The Bible Quilt

ALL the negroes on the plantation were deeply interested in the little visitor at the House. She had come, they were told, from that far-away land, the North, and had never before been on a Southern plantation, oramong negroes.

In the shade of a great live-oak one of the negro washerwomen had placed her washtub; and while she was sousing the clothes in the water, preparatory to placing them on the strong wash-bench to be battled with the great wooden paddle, she was singing with the wild, strange, untaught melody that seems peculiar to her race. You could not help listening to her song, and hearing every now and then the conversation with which it was interspersed.

A blue jay-bird darted down to the ground from a catalpa tree and its discordant notes, ‘Jay, jay!’ filled the air.

‘Hush your mouf, jay-bird,’ cried the washerwoman. ’G’long whar you gwine. I knows whar you gwine. You goes down ter de debble’s house ev’y Friday regular, an’ totes san’ ter de debble. What he gwine do wid so much san’? Nobody never see jay-birds on Friday ceptin’ in de mornin’. Den dey gone ’bout dey business for de debble. Dey got mighty good ’bejence ter de debble. Dat dey is. G’long, old jay-bird.’

The flaxen-haired child from the North looked up with a questioning glance, and said, ’What makes you say gwine?’

’I says gwine kaze I is gwine. Little mistiss, ’pears like you doan’ know de use uv words like de t’other chillern docs, You ain’ like de chillern dat been fotch up on de plantation. I doan’ b’lieve you ever gwine ter learn how ter do, ever gwine ter bend down de saplin’s an ride ’em for horses, an’ run off an’ hide in de cotton hampers, an’ ride prancin’ horses like de t’other chillern does. I know you is Miss Mandy’s little gal, but ’pears like you ain’. She des lef’ de plantation an’ went clean off de place, an’ liv up dar in de Norf wid ’nother nation uv folks. Gawd doan’ know nothin’ ’bout Hottentots, an’ I doan b’lieve he know ’bout dem cuvous folks in de Norf. Dey oughter come down ter dis plantation an’ git some sense an’ some understandin’. Ole mistiss read de Scripter ter me ’bout gittin’ understandin’. De plantation de place to git it. Niggers is got understandin’ des like chickens knows when ter crow for daybreak. Niggers ain’ got dey nose stuck down in a book all de time like white folks is; niggers listen ter de sense Gawd gin ’em. Gawd sho did gin niggers pow’ful’ mount uv sense. Dat ’s de trufe, sho’s you born. I knows you is born. Ef you had n’ bin born you wuld n’ be settin’ dar lookin’ so peart.

‘Honey, in de mornin’ I gwine show you all my pretty quilts. You ain’ never seed my Bible quilt. Ole mistiss gib me one uv her fine sheets, linen sheets. Hit gittin’ mighty ole an’ frazzly-like, but I sho wuz proud ter hab it. I cut out one big square uv dat linen sheet, an’ den I tuck a piece uv brown calico she gin me once, an’ I cut out a tree, de body uv a tree. I hemmed dat tree-body onter de white square. Den I tuck my shears, an’ I notched out a green tree-top, an’ hemmed dat on ’bove de tree-body. Nex’ thing I done, I cut out Adam an’ Eve, out of pale pinkish calico. Den I hemmed ’em on onder de tree. Nex’ I set down in my split-bottom chair an’ studied ’bout makin’ de serpent. I knows all de kin’s uv snakes —black snakes, an’ cotton-mouf snakes, an’ chicken snakes, an’ vipuses, an’ all de snakes dey is; moccasins, too, an’ water moccasins an’ rattlesnakes. I cut out a long black snake, and hemmed ’im on ’side de tree. He sho did look devilish, dat snake did. I hemmed de snake on by de side uv Eve. She ’peared pleased, settin’ dar onder de fig tree.

‘My min’ tol’ me I gwine hab a mighty pretty quilt. I got heaps uv quilts I makes at night by de big light-’ood fire. But I ain’ never made a Bible quilt ’fore dat night. Hit sho wuz a injoicin’ time when I sot dar sewin’, an’ hemmin’ on dat Bible quilt. I gwine show hit to you in de mornin’. Doan’ you ax me ter gib you dat Bible quilt, honey, kaze I gwine keep dat quilt ’tel def us do part, like folks does when dey’s wedlocked. I had a mighty pretty piece uv yaller silk, yaller as gol’. I cut out de sun from dat an’ hemmed dat on, way up ’bove de top uv de tree. Den I ’membered ’bout hyearin’ de song, wid de chune gwine dis way, —

An de moon hit wuz onder her feet.

