THE STRENGTH OF GIDEON AND OTHER STORIES
PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR
TO MY GOOD FRIEND AND TEACHER CAPTAIN CHARLES B. STIVERS
STRENGTH OF GIDEON
MAMMY PEGGY'S PRIDE
VINEY'S FREE PAPERS
THE FRUITFUL SLEEPING OF THE REV. ELISHA EDWARDS
THE CASE OF 'CA'LINE'
THE FINISH OF PATSY BARNES
ONE MAN'S FORTUNES
UNCLE SIMON'S SUNDAYS OUT
MR. CORNELIUS JOHNSON, OFFICE-SEEKER
AN OLD-TIME CHRISTMAS
A MESS OF POTTAGE
THE TRUSTFULNESS OF POLLY
THE TRAGEDY AT THREE FORKS
THE FINDING OF ZACH
THE FAITH CURE MAN
A COUNCIL OF STATE
THE STRENGTH OF GIDEON
Old Mam' Henry, and her word may be taken, said that it was "De powerfulles' sehmont she ever had hyeahd in all huh bo'n days." That was saying a good deal, for the old woman had lived many years on the Stone place and had heard many sermons from preachers, white and black. She was a judge, too.
It really must have been a powerful sermon that Brother Lucius preached, for Aunt Doshy Scott had fallen in a trance in the middle of the aisle, while "Merlatter Mag," who was famed all over the place for having white folk's religion and never "waking up," had broken through her reserve and shouted all over the camp ground.
Several times Cassie had shown signs of giving way, but because she was frail some of the solicitous sisters held her with self-congratulatory care, relieving each other now and then, that each might have a turn in the rejoicings. But as the preacher waded out deeper and deeper into the spiritual stream, Cassie's efforts to make her feelings known became more and more decided. He told them how the spears of the Midianites had "clashed upon de shiels of de Gideonites, an' aftah while, wid de powah of de Lawd behin' him, de man Gideon triumphed mightily," and swaying then and wailing in the dark woods, with grim branches waving in the breath of their own excitement, they could hear above the tumult the clamor of the fight, the clashing of the spears, and the ringing of the shields. They could see the conqueror coming home in triumph. Then when he cried, "A-who, I say, a-who is in Gideon's ahmy to-day?" and the wailing chorus took up the note, "A-who!" it was too much even for frail Cassie, and, deserted by the solicitous sisters, in the words of Mam' Henry, "she broke a-loose, and faihly tuk de place."
Gideon had certainly triumphed, and when a little boy baby came to Cassie two or three days later, she named him Gideon in honor of the great Hebrew warrior whose story had so wrought upon her. All the plantation knew the spiritual significance of the name, and from the day of his birth the child was as one set apart to a holy mission on earth.
Say what you will of the influences which the circumstances surrounding birth have upon a child, upon this one at least the effect was unmistakable. Even as a baby he seemed to realize the weight of responsibility which had been laid upon his little black shoulders, and there was a complacent dignity in the very way in which he drew upon the sweets of his dirty sugar-teat when the maternal breast was far off bending over the sheaves of the field.
He was a child early destined to sacrifice and self-effacement, and as he grew older and other youngsters came to fill Cassie's cabin, he took up his lot with the meekness of an infantile Moses. Like a Moses he was, too, leading his little flock to the promised land, when he grew to the age at which, barefooted and one-shifted, he led or carried his little brothers and sisters about the quarters. But the "promised land" never took him into the direction of the stables, where the other pickaninnies worried the horses, or into the region of the hen-coops, where egg-sucking was a common crime.
No boy ever rolled or tumbled in the dirt with a heartier glee than did Gideon, but no warrior, not even his illustrious prototype himself, ever kept sterner discipline in his ranks when his followers seemed prone to overstep the bounds of right. At a very early age his shrill voice could be heard calling in admonitory tones, caught from his mother's very lips, "You 'Nelius, don' you let me ketch you th'owin' at ol' mis' guinea-hens no mo'; you hyeah me?" or "Hi'am, you come offen de top er dat shed 'fo' you fall an' brek yo' naik all to pieces."
It was a common sight in the evening to see him sitting upon the low rail fence which ran before the quarters, his shift blowing in the wind, and his black legs lean and bony against the whitewashed rails, as he swayed to and fro, rocking and singing one of his numerous brothers to sleep, and always his song was of war and victory, albeit crooned in a low, soothing voice. Sometimes it was "Turn Back Pharaoh's Army," at others "Jinin' Gideon's Band." The latter was a favorite, for he seemed to have a proprietary interest in it, although, despite the martial inspiration of his name, "Gideon's band" to him meant an aggregation of people with horns and fiddles.
Steve, who was Cassie's man, declared that he had never seen such a child, and, being quite as religious as Cassie herself, early began to talk Scripture and religion to the boy. He was aided in this when his master, Dudley Stone, a man of the faith, began a little Sunday class for the religiously inclined of the quarters, where the old familiar stories were told in simple language to the slaves and explained. At these meetings Gideon became a shining light. No one listened more eagerly to the teacher's words, or more readily answered his questions at review. No one was wider-mouthed or whiter-eyed. His admonitions to his family now took on a different complexion, and he could be heard calling across a lot to a mischievous sister, "Bettah tek keer daih, Lucy Jane, Gawd's a-watchin' you; bettah tek keer."
The appointed man is always marked, and so Gideon was by always receiving his full name. No one ever shortened his scriptural appellation into Gid. He was always Gideon from the time he bore the name out of the heat of camp-meeting fervor until his master discovered his worthiness and filled Cassie's breast with pride by taking him into the house to learn "mannahs and 'po'tment."
As a house servant he was beyond reproach, and next to his religion his Mas' Dudley and Miss Ellen claimed his devotion and fidelity. The young mistress and young master learned to depend fearlessly upon his faithfulness.
It was good to hear old Dudley Stone going through the house in a mock fury, crying, "Well, I never saw such a house; it seems as if there isn't a soul in it that can do without Gideon. Here I've got him up here to wait on me, and it's Gideon here and Gideon there, and every time I turn around some of you have sneaked him off. Gideon, come here!" And the black boy smiled and came.
But all his days were not days devoted to men's service, for there came a time when love claimed him for her own, when the clouds took on a new color, when the sough of the wind was music in his ears, and he saw heaven in Martha's eyes. It all came about in this way.
Gideon was young when he got religion and joined the church, and he grew up strong in the faith. Almost by the time he had become a valuable house servant he had grown to be an invaluable servant of the Lord. He had a good, clear voice that could lead a hymn out of all the labyrinthian wanderings of an ignorant congregation, even when he had to improvise both words and music; and he was a mighty man of prayer. It was thus he met Martha. Martha was brown and buxom and comely, and her rich contralto voice was loud and high on the sisters' side in meeting time. It was the voices that did it at first. There was no hymn or "spiritual" that Gideon could start to which Martha could not sing an easy blending second, and never did she open a tune that Gideon did not swing into it with a wonderfully sweet, flowing, natural bass. Often he did not know the piece, but that did not matter, he sang anyway. Perhaps when they were out he would go to her and ask, "Sis' Martha, what was that hymn you stahrted to-day?" and she would probably answer, "Oh, dat was jes' one o' my mammy's ol' songs."
"Well, it sholy was mighty pretty. Indeed it was."
"Oh, thanky, Brothah Gidjon, thanky."
Then a little later they began to walk back to the master's house together, for Martha, too, was one of the favored ones, and served, not in the field, but in the big house.
The old women looked on and conversed in whispers about the pair, for they were wise, and what their old eyes saw, they saw.
"Oomph," said Mam' Henry, for she commented on everything, "dem too is jes' natchelly singin' demse'ves togeddah."
"Dey's lak de mo'nin' stahs," interjected Aunt Sophy.
"How 'bout dat?" sniffed the older woman, for she objected to any one's alluding to subjects she did not understand.
"Why, Mam' Henry, ain' you nevah hyeahd tell o' de mo'nin' stahs whut sung deyse'ves togeddah?"
"No, I ain't, an' I been livin' a mighty sight longah'n you, too. I knows all 'bout when de stahs fell, but dey ain' nevah done no singin' dat I knows 'bout."
"Do heish, Mam' Henry, you sho' su'prises me. W'y, dat ain' happenin's, dat's Scripter."
"Look hyeah, gal, don't you tell me dat's Scripter, an' me been a-settin' undah de Scripter fu' nigh onto sixty yeah."
"Well, Mam' Henry, I may 'a' been mistook, but sho' I took hit fu' Scripter. Mebbe de preachah I hyeahd was jes' inlinin'."
"Well, wheddah hit's Scripter er not, dey's one t'ing su'tain, I tell you,—dem two is singin' deyse'ves togeddah."
"Hit's a fac', an' I believe it."
"An' it's a mighty good thing, too. Brothah Gidjon is de nicest house dahky dat I ever hyeahd tell on. Dey jes' de same diffunce 'twixt him an' de othah house-boys as dey is 'tween real quality an' strainers—he got mannahs, but he ain't got aihs."
"Heish, ain't you right!"
"An' while de res' of dem ain' thinkin' 'bout nothin' but dancin' an' ca'in' on, he makin' his peace, callin', an' 'lection sho'."
"I tell you, Mam' Henry, dey ain' nothin' like a spichul named chile."
"Humph! g'long, gal; 'tain't in de name; de biggest devil I evah knowed was named Moses Aaron. 'Tain't in de name, hit's all in de man hisse'f."
But notwithstanding what the gossips said of him, Gideon went on his way, and knew not that the one great power of earth had taken hold of him until they gave the great party down in the quarters, and he saw Martha in all her glory. Then love spoke to him with no uncertain sound.
It was a dancing-party, and because neither he nor Martha dared countenance dancing, they had strolled away together under the pines that lined the white road, whiter now in the soft moonlight. He had never known the pine-cones smell so sweet before in all his life. She had never known just how the moonlight flecked the road before. This was lovers' lane to them. He didn't understand why his heart kept throbbing so furiously, for they were walking slowly, and when a shadow thrown across the road from a by-standing bush frightened her into pressing close up to him, he could not have told why his arm stole round her waist and drew her slim form up to him, or why his lips found hers, as eye looked into eye. For their simple hearts love's mystery was too deep, as it is for wiser ones.
