The Chronicles of Aunt Minervy Ann/Chapter 2
"WHEN JESS WENT A-FIDDLIN'"
The foregoing recital is unquestionably a long and tame preface to the statement that, after thinking the matter over I concluded to accept the offcial invitation to the fair—"The Middle Georgia Exposition" it was called—if nothing occurred to prevent. With this conclusion I dismissed the matter from my mind for the time being, and would probably have thought of it no more until the moment arrived to make a final decision, if the matter had not been called somewhat sharply to my attention.
Sitting on the veranda one day, ruminating over other people's troubles, I heard an unfamiliar voice calling, "You-all got any bitin' dogs here?" The voice failed to match the serenity of the suburban scene. Its tone was pitched a trifle too high for the surroundings.
But before I could make any reply the gate was flung open, and the new-comer, who was no other than Aunt Minervy Ann, flirted in and began to climb the terraces. My recognition of her was not immediate, partly because it had been long since I saw her and partly because she wore her Sunday toggery, in which, following the oriental tastes of her race, the reds and yellows were emphasized with startling effect. She began to talk by the time she was half-way between the house and gate, and it was owing to this special and particular volubility that I was able to recognize her.
"Huh!" she exclaimed, "hit's des like clim'in' up sta'rs. Folks what live here bleeze ter b'long ter de Sons er Tempunce." There was a relish about this reference to the difficulties of three terraces that at once identified Aunt Minervy Ann. More than that, one of the most conspicuous features of the country town where she lived was a large brick building, covering half a block, across the top of which stretched a sign—"Temperance Hall"—in letters that could be read half a mile away.
Aunt Minervy Ann received a greeting that seemed to please her, whereupon she explained that an excursion had come to Atlanta from her town, and she had seized the opportunity to pay me a visit. "I tol' um," said she, "dat dey could stay up in town dar an' hang 'roun' de kyar-shed ef dey wanter, but here's what wuz gwine ter come out an' see whar you live at, an' fin' out fer Marse Tumlin ef you comin' down ter de fa'r."
She was informed that, though she was welcome, she would get small pleasure from her visit. The cook had failed to make her appearance, and the lady of the house was at that moment in the kitchen and in a very fretful state of mind, not because she had to cook, but because she had about reached the point where she could place no dependence in the sisterhood of colored cooks.
"Is she in de kitchen now?" Aunt Minervy's tone was a curious mixture of amusement and indignation. "I started not ter come, but I had a call, I sho' did; sump'n tol' me dat you mought need me out here." With that, she went into the house, slamming the screen-door after her, and untying her bonnet as she went.
Now, the lady of the house had heard of Aunt Minervy Ann, but had never met her, and I was afraid that the characteristics of my old-time friend would be misunderstood and misinterpreted. The lady in question knew nothing of the negro race until long after emancipation, and she had not been able to form a very favorable opinion of its representatives. Therefore, I hastened after Aunt Minervy Ann, hoping to tone down by explanation whatever bad impression she might create. She paused at the screen-door that barred the entrance to the kitchen, and, for an instant, surveyed the scene within. Then she cried out:
"You des ez well ter come out'n dat kitchen! You ain't got no mo' bizness in dar dan a new-born baby."
Aunt Minervy Ann's voice was so loud and absolute that the lady gazed at her in mute astonishment. "You des es well ter come out!" she insisted.
"Are you crazy?" the lady asked, in all seriousness.
"I'm des ez crazy now ez I ever been; an' I tell you you des ez well ter come out'n dar."
"Who are you anyhow?"
"I'm Minervy Ann Perdue, at home an' abroad, an' in dish yer great town whar you can't git niggers ter cook fer you."
"Well, if you want me to come out of the kitchen, you will have to come in and do the cooking."
"Dat 'zackly what I'm gwine ter do!" exclaimed Aunt Minervy Ann. She went into the kitchen, demanded an apron, and took entire charge, "I'm mighty glad I come 'fo' you got started," she said, "'kaze you got 'nuff fier in dis stove fer ter barbecue a hoss; an' you got it so hot in here dat it's a wonder you ain't bust a blood-vessel."
She removed all the vessels from the range, and opened the door of the furnace so that the fire might die down. And when it was nearly out—as I was told afterward—she replaced the vessels and proceeded to cook a dinner which, in all its characteristics, marked a red letter day in the household.
"She's the best cook in the country," said the lady, "and she's not very polite."
"Not very hypocritical, you mean; well if she was a hypocrite, she wouldn't be Aunt Minervy Ann."
The cook failed to come in the afternoon, and so Aunt Minervy Ann felt it her duty to remain over night. "Hamp'll vow I done run away wid somebody," she said, laughing, "but I don't keer what he think."