I did n’ know whose foots de moon wuz onder. I studied an’ studied an’ my min’ tol’ me hit wuz onder Eve’s foots, kaze she wuz de onlies’ ’oman dey wuz. Den I tried dat yaller silk moon, an’ hemmed hit on des below Eve’s foots. Hit looked so nachul-like, I felt satisfied. Den I say ter my min’, “Dat’s all right!” Pres ’ly I sung out de chune an’ de words, “De moon hit wuz onder her feet.” I knowed dat my Bible quilt wuz de purties’ Bible quilt on do plantation.

‘ Niggers sho does like ter meck quilts. White folks always sends out some good vittles ter de cabin whar de niggers is quiltin’. Spinnin’ an’ weavin’ does mighty well, but quiltin’ beats de beater. All de niggers come consortin’ roun’, an’ dey sings songs wid funny chimes. Dey mecks out de songs is Gawd’s trufe, an’ dey whoops when humpback Solomon sings: —

Col’ frosty mornin’ nigger went to work,
Ax ’pon his shoulder an’ not a bit of shirt.

‘Sometimes one nigger gits up an jumps Jim Crow, an’ does a double shuffle. All de t’other niggers — dem dat ain’ drappin’ off ter sleep — sho does hab an injoicin’ time. Dey keeps dat up mos’ ’tel daybreak, kaze dey takes a little nap, an’ den wakes up, an den takes anudder little nap. Dey kin snore mos’ loud as dey kin sing. A quiltin’ is mos’ as good fun as a funeral or a stracted meet in’ or a baptizin’. Dat’s de trufe. I ain’ gwineter let onligious niggers see my Bible quilt. I gwine show hit ter de ’pentin’ sinners who done sot dey min’s on ’ligion. When folks got dey min’ sot on ’ligion dey’s ready when de angels comes flutterin’ down ter ’scort ’em up ter de mansions in de skies. I ’ze seed ’ligious folks des a-starin’ up ter de sky kaze dey knowed Marse Jesus wuz dar drivin ’ his white horses ’long de road to de glory lan’. Ef you is anxious to git yo’ foots firm on de glory road, you got ter go ’long like a inch worm. Ef you gwine tor climb a hill, you got ter slide back a little, an’ den lif’ up your foots an’ go on your course. Ef you keep on goin’ an goin’, pres’ly de trees will bow dey heads, an’ say “Glory! Halleluyah!” an’ de dove will flutter down an’ say, “Glory,” an’ de stars in dey sockets will say: “Glory, Glory, Halleluyah!”

‘De more I gazed at my Bible quilt, de more ’ligion helt onter my min’. I studied ’bout meckin’ Daniel in de lions’ den, but I culd n’ cut out a lion. De onlies’ lion I uver seed wuz in de circus parade, an’ he ’stonished me so I culd n’ git no ’membrance uv ’im when I was meckin’ dat Bible quilt. I got a log-cabin quilt an’ a sunrisin’ quilt, but my Bible quilt tecks de shine off dent. Hit ’pears like all de niggers on de plantation done hyeard ’bout dat quilt. Dey keeps on comin’ ter see me, dey say, but dey sho ter ax ter see my Bible quilt.

‘ I sot back an’ took satisfaction ’bout, dat Bible quilt. But I was mightily ’stressed kaze I culd n’ put. in ole Daniel. 1 knows de Scripter, but I culd n’t cut ole Daniel out, an’ ole Shadrack an’ Mashak an’ Abednigger. Dey wuz too much for me. My shears des went ter slidin’ an slippin’ when I tried ter meck de fiery furnace — I doan’ like a fiery furnace, doan’ cyar how yer fix it. Dat fiery furnace did n’ git inter my Bible quilt. I des stallded right dar. Ef I had had some silvery sort of cloth, I mought have cut out a fluttrin’ angel. But I was stallded dat night on de fiery furnace. I des sot dar an’ studied ’tel de roosters crowed; an’ bless Gawd, dar I sot snorin’ ’an’ de Bible quilt done slipped off my lap down on de flo!

‘ Honey, I des folded dat quilt up an’ put hit ’way in my chist. Ef your ma’s sick ter-morrer night, an’ I comes ter de House agin, I sho gwine bring dat Bible quilt wid me an’ give you-all de ’splainment uv de Scripter.