Puslapio vaizdai

"Judas! Hey there, yer old humpbacked scamp! How long are yer a-goin' to be afetchin' me that hoss? Hurry up! Step lively, er I'll tie ye up an' jest whale the whole skin off 'm' ye! Trot lively, I say!"

Really, what did Judas care if Ben spoke thus to him? The master never had struck the slave in anger since the days when they enjoyed the luxury of their childish fisticuffs. These threats were the merest mouthing, and Judas knew it very well.

"Yah, dar! Yo' Bolus! yo' ole rib-nosed, so'-eyed, knock-kneed, pigeon-toed t'ief! I jest wa' yo' out wid er fence-rail, ef yo' don' step pow'ful libely now; sho's yo' bo'n I jest will!"

This was the echo sent back from the rickety stables by Judas to the ears of his master, who sat smoking his short pipe on the sunken veranda under his vine and close to his gnarled fig tree. The voice was meant to sound very savage; but in spite of Judas it would be melodious and unimpressive, a mere echo and nothing more-vox, et præterea nihil.

Ben always chuckled reflectively when he heard Judas roaring like that. He could not have said just why he chuckled; perhaps it was mere force of habit.

"Dad blast that fool nigger!" he would mutter below his breath. "Puts me in mind of a hongry mule a-brayin' fer fodder. I'll skin 'im alive fer it yet."

"Consoun' Mars Ben! Better keep he ole mouf shet," Judas would growl; but neither ever heard the side remarks of the other. Indeed, in a certain restricted and abnormal way, they were very tender of each other's feelings. The older they grew the nearer came these two men together. It was as if, starting from widely separated birthrights, they had journeyed towards the same end, and thus, their paths converging, they were at last to lie down in graves dug side by side.

But no matter if their cradle was a common one, and notwithstanding that their footsteps kept such even time, Ben was master, Judas slave. They were differentiated at this one point, and at another, the point of color, irrevocably, hopelessly. As other differences were sloughed; as atom by atom their lines blended together; as strange attachments, like the feelers of vines, grew between them; and as the license of familiarity took possession of them more and more, the attitude of the master partook of tyranny in a greater and greater degree. I use the word attitude, because it expresses precisely my meaning. Ben Wilson's tyranny was an attitude, nothing more. Judas never had seen the moment when he was afraid of his master; still there was a line over which he had not dared to step― the line of down

right disobedience. In some obscure way the negro had felt the weakness of the white man's character, from which a stream of flashing, rumbling threats had poured for a lifetime; he knew that Ben Wilson was a harmless blusterer who was scarcely aware of his own windy utterances, and yet he hesitated to admit that he knew it-nay, he forced himself to be proud of his master's prodigious temperamental expansions. He felt his own importance in the world barely below that of the man who owned him, and deep in his old heart stirred the delicious dream of freedom. What a dream! Amorphous as a cloud, and rosy as ever morning vapor was, it informed his soul with vague, haunting perfumes and nameless strains of song. Strange that so crude a being could absorb such an element into the innermost tissues of his life! Judas had a conscience, rudimentary indeed, but insistent, which gnawed him frightfully at times: not for stealing,—he was callous to that,- but for rebellion, which he could not cast out of him entirely. Occasionally he soliloquized:

"Ef I could jest be de mars erwhile an' Mars Ben be de nigger, bress de good Lor' but would n't I jest mor' 'n mek 'im bounce erroun' one time! Sorty fink I 'd wake 'im up afo' day, an' would n't I cuss 'im an' 'buse 'im an' rah an' cha'ge at 'im tell he know 'zac'ly how it was hese'f! Yo' may say so, honey, dat yo' may!"

Following treasonable thoughts like these came bitings by the hot teeth of the poor slave's conscience, all the deeper and crueler by contrast with the love forever upgushing to be lavished on his truly indulgent, but strongly exasperating, master.

"Lor', do forgib po' ole Judas," he would pray, "kase he been er-jokin' ter hese'f 'bout er pow'ful ticklish ci'cumstance, sho 's yo' bo'n, Lor'; an' he no business trompin' roun' er ole well in de night. Git he neck broke, sho'!"

Notwithstanding conscience and prayer, however, the thought grew clearer and waxed more vigorous in the heart of Judas as the years slipped by and Ben gradually increased his scolding. The more he fought it the closer clung to him the vision of that revolution which would turn him on top and Ben below, if but for a few moments of delirious triumph.