Some few stammering words came to his lips, and she answered the best she could. Then why did the moonlight flood them so, and why were the heavens so full of stars? Out yonder in the black hedge a mocking-bird was singing, and he was translating—oh, so poorly—the song of their hearts. They forgot the dance, they forgot all but their love.
"An' you won't ma'y nobody else but me, Martha?"
"You know I won't, Gidjon."
"But I mus' wait de yeah out?"
"Yes, an' den don't you think Mas' Stone'll let us have a little cabin of ouah own jest outside de quahtahs?"
"Won't it be blessid? Won't it be blessid?" he cried, and then the kindly moon went under a cloud for a moment and came out smiling, for he had peeped through and had seen what passed. Then they walked back hand in hand to the dance along the transfigured road, and they found that the first part of the festivities were over, and all the people had sat down to supper. Every one laughed when they went in. Martha held back and perspired with embarrassment. But even though he saw some of the older heads whispering in a corner, Gideon was not ashamed. A new light was in his eyes, and a new boldness had come to him. He led Martha up to the grinning group, and said in his best singing voice, "Whut you laughin' at? Yes, I's popped de question, an' she says 'Yes,' an' long 'bout a yeah f'om now you kin all 'spec' a' invitation." This was a formal announcement. A shout arose from the happy-go-lucky people, who sorrowed alike in each other's sorrows, and joyed in each other's joys. They sat down at a table, and their health was drunk in cups of cider and persimmon beer.
Over in the corner Mam' Henry mumbled over her pipe, "Wha'd I tell you? wha'd I tell you?" and Aunt Sophy replied, "Hit's de pa'able of de mo'nin' stahs."
"Don't talk to me 'bout no mo'nin' stahs," the mammy snorted; "Gawd jes' fitted dey voices togeddah, an' den j'ined dey hea'ts. De mo'nin' stahs ain't got nothin' to do wid it."
"Mam' Henry," said Aunt Sophy, impressively, "you's a' oldah ooman den I is, an' I ain' sputin' hit; but I say dey done 'filled Scripter 'bout de mo'nin' stahs; dey's done sung deyse'ves togeddah."
The old woman sniffed.
The next Sunday at meeting some one got the start of Gideon, and began a new hymn. It ran:
"At de ma'ige of de Lamb, oh Lawd, God done gin His 'sent. Dey dressed de Lamb all up in white, God done gin His 'sent. Oh, wasn't dat a happy day, Oh, wasn't dat a happy day, Good Lawd, Oh, wasn't dat a happy day, De ma'ige of de Lamb!"
The wailing minor of the beginning broke into a joyous chorus at the end, and Gideon wept and laughed in turn, for it was his wedding-song.
The young man had a confidential chat with his master the next morning, and the happy secret was revealed.
"What, you scamp!" said Dudley Stone. "Why, you've got even more sense than I gave you credit for; you've picked out the finest girl on the plantation, and the one best suited to you. You couldn't have done better if the match had been made for you. I reckon this must be one of the marriages that are made in heaven. Marry her, yes, and with a preacher. I don't see why you want to wait a year."
Gideon told him his hopes of a near cabin.
"Better still," his master went on; "with you two joined and up near the big house, I'll feel as safe for the folks as if an army was camped around, and, Gideon, my boy,"—he put his arms on the black man's shoulders,—"if I should slip away some day—"
The slave looked up, startled.
"I mean if I should die—I'm not going to run off, don't be alarmed—I want you to help your young Mas' Dud look after his mother and Miss Ellen; you hear? Now that's the one promise I ask of you,—come what may, look after the women folks." And the man promised and went away smiling.
His year of engagement, the happiest time of a young man's life, began on golden wings. There came rumors of war, and the wings of the glad-hued year drooped sadly. Sadly they drooped, and seemed to fold, when one day, between the rumors and predictions of strife, Dudley Stone, the old master, slipped quietly away out into the unknown.
There were wife, daughter, son, and faithful slaves about his bed, and they wept for him sincere tears, for he had been a good husband and father and a kind master. But he smiled, and, conscious to the last, whispered to them a cheery good-bye. Then, turning to Gideon, who stood there bowed with grief, he raised one weak finger, and his lips made the word, "Remember!"
They laid him where they had laid one generation after another of the Stones and it seemed as if a pall of sorrow had fallen upon the whole place. Then, still grieving, they turned their long-distracted attention to the things that had been going on around, and lo! the ominous mutterings were loud, and the cloud of war was black above them.
It was on an April morning when the storm broke, and the plantation, master and man, stood dumb with consternation, for they had hoped, they had believed, it would pass. And now there was the buzz of men who talked in secret corners. There were hurried saddlings and feverish rides to town. Somewhere in the quarters was whispered the forbidden word "freedom," and it was taken up and dropped breathlessly from the ends of a hundred tongues. Some of the older ones scouted it, but from some who held young children to their breasts there were deep-souled prayers in the dead of night. Over the meetings in the woods or in the log church a strange reserve brooded, and even the prayers took on a guarded tone. Even from the fulness of their hearts, which longed for liberty, no open word that could offend the mistress or the young master went up to the Almighty. He might know their hearts, but no tongue in meeting gave vent to what was in them, and even Gideon sang no more of the gospel army. He was sad because of this new trouble coming hard upon the heels of the old, and Martha was grieved because he was.
Finally the trips into town budded into something, and on a memorable evening when the sun looked peacefully through the pines, young Dudley Stone rode into the yard dressed in a suit of gray, and on his shoulders were the straps of office. The servants gathered around him with a sort of awe and followed him until he alighted at the porch. Only Mam' Henry, who had been nurse to both him and his sister, dared follow him in. It was a sad scene within, but such a one as any Southern home where there were sons might have shown that awful year. The mother tried to be brave, but her old hands shook, and her tears fell upon her son's brown head, tears of grief at parting, but through which shone the fire of a noble pride. The young Ellen hung about his neck with sobs and caresses.
"Would you have me stay?" he asked her.
"No! no! I know where your place is, but oh, my brother!"
"Ellen," said the mother in a trembling voice, "you are the sister of a soldier now."
The girl dried her tears and drew herself up. "We won't burden your heart, Dudley, with our tears, but we will weight you down with our love and prayers."
It was not so easy with Mam' Henry. Without protest, she took him to her bosom and rocked to and fro, wailing "My baby! my baby!" and the tears that fell from the young man's eyes upon her grey old head cost his manhood nothing.
Gideon was behind the door when his master called him. His sleeve was traveling down from his eyes as he emerged.
"Gideon," said his master, pointing to his uniform, "you know what this means?"
"I wish I could take you along with me. But—"
"Mas' Dud," Gideon threw out his arms in supplication.
"You remember father's charge to you, take care of the women-folks." He took the servant's hand, and, black man and white, they looked into each other's eyes, and the compact was made. Then Gideon gulped and said "Yes, suh" again.
Another boy held the master's horse and rode away behind him when he vaulted into the saddle, and the man of battle-song and warrior name went back to mind the women-folks.
Then began the disintegration of the plantation's population. First Yellow Bob slipped away, and no one pursued him. A few blamed him, but they soon followed as the year rolled away. More were missing every time a Union camp lay near, and great tales were told of the chances for young negroes who would go as body-servants to the Yankee officers. Gideon heard all and was silent.
Then as the time of his marriage drew near he felt a greater strength, for there was one who would be with him to help him keep his promise and his faith.
The spirit of freedom had grown strong in Martha as the days passed, and when her lover went to see her she had strange things to say. Was he going to stay? Was he going to be a slave when freedom and a livelihood lay right within his grasp? Would he keep her a slave? Yes, he would do it all—all.
She asked him to wait.
Another year began, and one day they brought Dudley Stone home to lay beside his father. Then most of the remaining negroes went. There was no master now. The two bereaved women wept, and Gideon forgot that he wore the garb of manhood and wept with them.
Martha came to him.
"Gidjon," she said, "I's waited a long while now. Mos' eve'ybody else is gone. Ain't you goin'?"
"But, Gidjon, I wants to be free. I know how good dey've been to us; but, oh, I wants to own myse'f. They're talkin' 'bout settin' us free every hour."
"I can wait."
"They's a camp right near here."
"The of'cers wants body-servants, Gidjon—"
"Go, Martha, if you want to, but I stay."
She went away from him, but she or some one else got word to young Captain Jack Griswold of the near camp that there was an excellent servant on the plantation who only needed a little persuading, and he came up to see him.
"Look here," he said, "I want a body-servant. I'll give you ten dollars a month."
"I've got to stay here."
"But, you fool, what have you to gain by staying here?"
"I'm goin' to stay."
"Why, you'll be free in a little while, anyway."
"Of all fools," said the Captain. "I'll give you fifteen dollars."
"I do' want it."
"Well, your girl's going, anyway. I don't blame her for leaving such a fool as you are."
Gideon turned and looked at him.
"The camp is going to be moved up on this plantation, and there will be a requisition for this house for officers' quarters, so I'll see you again," and Captain Griswold went his way.
Martha going! Martha going! Gideon could not believe it. He would not. He saw her, and she confirmed it. She was going as an aid to the nurses. He gasped, and went back to mind the women-folks.
They did move the camp up nearer, and Captain Griswold came to see Gideon again, but he could get no word from him, save "I'm goin' to stay," and he went away in disgust, entirely unable to understand such obstinacy, as he called it.
But the slave had his moments alone, when the agony tore at his breast and rended him. Should he stay? The others were going. He would soon be free. Every one had said so, even his mistress one day. Then Martha was going. "Martha! Martha!" his heart called.
The day came when the soldiers were to leave, and he went out sadly to watch them go. All the plantation, that had been white with tents, was dark again, and everywhere were moving, blue-coated figures.
Once more his tempter came to him. "I'll make it twenty dollars," he said, but Gideon shook his head. Then they started. The drums tapped. Away they went, the flag kissing the breeze. Martha stole up to say good-bye to him. Her eyes were overflowing, and she clung to him.
