Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

a

“Judas! Hey there, yer old humpbacked right disobedience. In some obscure way the scamp! How long are yer a-goin' to be a- negro had felt the weakness of the white man's fetchin' me that hoss? Hurry up! Step lively, character, from which a stream of flashing, er I 'll tie ye up an' jest whale the whole skin rumbling threats had poured for a lifetime; he off 'm' ye! Trot lively, I say !”

knew that Ben Wilson was a harmless blusterer Really, what did Judas care if Ben spoke who was scarcely aware of his own windy utthus to him? The master never had struck the terances, and yet he hesitated to admit that he slave in anger since the days when they enjoyed knew it — nay, he forced himself to be proud the luxury of their childish fisticuffs. These of his master's prodigious temperamental exthreats were the merest mouthing, and Judas pansions. He felt his own importance in the knew it

very
well.

world barely below that of the man who owned “ Yah, dar! Yo' Bolus! yo' ole rib-nosed, him, and deep in his old heart stirred the deso'-eyed, knock-kneed, pigeon-toed t'ief! I licious dream of freedom. What a dream ! jest wa' yo' out wid er fence-rail

, ef yo don'Amorphous as a cloud, and rosy as ever mornstep pow'ful libely now; sho 's yo' bo'n I jest ing vapor was, it informed his soul with vague, will!”

haunting perfumes and nameless strains of This was the echo sent back from the rick- song. Strange that so crude a being could abety stables by Judas to the ears of his master, sorb such an element into the innermost tissues who sat smoking his short pipe on the sunken of his life! Judas had a conscience, rudimentveranda under his vine and close to his gnarled ary indeed, but insistent, which gnawed him fig tree. The voice was meant to sound very frightfully at times: not for stealing,— he was savage; but in spite of Judas it would be melo- callous to that,— but for rebellion, which he dious and unimpressive, a mere echo and noth- could not cast out of him entirely. Occasioning more-vox, et præterea nihil.

ally he soliloquized : Ben always chuckled reflectively when he “Ef I could jest be de mars erwhile an' Mars heard Judas roaring like that. He could not Ben be de nigger, bress de good Lor' but have said just why he chuckled; perhaps it would n't I jest mor' 'n mek ’im bounce erroun’ was mere force of habit.

one time! Sorty fink I 'd wake 'im up afo' day, " Dad blast that fool nigger!” he would an’ would n't I cuss ’im an' 'buse 'im an' rah mutter below his breath. “Puts me in mind of an' cha'ge at 'im tell he know 'zac’ly how it a hongry mule a-brayin' fer fodder. I 'll skin was hese'f! Yo' may say so, honey, dat yo' ’im alive fer it yet.”

“ Consoun' Mars Ben! Better keep he ole Following treasonable thoughts like these mouf shet,”. Judas would growl; but neither came bitings by the hot teeth of the poor slave's ever heard the side remarks of the other. In- conscience, all the deeper and crueler by condeed, in a certain restricted and abnormal way, trast with the love forever upgushing to be they were very tender of each other's feelings. lavished on his truly indulgent, but strongly

The older they grew the nearer came these exasperating, master. two men together. It was as if, starting from “ Lor', do forgib po' ole Judas,” he would · widely separated birthrights, they had jour- pray, " kase he been er-jokin' ter hese'f 'bout neyed towards the same end, and thus, their er pow'ful ticklish ci'cumstance, sho's yo’ bo’n, paths converging, they were at last to lie down Lor'; an' he no business trompin' roun' er ole in graves dug side by side.

