About the authoress:
Lydia Maria Child (1820-1880) wrote short fiction as an outspoken champion of Native American rights,
African American emancipation, and women's suffrage.
An advocate for the abolitionist cause, Child wrote fiction that broke new ground. In stories such as
'Slavery's Pleasant Homes' (1843), she attempts to make readers sympathetic to the plight of black womewn slaves.
Slavery's Pleasant Homes
A Faithful Sketch 
Thy treasures of gold
Are dim with the blood of the hearts thou hast sold;
Thy home may be lovely, but round it I hear
the crack of the whip, and the footsteps of fear.
When Frederic Dalcho brought his young bride from New-Orleans to her Georgian home, there were great
demonstrations of joy among the slaves of the establishment, - dancing, shouting, clapping of hands,
and eager invocations of blessing on the heads of "massa and missis"; for well they knew that he who
manifested most zeal was likely to get the largest coin, or the brightest handkerchief.
The bride had been nurtured in seclusion, almost as deep as that of the oriental harem.Shewas a pretty
little waxen plaything, as fragile and as delicate as the white Petunia blossom. She brought with her
two slaves. Mars, a stalwart mulatto, of good figure, but a cunning and disagreeable expression of
countenance. Rosa, a young girl, elegantly formed, and beautiful as a dark velvet carnation. The
blush, so easily excited, shone through the transparent brown of her smooth cheek, like claret
through a bottle in the sunshine. It was a beautiful contrast to see her beside her mistress, like a
glittering star in attendance upon the pale and almost vanishing moonsickle. They had grown up from
infancy together; for the mother of Rosa was foster-mother of Marion; and soon as the little white
lady could speak, she learned to call Rosa her slave. As they grew older, the wealthy planter's daughter
took pride in her servant's beauty, and loved to decorate her with jewels. "You shall wear my golden
ornaments whenever you ask for them," said she, "they contrast so well with the soft, brown satin of
your neck and arms. I will wear pearls and amethysts; but gold needs the dark complexion to show its
richness. Besides, you are a handsome creature, Rosa, and gold is none too good for you."
Her coachman, Mars, was of the same opinion: but the little petted
coquette tossed her graceful head at him, and paid small heed to his flattering words. Not so with George,
the handsome quadroon brother of Frederic
Dalcho, and his favorite slave; but the master and mistress were too much
absorbed with their own honeymoon, to observe them. Low talks among
the rose-bushes, and stolen meetings by moonlight, passed unnoticed,
save by the evil eyes of Mars. Thus it passed on for months. The young slaves had uttered the marriage
vow to each other, in the silent presence of the stars.
It chanced, one day, that Rosa was summoned to the parlor to attend her mistress, while George stood
respectfully, hat in hand, waiting for a note, which his master was writing. She wore about her neck a
small heart and cross of gold, which her lover had given her the night before. He smiled archly, as
he glanced at it, and the answer from her large, dark eyes was full of joyful tenderness. Unfortunately,
the master looked up at that moment, and at once comprehended the significance of that beaming expression.
He saw that it spoke whole volumes of mutual, happy love; and it kindled in him an unholy fire. He had
never before realized that the girl was so very handsome. He watched her, as she pursued her work,
until she felt uneasy beneath his look. From time to time, he glanced at his young wife. She, too, was
certainly very lovely; but the rich, mantling beauty of the slave had the charm of novelty. The next
day, he gave her a gay dress; and when he met her among the garden shrubbery, he turned her glossy
ringlets over his finger, and called her a pretty darling. Poor Rosa hastened away, filled with
terror. She wanted to tell her mistress all this, and claim her protection; but she dared not. As for
George, he was of a proud and fiery nature, and she dreaded the storm it would raise in his breast.
Her sleeping apartment adjoined that of her mistress, and she was now called bring water to her master
at a much later hour than had been usual with him. One night, no answer was given to the summons.
Rosa was not in her room. When questioned in the morning, she stammered out an incoherent excuse, and
burst into tears. She was ordered, somewhat sternly, to be very careful not to be again absent when
Marion took an early opportunity to plead her favorite's cause. "I have suspected, for some time,"
said she, "that George and Rosa are courting; and for my part, 1 should like very well to have them
married." Her husband made no reply, but abruptly left the room. His conduct towards George became
singularly capricious and severe. Rosa wept much in secret, and became shy as a startled fawn. Her
mistress supposed it was because Mr. Dalcho objected to her marriage, and suspected nothing more.