"Come, Gidjon," she plead, "fu' my sake. Oh, my God, won't you come with us—it's freedom." He kissed her, but shook his head.
"Hunt me up when you do come," she said, crying bitterly, "fu' I do love you, Gidjon, but I must go. Out yonder is freedom," and she was gone with them.
He drew out a pace after the troops, and then, turning, looked back at the house. He went a step farther, and then a woman's gentle voice called him, "Gideon!" He stopped. He crushed his cap in his hands, and the tears came into his eyes. Then he answered, "Yes, Mis' Ellen, I's a-comin'."
He stood and watched the dusty column until the last blue leg swung out of sight and over the grey hills the last drum-tap died away, and then turned and retraced his steps toward the house.
Gideon had triumphed mightily.
MAMMY PEGGY'S PRIDE
In the failing light of the midsummer evening, two women sat upon the broad veranda that ran round three sides of the old Virginia mansion. One was young and slender with the slightness of delicate girlhood. The other was old, black and ample,—a typical mammy of the old south. The girl was talking in low, subdued tones touched with a note of sadness that was strange in one of her apparent youth, but which seemed as if somehow in consonance with her sombre garments.
"No, no, Peggy," she was saying, "we have done the best we could, as well as even papa could have expected of us if he had been here. It was of no use to keep struggling and straining along, trying to keep the old place from going, out of a sentiment, which, however honest it might have been, was neither common sense nor practical. Poor people, and we are poor, in spite of the little we got for the place, cannot afford to have feelings. Of course I hate to see strangers take possession of the homestead, and—and—papa's and mamma's and brother Phil's graves are out there on the hillside. It is hard,—hard, but what was I to do? I couldn't plant and hoe and plow, and you couldn't, so I am beaten, beaten." The girl threw out her hands with a despairing gesture and burst into tears.
Mammy Peggy took the brown head in her lap and let her big hands wander softly over the girl's pale face. "Sh,—sh," she said as if she were soothing a baby, "don't go on lak dat. W'y whut's de mattah wid you, Miss Mime? 'Pears lak you done los' all yo' spe'it. Whut you reckon yo' pappy 'u'd t'ink ef he could see you ca'in' on dis away? Didn' he put his han' on yo' haid an' call you his own brave little gal, jes' befo', jes' befo'—he went?"
The girl raised her head for a moment and looked at the old woman.
"Oh, mammy, mammy," she cried, "I have tried so hard to be brave—to be really my father's daughter, but I can't, I can't. Everything I turn my hand to fails. I've tried sewing, but here every one sews for herself now. I've even tried writing," and here a crimson glow burned in her cheeks, "but oh, the awful regularity with which everything came back to me. Why, I even put you in a story, Mammy Peggy, you dear old, good, unselfish thing, and the hard-hearted editor had the temerity to decline you with thanks."
"I wouldn't'a' nevah lef' you nohow, honey."
Mima laughed through her tears. The strength of her first grief had passed, and she was viewing her situation with a whimsical enjoyment of its humorous points.
"I don't know," she went on, "it seems to me that it's only in stories themselves that destitute young Southern girls get on and make fame and fortune with their pens. I'm sure I couldn't."
"Of course you couldn't. Whut else do you 'spect? Whut you know 'bout mekin' a fortune? Ain't you a Ha'ison? De Ha'isons nevah was no buyin' an' sellin', mekin' an' tradin' fambly. Dey was gent'men an' ladies f'om de ve'y fus' beginnin'."
"Oh what a pity one cannot sell one's quality for daily bread, or trade off one's blue blood for black coffee."
"Miss Mime, is you out o' yo' haid?" asked Mammy Peggy in disgust and horror.
"No, I'm not, Mammy Peggy, but I do wish that I could traffic in some of my too numerous and too genteel ancestors instead of being compelled to dispose of my ancestral home and be turned out into the street like a pauper."
"Heish, honey, heish, I can' stan' to hyeah you talk dat-away. I's so'y to see dee ol' place go, but you got to go out of it wid yo' haid up, jes' ez ef you was gwine away fo' a visit an' could come back w'en evah you wanted to."
"I shall slink out of it like a cur. I can't meet the eyes of the new owner; I shall hate him."
"W'y, Miss Mime, whaih's yo' pride? Whaih's yo' Ha'ison pride?"
"Gone, gone with the deed of this house and its furniture. Gone with the money I paid for the new cottage and its cheap chairs."
"Gone, hit ain' gone, fu' ef you won't let on to have it, I will. I'll show dat new man how yo' pa would 'a' did ef he'd 'a' been hyeah."
"What, you, Mammy Peggy?"
"Yes, me, I ain' a-gwine to let him t'ink dat de Ha'isons didn' have no quality."
"Good, mammy, you make me remember who I am, and what my duty is. I shall see Mr. Northcope when he comes, and I'll try to make my Harrison pride sustain me when I give up to him everything I have held dear. Oh, mammy, mammy!"
"Heish, chile, sh, sh, er go on, dat's right, yo' eyes is open now an' you kin cry a little weenty bit. It'll do you good. But when dat new man comes I want mammy's lamb to look at him an' hol' huh haid lak' huh ma used to hol' hern, an' I reckon Mistah No'thcope gwine to withah away."
And so it happened that when Bartley Northcope came the next day to take possession of the old Virginia mansion he was welcomed at the door, and ushered into the broad parlor by Mammy Peggy, stiff and unbending in the faded finery of her family's better days.
"Miss Mime'll be down in a minute," she told him, and as he sat in the great old room, and looked about him at the evidences of ancient affluence, his spirit was subdued by the silent tragedy which his possession of it evinced. But he could not but feel a thrill at the bit of comedy which is on the edge of every tragedy, as he thought of Mammy Peggy and her formal reception. "She let me into my own house," he thought to himself, "with the air of granting me a favor." And then there was a step on the stair; the door opened, and Miss Mima stood before him, proud, cold, white, and beautiful.
He found his feet, and went forward to meet her. "Mr. Northcope," she said, and offered her hand daintily, hesitatingly. He took it, and thought, even in that flash of a second, what a soft, tiny hand it was.
"Yes," he said, "and I have been sitting here, overcome by the vastness of your fine old house."
The "your" was delicate, she thought, but she only said, "Let me help you to recovery with some tea. Mammy will bring some," and then she blushed very red. "My old nurse is the only servant I have with me, and she is always mammy to me." She remembered, and throwing up her proud little head rang for the old woman.
Directly, Mammy Peggy came marching in like a grenadier. She bore a tray with the tea things on it, and after she had set it down hovered in the room as if to chaperon her mistress. Bartley felt decidedly uncomfortable. Mima's manners were all that politeness could require, but he felt as if she resented his coming even to his own, and he knew that mammy looked upon him as an interloper.
Mima kept up well, only the paleness of her face showed what she felt at leaving her home. Her voice was calm and impassive, only once it trembled, when she wished that he would be as happy in the house as she had been.
"I feel very much like an interloper," he said, "but I hope you won't feel yourself entirely shut out from your beautiful home. My father, who comes on in a few days is an invalid, and gets about very little, and I am frequently from home, so pray make use of the grounds when you please, and as much of the house as you find convenient."
A cold "thank you" fell from Mima's lips, but then she went on, hesitatingly, "I should like to come sometimes to the hill, out there behind the orchard." Her voice choked, but she went bravely on, "Some of my dear ones are buried there."
"Go there, and elsewhere, as much as you please. That spot shall be sacred from invasion."
"You are very kind," she said and rose to go. Mammy carried away the tea things, and then came and waited silently by the door.
"I hope you will believe me, Miss Harrison," said Bartley, as Mima was starting, "when I say that I do not come to your home as a vandal to destroy all that makes its recollection dear to you; for there are some associations about it that are almost as much to me as to you, since my eyes have been opened."
"I do not understand you," she replied.
"I can explain. For some years past my father's condition has kept me very closely bound to him, and both before and after the beginning of the war, we lived abroad. A few years ago, I came to know and love a man, who I am convinced now was your brother. Am I mistaken in thinking that you are a sister of Philip Harrison?"
"No, no, he was my brother, my only brother."
"I met him in Venice just before the war and we came to be dear friends. But in the events that followed so tumultuously, and from participation in which, I was cut off by my father's illness, I lost sight of him."
"But I don't believe I remember hearing my brother speak of you, and he was not usually reticent."
"You would not remember me as Bartley Northcope, unless you were familiar with the very undignified sobriquet with which your brother nicknamed me," said the young man smiling.
"Nickname—what, you are not, you can't be 'Budge'?"
"I am 'Budge' or 'old Budge' as Phil called me."
Mima had her hand on the door-knob, but she turned with an impulsive motion and went back to him. "I am so glad to see you," she said, giving him her hand again, and "Mammy," she called, "Mr. Northcope is an old friend of brother Phil's!"
The effect of this news on mammy was like that of the April sun on an icicle. She suddenly melted, and came overflowing back into the room, her smiles and grins and nods trickling everywhere under the genial warmth of this new friendliness. Before one who had been a friend of "Mas' Phil's," Mammy Peggy needed no pride.
"La, chile," she exclaimed, settling and patting the cushions of the chair in which he had been sitting, "w'y didn' you say so befo'?"
"I wasn't sure that I was standing in the house of my old friend. I only knew that he lived somewhere in Virginia."
"He is among those out on the hill behind the orchard," said Mima, sadly. Mammy Peggy wiped her eyes, and went about trying to add some touches of comfort to the already perfect room.
"You have no reason to sorrow, Miss Harrison," said Northcope gently, "for a brother who died bravely in battle for his principles. Had fate allowed me to be here I should have been upon the other side, but believe me, I both understand and appreciate your brother's heroism."
The young girl's eyes glistened with tears, through which glowed her sisterly pride.
"Won't you come out and look at his grave?"
"It is the desire that was in my mind."
