Rab and Dab: A Woman Rice-Planter's Story

NOVEMBER, 1914

BY PATIENCE PENNINGTON

I

Peaceville, Sept. 22. Went down to Casa Bianca to rouse the hands to action to-morrow, for we are to begin cutting Marshfield. I found the boy who blew himself up with gunpowder two days ago, in great suffering. Dressed his face and hands, using a feather to cover them with oil. He is a distressing object.

I gave orders that every man, woman, and child should be in the field early to-morrow, and promised to be down early myself.

Sept. 23. Just as I was getting into the wagon very early this morning, carrying linen rags and olive oil to dress Nero’s burns, and lunch for myself, and a few pears and things to give the hands, I saw a pitiful little black figure standing at the foot of the steps. It was Jonadab, the little black pockmarked pygmy who has been coming all summer to beg for kitchen scraps, and old garments, and anything I would or could give. He stutters fearfully.

‘What is it, Jonadab?’ I asked; ‘I am in a great hurry to-day, so you must talk quick.’

After what seemed to me a long time and many convulsions of his little frame, he shot out, ‘Ma bery sick. ’E bad off, en ’e baig yu fuh cum.’

I told Jim to drive to his mother’s house, which I knew was not far off in the pine woods, but just how far I did not know, for though I had sent things to her constantly, I had never been to her house myself.

The road was well-nigh impassable for the wagon, and Jim, being provoked at this interruption, drove very fast and, it seemed to me, recklessly. At last I said to him, ‘Stop; and I will walk the rest of the way with Jonadab.’ The pine forest shimmered and glittered in the slanting rays of the early morning sun. Every blade of grass was laden with dew diamonds, and the slippery, brown pine-needles were damp under my feet.

When I started on this diversion from my plans I was distinctly irritated at the delay caused by this extra drive of two miles. It seemed so allimportant to me to get to Casa Bianca early; for with the hands I have, six acres is as much as I can get cut in one day, and there are twenty-six acres in the field. And this is such a stormy season of the year. But as I walked through the solemn pines with the little shriveled gnome ahead of me to show the path, I heard the voice of God in the sough of the pines, and a change came over my spirit. The sense of hurry and impatience left me.

VOL. 114-NO. 5

Jonadab in a little while pointed through the pines, and I saw a little log cabin. In the doorway two atoms of black humanity were sitting very near together, and Jonadab volunteered the information that they were his little brother and his youngest sister. As they saw me they rose and disappeared into the house, and I followed.

There were two rooms. The first one had a very unsteady pine table, two chairs, and three pots in the fireplace. I passed through this to the inner room, where on the floor lay a woman, terribly swollen, her eyes protruding from her head, her breath coming in quick, heavy sobs. She seemed unconscious. Two Negro women who had just come in stood beside her. One was her mother, with whom she had quarreled a year ago, and who had never come near her through her long months of suffering and illness, leaving her alone with her little children. But to-day, hearing from a neighbor that Abby was dying, she rushed in, too late to be of any use.

I knelt down on the dirty floor beside the sick woman, and tried to give her some milk and stimulant which I had brought. But her teeth were closed and refused to admit the spoon, and I realized that she was actually dying. Then I laid my hand on her clammy one, and bending low, I said, ‘Abby, can you hear me?’ There was no sign of comprehension or consciousness. I was very eager to make her hear, so I went on speaking very slowly and distinctly: ‘I will take care of your two little boys and see that they never want. Do you understand? I will take Jonadab and Rechab myself, and care for them.’ Then there was a slight quivering of the eyelids, a faint token of assent and satisfaction, before the stony stare of death returned.

I prayed aloud with all my soul for the spirit which was struggling to leave its poor earthly tenement; while the women moaned and swayed and ejaculated, ’Yes, Laud; do, Laud,’ as the sentences of the prayer for the dying fell fervently on the still, hot air, and the groans of the dying woman were less loud. Then I sang, —

‘ Jesus, Lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly.’

The women and children joined with their high, clear voices, and while they sang, ‘ Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of thy wing,’ the last painful breaths were drawn, and the immortal spirit took its flight and returned to God who gave it, and who is merciful and loving, and knows all the struggles, all the temptations, all the warping influences which had kept it from its highest possibilities.