After supper, which was as good as the dinner had been. Aunt Minervy Ann came out on the veranda and sat on the steps. After some conversation, she placed the lady of the house on the witness-stand.
"Mistiss, wharbouts in Georgy wuz you born at?"
"I wasn't born in Georgia; I was born in Lansingburgh, New York."
"I know'd it!" Aunt Minervy turned to me and nodded her head with energy. "I know'd it right pine blank!"
"You knew what?" the presiding genius of the household inquired with some curiosity.
"I know'd 'm dat you wuz a Northron lady."
"I don't see how you knew it," I remarked.
"Well, suh, she talk like we-all do, an' she got mighty much de same ways. But when I went out dar dis mornin' an' holler at 'er in de kitchen, I know'd by de way she turn 'roun' on me dat she ain't been brung up wid niggers. Ef she'd 'a' been a Southron lady, she'd 'a' laughed an' said, 'Come in here an' cook dis dinner yo'se'f, you ole vilyun,' er she'd 'a' come out an' crackt me over de head with dat i'on spoon what she had in her han'."
I could perceive a vast amount of acuteness in the observation, but I said nothing, and, after a considerable pause. Aunt Minervy Ann remarked:
"Dey er lots er mighty good folks up dar"—indicating the North—"some I've seed wid my own eyes an' de yuthers I've heern talk un. Mighty fine folks, an' dey say dey mighty sorry fer de niggers. But I'll tell um all anywhar, any day, dat I'd lots druther dey'd be good ter me dan ter be sorry fer me. You know dat ar white lady what Marse Tom Chippendale married? Her pa come down here ter he'p de niggers, an' he done it de best he kin, but Marse Tom's wife can't b'ar de sight un um. She won't let um go in her kitchen, she won't let um go in her house, an' she don't want um nowhars 'roun'. She's mighty sorry fer 'm, but she don't like um. I don't blame 'er much myse'f, bekaze it look like dat de niggers what been growin' up sence freedom is des tryin' der han' fer ter see how no 'count dey kin be. Dey'll git better—dey er bleeze ter git better, 'kaze dey can't git no wuss."
Here came another pause, which continued until Aunt Minervy Ann, turning her head toward me, asked if I knew the lady that Jesse Towers married; and before I had time to reply with certainty, she went on:
"'No, suh, you des can't know 'er. She ain't come dar twel sev'mty, an' I mos' know you ain't see 'er dat time you went down home de las' time, 'kaze she wa'n't gwine out dat year. Well, she wuz a Northron lady. I come mighty nigh tellin' you 'bout 'er when you wuz livin' dar, but fus' one thing an' den anudder jumped in de way; er maybe 'twuz too new ter be goshup'd 'roun' right den. But de way she come ter be dar an' de way it all turn out beats any er dem tales what de ol' folks use ter tell we childun. I may not know all de ins an' outs, but what I does know I knows mighty well, 'kaze de young 'oman tol' me herse'f right out 'er own mouf.
"Fus' an' fo'mus', dar wuz ol' Gabe Towers. He wuz dar whence you wuz dar, an' long time 'fo' dat. You know'd him, sho', 'kaze he wuz one er dem kinder men what sticks out fum de res' like a waggin' tongue. Not dat he wuz any better'n anybody else, but he had dem kinder ways what make folks talk 'bout 'im an' 'pen' on 'im. I dunner 'zackly what de ways wuz, but I knows dat whatsomever ol' Gabe Towers say an' do, folks 'd nod der head an' say an' do de same. An' me 'long er de res'. He had dem kinder ways 'bout 'im, an' 'twa'n't no use talkin'."
In these few words. Aunt Minervy conjured up in my mind the memory of one of the most remarkable men I had ever known. He was tall, with iron-gray hair. His eyes were black and brilliant, his nose slightly curved, and his chin firm without heaviness. To this day Gabriel Towers stands out in my admiration foremost among all the men I have ever known. He might have been a great statesman; he would have been great in anything to which he turned his hand. But he contented himself with instructing smaller men, who were merely politicians, and with sowing and reaping on his plantation. More than one senator went to him for ideas with which to make a reputation.
His will seemed to dominate everybody with whom he came in contact, not violently, but serenely and surely, and as a matter of course. Whether this was due to his age—he was sixty-eight when I knew him, having been born in the closing year of the eighteenth century—or to his moral power, or to his personal magnetism, it is hardly worth while to inquire. Major Perdue said that the secret of his influence was common-sense, and this is perhaps as good an explanation as any. The immortality of Socrates and Plato should be enough to convince us that common-sense is almost as inspiring as the gift of prophecy. To interpret Aunt Minervy Ann in this way is merely to give a correct report of what occurred on the veranda, for explanation of this kind was necessary to give the lady of the house something like a familiar interest in the recital.
