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A Mother’s Love (Chapters 3-4)

by Frederick Hastings

The Mothers’ Treasury, vol. 19 (1883)

Pages 17-22

A sample page from A Mother's Love (Chapters 3-4) by Frederick Hastings
From “A Mother’s Love” Used by permission, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

NOTE: This entry is in draft form; it is currently undergoing the VSFP editorial process.

Introductory Note: Fred Hastings published his five-chapter short story in the 1883 periodical, The Mother’s Treasury: containing helpful hints for the household. Hastings, a congregationalist minister, wrote several short stories, amply filled with religious imagery and commentary. This tale follows the life and trials of Alexander Parder, a restless young man, who has grown tired of his small village in Bristol and decides to abandon his family and embark on a ship in search of adventure. Laden with Christian themes and Bible references, Hastings crafts a tale about forgiveness and the rebellious nature of mankind that resembles the well-known “Prodigal Son” parable.

Advisory: This story contains racially insensitive terminology.

Serial Information

This entry was published as the second of three parts:

  1. A Mother’s Love (Chapters 1-2) (1883)
  2. A Mother’s Love (Chapters 3-4) (1883)
  3. A Mother’s Love (Chapter 5) (1883)

Chapter  III.–ENSLAVED

Sad, indeed were the feelings of the poor survivor, as he looked on the body of his dead companion who had been with him ever since they met at Hamburg. As he realized his lonely position, he almost wished he had died too. Hunger and thirst, however, soon compelled him to put forth some effort. Creeping along the beach under the cliffs, he espied a tiny stream oozing through the cleft rock. Having reached it he drank of its cool waters deeply and thankfully. Having assuaged his thirst, he anxiously looked round for something wherewith to appease his hunger. Bethinking himself of the ship, he glanced along the beach to see if any cask of meal or biscuit had been washed on shore. He was alarmed however to see a number of blacks on the beach. They were looking for whatever valuables might be thrown by the waves on land. His first impulse was to hide himself, but he perceived that one of them had caught sight of him, and was pointing him out to another. To attempt to avoid them he thought, would be useless; and perhaps they might prove friendly. He resolved to go to them. As he approached, they made signs indicative of friendship. How deceptive were those signs! As soon as possible they made him prisoner, and led him up to the cliff, where a number of prisoners of war were waiting, under guard. The man who had gone down to the beach, on their return, with a few things they had picked up, moved on towards a place where was laid at anchor, a swift-sailing slaver, ready to take them on board. Alec, faint from battling with the waves, and from hunger, several times sank to the ground during the march. A lash soon roused him. To protest was useless, he could only strive to obey. The writer cannot help here remarking how very strongly the experience of Alexander in temporal things resembles that of the soul thinking to escape from the bondage of sin. When we begin to seek after good, and the heart turns homewards, the movements of sin, and the strength of evil habits seem to hold with a firmer grip. We understand the meaning of Paul, when he says, “Sin revived, and I died.”1A quote from the Apostle Paul that can be found in Romans 7:9 of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. It is not easy to escape from the service of Satan and bondage to the world. In our own strength we could not escape.

Poor Alec, was, during the march, herded with, beaten, and treated like the rest of the slaves. Evil indeed was his case. How he rejoiced when his eyes first fell on an apparently English vessel; but his joy soon turned to grief when he made out her real character. He cherished however a hope that when the Master of the slaver should see that he was a white man he would set him at liberty. Nor was he entirely disappointed; for, when on board partial liberty was given in that he was permitted to remain on deck and make himself useful, instead of being thrust into the hold of the vessel with her wretched living cargo. Had he been placed there he would have certainly died. Indeed many of the poor blacks did perish in the hell-hold of that vessel, and were dragged out to be thrown overboard, to find as much sympathy from the cold waves and greedy sharks as from the heartless crew of the slaver. The cries for water, at the latter part of the rather long voyage, were most heart-rending. The heat and stench from the hold, where several hundreds of human beings were confined in cramped positions, and never permitted to move or ascend to the deck to get a breath of fresh air, was most sickening. To poor Alec was given any disagreeable work connected with attendance upon them. Ofttimes he felt that he could not perform the tasks appointed, but the hope that he might thereby gain his liberty, led him to strive to do his best to please the brutal captain. Hope is a powerful friend in the dreariest extremities. Had it not been for that hope Alec would doubtless have thrown himself overboard. Once or twice as he leaned at night over the bow of the vessel, watching the phosphorescent waters dashing against her, he felt most strongly tempted to take the plunge. The fear of what might come hereafter along restrained him. He knew that he was not prepared to die. Conscience pricked him most keenly, when he thought of his past follies, his many sins, and above all, of his neglect of his kind parents, and of the painful anxiety they must have felt on his account. He dared not enter the presence of his Maker by his own act, with these things burdening his soul. Long as he had been away from home and from religious influences he could not banish altogether the impressions made in youth with respect to the deneed for holiness, pardon and mercy before quitting life.