I talked with Rachael, the mother, who, now that the poor daughter was gone, spoke of her with loud and hysterical affection. When I offered to take the children she said that she, the grandmother, was the person to take them; no one would do for them as she would and she could not think of giving them up to anybody. I was surprised, but pleased, at this her suddenly aroused maternal feeling, and acquiesced in it, saying, ‘Very well, Rachael, I agree with you that you are the proper person to take care of the children, and that no one can do it as well. I will provide everything that the two boys need, their food and clothing; just let me know what they need.’

By this time the house was full of excited neighbors, lamenting and going on as though they had been active friends of the poor deceased. I promised to send what was needed for Abby’s ‘laying out.’ They said the ‘Chuch’ would provide the coffin, and attend to the funeral, for she was ‘Babtist member, in full standin’, en belonged to de sassiety, en dey was boun’ to bury um.’

Having done the little I could, I left the house of death, much exhausted and agitated, to return to the work-aday world outside. I drove home and told Chloe to send one of my gowns and two sheets to Rachael at once; and then started on the twelve-mile drive to Casa Bianca.

When I got there I had my saddle put on Mollie, and rode down the ricefield banks to Marshfield. There were the gayly dressed women, laughing, singing, talking, as they cut down the golden heads with great dexterity; laying them on the stubble so that the sun could dry them enough to tie tomorrow. The gay scene, which usually gave me so much pleasure, only saddened me now. The tragedy I had witnessed haunted me, and I wondered how in the eyes of the great Judge of all things my life would compare with that whose end I had seen.

I reproached myself bitterly for never having visited her before. I had sent her supplies: food, clothing, and so forth, —yes; but that was not all. If I had only gone to see her and talk with her, I should not now be filled with self-condemnation. God forgive me for not giving her my time. What are all my occupations in comparison with helping a human soul? My dear little niece went, I know, and read the Bible to her on Sunday afternoons, but I was always ‘ too busy ’ or ‘too tired ’ to go. Woe is me!

And so the long, blazing summer day wore on — a day of penance — and the words of Good’s wonderful poem, ‘The Lady’s Dream,’ rang in my ears: —

But Evil is wrought by want of thought,
As well as want of heart.

II

The above extract from my diary shows how Rab and Dab first came into my life. During the autumn I kept in touch with them, seeing them daily. I sent them food and clothing, and tried to see if Rachael was doing full justice to them. She was an excellent cook, and had been employed in that capacity by some ladies in the village. But as soon as she took the children she gave up her place, saying that she could not attend to the children and her work; as the boys had two older sisters of twelve and fourteen, this was evidently not the real reason.

Abby had been so helpless in her ill health with her large family, that some of the gentlemen of the neighborhood had secured for her a monthly allowance from the county, and though I had told Rachael I would see that this was continued for the children, five in number, she feared that her having a place as cook, and consequently being self-supporting might prevent it, so she gave up her situation and lived on the provisions allowed the children, with the result that the little ones looked hungry and continued their stealing. The whole family had learned from infancy to go into the fields within their reach and grabble potatoes, to gather unripe corn for roasting ears, to catch every chicken and steal all the eggs which were not under lock and key. The two elder girls had been taken up, tried, and found guilty of theft before the poor mother’s death. Their only punishment had been to be kept in confinement until the crops were harvested.

This rich lowland rice-planting region would be a paradise if people could live on their plantations all the year round; but the Anglo-Saxon has always been susceptible to malarial fever, and in the early settlement of the country suffered much from it. After some years they found that by leaving their beautiful homes on the rivers with their luxuriant tropical growth during the hot months, and living in the belt of pine forest (which is generally found a few miles inland from the rivers), they secured perfect health. With this knowledge the planters joined in selecting some high, sandy, well-drained spot in the original forest, and built lodges with big rooms and wide piazzas in large shady yards, and at the end of May they moved their families from the plantation and remained in the health-giving pines until the first heavy frost in November, when the little villages, so gay and populous all summer, were left silent and deserted during the winter. Peaceville is one of these hamlets of refuge from mosquitoes and malaria, and is only four miles from my plantation and winter home, Cherokee, and here I spend the hot months, driving back to the ricefields every day to look after the work.

This year, when I left Peaceville early in November, I established the orphans and their grandmother in one of the outbuildings in my yard, as it was much more comfortable than the little log hut in the woods. After the move I tried to see them at least once a week. I soon saw a change for the worse: they got thinner and thinner, with swollen faces and large stomachs like the famine pictures from India I was seeing in the illustrated papers.

