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 Beautiful Belmont, Part 36 -- The Fate of Aunt Tilda's Mose.

by John Salisbury Cochran.

See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 35 -- The Growing Storm Over Slavery.

After his departure from Wheeling, Mose arrived at the large sugar plantation of Mr. Copeland in Louisiana, about sixty miles north of New Orleans, on the Mississippi River. Eight years passed, during which he served his new master faithfully and well. By his industrious, patient, kindly disposition and obliging politeness of manners, he became the favorite of both Mr. and Mrs. Copeland and was retained mainly at the mansion house as the personal servant of both. Much of the affairs and details of the plantation was entrusted to him with entire confidence, which he never abused. If he ever had any longings to be free, or desire to see Aunt Tilda and Lucinda, he never made them known. He seemed to be patient, obligingly laboring out his days for the comfort of others. He was much liked by all the other slaves and when any of them desired a favor from their master or mistress they were sure to first appeal to Mose. Mr. and Mrs. Copeland were very much attached to him, and when Mose told them anything was true they knew it was so.

Mr. Copeland was a prosperous sugarcane planter. In addition to the very large plantation on which he lived, he had two others about 75 miles further up the river, one of which he had given to his son, properly stocked with slaves, mules, and farming implements. The raising of sugarcane and the manufacture of sugar and molasses from cane is quite laborious. Copeland had about 90 slaves on his home plantation and a third as many mules, beside his riding and driving horses. In planting sugarcane, deep furrows (made by running the plow at least three times in the same furrow) are placed from six to seven feet apart. Two sugarcane stalks, with their joints alternating, are placed side by side in the bottoms of these furrows throughout their whole lengths and are covered with soil for a few inches. From each of these joints spring sprouts of the cane, and the earth is filled in as they grow, until the surface of the whole field becomes level. This is ordinarily done in the late fall. In the spring a row of corn is planted midway between the cane rows, the corn crop supplying enough bread for the slaves and feed for the mules.

On one occasion, Copeland having sent a portion of his force to one of the plantations up the river, Mose was required to work in the field. Copeland had just previously secured the services of a new manager, or "slavedriver," as they were then called. He was a small man, cruel, and desirous of showing his authority. Coming out to the field sometime after the plowing of the cane and corn had begun in the morning, and looking over the work, he demanded, "Someone of you niggers has missed a row here. Who did it?" They each and all denied having done so. "It's just the way with you lying niggers. I'll bet I'll not be here a week before I whip every nigger on this plantation. Now the next time a row is missed I'll whip every last nigger in the field and then I'll be certain to get the right one. You can depend on that as certain as I say it, so watch out what you do."

After having been gone to another portion of the plantation for a while, he returned; looking over the subsequent work, cried out: "Another row missed here. Stop every one of them mules 'til I give each of you a flogging." The teams were stopped and he made each slave in the gang bend his body over and run his head between the overseer's legs. Then, closing his legs tightly around the neck of the unfortunate Negro, he used the "cat-o'-nine-tails" with brutal severity on the slave's hips. He went from man to man in this way until he came to Mose. "Get down here, Mose," he said. "No, sah, I didn't miss dat row, sah," said Mose. "Get down here, you nigger, and I'll give you a double dose." "No, sah, I didn't miss dat row, sah. I's not gwine to git down." The overseer made a rush and struck at Mose with the weighted end of his whip. Mose adroitly warded off the blow; it was well he did, for it would have broken his skull.

Mose was a powerful man, and quick as a flash he grasped the overseer, raised him above his head as though he were a child and dashed him with great violence upon the ground, knocking the breath out of him and rendering him senseless for a time. Mose then sprang on the overseer's horse and, riding with all speed to the house, related the whole affair to his master and mistress. When he had finished, Copeland said: "Now, Mose, answer me this question and answer me truthfully, for you know your life depends on it. You know it is against the criminal law of this state for a slave to strike a master or overseer -- you can be tried and executed for it, and even I could not save you. Now, did you strike him, or attempt to strike him?" "No, sah," said Mose, "I swear to de good Lo'd I nevva strike him nor attempt to strike him. I jis take him up in my hands an' slam him down on de ground hard and den jis' run'd away. I swear to de mighty Lo'd, Massa Copeland, dat's all I did." "That's ll right, Mose, now saddle my horse, put my two revolvers in the holsters and mount that horse again and follow me to the field."