An out-of-the-way-port in Carolina on the other side the Atlantic was at length reached.2“Carolina” is what we know today as either the North or South state of Carolina in the United States of America. The freight emaciated, diseased, foul and famished beings was discharged and given over to the custody of the slave dealers, who took every precaution to secure their property.

Notwithstanding all the promises of the captain to Alec he was handcuffed and placed with the other slaves. Most earnestly did he beseech the captain to retain him to help to work the vessel, but was deaf to all his entreaties. The captain had bought him from the slave-traders and so wished to recoup himself.

After being marched long distances and changing hands several times Alec found himself the property of a planter down South.3Given the year of publication, the author is most likely referring to the Southern region of the United States of America. It must be confessed that although he protested constantly that he was not a negro, he had become so dark by exposure, that save from the difference in form and language he looked very much like the rest of the ill-used herd of men. He passed as a half-breed, and his lot was most wretched. Though unable to do as much as the blacks, not less was required of him.

 

Chapter IV.—SEEKING PEACE

Day after day Alec had to toil in the cotton fields, beneath the sweltering sun. When exhausted, he could not sometimes help sinking on the ground to rest awhile, but the whip and curses of the overseer would soon drive him to work again. He ran away once but the bloodhounds tracked him and brought him back. He was whipped severely for this attempt, and his work made all the more rigorous. It was no use to attempt to escape in that way. That someone might find him out and set him free was now his only hope. But as to whence deliverance should come he had no idea. While on this plantation he was made to share the cell of an old negro named Uncle Zack, who had been many years on the estate. This aged man could not read or write but had been brought to feel the power of divine truth, and a Saviour’s love. He and several there had been permitted by his master to go to a gathering on the edge of the plantation where a negro called Uncle Matt often “held forth” in his own quaint way on spiritual matters. He not only spoke on religion, btu taught the other poor slaves to sing some of these weird repetetive hymns which have become so well known since as slave melodies.4“Slave melodies,” also known as “Spirituals,” were sung while working in the fields and as “signal songs” for the Underground Railroad. These hymns or chants Alec had heard them humming in the cotton fields, and lightening toiled thereby. He could not join in the songs, but he could not help earnestly wishing to be able by their use to throw off the somewhat despondency which oppressed him. On night when he was lying on the mud floor after a most toilsome day, and his back smarting from several lashes which the overseer had given him, he could not help moaning “Oh that God would kill me outright, for I can bear this no longer!” Uncle Zack whispered, “Alec, don’t say dat. De Lord don’t want kill you, and ‘haps you aint a ready to die. Pray to de good Lord to help bear de sufferins.”

“I can’t pray,” groaned Alec.

“Why can’t you honey? You just now prayed to be killed. Why can’t you pray to be helped to bear de trials ob dis ere state?”

Alec thought for a few moments, then he groaned “Well I could do that, but the Lord would not hear me.”

“Why not?’

“ I have been such a wicked wretch. Hear me! Absurd! Ah, Zack, you don’t know how I have sinned against him before I was made a slave, and it isn’t likely he’ll hear me now.”

“Bruder Alec, you tink dat de good Lord only hear de good people. You tink he only help de people who don’t need de blessin. De dear Jesus listen to that wicked tief who hang by his side on Calvary?”

“What thief?”