One bitter cold day in January, Elihu, who is the blackest of my retainers, being of such a rich shade that his mother always spoke of him as ‘dat black nigger,’ a man whom I have helped out of every variety of trouble, and who has a feeble desire to help me in return, if it can be done with no effort beyond speech, came to tell me that he heard that Rachael was going to move to Gregory, the county seat, eighteen miles away, on that day. In spite of the cold, I ordered the buckboard at once and drove out to see Rachael. I found the house in great confusion, — bedding tied up in huge bundles, boxes and trunks corded, and Rachael in her Sunday best.

‘Why, Rachael, where are you going this cold morning?’

‘Well, ma’am, I’m goin’ to move to town. I got chillun dere to help me.’

‘I think that is a great mistake, Rachael. Here you have no house rent, you have all the wood you can burn without paying a cent, and your daughter lives very near you. If your sons are willing to help you, let them send you what they can spare; it will go much further here.’

But Rachael had made up her mind and was not to be dissuaded. She was tired of the country, and was going to move to town. She had hired an oxwagon to take her to the river, where she would take the steamer.

When I had tried every argument without avail, I said, ‘Then I will take the boys with me. I am not willing for them to starve or spend their time in jail for stealing.’ Turning to the children, crouching over the fire, I said, ‘Jonadab, do you want to go with me?’

He, after many convulsions, shot out, ‘Yes, ’um.’

Rechab was inside the huge fireplace behind the logs, squatting down; an extraordinary-looking black shrimp.

‘Rab, do you want to go with me?’

Rab’s little black face was stolid and expressionless like some little old man’s. It was some time before he could be made to understand the situation, but when at last his grandmother pulled him out of the chimney, and cuffing him, said, ‘Speak up, boy, speak up,’ he grunted out, ‘Um,’ and nodded his head violently.

Then I told Rachael that she must sign a paper giving up all claim to the children, to which she responded vociferously, ‘ ’Tain’ no nuse for me to sign a paper, Miss Patience. You ’se welcome to the chillun. I’se heartily tired of dem; dey ’s jes’ nachully bad chillun; deys tek after dey pa, what was a furrin man, en corrupted my daughter. You kin tek ’em en welcome.’

Then the women assembled in the room to see Rachael’s departure, began to exclaim, ‘My law, Aun’ Rachael, dem chillun sho’ is lucky. Miss Patience ’ull do do bes’ for dem po’ mudderless ting’; and so on.

I called for the last shirts I had made the children, but these could not be found. Whether they were so securely packed up as to be out of reach, or whether Rachael had sold them, I never knew, for I lost patience and took the boys out to the buckboard in their rags. There my dainty little niece Aline, who was waiting for me, was filled with dismay at sight of them, and exclaimed, ‘Aunt Patience, you are not going to take them now, with us?’

‘Yes, they are coming now with us,’ I answered, in a voice of such determination that Aline said no more.

In the back of the buckboard, fortunately, there were some tow-sacks which I was taking home. I had the boys climb into,the buckboard, covered them with the sacks, and drove off rapidly. In a little while a small voice made itself heard from behind: ‘I cold.’ I put Rab into one of the sacks, tied it round his neck securely, covered him with the others, and drove on.

III

I shall never forget the consternation which took possession of the yard when I reached home. Jim, my good man-of-all-work, said nothing when I told him to help the children out and release Rab from the sack; but as I led the two forlorn mites through the yard to the old wash-house, where there were two rooms, one occupied by Goody, the cook, I was aware of very black looks on all sides.

I did not appear, however, to see them, but said to the cook, ‘Goody, I put these children in this room next to you, and I beg you to give an eye to them. I will not ask you to do anything for them, for I will look after them myself as much as possible, only at night give an ear to them.’

Goody, who was a very short, plump little figure, neat and tidy but very ugly, drew herself up to her full height, about four feet six inches, and said, ‘Miss Patience, dem chillun is too duhty for lib in de room nex’ me.’

‘Yes, Goody, I know they are terribly dirty, but we are going to try and make them different. You know the Good Father promises a special blessing to those who help the orphan, and I feel sure you will wish to get some of that blessing.’