They rode rapidly back and found the overseer still in a half-dazed condition, with the Negroes doggedly and sullenly working close by. When Copeland appeared upon the scene a look of relief and satisfaction came over the faces of the slaves. "All of you boys come up here," said Copeland, as he rode up close to the overseer. "Now, Mose, I desire you to state fully what took place here this morning, and I want each of you boys to listen. Tell it all and tell it truthfully, leaving nothing out." Mose related it in his simple way. "Now," said Copeland, turning to the other slaves, is this true or not?" They all corroborated what had been stated. "Now, what have you to say?" demanded Copeland, as he turned to the overseer.

"I do not deny it in the main," sir, replied the overseer, "someone missed a row and I was desirous of furthering your interests by finding out who did it. But let me say, sir, you are the very first slaveowner I have ever met who calls his niggers as witnesses against a white man." "It was your duty," replied Copeland, "to be here and observe who missed the row, if any was missed. This is one of the things which I employed you for. If you are as anxious to serve my interests as you claim, you will not begin an indiscriminate, brutal punishment on my boys the very first day you are here. I discover I have employed the wrong man, sir. I am sure you would break up any planter in this Mississippi valley by such conduct. I try to be kind to my boys and treat them right. I have paid you your first month's wages, sir, and you may keep it -- but you are now discharged from any further services on this plantation and may go at once." The overseer walked off and the Negroes resumed their work with cheerful looks. Copeland rode slowly along the rows, inspecting them, and returned to the house.

The sugar planters of the great Mississippi valley lived in regal style. They ordinarily realized sufficient profit from the molasses made from the sugar drippings and the corn and vegetable crops combined to pay all expenses, thereby having the sugar crop itself, which was vastly more valuable, as clear gain. On some plantations the sugar alone would often bring in as much as $50,000 in a single year. Many of these yearly crops were gambled away in New Orleans, or Paris, however, and planters often returned home without a cent.

The Mississippi Gambler Meets His Match

Early one morning, Copeland's son stepped into his father's house and with pale face said: "Father, I am financially ruined. I don't have a dollar to my name. I have been gambling at poker on the steamer with a fellow since we left New Orleans. The boat has stopped here for a few minutes to see if I can raise any money. He first got what loose money I had, some $3000, next he got my plantation, and lastly, all my slaves and personal property on the farm. Once I thought I had him, but I never had such hard luck in my life. He is a slick one. He is from Mississippi and is going up to St. Louis, and will stop off to have me turn over the plantation to him. Can you do anything for me?"

"I've told you more than once," replied Copeland, "you do not know how to gamble and should quit it. You have seen me successful at it, but that is no reason why you should imagine you can do the same. Here, Mose, bring out the carriage and drive us down to the boat and tell your mistress I'll not be back for a day or so." It was just a few hundred yards to the wharf, and as they entered the cabin of the fine steamer young Copeland said: "This is Mr. Maxwell, father, permit me to introduce him. My father, Mr. Maxwell."

"I have met your father before," said Maxwell, with an ironical emphasis and a stiff bow. "Yes, Mr. Maxwell and I are old friends and agreed when last we parted to meet again lower down the river," said Copeland quite as ironically. "By the way," Copeland continued, "I learn you have been quite successful at cards in the last few hours? Will you accommdate me with a game at poker, sir?" "Most gladly," said Maxwell, "especially as my luck is on now."

If Maxwell desired to unnerve Copeland by this remark he was unsuccessful, and he quickly realized he had a cool and most deliberate antagonist. A knowledge of this fact really made him less formidable in his own estimation and destroyed his self-confidence. Maxwell was a most skillful player, however, and his successive winnings for the first few games gave him renewed, not to say reckless, confidence. Copeland was losing heavily and every time doubled the bets. Copeland's coolness under these losses astonished and perplexed Maxwell and won the sympathy of the bystanders. Copeland's son grew pale with despair at the evident calamity he was bringing on his father. He loved his father dearly, not only for the kindness he had always shown him, but for his true manly dignity and honor. As the boat passed gracefully up the great river the game became most exciting, though apparently the least concerned of all were the two quiet, determined men at the cards.

The table was surrounded by an intensely interested crowd of planters, speculators, and travelers, many of whom were skilled in the game of poker, the prevailing gambling game of the day. Some were very excited, which increased with the magnitude of the amount involved. One planter nervously motioned a friend to one side, and in a whisper conversed with him in an animated manner, evidently over the game. Maxwell was winning every time, and it was evident the run of luck was either wonderfully phenomenal, or that something was wrong. Maxwell was flushed with victory, while the face of Copeland retained the same astonishing, imperturbable coolness. When the next game was taken by Maxwell, Copeland called for a new deck of cards. This immediately arrested the attention of the two men talking in a whisper and they returned to the table. "Why do you demand a change of cards?" demanded Maxwell. "It is not necessary to state my reason, it is a right I have under certain circumstances and I now demand it," said Copeland.