well in de night. Git he neck broke, sho'!” But no matter if their cradle was a common Notwithstanding conscience and prayer, one, and notwithstanding that their footsteps however, the thought grew clearer and waxed kept such even time, Ben was master, Judas more vigorous in the heart of Judas as the slave. They were differentiated at this one years slipped by and Ben gradually increased point, and at another, the point of color, irrev- his scolding. The more he fought it the closer ocably, hopelessly. As other differences were clung to him the vision of that revolution which sloughed; as atom by atom their lines blended would turn him on top and Ben below, if but together; as strange attachments, like the feel- for a few moments of delirious triumph. ers of vines, grew between them; and as the • Lor', but would n't Mars Ben hate 'r hab license of familiarity took possession of them dis ole nigger er-rahin' an' er-cha'gin' an' ermore and more, the attitude of the master par- rantin' an' er-yellin' at 'im, an' jest er-cussin' took of tyranny in a greater and greater degree. 'im like de berry debil fo'eberyt'ing 'at 's mean, I use the word attitude, because it expresses an' de sweat jest er-rollin' off 'm 'im an' 'im precisely my meaning. Ben Wilson's tyranny jest er-linkin' down ter wo’k, an' me jest eberwas an attitude, nothing more. Judas never lastin’ly an' outlandishly er-gibin' 'im de limhad seen the moment when he was afraid of mer jaw fo’he laziness an' he dog-gone general his master; still there was a line over which no 'countness ! Ef dat would n't be satisfache had not dared to step — the line of down- tional ter dis yer darkey, den I dunno nuffin' 't

[ocr errors]

may !

66

a

all 'bout it. Dat 's his way er doin' me, an' it break yer old neck an' pull out yer backbone seem lak my time orter be comin' erlong pooty -grab 'im, I say!” soon ter do 'im dat way er leetle, debil take Judas scrambles after the fish, sprawling and de nigger ef it don't!"

grabbing, while it actively flops about in the In good truth, however, Judas had no right sand. It spears him cruelly till the red blood to complain of hard work; he did not earn is spattered over his great rusty black hands, his salt. A large part of the time he and his but he captures it finally and puts a stick master occupied with angling in the rivulet through its gills. hard by, wherein catfish were the chief game. On many and many an afternoon they Side by side on the sandy bank of the stream trudged homeward together in the softening the twain looked like two frogs ready to leap light, Judas carrying both rods on his shoulder, into the water, so expectant and eager were the bait-cups in his hands, and the string of their wrinkled faces and protruding eyes, so fish, if there were any, dangling somewhere comically set akimbo their arms and legs. With about his squat person. The black man might little art they cast and recast their clumsy bait have been the incarnate shadow of the white of bacon-rind, exchanging few words, but en- one, so much were they alike in everything but joying, doubtless, a sense of subtile companion- color. Even to a slight limp of the left leg, ship peculiarly satisfying.

their movements were the same. Each had a “Airy a bite, Judas ?"

peculiar fashion of setting his right elbow at a “ No, sah.”

certain angle and of elevating slightly the right “ Too lazy to keep yer hook baited ? ” shoulder. Precisely alike sat their well-wom “ No, sah.”

straw hats far over on the back of their heads. A while of silence, the river swashing dream- It was in the spring of 1860 that Ben took ily, the sunshine shimmering far along the measles and came near to death. Judas nursed slowly lapsing current; then Judas begins his master with a faithfulness that knew not the humming a revival tune.

shadow of abatement until the disease had “Shet yer mouth; stop that infernal howl- spent its force and Ben began to convalesce. ing, yer blasted old eejit, er I 'll take this yer With the turn of the tide which bore him back fish-pole an' I 'll naturally lam the life out of from the shore of death the master recovered ye!” storms the master. “Yer 'll scare all his tongue and grew refractory and abusive inthe fish till they 'll go clean to the Gulf of versely as the negro was silent and obedient. Mexico. Hain't yer got a striffin' of sense He exhausted upon poor Judas, over and over left ? "

again, the vocabulary of vituperative epithets The slave sulks in silence. Ten minutes later at his command. When Ben was quite well Ben takes out a plug of bright, greasy-looking Judas lay down with the disease. navy tobacco, and after biting off a liberal chew “A nigger with the measles! Well, I 'll be says, in a very soft voice:

dern! Yer 're gone, Jude gone fer sure. “Here, Jude, try some of my terbacker, an' Measles nearly always kills a nigger." maybe yer luck 'll change."

