Child, Lydia Maria. "Jan and Zaida." The Online Archive of Nineteenth-Century U.S. Women's Writings. Ed. Glynis Carr. Online. Internet. Posted: Winter 1998. http://www.facstaff.bucknell.edu/gcarr/19cUSWW/LB/J&Z.html.


JAN AND ZAIDA.

BY LYDIA MARIA CHILD.



Founded on circumstances which actually occurred at Grésik, on the island of Java, in 1854.


A native of the island of Celebes, who had been captured by slave-traders, was sold to Mr. Philip Van der Hooft, of Surabaya, in the north-eastern part of Java. A Hindoo slave was given to the captive for a wife; and she died, leaving a son two years old. This child Mr. Van der Hooft gave to his sister Maria, a girl of fifteen, who had taken a great fancy to him when he was a babe. She was amused at the idea of receiving little Jan among her birthday presents, but he pleased her, perhaps, as much as any of them; not as an article of property, but as a pretty plaything. He was, in fact, a child of singular beauty. His features were small, his limbs finely formed, and his large, dark Hindoo eyes were, even at that age, tender and almost sad in expression. His sense of sound was exceedingly acute. Maria was musical; and the moment he heard her piano or guitar, he would drop his playthings and run into the parlour. There, he would creep under the table, to be out of the way, and sit listening, with all his soul shining through the varying expression of his countenance. Sometimes he was so excited that he would quiver all over, and end by clapping his hands with a loud crow of delight; but more frequently he was moved to tears. Being a general favourite, and the especial pet of his young mistress, he was seldom ejected from the parlour, when he chose to wander there. When Maria was busy at her embroidery frame, if she raised her eyes she would often see his little dark head peeping in, watching for her to take notice of him; and as soon as she said, "Ah, here comes my little brownie!" he would run to her with a jump and a bound, and stand gazing at the bright colours she was weaving into her work. If she was singing or playing when he entered, she would give him a nod and a smile; and not unfrequently she seated him in her lap, and allowed him to play on the piano. His fingers were too short to reach an octave, but he would touch thirds continually; smiling, and laughing, and wriggling all over with delight. Sometimes she amused herself by touching the first and seventh note of the gamut together, and then he would cringe as if she had put her finger in his eye.

He was but three years old when his mistress married Lambert Van der Veen, and removed with him to a country seat near the neighbouring city of Grésik. Little Jan did not thoroughly like that gentleman, because he was often sent out of the parlour when he came; and Maria was so engrossed with her lover, that she sometimes forgot to nod and smile when "little brownie" peeped into the room. He was very exclusive in his affections. He wanted to have those he loved all to himself. Therefore, though the young man spoke kindly to him, and often gave him sugar-plums, a shadow always passed over his expressive face when, running eagerly at the sound of the piano, he looked into the parlour and saw his rival there.

But after Maria was married, he became, if possible, more of a petted plaything than ever; for her husband was engaged in commercial pursuits, which often took him far from home, and their house, being two miles from the city, was more quiet than her father's place of residence had been. She occupied many of her lonely hours in teaching Jan various infantile accomplishments, and especially in developing his remarkable powers of imitation. The birds greatly attracted his attention; and in a few months he could mock them so perfectly that they mistook his voice for their own. He soon did the same with the buzz and whirr of every insect, and laughed to hear how all the little creatures answered him. Nature had made him almost as sensitive to colours as to sounds; and whenever his mistress went into the garden, he would run after her to beg for a flower. She liked the sound of his little padding feet, and often smiled to watch his pliant motions and graceful form, clothed only with a large party-coloured bamboo hat, and a girdle of broad fringe about his loins. When the master was at home he was obliged to find his entertainment more among the slaves. They generally liked to sing or whistle to him, and would laugh merrily at his eager attempts to imitate. But some, who had children of their own, envied the high favour he enjoyed, and consequently bore no good will toward him. They did not dare to strike him, but they devised many ways of making him uncomfortable. Decidedly he liked the parlour better than the slaves' quarters. He preferred it, in the first place, because he was more attended to there; and in the next place, because he could hear so many pleasant sounds, and see so many pretty things. He liked the cool straw carpet, and the pale green walls. The big china jars were an object of perpetual delight. He was never weary of putting his little fingers on the brilliant flowers and butterflies, with which they were plentifully adorned. But what excited his wonder more than anything else, was a folding screen of oriental workmanship, which separated the parlour from the dining-room; for there were gilded pagodas, Chinese mandarins with peacock's feathers in their caps, and two birds-of-paradise, as large as life; a great deal larger, in fact, than the mandarins or the pagodas. Then it was so pleasant to peep out into the garden, through the vine-embowered lattice-work of the verandah; to see the blooming roses, and the small fountain's silvery veil; to inhale the fragrance of the orange blossoms, and listen to the cool trickling of the tiny water drops. All this was in reality his, for he knew not that he was a little slave; and it is the privilege of unconscious childhood to own whatsoever it delights in. In this point of view it all belonged to little Jan more truly than it did to Mr. Van der Veen. No wonder he sighed when the master returned, since it condemned him, for a time, to a degree of exile from his paradise. Perhaps there was some slight jealousy on the other side, also; for though the gentleman was always kind to his wife's favourite, he sometimes hinted at the danger of spoiling him, and the intercourse between them was never very familiar. At first, little Jan was afraid to approach the parlour at all, when he was at home. But on one occasion, when his stay was unusually prolonged, his patience became exhausted waiting for his departure. He began by peeping in slyly through the folding screen. Seeing himself observed, he ran away; but soon came again and peeped, and receiving a smile from his mistress, he came in timidly, and offering his master a geranium blossom, said, "May little Jan stay?" Maria immediately said, "Oh yes, let him stay; he is so happy here." But there was no occasion to plead his cause; for there was no resisting his pretty looks and his graceful offering. Mr. Van der Veen patted his head, and he crept under the table to listen to the piano. After that, he never avoided his master, though he still continued to come in timidly, and if not encouraged by a smile, would run off to bring a flower as an admission fee.

