The officers were full of sympathy for her in her trouble, and made up a little purse for her. She resolved to go to her birthplace; she had friends there among the Negros, and the unfortunate always help the unfortunate, she was well aware of that; those lowly comrades of her youth would not let her starve.
She took the little local packet at Cairo, and now she was on the homestretch. Time had worn away her bitterness against her son, and she was able to think of him with serenity. She put the vile side of him out of her mind, and dwelt only on recollections of his occasional acts of kindness to her. She gilded and otherwise decorated these, and made them very pleasant to contemplate. She began to long to see him. She would go and fawn upon him slavelike--for this would have to be her attitude, of course--and maybe she would find that time had modified him, and that he would be glad to see his long-forgotten old nurse and treat her gently. That would be lovely; that would make her forget her woes and her poverty.
Her poverty! That thought inspired her to add another castle to her dream: maybe he would give her a trifle now and then--maybe a dollar, once a month, say; any little thing like that would help, oh, ever so much.
By the time she reached Dawson's Landing, she was her old self again; her blues were gone, she was in high feather. She would get along, surely; there were many kitchens where the servants would share their meals with her, and also steal sugar and apples and other dainties for her to carry home--or give her a chance to pilfer them herself, which would answer just as well. And there was the church. She was a more rabid and devoted Methodist than ever, and her piety was no sham, but was strong and sincere. Yes, with plenty of creature comforts and her old place in the amen corner in her possession again, she would be perfectly happy and at peace thenceforward to the end.
She went to Judge Driscoll's kitchen first of all. She was received there in great form and with vast enthusiasm. Her wonderful travels, and the strange countries she had seen, and the adventures she had had, made her a marvel and a heroine of romance. The Negros hung enchanted upon a great story of her experiences, interrupting her all along with eager questions, with laughter, exclamations of delight, and expressions of applause; and she was obliged to confess to herself that if there was anything better in this world than steamboating, it was the glory to be got by telling about it. The audience loaded her stomach with their dinners, and then stole the pantry bare to load up her basket.
Tom was in St. Louis. The servants said he had spent the best part of his time there during the previous two years. Roxy came every day, and had many talks about the family and its affairs. Once she asked why Tom was away so much. The ostensible "Chambers" said:
"De fac' is, ole marster kin git along better when young marster's away den he kin when he's in de town; yes, en he love him better, too; so he gives him fifty dollahs a month--"
"No, is dat so? Chambers, you's a-jokin', ain't you?"
"'Clah to goodness I ain't, Mammy; Marse Tom tole me so his own self. But nemmine, 'tain't enough."
"My lan', what de reason 'tain't enough?"
"Well, I's gwine to tell you, if you gimme a chanst, Mammy. De reason it ain't enough is 'ca'se Marse Tom gambles."
Roxy threw up her hands in astonishment, and Chambers went on:
"Ole marster found it out, 'ca'se he had to pay two hundred dollahs for Marse Tom's gamblin' debts, en dat's true, Mammy, jes as dead certain as you's bawn."
"Two--hund'd dollahs! Why, what is you talkin' 'bout? Two --hund'd--dollahs. Sakes alive, it's 'mos' enough to buy a tol'able good secondhand nigger wid. En you ain't lyin', honey? You wouldn't lie to you' old Mammy?"
"It's God's own truth, jes as I tell you--two hund'd dollahs-- I wisht I may never stir outen my tracks if it ain't so. En, oh, my lan', ole Marse was jes a-hoppin'! He was b'ilin' mad, I tell you! He tuck 'n' dissenhurrit him."
"What's dat? What do you mean?"
"Means he bu'sted de will."
"Bu's--ted de will! He wouldn't _ever_ treat him so! Take it back, you mis'able imitation nigger dat I bore in sorrow en tribbilation."
Roxy's pet castle--an occasional dollar from Tom's pocket-- was tumbling to ruin before her eyes.