Ben uttered these consoling words as he enJudas fills his cheek with the comforting tered his old slave's cabin and stood beside weed and gazes with expectant contentment the low bed. “Not much use ter do anythin' into the stream, but the luck continues much fer ye 's I know of — bound ter go this time. the same. The wind may blow a tritle sweeter, Don't ye feel a sort of dyin' sensation in yer fluting an old Pan-pipe tune in a half-whisper blamed old bones already ? " through the fringe of shining reeds, and the But Judas was nursed by his master as a thrushes may trill suddenly a strange, soft child by its mother. Never was man better phrase from the dark foliage of the grove hard cared for night and day. Ben's whole life for by; still, in blissful ignorance of the voices of the time was centered in the one thought of nature and all unaware of their own pictur- saving the old slave. In this he was absolutely esqueness, without a nibble to encourage them, unselfish and at last successful. the two white-haired men watch away the As Judas grew better, after the crisis was golden afternoon. At the last, just as Judas passed, he did not fail to follow his master's exhas given up and is winding his line around ample and make himself as troublesome as poshis pole, Ben yanks out a slimy, wriggling, sible. Nothing was good enough for him; none prickly catfish, and his round face flings out of his food was properly prepared or served, through its screen of wrinkles a spray of sud- his bed was not right, he wanted water from den excitement.

a certain distant spring, he grumbled at Ben “ Grab 'im, Judas! Grab 'im, yer lubberly without reason, and grew more abusive and old lout ye! What yer doin' a-grinnin' an' personal daily. At last one afternoon Ben a-gazin' an' that fish a-floppin' right back — came out of the cabin with a very peculiar grab 'im! If yer do let 'im get away, I 'll look on his face. He stopped just as he left

[graphic][merged small]
[ocr errors]

the threshold, and with his hands in his trou- Judas each had a patch, year in and year out. sers' pockets and his head thrown back he Not that Ben ever hoed in his; but he made whistled a low, gentle note.

Judas keep it free of weeds. Here was a source "Well, I'll everlastin’ly jest be dad burned!" of trouble; for invariably the negro's patch he exclaimed. Then he puffed out his wrinkled was better, the melons were the larger and cheeks till they looked like two freckled blad- finer. Scold and storm and threaten as he ders. “Who'd 'a' thought it!” He chuckled might, Ben could not change this, nor could long and low, looking down at his boots and he convince his slave that there was anything then up at the sky. “ Cussed me! Cussed me! at all strange in the matter. The blamed old rooster a-cussin' me ! Don't “How I gwine fin' out 'bout what mek seem possible, but he did all the same. Gam- yo' watermillions so runty an’so scrunty ? " est nigger I ever seen!”

Judas exclaimed. “Hain't I jest hoed 'em It must have been a revelation to the master an' plowed 'em an' took care ob 'em an' try when the old slave actually swore at him and ter mek 'em do somefin'? But dey jest kinder cursed him vigorously. Ben went about wommux an' squommux erlong an' don't grow chuckling retrospectively and muttering to wof er dern! I jest sw'a' I can't holp it, Mars himself:

Ben, ef yo' got no luck erbout yo'nohow! “The old coon, he cussed me!"

