Part 2 out of 4
"Ya'as, Malviny, he was tell er minit ergo, 'n' he stepped out to th' lot,"
replied the old lady, in tones so like the expression of her face, mildly
calm, that it was a pleasure to hear her speak.
"Ha" ye got thet baby wi' ye?"
"I wish ye'd put her on my lap. Gra'mammy 'ain't had 'er none ter-day."
"Ya'as, 'm, in er minit. Run, Susan Jane, 'n' fetch er cloth ter wipe 'er
face 'n' han's; they're that stuck up wi' merlasses, ter say nothin' o'
dirt. Therey, therey, now! Mammy's gal don't want ter hev 'er face washed?
Hu! tu! tu! Thaney mustn't cry so. Where's Jeff? Here, Jeff--here, Jeff!
Ole bugger-man, come down the chimbly 'n' ketch this bad gal. You'd better
hush. I tell yer he's er-comin'. Here, Susan Jane, take th' cloth. There,
gra'mammy; there's jest es sweet er little gal es ye'd find in er dog's
age." And the old lady at once cuddled the little one in her arms, swinging
back and forth in her home-made rocker, and crooning an old-time baby song.
"Here, Susan Jane, han' me my knittin' from th' table, 'n' go 'n' tell Jim
ter pitch in some pine knots 'n' make er light in here, 'n' be quick erbout
it"; and Mother Tyler settled herself in another home-made rocker and began
to knit rapidly.
This was the night-work of the female portion of the family, and numerous
stockings of various colors and in various stages of progress were stuck
about the walls of the room, which boasted neither ceiling nor lath and
plaster, making convenient receptacles between the posts and
weather-boarding for knitting-work, turkey-tail fans, bunches of herbs for
A pine-knot fire was soon kindled on the hearth, and threw its flickering
shadows on the room and its occupants as the dusk gathered in.
Mandy Calline and Elisabeth, running a race from the kitchen, burst into
the back door, halting in a good-natured tussle in the entry.
"Stop that racket, you gals," called out the mother; and as they came in
with suppressed bustle, panting with smothered laughter, she asked,
briskly, "Have ye shet up everything 'n' locked th' kitchen door?"
"Ya'as, 'm," replied Mandy Calline; "'n' here's th' key on th'
mantel-shelf." She then disappeared up the stairs which came down into the
sitting-room behind the back door.
"Come, Ann Elisabeth, git yer knittin'. Git your'n too, Susan Jane."
"Yer'll ha' ter set th' heel fer me, mar," said Susan Jane, hoping
privately that she would be too busy to do so.
"Fetch it here," from the mother, dashed the hope incontinently.
"I think we're goin' ter ha' some fallin' weather in er day er two; sky
looks ruther hazy, 'n' I heerd er rain-crow ter-day, 'n' ther's er circle
roun' th' moon," observed Father Tyler as he entered, and hanging his hat
on a convenient nail in a post, seated himself in the corner opposite his
"Ha' ye got th' fodder all in?" queried his wife, with much interest.
"Ya'as; finished ter-day; that's all safe; but er rain 'ould interfere
mightily wi' pickin' out cotton up in th' swamp, 'n' it's openin, mighty
fast; shouldn't be s'prised ef some er that swamp don't fetch er bale ter
th' acre, 'n' we'll have er right purty lot o' cotton, even atter th'
rent's paid out"; and Father Tyler, with much complacency, lighted his pipe
with a coal from the hearth.
"Th' gals 'll soon ha' this erround th' house all picked out; they got
purty nigh over it ter-day, 'n' ther'll likely be one more scatterin'
pickin'," said Mother Tyler.
Here a starched rustling on the stairs betokened the descent of Mandy
Calline. Pushing back the door, she stepped down with all the dignity which
she deemed suitable to don with her present attire.
A new calico dress of a blue ground, with a bright yellow vine rambling up
its lengths, adorned her round, plump figure; her glossy black hair was
plaited, and surmounted with a huge red bow, the ends of which fluttered
out bravely; as she stepped slowly into the room, busying herself pulling a
basting out of her sleeve.
"Well, Mandy Calline," began her mother, "ef I do say it myself, yer frock
fits jest as nice as can be. Looks like ye had been melted 'n' run into it.
Nice langth, too," eying her critically from head to foot.
"Ya'as, 'm; 'n' it's comf'ble, too; ain't too tight ner nothin'," giving
her shoulders a little twitch, and moving her arms a bit.
"I guess th' boys 'll ha' ter look sharp ef that gal sets 'er cap at any on
'em," put in Father Tyler, gazing proudly at his first-born, whereupon a
toss of her head set the ribbon ends fluttering as she moved with great
dignity across the room to the fireplace.
"Come, let me feel, dearie," said the old lady, softly, turning her
sightless eyes toward the girl, hearing her movements in her direction.
"Ya'as, gra'mammy," and stepping nearer, she knelt at her grandmother's
feet, and leaning forward, rested her hands lightly on her shoulders.
The old wrinkled hands groped their way to the girl's face, thence
downward, over her arms, her waist, to the skirt of her dress.
"It feels nice, dearie, 'n' I know it looks nice."
"I'm glad ye like it, gra'mammy," said the girl, gently.
"Air ye spectin' comp'ny, dearie, that ye're all dressed up so nice? 'Pears
like ye wouldn't put on yer new frock lest ye wer'."
Noting the girl's hesitation, the old lady said, softly, "Whisper 'n' tell
gra'-mammy who's er-comin'"; and Mandy Calline, with an additional shade to
the red in her cheeks, leaned forward and shyly whispered a name in her
A satisfactory smile broke like sunshine over the kind old face, and she
murmured: "He's come o' good fambly, dearie. I knowed 'em all years ago.
Smart, stiddy, hard-workin', kind, well-ter-do people. I've been thinkin'
he's been er-comin' here purty stiddy, 'n' I knowed in my min' he warn't
er-comin' ter see Zachariah."
Bestowing a kiss on one aged cheek and a gentle pat on the other, Mandy
Calline arose to her feet, and lighting a splinter at the fire, opened the
door in the partition separating the two rooms and entered the "parlor."
This room was the pride of the family, as none of the neighbors could
afford one set apart specially for company.
It was the only room in the house lathed and plastered. Mother Tyler, who
was truly an ambitious woman, had, however, declared in the pride of her
heart that this one at least should be properly finished.
Mandy Calline, with her blazing splinter, lighted the lamp, quite a gay
affair, with a gaudily painted shade, and bits of red flannel with
scalloped edges floating about in the bowl.
The floor was covered with a neatly woven rag carpet of divers gay colors.
Before the hearth, which displayed a coat of red ochre, lay a home-made rug
of startling pattern. The fireplace was filled with cedar boughs and
sweet-smelling myrtle. Two "boughten" rocking-chairs of painted wood
confronted each other primly from opposite ends of the rug. Half a dozen
straight-back chairs, also "boughten," were disposed stiffly against the
walls. A large folding-leaf dining-table of real mahogany, an heirloom in
the family, occupied the space between two windows, and held a few
The windows were covered with paper curtains of a pale blue tint. In the
centre of each a festive couple, a youth and damsel, of apparently Bohemian
type, with clasped hands held high, disported themselves in a frantic
dance. These pictures were considered by the entire neighborhood as resting
triumphantly on the top round of the ladder of art.
Both parlor and sitting-room opened on a narrow piazza on the front of the
house, Father Tyler not caring to waste space in a hall or passage.
Mandy Calline had flicked a bit of imaginary dust from the polished surface
of the table, had set a bit straighter, if that were possible, one or two
of the chairs, and turned up the lamp a trifle higher, when "Little Jim"
opened the door leading out on the piazza, and in tones of suppressed
excitement half whispered, "He's er-comin', Mandy Calline; Zeke's
er-comin'; he's nigh 'bout ter th' gate."
"Go 'long, Jim, 'n' shet up; ye allers knows more'n the law allows," said
his sister; but she glanced quickly and shyly out of the door.
Mr. Ezekiel White was just entering the gate. He was undoubtedly gotten up
at vast expense for the occasion. A suit of store clothes of a startling
plaid adorned his lanky figure, and a pair of new shoes cramped his feet in
the most approved style. A new felt hat rested lightly on his well-oiled
hair. But the crowning glory was a flaming red necktie which flowed in
blazing magnificence over his shirt front.
Jeff, the yard dog, barked in neighborly fashion, as though yelping a
greeting to a frequent visitor whom he recognized as a favored one.
"Susan Jane," said the father, "step ter th' door 'n' see who Jeff's
Eagerly the girl dropped her knitting and hastened to reconnoitre, curious
"It's Zeke White," she replied, returning to her work.
"I knowed Mandy Calline was spectin' him," muttered Ann Elisabeth, under
Father Tyler arose and sauntered to the door, calling out: "You Jeff, ef ye
don't stop that barkin'--Come here this minit, sir! Good-evenin', Zekle;
"Good-evenin", Mr. Tyler. Is Zachariah ter home?"
"I dun'no'. Malviny, is Zachariah erroun' anywher's 'at ye know of?"
"I dun'no'; I hain't seed 'im sence supper."
"I know," piped up "Little Jim." "He said es he was er-goin' ter Bill
Jackson's. But, Zeke," he added, in a hurried aside, catching hold of the
visitor's coat in his eagerness, "Mandy Calline's ter home, 'n' she's fixed
up ter kill!"
At this juncture Mandy Calline herself appeared in the doorway, striving to
look calmly indifferent at everything in general and nothing in particular;
but the expression in her bright black eyes was shifty, and the color in
her cheeks vied with that of the bow on her hair; and by this time Zekle's
entire anatomy exposed to view shared the tint of his brilliant necktie.
"Good-evenin', Zekle," said the girl, bravely assuming a calm superiority
to all embarrassment and confusion. "Will ye come in th' parlor, er had ye
ruther set out on th' piazza?"
Zekle was wise; he knew that "Little Jim" dare not intrude on the sacred
precincts of the parlor, and he answered, "I'd jest es live set in th'
parlor, of it's all th' same ter you."
"Ya'as, I'd jest es live," she replied, and led the way into the room; he
followed, and sat down in rather constrained fashion on the chair nearest
the door, deposited his hat on the floor beside him, took from his pocket
and unfolded with a flirt an immense bandanna handkerchief, highly redolent
of cheap cologne, and proceeded to mop his face with it.
"It's ruther warm," he observed.
"Ya'as," she replied, from a rocking-chair in the corner facing him. Here
there was a long pause, and presently she added, "Pappy said es how he
tho't it mought rain in er day er two."
The family in the sitting-room had settled down, the door being closed
between that room and the parlor.
"There, mother, gi' Thaney ter me," said Mother Tyler. "I know ye're tired
holdin' of her, fer she ain't no light weight," and she lifted the little
"Heigho, Thaney, air ye erwake yit?" questioned the father.
"Erwake! Ya'as, 'n' likely ter be," said the mother. "Thaney's one o' th'
setters-up, she is."
