LIFE AMONG THE LOWLY 553
About a month after this, one morning, all the servants of the Shelby estate were convened together in the great hall that ran through the house, to hear a few words from their young master.
To the surprise of all, he appeared among them with a bundle of papers in his hand, containing a certificate of freedom to every one on the place, which he read successively, and presented, amid the sobs and tears and shouts of all present.
Many, however, pressed around him, earnestly begging him not to send them away; and, with anxious faces, tendering back their free papers.
" We don't want to be no freer than we are. We 's allers had all we wanted. We don't want to leave de ole place, and Mas'r and Missis, and de rest! "
" My good friends," said George, as soon as he could get a silence, " there 11 be no need for you to leave me. The place wants as many hands to work it as it did before. We need the same about the house that we did before. But, you are now free men and free women. I shall pay you wages for your work, such as we shall agree on. The advantage is, that in case of my getting in debt, or dying, — things that might happen, — you cannot now be taken up and sold. I expect to carry on the estate, and to teach you what, perhaps, it will take you some time to learn, — how to use the rights I give you as free men and women. I expect you to be good and willing to learn; and I trust in God that I shall be faithful, and willing to teach. And now, my friends, look up, and thank God for the blessing of freedom."
An aged, patriarchal negro, who had grown gray and blind on the estate, now rose, and, lifting his trembling hand, said, " Let us give thanks unto the Lord!' As all kneeled by one consent, a more touching and hearty Te Deum never ascended to heaven, though borne on the peal of organ, bell, and cannon, than came from that honest old heart.