Then I promptly left, having put the children on a bench by the fireplace, where I had Jim, on whose help I can always count, make a fire.

And then Aline and I rushed upstairs, and soon the sewing-machine was in rapid operation. That day we cut and made a suit apiece for the waifs, so that when I had them scrubbed that night their old clothes could be burned. Besides this we made a mattress to fill with nice, clean straw for their bed, and got blankets and comforts for their bedding.

When I called on Chloe to find the blankets I could best spare from the house, her aspect was truly appalling. Chloe had been the comfort of my life for years, having made it possible, by her devotion and faithfulness, for me to live in the old home alone since my mother’s death, with no white person within a mile or two; so that she had been a friend as well as servant. This terrible innovation, however, was almost more than Chloe could bear with respectful equanimity. She looked so stolid and unsympathetic that I felt obliged to make a little speech somewhat like that I had made to Goody, about the blessing promised to those who care for the orphan, but Chloe answered with great dignity, ‘Miss Patience, of course I’m only a sarvant, en of course you know better en me, but I tink ’t is a bery dangrus ting to barber furriners in yo’ ya’d, en moreober, chillun ob a teefin’ fambly. I would n’t say a wud if dey was we own people orphan, but I kyant undertek to tek keer ob no furrin chillun.’

There was a distinct note of rebellion in this speech, and I answered promptly, ‘ I have not asked you to take care of them, Chloe. I will do that. But I thought you would wish to share the promised blessing. I see, however, that you do not realize what a serious thing it is to reject a blessing.’

And passing on to the sewing-room, I worked with enthusiasm, stopping reluctantly for dinner, and by sundown everything was finished.

Then we formed a procession: Jim ahead with a huge kettle of hot water, then Chloe with soap and towels, and Aline and I behind. The tub had already been put by the fire in the orphans’ room. They were washed and scrubbed thoroughly with hot water and carbolic soap, their new nighties put on, and their old clothes burned. After this was done, and the tub was removed, I had them kneel down and say the dear little child’s prayer which has helped so many children through so many dark nights: —

Jesus, tender Shepherd, hear me,
Bless thy little lamb to-night,
Through the darkness be Thou near me,
Keep me safe till morning light.

Then they got into their nice clean bed, and we left them.

It took Aline and me days of hard sewing to complete the boys’ new outfit. Neither of us was accustomed to make boys’ clothes, and the want of patterns worried us a good deal; and then the number of buttonholes seemed alarming; but we invented some patterns not requiring so many.

The second day after their arrival Chloe came in and said, ‘ Miss Patience, you got to be bery pertickler how you feed dese chillun. Ef you give dem much as dey want you’ll kill dem sho.’

‘Very well, Chloe, use your discretion about it. I leave their feeding to you.’

‘Yes, ma’am, cause dey is mos’ starved, en dey kyant satisfy. I give dem dey dinner, and befo’ I start wid mine dey done dem own, and den dey look at mine so pitiful I ’bleege to give ’em mo’, but Jim say ’t is dangrus to feed ’em too much.’

Jim told me that when he was eating his dinner one day, Rab, having finished his own, watched him with such greedy eyes that he said, ‘Rechab, you ain’t had enuff?’

Rab answered, ‘No sah, I neber had me belly full in me life.’

‘Well, Rab, we’ll stall you. Dat’s what we’ll hab to do, Chloe. Dey’s been here ten days, and dere’s no danger now. We’ll stall dem.’

Chloe agreed, so the next day the plan was carried out. More dinner was cooked than usual, and the boys were given plate after plate until they said they had had enough, and then Jim and Chloe felt that they had accomplished a feat, and assured me that there would never in future be any trouble in satisfying them. I only heard of this after it was over, for I would have forbidden it as dangerous, never having heard of such a thing.

I gave the elder, Dab, a little axe, and told him he could get the fallen branches of the oaks which covered the park in front of the house, and carry them to the kitchen for the stove. This he did with delight, bringing them in a cart made of a box on wooden wheels, Rab always trotting behind; and after a while they lost their stolid look.

It was a great relief to me to find that Chloe was thawing toward the outcasts. Jim was always good to them and gave all the help he could, for Jim had a boy of his own about the size of Jonadab and his heart was tender to them.