Together they walked out, with mammy following, to the old burying plot. All her talk was of her brother's virtues, and he proved an appreciative listener. She pointed out favorite spots of her brother's childhood as they passed along, and indicated others which his boyish pranks had made memorable, though the eyes of the man were oftener on her face than on the landscape. But it was with real sympathy and reverence that he stood with bared head beside the grave of his friend, and the tears that she left fall unchecked in his presence were not all tears of grief.
They did not go away from him that afternoon until Mammy Peggy, seconded by Mima, had won his consent to let the old servant come over and "do for him" until he found suitable servants.
"To think of his having known Philip," said Mima with shining eyes as they entered the new cottage, and somehow it looked pleasanter, brighter and less mean to her than it had ever before.
"Now s'posin' you'd 'a' run off widout seein' him, whaih would you been den? You wouldn' nevah knowed whut you knows."
"You're right, Mammy Peggy, and I'm glad I stayed and faced him, for it doesn't seem now as if a stranger had the house, and it has given me a great pleasure. It seemed like having Phil back again to have him talked about so by one who lived so near to him."
"I tell you, chile," mammy supplemented in an oracular tone, "de right kin' o' pride allus pays." Mima laughed heartily. The old woman looked at her bright face. Then she put her big hand on the girl's small one. It was trembling. She shook her head. Mima blushed.
Bartley went out and sat on the veranda a long time after they were gone. He took in the great expanse of lawn about the house, and the dark background of the pines in the woods beyond. He thought of the conditions through which the place had become his, and the thought saddened him, even in the first glow of the joy of possession. Then his mind went on to the old friend who was sleeping his last sleep back there on the sun-bathed hill. His recollection went fondly over the days of their comradeship in Venice, and colored them anew with glory.
"These Southerners," he mused aloud, "cannot understand that we sympathize with their misfortunes. But we do. They forget how our sympathies have been trained. We were first taught to sympathize with the slave, and now that he is free, and needs less, perhaps, of our sympathy, this, by a transition, as easy as it is natural, is transferred to his master. Poor, poor Phil!"
There was a strange emotion, half-sad, half-pleasant tugging at his heart. A mist came before his eyes and hid the landscape for a moment.
And he, he referred it all to the memories of the brother. Yes, he thought he was thinking of the brother, and he did not notice or did not pretend to notice that a pair of appealing eyes looking out beneath waves of brown hair, that a soft, fair hand, pressed in his own, floated nebulously at the back of his consciousness.
It was not until he had set out to furnish his house with a complement of servants against the coming of his father that Bartley came to realize the full worth of Mammy Peggy's offer to "do for him." The old woman not only got his meals and kept him comfortable, trudging over and back every day from the little cottage, but she proved invaluable in the choice of domestic help. She knew her people thereabouts, just who was spry, and who was trifling, and with the latter she would have nothing whatever to do. She acted rather as if he were a guest in his own house, and what was more would take no pay for it. Of course there had to be some return for so much kindness, and it took the form of various gifts of flowers and fruit from the old place to the new cottage. And sometimes when Bartley had forgotten to speak of it before mammy had left, he would arrange his baskets and carry his offering over himself. Mima thought it was very thoughtful and kind of him, and she wondered on these occasions if they ought not to keep Mr. Northcope to tea, and if mammy would not like to make some of those nice muffins of hers that he had liked so, and mammy always smiled on her charge, and said, "Yes, honey, yes, but hit do 'pear lak' dat Mistah No'thcope do fu'git mo' an' mo' to sen' de t'ings ovah by me w'en I's daih."
But mammy found her special charge when the elder Northcope came. It seemed that she could never do enough for the pale, stooped old man, and he declared that he had never felt better in his life than he grew to feel under her touch. An injury to his spine had resulted in partially disabling him, but his mind was a rich store of knowledge, and his disposition was tender and cheerful. So it pleased his son sometimes to bring Mima over to see him.
The warm, impulsive heart of the Southern girl went out to him, and they became friends at once. He found in her that soft, caressing, humoring quality that even his son's devotion could not supply, and his superior age, knowledge and wisdom made up to her the lost father's care for which Peggy's love illy substituted. The tenderness grew between them. Through the long afternoons she would read to him from his favorite books, or would listen to him as he talked of the lands where he had been, and the things he had seen. Sometimes Mammy Peggy grumbled at the reading, and said it "wuz jes' lak' doin' hiahed wo'k," but Mima only laughed and went on.
Bartley saw the sympathy between them and did not obtrude his presence, but often in the twilight when she started away, he would slip out of some corner and walk home with her.
These little walks together were very pleasant, and on one occasion he had asked her the question that made her pale and red by turns, and sent her heart beating with convulsive throbs that made her gasp.
"Maybe I'm over soon in asking you, Mima dear," he faltered, "but—but, I couldn't wait any longer. You've become a part of my life. I have no hope, no joy, no thought that you are not of. Won't you be my wife?"
They were pausing at her gate, and she was trembling from what emotion he only dared guess. But she did not answer. She only returned the pressure of his hand, and drawing it away, rushed into the house. She durst not trust her voice. Bartley went home walking on air.
Mima did not go directly to Mammy Peggy with her news. She must compose herself first. This was hard to do, so she went to her room and sat down to think it over.
"He loves me, he loves me," she kept saying to herself and with each repetition of the words, the red came anew into her cheeks. They were still a suspicious hue when she went into the kitchen to find mammy who was slumbering over the waiting dinner. "What meks you so long, honey," asked the old woman, coming wide awake out of her cat-nap.
"Oh,—I—I—I don't know," answered the young girl, blushing furiously, "I—I stopped to talk."
"Why dey ain no one in de house to talk to. I hyeahed you w'en you come home. You have been a powahful time sence you come in. Whut meks you so red?" Then a look of intelligence came into mammy's fat face, "Oomph," she said.
"Oh mammy, don't look that way, I couldn't help it. Bartley—Mr. Northcope has asked me to be his wife."
"Asked you to be his wife! Oomph! Whut did you tell him?"
"I didn't tell him anything. I was so ashamed I couldn't talk. I just ran away like a silly."
"Oomph," said mammy again, "an' whut you gwine to tell him?"
"Oh, I don't know. Don't you think he's a very nice young man, Mr. Northcope, mammy? And then his father's so nice."
Mammy's face clouded. "I doan' see whaih yo' Ha'ison pride is," she said; "co'se, he may be nice enough, but does you want to tell him yes de fust t'ing, so's he'll t'ink dat you jumped at de chanst to git him an' git back in de homestid?"
"Oh, mammy," cried Mima; she had gone all white and cold.
"You do' know nothin' 'bout his quality. You a Ha'ison yo'se'f. Who is he to be jumped at an' tuk at de fust axin'? Ef he wants you ve'y bad he'll ax mo' dan once."
"You needn't have reminded me, mammy, of who I am," said Mima. "I had no intention of telling Mr. Northcope yes. You needn't have been afraid for me." She fibbed a little, it is to be feared.
"Now don't talk dat 'way, chile. I know you laks him, an' I do' want to stop you f'om tekin' him. Don't you say no, ez ef you wasn' nevah gwine to say nothin' else. You jes' say a hol'in' off no."
"I like Mr. Northcope as a friend, and my no to him will be final."
The dinner did not go down very well with Mima that evening. It stopped in her throat, and when she swallowed, it brought the tears to her eyes. When it was done, she hurried away to her room.
She was so disappointed, but she would not confess it to herself, and she would not weep. "He proposed to me because he pitied me, oh, the shame of it! He turned me out of doors, and then thought I would be glad to come back at any price."
When he read her cold formal note, Bartley knew that he had offended her, and the thought burned him like fire. He cursed himself for a blundering fool. "She was only trying to be kind to father and me," he said, "and I have taken advantage of her goodness." He would never have confessed to himself before that he was a coward. But that morning when he got her note, he felt that he could not face her just yet, and commending his father to the tender mercies of Mammy Peggy and the servants, he took the first train to the north.
It would be hard to say which of the two was the most disappointed when the truth was known. It might better be said which of the three, for Mima went no more to the house, and the elder Northcope fretted and was restless without her. He availed himself of an invalid's privilege to be disagreeable, and nothing Mammy Peggy could do now would satisfy him. Indeed, between the two, the old woman had a hard time of it, for Mima was tearful and morose, and would not speak to her except to blame her. As the days went on she wished to all the powers that she had left the Harrison pride in the keeping of the direct members of the family. It had proven a dangerous thing in her hands.
Mammy soliloquized when she was about her work in the kitchen. "Men ain' whut dey used to be," she said, "who'd 'a' t'ought o' de young man a runnin' off dat away jes' 'cause a ooman tol' him no. He orter had sense enough to know dat a ooman has sev'al kin's o' noes. Now ef dat 'ud 'a' been in my day he'd a jes' stayed away to let huh t'ink hit ovah an' den come back an' axed huh ag'in. Den she could 'a' said yes all right an' proper widout a belittlin' huhse'f. But 'stead o' dat he mus' go a ta'in' off jes' ez soon ez de fus' wo'ds come outen huh mouf. Put' nigh brekin' huh hea't. I clah to goodness, I nevah did see sich ca'in's on."
Several weeks passed before Bartley returned to his home. Autumn was painting the trees about the place before the necessity of being at his father's side called him from his voluntary exile. And then he did not go to see Mima. He was still bowed with shame at what he thought his unmanly presumption, and he did not blame her that she avoided him.
His attention was arrested one day about a week after his return by the peculiar actions of Mammy Peggy. She hung around him, and watched him, following him from place to place like a spaniel.
Finally he broke into a laugh and said, "Why, what's the matter, Aunt Peggy, are you afraid I'm going to run away?"
"No, I ain' afeared o' dat," said mammy, meekly, "but I been had somepn' to say to you dis long w'ile."
"Well, go ahead, I'm listening."
Mammy gulped and went on. "Ask huh ag'in," she said, "it were my fault she tol' you no. I 'minded huh o' huh fambly pride an' tol' huh to hol' you off less'n you'd t'ink she wan'ed to jump at you."
Bartley was on his feet in a minute.
"What does this mean," he cried. "Is it true, didn't I offend her?"
"No, you didn' 'fend huh. She's been pinin' fu' you, 'twell she's growed right peekid."