She tried to remonstrate with him, and learn the nature of his objections, but he answered sharply,
and left her in tears.
One night, Marion was awakened by the closing of the door, and found that Frederic was absent. She
heard voices in Rosa's apartment, and the painful truth flashed upon her. Poor young wife, what a
bitter hour was that!
In the morning, Rosa came to dress her, as usual, but she avoided looking in her face, and kept her
eyes fixed on the ground. As she knelt to tie the satin shoe, Marion spoke angrily of her awkwardness,
and gave her a blow. It was the first time she had ever struck her; for they really loved each other.
The beautiful slave looked up with an expression of surprise, which was answered by a strange, wild
stare. Rosa fell at her feet, and sobbed out, "Oh, mistress, I am not to blame. Indeed, indeed, I am
very wretched." Marion's fierce glance melted into tears. 'Poor child," said she, 'I ought not to have
struck you; but, oh, Rosa, I am wretched, too." The foster-sisters embraced each other, and wept long
and bitterly; but neither sought any further to learn the other's secrets.
At breakfast, George was in attendance, but he would not look at
Rosa, though she watched for a glance with anxious love. When she found
an opportunity to see him alone, he was sullen, and rejected her proffered
kiss. "Rosa, where were you last night?" said he, hastily. The poor girl
blushed deeply, and strove to take his hand; but he flung her from him, with
so much force that she reeled against the wall. "Oh, George," said she,
with bitter anguish, "what can I do? I am his slave." The justice of her plea,
and the pathos of her tones, softened his heart. He placed her head on his
shoulder, and said more kindly, "Keep out of his way, dear Rosa; keep out
of his way."
Rosa made strong efforts to follow this injunction; and dearly did she rue it. George was sent away
from the house, to work on the plantation, and they were forbidden to see each other, under penalty of
severe punishment. His rival, Mars, watched them, and gave information of every attempt to transgress
this cruel edict. But love was more omnipotent than fear of punishment, and the lovers did sometimes
catch a stolen interview. The recurrence of this disobedience exasperated their master beyond endurance.
He swore he would overcome her obstinacy, or kill her; and one severe flogging succeeded another, till
the tenderly-nurtured slave fainted under the cruel infliction, which was rendered doubly dangerous by
the delicate state of her health. Maternal pains came on prematurely, and she died a few hours after.
George wandered into the woods, and avoided the sight of his reckless master, who, on his part, seemed
willing to avoid an interview. Four days had passed since Rosa's death, and the bereaved one had
scarcely tasted food enough to sustain his wretched life. He stood beside the new-made grave,
which he himself had dug. "Oh, Father in Heaven!" he exclaimed, "what would I give, if I had not
flung her from me! Poor girl, she was not to blame." He leaned his head against a tree, and
looked mournfully up to the moon struggling through clouds. Cypresses reared their black forms
against the sky, and the moss hung from bough to bough, in thick, funereal festoons. But a few
months ago, how beautiful and bright was Nature - and now, how inexpressibly gloomy. The injustice
of the past, and the hopelessness of the future, came before him with dreary distinctness. "He is
my brother, " thought he, "we grew up side by side, children of the same father; but I am his slave.
Handsomer, stronger, and more intelligent than he; yet I am his slave. And now he will sell me,
because the murdered one will forever come up between us."
He thought of Rosa as he first saw her, so happy, and so beautiful; of all her gushing tenderness; of
her agonized farewell, when they last met; of her graceful form bleeding under the lash, and now lying
cold and dead beneath his feet.
He looked toward his master's house. "Shall I escape now, and forever?", said he, "or shall I first" -
he paused, threw his arms widely upward, gnashed his teeth, and groaned aloud, "God, pity me! He
murdered my poor Rosa."
