Cream-White and Crow-Black

THERE is a rattle and a rush and a roar; then a rough little home-made wagon rolls into sight. The rude wheels are cut out of plank, with holes in the middle screeching for axle-grease; a long white-oak sapling serves for a tongue, to which are harnessed, with odd pieces of chain and hickory bark, four little kinky-headed negroes. Perched upon the precarious seat of honor sits a bare-legged, freckle-faced, bright-eyed boy, cracking a knotty leathern whip, and shouting like mad. In a cloud of dust, bouncing along, pattering, puffing, snorting, blowing, this cart clatters up to the gray stone steps of a great, squatty, gable-roofed house, bristling with snubnosed dormer windows, and porch-room enough to seat the Virginia legislature.

Backward ! turn backward a few decades, O Time! and this freckle-faced boy may be George Washington returning from a raid on the chincapin thickets of Westmoreland ; Thomas Jefferson with a string of eels and catfish from the muddy Rivanna at Shadwell ; a learned professor of the University of Virginia; or any one of those fine-looking, gray-headed old gentlemen you are certain to encounter in the streets of Charlottesville.

The small driver leaps off at the front door, while the equipage rattles off to the rear, and the foaming chargers are expected to unhitch themselves and wait, while Mars’ Tom partakes of his eleveno’clock lunch of hot ash-cake and buttermilk, and rests from his arduous labors of the morning.

“ Ain’t mammy got my lunch ready ’n’ I’m hungry as a bear ’n’ me ’n’ Joe ‘n’ Jake ’n’ Jessie started up a old har ’n’ found a settinhennes’ ’n’ all of ’m was rotten ’n’ killed a snake ’n’ had mo’ fun ’n’ nuff ’n’ we all was settin’ in th’ bacca patch playing mumble-peg ’n’ up come ole Dick th’ overseer’s son ’n’ he reckon we all better stop scratchin’ in th’ bacca patch ’n’ Jake he hollered out

“ ‘ Ole Mister Dick,
Stick stet stick,
Highboy lowboy,
Skinny-head Dick,’

’n’ ole Dick he bet he was n’t goin’ to stan’ no nigger sassin’ him like that ’n’ throwed a rock ’n’ like to bust Jake’s head open ’n’ me Joe jumps on ’n’ we all had it a rollin’ ’n’ a pitchin’ ’n’ where’s mammy with my lunch ’n’ I’m hungry as a bear.” All this rigmarole with never a stop or a punctuation mark; and yet such boys learned to talk after a while, and won for themselves name and fame.

It is Virginia’s proud boast to have produced Patrick Henry, the tongue ; Thomas Jefferson, the pen ; and George Washington, the sword of the Revolution ; but, undoubtedly, as boys, they played with the little “niggers,” domineered over them, talked the same lingo, and held the rules of grammar in very low esteem.

Presently, “mammy,” who is crowblack, in a bright red turban dotted with squares of yellow spots, comes with a brown pitcher of foaming fresh buttermilk and platter of hot brown ashcakes, to call the children to their midday repast ; with some difficulty prevailing upon impatient Mars’ Tom to wash from his grimy hands and face the river mud and odor of catfish and fishingworms.

“ No, honey, youse not a gwine to eat none of dis milk, — not wid dem hands ; not if I knows it. Youse a disgrace to your brudders and sisters, wid der hands and faces like lilies.” Rather brown lilies are the faces and hands of Kitty and little Nan, Roger and Rupert, but they shine by comparison ; and Mars’ Tom meekly laves in the tin pan, and wipes on the roller towel, which hangs in the back porch from one year’s end to the other.

There was no “going back on mammy.” Papa was apt to be reading the Whig, and if you broke rules laughed, and said, “ Boys will be boys.” Mamma was hearing Lettie play her music lesson, and must not be disturbed. So it fell to mammy’s lot to see to the manners and customs of the children of the family.

Dear old mammy ! Had she not washed, dressed, scolded, nursed, and domineered over every one of them, from pretty Lettie down to the baby in arms ?