"Give 'er ter me, Malviny. Don't pappy's gal want er ride on pappy's foot?
See 'ere, now! Whoopee!" and placing the plump little body astride his
foot, the leg of which crossed the other, and clasping the baby hands in
his, he tossed her up and down till she crowed and laughed in a perfect
abandon of baby glee. A smiling audience looked on in joyous sympathy with
the baby's pleasure, the old gra'mammy murmuring softly, "It's like feelin'
the sunshine ter hear her laugh!"
"There, pappy," said Mother Tyler, anxiously, "that'll do; ye're goin' ter
git 'er so wide-erwake there'll be no doin' er thing with 'er. Come, now,
Thaney, let mammy put ye down here on yer quilt. Come, come, I _know_ ye've
forgot that ole bugger-man that stays up th' chimbly 'n' ketches bad gals!
There, now, that's mammy's nice gal. Git 'er playthings fer 'er, Susan
Jane. Jim, don't ye go ter sleep there in that door. Ha' ye washed yer
"No, 'm," came drowsily from the doorway.
"Why upon th' yeth do ye wait every blessed night ter be told ter wash yer
feet? Go straight 'n' wash 'em, 'n' then go ter bed. Come, gals, knit ter
th' middle 'n' put up yer knittin'; it's time for all little folks ter go
ter sleep 'n' look for ter-morrer. 'Pears like Thaney's goin' ter look fer
it with eyes wide open."
"Malviny, ye'll have ter toe up my knittin' fer me, Monday; I've got it
down ter th' narrerin', 'n' I can't do no more," came softly from
"Ya'as, mother, I will; I could ha' toed it up this evenin' es well es not,
tho' ef I had, ye'd ha' started ernuther, 'n' ye'd need ter rest; ye're
"Ya'as, but, darter, it's all I kin do; 'n' I'm so thankful I kin feel ter
knit, fer th' hardest work is ter set wi' folded han's doin' nothin'."
"Well, mother, it's but sildom that I ever knowed yer ter set with folded
han's," remarked her son, with proud tenderness.
"Maybe, Jeems Henry; but I never tuck no consait ter myself fer workin',
because I jest nachally loved it. Yer pappy use ter say I was er born
worker, 'n' how he did use ter praise me fer bein' smart! 'n' that was sich
er help! Somehow I've minded me of 'im all day ter-day--of th' time when he
logged Whitcombe's mill down on Fallin' Crick. 'Twas--lemme see! Jeems
Henry, ye're how ole?"
"Fifty-two my las' birthday."
"Well, that was fifty-one year ergo. You was all th' one I had then, 'n'
yer pappy was erway from home all th' week, 'cept from Sat'day evenin' tell
'fore day Monday monrin'. Melindy White staid wi' me; she was Zekle's
great-aunt, 'n' er ole maid, 'n' people did say she was monst'ous cross 'n'
crabbed, but she warn't never cross ter me. I mind me of er Sat'day, 'n'
I'd be spectin' of yer pappy home. I'd git up at th' fust cock-crow, 'n' go
wake Melindy, 'n' she'd grumble 'n' laff all in er breath, 'n' say: 'Ann
Elisabeth Tyler, ye're th' most onreasonablest creeter that I ever seed!
What in natur' do ye want ter git up 'fore day fer? Jest ter make th' time
that much longer 'fore Jim Tyler comes? I know ef I was married ter th'
President I wouldn't be es big er fool es ye air.' But, la! she'd git up
jest ter pleasure me, 'n' then sich cleanin' up, 'n' sich cookin' o' pies
'n' cakes 'n' chickens, 'n' gittin' ready fer yer pappy ter come!" And the
placid old face fairly glowed with the remembrance. "'N' I mind me," she
crooned on, "of th' time when ye fust begun ter talk; I was er whole week
er-teachin' yer ter say two words; I didn't do much else. Melindy allowed
that I'd gone clean daft; 'n' when Sat'day come, 'long erbout milkin'-time,
I put on er pink caliker frock. I 'member it jest es well! it had little
white specks on the pink; he bought it at Miggs's Crossroads, 'n' said I
allers looked like er rose in it. I tuck ye in my arms 'n' went down ter
th' bars, where I allers stood ter watch fer 'im; he come in er boat ter
th' little landin' 'n' walked home, erbout er mile; 'n' when I seed 'im
comin', 'n' he'd got nigh ernuff, I whispered ter ye, 'n' ye clapped yer
little han's, 'n' fairly shouted out, 'Pappy's tumin'! pappy's tumin'!'
Dearie me, dearie me; I kin see 'im now so plain! He broke inter er run,
'n' I stepped over th' bars ter meet 'im, 'n' he gethered us both in his
arms, like es of he'd never turn loose; then he car'ied ye up to th' house
on one arm, the other one roun' my wais', 'n' he made ye say it over 'n'
over--'Pappy's tumin', pappy's tumin';' 'n' Melindy 'lowed we wer' 'th'
biggest pair o' geese'; but we was mighty happy geese jest th' same."
There was a pause. They were all listening. Then she went on. "Somehow
ter-day I felt like I use ter of er Sat'-day then, kinder spectin' 'n'
light-hearted. I dun'no' why; I ain't never felt so befo' in all these
years sence he died--forty-one on 'em; 'n' fifteen sence th' Lord shet down
th' dark over my eyes, day 'n' night erlike. Well, well; I've had er heap
ter be thankful fer; th' Lord has been good ter me; fer no mother ever had
er better son than ye've allers ben, Jeems Henry; 'n' of Malviny had er ben
my own darter, she couldn't er ben more like one; I've alleys ben tuck keer
on, 'n' waited on, 'n' 'ain't never ben sat erside fer no one. Ya'as, th'
Lord's ben good ter me." She began to fumble for her handkerchief.
"But, mother, ye don't say nothin' o' what er blessin' ye've ben to us,"
said her son. "Ye've teached us many er lesson by yer patience in yer
"Ya'as, but, Jeems Henry, I had no call ter be nothin' else but patient; I
had no call ter be onreasonable 'n' fret 'n' worry 'n' say that th' Lord
had forsakened me when He hadn't. I knowed I'd only ter bide my time, 'n'
I'm now near seventy-two year old. Dear, dear, how th' time goes! Seems
like only th' other day when I was married! Was that nine the clock
"Well, I b'lieve I'll git ter bed."
"Wait, mother, let me help yer," said her daughter, hastily throwing aside
"We'll both help ye, mother," said her son, putting one arm gently around
her as she arose from her chair.
"Well, well," she laughed, with soft content. "I sh'll be well waited on
with two children 'stid er one; but none too many--none too many."
Zekle White had made brave progress from the chair by the door to the other
rocker, drawn closely beside that of Mandy Calline; and he was saying, in
tones that suggested an effort: "I've seed other young ladies which may be
better-lookin' in other folkses' eyes, 'n' they may be more suiterbler ter
marry, but not fer me. Thar ain't but one gurl in this roun' worl' that I'd
ask ter be my wife, 'n', Mandy Calline, I've ben keepin' comp'ny wi' you
long ernuff fer ye ter know that ye air th' one." He swallowed, and went
on: "I've got my house nigh erbout done. Ter be sho', 'tain't es fine es
this un, nor es big; but I kin add ter it, 'n' jest es soon es it is done I
want ter put my wife in it. Now, Mandy Calline, what yer say--will yer be
Mandy Calline looked shy--much like a young colt when it is going to break
out of harness. She rocked back and forth with short spasmodic jerks, and
twisted her handkerchief into all conceivable shapes.
"Yer don't know how sot on it I am," he went on; "'n' all day long I'm
er-thinkin' how nice it 'll be when I'm er-workin', ploughin' maybe, up one
row 'n' down ernuther, 'n' watchin' th' sun go down, 'n' lookin' forerd ter
goin' ter th' house 'n' hev er nice little wife ter meet me, wi' everything
tidied up 'n' cheerful 'n' comf'ble." Mandy Calline simply drooped her head
lower, and twisted her handkerchief tighter. "Mandy Calline, don't yer say
'no,'" he said. "I love yer too well ter give yer up easy; 'n' I swear ef
ye don't say `yes,' I'll set fire 'n' burn up th' new house, fer no other
'oman sha'n't never live there. I'm er-waitin', Mandy Calline, 'n' don't,
don't tell me no."
"Well, Zekle," she began, with much hesitation, "bein' es how I don't see
no use in burnin' up er right new house, 'n' it not even finished, I guess
es how--maybe--in erbout two or three years--"
"Two or three thunderations!" he cried out, ecstatically, seizing both her
hands in his. "Yer mean two or three weeks! Mandy Calline, do ye mean
ya'as, ye'll marry me? I want ter hear ye say it."
"Ya'as, Zekle," she said, shyly. "Whoopee! I feel like I'd like ter jump up
'n' knock my heels tergether 'n' yell!"
"Yer'd better try it er spell." she said, smiling at him shyly, "'n' jest
see how soon ye'd ha' th' hull fambly er-rushin' in ter see what was the
Hereupon came the ominous sound of Father Tyler winding the clock in the
sitting-room; Zekle knew 'twas a signal for him to depart.
"Well," slowly rising, "I guess I got ter go, but I do mortally hate ter.
Come ter th' door wi' me, Mandy Calline"; and taking her hand, he drew her
up beside him, but she stood off a bit skittishly, and he knew that it
would be useless to ask the question which was trembling on his lips, so,
quick as a flash, he dropped one arm around her waist, tipped up her chin
with the other hand, and kissed her square on the mouth before she fairly
knew what he was about.
"You Zekle White!" she cried out, snatching herself from his arm and
bestowing a rousing slap on his face.
"I knowed ye wouldn't give me one, so I tuck it jest so. Good-night tell
ter-morrer, Mandy Calline; I'm goin' home 'n' dream erbout ye."
The next morning dawned bright and soft. A perfect September morning.
Father Tyler and the boys were at the lot feeding and milking. Mandy
Calline was cleaning up the house, her comely face aglow with her new-found
happiness. Susan Jane attended to the baby, while Ann Elisabeth helped her
mother "get breakfast."
"Gra'mammy was sleepin' so nice when I got up," said the girl, "that I
crep' out 'n' didn't wake 'er. Had I better go see of she's erwake now,
mar? Breakfus is nigh erbout done."
"Not yet. Go tell Mandy Calline ter git th' milk-pitcher 'n' go to the
cow-pen 'n' fetch some milk fer breakfus. No tellin' when they'll git thoo
out there. Then you hurry back 'n' finish fryin' that pan o' pertaters. No
need ter 'sturb gra'mammy till breakfus is ready ter put on th' table; 'n'
yer pappy 'n' th' boys'll ha' ter wash when they come from th' lot." And
Mother Tyler opened the stove door and put in a generous pan of biscuits to
Mandy Calline, with the milk-pitcher in her hand, hurried out to the
cow-pen, which adjoined the stable lot. Her father was milking, Jim holding
the calves. Zachariah was in the lot feeding the horse and pigs. She had
just stepped over the bars into the pen, when who should appear, sauntering
up, but Zeke White! He assumed a brave front, and with hands thrust in his
pantaloons pockets, came up, whistling softly.