On that night, Marion's sleep was disturbed and fitful. The memory of her foster-sister mingled darkly
with all her dreams. Was that a shriek she heard? lt was fearfully shrill in the night - silence! Half
sleeping and half waking, she called wildly, "Rosa! Rosa!" But a moment after, she remembered that
Rosa's light step would never again come at her call. At last a drowsy slave answered the loud summons
of her bell. "l left your master reading in the room below," said she; "go and see if he is ill." The
girl came back, pallid and frightened. "Oh, mistress, he is dead!" she exclaimed; "there is a dagger
through his heart."
Neighbors were hastily summoned, and the slaves secured. Among them was George, who, with a fierce and
haggard look, still lingered around Rosa's grave.
The dagger found in Frederic Dalcho's heart was the one he had himself been accustomed to wear. He
lay upon the sofa, with an open book beside him, as if he had fallen asleep reading. A desk in the
room was broken open, and a sum of money gone. Near it, was dropped a ragged handkerchief, known to
belong to Mars. Suspicion hovered between him and George. Both denied the deed. Mars tried hard to
fix the guilt on his hated rival, and swore to many falsehoods. But as some of these falsehoods were
detected, and the stolen money was found hidden in his bed, the balance turned against him. After the
brief, stern trial awarded to slaves, with slave holders for judges and jurors, Mars was condemned to be
hung. George thought of his relentless persecutions, and for a moment triumphed over the cunning enemy,
who had so often dogged poor Rosa's steps; but his soul was too generous to retain this feeling.
The fatal hour came. Planters rode miles to witness the execution, and stood glaring at their trembling
victim, with the fierceness of tigers. The slaves from miles around were assembled, to take warning by
his awful punishment. The rope was adjusted on the strong bough of a tree. Mars shook like a leaf in
the wind. The countenance of George was very pale and haggard, and his breast was heaving with
tumultuous thoughts. "He is my enemy," said he to himself, "tis an awful thing to die thus. The
theft I did not commit; but if I take all the blame, they can do no more than hang me."
They led the shivering wretch towards the tree, and were about to fasten the fatal noose. But George
rushed forward with a countenance ghastly pale, and exclaimed, "Mars is innocent. I murdered him -
for he killed my wife, and hell was in my bosom."
No voice praised him for the generous confession. They kicked and cursed him; and hung up, like a dog
or a wolf, a man of nobler soul than any of them all.
The Georgian papers thus announced the deed: "Fiend-like Murder. Frederic Dalcho, one of our most
wealthy and respected citizens, was robbed and murdered last week, by one of his slaves. The black
demon was caught and hung; and hanging was too good for him."
The Northern papers copied this version; merely adding, "These are the black-hearted monsters, which
abolition philanthropy would let loose upon our brethren of the South."
Not one was found to tell how the slave's young wife had been torn from him by his own brother, and
murdered with slow tortures. Not one recorded the heroism that would not purchase life by another's
death, though the victim was his enemy. His very name was left unmentioned; he was only Mr. Dalcho's
Source: The American Short Story and Its Writers - An Anthology by Ann Charters, Bedford/St. Martin's, Boston/New York, 2000, pp. 143-147
invocations - Aufrufe, Bittgebete
to manifest - bekunden
to nurture - aufwachsen, aufziehen
waxen - bleich, wachsartig
countenance - Antlitz, Miene, Haltung
carnation - Nelke
coquette - Evastochter, Kokette
marriage vow - Ehegelübde
to be in attendance - in jmds. Diensten sein
to proffer - anbieten
injunction - Vorschrift, Bitte
to exasperate - ärgern, zur Verzweiflung bringen
to flog - schlagen, auspeitschen
maternal pains - Geburtswehen
the bereaved - der Hinterbliebene
to summon - herbeirufen
noose - Schlinge
1. Describe Rosa's relationship to George and to Frederic Dalcho.
2. Is Marion a typical woman of her time in which she grew up? Substantiate your answer.
3. Mars, George and Frederic Dalcho all committed some 'crime'. Which is the one,
in your opinion, who is the most guilty? Explain.
4. Trials at the time of slavery were always biased and verdicts unfair. Explain.
5. How does the authoress connect her characters' emotions with nature? Take the example of
George grieving for Rosa.
6. There is ample use of figurative language throughout the story. Pick 5 examples and explain their meanings