When he was about four years old, a more dangerous rival than a husband appeared. Maria had an infant son, which of course greatly engrossed her attention, and little Jan eyed it as a petted kitten does a new lap-dog. His face assumed an exceedingly grieved expression, the first time he saw her caressing the babe. He did not cry aloud, for he was a very gentle child; but he silently crept away under the table with the flowers he had brought in for his mistress, and as he sat there in a very disconsolate attitude, tears dropped on the blossoms. Some of the servants made the matter much worse, by saying, in his hearing, "Now missis has a young one of her own, she won't make such a fool of that little monkey." His heart swelled very much; and he ran with all haste to ask Madame Van der Veen if she loved little Jan. When he entered the parlour the fond mother happened to be showing her son to visitors; and as she turned, she held him toward the petted slave, saying, "Look at him, Janniken! Isn't he a little beauty?" "No," replied he, louder than any one had ever heard him speak, "ugly baby!" and he gave his rival a thrust with his little fist. He was of course sent away in disgrace; and the slave-mothers, seeing him in trouble, greeted him with the exclamation, "Ha, ha, little whistler! I thought your nose would be put out of joint."

A clergyman of the Reformed Dutch Church, who witnessed this manifestation of hostility toward the baby, adduced it as a proof of the inherent depravity of the human heart. But time showed that the depravity was not very deep. Jan felt the bitter pang of being superseded where he loved, but he had a disposition too kindly to retain ill-will. His heart soon adopted the infant, and they became friends and playmates. When little Lambert grew old enough to toddle about, it was the prettiest of all imaginable sights to see them together among the vine-leaves that crept through the green lattice-work of the verandah. The blue-eyed baby, plump and fair, draped in white muslin, formed a beautiful contrast to his brown companion. They looked like two cupids at play; one in marble, the other in bronze. But though they were almost inseparable companions, and extremely fond of each other, it came to pass through a process of painful weaning, on the part of little Jan. Many a time he "sighed among his playthings," when he saw Maria caressing her babe, without noticing that he was in the room. Many a time tears fell on his neglected offering of flowers.

He was, however, far more fortunate than most slaves who happen to be petted playthings in their childhood; for he only passed out of an atmosphere of love into an atmosphere of considerate kindness. His quick ear for all variations of sound continued to be a great source of gratification to himself and his indulgent mistress. His voice was small, like himself, but it had a bird-like sweetness; and its very imperfections, resulting as they did from weakness and inexperience, imparted an infantine charm to his performances, like the lisping of childish prattle, or the broken utterance of a foreigner. When he could sing two or three simple melodies, Madame Van der Veen gave him a little guitar, and taught him to accompany his voice. The population of Java is an assemblage of various nations; and as he listened intently to whatever he heard hummed, whistled, or played, in the parlour or in the slave-quarters, he knew snatches of a great variety of tunes when he was six years old. It was his pleasure to twine Hindoo, Arab, Javanese, English, and Dutch melodies into improvised fantasias, which resembled grotesque drawings, representing birds and monkeys, flowers, fruit, and human faces, bound together in a graceful tangle of vines. At eight years old, he was often trusted to go to Grésik on errands. Following his usual habits of listening and observing, during these visits to the city, he added greatly to his stock of popular airs, and soon learned to imitate all manner of instruments, as he had formerly imitated the birds, Hindoo lullabies, Arab dances, the boat songs of the Javanese as they passed up and down the river, English marches, Dutch drinking songs, and Chinese jingle-jangles, he could give a lively version of them all; and he was frequently called into the parlour to repeat them for the entertainment of company.