“Don’t you know ‘bout him? Den I will tell you.” Then Uncle Zack did his best to teach Alexander about the penitent thief, and the latter listened as though it were all new to him.5The “thief” was a man that was crucified next to Jesus Christ who repented of his sins and was forgiven by Jesus. As he listened he was carried back to the days when he went with his father and mother on Sundays, either round by the breezy bay, or over the fields and long the hedged and tree shaded lane, to the beautiful old church of Kewstoke. The rush of home memories made the poor fellow put his face close to the ground and weep like a child. After a time old Zack spoke to him again, and tried to cheer him up, promising also to try and get the overseer to let Alec go with him the next time he went to hear Uncle Matt. Would Alec like to go and hear more about Jesus? Alec thanked him. Zack did not find it an easy task to persuade the overseer to let Alec go. The previous efforts to escape made the overseer very hard towards him, but Uncle Zack managed to get leave after a time, and the broken-hearted Englishman was led by this pious old negro to the creek where Uncle Matt preached to the oppressed. Alec was prepared to listen to the preaching negro, and he was surprised at the way in which Uncle Matt seemed just to adapt his words to his need. He spoke of the children of Israel who did not listen to Moses by reason of their bondage, of how that bondage was like the service of the world and Satan, of how the more we strive to get away from Satan and sin, the more he tightens his hold, of how Jesus was stronger than the devil. Old Matt went on to liken Christ to Moses. He was at home here. The story of deliverance of the Israelites was always dear to the poor Southern slaves. At once in the middle of his sermon or talk old Matt broke out lustily his face all glowing with intense excitement, “Go down Moses, tell Ole Pharoah let my people go.” Then he restrained himself and spoke of how Jesus, like Moses, came to deliver those who would believe in Him, of how He was sent by God, —of how, just as Moses had despised the glory of Pharoah’s court, Jesus had put aside His glory to come from heaven to save us. Then he again referred to the deliverance from Egypt, and drew a picture of the Israelites going out of that hateful land, and through the Red Sea followed their enemies.6The story of the Israelites fleeing Egypt can be found in Exodus 14 of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. This story is known as the “Exodus Narrative” in Antebellum America that inspired enslaved people to escape from their masters and become free men and women. He grew “mighty” eloquent again in describing those on the opposite shore rejoicing in their safety, looking at the dead bodies of their enemies thrown on the beach. Poor Alec was much moved, and bent down to his tears of emotion which would steal along his cheeks. As he went away back to his cell with old Zack he felt like a new man. He was humble as a child, and emptied of all self-trust. He began to feel hope with respect to the future, in respect to deliverance from his slavery. Not only so but he had some longing for salvation from sin. It was a dim longing and a faint hope. As often as he could he went with Zack to hear the Moses of their district, and in listening to him he saw gradually how ingratitude to his parents, his escape from his apprenticeships, and wanderings in distant lands were only illustrations of how he had treated his heavenly Father, broken away from his law, and followed the sinful desires of his heart. He saw too how helpless he was to deliver himself, and he again began to despair because had so long neglected God. He felt ashamed to ask for salvation. Some memory of the passage which he had learned when a boy,—“They shall call upon me and I will not answer, I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when you fear cometh,” again plunged him into despair from which ol Zack had very great difficulty in drawing him.7This verse is found in Proverbs 1:26 of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. With respect to his physical and spiritual slavery he saw most clearly how hopeless was his position until someone should come and set him free. He knew too well the selfish spirit of his owner to believe that he would give his liberty unbought. He found help in thinking of Christ, but he did not see how Christ loved him and give Himself for him until several months had gone by. Often did old Uncle Matt quote the touching words of St. Paul: “He loved me and gave Himself for me,” and Alec came to have some hope that Christ loved him, but it was still a faint hope, bitterly did he repent of his folly in running away from home. Still he believed, if only he could get free and return, that the father, whose knee he had in childhood climbed, and the mother, whose lips he had so often kissed, would forgive him. When he thought of what pain he must have caused them, he would weep freely. Then he slackened at his work, but the crack of the whip would lead him to hastily dash away his tears, and use his hoe or spade most energetically. Very often did he look around, to see if he could decipher signs of approaching deliverance. None came. Despair was taking possession of him. What! must he live and die with the sound of that hateful whip constantly in his ears? Shall he be to his end the property of another, and have the burial of a dog? No other prospects seemed before him. He now prayed that God would help him. No Bible had he to which he could go for comfort. He ofttimes wished for one, but there was not a copy of the precious book on the whole plantation. A few passages which were impressed on his mind when young, now by the help of Uncles Matthew and Zack came back to him. When he remembered them, they only made him yearn all the more for home.8For “remembered” the original read “rembered”. Oh, for some tidings from the “far country” in which his parents dwelt, then he thought that he would be content still to work as a slave, to die on the cotton field.

(To be Continued.)

This story is continued in A Mother’s Love (Chapter 5).

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Julia Bryan
Reagan Argyle
Salem Valiulis

Posted

9 March 2023

Last modified

16 August 2023

Notes

Notes
1 A quote from the Apostle Paul that can be found in Romans 7:9 of the King James Version of the Holy Bible.
2 “Carolina” is what we know today as either the North or South state of Carolina in the United States of America.
3 Given the year of publication, the author is most likely referring to the Southern region of the United States of America.
4 “Slave melodies,” also known as “Spirituals,” were sung while working in the fields and as “signal songs” for the Underground Railroad.
5 The “thief” was a man that was crucified next to Jesus Christ who repented of his sins and was forgiven by Jesus.
6 The story of the Israelites fleeing Egypt can be found in Exodus 14 of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. This story is known as the “Exodus Narrative” in Antebellum America that inspired enslaved people to escape from their masters and become free men and women.
7 This verse is found in Proverbs 1:26 of the King James Version of the Holy Bible.
8 For “remembered” the original read “rembered”.

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