Item of the Day: A Tale of St. Domingo (1834)

Excerpted from a collection of short stories found in: The Romantic Historian; A Series of Lights and Shadows, Elucidating American Annals. Philadelphia: Published by Hogan & Thompson, No. 139 Market Street, 1834.

 

A TALE OF ST. DOMINGO.

There seems to me to be a striking resemblance between slave-holding and volcanic countries. Though the inhabitants may be blessed with every enjoyment depending upon soil and climate, yet in the very bowels of the land there are constantly the elements of destruction. Even while we are most happy and secure, the volcano may be upon the point of bursting forth with overwhelming ruin, which no foresight can anticipate, and no prudence avert. Such was the state of St. Domingo, at the opening of my tale; on the eve of that fearful insurrection which consigned so many unsuspecting beings to premature death, or drove them from their homes and kindred, to struggle with want in the loneliness of a foreign land.

The hot glaring day had passed, and was succeeded by the soft splendor of a West Indian evening. Monsieur L ___, a large proprietor of land and slaves, was sitting at a table in his saloon, looking over some newspapers, which he had just received from a neighboring town. At the other end of the table his wife was engaged in preparations for the evening meal. Before an open window in the same apartment, sat their only daughter, Theresa, with her cousin and accepted lover, Eugene M ___.

Eugene was an orphan. At the very beginning of his course through life, he had encountered misfortunes and difficulties, which only his own talents and energy had enabled him to surmount. He had met with wrongs and treachery enough from the world to make him prize, at their full value, the purity and single-minded love of Theresa. Young as he was, he had seen much of mankind. With an ardent disposition and a heart formed for universal love, the fraud and ingratitude of all whom he had trusted had changed his naturally frank bearing to one of haughty coldness. But to Theresa he looked as the only being whom he might love, without danger and reserve. His eyes were now fixed upon hers, with a mixture of pride and affection which was not very far removed from idolatry. The window at which they were seated, was covered with a luxuriant vine, trained under Theresa’s direction. The checquered moonlight streamed through it, and the evening breeze rustled among its leaves. With all the congenial beauties of a tropical night around them, the lovers were enjoying that interchange of romantic feeling, which it is so much the fashion to ridicule in this matter of fact country of ours; but which I consider the single green spot, and single sparkling fountain, in the dreary waste of a sordid and selfish world. What they were talking of heaven only knows. Chance has once or twice made me an unintentional listener to the conversation of lovers. Much as I was interested at the time, I could not afterwards recollect a word that had passed. And I am inclined to think that their intercourse consists in the exchange of kind words and tones rather than ideas.

The opening of a door, and the entrance of a tall athletic negro, belonging to M. L ___, drew for a moment the attention of all parties. The circumstance in itself was of little importance. It was usual for the negroes after their daily taks was completed, to go to the dwelling house of their masters, and complain of any petty grievance, or ask for little privileges. There was, however, about this man an air of apprehansion and uncertainty, which had just fixed Eugene’s attention, when he rushed upon his master and buried in his bosom a large knife, which he had held unobserved in his hand. The unhappy L ___ fell from his chair without a groan, and the next instant Eugene was standing over his body. With his right hand he had caught a knife from the table, and in his left he held a chair, with which he parried a blow aimed at him by the slave. Afraid to contend singly against such resistance, and confounded perhaps by his own success in the attempt upon his master’s life the negro turned and retreated through the door at which he had entered. A single glance into the portico showed Eugene that it was filled with negroes, and the truth flashed at once upon his mind. To lock and barricade the door, to snatch a candle from the table, and hurry his aunt and cousin up the staircase which ascended from the saloon, was to Eugene but the work of a moment. There was a small closet at the heard [sic] of the stairs, which Mons. L ___. had devoted to his collection of arms, for which he had a singular fondness. It was not time to search for keys. With the wild energy of despair, Eugene threw himself against the door. It gave way, and he was precipitated headlong into the closet among the rattling pistols and fowling pieces, and flasks and bags of amunition. He selected two double barrel guns, and a musket, which, by its large calibre, was peculiarly fitted for his purpose. He loaded them heavily with swan shot, and took a positon from which he could command a view of the whole stairs. . . .

 

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Filed under 1830's, Fiction, History, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Slavery

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