His master said it was time he was taught to labour. Maria assented, but made an arrangement by which duty and inclination were enabled to go hand in hand. She knew that his acutely sensuous nature reveled in perfumes and bright colours; therefore she told the old Dutch gardener to take him for an assistant, and teach him all the mysteries of his art. It is never a toilsome employment to rear flowers and train vines; and in that sunny, fertile region of the earth, light labour is repaid by a lavish tribute of fragrant blossoms and delicious fruit all the year round. Jan had an instinctive sense which taught him what colours harmonized, and what forms were graceful. His mistress often praised his bouquets and garlands, and affection for her stimulated him to attain as much perfection as possible in the flowery decorations of her room, her table, and her dress. Little Lambert had a great desire to be helpful, also, in the garden, but the exercise heated him, and he so often pulled up flowers instead of weeds, that his mother deemed it necessary to retain him in the house. This arrangement made him so restless and unhappy that Jan undertook the responsibility of supplying him with flowers in the cool arbours, and keeping strict watch upon his movements. He often decorated him with a multitude of small bouquets, and twined garlands round his broad palm-leaf hat, till he looked like a dwarf May-pole, and then sent him into the house to show himself to his fond mother, who was always ready to feign ignorance, and inquire what little boy that could be; a manoeuvre invariably rewarded by an infantile laugh. In the course of one of these floral exhibitions, two humming-birds followed him in the garden walks. His mother, who was watching him through the verandah lattice, saw the brilliant creatures circling round her darling's head, thrusting their long bills into the blossoms with which he was decorated; and she clapped her hands in an ecstacy of delight. After that, it was a favourite amusement with Jan to attract the humming-birds and butterflies round little master's hat. The next greatest entertainment was to teach him to imitate the birds, and to make him laugh or look solemn while he listened to merry or dolorous music.

Thus bound together by the pleasant links of love, and flowers, and song, they stood together on the threshold of life, unable as yet to conceive the idea of master and slave. But when little Lam, as they called him, was six years old, he was attacked by one of the violent fevers incident to the climate, and all the care unbounded affection could lavish upon him, failed to save his life. During his illness he was unwilling to lose sight of Jan, who strewed his pillow with flowers, and sang soothing lullabies with unwearied patience. If the invalid dozed under the influence of his drowsy monotonous tones, he was still unable to leave his post; for the little hand clasped his, as if fearful he would go away. When the spirit of the dear child departed, and the lovely form that once contained it was consigned to the earth, no one but the father and mother mourned like Jan. The first time they visited the grave they found it covered with flowers he had planted there. In the house, in the garden, everywhere, he missed the noise of the little feet, which seemed like an echo of his own, so constantly they followed him. For a while, all music was saddened to him, because every air he whistled or sung reminded him of some incident connected with the departed playmate. Months afterward, when he found among the shrubbery a wooden toy he had made for him, he sobbed aloud, and all day long the earth seemed darkened to his vision. This tender bond between him and the lost one revived all the affectionate interest Madame Van der Veen had ever felt for the "little brownie;" but the playfulness of their intercourse was gone, being alike unsuited to the sadness of her spirit, and the increasing stature of her favourite.

The young mother drooped under the blow like flowers stricken by a black frost, never to revive again. The healing hand of time rendered her placid and resigned, but her former cheerfulness never returned. She became very devout, and all her music was an utterance of prayer. Looking on this life with the eye of one weary of its illusions, she stedfastly fixed her thoughts on that world whither her darling had gone. From the youthful soul of Jan the shadow was more easily lifted. Again he reveled in the bright colours, the pungent perfumes, and the varied sounds of that luxuriant region of the earth. Again, he began to mock the birds and the boatmen, and to mingle in dances with the other young slaves. About two years after he lost his best beloved playmate, he met with a companion who more than supplied his place, and who imparted to his existence a greater degree of vivacity and joyfulness than he had ever known. Walking toward Grésik, one morning, to execute some commission for his mistress, he heard a pleasant voice in the distance, singing a merry tune. The sounds approached nearer and nearer, and they were so lively, that involuntarily his feet moved faster. Presently, a young girl emerged from a clump of tamarind trees, with a basket of fruit on her head; and the tune stopped abruptly. The expression of her countenance was extremely innocent and modest, and though her complexion was of a deeper brown than his own, a blush shone through it, like the glow of wine through a dark bottle in the sunshine. Jan noticed this as she passed; and something, he knew not what, made him remember her face very distinctly, and wish to see it again. He never went to Grésik without thinking of the merry voice in the distance, and never passed the clump of tamarind trees without recalling the bright vision he met there. Many weeks elapsed before he obtained another glimpse of her; but at last he overtook her with her basket on the way to Grésik; and this time they did not meet to pass each other, for their path lay in the same direction. With mutual bashfulness they spoke and answered; and each thought the other handsomer than they had at first supposed. The acquaintance thus begun rapidly ripened into intimacy. He was not yet thirteen years old, and she was not eleven. But in that precocious clime, Cupid shoots at children with a bow of sugar-cane; and this little maiden carried a store of his arrows in her large lustrous eyes. After that, Jan was seized with redoubled zeal to do all the errands to Grésik; and it so happened that he often overtook her on the way, or found her resting herself among the tamarind trees. Then her road homeward was, for a mile, the same as his own. Thus they travelled back and forth with their baskets, making the air musical as they went; as happy as the birds, and as thoughtless of the coming years. During these frequent interviews, he learned that she was a slave; that her mother was from the island of Bali; and that her Arab father had given her the name of Zaida. Before many months elapsed, Madame Van der Veen heard, from the other servants, that Jan was in love with a pretty girl, whose master lived not far from Grésik; and when she questioned him, he bashfully confessed the fact. Then she spoke very seriously to him, and told him how sorry she should be to see him doing as many did around him. She said if Zaida was a good girl, and wished to marry him, she would try to buy her; and if they would promise to be faithful and kind to each other, they should have a handsome wedding at her house, and a bamboo hut to live in. This almost maternal kindness excited his sensitive soul to tears. She seized that impressible moment to talk to him concerning his duties to God, and to explain how He had made man for a higher destiny than to mate, like the birds, for a season.