"Sh, auntie, do you mean to tell me that Mim—Miss Harrison cares for me?"
"You go an' ax huh ag'in."
Bartley needed no second invitation. He flew to the cottage. Mima's heart gave a great throb when she saw him coming up the walk, and she tried to harden herself against him. But her lips would twitch, and her voice would tremble as she said, "How do you do, Mr. Northcope?"
He looked keenly into her eyes.
"Have I been mistaken, Mima," he said, "in believing that I greatly offended you by asking you to be my wife? Do you—can you care for me, darling?"
The words stuck in her throat, and he went on, "I thought you were angry with me because I had taken advantage of your kindness to my father, or presumed upon any kindness that you may have felt for me out of respect to your brother's memory. Believe me, I was innocent of any such intention."
"Oh, it wasn't—it wasn't that!" she gasped.
"Then won't you give me a different answer," he said, taking her hand.
"I can't, I can't," she cried.
"Why, Mima?" he asked.
"Because of the Harrison pride?"
"Your Mammy Peggy has confessed all to me."
She tried hard to stiffen herself. "Then it is all out of the question," she began.
"Don't let any little folly or pride stand between us," he broke in, drawing her to him.
She gave up the struggle, and her head dropped upon his shoulder for a moment. Then she lifted her eyes, shining with tears to his face, and said, "Bartley, it wasn't my pride, it was Mammy Peggy's."
He cut off further remarks.
When he was gone, and mammy came in after a while, Mima ran to her crying,
"Oh, mammy, mammy, you bad, stupid, dear old goose!" and she buried her head in the old woman's lap.
"Oomph," grunted mammy, "I said de right kin' o' pride allus pays. But de wrong kin'—oomph, well, you'd bettah look out!"
VINEY'S FREE PAPERS
There was joy in the bosom of Ben Raymond. He sang as he hoed in the field. He cheerfully worked overtime and his labors did not make him tired. When the quitting horn blew he executed a double shuffle as he shouldered his hoe and started for his cabin. While the other men dragged wearily over the ground he sprang along as if all day long he had not been bending over the hoe in the hot sun, with the sweat streaming from his face in rivulets.
And this had been going on for two months now—two happy months—ever since Viney had laid her hand in his, had answered with a coquettish "Yes," and the master had given his consent, his blessing and a five-dollar bill.
It had been a long and trying courtship—that is, it had been trying for Ben, because Viney loved pleasure and hungered for attention and the field was full of rivals. She was a merry girl and a pretty one. No one could dance better; no girl on the place was better able to dress her dark charms to advantage or to show them off more temptingly. The toss of her head was an invitation and a challenge in one, and the way she smiled back at them over her shoulder, set the young men's heads dancing and their hearts throbbing. So her suitors were many. But through it all Ben was patient, unflinching and faithful, and finally, after leading him a life full of doubt and suspense, the coquette surrendered and gave herself into his keeping.
She was maid to her mistress, but she had time, nevertheless, to take care of the newly whitewashed cabin in the quarters to which Ben took her. And it was very pleasant to lean over and watch him at work making things for the little house—a chair from a barrel and a wonderful box of shelves to stand in the corner. And she knew how to say merry things, and later outside his door Ben would pick his banjo and sing low and sweetly in the musical voice of his race. Altogether such another honeymoon there had never been.
For once the old women hushed up their prophecies of evil, although in the beginning they had shaken their wise old turbaned heads and predicted that marriage with such a flighty creature as Viney could come to no good. They had said among themselves that Ben would better marry some good, solid-minded, strong-armed girl who would think more about work than about pleasures and coquetting.
"I 'low, honey," an old woman had said, "she'll mek his heart ache many a time. She'll comb his haid wid a three-legged stool an' bresh it wid de broom. Uh, huh—putty, is she? You ma'y huh 'cause she putty. Ki-yi! She fix you! Putty women fu' putty tricks."
And the old hag smacked her lips over the spice of malevolence in her words. Some women—and they are not all black and ugly—never forgive the world for letting them grow old.
But, in spite of all prophecies to the contrary, two months of unalloyed joy had passed for Ben and Viney, and to-night the climax seemed to have been reached. Ben hurried along, talking to himself as his hoe swung over his shoulder.
"Kin I do it?" he was saying. "Kin I do it?" Then he would stop his walk and his cogitations would bloom into a mirthful chuckle. Something very pleasant was passing through his mind.
As he approached, Viney was standing in the door of the little cabin, whose white sides with green Madeira clambering over them made a pretty frame for the dark girl in her print dress. The husband bent double at sight of her, stopped, took off his hat, slapped his knee, and relieved his feelings by a sounding "Who-ee!"
"What's de mattah wid you, Ben? You ac' lak you mighty happy. Bettah come on in hyeah an' git yo' suppah fo' hit gits col'."
For answer, the big fellow dropped the hoe and, seizing the slight form in his arms, swung her around until she gasped for breath.
"Oh, Ben," she shrieked, "you done tuk all my win'!"
"Dah, now," he said, letting her down; "dat's what you gits fu' talkin' sassy to me!"
"Nev' min'; I'm goin' to fix you fu' dat fus' time I gits de chanst—see ef I don't."
"Whut you gwine do? Gwine to pizen me?"
"Wuss'n dat? Whut you gwine fin' any wuss'n pizenin' me, less'n you conjuh me?"
"Huh uh—still worse'n dat. I'm goin' to leave you."
"Huh uh—no you ain', 'cause any place you'd go you wouldn' no more'n git dah twell you'd tu'n erroun' all of er sudden an' say, 'Why, dah's Ben!' an' dah I'd be."
They chattered on like children while she was putting the supper on the table and he was laving his hot face in the basin beside the door.
"I got great news fu' you," he said, as they sat down.
"I bet you ain' got nothin' of de kin'."
"All right. Den dey ain' no use in me a tryin' to 'vince you. I jes' be wastin' my bref."
"Go on—tell me, Ben."
"Huh uh—you bet I ain', an' ef I tell you you lose de bet."
"I don' keer. Ef you don' tell me, den I know you ain' got no news worth tellin'."
"Ain' go no news wuff tellin'! Who-ee!"
He came near choking on a gulp of coffee, and again his knee suffered from the pounding of his great hands.
"Huccume you so full of laugh to-night?" she asked, laughing with him.
"How you 'spec' I gwine tell you dat less'n I tell you my sec'ut?"
"Well, den, go on—tell me yo' sec'ut."
"Huh uh. You done bet it ain' wuff tellin'."
"I don't keer what I bet. I wan' to hyeah it now. Please, Ben, please!"
"Listen how she baig! Well, I gwine tell you now. I ain' gwine tease you no mo'."
She bent her head forward expectantly.
"I had a talk wid Mas' Raymond to-day," resumed Ben.
"An' he say he pay me all my back money fu' ovahtime."
"An' all I gits right along he gwine he'p me save, an' when I git fo' hund'ed dollahs he gwine gin me de free papahs fu' you, my little gal."
"Oh, Ben, Ben! Hit ain' so, is it?"
"Yes, hit is. Den you'll be you own ooman—leas'ways less'n you wants to be mine."
She went and put her arms around his neck. Her eyes were sparkling and her lips quivering.
"You don' mean, Ben, dat I'll be free?"
"Yes, you'll be free, Viney. Den I's gwine to set to wo'k an' buy my free papahs."
"Oh, kin you do it—kin you do it—kin you do it?"
"Kin I do it?" he repeated. He stretched out his arm, with the sleeve rolled to the shoulder, and curved it upward till the muscles stood out like great knots of oak. Then he opened and shut his fingers, squeezing them together until the joints cracked. "Kin I do it?" He looked down on her calmly and smiled simply, happily.
She threw her arms around his waist and sank on her knees at his feet sobbing.
"Ben, Ben! My Ben! I nevah even thought of it. Hit seemed so far away, but now we're goin' to be free—free, free!"
He lifted her up gently.
"It's gwine to tek a pow'ful long time," he said.
"I don' keer," she cried gaily. "We know it's comin' an' we kin wait."
The woman's serious mood had passed as quickly as it had come, and she spun around the cabin, executing a series of steps that set her husband a-grin with admiration and joy.
And so Ben began to work with renewed vigor. He had found a purpose in life and there was something for him to look for beyond dinner, a dance and the end of the day. He had always been a good hand, but now he became a model—no shirking, no shiftlessness—and because he was so earnest his master did what he could to help him. Numerous little plans were formulated whereby the slave could make or save a precious dollar.
Viney, too, seemed inspired by a new hope, and if this little house had been pleasant to Ben, nothing now was wanting to make it a palace in his eyes. Only one sorrow he had, and that one wrung hard at his great heart—no baby came to them—but instead he made a great baby of his wife, and went on his way hiding his disappointment the best he could. The banjo was often silent now, for when he came home his fingers were too stiff to play; but sometimes, when his heart ached for the laughter of a child, he would take down his old friend and play low, soothing melodies until he found rest and comfort.
Viney had once tried to console him by saying that had she had a child it would have taken her away from her work, but he had only answered, "We could a' stood that."
But Ben's patient work and frugality had their reward, and it was only a little over three years after he had set out to do it that he put in his master's hand the price of Viney's freedom, and there was sound of rejoicing in the land. A fat shoat, honestly come by—for it was the master's gift—was killed and baked, great jugs of biting persimmon beer were brought forth, and the quarters held high carnival to celebrate Viney's new-found liberty.
After the merrymakers had gone, and when the cabin was clear again, Ben held out the paper that had been on exhibition all evening to Viney.
"Hyeah, hyeah's de docyment dat meks you yo' own ooman. Tek it."
During all the time that it had been out for show that night the people had looked upon it with a sort of awe, as if it was possessed of some sort of miraculous power. Even now Viney did not take hold of it, but shrunk away with a sort of gasp.
"No, Ben, you keep it. I can't tek keer o' no sich precious thing ez dat. Put hit in yo' chist."
"Tek hit and feel of hit, anyhow, so's you'll know dat you's free."
She took it gingerly between her thumb and forefinger. Ben suddenly let go.