"Here are two decks of fine French cards of slightly different variety," said the clerk, producing them. Copeland thanked him and dealt the cards. "I will bet you $5,000," said Maxwell after looking at his hand. "I will make it $10,000," said Copeland. "I will see your $10,000 more and raise it to $20,000," returned Maxwell. The excitement was becoming intense as the spectators gathered around the table. All eyes were turned upon Copeland as he deliberately meditated for a few seconds, a thing he had done so frequently before just previous to calling his opponent's hand. "We will add an additional $10,000 and make it $30,000," responded Copeland, which seemed to disappoint MaxwelI and send a thrill of anxiety through the onlookers. For a moment Maxwell hesitated. It was the first time he had done so. It was but a moment, however, and with wonderful nerve he coolly said, "Make it $40,000." Every eye was turned upon Copeland with anxious look.

Copeland seemed to have the crowd's sympathy; they feared he would rise from the table a ruined man as had his son from his contest with Maxwell the night before. Maxwell was recognized as the most skillful gambler in the whole Mississippi valley. During the games he had taken two small drinks, but Copeland had not touched a drop. In fact, his whole attention had been centered upon Maxwell and the game. Copeland now hesitated longer than usual. Finally he said, "I will go you $50,000." Maxwell flushed with disappointment and apparent anger. He fully expected Copeland to give up the game at his last bet. For a moment Maxwell seemed perplexed. However, his remarkable nerve came to his aid and he said: "You oversize my ready available cash, sir, but if you will allow me to stake your son's plantation and personal property belongings which I have just won from him, at $50,000, making the whole bet $100,000 in all, I will do so and call you." "I will do it," said Copeland promptly, as he threw down a royal flush. Maxwell showed a straight flush with the king at the head. He was astounded at the result and his face filled with anger.

As Maxwell threw down his hand, a bystander excitedly exclaimed, "Did you ever see such hands! I tell you he was close after him!" "He was not close after me," said Copeland. "He would not have had a straight flush had he not used one of the cards you will find up his right coat sleeve attached to a rubber string. He is a scoundrel, and this is not the first time I have told him so."

"No, but I now say to you it will be the last time. Copeland, you and I will settle that old account here and now," said Maxwell in a great rage. A dagger flashed in his right hand as he attempted to get at Copeland around the table, while the bystanders quickly scattered. The sharp report of a revolver rang out and reverberated around the cabin; the half-raised arm of Maxwell dropped to his side and the dagger fell from his nerveless grasp upon the floor from a bullet which entered the knuckles, plowed along the muscles of the arm, and entered the shoulder.

Maxwell, half dazed, attempted to draw a revolver with his left hand, but before he could do so, Copeland struck him a fearful blow on the head with his revolver and laid him senseless on the floor. Then coolly taking the revolver from Maxwell's prostrate form and placing it in his pocket, he pulled up the sleeve of Maxwell's bleeding arm, exposing to the view of all present two pairs of cards, fastened, as he had stated, with rubber strings which quickly jerked them out of sight when not in use.

"I noticed this early in the game," said Copeland, "and intended calling him on it at the proper time. When I changed the cards on him he could not use them so successfully, but even in the last game he had the audacity to use one of them, the king, although you will observe they are not the same size and do not look quite alike."

"You are entirely right," said one of the gentlemen who had been conversing aside during the game. "My friend and I here discovered the trick while you were playing, and consulted together as to whether we should expose the whole matter then, or wait until the games were ended. You served him just right, and this is the judgment of all of us."

Copeland lit a cigar and leisurely walked to the upper deck to get some fresh air. Maxwell was seriously hurt, and was taken off at the first town for medical treatment. When they went ashore at his son's plantation, Copeland quietly said: "Now, there are your plantation and Negroes again. I give them all back to you on one condition, that is, that you give up gambling from this day forward. Until I am sure that this has happened, you can regard them as my property. You have caused me to break a resolution of my own today, which I had solemnly promised your mother some years ago, namely, never to gamble at cards again. You have seen today, how very dearly the violation of this resolution has ended, not only disastrously but perhaps fatally. You will need some money. Here is $5,000, and I would now like you to join me in a resolution to quit gambling."

The son grasped his father cordially and affectionately by the hand and for the first time in his life promised him.

See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 37 -- Oberlin College.

For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.

This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.

CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
CO-AUTHOR: Schultheiss, Tom. (Asst. Editor)

DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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