"Yes, suh," Aunt Minervy Ann went on, "he had dem kinder ways 'bout 'im, an' whatsomever he say you can't shoo it off like you would a hen on de gyarden fence. Dar 'twuz an' dar it stayed.
"Well, de time come when ol' Marse Gabe had a gran'son, an' he name 'im Jesse in 'cordance wid de Bible. Jesse grow'd an' grow'd twel he got ter be a right smart chunk uv a boy, but he wa'n't no mo' like de Towerses dan he wuz like de Chippendales, which he wa'n't no kin to. He tuck atter his ma, an' who his ma tuck atter I'll never tell you, 'kaze Bill Henry Towers married 'er way off yander somers. She wuz purty but puny, yit puny ez she wuz she could play de peanner by de hour, an' play it mo' samer de man what make it.
"Well, suh, Jesse tuck atter his ma in looks, but 'stidder playin' de peanner, he l'arnt how ter play de fiddle, an' by de time he wuz twelve year ol', he could make it talk. Hit's de fatal trufe, suh; he could make it talk. You hear folks playin' de fiddle, an' you know what dey doin'; you kin hear de strings a-plunkin' an' you kin hear de bow raspin' on um on 'count de rozzura, but when Jesse Towers swiped de bow cross his fiddle, 'twa'n't no fiddle—'twuz human; I ain't tellin' you no lie, suh, twuz human. Dat chile could make yo' heart ache; he could fetch yo' sins up befo' you. Don't tell me! many an' many a night when I hear Jesse Towers playin', I could shet my eyes an' hear my childun cryin', dem what been dead an' buried long time ago. Don't make no diffunce 'bout de chune, reel, jig, er promenade, de human cry in' wuz behime all un um.
"Bimeby, Jesse got so dat he didn't keer nothin' 'tall 'bout books. It uz fiddle, fiddle, all day long, an' half de night ef dey'd let 'im. Den folks 'gun ter talk. No need ter tell you what all dey say. De worl' over, fum what I kin hear, dey got de idee dat a fiddle is a free pass ter whar ole Scratch live at. Well, suh, Jesse got so he'd run away fum school an' go off in de woods an' play his fiddle. Hamp use ter come 'pon 'im when he haulin' wood, an' he say dat fiddle ain't soun' no mo' like de fiddles what you hear in common dan a flute soun' like a bass drum.
"Now you know yo'se'f, suh, dat dis kinder doin's ain't gwine ter suit Marse Gabe Towers. Time he hear un it, he put his foot down on fiddler, an' fiddle, an' fiddlin'. Ez you may say, he sot down on de fiddle an' smash it. Dis happen when Jesse wuz sixteen year ol', an' by dat time he wuz mo' in love wid de fiddle dan what he wuz wid his gran'daddy. An' so dar 'twuz. He ain't look like it, but Jesse wuz about ez high strung ez his fiddle wuz, an' when his gran'daddy laid de law down, he sol' out his pony an' buggy an' made his disappearance fum dem parts.
"Well, suh, 'twa'n't so mighty often you'd hear sassy talk 'bout Marse Gabe Towers, but you could hear it den. Folks is allers onreasonable wid dem dey like de bes'; you know dat yo'se'f, suh. Marse Gabe ain't make no 'lowance fer Jesse, an' folks ain't make none fer Marse Gabe. Marse Tumlin wuz dat riled wid de man dat dey come mighty nigh havin' a fallin' out. Dey had a splutter 'bout de time when sump'n n'er had happen, an' atter dey wrangle a little, Marse Tumlin sot de date by sayin' dat 'twuz a year 'fo' de day when Jess went a-fiddlin'.' Dat sayin' kindled de fier, suh, an' it spread fur an' wide. Marse Tom Chippendale say dat folks what never is hear tell er de Towerses went 'roun' talkin' 'bout 'de time when Jess went a-fiddlin'.'"
Aunt Minervy Ann chuckled over this, probably because she regarded it as a sort of victory for Major Tumlin Perdue. She went on:
"Yes, suh, 'twuz a by-word wid de childun. No matter what happen, er when it happen, er ef 'tain't happen, 'twuz 'fo' er atter 'de day when Jess went a-fiddlin'.' Hit look like dat Marse Gabe sorter drapt a notch or two in folks' min's. Yit he belt his head dez ez high. He bleeze ter hol' it high, 'kaze he had in 'im de blood uv bofe de Tumlins an' de Perdues; I dunner how much, but 'nuff fer ter keep his head up.
