINS,
Printer & Stereotyper,
No. 26 Frankfort Street.
|CHAP.||I.||—A MOONLIGHT VISITOR||5|
|“||II.||—THE “MARTHA JANE”||13|
|“||IV.||—THE RED HOUSE WITH THE BLUE SHUTTERS||53|
|“||VII.||—A NEW PATH||92|
|“||IX.||—A MINISTERING SPIRIT||129|
|“||XIV.||—THE BASKET OVERTURNED||203|
Babes in the Basket;
DAPH AND HER CHARGE.
The Moonlight Visitor.
The evening air stole gently into aquiet room in a southern island, morethan sixty years ago.
There were no casements in the widewindows; the heavy shutters werethrown back, and the moonlight poured,in long, unbroken streams, acrossthe polished, un-carpeted floor.
Within the large pleasant room, two[Pg 6]children were sleeping in their curtainedbeds, like birds in pretty cages.
Suddenly there was a cautious treadin the hall, and then a strange figurestood silently in the moonlight. Withoutcandle, or taper, might have been plainlyseen the short, strongly-built woman,whose black face and gay turban formeda striking contrast to the fair childrenin their loose, white night-dresses.
Who was that dark intruder, andwhat was her secret errand, in thatquiet room?
It was Daph, black Daph, and whenyou have heard more about her, youcan better judge whether she came asa friend, or an enemy, to the sleepingchildren of her master.
[Pg 7]The large mirror, bright in the moonlight,seemed to have an irresistibleattraction for the negro, and the sightof her black face fully reflected there,made her show her white teeth in agrin of decided approval. The pleasedexpression, however, disappeared almostinstantly, as she said impatiently,“Foolish darky, spendin dese precioustime, looking at your own ugly face!”
At this whispered exclamation, thechildren stirred uneasily. “If I mus,I mus!” said Daph, resolutely, as shedrew from her pocket a box, containingtwo small pills. With the pills inher hand she approached the bedsideof the little girl, who was now halfsitting up, and looking at Daph, with[Pg 8]the bewildered expression of one suddenlyaroused from sleep.
Daph put aside the mosquito bar,and said, coaxingly, “Take dis, MissLou, quick as you can, and don’t gofor waking Mass Charley, asleep da indat beauty bed of his.”
Daph had slipped the pill into ajuicy bit of pineapple, which she seemedto have had ready for the purpose,and the child instantly swallowed it.With one trustful, pleasant glance fromher large, blue eyes, the fair-hairedlittle girl sank back on her pillow,and was soon in the sweet sleep of innocence.
As soon as Daph saw the small,slender hands lie open and relaxed,[Pg 9]she closed the gauze-like curtains, andstole to the cradle-bed of the littleboy. She raised his head gently onher arm, and placed in his mouth a bitof the same juicy fruit she had givenhis sister, containing another of thosehidden pills, which she seemed so anxiousto administer. The child did notwake, but the sweet morsel was pleasantto his taste, and no doubt mingledin his baby-dreams of the joys of thepleasant world in which he had passedbut little more than a twelve month.
Daph now set to work busily to filla huge basket, which she brought fromsome place of deposit near at hand.The drawers of the bureau, and thecontents of the elegant dressing-case[Pg 10]she thoroughly over-hauled, makingsuch selections as seemed to pleaseher fancy, and being withal somewhatdainty in her choice. Children’s clothing,of the finest and best, formed thelowest layer in the basket; then followeda sprinkling of rings and necklaces,interspersed with the choice furnitureof the rich dressing-case. Over allwas placed a large light shawl, with itsmany soft folds, and then Daph viewedthe success of her packing with muchsatisfaction.
Quietly and stealthily she approachedthe bed, where the little girl wassleeping so soundly that she did notwake, even when Daph lifted her inher strong arms, and laid her gently in[Pg 11]the great basket,—the choicest treasureof all. In another moment the plump,rosy boy was lying with his fairy-likesister, in that strange resting-place.Daph looked at them, as they lay sideby side, and a tear rolled over her darkcheeks, and, as it fell, sparkled in themoonlight.
The negro had taken up a whitecloth, and was in the act of throwingit over the basket, when a small book,with golden clasps, suddenly caughther eye; rolling it quickly in a soft,rich veil, she placed it between thechildren, and her task was done.
It was but the work of a moment,to fasten on the cloth-covering with astout string; then, with one strong effort,[Pg 12]Daph stooped, took the basket onher head, and went forth from the doorwith as stately a step as if she wore acrown.
The “Martha Jane.”
There was the bustle of departure,on board a Yankee schooner, whichsome hope of gain had brought to thesouthern island, named in our lastchapter. The fresh and favorablebreeze hurried the preparations of thesailors, as they moved about full ofglad thoughts of return to their distanthome.
The boat, which had been sent ashorefor some needful supplies, wasfast approaching the vessel, and in it,[Pg 14]among the rough tars, was Daph, herprecious basket at her side, and herbright eyes passing from face to face,with an eager, wistful glance, thatseemed trying to read the secrets ofeach heart.
“Here! go-a-head, woman! I’llhand up your chickens;” said one ofthe sailors, as they reached the anchoredschooner.
“I keeps my chickens to myself,”said Daph, as she placed the basket onher head, and went up the side of thevessel, as steadily and securely as theoldest tar of all.
