This was the last feather. Tom had managed to endure everything else, but to have to remain publicly and permanently under such an obligation as this to a nigger, and to this nigger of all niggers--this was too much. He heaped insults upon Chambers for "pretending" to think he was in earnest in calling for help, and said that anybody but a blockheaded nigger would have known he was funning and left him alone.
Tom's enemies were in strong force here, so they came out with their opinions quite freely. The laughed at him, and called him coward, liar, sneak, and other sorts of pet names, and told him they meant to call Chambers by a new name after this, and make it common in the town--"Tom Driscoll's nigger pappy,"--to signify that he had had a second birth into this life, and that Chambers was the author of his new being. Tom grew frantic under these taunts, and shouted:
"Knock their heads off, Chambers! Knock their heads off! What do you stand there with your hands in your pockets for?"
Chambers expostulated, and said, "But, Marse Tom, dey's too many of 'em--dey's--"
"Do you hear me?"
"Please, Marse Tom, don't make me! Dey's so many of 'em dat--"
Tom sprang at him and drove his pocketknife into him two or three times before the boys could snatch him away and give the wounded lad a chance to escape. He was considerably hurt, but not seriously. If the blade had been a little longer, his career would have ended there.
Tom had long ago taught Roxy "her place." It had been many a day now since she had ventured a caress or a fondling epithet in his quarter. Such things, from a "nigger," were repulsive to him, and she had been warned to keep her distance and remember who she was. She saw her darling gradually cease from being her son, she saw THAT detail perish utterly; all that was left was master--master, pure and simple, and it was not a gentle mastership, either. She saw herself sink from the sublime height of motherhood to the somber depths of unmodified slavery, the abyss of separation between her and her boy was complete. She was merely his chattel now, his convenience, his dog, his cringing and helpless slave, the humble and unresisting victim of his capricious temper and vicious nature.
Sometimes she could not go to sleep, even when worn out with fatigue, because her rage boiled so high over the day's experiences with her boy. She would mumble and mutter to herself:
"He struck me en I warn't no way to blame--struck me in de face, right before folks. En he's al'ays callin' me nigger wench, en hussy, en all dem mean names, when I's doin' de very bes' I kin. Oh, Lord, I done so much for him--I lif' him away up to what he is-- en dis is what I git for it."
Sometimes when some outrage of peculiar offensiveness stung her to the heart, she would plan schemes of vengeance and revel in the fancied spectacle of his exposure to the world as an imposter and a slave; but in the midst of these joys fear would strike her; she had made him too strong; she could prove nothing, and--heavens, she might get sold down the river for her pains! So her schemes always went for nothing, and she laid them aside in impotent rage against the fates, and against herself for playing the fool on that fatal September day in not providing herself with a witness for use in the day when such a thing might be needed for the appeasing of her vengeance-hungry heart.
And yet the moment Tom happened to be good to her, and kind-- and this occurred every now and then--all her sore places were healed, and she was happy; happy and proud, for this was her son, her nigger son, lording it among the whites and securely avenging their crimes against her race.
There were two grand funerals in Dawson's Landing that fall--the fall of 1845. One was that of Colonel Cecil Burleigh Essex, the other that of Percy Driscoll.
On his deathbed Driscoll set Roxy free and delivered his idolized ostensible son solemnly into the keeping of his brother, the judge, and his wife. Those childless people were glad to get him. Childless people are not difficult to please.