"I ain't no almanac, suh, but I never is ter fergit de year when Jess went a-fiddlin. 'Twuz sixty, 'kaze de nex' year de war 'gun ter bile, an' 'twa'n't long 'fo' it biled over. Yes, suh! dar wuz de war come on an Jess done gone. Dey banged aloose, dey did, dem on der side, an' we on our'n, an' dey kep' on a bangin' twel we-all can't bang no mo'. An' den de war hushed up, an' freedom come, an' still nobody ain't hear tell er Jesse. Den you come down dar, suh, an' stay what time you did; still nobody ain't hear tell er Jesse. He mought er writ ter his ma, but ef he did, she kep' it mighty close. Marse Gabe ain't los' no flesh 'bout it, an' ef he los' any sleep on account er Jess, he ain't never brag 'bout it.
"Well, suh, it went on dis away twel, ten year atter Jess went a-fiddlin', his wife come home. Yes, suh! His wife! Well! I wuz stan'in' right in de hall talkin' wid Miss Fanny—dat's Jesse's ma—when she come, an' when de news broke on me you could 'a' knockt me down wid a permeter fan. De house-gal show'd 'er in de parler, an' den come atter Miss Fanny. Miss Fanny she went in dar, an' I stayed outside talkin' wid de house-gal. De gal say, 'Aunt Minervy Ann, dey sho' is sump'n n'er de matter wid dat white lady. She white ez any er de dead, an' she can't git 'er breff good.' 'Bout dat time, I hear somebody cry out in de parler, an' den I hear sump'n fall. De house-gal cotch holt er me an' 'gun ter whimper. I shuck 'er off, I did, an' went right straight in de parler, an' dar wuz Miss Fanny layin' face fo'mus' on a sofy wid a letter in 'er han' an' de white lady sprawled out on de flo'.
"Well, suh, you can't skeer me wid trouble 'kaze I done see too much; so I shuck Miss Fanny by de arm an' ax 'er what de matter, an' she cry out, 'Jesse's dead an' his wife come home.' She uz plum heart-broke, suh, an' I 'speck I wuz blubberin' some myse'f when Marse Gabe walkt in, but I wuz tryin' ter work wid de white lady on de flo'. 'Twix' Marse Gabe an' Miss Fanny, 'twuz sho'ly a tryin' time. When one er dem hard an' uppity men lose der grip on deyse'f, dey turn loose ever'thing, an' dat wuz de way wid Marse Gabe. When dat de case, sump'n n'er got ter be done, an' it got ter be done mighty quick."
Aunt Minervy Ann paused here and rubbed her hands together contemplatively, as if trying to restore the scene more completely to her memory.
"You know how loud I kin talk, suh, when I'm min' ter. Well, I talk loud den an' dar. I 'low, 'What you-all doin'? Is you gwine ter let Marse Jesse's wife lay here an' die des 'kaze he dead? Ef you is, I'll des go whar I b'longs at!' Dis kinder fotch um 'roun', an' 'twa'n't no time 'fo' we had de white lady in de bed whar Jesse use ter sleep at, an' soon's we got 'er cuddled down in it, she come 'roun'. But she wuz in a mighty bad fix. She wanter git up an' go off, an' 'twuz all I could do fer ter keep 'er in bed. She done like she wuz plum distracted. Dey wa'n't skacely a minnit fer long hours, an' dey wuz mighty long uns, suh, dat she wa'n't moanin' an' sayin' dat she wa'n't gwine ter stay, an' she hope de Lord'd fergive 'er. I tell you, suh, 'twuz tarryfyin'. I shuck nex' day des like folks do when dey er honin' atter dram.
"You may ax me how come I ter stay dar," Aunt Minervy Ann suggested with a laugh. "Well, suh, 'twa'n't none er my doin's. I 'speck dey mus' be sump'n wrong 'bout me, 'kaze no matter how rough I talk ner how ugly I look, sick folks an' childun allers takes up wid me. When I go whar dey is, it's mighty hard fer ter git 'way fum um. So, when I say ter Jesse's wife, 'Keep still, honey, an' I'll go home an' not pester you,' she sot up in bed an' say ef I gwine she gwine too. I say, 'Nummine 'bout me, honey, you lay down dar an' don't talk too much.' She 'low, 'Le' me talk ter you an' tell you all 'bout it.' But I shuck my head an' say dat ef she don't hush up an' keep still I'm gwine right home.