"Good-mornin', Zekle," greeted Father Tyler, rising from his stooping
"Good-mornin', Mr. Tyler. Fine mornin'."
"Ya'as; but I'm erfeared we're goin' ter hev rain in er day er two. I feel
ruther rheumaticky this mornin', er mighty shore sign that rain ain't fur
off. Want milk fer breakfus, Mandy Calline? Well, fetch here yer pitcher."
A shy "good-mornin"' had passed between Mandy Calline and Zekle, and he
sauntered up beside her, taking the pitcher, and as they stepped over the
bars Father Tyler, hospitably inclined, said: "Take breakfus with us,
Zekle? I lay Malviny 'll hev ernuff cooked ter give yer er bite."
With assumed hesitation Zekle accepted the invitation, and he and Mandy
Calline passed on to the house, he carefully carrying the pitcher of milk.
He cleared his throat a time or two, and remarked again on the beauty of
the morning, to which she rather nervously assented; then suddenly, the
words seemingly shot out of him: "Mandy Calline, I'm goin' ter ask th' ole
folks ter-day. What yer say?"
Mandy Calline was red as a turkey-cock, to which was now added a nervous
confusion which bade fair to overwhelm her.
"It's too soon, Zekle. Whyn't yer wait er while?" she replied, tremblingly.
"No, 'tain't too soon," he answered, promptly. "I want it all done 'n' over
with, then I sh'll feel mo' like ye b'long ter me. I'm goin' ter ask 'em
ter-day; yer needn't say not. I know you're erfeared o' th' teasin'. But ye
needn't min' that; ye won't hev ter put up wi' it long; fer th' way I mean
ter work on that house ter git it done--well, 'twon't be long befo' it 'll
be ready ter put my wife in it."
"Well, Zekle," said the girl, hesitatingly, "ef ye'd ruther ask 'em
ter-day, why--I guess es how--ye mought es well do it. But let's go 'n'
tell gra'mammy now; somehow I'd ruther she knowed it fust."
"We will," replied Zekle, promptly.
* * * * *
Mother Tyler was putting breakfast on the table. She suddenly paused and
listened. Something was the matter. There were cries that betokened
trouble. She hastened to the house, followed her husband and the boys on to
gra'mammy's room, and there on the bed, in peaceful contrast to all this
wailing and sorrow, lay dear old gra'mammy, dead. The happiest smile
glorified the kind old withered face, and the wrinkled hands lay crossed
and still on her breast. She had truly met the husband of her youth, and
God had opened in death the eyes so darkened in life.
My Fifth in Mammy
By William Ludwell Sheppard
I never knew a time in which I did not know Mammy. She was simply a part of
my consciousness; it seems to me now a more vivid one in my earliest years
than that of the existence of my parents. We five, though instructed by an
elder sister in the rudiments of learning, spent many more of our waking
hours with Mammy; and whilst we drew knowledge from one source, we derived
the greater part of our pleasure from the other--that is, outside of our
The moments just preceding bedtime, in which we were undergoing the process
of disrobing at the hands of Mammy, were periods of dreadful pleasure to
us. As I look back upon them, I wonder that we got any sleep at all after
some of her recitals. They were not always sanguinary or ghostly, and of
course when I scan them in the light of later years, it is apparent that
Mammy, like the majority of people, "without regard to color or previous
condition of servitude," suffered her walk and conversation to be
influenced by her state of health, mental and bodily. Her walk--I am afraid
I must admit, as all biographers seem privileged to deal with the frailties
of their victims as freely as with their virtues--her walk, viewed through
the medium already alluded to, did not owe its occasional uncertainty to
"very coarse veins," though that malady, with a slight phonetic difference,
Mammy undoubtedly suffered from, in common with the facts. She was a great
believer in "dram" as a remedial agent, and homoeopathic practice was
unknown with us at that period.
Mammy's code of laws for our moral government was one of threats of being
"repoated to ole mahster," tempered by tea of her own making dulcified by
brown sugar of fascinating sweetness, anecdote, and autobiography.
The anecdotal part consisted almost exclusively of the fascinating
repertoire of Uncle Remus. Indeed, to know the charm of that chronicle is
reserved to the man or woman whose childhood dates from the _ante bellum_
period, and who had a Mammy.
In the autobiographical part Mammy spread us a chilling feast of horrors,
varied by the supernatural. Long years after this period I read a protest
in some Southern paper against this practice in the nursery, with its
manifest consequences on the minds of children. It set me to wondering how
it was that the consequences in my day seemed inappreciable. I do not
understand it now. Some of Mammy's stories would have been bonanzas to a
police reporter of today; others would have bred emulation in Edgar Poe.
And yet I do not recall any subsequent terrors.
An account of the execution of some pirates, which she had witnessed when a
"gal," was popular. She had a rhyme which condensed the details. The
condemned were Spaniards:
Pepe hung, Qulo fell,
Felix died and went to ----
Mammy always gave the rhyme with awful emphasis.
She had had an experience before coming into our family, by purchase, which
gave her easy precedence over all the mammies of all our friends. To be
sure, it was an experience which the other mammies, as "good membahs of de
chutch," regarded as unholy; one which they congratulated themselves would
never lie on their consciences, and of which poor Mammy was to die
unshriven in their minds; for she never became a "sister," so far as I ever
But to us this experience was fruitful of many happy hours. Mammy had been
tire-woman to Mrs. Gilfert, the reigning star of that date, at the old
Marshall Theatre--the successor to one burnt in 1811.
The habit of the stock companies in those days was to remain the whole
season, sometimes two or more, so Mammy had the opportunity to "assist" at
the entire repertoire. It is one of the regrets of my life that I am not
able to recall verbatim Mammy's arguments of the play, her descriptions of
some of the actors, and her comments.
For some reason, when later on I wished to refresh my memory of these,
Mammy had either forgotten them or suspected the intention of my asking.
She ranked her experiences at the theatre along with her account of the
adventures of the immortal "Mollie Cottontail" (for we did not know him as
"Brer Rabbit"), and the rest of her lore, I suppose, and so could not
realize that my maturer mind would care for any of them.
When I had subsequently made some acquaintance with plays, or read them, I
recognized most of those described by Mammy. Some remain unidentified.
Hamlet she preserved in name. Whilst she had no quotations of the words,
she had a vivid recollection of the ghost scenes, and "pisenin' de king's
ear." She also gave us scenes in which "one uv them kings was hollerin' for
his horse"--plainly Richard. Julius Caesar she easily kept in mind, as some
acquaintance of her color bearing that name was long extant. I can still
conjure up her tones and manner when she declaimed "'Dat you, Brutus?' An'
he done stick him like de rest uv um; and him raised in de Caesar fam'ly
like he wuz a son!"
The ingratitude of the thing struck through our night-gowns even then.
The period when Mammy's sway weakened was indeterminate. We boys after a
while swapped places with Mammy, and made her the recipient of our small
pedantries. I do not recollect, however, that we were ever cruel enough to
throw her ignorance up to her.
At last the grown-up sisters absorbed all of Mammy's spare time. Sympathy
was kept up between them after her bond with us was loosened, and they even
took hints from her in matters of the toilet that were souvenirs of her
In the course of time reverses and bereavements came to the family. The
girls had grown to womanhood and matrimony, and had begun their new lives
in other places. Then came the inevitable to the elders, and it became
necessary to convert all property into cash.
We were happy in being able to retain a good many of our household gods,
and they are the Lares and Penates of our several homes to this day. We had
long since ceased to think of Mammy Becky--she was never Rebecca--as
property. In fact, we younger ones never thought of her as such. By law we
were each entitled to a fifth in Mammy.
This came upon us in the nature of a shock at a family consultation on ways
and means, and there was a disposition on the part of every party to the
ownership to shift that responsibility to another.
I must do ourselves the justice to say that such a thing as converting
Mammy into cash, and thus making her divisible, never for a moment entered
our minds. It seemed, however, that the difficulty had occurred to her.
We all felt so guilty, when Mammy served tea that last evening, that we
were sure she read our thoughts in our countenances. It would be nearer the
truth to say that it was rather our fears that she should ever come to the
knowledge that the word "sale" had been coupled with her name.
The next day we were to scatter, and it was imperative that some
disposition should be made of Mammy. The old lady--for old we deemed her,
though she could scarcely have been fifty--went calmly about the house
looking to the packing of the thousand and one things, and not only
looking, but using her tongue in language expressing utter contempt for all
"lazy niggers" of these degenerate days--referring to the temporary "help."
The eldest sister was deputed to approach and sound Mammy on the momentous
The deputy went on her mission in fear and trembling. The interview was
easily contrived in the adjoining room.
We were exceedingly embarrassed when we discovered that Mammy's part of the
dialogue was perfectly audible. As for the sister's, her voice could be
barely heard. So that the effect to the unwilling eavesdropper was that
which we are familiar with in these days of hearing a conversation at the
"Don't you bother yo'self 'bout me, Miss Frances."
"No, marm. I'd ruther stay right here in dis town whar ev'body knows me.
Doan yawl study 'bout me."
Several bars' rest, apparently.
"Yes'm, I know hit's yo' duty to look after me, an' I belongs to all of
you; but Ise concluded to let yawl off. You can't divide me into five
parts, an' they ain' nah one uv you 'titled to any partickler part if you
could; most uv me ain't much 'count nohow, what with very coarse veins an'
so fothe. Oh, yes'm! I done study 'bout it plenty, an' I done concluded
that I'll let yawl off an' do fur myself. You know I'm a prime cake-maker,
bread-maker, an' kin do a whole pahcel uv other things besides; an' dress
young ladies for parties, whar I learnt at the ole the-etter, which they
built it after the fust one burnt up and all dem people whar dey got the
Monnymental Chutch over um now; an' any kind of hair-dress-in', curlin' wid
irons or quince juice, an' so fothe. No, don't you bother 'bout me."
So Mammy was installed in a small house in a portion of the city occupied
by a good many free people, and, as we subsequently ascertained, not
bearing a very savory reputation.
We had heard it rumored that there were some suitors for Mammy's hand. She
had always avowed that she had been a "likely gal," but we had to take her
word for this, as she had very slender claims to "likelihood"--if the word
suits hers--in our remembrance. She was nearly a mulatto--very "light
gingerbread," or "saddle-colored"--and a widow of some years' standing.
Still, there was no accounting for tastes amongst the colored folks, any
more than there was amongst the whites in this matter. We surmised that
some of the aspirants suspected Mammy of having a _dot_, the accumulation
of many perquisites for her assistance on wedding occasions. It may be
remarked that she had no legal right to demand anything for such services.
One of the sisters approached Mammy timidly on this subject, and was
assured positively by her that "they ain't no nigger in the whole
university whar I would marry. No, ma'm. I done got 'nough of um."