It was not long before Goody announced that she was going: she could not stand those dirty children in the room next to her. I was greatly shocked at this. She had been with me a long time, and was an excellent cook, clean, cheerful, honest, and willing until the arrival of the orphans. I talked with her, and told her they were already improving, and soon would be quite different. There was no use. Go she would. Her dignity was injured as well as her feelings. It was a great loss to me. She not only cooked, but looked after the poultry, and besides I had grown fond of the little old woman.

Now Chloe had to cook and she was a splendid cook; but she had left the kitchen on account of ill health, and I feared another breakdown if she undertook the cooking as well as the maid’s work.

However, she was eager to do it, and I looked out for some one to take care of the poultry. Bonaparte told me that he heard Cinthy was at a neighboring plantation, very poor, and he thought I might get her, and as he said it would be a great help to her I told him to get her. So Cinthy came and took possession of the room Goody had left, next to the children. She was only middle-aged, but she seemed very helpless and a little cracked. She was to get three dollars a month and her food. She had been very friendless and poor, and being what Chloe calls a ‘Maus nigger,’ which means she had belonged to the same master, she was acceptable to the other servants. She was perfectly delighted to get the place, and never met me in the yard without making a deep courtesy, clasping her hands and looking up to heaven and making known her joy. ‘Ain’t yo’ see, my Maussa always did tek keer of him people, en now ’e gone, but ’e ain’t furgit me. ’E sen’ ’e chile for find me, en bring me home en tek keer of me. Yes, ’e send ’e chile for mind me.’

Her light work was well done, and she was good to the children, and they were beginning to look happy, to my great satisfaction. One night when I went to hear their prayers Aline heard them singing, and motioned to me not to make a noise. The door was ajar, and we looked in. The two little boys were sitting on their wooden stools in front of a very bright lightwood fire, staring into it, swaying back and forth in time to the rhythm of the strange little hymn they were singing.1

It seemed to me wonderful that these little children, who appeared to be about six and four years old, should remember words and tune so well.

Every Sunday afternoon I taught them a very easy little form of catechism used for very young children. When I asked Jonadab the first question, ‘Who made you?’ with violent contortions he shot out, ‘My ma.’

‘Yes,’ I explained, ‘but God made your mother, and you and everything else in the world.’

The next question is, ‘What did He make you for?’

Again Dab shot out a prompt answer, ‘Fo’ work.’

The answer in the little book is, ‘For his glory.’ I was puzzled how to combine the two ideas to reach his comprehension. Laborare est orare, and this little black mortal could only glorify his Maker by doing with all his heart his very small duties.

After this I gave up using the regular catechism, and told them the wonderful story of the Creation and Redemption of the world in my own words, and they soon learned to tell it. themselves with dramatic effect. That story of the whole garden being at the disposal of Adam and Eve, except the one tree whose fruit they were forbidden to touch, appealed strongly to their understanding, and when they told of the temptation they always said, ‘Satan tu’n ’eself into a black snake, en ’e crawl up to Eve, en ’e say, “Eat un, ’e good, en ’e’ll mek yo’ wise,” en den Eve eat um.’

I always allowed them to tell it to me in their own way, and being well acquainted with the black snake, they preferred it to the word serpent. I then taught them a simple hymn which they seemed to find very difficult, and then I let them sing one of their own little hymns, ‘sperituals,’ the nigs call them; and in this way I heard all they knew, and going at once to the piano, I tried to write them down in the keys in which the waifs sang them.

Oh-ye ! No - -e Oh - ye Noa’, H’ist de win - da le’ de duv’ cum een.

I aint’t go - in’ to call yu ful no mo’, H’ist de win - da le’ de duv’ cum een

I buil’ dis a’ak on God dry lan’, Hiist de win - da le’ de duv’ cum een.

Oh - ye No - -e oh - ye Noa’, H’ist de win - da le’ de duv’ cum een

IV

As soon as I had an opportunity I bought each of them a suit of ‘store clothes.’ I got them for four and six years, but they were a little large. Still, the boys gloried in them and wore them on Sundays.

Their joy was to take the little axe and cut and bring in load after load of the small dead limbs which make splendid hot fires, and they won their way into Chloe’s heart by keeping the kitchen woodbox full. By the spring they had become very merry, and the change in them from stolid indifference to intelligent interest in everything, gave me great pleasure.