"I had ter do 'er des like she wuz a baby, suh. She wa'n't so mighty purty, but she had purty ways, 'stracted ez she wuz, an' de biggest black eyes you mos' ever seed, an' black curly ha'r cut short kinder, like our folks use ter w'ar der'n. Den de house-gal fotched some tea an' toas', an' dis holp 'er up mightly, an' atter dat I sont ter Marse Gabe fer some dram, an' de gal fotched de decanter fum de side-bode. Bein', ez you may say, de nurse, I tuck an' tas'e er de dram fer ter make sho' dat nobody ain't put nothin' in it. An', sho' 'nuff, dey ain't."
Aunt Minervy Ann paused and smacked her lips. "Atter she got de vittles an' de dram, she sorter drap off ter sleep, but 'twuz a mighty flighty kinder sleep. She'd wake wid a jump des 'zackly like babies does, an' den she'd moan an' worry twel she dozed off ag'in. I nodded, suh, bekaze you can't set me down in a cheer, night er day, but what I'll nod, but in betwix' an' betweens I kin hear Marse Gabe Towers walkin' up an' down in de liberry; walk, walk; walk, walk, up an' down. I 'speck ef I'd 'a' been one er de nervious an' flighty kin' dey'd 'a' had to tote me out er dat house de nex' day; but me! I des kep' on a-noddin'.
"Bimeby, I hear sump'n come swishin' 'long, an' in walkt Miss Fanny. I tell you now, suh, ef I'd a met 'er comin' down de road, I'd 'a' made a break fer de bushes, she look so much like you know sperrets oughter look—an' Marse Jesse's wife wuz layin' dar wid 'er eyes wide open. She sorter swunk back in de bed when she see Miss Fanny, an' cry out, 'Oh, I'm mighty sorry fer ter trouble you; I'm gwine 'way in de mornin'.' Miss Fanny went ter de bed an' knelt down 'side it, an' 'low, 'No, you ain't gwine no whar but right in dis house. Yo' place is here, wid his mudder an' his gran'fadder.' Wid dat, Marse Jesse's wife put her face in de piller an' moan an' cry, twel I hatter ax Miss Fanny fer ter please, ma'm, go git some res'.
"Well, suh, I stayed dar dat night an part er de nex' day, an' by dat time all un um wuz kinder quieted down, but dey wuz mighty res'less in de min', 'speshually Marse Jesse's wife, which her name wuz Miss Sadie. It seem like dat Marse Jesse wuz livin' at a town up dar in de fur North whar dey wuz a big lake, an' he went out wid one er dem 'scursion parties, an' a storm come up an' shuck de boat ter pieces. Dat what make I say what I does. I don't min' gwine on 'scursions on de groun', but when it come ter water—well, suh, I ain't gwine ter trus' myse'f on water twel I kin walk on it an' not wet my foots. Marse Jesse wuz de Captain uv a music-ban' up dar, an' de papers fum dar had some long pieces 'bout 'im, an' de paper at home had a piece 'bout 'im. It say he wuz one er de mos' renounced music-makers what yever had been, an' dat when it come ter dat kinder doin's he wuz a puffick prodigal. I 'member de words, suh, bekaze I made Hamp read de piece out loud mo' dan once.
"Miss Sadie, she got mo' calmer atter while, an' 'twa'n't long 'fo' Marse Gabe an' Miss Fanny wuz bofe mighty tuck up wid 'er. Dey much'd 'er up an' made a heap un 'er, an' she fa'rly hung on dem. I done tol' you she ain't purty, but dey wuz sump'n 'bout 'er better dan purtiness. It mought er been 'er eyes, en den ag'in mought er been de way er de gal; but whatsomever 'twuz, hit made you think 'bout 'er at odd times durin' de day, an' des 'fo' you go ter sleep at night.
"Eve'ything went swimmin' along des ez natchul ez a duck floatin' on de mill-pon'. Dey wa'n't skacely a day but what I seed Miss Sadie. Ef I ain't go ter Marse Gabe's house she'd be sho' ter come ter mine. Dat uz atter Hamp wuz 'lected ter de legislatur, suh. He 'low dat a member er de ingener'l ensembly ain't got no bizness livin' in a kitchen, but I say he ain't a whit better den dan he wuz befo'. So be, I done been cross 'im so much dat I tell 'im ter git de house an' I'd live in it ef 'twa'n't too fur fum Miss Vallie an' Marse Tumlin. Well, he had it built on de outskyirts, not a big jump fum Miss Vallie an' betwix' de town an' Marse Gabe Towers's. When you come down ter de fa'r, you mus' come see me. Me an' Hamp'll treat you right; we sholy will.