The negotiation for the purchase of Zaida was somewhat prolonged, and she was at last obtained at an unusually high price; for her master took advantage of Madame Van der Veen's well-known character for generosity and indulgence to the inmates of her household. Meanwhile the gentle lady allowed her slave frequent opportunities of seeing his beloved. Once a week he took his guitar and spent two or three hours with his singing-bird. Every errand to Grésik was intrusted to him, and Zaida found many occasions for going thither at the same hour. Very beautiful were the scenes through which they passed in those happy days. South of them was a range of mountains, blue and softened in the distance. On the north, was the bright sea, with the island of Madura lying like an emerald gem on its bosom. Bamboo cottages, shaded by a mass of luxuriant vegetation, dotted the level landscape, as it were, with little islands, whose deep verdure formed a lovely contrast with the rich yellow of the ripened rice fields. Here, the large scarlet blossoms of a pomegranite, beautiful above all other trees, filled the air with fragrance; and there, a tall cocoa-palm reared its great feathery head high above the light elegant foliage of a tamarind grove. Arum lilies held up their large white cups among the luxuriant vines that lay tangled by the wayside; wild peacocks and other gorgeous birds flitted across their path, glittering in the sunlight, like jewels from fairy land. The warbling of birds, the buzzing of bees, the whiz and the whirr of numerous insects, all the swarming sounds of tropical life, mingled with the monotonous tones of boatmen coming down the river Solo with their merchandise, singing with measured cadence,

"Pull and row, brothers! pull and row!"

Only one discordant note disturbed the chorus which nature sang to love. Near the house where Zaida's master dwelt, there lived a Dutchman and his wife, who were notoriously cruel to their slaves. Zaida recounted some shocking instances of severity, and especially expressed pity for a girl little older than herself, who had formerly belonged to a very kind master and mistress. When they died, she was sold at auction, and had the misfortune to pass into the hands of their inhuman neighbour, whose wife was jealous, and lost no opportunity of tormenting her. When Jan was singing some of the plaintive melodies to which his own taste always inclined him, or when, to amuse the merry Zaida, he imitated Chinese jingle-jangles, sometimes the sound of the lash, accompanied with shrieks, would break in upon the music or the merriment, and put their spirits out of tune. Nature had made Jan more sensitive than reflective; and he had been brought up so like a humming-bird among flowers, that he had never thought anything about his own liabilities as a slave. Now, for the first time, it occurred to him, "What if my master and mistress should die, and I should be sold?"

An English family lived very near Madame Van der Veen's, and as both were musical, an intimacy had grown up between them. The father and mother of this family were very strongly opposed to slavery, and not unfrequently discussed the subject. Jan, as he passed in and out of the parlour, waiting upon the guests, had been accustomed to hear these conversations as though he heard them not. In fact, he often wished the old Englishman would stop talking, and give his son an opportunity to accompany Madame Van der Veen's piano with his flute. But after those lashes and shrieks had waked up his mind to the possibility of auction and transfer, he listened more attentively, and carried with him into riper years the memory of many things he heard.

When he was fourteen years old, and Zaida was twelve, they were married. Madame Van der Veen furnished cake and lemonade for the wedding, and gave gay dresses to the juvenile bride and bridegroom, who looked extremely well in their new finery. Jan had lost something of his childish beauty, but he was still handsome. His yellow complexion was rendered paler by the contrast of his jet black hair and the bright turban that surmounted it. His limbs were slender and flexible, his features small and well proportioned, and his large antelope eyes had a floating, plaintive expression, as if there was always a tear in his soul. Zaida was rounder, and browner, and ruddier. Her dark hair was combed entirely back, and twisted into a knot, ornamented with scarlet flowers. The short downy hairs about the forehead curled themselves into a little wavy fringe. From her small ears were suspended two large gilded hoops, a bridal present from the old Englishman. From her Arab father she inherited eyes more beautifully formed than belonged to her mother's race. The long dark lashes curled upward, and imparted a smiling expression, even in her most serious moments; and when she was amused, her eyes laughed outright. There was a harmonized contrast between her and her bridegroom, which was extremely agreeable. The young Englishman compared them to the major and minor mode; and Madame Van der Veen said they looked like hope and memory. Personal comeliness is rare among the natives of those islands. Little Zaida was like a ruby among pudding-stones.