We knew that Mammy's married life had been a stormy one. Her husband,
Jerry, had been a skilful coach-painter, and got good wages for his master,
who was liberal in the 'lowance that was made by all generous owners to
slaves of this class. Jerry was a fervent "professor," who came home drunk
nearly every night, and never failed to throw up to Mammy her dangerous
spiritual condition. Jerry was so vulnerable a subject that Mammy was
prepared to score some strong points against him. He invariably met these
retorts with roars of laughter and loud assertions of his being "in grace
once for all."
* * * * *
Left the sole representative of my family in the city, I had to start a new
establishment, just as Mammy did.
I made a visit to hers a few days after our separation, and came away with
my heart in my mouth at the sight of some of the familiar objects of
Mammy's room, and such of our own as she had fallen heir to, in strange
places and appositions. I also felt that Mammy's room had a more homelike
aspect than my own.
There was no doubt that Mammy enjoyed her new conditions and surroundings.
She had been provided with a paper signed by some of us, stating that it
was with our permission that she lived to herself. This secured her free
movement at all times--the privilege of very few of her race not legally
Her visits to me were quite frequent, and she never failed to find
something that needed putting to rights, and putting it so immediately,
with fierce comments on the worthlessness of all "high-lands," which was
_negroce_ for hirelings--a class held in contempt by the servants owned in
I think that Mammy must have discovered the fact that my estate was
I was painfully conscious of this myself, and saw no prospect of its
amelioration. The little cash that had come to me was quite dissipated, and
my meagre salary was insufficient to satisfy my artificial wants--the only
ones that a young man cannot dispense with and be happy.
In spite of the opinion prevailing in those days, that when a young man
embraced the career of an artist it was a farewell to all hope of a sober
and prosperous career, my father had been willing for me to follow my
manifest bent, and I was to sacrifice a university career as the
alternative. But the last enemy stepped between me and my hopes, and there
was nothing for it but to go to work.
I had an ardent admirer in Mammy, who, in her innocence of a proper
standard, frequently compared my productions to a "music back" or a tobacco
label. That was before the days of chromos.
Mammy turned up Sunday mornings to look after my buttons. Those were days
of fond reminiscence and poignant regret on my part.
"Seems to me hit's time for you to be getting some new shirts, Mahs
William," she said, one Sunday morning. Mammy touched me sorely there. A
crisis was certainly impending in my lingerie.
"Oh, I reckon not. You must have got hold of a bad one, Mammy."
"I got hole uv all uv um what is out uv wash; and them gwine. The buttons
is shackledy on all uv um, too. I wish I wuz a washer; then you wouldn't
have to give yo' clothes out to these triflin' huzzies whar rams a iron
over yo' things like they wuz made uv iron too."
"I suppose that you are getting along pretty well, Mammy," I remarked,
"Oh, I kain' complain. I made two dollars an' five an' threppence out'n the
Scott party last week; an' I hear tell uv some new folks on Franklin Street
gwine give a big party, an' I'm spectin' somethin' out uv dat. Lawdy,
Lawdy, Mahs William," she added, after a pause given to reflection, "hit
certainly does 'muse me to see how some 'r dese people done come up. But
they kain' fool me. I knows what's quality in town an' what ain't. I can
reckermember perfick when some uv these vay folks, when dey come to your
pa's front do', never expected to be asked in, but jess wait thar 'bout
their business ontwell yo' pa got ready to talk to um at the do'. Yes, sah.
I bin see some uv dese vay people's daddies"--Mammy used this word
advisedly--"kayin' their vittles in a tin bucket to their work; that what I
I was shaving during this monologue of Mammy's, with my back to her. A
sudden exclamation of the name of the Lord made me start around and
endanger my nose. I was not startled at the irreverence of the expression,
however, as sacred names were familiar interjections of Mammy's, as of all
"Ev'y button off'n these draw's," Mammy answered to my alarmed
question--alarmed because I anticipated some disaster to my wardrobe.
"Hit's a mortal shame. I'll take 'em home, an' Monday I'll get some buttons
on Broad Street an' sew um on."
This was embarrassing. I had twelve and a half cents in Spanish silver coin
which I had reserved for the plate at church that day. I was going under
circumstances that rendered a contribution unavoidable. I hated to expose
my narrow means to Mammy, and said, carelessly, as I returned to my lather:
"Oh, never mind. Another time will do, Mammy."
"Another time! You reckermember my old sayin', don't you, 'a stitch in time
saves nine'? An' mo'n dat, bein' as this is the only clean pah you got, you
'bleest to have um next week fer de others to go to wash."
Confession was inevitable. "The fact is, Mammy, I don't happen to have any
change to-day that I can hand you for the buttons." I was thankful that my
occupation permitted me to keep my face from Mammy.
"Oh, ez fer that, Mahs William, yo' needn't bother. I got 'nough change
'round 'most all de time."
Mammy's tone was patronizing, and brought home to me such a realization of
my changed and waning fortunes as no other circumstance could have done.
Possibly I may have imagined it in my hypersensitiveness, but Mammy's voice
in that sentence seemed transformed, and it was another mammy who spoke.
I apparently reserved my protest until some intricate passage in my shaving
was passed. At least I thought that Mammy would think so. I was really
trying to put my reply in shape.
I was anticipated.
"You know you is really 'titled to yo' fif's by law, Mahs William," resumed
Mammy, in her natural manner, "because still bein' bond, you could call on
me, an' I don't begrudge you; in fact, Ise beholden to you."
"Not at all, Mammy. Don't talk any more about my fifth. You are as good as
free, you know."
"I knows that, Mahs William; but right is right, and I gwine to pay for
"Well, you may do that this time, Mammy, but I shall certainly return you
"Jess as you choose, Mahs William, but you's 'titled to yo' fif' all the
I must note here a characteristic of Mammy's which had strengthened as her
powers failed, namely, "nearness." The euphemism applied at first, though
Mammy yielded to temptations in the way of outfit as long as she deemed
herself "likely." After that period a stronger expression was required. She
was always in possession of money, and was frequently our banker for a day,
when, in emergencies, our parents were not on hand.
Monday I found my garment with its full complement of buttons, but of such
diversity of pattern that I planned a protest for Mammy's next visit.
But when she explained that the bill was only fo'pence--six and a quarter
cents, Spanish--and that it was the fashion now, so she was told, "to have
they buttons diffunt, so they could dentrify they clothes," I settled
without remark. Mammy's financial skill and resource in imagination
It is painful to record that Mammy, encouraged by immunity from inquiry and
investigation, no doubt, was tempted, as thousands of her betters have been
and will be, and yielded under subsequent and similar circumstances.
My affairs took an unexpected turn now, and circumstances which have no
place here made it possible for me to go to New York, with the intention of
studying for my long-cherished purpose of making art my calling.
I heard from Mammy from time to time--occasionally got a letter dictated by
her. They opened with the same formula, beginning with the fiction that she
"took her pen in her hand," and continuing, "these few lines leaves me
tollerbul, and hoping to find you the same." My friend, the amanuensis,
took great pleasure in reporting Mammy verbatim and phonetically. The times
were always hard for Mammy in these letters, but she "was scufflin' 'long,
thank Gawd, an' ain't don' forgot my duty to the 'state 'bout them fif's."
On my periodical visits home I always called upon her, and had a royal
reception. I had casually said in a message to her in one of my letters
that I never would forget her black tea and brown sugar. The old dame
remembered this, and on my first visit home and to her, and on all
succeeding visits, treated me to a brew of my favorite.
"Jess the same, Mahs William. Come from Mr. Blar's jess the same."
But we become sophisticated in time. I found that Mammy's tea lingered in
my memory, it is true; and the prospect of a recurrence very nearly
operated against future visits. But virtue asserted herself, and I always
War now supervened. To it the brushes and the palette yielded. I returned
home, and to arms. While all this made a complete revolution in my affairs,
those of Mammy seemed to hold the even tenor of their way.
I saw Mammy every time I had a furlough, and she repaired for me damages of
long standing. In sentiment she was immovably on my side. She objected
decidedly to any more of "them no-'count men bein' sot free," and was very
doubtful whether any more of her own sex should be so favored, except
I do not know whether Mammy had a lurking suspicion that general
manumission meant competition or not. So far as I could make out, she fared
as she had long elected to do. Bacon and greens and her perennial tea were
good enough for her. And here may be noted the average negro's indifference
to cates. In my experience I never knew them to give up "strong food" for
delicate fare except on prescription.
The next phase of my intercourse with Mammy was after the evacuation of the
city and the event of Appomattox. The first incident was, with the negroes'
usual talent that way, so transmogrified in pronunciation that it could
mean nothing to them. It stood to them for a tremendous change, one which
could not be condensed into a word, even though it exceeded their powers to
I had come back, as had thousands of others, with nothing in my hands, and
only a few days' rations accorded by the enemy in my haversack; had come
back to a mass of smoking debris and a wide area of ruin which opened
unrecognized vistas that puzzled, dazed, and pained the home-seeker.
By instinct, I suppose, I drifted towards my _ante bellum_ quarters. My
former landlord gave me a speechless welcome. To my inquiry as to the
possibility of my reinhabiting my old quarters, he simply nodded and handed
me the key. The tears that I had seen standing on his lids rolled down as
he did so.
The room was cumbered with the chattels of the last tenant. There was no
bed amongst them, but a roll of tattered carpet served me perfectly. I fell
asleep over a slab of hardtack. That evening, on waking, I bethought me of
My kind host allowed me to make a toilet in his back room behind the store.
It consisted of a superficial ablution and the loan of a handkerchief.
Mammy was not in. A neighbor of her sex and color offered me a chair in her
house, but I sat in Mammy's tiny porch.
This part of the city was unchanged, but I missed a familiar steeple which
had always been visible from Mammy's door.
It was late afternoon when Mammy came. She did not recognize me, but paused
at the gate.
"Ef you's a sick soldier you must go to the hospital; you kain' stay here,"
I heard her say before I roused myself sufficiently to speak.
An ejaculation of the name of the Lord that brought the neighbor to her
door went up, and Mammy caught my hands and wept.
"Come in, my Gawd! Mahs William! you ain' hurted, is you?"
She pushed a chair to me and took one herself. For a few moments she
confined herself to ejaculations of "Well! well! well!" and the name of the
Deity. Then, "The town is bu'nt up; the army done 'rendered, an' Mahs
William come back ragged ez a buzzard!"
I did not interrupt her. I could think of nothing to say, and began to be
afraid that something was the matter with my brains. Meanwhile Mammy was
bustling about, and before I knew it she had started the little fire into a
blaze and the tea was boiling.
The flickering light glinted over the walls. At first I did not heed what
it revealed; then I saw it glow and fade over some early efforts of my own,
frame-less crudities, to which Mammy had fallen heir. They had become old
masters! What centuries ranged themselves between the birth of those
pictures and now!