"Well, suh, in dem days dey wa'n't so many niggers willin' ter do an' be done by, an' on account er dat, ef Miss Vallie wa'n't hollin' fer 'Nervy Ann, Miss Fanny er Miss Sadie wuz, an' when I wa'n't at one place, you might know I'd be at de yuther one. It went on dis away, an' went on twel one day got so much like an'er dat you can't tell Monday fum Friday. An' it went on an' went on twel bimeby I wuz bleeze ter say sump'n ter Hamp. You take notice, suh, an' when you see de sun shinin' nice an' warm an' de win' blowin' so saft an' cool dat you wanter go in a-washin' in it—when you see dis an' feel dat away, Watch out! Watch out, I tell you! Dat des de time when de harrycane gwine ter come up out'n de middle er de swamp an' t'ar things ter tatters. Same way when folks gitting on so nice dat dey don't know dey er gittin' on.
"De fus' news I know'd Miss Sadie wuz bringin' little bundles ter my house 'twix' sundown an' dark. She'd 'low, 'Aunt Minervy Ann, I'll des put dis in de cornder here; I may want it some time.' Nex' day it'd be de same doin's over ag'in. 'Aunt Minervy Ann, please take keer er dis; I may want it some time.' Well, it went on dis away fum day ter day, but I ain't pay no 'tention. Ef any 'spicion cross my min' it wuz dat maybe Miss Sadie puttin' dem things dar fer ter 'sprise me Chris'mus by tellin' me dey wuz fer me. But one day she come ter my house, an' sot down an' put her han's over her face like she got de headache er sump'n.
"Wellum"—Aunt Minervy Ann, with real tact, now began to address herself to the lady of the house—"Wellum, she sot dar so long dat bimeby I ax 'er what de matter is. She ain't say nothin'; she ain't make no motion. I 'low ter myse'f dat she don't wanter be pestered, so I let 'er 'lone an' went on 'bout my business. But, bless you! de nex' time I look at 'er she wuz settin' des dat away wid 'er han's over her face. She sot so still dat it sorter make me feel quare, an' I went, I did, an' cotch holt er her han's sorter playful-like. Wellum, de way dey felt made me flinch. All I could say wuz, 'Lord 'a' mercy!' She tuck her han's down, she did, an' look at me an' smile kinder faint-like. She 'low, 'Wuz my han's col', Aunt Minervy Ann?' I look at 'er an' grunt, 'Huh! dey won't be no colder when youer dead.' She ain't say nothin', an' terreckly I 'low, 'What de name er goodness is de matter wid you. Miss Sadie?' She say, 'Nothin' much. I'm gwine ter stay here ter-night, an' ter-morrer mornin' I'm gwine 'way.' I ax 'er, 'How come dat? What is dey done to you?' She say, 'Nothin' 'tall.' I 'low, 'Does Marse Gabe an' Miss Fanny know you gwine?' She say, 'No; I can't tell um.'
"Wellum, I flopt down on a cheer; yessum, I sho' did. My min' wuz gwine like a whirligig an' my head wuz swimmin'. I des sot dar an' look at 'er. Bimeby she up an' say, pickin' all de time at her frock, 'I know'd sump'n wuz gwine ter happen. Dat de reason I been bringin' dem bundles here. In dem ar bundles you'll fin' all de things I fotch here. I ain't got nothin' dey give me 'cep'n dish yer black dress I got on. I'd 'a' fotche my ol' trunk, but I dunner what dey done wid it. Hamp'll hatter buy me one an' pay for it hisse'f, 'kaze I ain't got a cent er money.' Dem de ve'y words she say. I 'low, 'Sump'n must 'a' happen den.' She nodded, an' bimeby she say, 'Mr, Towers comin' home ter-night. Dey done got a telegraph fum 'im.'
"I stood up in de flo', I did, an' ax 'er, 'Which Mr. Towers?' She say, 'Mr. Jesse Towers.' I 'low, 'He done dead.' She say, 'No, he ain't; ef he wuz he done come ter life; dey done got a telegraph fum 'im, I tell you.' 'Is dat de reason you gwine 'way?' I des holla'd it at 'er. She draw'd a long breff an' say, 'Yes, dat's de reason.'
"I tell you right now, ma'm, I didn't know ef I wuz stannin' on my head er floatin' in de a'r. I wuz plum outdone. But dar she sot des es cool ez a curcumber wid de dew on it. I went out de do', I did, an' walk 'roun' de house once ter de right an' twice ter de lef bekaze de ol' folks use ter tell me dat ef you wuz bewitched, dat 'ud take de spell away. I ain't tellin' you no lie, ma'm—fer de longes' kinder minnit I didn't no mo' b'lieve dat Miss Sadie wuz settin' dar in my house tellin' me dat kinder rigamarole, dan I b'lieve I'm flyin' right now. Dat bein' de case, I bleeze ter fall back on bewitchments, an' so I walk 'roun' de house. But when I went back in, dar she wuz, settin' in a cheer an' lookin' up at de rafters.