A bamboo hut, raised two feet from the ground, and consisting of two apartments, without windows, was their bridal home. It was all they needed in a climate where, more than half the year, all household occupations could be most conveniently performed out of doors. There was a broad verandah in front, sheltered from rain and sun by the projecting roof. In front was a grove of orange and lemon trees, and in the rear was a group of plantains, whose immensely long broad leaves, and yellow spikes of nodding flowers cast refreshing shadows. A grass mat, of Jan's own weaving, and pillows filled with a kind of silky down from a wild plant, answered for a bed. Gourd shells, a few earthern dishes, and a wooden waiter from which they ate their meals, seated on the floor, constituted their simple furniture. The rooms, which received light from the open door, were used only for eating and sleeping. The verandah was the place where all their sedentary occupations were pursued. There, Zaida might be seen busy at her spinning wheel and loom; there, Jan wove mats and baskets for his master's household; and there, stood his gambang, a musical instrument, with wooden bars of graduated lengths, which he struck with a mallet to accompany the simple Javanese melodies that he and Zaida were accustomed to sing together.

Years passed over their heads without any more serious variations than slight dissensions with the other slaves, occasional illness, and the frequent birth of children. Some of them resembled the father, others the mother; and some had their eyes obliquely set, like the island ancestry from whom they descended. Some were bright, some dull, some merry, and some pensive; but Madame Van der Veen pronounced them all very good children; and they certainly were trained to be devotedly attentive to her. During their first years, it cost nothing to clothe them, for they ran about naked; and it required almost as little expense to furnish them with food, where rice was so easily cultivated, and plantains, cocoas, and oranges grew wild. The warmth of the climate, the lavish bounty of the soil, the improvident habits which every human being must necessarily form, who acquires no property by economy, and the extreme indulgence with which he had always been treated by his gentle-hearted mistress, all conspired to render Jan forgetful of the precarious tenure by which he held the external blessings of his mere animal existence. Sometimes, when he went to Grésik, he passed by a slave auction, and the sight always gave him a pang; for it brought up a picture of Zaida and her children standing there amid the indecent jests and rude handling of a crowd of men. Sometimes he witnessed despotic and cruel treatment of slaves, and still more frequently he heard of such instances. Then came recollections of the lashes and shrieks that used to interrupt his music and merriment in the days of courtship; and always they brought with them the question, "What if Zaida and our daughters should ever be sold to such people as that cruel Dutchman and his jealous wife?" While any such instances were fresh in his mind, he listened attentively to whatever was said about slavery by his master and the English family. From them he learned how the English, during their brief possession of Java, had interdicted slave traffic with the neighbouring islands; had passed laws forbidding slaves to be sold, except with their own consent; and had allowed them to hold, as their own, any property they were able to acquire. Mr. Van der Veen tried to excuse the Dutch for renewing the slave trade, by urging that it was a necessity imposed upon them, because there was no other method of procuring servants. The Englishman denied any such necessity. He maintained that the natives of Java were intelligent, teachable, and honest, and very willing to render services for money. He highly commended the native princes for never permitting any of their own people to be slaves. He told of one of these princes, who had inherited fifty slaves; but when the British government declared that all should become free, unless publicly registered by their masters, within a specified time, he said, "Then I will not register my slaves. They shall be free. I have kept them hitherto, because it was the custom, and because the Dutch liked to be attended by slaves when they visited the palace. But as that is not the case with the British, they shall cease to be slaves; for I have long felt shame, and my blood has run cold, when I have reflected on what I once saw at Batavia and Semarang, where human beings were exposed at public sale, placed on a table, and examined like sheep and oxen." The Englishman declared that he lost no opportunity of talking with all classes of people on the subject, and of circulating publications, translated into Dutch, and sent to him from England for that purpose; and he expressed a strong belief that the Dutch would soon abolish slavery. In these conversations, nothing interested Jan so much as his master's statement, that, according to existing laws, slaves might purchase themselves. He resolved to save all the small coins he might receive; and visions flitted through his brain, of mats and baskets to be made, when his daily tasks were completed. But when he received this information, he already had a brood of children; he despaired of ever being able to collect money enough to buy them; and his anxious thoughts were far more on their account, than on his own. He always solaced himself with the thought that his mistress would not allow them to be sold while she lived, and that she would certainly make provision for them before she died.

Sixteen years of his married life had passed away, and during all that time such forecasting thoughts had been mere transient clouds fleeting across the sunshine of contentment. But the time came when Mr. Van der Veen was summoned to Batavia, on account of some entanglement in his commercial affairs; and three weeks afterward, tidings were brought that he had died suddenly in that unhealthy city. Again Jan saw his mistress bowed to the earth with sorrow; and it was beautiful to witness the delicate expressions of sympathy which nature taught him. He moved noiselessly, and spoke softly. He and Zaida sang only religious hymns and soothing tunes, such as she loved to hear after her little Lam was taken away. His prettiest child, then nearly three years old, was sent every morning with a fresh bouquet of the flowers she loved best. He would never lie down for the night until he believed she was sleeping; and his first waking thoughts were devoted to her. It soon became known that Mr. Van der Veen had died in debt, and that a large portion of his property must be assigned to creditors. In this assignment were included many slaves, in various cities, and some belonging to his domestic establishment. Quite a small fortune for the widow was saved from the wreck of his wealth; and in that she expressly stipulated that Jan and all his family should be included, together with the estate on which she had always lived since her marriage. By this unexpected turn of affairs, the remote contingency, which had sometimes created temporary uneasiness in Jan's mind, was brought frightfully near. He never again forgot, for a single day, scarcely for a single hour, that he was merely a favoured slave, and that all the lives intertwined with his held their privileges by the same precarious tenure. He never hinted his anxiety to any one but Zaida; but Madame Van der Veen had the thoughtful kindness to assure him that she would dispossess herself of everything, rather than part with him and his family; saying, at the same time, that there was no danger of her being called upon to make any such sacrifice, as there was enough property left to enable them all to live comfortably. He deeply and gratefully felt her kindness; but the shadow of her death fell darkly across the consolation it imparted. Not for the world would he have told her so, lest the suggestion should increase her melancholy, by making her suppose that even the most attached of her servants, and the only ones she had left, wanted to be free to quit her service.

