The Goophered Grapevine

A short story

“Nex' spring , w’en de sap ris en Henry's ha'r commence' ter sprout, Mars Dugal' sole 'im ag'in, down in Robeson County dis time; en he kep' dat sellin' business up fer five year or mo'. Henry nebbor say nuffin 'bout de goopher ter his noo marsters, 'care he know he gwine ter be tuk good keer uv de nex' winter w’en Mars Dugal buy him back. En Mars Dugal' made 'nuff money off Henry ter buy anudder plantation ober on Beaver Crick.

"But long 'bout de een' or dat five year dey come a stranger ter stop at de plantation. De fus' day he 'uz dere he went out wid Mars Dugal' en spent all de mawnin' lookin' ober de vimya'd, en atter dinner dey spent all de evenin' playin' kya'ds. De niggers soon 'skiver' dat he wuz a Yankee, en dat he come down ter Norf C'lina for ter learn de w'ite folks how to raise grapes en make wine. He promus Mars Dugal' lie cud make de grapevimes ba’r twice't er many grapes, en dat de noo wine-press he wuz a-sellin' would make mo' d'n twice't ez many gallons or wine. En ole Mars Dugal' des drunk it all in, des 'peared ter be bewitched wid dat Yankee. W’en do darkies see dat Yankee runnin' 'roan do vimya'd en diggin’ under de grapevimes, dey shuk dere heads, en 'lowed dat dey feared Mars Dagal' losin' his min'. Mars Dugal' had all de dirt dug away fum under de roots er all de scuppernon' vimes, an' let 'em stan' dat away fer a week er mo'. Den dat Yankee made de niggers fix up a mixtry er lime en ashes en manyo, en po' it roan' de roots er de grapevimes. Den he 'vise' Mars Dugal' fer ter trim de vimes close't, en Mars Dugal' tuck 'n done eve'ything de Yankee tole him ter do. Dyoin' all er dis time, mind yer, 'e wuz libbin' off'n de fat er de lan', at de big house, en playin' kyards wid Mars Dugal' eve'y night; en dey say Mars Dugal' los' mo'n a thousan' dollars dyoin' er de week dat Yankee wuz a runnin' do grapevimes.

"W’en de sap ris nex’ spring, ole Henry 'n'inted his head ez yuzhal, en his ha'r commence' ter grow des de same er it dune eve'y year. De scuppernon' vimes growed monst's fas', en de leaves win greener en thicker dan dey eber be'n dyowin my rememb'ance; en Henry's ha'r growed out thicker dan eber, en he 'peared ter git younger 'n younger, en soopler 'n soopler; en seein' ez he wuz sho't er han's dat spring, havin' tuk in consid'able noo groan', Mars Dugal' 'cluded he would n' sell Henry 'tel he git de crop in en do cotten chop'. So he kep' Henry on do plantation.

"But 'long 'bout time fur de grapes ter come on de scuppernon' vines, dey 'peared ter come a change ober dem; de leaves wivered en swivel' up, en de young grapes turn' yaller, en bimeby eve'ybody on de plantation could see dat de whole vimya'd wuz dyin'. Mars Dugal' tuck 'n water de vimes en done all he could, but 't wan' no use; dat Yankee done bus' de watermillyum. One time de vimes picked up a bit, en Mars Dugal' thought dey wuz gwine ter come out ag'in; but dat Yankee done dug too close unde' de roots, en prune de branches too close ter de vime, en all dat lime en ashes done burn' de life outen de vines, en dey des kep' a with'in' en a swivelin'.

"All us time do goopher wuz a-wukkin'. Won de vimes commence' ter wither, Henry commence' ter complain er his rheumatiz, en w’en de leaves begin ter dry up his ha'r commence' ter dry out. W’en de vimes fresh up a bit Henry 'ud git peart agin, en when de vimes wittier agin Henry 'ud git ole agin, en dos kep' gittin' mo' en mo' fitten fer nuffin; he des pined away, en finely tuk ter his cabin en when de big vime whar he got eo sap ter 'n'int his head withered en turned yaller en died, Henry died too, - des went out sorter like a cannel. Dey did n't 'pear ter be nuffin de matter wid 'im, 'cep'n' de rheumatiz, but his strenk des dwinel' away 'tel he did n' hab ernuff lef' ter draw his bref. De goopher had got de under bolt, en th’owed Henry for good en all dat time.

"Mars Dugal' tuk on might'ly 'bout losin' his vimes en his nigger in de same year; en he swo' dat of he could git holt er dat Yankee he’d wear 'im ter a frazzle, en den cbaw up de frazzle; en he'd done it, too, for Mars Dugal' 'uz a monst'us brash man w'en he once git started. He sot de vimya'd out ober agin, but it wuz th’ee er fo’ year befo' do vimes got ter b'arin' any scuppernon's.

"W'en do wah broke out, Mars Dugal' raise' a comp'ny, en went off ter fight de Yankees. He say he wuz mighty glad dat wah come, en he des want ter kill a Yankee fer eve'y dollar he los' 'long or dat grape-raisin' Yankee. En I 'spec' he would a done it, too, ef de Yankees had n' s'picioned sump'n, en killed him fus'. Atter de s'render ole miss move' ter town, de niggers all scattered 'way fum de plantation, en de vimya'd ain’ be'n cultervated sence."

"Is that story true?" asked Annie, doubtfully, but seriously, as the old man concluded his narrative.

"It's des ez true ez I'm a- settin' here, miss. Dey 's a easy way ter prove it; I kin lead de way right ter Henry's grave ober yander in de plantation buryin'-groun'. En I tell yer w'at, marster. I woud n' 'vise yer to buy dis yer ole vimya'd, 'case de goopher 's on it yit, en dey ain' no tellin' w'en it gwine ter crap out."

"But I thought you said all the old vines died."

“Dey did 'pear ter die, but a few ov 'em come out ag'in, en is mixed in mongs' de yuthers. I ain' skeered ter eat de grapes, 'caze I knows de old vimes fum de noo ones; but wid strangers dey ain' no tellin' w'at might happen. I would n' 'vise yer ter buy dis vimya'd."

I bought the vineyard, nevertheless and it has been for a long time in a thriving condition, and is referred to by the local press as a striking illustration of the opportunities open to Northern capital in the development of Southern industries. The luscious scuppernong holds first rank among our grapes, though we cultivate a great many other varieties, and our income from grapes packed and shipped to the Northern markets is quite considerable. I have not noticed any developments of the goopher in the vineyard, although I have & mild suspicion that our colored assistants do not suffer from want of grapes during the season,

I found, when I bought the vineyard, that Uncle Julius had occupied a cabin on the place for many years, and derived a respectable revenue from the neglected grapevines. This, doubtless, accounted for his advice to me not to buy the vineyard, though whether it inspired the gopher story I am unable to state. I believe, however, that the wages I pay him for his services are more than an equivalent for anything he lost by the sale of the vineyard.

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