Black mammy, tall and straight, as only “totin’ water from the spring” can make one (and she could “tote” one bucket on her head, filled to the brim, and one in each hand, up the long hill, without spilling a drop) ; always with a bright turban, a long white apron, a straight, short gown of striped cotton —grown, spun, and woven on the plantation — for summer wear, and gaycolored woolen plaid in winter. No goring of mammy’s dresses, no ruffles, no flounces, — only a good wide sensible tuck, to allow for shrinkage ; no fancy bonnets or hats for mammy, so that one can scarce tell mistress from maid. There was always a big pocket to mammy’s dress, out of which, as from a conjurer’s bag, she could produce at will unlimited peanuts, moist, sticky peppermint drops, hickory nuts, boiled eggs, sweet potatoes, and popcorn. She kept a supply of soft rag ready to tie up a cut finger or “ stumped toe ” at a moment’s notice ; could find lost articles, from the “scissors” up to old marster’s keys, which he was constantly losing or forgetting, and could pick out splinters without hurting a bit.

That was mammy. Little Nan, shining like a lily blossom in her bath-tub, puts up two chubby hands to the kind old mahogany face, and lisps, “ Mammy, you ith tho thweet, you ith tho lubly.”

Very close were the bonds of affection between mammy and her fosterchildren. Many a childish fault she condoned, and many a wild escapade excused, spurring their flagging ambition by the pride and interest she took in their attainments. “ Dar now, Miss Lettie, your cousin Sarah played a longer chune than a’er one you kin play ! Larn your books, childen, larn your books! I clar, I ’se mortified to death if see tother folks’ childen wid’ farrer skins and lamin’ bigger books and playin’ longer chunes than mine. Larn de books, and war your bonnets, and keep freckles off your faces ! ” Mammy never approved of her young ladies putting their hands in the dough, or performing any household labor that might harden their skin or injure their beauty. She had a favorite story she used to tell about a certain princess who refused to “ hold her hands like a lady,” but insisted on learning to spin ; and although she only spun the purest gold, “ it made her thumb broad.” The moral of this story was that if a lady turned the door-knobs it spread her hands ; if she handled the tongs, it would harden her fingers ; and a brown skin was far too suggestive of “ po’ white trash ” to suit mammy’s aristocratic ideas.

The office of " mammy ” in a Southern family was often hereditary ; little mammy, that is to be, beginning her profession as playmate, and then waiting-maid, of pretty Miss Mary. But when young mistress goes off to boarding-school for the finishing touches the maid rises a step in rank. “ Old miss” promotes her to the task of holding hanks, winding brooches of cotton, and teaches her to knit yarn socks for the “ hands.” She also becomes exceedingly expert at finding old miss’s spectacles, sees company coming a long way off, keeps the key-basket in place, gets watermelons out of the ice-house when called for in a hurry, and not infrequently finds a pleasant solace as well as gentle mental stimulus in the “b-a-t-s” and “ c-a-t-s ” of the First Reader. Higher learning than this, mammies did not aspire to; being satisfied with having their love-letters written by proxy, when Miss Mary came home for the holidays, instead of, as is the present custom, “ taking pen in hand at this present opportunity,” to let the beloved one know “ that she is enjoying good health, and hopes these few lines will find him the same,” as ninety-nine hundredths of the colored folks’ letters begin.

At the close of the war, it so happened that one of these incipient mammies applied for service to a bustling, strong-minded woman, one of King Solomon’s paragons, “who riseth while it is yet night and giveth meat unto her household.” Well pleased with the girl’s honest dark face, Mrs. Allen asked her name.

“ Alcintliy Fitzalleu de Montague, marm.”

“ Well, Cinthy, I suppose you can cook ? ”

“ Oh, no, inarm ! Aunt Blelindy was de cook at our house.”

“ Can you wash and iron ? ”

“Me wash and i’on ! Law, no, marm ! Aunt Big Tildy, she did de washing and i’ning.”

“ Can you attend to the table ? ”

“ He ! he ! Dat was nobody’s business but Uncle Solomon’s, and he did n’t ‘low no childento fool long o’his dinin’-room.”

“ Can you make up beds and attend to the chambers ? ”

“In course not, marm! Little Tildy and Cousin Pat was de house gals, and dey didn’t want nobody to ten’ to der business.”

“ Then what under the sun was your occupation ? ”

I did keep flies off old miss.”

Only fancy a woman who “ looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness,” who “ considereth the field and buyeth it,” and turneth off such a lot of spinning; that busy, energetic housekeeper, who scarcely sits still long enough fora fly to light on her, — imagine such a woman hiring a half-grown girl to keep flies off her !