This time tea was nectar, and after I had eaten a little cold middling
bacon and hoe-cake, that she had put before me on a fractured member of our
old Canton set, I took a more cheerful view of life. I believe that I would
have shed tears over these poor relics from happier days, except that I was
not quite conscious that anything was real that day. I told Mammy where I
was. She seemed to think it perfectly in the nature of things that I should
be there. Indeed, she appeared singularly calm in this cataclysm.
I encountered friends on my return to my quarters, and had invitations
innumerable to meals and shelter. My costume was no drawback. Nobody knew
how anybody was dressed.
The city was in a fever of excitement over the probable fate of those who
had not yet returned, and in making provision for the homeless. Mammy
turned up next morning with some of my civilian clothes that had been
confided to her.
Mammy's simple "What you gwine do now, Mabs William?" thrown in whilst she
assisted by her presence at my complete change of toilet--lapse of time was
nothing to her--woke me to the momentous problem. There was no commissary
sergeant to distribute even the meagre rations that so long left us
ravenous after every meal. I could not camp in the Capitol Square, even if
I had wished so to do.
Mammy left me with the injunction to call on her "ef I didn't have nowhar
else to go."
I went with unbroken fast to see what was left of the city. I met many
acquaintances on the same errand. None of us seemed to realize that day
what was to be done. For four years our campaigns had been planned for us.
I learned from one acquaintance, however, that I could have rations for the
asking, and not long after found myself in line at the United States
Commissary Department, along with hundreds of others, and departed thence
bearing a goodly portion of hardtack and codfish. These I took to Mammy,
who cooked the fish for me under loud protests against the smell.
Not long thereafter a number of us paroled soldiers made a mess, and cooked
for ourselves at the room of one of them.
On one of these indeterminate days--dates had become nothing to me--I saw a
dapper young man sketching about the ruins. I spoke to him, and mentioned
that his had been my profession. This acquaintance was the beginning of
I showed the young man places of interest, gave him points about a good
many things, and at last fell to making sketches to help him out. They were
perfectly satisfactory and liberally paid for. With this capital I set
myself up in another place, which had a north light--by-the-way, I had been
dispossessed of the asylum where I first found shelter, as the previous
tenant returned. I was able to purchase material and apparel. But what was
I to paint, and where to sell the product? My hand was out, I discovered,
so I set to studying still life, and painting those of my friends who had
the patience to sit.
I would have gone back to my old haunts in New York but for the material
reason that my funds were too low, and the sentimental one that I not only
was not in the humor for appealing to citizens of that section for
patronage, but was not sure that it would not be withheld, from an
analogous state of mind towards me.
Summer ran into fall. Mammy's visits increased in frequency, and her
conversation drifted towards the difficulties of living.
I had long ago discharged all of her claims for material and repairs, but I
noticed a tendency on her part to prepare my mind for a regular subsidy. I
ignored these hints because it was impossible for me to carry out Mammy's
plan, and painful for me to say so.
She approached the matter in a different way finally, and said, one day:
"Mahs William, you been cayin' on yo' fif' for some time now. Doan you
think it's time for some of the yothers to look after them?"
I suggested that the whole family was about on a parity financially; that
one brother was drifting in the trans-Mississippi, another living more
precariously than I was. Suddenly a thought struck me, and I proposed that
Mammy should apply to my married sister in the country, who could at least
give her a home.
Mammy was very nearly indignant in her rejection of the proposition.
"Me live in de country! Why, Mahs William, I'm town-bred to de backbone.
What I gwine do thar? Whar's anybody whar'll want my sponge-cake, jelly,
and blue-monge, whar I can git ez much ez I wants to do in town? Who gwine
want my clar-starchin' an' pickle-makin' an' ketchups? Dem tacky people
doan want none of my makin's."
I ventured to remind Mammy that all dwellers in the country were not
"I know dat, sah; but whole parcel of um is. Besides, heap uv de quality
folks is poor an' in trouble sence the revackeration. I'd rather give up my
other fif's fust."
Of course Mammy's propositions were contradictory, but I had long known
that she was not gifted with a logical mind, so I made no attempt to
convict her of inconsistency.
From time to time I got small jobs of drawings for architects, as people
had begun to bestir themselves and rebuild. I had been assured that I would
find no prejudice against me in New York, but would stand on my own merits.
I was not profoundly convinced that this was a safe risk for me to take.
But living here was becoming impossible. Our own people were out of the
question as purchasers of pictures. My still-lifes, from long exposure in
the window of a friendly merchant in Broad Street, were becoming the
camping-ground of the flies, and deteriorating rapidly. I was not strong in
landscape, and the only subjects which suggested themselves were military,
taken from my point of view politically, and not likely to be convertible
into cash by persons of other convictions.
I was leaning against my ceiling one gray afternoon--at least I suppose it
should be called ceiling, for it ran from the highest part of the chamber
on an angle to the floor, and was pierced by a dormer--and contemplating a
bunch of withered flowers which I had studied almost into dissolution, when
I had laid my palette on the floor, and was standing with my hands in my
pockets. They fumbled, on one side with my bunch of keys, on the other with
a small roll of small bills, the dreadful fractional currency of that era,
whilst, in imagination, I projected my motive on the bare canvas, a twenty
by twenty-four. I was sorry that Mammy had come, because a subject was
beginning to take form in my mind. It was suggested by the withered
I thought that it would be a good idea to group them with a bundle of
letters, some showing age, the top one with a recent postmark, and call the
composition "Dead Hopes." My thoughts were divided between the selection of
a postmark for the top letter and the possibility of getting a frame,
whilst Mammy was going through the process of finding a chair and seating
herself. The invitation to come in implied the other courtesies.
The old lady was marvellously attired, and I wondered what could be the
occasion of it. She had on a plaid shawl of purple, green, and red
checkers, crossed on her bosom. Around her throat there was a lace collar
of some common sort, held by a breastpin of enormous value if calculated by
the square inch. She wore her usual turban of red and white, but on the top
of it to-day was a straw bonnet of about the fashion of 1835, with flowers
inside, and from it depended a green veil. Her frock was silk of an
indescribable tint, the result of years of fading, and was flounced. The
old lady had freed herself of her black cotton gloves, and was rolling them
into a ball. I sighed inwardly, for this was the outward sign of
Suddenly the self-arranged color scheme struck me as the cool light fell
over Mammy. I seated myself and seized my palette.
"Sit still, Mammy, right where you are. I'm going to paint you."
"Namer Gawd! paint me, Mahs William? After all dem pretty things whar you
kin paint, paint yo' old Mammy?" She slapped herself on the knees, called
the name of the Lord several times, and burst into the heartiest laugh that
I had heard from her for some time.
"Yes, Mammy, just sit right still, and don't talk much, and I won't make
I worked frantically, getting in the drawing as surely as I could, then
attacked the face in color. The result was a success that astonished me.
Mammy's evident fatigue stopped me. It was fortunate. I might have painted
more and spoiled my study. I thought that she would go now, but her mission
was not fulfilled. She had come to consult me on an important matter.
"You know this Freedman's Bureau, Mahs William? Well, they tells me--Lawd
knows what they calls it bureau for!--they tells me that of a colored
pusson goes down thar and gives in what he wuz worth--women either, mind
you--that the guv'mint would pay um."
Mammy paused for corroboration, but I determined to hear what she might add
to this remarkable statement. "Well?"
"Well, sah, I didn't want to go down thar without no price, so I called in
to arst you what you might consider yo' fif' worth, an' five times ovah."
I did not laugh at Mammy. The emancipated negroes had such utterly wild
notions of what was going to be done for them that Mammy's statement did
not surprise me very much. I let her go with the assurance that I would
inquire into the matter. She left enjoining me not to put that "fif' too
cheap," and I insisting that she should not go to the Bureau, in deference
to whose officials her astonishing toilet had evidently been made.
I was so much pleased with my own work that it was nearly twilight before
the knock of a familiar friend roused me. He was a clever amateur, and took
the greatest interest in my work. His enthusiasm over Mammy's effigy made
me glow. He agreed to pose for me in Mammy's costume.
Next day I borrowed the outfit without intimating that it was to be worn by
anybody. Mammy was over-nervous about its being properly cared for. I think
that she still contemplated appearing in it at the Bureau.
In a week the picture was complete. My model and I went out and celebrated
appropriately but frugally.
A small label in the corner gave the title to the picture--"My old Mammy."
My friend gave my work a place in his window, and my acquaintances
generally accorded unqualified praise. The older ones recognized Mammy at
Pending a purchaser for this, I started my deferred subject, and changed it
into a figure piece. A lovely friend was my model. She contemplated the
flowers and letters. Above the old piece of furniture on which she leaned
there hung a photograph, a sword, and a sash--a more striking suggestion of
my first title, "Dead Hopes." How little I dreamed, as I worked, that there
was such happy irony in the name, and that Mammy could ever, in the
remotest way, conduce to such a result!
Nearly every morning I hovered about my friend's establishment at a
sufficient distance to elude suspicion of my anxiety, but easily in visual
range of my exhibit.
One morning it was not visible. I rushed to the store with a throbbing
breast. Alas! the picture had only been shifted to another light. Before
the revulsion of feeling had time to overpower me I was seized by my friend
"It's a regular play," he exclaimed.
He forced me to a seat on a pile of cheese-boxes, and facing me, began:
"Yesterday, the old lady," pointing to the picture, "came in. She took no
notice of her portrait, but said that she had failed to find you; that she
was anxious to hear what you had done about the Bureau business." (I had
forgotten it utterly.) "Well, I could tell her nothing, and she started to
go out just as a group opened the door to come in. Mammy made one of her
courtly bows, and gave place. The young lady who was one of the three
coming in, the others evidently her parents, said, in a loud whisper, 'Why,
it's she!' Mammy, who either did not hear or did not understand, was about
to pass out, when the young lady accosted her with, 'I beg your pardon, but
isn't that your portrait?'
"'I grant you grace, young mistiss, but sence I looks, hit is. Hit wuz did
by my young mahster, which he can do all kinds of pictures lovely.'
"'Your young master?' the young lady said--sweet voice, too; dev'lish
handsome girl--'your young master?' Then she said aside to the others,
'Isn't it charmingly interesting?'
"'Yes, 'm, I call him so. But really I'm only his'n a fif'.'
"'His fif?' the young lady said, looking puzzled. I stepped up to them to
explain, just for politeness, though I was sure that they weren't
customers, 'She means that he owned a fifth interest in her previous
to--the recent change in affairs.'
"'That's hit,' said Mammy, nodding to them. 'But I don't expect to hear
from the other fif's. It don't make much diffunce, howsomever, bein' ez how
the Bureau is gwine settle up.'
"The visitors evidently did not understand this. I explained what Mammy was
after--you had told me, you know. They were very much amused, and asked a
heap of questions. After a little talk between themselves, in which I could
not help seeing that the young lady was very earnest, the gentleman asked:
"'Is the work for sale?' Was it for sale!"