"Dah, now," he said; "you keep dat docyment. It's yo's. Keep hit undah yo' own 'sponsibility."
"No, no, Ben!" she cried. "I jes' can't!"
"You mus'. Dat's de way to git used to bein' free. Whenevah you looks at yo'se'f an' feels lak you ain' no diff'ent f'om whut you been you tek dat papah out an' look at hit, an' say to yo'se'f, 'Dat means freedom.'"
Carefully, reverently, silently Viney put the paper into her bosom.
"Now, de nex' t'ing fu' me to do is to set out to git one dem papahs fu' myse'f. Hit'll be a long try, 'cause I can't buy mine so cheap as I got yo's, dough de Lawd knows why a great big ol' hunk lak me should cos' mo'n a precious mossell lak you."
"Hit's because dey's so much of you, Ben, an' evah bit of you's wo'th its weight in gol'."
"Heish, chile! Don' put my valy so high, er I'll be twell jedgment day a-payin' hit off."
So Ben went forth to battle for his own freedom, undaunted by the task before him, while Viney took care of the cabin, doing what she could outside. Armed with her new dignity, she insisted upon her friends' recognizing the change in her condition.
Thus, when Mandy so far forgot herself as to address her as Viney Raymond, the new free woman's head went up and she said with withering emphasis:
"Mis' Viney Allen, if you please!"
"Viney Allen!" exclaimed her visitor. "Huccum you's Viney Allen now?"
"'Cause I don' belong to de Raymonds no mo', an' I kin tek my own name now."
"Ben 'longs to de Raymonds, an' his name Ben Raymond an' you his wife. How you git aroun' dat, Mis' Viney Allen?"
"Ben's name goin' to be Mistah Allen soon's he gits his free papahs."
"Oomph! You done gone now! Yo' naik so stiff you can't ha'dly ben' it. I don' see how dat papah mek sich a change in anybody's actions. Yo' face ain' got no whitah."
"No, but I's free, an' I kin do as I please."
Mandy went forth and spread the news that Viney had changed her name from Raymond to Allen. "She's Mis' Viney Allen, if you please!" was her comment. Great was the indignation among the older heads whose fathers and mothers and grandfathers before them had been Raymonds. The younger element was greatly amused and took no end of pleasure in repeating the new name or addressing each other by fantastic cognomens. Viney's popularity did not increase.
Some rumors of this state of things drifted to Ben's ears and he questioned his wife about them. She admitted what she had done.
"But, Viney," said Ben, "Raymond's good enough name fu' me."
"Don' you see, Ben," she answered, "dat I don' belong to de Raymonds no mo', so I ain' Viney Raymond. Ain' you goin' change w'en you git free?"
"I don' know. I talk about dat when I's free, and freedom's a mighty long, weary way off yet."
"Evahbody dat's free has dey own name, an' I ain' nevah goin' feel free's long ez I's a-totin' aroun' de Raymonds' name."
"Well, change den," said Ben; "but wait ontwell I kin change wid you."
Viney tossed her head, and that night she took out her free papers and studied them long and carefully.
She was incensed at her friends that they would not pay her the homage that she felt was due her. She was incensed at Ben because he would not enter into her feelings about the matter. She brooded upon her fancied injuries, and when a chance for revenge came she seized upon it eagerly.
There were two or three free negro families in the vicinity of the Raymond place, but there had been no intercourse between them and the neighboring slaves. It was to these people that Viney now turned in anger against her own friends. It first amounted to a few visits back and forth, and then, either because the association became more intimate or because she was instigated to it by her new companions, she refused to have anything more to do with the Raymond servants. Boldly and without concealment she shut the door in Mandy's face, and, hearing this, few of the others gave her a similar chance.
Ben remonstrated with her, and she answered him:
"No, suh! I ain' goin' 'sociate wid slaves! I's free!"
"But you cuttin' out yo' own husban'."
"Dat's diff'ent. I's jined to my husban'." And then petulantly: "I do wish you'd hu'y up an' git yo' free papahs, Ben."
"Dey'll be a long time a-comin'," he said; "yeahs f'om now. Mebbe I'd abettah got mine fust."
She looked up at him with a quick, suspicious glance. When she was alone again she took her papers and carefully hid them.
"I's free," she whispered to herself, "an' I don' expec' to nevah be a slave no mo'."
She was further excited by the moving North of one of the free families with which she had been associated. The emigrants had painted glowing pictures of the Eldorado to which they were going, and now Viney's only talk in the evening was of the glories of the North. Ben would listen to her unmoved, until one night she said:
"You ought to go North when you gits yo' papahs."
Then he had answered her, with kindling eyes:
"No, I won't go Nawth! I was bo'n an' raised in de Souf, an' in de Souf I stay ontwell I die. Ef I have to go Nawth to injoy my freedom I won't have it. I'll quit wo'kin fu' it."
Ben was positive, but he felt uneasy, and the next day he told his master of the whole matter, and Mr. Raymond went down to talk to Viney.
She met him with a determination that surprised and angered him. To everything he said to her she made but one answer: "I's got my free papahs an' I's a-goin' Nawth."
Finally her former master left her with the remark:
"Well, I don't care where you go, but I'm sorry for Ben. He was a fool for working for you. You don't half deserve such a man."
"I won' have him long," she flung after him, with a laugh.
The opposition with which she had met seemed to have made her more obstinate, and in spite of all Ben could do, she began to make preparations to leave him. The money for the chickens and eggs had been growing and was to have gone toward her husband's ransom, but she finally sold all her laying hens to increase the amount. Then she calmly announced to her husband:
"I's got money enough an' I's a-goin' Nawth next week. You kin stay down hyeah an' be a slave ef you want to, but I's a-goin' Nawth."
"Even ef I wanted to go Nawth you know I ain' half paid out yit."
"Well, I can't he'p it. I can't spen' all de bes' pa't o' my life down hyeah where dey ain' no 'vantages."
"I reckon dey's 'vantages everywhah fu' anybody dat wants to wu'k."
"Yes, but what kin' o' wages does yo' git? Why, de Johnsons say dey had a lettah f'om Miss Smiff an' dey's gettin' 'long fine in de Nawth."
"De Johnsons ain' gwine?"
"Si Johnson is—"
Then the woman stopped suddenly.
"Oh, hit's Si Johnson? Huh!"
"He ain' goin' wid me. He's jes' goin' to see dat I git sta'ted right aftah I git thaih."
"Hit's Si Johnson?" he repeated.
"'Tain't," said the woman. "Hit's freedom."
Ben got up and went out of the cabin.
"Men's so 'spicious," she said. "I ain' goin' Nawth 'cause Si's a-goin'—I ain't."
When Mr. Raymond found out how matters were really going he went to Ben where he was at work in the field.
"Now, look here, Ben," he said. "You're one of the best hands on my place and I'd be sorry to lose you. I never did believe in this buying business from the first, but you were so bent on it that I gave in. But before I'll see her cheat you out of your money I'll give you your free papers now. You can go North with her and you can pay me back when you find work."
"No," replied Ben doggedly. "Ef she cain't wait fu' me she don' want me, an' I won't roller her erroun' an' be in de way."
"You're a fool!" said his master.
"I loves huh," said the slave. And so this plan came to naught.
Then came the night on which Viney was getting together her belongings. Ben sat in a corner of the cabin silent, his head bowed in his hands. Every once in a while the woman cast a half-frightened glance at him. He had never once tried to oppose her with force, though she saw that grief had worn lines into his face.
The door opened and Si Johnson came in. He had just dropped in to see if everything was all right. He was not to go for a week.
"Let me look at yo' free papahs," he said, for Si could read and liked to show off his accomplishment at every opportunity. He stumbled through the formal document to the end, reading at the last: "This is a present from Ben to his beloved wife, Viney."
She held out her hand for the paper. When Si was gone she sat gazing at it, trying in her ignorance to pick from the, to her, senseless scrawl those last words. Ben had not raised his head.
Still she sat there, thinking, and without looking her mind began to take in the details of the cabin. That box of shelves there in the corner Ben had made in the first days they were together. Yes, and this chair on which she was sitting—she remembered how they had laughed over its funny shape before he had padded it with cotton and covered it with the piece of linsey "old Mis'" had given him. The very chest in which her things were packed he had made, and when the last nail was driven he had called it her trunk, and said she should put her finery in it when she went traveling like the white folks. She was going traveling now, and Ben—Ben? There he sat across from her in his chair, bowed and broken, his great shoulders heaving with suppressed grief.
Then, before she knew it, Viney was sobbing, and had crept close to him and put her arms around his neck. He threw out his arms with a convulsive gesture and gathered her up to his breast, and the tears gushed from his eyes.
When the first storm of weeping had passed Viney rose and went to the fireplace. She raked forward the coals.
"Ben," she said, "hit's been dese pleggoned free papahs. I want you to see em bu'n."
"No, no!" he said. But the papers were already curling, and in a moment they were in a blaze.
"Thaih," she said, "thaih, now, Viney Raymond!"
Ben gave a great gasp, then sprang forward and took her in his arms and kicked the packed chest into the corner.
And that night singing was heard from Ben's cabin and the sound of the banjo.
THE FRUITFUL SLEEPING OF THE REV. ELISHA EDWARDS
There was great commotion in Zion Church, a body of Christian worshippers, usually noted for their harmony. But for the last six months, trouble had been brewing between the congregation and the pastor. The Rev. Elisha Edwards had come to them two years before, and he had given good satisfaction as to preaching and pastoral work. Only one thing had displeased his congregation in him, and that was his tendency to moments of meditative abstraction in the pulpit. However much fire he might have displayed before a brother minister arose to speak, and however much he might display in the exhortation after the brother was done with the labors of hurling phillipics against the devil, he sat between in the same way, with head bowed and eyes closed.