"Lor', but would n't Mars Ben hate 'r hab dis ole nigger er-rahin' an' er-cha'gin' an' errantin' an' er-yellin' at 'im, an' jest er-cussin' 'im like de berry debil fo' eberyt'ing 'at 's mean, an' de sweat jest er-rollin' off 'm 'im an' 'im jest er-linkin' down ter wo'k, an' me jest eberlastin'ly an' outlandishly er-gibin' 'im de limmer jaw fo' he laziness an' he dog-gone general no 'countness! Ef dat would n't be satisfactional ter dis yer darkey, den I dunno nuffin' 't

all 'bout it. Dat 's his way er doin' me, an' it seem lak my time orter be comin' erlong pooty soon ter do 'im dat way er leetle, debil take de nigger ef it don't!"

In good truth, however, Judas had no right to complain of hard work; he did not earn his salt. A large part of the time he and his master occupied with angling in the rivulet hard by, wherein catfish were the chief game. Side by side on the sandy bank of the stream the twain looked like two frogs ready to leap into the water, so expectant and eager were their wrinkled faces and protruding eyes, so comically set akimbo their arms and legs. With little art they cast and recast their clumsy bait of bacon-rind, exchanging few words, but enjoying, doubtless, a sense of subtile companionship peculiarly satisfying.

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Airy a bite, Judas?"

"No, sah."

"Too lazy to keep yer hook baited ?" "No, sah."

A while of silence, the river swashing dreamily, the sunshine shimmering far along the slowly lapsing current; then Judas begins humming a revival tune.

"Shet yer mouth; stop that infernal howling, yer blasted old eejit, er I 'll take this yer fish-pole an' I'll naturally lam the life out of ye!" storms the master. "Yer 'll scare all the fish till they'll go clean to the Gulf of Mexico. Hain't yer got a striffin' of sense left?"

The slave sulks in silence. Ten minutes later Ben takes out a plug of bright, greasy-looking navy tobacco, and after biting off a liberal chew says, in a very soft voice:

"Here, Jude, try some of my terbacker, an' maybe yer luck 'll change."

Judas fills his cheek with the comforting weed and gazes with expectant contentment into the stream, but the luck continues much the same. The wind may blow a trifle sweeter, fluting an old Pan-pipe tune in a half-whisper through the fringe of shining reeds, and the thrushes may trill suddenly a strange, soft phrase from the dark foliage of the grove hard by; still, in blissful ignorance of the voices of nature and all unaware of their own picturesqueness, without a nibble to encourage them, the two white-haired men watch away the golden afternoon. At the last, just as Judas has given up and is winding his line around his pole, Ben yanks out a slimy, wriggling, prickly catfish, and his round face flings out through its screen of wrinkles a spray of sudden excitement.

"Grab 'im, Judas! Grab 'im, yer lubberly old lout ye! What yer doin' a-grinnin' an' a-gazin' an' that fish a-floppin' right back grab 'im! If yer do let 'im get away, I'll

break yer old neck an' pull out yer backbone - grab 'im, I say!"

Judas scrambles after the fish, sprawling and grabbing, while it actively flops about in the sand. It spears him cruelly till the red blood is spattered over his great rusty black hands, but he captures it finally and puts a stick through its gills.

On many and many an afternoon they trudged homeward together in the softening light, Judas carrying both rods on his shoulder, the bait-cups in his hands, and the string of fish, if there were any, dangling somewhere about his squat person. The black man might have been the incarnate shadow of the white one, so much were they alike in everything but color. Even to a slight limp of the left leg, their movements were the same. Each had a peculiar fashion of setting his right elbow at a certain angle and of elevating slightly the right shoulder. Precisely alike sat their well-worn straw hats far over on the back of their heads.

It was in the spring of 1860 that Ben took measles and came near to death. Judas nursed his master with a faithfulness that knew not the shadow of abatement until the disease had spent its force and Ben began to convalesce. With the turn of the tide which bore him back from the shore of death the master recovered his tongue and grew refractory and abusive inversely as the negro was silent and obedient. He exhausted upon poor Judas, over and over again, the vocabulary of vituperative epithets at his command. When Ben was quite well Judas lay down with the disease.

"A nigger with the measles! Well, I'll be dern! Yer 're gone, Jude gone fer sure. Measles nearly always kills a nigger."

Ben uttered these consoling words as he entered his old slave's cabin and stood beside the low bed. "Not much use ter do anythin' fer ye 's I know of- bound ter go this time. Don't ye feel a sort of dyin' sensation in yer blamed old bones already?"

But Judas was nursed by his master as a child by its mother. Never was man better cared for night and day. Ben's whole life for the time was centered in the one thought of saving the old slave. In this he was absolutely unselfish and at last successful.