Their English neighbour, being involved in the same commercial difficulties that had deranged Mr. Van der Veen's affairs, concluded to sell all his property in Java, and remove to Calcutta. He and his family spent their last evening with the widow of their deceased friend. While Jan was arranging fruit for their refreshment in the adjoining room, he heard his own name and that of Zaida uttered in low tones, accompanied with the disjointed words, "So much petted"--"the more hard"--"make provision." In her usual soft tones, but so clearly that he heard every word, Madame Van der Veen replied, "I have thought of all that, my good friend. I will never part with any of them while I live; and when I die, I will leave them all free." "Why not now?" urged the importunate Englishman. She answered, "My heart is heavy to-night, and business oppresses me; but I assure you, most solemnly, that I will attend to it very soon." She never knew what a heavy load those words removed from the soul of her favourite slave. After he heard them, he seemed to step on air. Zaida, to whom the important discovery was forthwith imparted, was even more elated. They hugged and kissed their little ones that night, with a feeling they had never known before; and zeal in the service of their good mistress was thenceforth redoubled. At the departure of the English family, they gave some gay calico dresses to Zaida and the children, and a violin to Jan. The old gentleman put a golden ducat in his hand, saying, "I thank you, my good fellow, for all your attentions to me and mine. There is a trifling keepsake. May the blessing of heaven go with it, as mine does. I shall remember you all in my prayers. Farewell, Jan! Always continue to be faithful and honest." The poor slave had never possessed a piece of gold before, and small as it was, it seemed to him a Golconda mine. First, he buried it in the ground, and put a stone over it. Then he was afraid some creature might dig it up in the night. So he sewed it into a pouch, which he fastened securely within the girdle he constantly wore. The cares and anxieties of wealth had come upon him.

While the carriage was waiting to convey the Englishman away, he walked over to Madame Van der Veen's, to bid a final farewell. His last words were, "My dear Madame, don't forget the talks we have had together; especially what we said last night. Since I have lived in Java, I have done my utmost to sow good seed on this subject, and I trust it will spring up and bring forth a harvest, sooner or later. From time to time, I shall send the magistrates publications, that will prevent their forgetting what I have so often urged upon them. A blessing will rest upon this beautiful island in proportion as they attend to this. Remember it in your prayers, my dear friend, and use your influence aright. Don't say it is small. You have seen in your garden how great a growth comes from one little seed. My friend, there are responsibilities in human society, for which we shall have to answer unto our God. And now, farewell. The voice of the old man will never urge you more. May the blessing of heaven be with you all."

The tender-hearted widow wept freely; for he had been her husband's friend, and the words he spoke were solemn. She resolved to make her will, and have it duly witnessed, that very day. But a visitor came, and after her departure, she felt a degree of lassitude, which unfitted her for exertion. The next day, she looked over some letters from her husband, and brought on headache by inordinate weeping. She was indolent by temperament and by habit, and she was oppressed with melancholy. Weeks passed on, without any more definite result than a frequent resolution to make her will. She had gone to bed with a mind much impressed with what her English friend said at parting, and troubled with self-accusation that she had neglected it so long, when Zaida was summoned to her bedside at midnight, and found her head hot, and her pulse throbbing. In the morning, she was delirious, and looked wildly upon her faithful attendants without recognizing them. With her incoherent ravings, during the day, were frequently mixed the words, "Jan--Zaida--children--free." The slaves listened tearfully to these broken sentences, and felt fresh assurance that she had provided for them. The physician thought otherwise; but he merely said that something disturbed her mind, and if her life was not spared, he hoped she would have an interval of reason before she died. At the sound of that dreadful "if," Jan rushed out of the room, rolled himself on the floor, and sobbed convulsively. There was no selfishness in his sorrow; for he had not the slightest doubt that she, who never broke a promise, had cared thoughtfully for the future welfare of himself and his family. It was simply the agony of parting from his earliest and best friend. She lingered four days, but reason never returned. Into that brief period was compressed more misery than Jan had experienced during his whole life. Gloomy forebodings brought all the superstitions of the island in their train. The first night his mistress was taken ill, he shook his head, and said, "Ah, Zaida, don't you remember she went to Surabaya to dine, the very day we heard of master's death? I told you then it was a very bad sign to go abroad the same day that you hear of the death of a friend." The next night he was startled by an unusual noise, attributed to explosions among the distant volcanic mountains; and that was regarded as a certain prognostic of impending disaster. The following day was unusually sultry, and in the evening he saw phosphoric light quivering over the nasturtiums in the garden. He had never witnessed the phenomenon before, and he was not aware that such a peculiarity had been previously observed in that glowing plant. He had no doubt that the light came from Spirits, who were waiting for Madame Van der Veen's soul. On the fourth morning, he saw two crows fighting in the air; and thenceforth he had no hope.