There were some who held that it was a sign in him of deep thoughtfulness, and that he was using these moments for silent prayer and meditation. But others, less generous, said that he was either jealous of or indifferent to other speakers. So the discussion rolled on about the Rev. Elisha, but it did not reach him and he went on in the same way until one hapless day, one tragic, one never-to-be-forgotten day. While Uncle Isham Dyer was exhorting the people to repent of their sins, the disclosure came. The old man had arisen on the wings of his eloquence and was painting hell for the sinners in the most terrible colors, when to the utter surprise of the whole congregation, a loud and penetrating snore broke from the throat of the pastor of the church. It rumbled down the silence and startled the congregation into sudden and indignant life like the surprising cannon of an invading host. Horror-stricken eyes looked into each other, hands were thrown into the air, and heavy lips made round O's of surprise and anger. This was his meditation. The Rev. Elisha Edwards was asleep!
Uncle Isham Dyer turned around and looked down on his pastor in disgust, and then turned again to his exhortations, but he was disconcerted, and soon ended lamely.
As for the Rev. Elisha himself, his snore rumbled on through the church, his head drooped lower, until with a jerk, he awakened himself. He sighed religiously, patted his foot upon the floor, rubbed his hands together, and looked complacently over the aggrieved congregation. Old ladies moaned and old men shivered, but the pastor did not know what they had discovered, and shouted Amen, because he thought something Uncle Isham had said was affecting them. Then, when he arose to put the cap sheaf on his local brother's exhortations, he was strong, fiery, eloquent, but it was of no use. Not a cry, not a moan, not an Amen could he gain from his congregation. Only the local preacher himself, thinking over the scene which had just been enacted, raised his voice, placed his hands before his eyes, and murmured, "Lord he'p we po' sinnahs!"
Brother Edwards could not understand this unresponsiveness on the part of his people. They had been wont to weave and moan and shout and sigh when he spoke to them, and when, in the midst of his sermon, he paused to break into spirited song, they would join with him until the church rang again. But this day, he sang alone, and ominous glances were flashed from pew to pew and from aisle to pulpit. The collection that morning was especially small. No one asked the minister home to dinner, an unusual thing, and so he went his way, puzzled and wondering.
Before church that night, the congregation met together for conference. The exhorter of the morning himself opened proceedings by saying, "Brothahs an' sistahs, de Lawd has opened ouah eyes to wickedness in high places."
"Oom—oom—oom, he have opened ouah eyes," moaned an old sister.
"We have been puhmitted to see de man who was intrusted wid de guidance of dis flock a-sleepin' in de houah of duty, an' we feels grieved ter-night."
"He sholy were asleep," sister Hannah Johnson broke in, "dey ain't no way to 'spute dat, dat man sholy were asleep."
"I kin testify to it," said another sister, "I p'intly did hyeah him sno', an' I hyeahed him sno't w'en he waked up."
"An' we been givin' him praise fu' meditation," pursued Brother Isham Dyer, who was only a local preacher, in fact, but who had designs on ordination, and the pastoring of Zion Church himself.
"It ain't de sleepin' itse'f," he went on, "ef you 'member in de Gyarden of Gethsemane, endurin' de agony of ouah Lawd, dem what he tuk wid him fu' to watch while he prayed, went to sleep on his han's. But he fu'give 'em, fu' he said, 'De sperit is willin' but de flesh is weak.' We know dat dey is times w'en de eyes grow sandy, an' de haid grow heavy, an' we ain't accusin' ouah brothah, nor a-blamin' him fu' noddin'. But what we do blame him fu' is fu' 'ceivin' us, an' mekin' us believe he was prayin' an' meditatin', w'en he wasn' doin' a blessed thing but snoozin'."
"Dat's it, dat's it," broke in a chorus of voices. "He 'ceived us, dat's what he did."
The meeting went stormily on, the accusation and the anger of the people against the minister growing more and more. One or two were for dismissing him then and there, but calmer counsel prevailed and it was decided to give him another trial. He was a good preacher they had to admit. He had visited them when they were sick, and brought sympathy to their afflictions, and a genial presence when they were well. They would not throw him over, without one more chance, at least, of vindicating himself.
This was well for the Rev. Elisha, for with the knowledge that he was to be given another chance, one trembling little woman, who had listened in silence and fear to the tirades against him, crept out of the church, and hastened over in the direction of the parsonage. She met the preacher coming toward the church, hymn-book in hand, and his Bible under his arm. With a gasp, she caught him by the arm, and turned him back.
"Come hyeah," she said, "come hyeah, dey been talkin' 'bout you, an' I want to tell you."
"Why, Sis' Dicey," said the minister complacently, "what is the mattah? Is you troubled in sperit?"
"I's troubled in sperit now," she answered, "but you'll be troubled in a minute. Dey done had a church meetin' befo' services. Dey foun' out you was sleepin' dis mornin' in de pulpit. You ain't only sno'ed, but you sno'ted, an' dey 'lowin' to give you one mo' trial, an' ef you falls f'om grace agin, dey gwine ax you fu' to 'sign f'om de pastorship."
The minister staggered under the blow, and his brow wrinkled. To leave Zion Church. It would be very hard. And to leave there in disgrace; where would he go? His career would be ruined. The story would go to every church of the connection in the country, and he would be an outcast from his cloth and his kind. He felt that it was all a mistake after all. He loved his work, and he loved his people. He wanted to do the right thing, but oh, sometimes, the chapel was hot and the hours were long. Then his head would grow heavy, and his eyes would close, but it had been only for a minute or two. Then, this morning, he remembered how he had tried to shake himself awake, how gradually, the feeling had overcome him. Then—then—he had snored. He had not tried wantonly to deceive them, but the Book said, "Let not thy right hand know what thy left hand doeth." He did not think it necessary to tell them that he dropped into an occasional nap in church. Now, however, they knew all.
He turned and looked down at the little woman, who waited to hear what he had to say.
"Thankye, ma'am, Sis' Dicey," he said. "Thankye, ma'am. I believe I'll go back an' pray ovah this subject." And he turned and went back into the parsonage.
Whether he had prayed over it or whether he had merely thought over it, and made his plans accordingly, when the Rev. Elisha came into church that night, he walked with a new spirit. There was a smile on his lips, and the light of triumph in his eyes. Throughout the Deacon's long prayer, his loud and insistent Amens precluded the possibility of any sleep on his part. His sermon was a masterpiece of fiery eloquence, and as Sister Green stepped out of the church door that night, she said, "Well, ef Brothah Eddards slep' dis mornin', he sholy prached a wakenin' up sermon ter-night." The congregation hardly remembered that their pastor had ever been asleep. But the pastor knew when the first flush of enthusiasm was over that their minds would revert to the crime of the morning, and he made plans accordingly for the next Sunday which should again vindicate him in the eyes of his congregation.
The Sunday came round, and as he ascended to the pulpit, their eyes were fastened upon him with suspicious glances. Uncle Isham Dyer had a smile of triumph on his face, because the day was a particularly hot and drowsy one. It was on this account, the old man thought, that the Rev. Elisha asked him to say a few words at the opening of the meeting. "Shirkin' again," said the old man to himself, "I reckon he wants to go to sleep again, but ef he don't sleep dis day to his own confusion, I ain't hyeah." So he arose, and burst into a wonderful exhortation on the merits of a Christian life.
He had scarcely been talking for five minutes, when the ever watchful congregation saw the pastor's head droop, and his eyes close. For the next fifteen minutes, little or no attention was paid to Brother Dyer's exhortation. The angry people were nudging each other, whispering, and casting indignant glances at the sleeping pastor. He awoke and sat up, just as the exhorter was finishing in a fiery period. If those who watched him, were expecting to see any embarrassed look on his face, or show of timidity in his eyes, they were mistaken. Instead, his appearance was one of sudden alertness, and his gaze that of a man in extreme exaltation. One would have said that it had been given to him as to the inspired prophets of old to see and to hear things far and beyond the ken of ordinary mortals. As Brother Dyer sat down, he arose quickly and went forward to the front of the pulpit with a firm step. Still, with the look of exaltation on his face, he announced his text, "Ef he sleep he shell do well."
The congregation, which a moment before had been all indignation, suddenly sprang into the most alert attention. There was a visible pricking up of ears as the preacher entered into his subject. He spoke first of the benefits of sleep, what it did for the worn human body and the weary human soul, then turning off into a half-humorous, half-quizzical strain, which was often in his sermons, he spoke of how many times he had to forgive some of those who sat before him to-day for nodding in their pews; then raising his voice, like a good preacher, he came back to his text, exclaiming, "But ef he sleep, he shell do well."
He went on then, and told of Jacob's sleep, and how at night, in the midst of his slumbers the visions of angels had come to him, and he had left a testimony behind him that was still a solace to their hearts. Then he lowered his voice and said:
"You all condemns a man when you sees him asleep, not knowin' what visions is a-goin' thoo his mind, nor what feelin's is a-goin thoo his heart. You ain't conside'in' that mebbe he's a-doin' mo' in the soul wo'k when he's asleep then when he's awake. Mebbe he sleep, w'en you think he ought to be up a-wo'kin'. Mebbe he slumber w'en you think he ought to be up an' erbout. Mebbe he sno' an' mebbe he sno't, but I'm a-hyeah to tell you, in de wo'ds of the Book, that they ain't no 'sputin' 'Ef he sleep, he shell do well!'"
"Yes, Lawd!" "Amen!" "Sleep on Ed'ards!" some one shouted. The church was in smiles of joy. They were rocking to and fro with the ecstasy of the sermon, but the Rev. Elisha had not yet put on the cap sheaf.
"Hol' on," he said, "befo' you shouts er befo' you sanctions. Fu' you may yet have to tu'n yo' backs erpon me, an' say, 'Lawd he'p the man!' I's a-hyeah to tell you that many's the time in this very pulpit, right under yo' very eyes, I has gone f'om meditation into slumber. But what was the reason? Was I a-shirkin' er was I lazy?"
Shouts of "No! No!" from the congregation.
"No, no," pursued the preacher, "I wasn't a-shirkin' ner I wasn't a-lazy, but the soul within me was a wo'kin' wid the min', an' as we all gwine ter do some day befo' long, early in de mornin', I done fu'git this ol' body. My haid fall on my breas', my eyes close, an' I see visions of anothah day to come. I see visions of a new Heaven an' a new earth, when we shell all be clothed in white raimen', an' we shell play ha'ps of gol', an' walk de golden streets of the New Jerusalem! That's what been a runnin' thoo my min', w'en I set up in the pulpit an' sleep under the Wo'd; but I want to ax you, was I wrong? I want to ax you, was I sinnin'? I want to p'int you right hyeah to the Wo'd, as it are read out in yo' hyeahin' ter-day, 'Ef he sleep, he shell do well.'"