As Judas grew better, after the crisis was passed, he did not fail to follow his master's example and make himself as troublesome as possible. Nothing was good enough for him; none of his food was properly prepared or served, his bed was not right, he wanted water from a certain distant spring, he grumbled at Ben without reason, and grew more abusive and personal daily. At last one afternoon Ben came out of the cabin with a very peculiar look on his face. He stopped just as he left




the threshold, and with his hands in his trousers' pockets and his head thrown back he whistled a low, gentle note.

"Well, I'll everlastin❜ly jest be dad burned!" he exclaimed. Then he puffed out his wrinkled cheeks till they looked like two freckled bladders. "Who'd 'a' thought it!" He chuckled long and low, looking down at his boots and then up at the sky. "Cussed me! Cussed me! The blamed old rooster a-cussin' me! Don't seem possible, but he did all the same. Gamest nigger I ever seen!"

It must have been a revelation to the master when the old slave actually swore at him and cursed him vigorously. Ben went about chuckling retrospectively and muttering to


"The old coon, he cussed me!"

Next day for dinner Judas had chicken pie and dumplings, his favorite pot, and Ben brought some old peach brandy from the cellar and poured it for him with his own hand.

In due time the negro got well and the two resumed their old life, a little feebler, a trifle more stoop in their shoulders, their voices huskier, but yet quite as happy as before.

The watermelon patch has ever been the jewel on the breast of the Georgia plantation. "What is home without a watermelon?" runs the well-known phrase, and in sooth what cool, delicious suggestions run with it! Ben and VOL. XXXVIII.-118.

Judas each had a patch, year in and year out. Not that Ben ever hoed in his; but he made Judas keep it free of weeds. Here was a source of trouble; for invariably the negro's patch was better, the melons were the larger and finer. Scold and storm and threaten as he might, Ben could not change this, nor could he convince his slave that there was anything at all strange in the matter.

"How I gwine fin' out 'bout what mek yo' watermillions so runty an' so scrunty?" Judas exclaimed. "Hain't I jest hoed 'em an' plowed 'em an' took care ob 'em an' try ter mek 'em do somefin'? But dey jest kinder wommux an' squommux erlong an' don't grow wof er dern! I jest sw'a' I can't holp it, Mars Ben, ef yo' got no luck erbout yo' nohow! Watermillions grows ter luck, not ter de hoe."

"Luck! Luck!" bawled Ben, shaking his fist at the negro. "Luck! yer old lump er lamp-black-yer old, lazy, sneaking scamp! I'll show ye about luck! Ef I don't have a good patch of watermillions next year I'll skin ye alive, see ef I don't, yer old villain ye!"

It was one of Ben's greatest luxuries to sit on the top rail of the worm-fence which inclosed the melon-patch, his own particular patch, and superintend the hoeing thereof. To Judas this was a bitter ordeal, whose particular tang grew more offensive year by year as the half-smothered longing to be master, if

for but a moment, gripped his imagination. closer and closer.

"Ef I jest could set up dah on dat fence an' cuss 'im while he hoed, an' ef I jest could one time see 'im er-hus'lin' erroun' w'en I tole 'im, dis nigger 'd be ready ter die right den."

Any observer a trifle sharper than Ben would have read Judas's thoughts as he ruminated thus; but Ben was not a student of human nature, or, for that matter, any other nature, and he scolded away merely to give vent to the pressure of habit.

One morning, when the melon vines were young, it must have been late in April,— Judas leaned on his hoe-handle, and looking up at Ben, who sat on the fence top, as usual, smoking his short pipe, he remarked:

"Don' ye yer dat mockin'-bird er tee-diddlin' an' er too-doodlin', Mars Ben?"

"I'll tee-diddle an' too-doodle ye ef ye don't keep on a-hoein'," raged Ben. "This year I 'm bound to have some big melons, ef I have to wear ye out to do it!"

Judas sprung to work and for about a minute hoed desperately; then looking up again, he said, "De feesh allus bites bestest w'en de mockin'-birds tee-diddles an' toodoodles dat away."

Such a flood of abusive eloquence as Ben now let go upon the balmy morning air would have surprised and overwhelmed a less adequately fortified soul than that of Judas. The negro, however, was well prepared for the onslaught, and received it with most industrious though indifferent silence. When the master had exhausted both his breath and his vocabulary, the negro turned up his rheumy eyes and suggested that "feesh ain't gwine ter bite eber' day like dey 'll bite ter-day." This remark was made in a tone of voice expressive of absentmindedness, and almost instantly the speaker added dreamily, leaning on his hoe again:

"Time do crawl off wid a feller's life pow'ful fast, Mars Ben. Seem lak yistyd'y, or day 'fore yistyd'y, 'at we 's leetle beety boys. Don' yo' 'member w'en ole Bolus-dat fust Bolus, I mean-done went an' kick de lof' outer de new stable? We 's er-gittin' pooty ole, Mars Ben, pooty ole."