There was one great trouble and distress as they grew happy and at home. The propensities I had hoped would disappear entirely with sufficient food and clothing began to peep out. Not an egg could ever be got for the house. The boys watched the hens and knew their nests; and they stole out early in the morning before any one was awake, took all the eggs into their room, ate some, hid some, and sold some to any one and for anything. Chloe’s utmost vigilance could not come up with them.

The second spring they were with us, Chloe had raised a number of broods of beautiful chickens to the size of partridges. Then they began to disappear rapidly. I said to Chloe, ’I fear it is our cat.’ Chloe answered, ‘’T is varmint, Miss Patience. Ef it was de cat I would see um for sartain, kase I’ se very watchful. But you kyant ketch varmint. Dey favors de daak.’

One evening Chloe had been to the garden about an eighth of a mile from the house to pick green peas. She had left Rab in charge of the yard, and she suddenly remembered that she had not locked her room door, so she returned earlier than was her wont. As she approached she saw Rab sitting on the kitchen steps where she had told him to stay, and her heart glowed as she said to herself, ‘Rechab is sholy gettin’ to be a sma’t boy to tek keer of de ya’d so good.’ He was shelling an ear of corn and the great crowds of little Plymouth Rocks were running over the steps and his knees, eager to get the corn as it fell.

Chloe’s heart stopped beating, for suddenly Rab made a dive, caught a chicken, seized it by the feet, swung it round rapidly, then cracked its neck with his teeth, and stuffed it into the bosom of his shirt. Chloe rushed forward and seized him. Having caught him thus red-handed, she shook him and screamed, ‘You wicked boy, I seen yo’ kill dat chicken.’

Rab tried to escape, but she held him, and made him take the little warm body from his shirt.

‘Aint yo’ shame to ac’ so awful, Rab? I trus’ yo’, and lef’ yo’ in charge of the ya’d, en I ketch yo’ en see yo’ wid my own eye crack dat checken neck wid yo’ wicked teeth. Ain’t yo’ feared the debbil ’ll come for yo’ dis minit en carry yo’m straight to hell? I feel um a-comin’. Tell me de trufe befor’ ’e get yo’, boy. I don’t want yo’ for bu’n.’

Thus exhorted and adjured, terror seized Rab, and he cried, ‘Aun’ Chloe, don’ let de debbil ketch me, en I’ll tell yo’ all. I done kill twenty. I eat some, en I hide some under de grape-harbor, en I’ll sho’ yo’ de place ef yo’ll save me from de debbil.’

He took her under the grape-arbor and to several places where he had the bodies hid.

When Chloe told me, I was wretched, and my first thought was that she did not give the child enough to eat. But when I suggested this, Chloe was indignant, and said in an unnecessarily loud tone of voice that Jonadab and Rechab ate more than Jim and Ben the field hand and herself put together. ‘An’ as fo’ yo’, Miss Patience, Rechab eat mo’ in one day than yo’ eat in a week. Meat, en rice, en turnip, en greens, en tetta, en molasses, not to say all de aig, so dat I kyant so much as gi’ yo’ a biled aig fo’ yo’ breakfast. No, ma’am, Miss Patience, don’ ’cuse me o’ not feedin’ dat chile, fo’ I does stuff ’im. Lessen yo’ ’lows me to give ’im a good licken, Satan’s bound’ to carry dat chile off bodily.’

Up to this time I had insisted on moral suasion as the right method of dealing with the boys. In their old life they had been accustomed to beating and harsh words, and I wanted them to have a change in their experiences, and so I had shamed them for bad conduct and rewarded them for good conduct. Now, however, justice and Chloe demanded severity. Rechab had to suffer in his little black body for the evil deeds thereof, so I authorized Chloe to execute what she considered suitable punishment, knowing I could trust to her tender heart not to be too severe.

Chloe’s method of administering the rod was unique. ‘Now, Rab,’ she said, ‘I goin’ to bag yo’ befo’ I lick yo’.’

Rab cried aloud for mercy, but she was firm, and put a sack over the culprit’s head and tied it round his waist, and then proceeded with much noise and flourish to lay on a light switch. Rechab, however, made a great outcry, and promised volubly never to do so any more; and certainly for a while he abstained from chicken slaughter.