The spirit of his beloved mistress departed from her body at midnight. The rainy season was then approaching, attended by the usual characteristic of violent storms. The house trembled with the rolling thunder, and flashes of intensely vivid lightning illumined the bed where the corpse lay, imparting, for a moment, an appalling glare to its ghastly paleness. Jan and Zaida were familiar with such storms, but never before had they seemed so awful, as amid the death-loneliness of that deserted house. A friendly neighbour pitied their grief and terror, and offered to remain with them until after the funeral. It was like tearing Jan's heart out, to see that dear face carried away, where he could behold it no more. Exquisitely sensitive by nature, his whole being was now all nerve and feeling, lacerated to the extremest degree of suffering. She was placed by the side of her little Lam, and there he planted the flowers she had best loved. He laid himself down on the ground, and moaned like a faithful dog, on his master's grave. He thought of the stories others had told him concerning his petted childhood; he remembered her sympathy and good advice when he was first in love with Zaida; he recalled a thousand instances of her indulgent kindness; the whole crowned by the precious gift of freedom. He could not reconcile himself to the thought that he should never again have her to rely upon. He had no heart for anything but to tend the flowers on those graves.

When this storm of grief began to subside, he consoled himself with the thought, "Whatever happens now, I can never again suffer as I have suffered." More than a week passed before he heard that Madame Van der Veen had left no will; that she had survived all her immediate relatives; and that the nearest heir to the property resided at Manilla. This was a stunning blow. Zaida reminded him how their good mistress had instructed them to pray to God when they were in trouble; and many a fervent, imploring supplication ascended from their humble hut. Jan resolved to plead earnestly with the heir, and he comforted himself with the idea that the physician would tell him how their kind mistress had spoken of their freedom during her illness. But even if his entreaties should prevail with the stranger, where could they live? Could they be sure of finding employment? He spent every leisure moment in weaving mats and baskets for sale, and the children were kept busy gathering wild fruits for the market. Those things sold for a very low price, and it would be a long time indeed before he could acquire a piece of land and a hut by that process. But the gold piece! He felt of his girdle to ascertain if it was safe. Yes, it was there; a nest egg, from which his imagination hatched a large brood of chickens. Hope struggled with anxiety for a few weeks, and Zaida, who always looked on the bright side, continually repeated her belief that everything would turn out well. But, at last, news arrived that the heir did not intend to visit Java; that he had intrusted the business to an agent, with instructions to sell all the property, of every description, and remit the proceeds to him. Poor Jan thought he could never again suffer as he had suffered; but he was mistaken. This last blow broke him down entirely. A vision of the auction stand, with his children bid off to different purchasers, was always before him. The lashes and shrieks which had so much impressed his youthful mind, forever resounded in his imagination; but now the shrieks came from Zaida and their little ones.

During the three weeks that preceded the sale, he could scarcely eat or sleep. He became emaciated and haggard, to such a degree that all who knew him felt pity for him. The sympathizing feeling was, however, soon quieted by saying to themselves, "It is a hard case, but it cannot be helped. Poor fellow! I hope they will find kind masters." The physician spoke to many people in Grésik and its neighbourhood, declaring there could be no manner of doubt that Madame Van der Veen had fully intended they should all be free. He told the agent how her mind was troubled upon the subject during her delirium. He replied that he was very sorry the lady had left no will, but it was no affair of his; he must obey the instructions he had received. The case excited a good deal of interest. Many of the Dutch residents shook their heads when they heard of it, and said, "The English are in the right; this system is a disgrace and a blight upon our island."