"Yes, an' we 'll die an' be buried an' resurrected, yer old vagabond ye, before yer get one hill of this here patch hoed!" roared Ben. Judas did not move, but, wagging his head in a dreamy way, said:

"I'members one time,”—here he chuckled softly," I'members one time w'en we had er fight an' I whirped yo'; made yo' yelp out an' say: "Nough, 'nough! Take 'im off!' an' Moses, how I wus er-linkin' it ter yo' wid bofe fists ter oncet! Does yo' rickermember dat, Mars Ben?"

Ben remembered. It was when they were little children, before Judas had found out his hereditary limitation, and before Ben had dreamed of asserting the superiority inherent in his blood. Somehow the retrospect filled the master's vision instantly with a sort of Indian-summer haze of tenderness. He forgot to scold. For some time there was silence, save that the mocking-bird poured forth a song as rich and plaintive as any ever heard by Sappho under the rose-bannered garden-walls of Mitylene; then Judas, with sudden energy, exclaimed:

"Mars Ben, yo' nebber did whirp me, did yo'?"

Ben, having lapsed into retrospective distance, did not heed the negro's interrogation, but sat there on the fence with his pipe-stem clamped between his teeth. He was smiling in a mild, childish way.

"No," added Judas, answering his own. question—" no, yo' nebber whirped me in yo' life; but I whirped yo' oncet, like de berry debil, did n't I, Mars Ben?"

Ben's hat was far back on his head, and his thin, white hair shone like silver floss on his wrinkled forehead. The expression of his face was that of silly delight in a barren and commonplace reminiscence.

"Mars Ben, I wants ter ax one leetle fabor ob yo'."

No answer.

"Mars Ben!"

The master clung to his distance. "Hey dar! Mars Ben!"

"Well, what yer want, yer old scarecrow?" inquired Ben, pulling himself together and yawning so that he dropped his pipe, which Judas quickly restored to him.

"Well, Mars Ben, 't ain't much w'at I wants, but I's been er-wantin' it seem lak er thousan' years."

Ben began to look dreamy again.

"I wants ter swap places wid yo', Mars Ben, dat's w'at I wants," continued Judas, speaking rapidly, as if forcing out the words against a heavy pressure of restraint. "I wants ter set up dah on dat fence, an' yo' git down yer an I cuss yo', an' yo' jest hoe like de debil- dat 's w'at I wants."

It was a slow process by which Judas at last forced upon his master's comprehension the preposterous proposition for a temporary exchange of situations. Ben could not understand it fully until it had been insinuated into his mind particle by particle, so to speak; for the direct method failed wholly, and the wily old African resorted to subtile suggestion and elusive supposititious illustration of his desire.

"We's been er-libin' tergedder lo! des many ye'rs, Mars Ben, an' did I eber 'fuse ter do

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





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, ban-
dy-shanked, hook-
nosed, freckle-faced,
wall-eyed, double-

chinned, bald-head-
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"Come now, Judas," Ben interrupted, "I won't stan' no sech langwidges

"Hol' on dah, Mars Ben," cried Judas, in an injured tone. "Yo' p'omised me yo''d do it, an' I knows yo' 's not gwine back on yo' wo'd: no Wilson eber do dat."

Ben was abashed. It was true no Wilson ever broke a promise. The Wilsons were men of honor.

"Well, fire away," he said, falling to work again. "Fire away!"

"Hussle up, dah! Hussle up, yo' lazy ole vagabon' yo', er I'll git down f'om heah an' I 'Il w'ar out ebery hic'ry sprout in de county

on yo' ole rusty back! Git erlong!-hurry up!-faster! Don' yo' heah? Ef I do come down dah I jest nat'rally comb yo' head tell ebery ha'r on it 'll sw'ar de day ob judgment. done come! I'll wa'm yo' jacket tell de dus' er-comin' out 'm it 'll look lak a sto'm-cloud! Wiggle faster, dern yo' ole skin! Wiggle faster, er I'll yank out yo' backbone an' mek er tracechain out 'm it! Don' yo' heah me, Ben?"

Ben heard and obeyed. Never did hoe go faster, never was soil so stirred and pulverized. The sweat sprung from every pore of the man's skin, it trickled over his face and streamed from his chin, it saturated his clothes.

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