V

That November I had gone to the State Fair and committed a great extravagance. I had bought a pair of beautiful white turkeys from the Vanderbilt farm at Biltmore. They cost what seemed an enormous price, but they were said to be hardy and to have a very domestic and contented turn of mind, never wandering far from home.

My great difficulty in raising turkeys had been their roaming propensities. They would wander off to a distance and get caught by foxes and other varmint. But I had high hopes of raising a great many with this new variety. One day in May the poultry yard was in great excitement. Mrs. Vander had been sitting on twentyfive eggs for a month, and they were expected to hatch. Mr. Vander, who weighed forty pounds, strutted about in great pride.

When Chloe went to feed Mrs. V. that evening, she found twenty-four beauties in the nest. Her joy and pride were almost equal to Mr. V.’s. The little turkeys — pee-pees, as Chloe called them — were only two weeks old when the time came to move to the pine land for the summer, so the dear little roly-poly yellow things were put in a basket and taken out tenderly in the buckboard, while Mrs. V. was made comfortable in a small coop and followed with the other poultry in the wagon.

I had had a new house built for the distinguished family, all wired so that no harm could befall them, and yet they would have plenty of fresh air, and they were very happy when they found themselves together in such delightful quarters after the trials of the move.

As soon as we had settled down after the move I sent Jonadab to school, there being one in the little pine-land hamlet of Peaceville, under the auspices of the church, and kept by two ladies, mother and daughter. They were charming women, the mother still beautiful, showing her Greek descent in her perfect features and exquisite skin; both so refined, so thorough and conscientious, — they certainly were as near saints as mortal women ever get to be. She had been an heiress, and had married a wealthy rice-planter, but had been left after the war with nothing but her land, of which she could make no use without money to pay for labor. No one will ever know what privations she went through with her children after her husband’s death, for she never made any moan, and brought up her children to do without, smilingly. What a power it gives when one has learned to do without!

For twenty-five cents a month for each child they gave up their whole time and strength to guiding the little dusky minds in the path of learning. They returned the quarter Jonadab carried, saying it would give them pleasure to teach him without pay, and his days of joy began.

At an early hour every morning, in a blue denim suit with a spotless white shirt, and his blue denim school-bag on his shoulder, he traveled to school, a broad grin on his black face. I had feared that the strange hesitation and convulsion of his speech would make him a very trying pupil, but the good ladies sent excellent reports of him. He was very attentive and docile, and learned quickly.

I thought Rechab was too young and mischievous to go to school, and so he made things lively at home. As soon as Jonadab returned and sat down to study his lessons, Rab sat beside him, and Dab taught him the spelling orally, so that Rab could spell apparently just as well as Dab, only he knew not a single letter.

During the summer I went to the mountains to visit a sister, and things went on very satisfactorily. I had Jim write me a weekly letter telling all that went on at the plantation and in the yard, and he reported everything as serene until the autumn, when Chloe announced in a letter the death of Mr. Vander and the disappearance of all the little V.’s, and in a delicate way hinted that their death had not been a natural one, but accused no one.

I knew from the mysterious tone of the letter that something was very wrong, and when I got home the tale was told. Rechab had chased and killed Mr. Vander, and caught the little ones and either eaten or sold them. Mrs. Vander had been wounded, but Chloe had nursed her back to health. It was a sad outcome of my experiment in improved stock, and I was at a loss what to do, but finally I concluded to appear ignorant of Rab’s evil deeds during my absence.

The boys were quite well and much grown. They seemed delighted to see me back, as were all the servants and the Negroes on the plantation.

The first week in November the move from the pine land back to the river, that bête noire of life on a rice-plantation, was accomplished. Cinthy, who had been left in the yard alone during the summer, was overjoyed to see the return of the household. She had the yard raked very clean, no weeds, no dead leaves anywhere; so I presented her with a calico frock and a new pair of shoes, and her cup of joy seemed overflowing. I wanted her to try on the shoes at once so that if they did not fit I could exchange them. I had got the number she told me she wore, — threes; but the vanity of giving a number which is entirely too small is very common among the Negroes, and I wanted to see for myself if these fitted.

But Cinthy refused to try them on, saying, ‘To-night I gwine wash me foot, en I’ll try de sho’ on to-morrow when me foot clean.’

The next morning as I sat at the breakfast-table, Chloe came in to say that Cinthy did not ‘feel so well.’

