November 1874 Fiction The Civil War

A True Story, Word for Word as I Heard It

“Well, dah was my ole man gone, an’ all my chil’en, all my seven chil’en—an’ six of ’em I hain’t set eyes on ag’in to dis day, an’ dat’s twenty-two year ago las’ Easter. De man dat bought me b’long’ in Newbern, an’ he took me dah. Well, bymeby de years roll on an’ de waw come. My marster he was a Confedrit colonel, an’ I was his family’s cook. So when de Unions took dat town, dey all run away an’ lef’ me all by myse’f wid de other niggers in dat mons’us big house. So de big Union officers move in dah, an’ dey ask would I cook for dem. ‘Lord bless you,’ says I, ‘dat’s what I’s for.’

“Dey wa’ n’t no small-fry officers, mine you, dey was de biggest dey is; an’ de way dey made dem sojers mosey roun’! De Gen’l he tole me to boss dat kitchen; an’ he say, ‘If anybody come meddlin’ wid you, you jist make ’em walk chalk; don’t you be afeard,’ he say; ‘you’s ’mong frens, now.’

“Well, I thinks to myse’f, if my little Henry ever got a chance to run away, he ’d make to de Norf, o’ course. So one day I comes in dah whah de big officers was, in de parlor, an’ I drops a kurtchy, so, an’ I up an’ tole ’em ’bout my Henry, dey a-listenin’ to my troubles jist de same as if I was white folks; an’ I says, ‘What I come for is beca’se if he got away and got up Norf whah you gemmen comes from, you might ’a’ seen him, maybe, an’ could tell me so as I could fine him ag’in; he was very little, an’ he had a sk-yar on his lef’ wris’, an’ at de top of his forehead.’ Den dey mournful, an’ de Gen’l say, ‘How long sence you los’ him?’ an’ I say, ‘Thirteen year.’ Den de Gen’l say, ‘He would n’t be little no mo’, now—he’s a man!’

“I never thought o’ dat befo’! He was only dat little feller to me, yit. I never thought ’bout him growin’ up an’ bein’ big. But I see it den. None o’ de gemmen had run acrost him, so dey could n’t do nothin’ for me. But all dat time, do’ I did n’t know it, my Henry was run off to de Norf, years an’ years, an’ he was a barber, too, an’ worked for hisse’f. An’ bymeby, when de waw come, he ups an’ he says, ‘I’s done barberin’,’ he says; ‘I’s gwyne to fine my ole mammy, less’n she’s dead.’ So he sole out an’ went to whah dey was recruitin’, an’ hired hisse’f out to de colonel for his servant; an’ den he went all froo de battles everywhah, huntin’ for his ole mammy; yes indeedy, he’d hire to fust one officer an’ den another, tell he ’d ransacked de whole Souf; but you see I did n’t know nuffin ’bout dis. How was I gwyne to know it?

“Well, one night we had a big sojer ball; de sojers dah at Newbern was always havin’ balls an’ carryin’ on. Dey had ’em in my kitchen, heaps o’ times, ’ca’se it was so big. Mine you, I was down on sich doin’s; beca’se my place was wid de officers, an’ it rasp’ me to have dem common sojers cavortin’ roun’ my kitchen like dat. But I alway’ stood aroun’ an’ kep’ things straight, I did; an’ sometimes dey’d git my dander up, an’ den I’d make ’em clar dat kitchen, mine I tell you!

“Well, one night—it was a Friday night—dey comes a whole plattoon f’m a nigger ridgment dat was on guard at de house,—de house was head-quarters, you know,—an’ den I was jist a-bilin’! Mad? I was jist a-boomin’! I swelled aroun’, an’ swelled aroun’; I jist was a-itchin’ for ’em to do somefin for to start me. An’ dey was a-waltzin’ an a-dancin’! my! but dey was havin’ a time! an’ I jist a-swellin’ an’ a-swellin’ up! Pooty soon, ’long comes sich a spruce young nigger a-sailin’ down de room wid a yaller wench roun’ de wais’; an’ roun’ an’ roun’ an’ roun’ dey went, enough to make a body drunk to look at ’em; an’ when dey got abreas’ o’ me, dey went to kin’ o’ balancin’ aroun’, fust on one leg, an’ den on t’other, an’ smilin’ at my big red turban, an’ makin’ fun, an’ I ups an’ says, ‘Git along wid you!—rubbage!’ De young man’s face kin’ o’ changed, all of a sudden, for ’bout a second, but den he went to smilin’ ag’in, same as he was befo’. Well, ’bout dis time, in comes some niggers dat played music an’ b’long’ to de ban’, an’ dey never could git along widout puttin’ on airs. An’ de very fust air dey put on dat night, I lit into ’em! Dey laughed, an’ dat made me wuss. De res’ o’ de niggers got to laughin’, an’ den my soul alive but I was hot! My eye was jist a-blazin’! I jist straightened myself up, so,—jist as I is now, plum to de ceilin’, mos’,—an’ I digs my fists into my hips, an’ I says, ‘Look-a-heah!’ I says, ‘I want you niggers to understan’ dat I wa’ n’t bawn in de mash to be fool’ by trash! I’s one o’ de ole Blue Hen’s Chickens, I is!’ an’ den I see dat young man stan’ a-starin’ an’ stiff, lookin’ kin’ o’ up at de ceilin’ like he fo’got somefin, an’ could n’t ’member it no mo’. Well, I jist march’ on dem niggers,—so, lookin’ like a gen’l,—an’ dey jist cave’ away befo’ me an’ out at de do’. An’ as dis young man was a-goin’ out, I heah him say to another nigger, ‘Jim,’ he says, ‘you go ’long an’ tell de cap’n I be on han’ ’bout eight o’clock in de mawnin’; dey’s somefin on my mine,’ he says; ‘I don’t sleep no mo’ dis night. You go ’long,’ he says, ‘an’ leave me by my own se’f.’

“Dis was ’bout one o’clock in de mawnin’. Well, ’bout seven, I was up an’ on han’, gittin’ de officers’ breakfast. I was a-stoopin’ down by de stove,—jist so, same as if yo’ foot was de stove,—an’ I’d opened de stove do wid my right han’,—so, pushin’ it back, jist as I pushes yo’ foot,—an’ I’d jist got de pan o’ hot biscuits in my han’ an’ was ’bout to raise up, when I see a black face come aroun’ under mine, an’ de eyes a-lookin’ up into mine, jist as I’s a-lookin’ up clost under yo’ face now; an’ I jist stopped right dah, an’ never budged! jist gazed, an’ gazed, so; an’ de pan begin to tremble, an’ all of a sudden I knowed! De pan drop’ on de flo’ an’ I grab his lef’ han’ an’ shove back his sleeve,—jist so, as I’s doin’ to you,—an’ den I goes for his forehead an’ push de hair back, so, an’ ‘Boy!’ I says, ‘if you an’t my Henry, what is you doin’ wid dis welt on yo’ wris’ an’ dat sk-yar on yo’ forehead? De Lord God ob heaven be praise’, I got my own ag’in!’

“Oh, no, Misto C , I hain’t had no trouble. An’ no joy!”

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