The Rev. Elisha ended his sermon amid the smiles and nods and tears of his congregation. No one had a harsh word for him now, and even Brother Dyer wiped his eyes and whispered to his next neighbor, "Dat man sholy did sleep to some pu'pose," although he knew that the dictum was a deathblow to his own pastoral hopes. The people thronged around the pastor as he descended from the pulpit, and held his hand as they had done of yore. One old woman went out, still mumbling under her breath, "Sleep on, Ed'ards, sleep on."
There were no more church meetings after that, and no tendency to dismiss the pastor. On the contrary, they gave him a donation party next week, at which Sister Dicey helped him to receive his guests.
Mr. Leckler was a man of high principle. Indeed, he himself had admitted it at times to Mrs. Leckler. She was often called into counsel with him. He was one of those large souled creatures with a hunger for unlimited advice, upon which he never acted. Mrs. Leckler knew this, but like the good, patient little wife that she was, she went on paying her poor tribute of advice and admiration. To-day her husband's mind was particularly troubled,—as usual, too, over a matter of principle. Mrs. Leckler came at his call.
"Mrs. Leckler," he said, "I am troubled in my mind. I—in fact, I am puzzled over a matter that involves either the maintaining or relinquishing of a principle."
"Well, Mr. Leckler?" said his wife, interrogatively.
"If I had been a scheming, calculating Yankee, I should have been rich now; but all my life I have been too generous and confiding. I have always let principle stand between me and my interests." Mr. Leckler took himself all too seriously to be conscious of his pun, and went on: "Now this is a matter in which my duty and my principles seem to conflict. It stands thus: Josh has been doing a piece of plastering for Mr. Eckley over in Lexington, and from what he says, I think that city rascal has misrepresented the amount of work to me and so cut down the pay for it. Now, of course, I should not care, the matter of a dollar or two being nothing to me; but it is a very different matter when we consider poor Josh." There was deep pathos in Mr. Leckler's tone. "You know Josh is anxious to buy his freedom, and I allow him a part of whatever he makes; so you see it's he that's affected. Every dollar that he is cheated out of cuts off just so much from his earnings, and puts further away his hope of emancipation."
If the thought occurred to Mrs. Leckler that, since Josh received only about one-tenth of what he earned, the advantage of just wages would be quite as much her husband's as the slave's, she did not betray it, but met the naive reasoning with the question, "But where does the conflict come in, Mr. Leckler?"
"Just here. If Josh knew how to read and write and cipher—"
"Mr. Leckler, are you crazy!"
"Listen to me, my dear, and give me the benefit of your judgment. This is a very momentous question. As I was about to say, if Josh knew these things, he could protect himself from cheating when his work is at too great a distance for me to look after it for him."
"But teaching a slave—"
"Yes, that's just what is against my principles. I know how public opinion and the law look at it. But my conscience rises up in rebellion every time I think of that poor black man being cheated out of his earnings. Really, Mrs. Leckler, I think I may trust to Josh's discretion, and secretly give him such instructions as will permit him to protect himself."
"Well, of course, it's just as you think best," said his wife.
"I knew you would agree with me," he returned. "It's such a comfort to take counsel with you, my dear!" And the generous man walked out on to the veranda, very well satisfied with himself and his wife, and prospectively pleased with Josh. Once he murmured to himself, "I'll lay for Eckley next time."
Josh, the subject of Mr. Leckler's charitable solicitations, was the plantation plasterer. His master had given him his trade, in order that he might do whatever such work was needed about the place; but he became so proficient in his duties, having also no competition among the poor whites, that he had grown to be in great demand in the country thereabout. So Mr. Leckler found it profitable, instead of letting him do chores and field work in his idle time, to hire him out to neighboring farms and planters. Josh was a man of more than ordinary intelligence; and when he asked to be allowed to pay for himself by working overtime, his master readily agreed,—for it promised more work to be done, for which he could allow the slave just what he pleased. Of course, he knew now that when the black man began to cipher this state of affairs would be changed; but it would mean such an increase of profit from the outside, that he could afford to give up his own little peculations. Anyway, it would be many years before the slave could pay the two thousand dollars, which price he had set upon him. Should he approach that figure, Mr. Leckler felt it just possible that the market in slaves would take a sudden rise.
When Josh was told of his master's intention, his eyes gleamed with pleasure, and he went to his work with the zest of long hunger. He proved a remarkably apt pupil. He was indefatigable in doing the tasks assigned him. Even Mr. Leckler, who had great faith in his plasterer's ability, marveled at the speed which he had acquired the three R's. He did not know that on one of his many trips a free negro had given Josh the rudimentary tools of learning, and that since the slave had been adding to his store of learning by poring over signs and every bit of print that he could spell out. Neither was Josh so indiscreet as to intimate to his benefactor that he had been anticipated in his good intentions.
It was in this way, working and learning, that a year passed away, and Mr. Leckler thought that his object had been accomplished. He could safely trust Josh to protect his own interests, and so he thought that it was quite time that his servant's education should cease.
"You know, Josh," he said, "I have already gone against my principles and against the law for your sake, and of course a man can't stretch his conscience too far, even to help another who's being cheated; but I reckon you can take care of yourself now."
"Oh, yes, suh, I reckon I kin," said Josh.
"And it wouldn't do for you to be seen with any books about you now."
"Oh, no, suh, su't'n'y not." He didn't intend to be seen with any books about him.
It was just now that Mr. Leckler saw the good results of all he had done, and his heart was full of a great joy, for Eckley had been building some additions to his house, and sent for Josh to do the plastering for him. The owner admonished his slave, took him over a few examples to freshen his memory, and sent him forth with glee. When the job was done, there was a discrepancy of two dollars in what Mr. Eckley offered for it and the price which accrued from Josh's measurements. To the employer's surprise, the black man went over the figures with him and convinced him of the incorrectness of the payment,—and the additional two dollars were turned over.
"Some o' Leckler's work," said Eckley, "teaching a nigger to cipher! Close-fisted old reprobate,—I've a mind to have the law on him." Mr. Leckler heard the story with great glee. "I laid for him that time—the old fox." But to Mrs. Leckler he said: "You see, my dear wife, my rashness in teaching Josh to figure for himself is vindicated. See what he has saved for himself."
"What did he save?" asked the little woman indiscreetly.
Her husband blushed and stammered for a moment, and then replied, "Well, of course, it was only twenty cents saved to him, but to a man buying his freedom every cent counts; and after all, it is not the amount, Mrs. Leckler, it's the principle of the thing."
"Yes," said the lady meekly.
Unto the body it is easy for the master to say, "Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther." Gyves, chains and fetters will enforce that command. But what master shall say unto the mind, "Here do I set the limit of your acquisition. Pass it not"? Who shall put gyves upon the intellect, or fetter the movement of thought? Joshua Leckler, as custom denominated him, had tasted of the forbidden fruit, and his appetite had grown by what it fed on. Night after night he crouched in his lonely cabin, by the blaze of a fat pine brand, poring over the few books that he had been able to secure and smuggle in. His fellow-servants alternately laughed at him and wondered why he did not take a wife. But Joshua went on his way. He had no time for marrying or for love; other thoughts had taken possession of him. He was being swayed by ambitions other than the mere fathering of slaves for his master. To him his slavery was deep night. What wonder, then, that he should dream, and that through the ivory gate should come to him the forbidden vision of freedom? To own himself, to be master of his hands, feet, of his whole body—something would clutch at his heart as he thought of it; and the breath would come hard between his lips. But he met his master with an impassive face, always silent, always docile; and Mr. Leckler congratulated himself that so valuable and intelligent a slave should be at the same time so tractable. Usually intelligence in a slave meant discontent; but not so with Josh. Who more content than he? He remarked to his wife: "You see, my dear, this is what comes of treating even a nigger right."
Meanwhile the white hills of the North were beckoning to the chattel, and the north winds were whispering to him to be a chattel no longer. Often the eyes that looked away to where freedom lay were filled with a wistful longing that was tragic in its intensity, for they saw the hardships and the difficulties between the slave and his goal and, worst of all, an iniquitous law,—liberty's compromise with bondage, that rose like a stone wall between him and hope,—a law that degraded every free-thinking man to the level of a slave-catcher. There it loomed up before him, formidable, impregnable, insurmountable. He measured it in all its terribleness, and paused. But on the other side there was liberty; and one day when he was away at work, a voice came out of the woods and whispered to him "Courage!"—and on that night the shadows beckoned him as the white hills had done, and the forest called to him, "Follow."
"It seems to me that Josh might have been able to get home to-night," said Mr. Leckler, walking up and down his veranda; "but I reckon it's just possible that he got through too late to catch a train." In the morning he said: "Well, he's not here yet; he must have had to do some extra work. If he doesn't get here by evening, I'll run up there."
In the evening, he did take the train for Joshua's place of employment, where he learned that his slave had left the night before. But where could he have gone? That no one knew, and for the first time it dawned upon his master that Josh had run away. He raged; he fumed; but nothing could be done until morning, and all the time Leckler knew that the most valuable slave on his plantation was working his way toward the North and freedom. He did not go back home, but paced the floor all night long. In the early dawn he hurried out, and the hounds were put on the fugitive's track. After some nosing around they set off toward a stretch of woods. In a few minutes they came yelping back, pawing their noses and rubbing their heads against the ground. They had found the trail, but Josh had played the old slave trick of filling his tracks with cayenne pepper. The dogs were soothed, and taken deeper into the wood to find the trail. They soon took it up again, and dashed away with low bays. The scent led them directly to a little wayside station about six miles distant. Here it stopped. Burning with the chase, Mr. Leckler hastened to the station agent. Had he seen such a negro? Yes, he had taken the northbound train two nights before.