"Wellum, I went in an' drapt down in a cheer an' lookt at 'er. Bimeby, I say, 'Miss Sadie, does you mean ter set dar an' tell me youer gwine 'way 'kaze yo' husban' comin' home?' She flung her arms behime 'er head, she did, an' say, 'I ain't none er his wife; I des been playin' off!' De way she look an' de way she say it wuz 'nuff fer me. I wuz pairlized; yessum, I wuz dumfounder'd. Ef anybody had des but totch me wid de tip er der finger, I'd 'a' fell off'n dat cheer an' never stirred atter I hit de flo'. Ever'thing 'bout de house lookt quare. Miss Vallie had a lookin'-glass one time wid de pictur' uv a church at de bottom. When de glass got broke, she gimme de pictur', an' I sot it up on de mantel-shelf. I never know'd 'fo' dat night dat de steeple er der church wuz crooked. But dar 'twuz. Mo' dan dat I cotch myse'f feelin' er my fingers fer ter see ef 'twuz me an' ef I wuz dar.
"Talk 'bout dreams! dey wa'n't no dream could beat dat, I don't keer how twisted it mought be. An' den, ma'm, she sot back dar an' tol' me de whole tale 'bout how she come ter be dar. I'll never tell it like she did; dey ain't nobody in de wide worl' kin do dat. But it seem like she an' Marse Jesse wuz stayin' in de same neighborhoods, er stayin' at de same place, he a-fiddlin' an' she a-knockin' on de peanner er de harp, I fergit which. Anyhow, dey seed a heap er one an'er. Bofe un um had come dar fum way off yan', an' ain't got nobody but deyse'f fer ter 'pen' on, an' dat kinder flung um togedder. I 'speck dey must er swapt talk 'bout love an' marryin'—you know yo'se'f, ma'm, dat dat's de way young folks is. Howsomever dat may be, Marse Jesse, des ter tease 'er, sot down one day an' writ a long letter ter his wife. Tooby sho' he ain't got no wife, but he des make out he got one, an' dat letter he lef layin' 'roun' whar Miss Sadie kin see it. 'Twa'n't in no envelyup, ner nothin', an' you know mighty well, ma'm, dat when a 'oman, young er ol', see dat kinder letter layin' 'roun' she'd die ef she don't read it. Fum de way Miss Sadie talk, dat letter must 'a' stirred up a coolness 'twix' um, kaze de mornin' when he wuz gwine on dat 'scursion, Marse Jesse pass by de place whar she wuz settin' at an' flung de letter in her lap an' say, 'What's in dar wuz fer you.'
"Wellum, wid dat he wuz gone, an' de fus' news Miss Sadie know'd de papers wuz full er de names er dem what got drownded in de boat, an' Marse Jesse head de roll, 'kaze he wuz de mos' pop'lous music-maker in de whole settlement. Den dar wuz de gal an' de letter. I wish I could tell dis part like she tol' me settin' dar in my house. You'll never git it straight in yo' head less'n you'd 'a' been dar an' hear de way she tol' it. Nigger ez I is, I know mighty well dat a white 'oman ain't got no business parmin' 'erse'f off ez a man's wife. But de way she tol' it tuck all de rough aidges off'n it. She wuz dar in dat big town, wuss'n a wilderness, ez you may say, by 'erse'f, nobody 'penin' on 'er an' nobody ter 'pen' on, tired down an' plum wo' out, an' wid all dem kinder longin's what you know yo'se'f, ma'am, all wimmen bleeze ter have, ef dey er white er ef dey er black.
"Yit she ain't never tol' nobody dat she wuz Marse Jesse's wife. She des han' de letter what she'd kep' ter Miss Fanny, an' fell down on de flo' in a dead faint, an' she say dat ef it hadn't but 'a' been fer me, she'd a got out er de bed dat fust night an' went 'way fum dar; an' I know dat's so, too, bekaze she wuz ranklin' fer ter git up fum dar. But at de time I put all dat down ter de credit er de deleeriums, an' made 'er stay in bed.