My friend nearly prostrated me with a hearty punch by way of expressing his
feelings, whilst I was choking for an answer.
"Well, sir, I gave him the figger. He bought so quick that it made me sick
I hadn't asked more. Looker here!"
He displayed two new greenbacks which covered the amount. We embraced.
At last Mammy had become a source of revenue. I must, in justice to myself,
record the fact that a resolve immediately took form in my mind that she
also should be a beneficiary of my good fortune.
My friend wanted me to take the picture down myself. I told him that it was
not ethical to do so. The precious burden was confided to his porter. When
we returned to his store we found the gentleman there who had made the
purchase. I was duly presented by my friend.
The gentleman said that he had not noticed my name on the picture
particularly, nor on the receipt given by the merchant for the money, which
gave the title and painter of the work, until he had gotten back to the
hotel, when his wife recognized it and remembered having been in my
studio--a fine name for a small concern--in New York, and that we had many
friends in common there.
The upshot of the matter was that the gentleman gave me an invitation to
call at the Spottswood. I went the next day.
They were immensely amused and interested with any particulars about her.
The father--the names are immaterial, the young lady's was Elaine--asked me
jocularly at what sum I estimated my fifth in Mammy. I had previously
convinced him that we never had the remotest idea of parting with the old
lady. Consequently we had never estimated her value, but that I thought my
fifth at the time of the settling of the estate would have been about one
hundred dollars. After I had made several visits, the three came to see my
The day after their departure Mammy called. She was in fine spirits over a
visit that she had made to my new friends, at their earnest request. All
the time that she was speaking she was working at a knot in the corner of
her handkerchief. I knew that she kept her small valuables there, but was
thunderstruck when she extracted two fifty-dollar bills.
"Why, Mammy! Where--"
"Dat's all right, honey. The Bureau gent'man fix it all, jess like I tole
you. He said dat he done 'nquired, an' yo' fif' was wuth dat--two fifties,
one hundred--an' I let him off de res."
"But what gentleman?"
"Dat gent'man whar was at de Spottswood Hotel. He tole me he wuz agent for
de Bureau. An' I tell you, Mahs William, dey's quality, dem folks. You
kain' fool Becky."
Of course I did not enlighten Mammy. What would have been the use?
Not many days thereafter I got a request to ship my "Dead Hopes," at my
price, to the address of a frame-maker in New York. Elaine's father said
that he had a purchaser for it. I discovered later that he was a master of
When I wondered, long after, to him that he should have bought a
Confederate picture, he convinced me that my picture had nothing
confederate in it; that he had inferred that I had painted it in a catholic
spirit. The lady was in mourning, the flowers faded, the letters too small
for postmark, the picture on the wall a colorless photograph, and the sword
a regulation pattern common to both armies. He thought it very skilfully
planned, and complimented me on it. I was silent. All the Confederate part
and point had been in my mind.
About a year after this--I had been located in New York some months--Elaine
and I came on a visit to Richmond. I might just as well say that it was our
We looked up Mammy in her comfortable quarters. She had been well provided
for. There was some little confusion in her mind at first as to who Elaine
was, but on being made to understand, called down fervent blessings upon
"Now the old lady kin go happy. I always said that I had nussed Mahs
William, an' of I jess could live long 'nuff to--"
Elaine cut in rather abruptly, I thought.
"Why, Mammy, what a beautiful vine you have on your stoop!"
"What's stoop, honey? Dat's a poach."
Mammy lived some years longer, aging comfortably, and unvexed by any
question of fractions. She died a serene integer, with such comfortable
assurance of just valuation as is denied most of us, and contented that it
should be expressed in terms that were, to her, the only sure criterion
applicable to her race.
BY SARAH BARNWELL ELLIOTT
It was an ordinary frame house standing on brick legs, and situated on a
barren knoll, which, because of the dead level of marsh and swamp and
deserted fields from which it rose, seemed to achieve the loneliness of a
real height. The south and west sides of the house looked out on marsh and
swamp; the north and east sides on a wide stretch of old fields grown up in
broom-grass. Beyond the marsh rolled a river, now quite beyond its banks
with a freshet; beyond the swamp, which was a cypress swamp, rose a railway
embankment leading to a bridge that crossed the river. On the other two
sides the old fields ended in a solid black wall of pine-barren. A roadway
led from the house through the broom-grass to the barren, and at the
beginning of this road stood an outhouse, also on brick legs, which, save
for a small stable, was the sole out-building. One end of this house was a
kitchen, the other was divided into two rooms for servants. There were some
shattered remnants of oak-trees out in the field, and some chimneys
overgrown with vines, showing where in happier times the real homestead had
It was toward the end of February; a clear afternoon drawing toward sunset;
and all the flat, sad country was covered with a drifting red glow that
turned the field of broom-grass into a sea of gold; that lighted up the
black wall of pine-barren, and shot, here and there, long shafts of light
into the sombre depths of the cypress swamp. There was no sign of life
about the dwelling-house, though the doors and windows stood open; but
every now and then a negro woman came out of the kitchen and looked about,
while within a dog whined.
Shading her eyes with her hand, this woman would gaze across the field
toward the ruin; then down the road; then, descending the steps, she would
walk a little way toward the swamp and look along the dam that, ending the
yard on this side, led out between the marsh and the swamp to the river.
The over-full river had backed up into the yard, however, and the line of
the dam could now only be guessed at by the wall of solemn cypress-trees
that edged the swamp. Still, the woman looked in this direction many times
and also toward the railway embankment, from which a path led toward the
house, crossing the heap of the swamp by a bridge made of two felled trees.
But look as she would, she evidently did not find what she sought, and
muttering "Lawd! Lawd!" she returned to the kitchen, shook the tied dog
into silence, and seating herself near the fire, gazed sombrely into its
depths. A covered pot hung from the crane over the blaze, making a thick
bubbling noise, as if what it contained had boiled itself almost dry, and a
coffee-pot on the hearth gave forth a pleasant smell. The woman from time
to time turned the spit of a tin kitchen wherein a fowl was roasting, and
moved about the coals on the top of a Dutch oven at one side. She had made
preparation for a comfortable supper, and evidently for others than
She went again to the open door and looked about, the dog springing up and
following to the end of his cord. The sun was nearer the horizon now, and
the red glow was brighter. She looked toward the ruin; looked along the
road; came down the steps and looked toward the swamp and the railway path.
This time she took a few steps in the direction of the house; looked up at
its open windows, at the front door standing ajar, at a pair of gloves and
a branch from the vine at the ruin, that lay on the top step of the piazza,
as if in passing one had put them there, intending to return in a moment.
While she looked the distant whistle of a locomotive was heard echoing back
and forth about the empty land, and the rumble of an approaching train. She
turned a little to listen, then went hurriedly back to the kitchen.
The rumbling sound increased, although the speed was lessened as the river
was neared. Very slowly the train was moving, and the woman, peeping from
the window, watched a gentleman get off and begin the descent of the path.
"Mass Johnnie!" she said. "Lawd! Lawd!" and again seated herself by the
fire until the rapid, firm footstep having passed, she went to the door,
and standing well in the shadow, watched.
Up the steps the gentleman ran, pausing to pick up the gloves and the bit
of vine. The negro groaned. Then in the open door, "Nellie!" he called,
The woman heard the call, and going back quickly to her seat by the fire,
threw her apron over her head.
"Abram!" was the next call; then, "Aggie!"
She sat quite still, and the master, running up the kitchen steps and
coming in at the door, found her so.
"Why didn't you answer me?"
The veiled figure rocked a little from side to side.
"What the mischief is the matter?" walking up to the woman and pulling the
apron from over her face. "Where is your Miss Nellie?"
"I dun'no', suh; but yo' supper is ready, Mass Johnnie."
"Has your mistress driven anywhere?"
"De horse is in de stable, suh." The woman now rose as if to meet a climax,
but her eyes were still on the fire.
"Did she go out walking?"
"Dis mawnin', suh."
"This morning!" he repeated, slowly, wonderingly, "and has not come back
The woman began to tremble, and her eyes, shining and terrified, glanced
furtively at her master.
"Where is Abram?"
"I dun'no', suh!" It was a gasping whisper.
The master gripped her shoulder, and with a maddened roar he cried her name
The woman sank down. Perhaps his grasp forced her down. "'Fo' Gawd!" she
cried--"'fo Gawd, Mass Johnnie, I dun'no'!" holding up beseeching hands
between herself and the awful glare of his eyes. "I'll tell you, suh, Mass
Johnnie, I'll tell you!" crouching away from him. "Miss Nellie gimme out
dinner en supper, den she put on she hat en gone to de ole chimbly en git
some de brier what grow dey. Den she come back en tell Abram fuh git a
bresh broom en sweep de ya'd. Lemme go, Mass Johnnie, please, suh, en I
tell you better, suh. En Abram teck de hatchet en gone to'des de railroad
fuh cut de bresh. 'Fo' Gawd, Mass Johnnie, it's de trute, suh! Den I tell
Miss Nellie say de chicken is all git out de coop, en she say I muss ketch
one fuh unner supper, suh; en I teck de dawg en gone in de fiel' fuh look
fuh de chicken. En I see Miss Nellie put 'e glub en de brier on de step, en
walk to'des de swamp, like 'e was goin' on de dam--'kase de water ent rise
ober de dam den--en den I gone in de broom-grass en I run de chicken, en I
ent ketch one tay I git clean ober to de woods. En when I come back de glub
is layin' on de step, en de brier, des like Miss Nellie leff um--" She
stopped, and her master straightened himself.
"Well," he said, and his voice was strained and weak.
The servant once more flung her apron over her head, and broke into violent
crying. "Dat's all, Mass Johnnie! dat's all! I dun'no' wey Abram is gone; I
dun'no' what Abram is do! Nobody ent been on de place dis day--dis day but
me--but me! Oh, Lawd! oh, Lawd en Gawd!"
The master stood as if dazed. His face was drawn and gray, and his breath
came in awful gasps. A moment he stood so, then he strode out of the house.
With a howl the dog sprang forward, snapping the cord, and rushed after his
The woman's cries ceased, and without moving from her crouching position
she listened with straining ears to the sounds that reached her from the
stable. In a moment the clatter of horses' hoofs going at a furious pace
swept by, then a dead silence fell. The intense quiet seemed to rouse her,
and going to the door, she looked out. The glow had faded, and the gray
mist was gathering in distinct strata above the marsh and the river. She
went out and looked about her as she had done so many times during that
long day. She gazed at the water that was still rising; she peered
cautiously behind the stable and under the houses; she approached the
wood-pile as if under protest, gathered some logs into her arms and an axe
that was lying there; then turning toward the kitchen, she hastened her
steps, looking back over her shoulder now and again, as if fearing pursuit.
Once in the kitchen she threw down the wood and barred the door; she shut
the boarded window-shutter, fastening it with an iron hook; then leaning
the axe against the chimney, she sat down by the fire, muttering, "If dat
nigger come sneakin' back yer now, I'll split 'e haid open, _sho_."