Watermillions grows ter luck, not ter de hoe." Next day for dinner Judas had chicken pie “ Luck! Luck!” bawled Ben, shaking his and dumplings, his favorite pot, and Ben fist at the negro. “Luck! yer old lump er brought some old peach brandy from the lamp-black — yer old, lazy, sneaking scamp! cellar and poured it for him with his own I 'll show ye about luck! Ef I don't have hand.

a good patch of watermillions next year I 'll In due time the negro got well and the two skin ye alive, see ef I don't, yer old villain resumed their old life, a little feebler, a trifle ye!” more stoop in their shoulders, their voices It was one of Ben's greatest luxuries to sit huskier, but yet quite as happy as before. on the top rail of the worm-fence which in

The watermelon patch has ever been the closed the melon-patch, his own particular jewel on the breast of the Georgia plantation. patch, and superintend the hoeing thereof. “What is home without a watermelon'?” runs To Judas this was a bitter ordeal, whose parthe well-known phrase, and in sooth what cool, ticular tang grew more offensive year by year delicious suggestions run with it! Ben and as the half-smothered longing to be master, if

VOL. XXXVIII.-118.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

for but a moment, gripped his imagination Ben remembered. It was when they were closer and closer.

little children, before Judas had found out his “Ef I jest could set up dah on dat fence an' hereditary limitation, and before Ben had cuss 'im while he hoed, an’ ef I jest could one dreamed of asserting the superiority inherent time see 'im er-hus'lin' erroun’ w'en I tole 'im, in his blood. Somehow the retrospect filled dis nigger 'd be ready ter die right den." the master's vision instantly with a sort of

Any observer a trifle sharper than Ben Indian-summer haze of tenderness. He forgot would have read Judas's thoughts as he ru- to scold. For some time there was silence, minated thus; but Ben was not a student of save that the mocking-bird poured forth a song human nature, -or, for that matter, any other as rich and plaintive as any ever heard by nature,—and he scolded away merely to give Sappho under the rose-bannered garden-walls vent to the pressure of habit.

of Mitylene; then Judas, with sudden energy, One morning, when the melon vines were exclaimed: young,— it must have been late in April, - " Mars Ben, yo' nebber did whirp me, did Judas leaned on his hoe-handle, and looking yo'?” up at Ben, who sat on the fence top, as usual, Ben, having lapsed into retrospective dissmoking his short pipe, he remarked: tance, did not heed the negro's interrogation,

Don’ye yer dat mockin’-bird er tee-diddlin' but sat there on the fence with his pipe-stem an' er too-doodlin', Mars Ben ?"

clamped between his teeth. He was smiling “I'll tee-diddle an' too-doodle ye ef ye in a mild, childish way. don't keep on a-hoein'," raged Ben. “This “No,” added Judas, answering his own year I 'm bound to have some big melons, ef question—“no, yo' nebber whirped me in yo' I have to wear ye out to do it!"

life; but I whirped yo' oncet, like de berry Judas sprung to work and for about a debil, did n't I, Mars Ben ? " minute hoed desperately; then looking up Ben's hat was far back on his head, and his again, he said, “ De feesh allus bites bestest thin, white hair shone like silver floss on his w'en de mockin'-birds tee-diddles an' too- wrinkled forehead. The expression of his face doodles dat away.”

was that of silly delight in a barren and comSuch a flood of abusive eloquence as Ben monplace reminiscence. now let go upon the balmy morning air would Mars Ben, I wants ter ax one leetle fabor have surprised and overwhelmed a less ade- ob yo'.” quately fortified soul than that of Judas. The No answer. negro, however, was well prepared for the on- “ Mars Ben!” slaught, and received it with most industrious The master clung to his distance. though indifferent silence. When the master “Hey dar! Mars Ben!” had exhausted both his breath and his vocabu- "Well, what yer want, yer old scarecrow?" lary, the negro turned up his rheumy eyes and inquired Ben, pulling himself together and suggested that "feesh ain't gwine ter bite eber' yawning so that he dropped his pipe, which day like dey 'll bite ter-day.” This remark was Judas quickly restored to him. made in a tone of voice expressive of absent- Well, Mars Ben,'t ain't much w'at I wants, mindedness, and almost instantly the speaker but I 's been er-wantin' it seem lak er thousan' added dreamily, leaning on his hoe again: years."