As soon as she set her foot on deck,the sailors thronged around her, offeringto take her chickens from her, at[Pg 15]her own price, and passing their roughjokes on her stout figure and shiningblack face. One young sailor, bolderthan the rest, laid his hand on thebasket, and had well-nigh torn awayits cover. The joke might have proveda dangerous one for him. A blow fromDaph’s strong arm sent him staggeringbackwards, and in another moment,the negress had seized an oar, and wasbrandishing it round her head, threateningwith destruction any one whoshould dare to touch her property, anddeclaring that with the captain, andwith him alone, would she treat forthe chickens, about which so much hadbeen said.
“Cap’in,” said she, as a tall, firmly-knit[Pg 16]man drew near the scene of thedisturbance; “Cap’in, it’s you, sah, Iwants to speak wid, and just you byyourself, away from these fellows, whodon’t know how to treat a ’spectabledarkie, who belongs to the greatestgentleman in the island. Let me seeyou in your little cubby there, and ifyou have an heart in you, we’ll makea bargain.”
There was something so earnest inthe woman’s manner, that CaptainJones at once consented to her oddrequest, smiling at himself as he didso.
A kind of temporary cabin had beenput up on deck, for the protection ofthe captain from the hot rays of the[Pg 17]southern sun. It was but a rudeframe-work, covered with sail-cloth,and yet, when the canvas door wasclosed, it formed a pleasant and coolplace of retirement for an afternoonnap, or for the transaction of privatebusiness.
To that spot Daph followed thecaptain, her basket on her head, andher firm step and consequential airseeming to say to the sailors,—“Yousee, your captain knows better thanyou do how to treat such a person asI am.”
When they were once within thelittle enclosure, Daph’s manner changed.She put down her precious basket,and looking the captain directly[Pg 18]in the eye, she said, solemnly, “Cap’in,would you see a man struggle for hislife in de deep water, outside da, andnebber lift your hand to save him?Would you see a house on fire, andsweet baby-children burning in it, andjust look on to see de awsome blaze,and nebber stir to save de dear babies?Cap’in, I’se brought you a good workto do. Dey say de great Lord blessesdem dat cares for little children, andgives dem a good seat in heaven.Swear by de great Lord you wont tellde dreadsome secret I’se going to tellyou! Swear! time is short!”
The kind-hearted captain was impressedby the earnest manner of thewoman, and not a little curious to[Pg 19]hear the secret that seemed to fill herwith such strong feeling; “I swear,”said he, simply, “go on!”
“De darkies in dis island,” saidDaph, slowly, “de darkies are crazyfor de blood of der masters. Poor,wicked fools! Dey means to haveenough of it to-night! By to-morrowmorning, de white faces on dis coastwill ebery one be white wid de death-whiteness!Old folks and little children—deymean to kill dem all! Deytold Daph deir secret, as if dey thoughtshe was all black, inside and out. DeLord forgib Daph, dat she did notstrike dem down, where dey stoodshewing deir teeth, at the thought ofliving in master’s house, and he cold[Pg 20]in de grave! Dear massa and missusare up in de country, and Daph couldn’t get word to dem, but something inhere said, ‘You can save the sweetbabies, Daph;’ so I made as if I wasready to kill dose I loves de best, andset to work a-contriving how a poor,foolish darky could save dose sweetlambs. Your men was always glad totake Daph’s chickens, and so de wayseemed open. I’se put my darlings inde basket, and here dey are for you totake care ob for de Lord, and he’llreckon wid you for it. It aint likelydey’ll have any friends to stand by em,and thank ye for it, ’cept one poordarky, named Daph!”
In a twinkling, Daph had torn off[Pg 21]the cover of the basket, and there laythe sleeping children; calm and stillas if on their mother’s bosom.
“Dey do breave, de sweet dears!”said Daph, as she bent tenderly overthem.
Great tears fell from the eyes ofhonest Captain Jones. He was an oldsailor, but to salt water in this form hehad long been a stranger. He tried tospeak, but the voice that had beenheard above the tumult of many astorm, was now choked and husky.In an instant he regained his self-command,and said, “You have found theright man, Daph! No harm shallcome to them so long as my name isJeremiah Jones! The Martha Jane[Pg 22]can skim the water like a wild duck,and will be off towards a bettercountry before ten minutes areover!”
The words were hardly out of CaptainJones’s mouth, before he left histent-like cabin, and in a moment hewas heard giving orders for instant departure.
The energy that had borne Daphthrough her hour of trial, seemed todesert her, now that her object wasattained, and she sank down beside thelittle ones, sobbing like a child. Shefelt herself a poor, helpless, ignorantcreature, going she knew not whither,and having assumed a charge she knewnot how to fulfil.
[Pg 23]“De great Lord, dat missus loves,can take care of us!” thought thehumble negro; “He can give poorDaph sense to mind de babies!”
In her ignorance, she knew not howto pray, but she leaned in simple faithupon the only source of strength, andfound consolation.
In a half-hour after the arrival ofDaph on board the Martha Jane, thetrim little vessel was speeding on herhomeward course.
Captain Jones walked the deck indeep meditation, while from their variouspositions his crew watched himwith curious glances. The sailors wellknew that Daph was still on board,but no one had dared to question the[Pg 24]captain’s