The Major Wants a Stableboy
No one thought of the Major as a religious man. His large frame, gray whiskers, and long coat were never seen within the walls of a church, and he was known to swear with ardor when hard pressed. Nevertheless, his philosophy of life expressed itself in religious terms. ‘The Old Marster did it and He knows,’ he would say. According to this philosophy all things happened as they should. It was so with the ups and downs in money matters. It was the same, and but the natural working out of the laws of life, when his children married and went away, one by one. It was the same, finally, when an old face turned on her pillow and left him alone.
Not only did all things happen for the best, but all people were doing as well as they could under the circumstances. The Major believed in all men, but particularly in the Pope family, who occupied the White House on his plantation. He believed in Abner Pope as a faithful and efficient assistant, and when the taciturn Abner came back from town on Saturday night in a talkative condition, the Major declared that it was only right and natural for a man to have a bender after a week of hard work. He likewise approved when next day Mrs. Pope bore Abner off to the Baptist Sunday School at Benson.
The Major considered that Mrs. Pope could prepare meals with the best, in spite of what some might consider evidence to the contrary.
‘We are going to have fish for supper,’ he would say to a guest, ‘the best perch you ever ate.’
‘No, Major, they ain’t nothing but cat.’
‘Well, I’m glad Stephen sent cat. The Arkansas River channel cat is the topmost fish food of the world. It gives strength like pork.’
The Major also believed in Zeke.
‘Zeke is such a trifling nigger,’ Mrs. Pope would say.
‘Yes, he is,’ the Major would reply.
‘He’s so ornery and hateful. Ther’s no telling what he takes. He don’t never hit the truth.’
‘Yes,’ the Major would agree, ‘but then Zeke is a good boy. He is affectionate. He hangs around me and does everything I tell him.’
One day Mrs. Pope came to the Major, who was sitting in the open hallway that ran through the house, and said: —
‘I got to get a girl. What with cooking and cleaning and milking and getting Abner off to work and darning your socks and — ‘
‘Well, if you have to have one —’
‘I can get Melissa. The only trouble is she lives over on the bayou on the back side of the place. She’s got to live here. I been aiming to tell you this. You can have that room in the yard fixed up for her. It used to be a servant’s house.’
‘Mrs. Pope,’ said the Major, goodlnimoredly, stretching out his legs on the chair in front, ‘it’s just natural for you to lie awake at night and think up some way to interfere with my plans. I want that house for my stableboy.’
‘ My stableboy I said. I am going to enforce the rules on this place from now on. My mules are looking bad, and there is a world of work to do before this crop is made. It is only natural for the negroes to ride them at night when they keep them out around their cabins The mules must all stay in the barn, and I’ll have a stableboy to feed them.’
‘Now, May-jur,’ whined Mrs. Pope, ‘ther ain’t no other place, and I got to have a girl.*
He was now reflecting and stroking his beard.
‘You say this Melissa is a young wench who lives over there on the bayou near Zeke’s daddy’s, and comes by here?’
‘Well, you let this matter rest a bit, and I ‘ll see what I can do.’
The Major walked to the front gate, his favorite place of observation. He often stood here by the hour, with his pipe in his mouth, his arms resting on the gate, looking out upon the river and the road that skirted its bank.
Presently Zeke came up, a tall lank young black.
‘Zeke,’ said the Major, taking his pipe from his mouth, ‘I can’t look out on this river front without seeing you tagging along after that negro girl.’
’Sur? drawled Zeke, in a surprised and injured tone. His lower lip sloped like a gangway down which his words might leisurely slide.
Oh, I ve noticed you. What’s her name, now?’
Does you mean Malindy?’ asked Zeke, sullenly.
' Yes Malinda — that’s her name. Now look here. I am thinking about hiring a stableboy, and I’m wondering if you’d do.’
’Yes sir, Major, I’ll do.’ Zeke brightened up.
‘You haven’t any laird to work. ^ on just help your pappy, and precious little, I venture to say.’
‘Yes sir, I just helps my pappy.’
‘Of course a stableboy must live in the yard,’ went on the Major. ' I thought of putting you in that little house out there, and letting you eat out of the kitchen.’
‘Yes sir, Major, dat’d do,’ said Zeke, eagerly. He could taste the first meal.
‘ But then,’ continued the Major, ‘Mrs. Pope wants to hire Malinda to help her in the house, and she wants her to have that room. Now, there is only one room, and I don’t know what to do about it.’
Zeke had no suggestion to offer, although the Major stroked his beard and gave him time, finally saying, —
‘Zeke, you are nearly grown by now. You must be about twenty-one years old.’
‘Yes sir, I’se bout twenty-one vears old.’
' It seems to me you ought to be getting married.’
Zeke looked down and began to dig a hole in the sand with his bare toe, and then said slowly, ‘I does think I ought to be gittin’ ma’ied.’
‘Well,’ said the Major, still stroking his beard, ‘Malinda is a pretty likely girl, is n’t she?’
‘Yes sir, she’s putty likely.’
‘ I could put you in that house and let you eat out of the kitchen.’
‘Yes sir, Major, I secs de pint.’
He looked at the ground.
‘I sees de pint,’ he repeated.
‘Well, go on now,’ said the Major, waving his hand.
On the following day Zeke appeared again.
‘Well?’ said the Major.