“Time do crawl off wid a feller's life pow'- Ben began to look dreamy again. ful fast, Mars Ben. Seem lak yistyd’y, or day “I wants ter swap places wid yo', Mars Ben, 'fore yistyd’y, 'at we 's leetle beety boys. Don'dat 's w'at I wants," continued Judas, speaking yo' 'member w'en ole Bolus— dat fust Bolus, rapidly, as if forcing out the words against a I mean— done went an’ kick de lof outer de heavy pressure of restraint. “I wants ter set new stable? We 's er-gittin' pooty ole, Mars up dah on dat fence, an' yo'git down yer an' Ben, pooty ole."

I cuss yo', an' yo'jest hoe like de debil - dat 's “Yes, an’ we 'll die an' be buried an' resur- w'at I wants." rected, yer old vagabond ye, before yer get It was a slow process by which Judas at last one hill of this here patch hoed!” roared Ben. forced upon his master's comprehension the

Judas did not move, but, wagging his head preposterous proposition for a temporary exin a dreamy way, said:

change of situations. Ben could not under“I 'members one time," — here he chuckled stand it fully until it had been insinuated into softly,—“ I 'members one time w’en we had er his mind particle by particle, so to speak; for fight an' I whirped yo’; made yo’ yelp out the direct method failed wholly, and the wily an' say: ''Nough, 'nough! Take 'im off!' an' old African resorted to subtile suggestion and Moses, how I wus er-linkin' it ter yo'wid bofe elusive supposititious illustration of his desire. fists ter oncet! Does yo' rickermember dat, “We's been er-libin' tergedder lo! des many Mars Ben ?"

ye’rs, Mars Ben, an' did I eber 'fuse ter do

66

anyfing 'at yo'axed ob me? No, sah, I nebber did. Sort er seem lak yo'mought do jest dis one leetle 'commodation fo' me."

Ben began to grin in a sheepish, half-fascinated way as the proposition gradually took hold of his imagination. How would it feel to be a “ nigger” and have a master over him ? What sort of sensation would it afford to be compelled to do implicitly the will of another, and that other a querulous and conscienceless old sinner like Judas ? The end of it was that he slid down from his perch and took the hoe while Judas got up and sat on the fence.

“ Han' me dat pipe," was the first peremptory order.

Ben winced, but gave up the coveted nicotian censer.

“Now den, yo' flop-yeared, bandy-shanked, hooknosed, freckle-faced, wall-eyed, doublechinned, bald-headed, hump-shoulered—”

* HUSSLE UP, Yo' LAZY OLE VAGABON'!now, Judas,” Ben interrupted, “I won't stan’ no on yo' ole rusty back! Git erlong !- hurry

sech langwidges —

up!- faster! Don' yo' heah? Ef I do come “ Hol on dah, Mars Ben,” cried Judas, in down dah I jest nat’rally comb yo' head tell an injured tone. "Yo'p'omised me yo''d do it, ebery ha'r on it 'll sw'ar de day ob judgment an' I knows yo''s not gwine back on yo' wo'd: done come! I 'll wa’m yo' jacket tell de dus' no Wilson eber do dat.”

er-comin' out 'm it 'll look lak a sto’m-cloud ! Ben was abashed. It was true no Wilson Wiggle faster, dern yo' ole skin! Wiggle faster, ever broke a promise. The Wilsons were men er I'll yank out yo' backbone an’ mek er traceof honor.

chain out ’m it! Don' yo' heah me, Ben ?” “Well, fire away,” he said, falling to work Ben heard and obeyed. Never did hoe go again. “ Fire away!”.

faster, never was soil so stirred and pulverized. “ Hussle up, dah! Hussle up, yo' lazy ole The sweat sprung from every pore of the man's vagabon' yo', er I 'll git down f'om heah an' skin, it trickled over his face and streamed from I'll w'ar out ebery hic'ry sprout in de county his chin, it saturated his clothes.

[graphic]

6. Come

« AnkstesnisTęsti »