It was a matter of course that mammy should marry the butler, who, dressed in old marster’s cast-off clothes, walked like him, talked like him, looked after the carriage horses, and was considered quite the “ upper crust ” by the field hands of the plantation. By dint of catching up the table conversation and parlor manners of the guests of the house, this functionary was given to great elegance of language and long dictionary words, and was very high-toned indeed. He was called, through respect,

Uncle " Peter or “ Uncle ” Solomon, as the case might be, by all the rising generation, and considered an oracle of wisdom. In those days, though,

“ The butcher, the baker,
And candlestick-maker ”

all dwelt together in unity, there were nevertheless many grades of gentility, and it would have been quite a mésalliance for mammy to have married any other than Uncle Solomon. As Uncle Solomon waxed in years he would become very fervent in preaching and exhorting, though to his dying day he would claim Noah as “ one of de twelve apostles.”

Uncle Solomon said things now and then well worth repeating. Being engaged as head-waiter by an ambitious young officer at a banquet far beyond his means, “ Uncle Sol ” was called on, at the close of the feast, for a sentiment. Gentlemen,” he said, “ in proposing the health of your very persequential host, I shall call to my remembrance and rickolect what I remember, and select my text from the midst of Revolutions. May the scissors of experience cut the wings of extravagance.”

During the trying period of the war there were innumerable instances of the fidelity and affection subsisting between master and servant. When Sheridan swept through the South on his celebrated raid, it was mammy who “ planted ” the hamper of silver plate in the old burying-ground, and made a babygrave mound over it, headstone and all, while Uncle Solomon lay groaning, like one possessed, on a rickety bed in the darkest corner of his cabin. Had the raiders thought of searching under him, they would have been astonished to find, instead of “ nothing but old clo’,” piles of tobacco, bags of meal, flour, coffee, sugar-cured hams, and other delicacies, tempting enough to soldiers on the march.

When young Mars’ Tom, glowing with patriotism, volunteered in the army, no one was deemed so trustworthy as Uncle Solomon for looking after his welfare. But a very few days of the shelling around Fredericksburg sent the old man hurrying home.

“ Marster, he said solemnly, “send for the boy to come home, and quit sech foolishness ! Them balls and shells comes a fizzin’ and bustin’ and exploring along, and it ’pears to me had jest as soon hit Mars’ Tom as not. It is onpossible lor me to be ’sponsibility of the chile in such a pernickety association.”

But when at last the Northern troopers swept down upon Stonewall Jackson’s men, and left young Thomas with his face to the stars and a bullet through his heart, Uncle Solomon, his gray head bowed in sorrow, returned alone.

“ When hame cam’ the saddle a’ bloody to see,
Hame cam’ the guid steed,
But, hame never cam’ he,”

there was not one in that grief-stricken household who yearned more lovingly than mammy for her foster-child, and “refused to be comforted, because he was not.”

Mammy loved dearly to sing hymns. She would lay down her corn-cob pipe, the constant use of which had worn a groove in her front teeth, and clasping baby Nan in her arms rock back and forth, singing in a high, cracked voice,

“Nobody knows the troubles I’ve had,
Nobody knows but Jesus;
Nobody knows the troubles I’ve had,
Sing glory hallelujah!
“ What makes the debble love me so ?
Oh yes, Lord,
He hilt me in a chain of woe,
King Jesus sot me free.
“ Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I bn down,
Oh yes, Lord,
Sometimes I am upon the groun’,
Oh yes, Lord.
“ Nobody knows the troubles I’ve had,” etc.

But when mammy was “ up ” she was perfectly triumphant in

“I’m a goin’ up to heaven!
Bright mansions above,
Where my Jesus went before me,
Bright mansions above,
To argue with the Father,
Bright mansions above,
To chatter with the sun,
Bright mansions above,
To talk about the world,
Bright mansions above,
That I just came from,
Bright mansions above.
“ I know you want to go,
I see a cloud a rising,
Ready for to rain,
But it’s not a gwine to snow,
Catch the eagle wing,
Fly away to heaven.
“ Silver slippers in the heaven,
Don’t you want to put them on ?
Long white robe,
Bright starry crown,
Try ’em on, they’ll fit you well,
Bright mansions above.”

Farewell, good old mammies! With the institution of slavery they have passed away, but very pleasant is the remembrance of them. Simple and faithful in their lives, they have passed into the presence of the great Master, who alone can disintegrate the evil from the good, to receive the reward of faithful servants, and, wearing the “ long white robe,” with “ starry crown,” may stand waiting to receive their foster-children in the “bright mansions above.”

E. M. De Jarnette.