‘Dat’s all right, sir. Malindy, she say “—uh-huh.
The Major thereupon went into the house, well pleased with himself. He fixed himself in his chair, got out his pipe and called Airs. Pope. She came out, flushed and corpulent, with a stick of stove-wood in her hand, the first link in the chain of getting dinner.
‘Mrs. Pope,’ said the Alajor, striking a match and lighting his pipe, ‘suppose we let the stable foreman and the maidservant both stay in that room.'
‘What did you say, Major?’ asked Mrs. Pope, letting the stick fall to the floor in order to give exclusive attention to the matter in hand.
‘Well,’said the Major, throwing away the match that had served its purpose, ‘my stableboy is going to marry your girl, and they can both live in that house.’
‘Zekc and Malinda are going to marry.'
‘Malinda? Who said Malinda?’ Mrs. Pope grasped her stick again as if for battle. ‘I said Melissa. I want Melissa to work for me.'
‘Why, are there two of them?’ faltered the Major, taking his feet from off the chair.
‘Of course there are two of them. You don’t know the gals on your own place. Malinda is Short Pete’s child. Melissa is the daughter of old Uncle Joe Coleman.'
‘Well, well,’ said the Major, thoughtfully. ‘Can’t you take Malinda now?’
‘No sir,’ replied Mrs. Pope, emphatically. ‘ I would n’t have t hat cornfield gal in this house, not for nothing. Melissa is different. She’s quiet and ladylike. She’s older. Alalinda is too young, anyhow.’
The Alajor wandered to the yard, chagrined. The old setter dog came by, wagging his tail, expecting a pat on the head, but was not noticed. Mrs. Pope’s little curly-headed Susan came skipping along with her puppy, but received no attention. The poor boy had trusted him, and of course he had affections.
At this juncture Zeke came up.
‘Zeke,’ said the Major, mournfully, ‘ it looks like I have mixed things up. I told you I would do certain things if you would marry Alalinda, and you have promised to marry her, have n’t you?’
‘Yes sir, we done fixed things up,’ said Zeke, cheerfully.
‘Well, now, it seems that Airs. Pope must have Melissa to work for her instead of Alalinda. Of course I have to leave such things to her. I thought it was Malinda she wanted. It breaks things all up.’
Zeke turned and slowly walked away, with his head down, while the Alajor looked after him sorrowfully, resolving to devise some method of righting the matter.
Early the next morning, which was Sunday, the Pope family drove off in the two-horse wagon to attend the Baptist Sunday School at Benson, leaving the Major alone on the place. He walked down to the gate. No sounds were coming from house or yard, or from the green cotton-fields, empty of laborers. Beyond the giant cottonwoods that lined its bank, the yellow river was stalking with silent tread. Only the birds were active. The mocker chose the topmost twig of the thorn tree for his pulpit, while the blue jays shrieked of Satanic Majesty, whose dominions they visit regularly on Friday nights. Negroes in Sunday clothes were now passing, in twos and threes, along the road, all going in the direction of their church, two miles down the river.
A boy and a girl came in sight. They were engrossed with each other, their play being a rough one, consisting of attempts to push each other off the high path that led along the worn-down road. They stopped their play when they saw they were observed. when they reached a point opposite the gate, the Major said: —
‘Is n’t this Malinda?’
The girl immediately halted, while the boy politely walked on a dozen paces.
‘Yes sir, Mr. Menton, I’se Malinda.’
‘Well,’ said the Major, stroking his beard, not knowing just what he wished to say. ‘ What’s this between you and Zeke?’
The words had power. The girl fairly stormed, her kinky hair almost bulging out of the net that confined it.
‘Dey ain’t nothing twixt me and Zeke. Not nothing. Not nothing. ‘Cause why? ‘Cause he’s a sneak and a rascal.’
Relieved by this outburst, her natural deference returned.
‘’Sousing me, Mr. Menton, but dey ain’t nothing twixt me and him.’ She walked on.
The Major looked after her in perplexity.
After a half hour, another girl came along, neatly dressed and smiling.
‘Mrs. Pope gone to church? Please tell her, Mr. Alenton, that I will be over the first thing in the morning.’
She, too, passed on, while the Major stroked his beard, in perplexity.
Shortly afterwards Zeke came up, approaching from behind, having come to the house through the field. He wore Sunday clothes and his manner was almost vivacious.
‘Good morning, Major.’
‘Why, hello, Zeke!’ said the Major, turning around.
‘ When you gwinter want us to move in?’
‘Yes sir. Me and Mehssa.’
‘Yes sir. Ain’t you heard? I ‘m ma’ied now. I tuk and chose — yes, sir — last night — at dc church. No sir, Major, I ain’t no scoundrel, neither, scarcely. It’s dish here way: dars dish here black ‘oman and dat ar black ‘oman, who gwinter tell difference twixt ‘em?’
The Popes had heard of the wedding when they returned at noon.
‘Oh, well,’ said the Major, ‘I told you Zeke was affectionate and wanted to work for me.’
‘But Malinda?’ said Mrs. Pope, urging the wrongs of her black sister.
‘Well,’ said the Major, ‘Short Pete is a good man. I’ll let him have more land next year, and then Malinda can get a young husband to help her pappy work it..’
‘Well, if you do that,’ said Mrs. Pope.
‘It’s all for the best,’ said the Major.