Recovering a little from her panic, she was once more a cook, and swung the
crane from over the fire, brushed the coals from the top of the Dutch oven,
and pushed the tin kitchen farther from the blaze. "Mass Johnnie'll want
sump'h'n to eat some time dis night," she said; then, after a pause, "en I
gwine eat _now_." She got a plate and cup, and helped herself to hominy out
of the pot, and to a roll out of the oven; but though she looked at the
fowl she did not touch it, helping herself instead to a goodly cup of
coffee. So she ate and drank with the axe close beside her, now and then
pausing to groan and mutter--"Po' Mass Johnnie!--po' Mass Johnnie!--Lawd!
Lawd!--if Miss Nellie had er sen' Abram atter dat chicken--like I tell
um--Lawd!" shaking her head the while.
Through the gathering dusk John Morris galloped at the top speed of his
horse. Reaching the little railway station, he sprang off, throwing the
reins over a post, and strode in.
"Write this telegram for me, Green," he said; "my hand trembles.
"_To Sam Partin, Sheriff, Pineville:_
"My wife missing since morning. Negro, Abram Washington, disappeared. Bring
men and dogs. Get off night train this side of bridge. Will be fire on the
path to mark the place.
"Great God!" the operator said, in a low voice. "I'll come too, Mr.
"Thank you," John Morris answered. "I'm going to get the Wilson boys, and
Rountree and Mitchell," and for the first time the men's eyes met.
Determined, deadly, sombre, was the look exchanged; then Morris went away.
None of the men whom Morris summoned said much, nor did they take long to
arm themselves, saddle, and mount, and by nine o'clock Aggie heard them
come galloping across the field; then her master's voice calling her. There
was little time in which to make the signal-fire on the railroad
embankment, and to cut light-wood into torches, even though there were many
hands to do the work. John Morris's dog followed him a part of the way to
the wood-pile, then turned aside to where the water had crept up from the
swamp into the yard. Aggie saw the dog, and spoke to Mr. Morris.
"Dat's de way dat dawg do dis mawnin', Mass Johnnie, an' when I gone to
ketch de chicken, Miss Nellie was walkin' to'des dat berry place."
An irresistible shudder went over John Morris, and one of the gentlemen
standing near asked if he had a boat.
"The bateau was tied to that stake this morning," Mr. Morris answered,
pointing to a stake some distance out in the water; "but I have another
boat in the top of the stable." Every man turned to go for it, showing the
direction of their fears, and launched it where the log bridge crossed the
head of the swamp, and where now the water was quite deep.
The whistle was heard at the station, and the rumble of the on-coming
train. The fire flared high, lighting up the group of men standing about
it, booted and belted with ammunition-belts, quiet, and white, and
Many curious heads looked out as the sheriff and his men--six men besides
Green from the station--got off; then the train rumbled away in the
darkness toward the surging, turbulent river, and the crowd moved toward
Mr. Morris told of his absence in town on business. That Abram had been
hired first as a field-hand; and that later, after his marriage, he had
taken Abram from the field to look after his horse and to do the heavier
work about the house and yard.
"And the woman Aggie is trust-worthy?"
"I am sure of it; she used to belong to us."
"Abram is a strange negro?"
Then Aggie was called in to tell her story. Abram had taken the hatchet and
had gone toward the railroad for brush to make a broom. She had taken the
dog and gone into the broom-grass to catch a fowl, and the last she had
seen of her mistress she was walking toward the dam, which was then above
"How long were you gone after the chicken?"
"I dun'no', suh; but I run um clean to de woods 'fo' I ketch um, en I walk
back slow 'kase I tired."
"Were you gone an hour?"
"I spec so, suh, 'kase when I done ketch de chicken I stop fuh pick up some
light-wood I see wey Abram been cuttin' wood yistiddy."
"And your mistress was not here when you came back--nor Abram?"
"No, suh, nobody; en 'e wuz so lonesome I come en look in dis house fuh
Miss Nellie, but 'e ent deyyer; en I look in de bush fuh Abram, but I ent
see um nudder. En de dawg run to de water en howl en ba'k en ba'k tay I tie
um up in de kitchen."
"And was the boat tied to the stake this morning?"
"Yes, suh; en when I been home long time en git scare, den I look en see de
"You don't think that your mistress got in the boat and drifted away by
"No, suh, nebber, suh; Miss Nellie 'fraid de water lessen Mass Johnnie is
"Is Abram a good boy?"
"I dun'no', suh; I dun'no' nuffin 'tall 'bout Abram, suh; Abram is strange
nigger to we."
"Did he take his things out of his room?"
"Abram t'ings? Ki! Abram ent hab nuttin' ceppen what Miss Nellie en Mass
Johnnie gi' um. No, suh, dat nigger ent hab nuttin' but de close on 'e back
when 'e come to we."
The sheriff paused a moment. "I think, Mr. Morris," he said at last, "that
we'd better separate. You, with Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Rountree, had better
take your boat and hunt in the swamp and marsh, and along the river-bank.
Let Mr. Wilson, his brothers, and Green take your dog and search in the
pine-barren. I'll take my men and my dogs and cross the railroad. The
signal of any discovery will be three shots fired in quick succession. The
gathering-place'll be this house, where a member of the discovering
party'll meet the other parties and bring 'em to the discovery. And I beg
that you'll refrain from violence, at least until we can reach each other.
We've no proof of anything--"
"An' our only clew," the sheriff went on, "the missing boat, points to Mrs.
Morris's safety." A little consultation ensued; then agreeing to the
sheriff's distribution of forces, they left the house.
The sheriff's dogs--the lean, small hounds used on such occasions--were
tied, and he held the ropes. There was an anxious look on his face, and he
kept his dogs near the house until the party for the barren had mounted and
ridden away, and the party in the boat had pushed off into the blackness of
the swamp, a torch fastened at the prow casting weird, uncertain shadows.
Then ordering his six men to mount and to lead his horse, he went to the
room of the negro Abram and got an old shirt. The two lean little dogs were
restless, but they made no sound as he led them across the railway. Once on
the other side, he let them smell the shirt, and loosed them, and was about
to mount, when, in the flash of a torch, he saw something in the grass.
"A hatchet!" he said to his companions, picking it up; "and clean, thank
The men looked at each other, then one said, slowly, "He coulder drowned
The sheriff did not answer, but followed the dogs that had trotted away
with their noses to the ground.
"I'm sure the nigger came this way," the sheriff said, after a while.
"Those others may find the poor young lady, but I feel sure of the nigger."
One of the men stopped short. "That nigger's got to die," he said.
"Of course," the sheriff answered, "but not by Judge Lynch's court. This
circuit's got a judge that'll hang him lawfully."
"I b'lieve Judge More will," the recalcitrant admitted, and rode on. "But,"
he added, "if I know Mr. John Morris, that nigger's safe to die one way or
They rode more rapidly now, as the dogs had quickened their pace. The moon
had risen, and the riding, for men who hunted recklessly, was not bad.
Through woods and across fields, over fences and streams, down by-paths and
old roads, they followed the little dogs.
"We're makin' straight for the next county," the sheriff said.
"We're makin' straight for the old Powis settlement," was answered.
"Nothin' but niggers have lived there since the war, an' that nigger's
there, I'll bet."
"That's so," the sheriff said. "About how many niggers live there now?"
"There ain't more than half a dozen cabins left now. We can easy manage
It was a long rough ride, and in spite of their rapid pace it was some time
after midnight before they saw the clearing where clustered the few cabins
left of the plantation quarters of a well-known place, which in its day had
yielded wealth to its owners. The moon was very bright, and, save for the
sound of the horses' feet, the silence was intense.
"Look sharp," the sheriff said; "that nigger ain't sleepin' much if he's
here, and he might try to slip off."
The dogs were going faster now, and yelping a little.
"Keep up, boys!" and the sheriff spurred his horse.
In a few minutes they thundered into the little settlement, where the dogs
were already barking and leaping against a close-shut door. Frightened
black faces began to peer out. Low exclamations and guttural ejaculations
were heard as the armed men scattered, one to each cabin, while the sheriff
hammered at the door where the dogs were jumping.
"It's the sheriff!" he called, "come to get Abram Washington. Bring him out
and you kin go back to your beds. We're all armed, and nobody need to try
The door opened cautiously, and an old negro looked out. "Abram's my son,
Mr. Partin," he said, "an' 'fo' Gawd he ent yer."
"No lyin', old man; the dogs brought us straight here. Don't make me burn
the house down; open the door."
The door was closing, when the sheriff, springing from his horse, forced it
steadily back. A shot came from within, but it ranged wild, and in an
instant the sheriff's pistol covered the open room, where a smouldering
fire gave light. Two of the men followed him, and one, making for the fire,
pushed it into a blaze, which revealed a group of negroes--an old man, a
young woman, some children, and a young man crouching behind with a gun in
his hand. The sheriff walked straight up to the young man, whose teeth were
"I arrest you," he said; "come on."
"That's the feller," confirmed one of the guard; "I've seen him at Mr.
"Tie him," the sheriff ordered, "while I git that gun. Give it to me, old
man, or I'll take you to jail too." It was yielded up--an old-time
rifle--and the sheriff smashed it against the side of the chimney, throwing
the remnants into the fire. "Lead on," he said, and the young negro was
taken outside. Quickly he was lifted on to a horse and tied there, while
the former rider mounted behind one of his companions, and they rode out of
the settlement into the woods.
"Git into the shadows," one said; "they might be fools enough to shoot."
Once in the road, the sheriff called a halt. "One of you must ride; back to
Mr. Morris's place and collect the other search-parties, while we make for
Pineville jail. Now, Abram, come on."
"I ent done nuttin', Mr. Parin, suh," the negro urged. "I ent hot Mis'
"Who said anything 'bout Mrs. Morris?" was asked, sharply.
The negro groaned.
"You're hanging yourself, boy," the sheriff said; "but since you know,
where _is_ Mrs. Morris?"
"I dun'no', suh."
"Why did you run away?"
"'Kase I 'fraid Mr. Morris."
"What were you 'fraid of?"
"'Kase Mis' Morris gone."
They were riding rapidly now, and the talk was jolted out.
"I dun'no', suh, but I ent tech um."
"You're a damned liar."
"No, suh, I ent tech um; I des look at um."
"I'd like to gouge your eyes out!" cried one of the men, and struck him.
"None o' that!" ordered the sheriff. "And you keep your mouth shut, Abram;
you'll have time to talk on your trial."
"Blast a trial!" growled the crowd.
"The rope's round his neck now," suggested one, "and I see good trees at
"Please, suh, gentlemen," pleaded the shaking negro, "I ent done nuttin'."
"Shut your mouth!" ordered the sheriff again, "and ride faster. Day'll soon
"You're 'fraid Mr. Morris'll ketch us 'fore we reach the jail," laughed one
of the guard. And the sheriff did not answer.