All the day preceding the auction, Jan lay moaning at the grave of his mistress. All night he wandered round, looking at the flowers in the moonlight. He had tended them so long they seemed to know him, and to nod a sorrowful farewell. Sadder still it was to look upon the bamboo hut and its enclosure, connected with the garden by a little open-work gate. That bridal home, which his kind mistress had provided for them, and which was consecrated to his memory by so many years of humble happiness, never had it seemed so dear to him as now. There stood the loom, where he had so often seen Zaida at work. There was the gambang he had made for himself, the sounds of which his departed master and mistress used to love to hear mingled with their voices, softened by the evening air on which they floated across the garden. There hung the old guitar she had given him in boyhood; and by its side was the violin, a parting present from the young Englishman. Even if he was allowed to retain these, would they ever sound again, as they had sounded there? As the dawning light revealed each familiar object, a stifling pain swelled more and more within his heart. When he saw his children eating what would, perhaps, be their last breakfast together, every gourd shell that contained their little mess of rice seemed more valuable, in his eyes, than crown jewels to a dethroned monarch. Overcome with the struggle, he laid himself down on the mat and sobbed. Zaida, always hopeful, had borne up tolerably well till now; but now she yielded to despair, and rocked backward and forward violently, groaning aloud. Eight children, the oldest a lad of fourteen, the youngest a girl of three years old, sat on the floor weeping, or hiding their heads in their mother's lap. Thus they were found by the man who came to take them to the auction at Grésik. Poor Jan! how often, in the latter years, had vague presentiments of this flitted across his mind, when he passed that dreadful place! He too well remembered the heartless jokes and the familiar handling which had made him shrink from the possibility of such a fate for his wife and children. Zaida, indeed, was no longer an object of jealousy for any cruel master's wife. She was not hideously ugly, like most slaves of her age, in that withering climate; but her girlish beauty had all departed, except a ghost of it still lingering in her large dark eyes. Their light was no longer mirthful, but they were still beautiful in colour, and expressed, as it were, the faint echo of a laugh, in their peculiar outline and long curling lashes. By her side stood a daughter, twelve years old, quite as handsome as she was at that age; and another, of ten, with her father's gazelle eyes, and the golden yellow complexion, which Javanese poets are accustomed to praise as the perfection of loveliness. The wretched aspect of the father and mother struck all beholders. When Jan mounted the stand, he cast one despairing glance around him, and lingered longest on the smallest lamb of his flock, who was crying with terror, and clinging fast to her mother's skirts. He tossed his arms wildly upward, gave one loud groan, then bowed his head and wept in silence. Poor Zaida hid her face on his shoulder, and the whole group trembled like leaves in a storm. The auctioneer called out, "Here's a valuable lot, gentlemen. Eight healthy, good-looking children. The father and mother still young enough to do a good deal of work, and both of excellent character. Whoever will bid six thousand florins [$2,333] for them may have them; and it will be a great bargain." It was no comfort to the poor victims to be offered in a lot; for they might be bought by speculators, who would separate them. Jan listened, with all his soul in his ears. Not a voice was heard. The auctioneer waited a moment before he called out, "Will you say four thousand florins, gentlemen?" No one spoke. "Shall I have two thousand florins? That is really too cheap." Still all remained silent.

Jan had never forgotten that his master had said the law allowed slaves to buy themselves. His poverty had hitherto prevented his deriving any consolation from that thought. But now a ray of hope darted through his soul. He raised his drooping head suddenly, and a gleam, like the rising sun, passed over his pale, haggard countenance, as he said, eagerly, "I will give a golden ducat." Then dropping on his knees, he exclaimed, in imploring tones, which intense emotion rendered thrilling, "Oh, gentlemen, don't bid over me. It is all I have in the world. Oh, good gentlemen, don't bid over me!" Tears dropped from the eyes of many young people; the agent swallowed hard; and even the auctioneer was conscious of a choking feeling in his throat. There was dead silence for more than a minute. Then was heard the sound of the heavy hammer, followed by these words: "The whole lot is going for a ducat. [$2 20 cents.] Going! going! gone! to Jan Van der Veen!"

It was one of humanity's inspired moments; when men are raised above the base influences of this earth, and see things as Spirits see them in the light of heaven. Hats, turbans, and handkerchiefs waved, and a cheerful "hurra!" met the ears of the redeemed captives. Jan belonged to himself, and owned all his family! Verily, the blessing of heaven did go with the Englishman's golden ducat, to a degree far beyond what he dreamed of when he gave it. Jan could hardly credit his own senses. The reaction from despair to such overwhelming joy was too much for him. His brain was dizzy, and his limbs trembled. When he tried to rise, he tottered, and would have fallen if Zaida had not caught him in her arms. "Poor fellow! poor fellow!" murmured some of the spectators. A man took off his hat, dropped a florin into it, and passing it round, said, "Give him a trifle, gentlemen, to set himself up with. He has always been a good, industrious fellow, and his mistress meant to provide for him. Give him a trifle, gentlemen!" There was a noise of falling coin. Zaida pulled her husband by the sleeve, and whispered in his ear, "Thank the gentlemen." He seemed like one half awake; but he made an effort, and said, "Thank you, good gentlemen! May God bless you and your--" He would have added children; but his eye happened to rest on his own smallest darling, and the thought that nobody could take her from him now choked his utterance. He covered his face with his thin hands, and wept.

Was the golden ducat all that poor despairing slave owed to the good Englishman? No; that was the smallest part of the debt; for to the moral influence of his conversation, and the books and papers he scattered in the neighbourhood, might mainly be attributed the changing public sentiment, which rendered the crowd silent at that mournful scene, and thus enabled the auctioneer to exclaim, "The whole lot going for a ducat! Going! gone! to Jan Van der Veen! Hurra!"


Wayland, Mass., 1855.



Next: "Lines: Suggested by a Lock of Hair..."

Return to "Slavery's Pleasant Homes" and Other Writings by Lydia Maria Child from The Liberty Bell.

Return to The Online Archive of Nineteenth-Century U.S. Women's Writings.