I was much surprised, for she had seemed so well and so gay the day before.

‘Is she in bed, Chloe?' I asked.

‘Oh, no, ma’am, I lef’ um de sit by de fire, but ’e say ’e ain’t feel so good.’

I poured out and sweetened heavily a cup of coffee and took it out at once to Cinthy’s room. I knocked, but getting no answer pushed the door open and went in. Cinthy was saying her prayers, kneeling by the bed; so I sat down on the little bench by the fire, and set the cup of coffee on the hearth.

After a few minutes, thinking she had fallen asleep, I went to her and laid my hand gently on her shoulder. To my horror, the whole figure shook just as though I had touched a doll. Cinthy was dead! It was a dreadful shock. By her side were the new shoes yet untried. The bed was tidily made up, the room swept, and everything around was neat and commonplace, but the mighty dignity of Death had entered the poor room, and there was a great pathos in the solemn figure. She had sunk on her knees to hear the Master’s summons. Simple, unlearned Cinthy had been called up higher. She knew the great secret of the hereafter.

I called Chloe, who almost fainted when I told her. I called Bonaparte, my head man and carpenter, and sent Jim for the doctor ; but there was nothing to be done. It was heart disease of which no one had any suspicion. I sent down to Cinthy’s son, who lived in Gregory, and her friends were notified and they assembled promptly and sang ‘sperituals’ and recounted Cinthy’s virtues, which they all seemed now to appreciate.

The son, who owned his house and lot in town, a horse and buggy and pair of oxen, had never thought of providing his mother with the smallest comfort while she lived. Now, however, he paid her his tribute of tears. I had Bonaparte make a coffin, buying all the necessary things at the neighboring country store; and as I could get nothing that looked nice for the inside, I took my work-basket out under an oak tree, and pinked out yards and yards of white trimming, which was greatly admired. I cut a deep scallop, and then a cluster of holes in it, which gave a very fine effect.

It was a relief to sit out under the canopy of Heaven and have this mechanical occupation while I recovered from the shock and agitation. I had given Chloe a nice outfit from my own things for the ‘laying-out,’ and a large bow of black ribbon for Cinthy’s neck. All of these little adornments of the empty shell mean so much to Negroes, and I knew I could in no other way do as much for the limited faithful creature.

The simple funeral took place the next day with much circumstance, and its wild minor music, so descriptive of death as a terror, brought to my memory the many nights when as a child I had covered my head with the bed clothing to keep from my ears that heart-breaking wail; and even now, as the last rites were being paid to Cinthy in the burying-ground they all love so well, some of the same feeling crept upon me, and it was hard to realize that ‘Death is swallowed up in Victory,’ that it is truly only the Gate to Life.

Beside her parent s and grandparents Cinthy was laid to rest. Then came the disposal of her ‘ting.’ The son said, magnanimously, that he wanted nothing, so Chloe proceeded to distribute the little treasures among the few friends who had been kind to Cinthy when she was in need, before I found her, and ‘brought her home,’ as she always said. It was very little,—a cooking pot, a spider, a tub, her bedding, and clothing, including the new calico dress; but they were much prized by the recipients. No one wanted her little bedstead, a neat little home-made frame; but Cinthy thought a great deal of it for it was made of ‘Indian Pride,’ she said. I had this put out in the orchard, and the untried shoes I took back to the house.

I told Jim he must take the boys to sleep in his house for a while till the sense of emptiness in the next room had passed away; so he invited them; but Jonadab refused, saying they did not want to leave their room; and they slept next to the empty room without one thought of fear, and after a month begged me to let them move into Cinthy’s room, which had been scoured and whitewashed. I consented, and they moved in and seemed delighted with their new quarters.

During this winter Jonadab continued to go to school, though it gave him a walk of eight miles and I thought it was too far for such a little fellow. He was anxious to go, however, and insisted that it was not too far, and proved that he was right by growing in health and strength all winter. He brought my mail with him every day from the post-office, which was just opposite his schoolhouse in Peaceville. He had a hoop from a barrel which he rolled along the level road, and made the distance in very short time, and apparently without fatigue. Rab wanted to go too, but I would not consent, and he spent his time getting ‘ bresh’ with the little axe and the little cart. He still indulged his great fondness for eggs, but was willing to divide now, and brought some to the house.

(To be continued.)

  1. See page 584.