The eastern sky was gray when the party rode into Pineville, a small,
straggling country town, and clattered through its one street to the jail.
To the negro, at least, it was a welcome moment, for, with his feet tied
under the horse, his hands tied behind his back, and a rope with a
slip-knot round his neck, he had not found the ride a pleasant one. A
misstep of his horse would surely have precipitated his hanging, and he
knew well that such an accident would have given much satisfaction to his
captors. So he uttered a fervent "Teng Gawd!" as he was hustled into the
jail gate and heard it close behind him.
Early as it was, most of the town was up and excited. Betting had been high
as to whether the sheriff would get the prisoner safe into the jail, and
even the winners seemed disappointed that he had accomplished this feat,
although they praised his skilful management. But the sheriff knew that if
the lady's body was found, that if Mr. Morris could find any proof against
the negro, that if Mr. Morris even expressed a wish that the negro should
hang, the whole town would side with him instantly; and the sheriff knew,
further, that in such an emergency he would be the negro's only defender,
and that the jail could easily be carried by the mob.
All these thoughts had been with him during the long night, and though he
himself was quite willing to hang the negro, being fully persuaded of his
guilt, he was determined to do his official duty, and to save the
prisoner's life until sentence was lawfully passed on him. But how? If he
could quiet the town before the day brightened, he had a plan, but to
accomplish this seemed wellnigh impossible.
He handcuffed the prisoner and locked him into a cell, then advised his
escort to go and get food, as before the day was done--indeed, just as soon
as Mr. Morris should reach the town--he would probably need them to help
him defend the jail.
They nodded among themselves, and winked, and laughed a little, and one
said, "Right good play-actin'"; and watching, the sheriff knew that he
could depend on only one man, his own brother, to help him. But he sent him
off along with the others, and was glad to see that the crowd of
townspeople went with his guard, listening eagerly to the details of the
suspected tragedy and the subsequent hunt. This was his only chance, and he
went at once to the negro's cell.
"Now, Abram," he said, "if you don't want to be a dead man in an hour's
time, you'd better do exactly what I tell you."
"Yes, suh, please Gawd."
"Put on this old hat," handing him one, "and pull it down over your eyes,
and follow me. When we get outside, you walk along with me like any
ordinary nigger going to his work; and remember, if you stir hand or foot
more than a walk, you are a dead man. Come on."
There was a back way out of the jail, and to this the sheriff went. Once
outside, he walked briskly, the negro keeping step with him diligently.
They did not meet any one, and before very long they reached the sheriff's
house, which stood on the outskirts of the town. Being a widower, he
knocked peremptorily on the door, and when it was opened by his son, he
marched his prisoner in without explanation.
"Shut the door, Willie," he said, "and load the Winchester."
"Please, suh--" interjected the negro. For answer, the sheriff took a key
from the shelf, and led him out of the back door to where, down a few
steps, there was another door leading into an underground cellar.
"Now, Abram," he said, "you're to keep quiet in here till I can take you to
the city jail. There is no use your trying to escape, because my two
boys'll be about here all day with their repeating rifles, and they can
"And whoever unlocks this door and tells you to come out, you do it, and do
Locking the door, the sheriff turned to his son. "You and Charlie must
watch that door all day, Willie," he said; "but you musn't seem to watch
it; and keep your guns handy, and if that nigger tries to get away, kill
him; don't hesitate. I must go back to the jail and make out like he's
there. And tell Charlie to feed the horse and hitch him to the buggy, and
let him stand ready in the stable, for when I'll want him I'll want him
quick. Above all things, don't let anybody know that the nigger's here. But
keep the cellar key in your pocket, and shoot if he tries to run. If your
uncle Jim comes, do whatever he tells you, but nobody else, lessen they
bring a note from me. Now remember. I'm trusting you, boy; and don't you
make any mistake about killing the nigger if he tries to escape."
"All right," the boy answered, cheerfully, and the father went away. He
almost ran to the jail, and entering once more by the back door, found
things undisturbed. Presently his brother called to him, and the gates and
doors being opened, came in, bringing a waiter of hot food and coffee.
"I told Jinnie you'd not like to leave the jail," he said, "an' she fixed
"Jinnie's mighty good," the sheriff answered, "and sometimes a woman's
mighty handy to have about--sometimes; but I'd not leave one out in the
country like Mr. Morris did; no, sir, not in these days. We could do it
before the war and during the war, but not now. The old niggers were taught
some decency; but these young ones! God help us, for I don't see any safety
for this country 'cept Judge Lynch. And I'll tell you this is my first an'
last term as sheriff. The work's too dirty."
"Buck Thomas was a boss sheriff," his brother answered; "he found the
niggers all right, but the niggers never found the jail, and the niggers
were 'fraid to death of him."
"Maybe Buck was right," the sheriff said, "and 'twas heap the easiest way;
but here comes the town."
The two men went to the window and saw a crowd of people advancing down the
road, led by Mr. Morris and his friends on horseback.
"I b'lieve you're the only man in this town that'll stand by me, Jim," the
sheriff said. "I swore in six last night, and I see 'em all in that crowd.
Poor Mr. Morris! in his place I'd do just what he's doin'. Blest if yonder
ain't Doty Buxton comin' to help me! I'll let him in; but see here, Jim,
I'm goin' to send Doty to telegraph to the city for Judge More, and I want
you to slip out the back way right now, and run to my house, and tell
Willie to give you the buggy and the nigger, and you drive that nigger into
the city. Of course you'll kill him if he tries to escape."
"The nigger ain't here!"
"I'm no fool, Jim. And I'll hold this jail, me and Doty, as long as
possible, and you drive like hell! You see?"
"I didn't know you really _wanted_ to save the nigger," his brother
remonstrated; "nobody b'lieves that"
"I don't, as a nigger. But you go on now, and I'll send Doty with the
telegram, and make time by talkin' to Mr. Morris. I don't think they've
found anything; if they had, they'd have come a-galloping, and the devil
himself couldn't have stopped 'em. Gosh, but it's awful! Who knows what
that nigger's done When I look at Mr. Morris, I wish you fellers had
overpowered me last night and had fixed things."
He let his brother out at the back, then went round to the front gate,
where he met the man whom he called Doty Buxton.
"Go telegraph Judge More the facts of the case," he said, "an' ask him to
come. I don't believe I'll need any men if he'll come; and besides, he and
Mr. Morris are friends."
As the man turned away, one of the horsemen rode up to the sheriff.
"We demand that negro," he said.
"I supposed that was what you'd come for, Mr. Mitchell," the sheriff
answered; "but you know, sir, that as much as I'd like to oblige you, I'm
bound to protect the man. He swears that he's never touched Mrs. Morris."
"Great God, sheriff! how can you mention the thing quietly? You know--"
"Yes, I know; and I know that I'll never do the dirty work of a sheriff a
day after my term's up. But we haven't any proof against this nigger except
that he ran away--"
"Isn't that enough when the lady can't be found, nor a trace of her?"
"I found the hatchet."
"It was clean, thank God!"
Mr. Mitchell jerked the reins so violently that his horse, tired as he was,
reared and plunged.
"Mr. Morris declines to speak with you," he went on, when the horse had
quieted down, "but he's determined that the negro shall not escape, and the
whole county'll back him."
"I know that," the sheriff answered, patiently, "and in his place I'd do
the same thing; but in my place I must do my official duty. I'll not let
the nigger escape, you may be sure of that, and I've telegraphed for Judge
More to come out here. I've telegraphed the whole case. Surely Mr.
Morris'll trust Judge More?"
Mitchell dragged at his mustache. "Poor Morris is nearly dead," he said.
"Of course; won't he go and eat and rest till Judge More comes? Every house
in the town'll be open to him."
"No; he'll not wait nor rest; and we're determined to hang that negro."
"It'll be mighty hard to shed our blood--friends and neighbors,"
remonstrated the sheriff--"and all over a worthless nigger."
"That's your lookout," Mr. Mitchell answered. "A trial and a big funeral is
glory for a negro, and the penitentiary means nothing to them but free
board and clothes. I tell you, sheriff, lynching is the only thing that
"You won't wait even until I get an answer from Judge More?"
"Well, to please you, I'll ask." And Mitchell rode back to his companions.
The conference between the leaders was longer than the sheriff had hoped,
and before he was again approached Doty Buxton had returned, saying that
Judge More's answer would be sent to the jail just as soon as it came.
"You'll stand by me, Doty?" the sheriff asked.
"'Cause I like you, Mr. Partin," Doty answered, slowly; "not 'cause I want
to save the nigger. I b'lieve in my soul he's done drowned the po' lady's
"All right; you go inside and be ready to chain the gate if I am run in."
Then he waited for the return of the envoy.
John Morris sat on his horse quite apart even from his own friends, and
after a few words with him, Mitchell had gone to the group of horsemen
about whom the townsmen were gathered. The sheriff did not know what this
portended, but he waited patiently, leaning against the wall of the jail
and whittling a stick. He knew quite well that all these men were friendly
to him; that they understood his position perfectly, and that they expected
him to pretend to do his duty to a reasonable extent, and so far their
good-nature would last; but he knew equally well that in their eyes the
negro had put himself beyond the pale of the law; that they were determined
to hang him and would do it at any cost; and that the only mercy which the
culprit could expect from this upper class to which Mr. Morris belonged was
that his death would be quick and quiet. He knew also that if they found
out that he was in earnest in defending the prisoner he himself would be in
danger not only from Mr. Morris and his friends, but from the townsmen as
well. Of course all this could be avoided by showing them that the jail was
empty; but to do this would be at this stage to insure the fugitive's
capture and death. To save the negro he must hold the jail as long as
possible, and if he had to shoot, shoot into the ground. All this was quite
clear to him; what was not clear was what these men would do when they
found that he had saved the negro, and they had stormed an empty jail.
He was an old soldier, and had been in many battles; he had fought hardest
when he knew that things were most hopeless; he had risked his life
recklessly, and death had been as nothing to him when he had thought that
he would die for his country. But now--now to risk his life for a negro,
for a worthless creature who he thought deserved hanging--was this his
duty? Why not say, "I have sent the negro to the city"? How quickly those
fierce horsemen would dash away down the road! Well, why not? He drew
himself up. He was not going to turn coward at this late day. His duty lay
very plain before him, and he would not flinch. And he fixed his eyes once
more on the little stick he was cutting, and waited.
Presently he saw a movement in the crowd, and the thought flashed across
him that they might capture him suddenly while he stood there alone and
unarmed. He stepped quickly to the gate, where Doty Buxton waited, and
standing in the opening, asked the crowd to stand back, and to send Mr.
Mitchell to tell him what the decision was. There was a moment's pause;
then Mitchell rode forward.
"Mr. Morris says that Judge More cannot help matters. The negro must die,
and at once. We don't want to hurt you, and we don't want to destroy public
property, but we are going to have that wretch if we have to burn the jail
down. Will you stop all this by delivering the prisoner to us?"