"Wellum, ef I know'd all de books in de worl' by heart, I couldn't tell you how I felt atter she done tol' me dat tale. She sot back dar des ez calm ez a baby. Bimeby she say, 'I'm glad I tol' you; I feel better dan I felt in a mighty long time.' It look like, ma'am, dat a load done been lift fum 'er min'. Now I know'd pine blank dat sump'n gotter be done, 'kaze de train'd be in at midnight, an' den when Marse Jesse come dey'd be a tarrifyin' time at Gabe Towers's. Atter while I up an' ax 'er, 'Miss Sadie, did you reely love Marse Jesse?' She say, 'Yes, I did'—des so. I ax 'er, 'Does you love 'im now? She say, 'Yes, I does—an' I love dem ar people up dar at de house; dat de reason I'm gwine 'way.' She talk right out; she done come to de p'int whar she ain't got nothin' ter hide.
"I say, 'Well, Miss Sadie, dem folks up at de house, dey loves you.' She sorter flincht at dis. I 'low, 'Dey been mighty good ter you. What you done, you done done, an' dat can't be holp, but what you ain't gone an' done, dat kin be holp; an' what you oughter do, dat oughtn't ter be holp.' I see 'er clinch 'er han's an' den I riz fum de cheer." Suiting the action to the word. Aunt Minervy Ann rose from the step where she had been sitting, and moved toward the lady of the house.
"I riz, I did, an' tuck my stan' befo' 'er. I 'low, 'You say you love Marse Jesse, an' you say you love his folks. Well, den ef you got any blood in you, ef you got any heart in yo' body, ef you got any feelin' fer anybody in de roun' worl' 'cep'n' yo' naked se'f, you'll go up dar ter dat house an' tell Gabe Towers dat you want ter see 'im, an' you'll tell Fanny Towers dat you want ter see her, an' you'll stan' up befo' um an' tell um de tale you tol' ter me, word fer word. Ef you'll do dat, an' you hatter come back here, come! come! Bless God! come! an' me an' Hamp'll rake an' scrape up 'nuff money fer ter kyar you whar you gwine. An' don't you be a'skeer'd er Gabe Towers. Me an' Marse Tumlin ain't a-skeer'd un 'im. I'm gwine wid you, an' ef he say one word out de way, you des come ter de do' an' call me, an' ef I don't preach his funer'l, it'll be bekaze de Lord'll strike me dumb! An' she went!"
Aunt Minervy paused. She had wrought the miracle of summoning to life one of the crises through which she had passed with others. It was not the words she used. There was nothing in them to stir the heart or quicken the pulse. Her power lay in the tones of her voice, whereby she was able to recall the passion of a moment that had long spent itself; in the fluent and responsive attitudes; in gesticulation that told far more than her words did. The light from the vestibule lamp shone full upon her and upon the lady whom she unconsciously selected to play the part of the young woman whose story she was telling. The illusion was perfect. We were in Aunt Minervy Ann's house. Miss Sadie was sitting helpless and hopeless before her—the whole scene was vivid and complete. She paused; her arm, which had been outstretched and rigid for an instant, slowly fell to her side, and—the illusion was gone; but while it lasted, it was as real as any sudden and extraordinary experience can be.
Aunt Minervy Ann resumed her seat, with a chuckle, apparently ashamed that she had been betrayed into such a display of energy and emotion, saying, "Yessum, she sho' went."
"I don't wonder at it," remarked the lady of the house, with a long-drawn sigh of relief.
Aunt Minervy Ann laughed again, rather sheepishly, and then, after rubbing her hands together, took up the thread of the narrative, this time directing her words to me: "All de way ter de house, suh, she ain't say two words. She had holt er my han', but she ain't walk like she uz weak. She went along ez peart ez I did. When we got dar, some er de niggers wuz out in de flower gyarden an' out in de big grove callin' 'er; an' dey call so loud dat I hatter put um down. 'Hush up!' I say, 'an' go on 'bout yo' business! Can't yo' Miss Sadie take a walk widout a whole passel er you niggers a-hollerin' yo' heads off?' One un um make answer, 'Miss Fanny huntin' fer 'er.' She sorter grip my han' at dat, but I say, 'She de one you wanter see—her an' Gabe Towers.'
"We went up on de po'ch, an' dar wuz Miss Fanny an' likewise Marse Gabe. I know'd what dey wanted; dey wanted ter talk wid 'er 'bout Marse Jesse. She clum de steps fus' an' I clum atter her. She cotch er 'breff hard when she fus' hit de steps, an' den it come over me like a flash how deep an' big her trouble wuz, an' I tell you right now, ef dat had 'a' been Miss Vallie gwine up dar, I b'lieve I'd 'a' flew at ol' Gab Towers an' to' 'im lim' fum lim' 'fo' anybody could 'a' pull me off. Hit's de trufe! You may laugh, but I sho' would 'a' done it. I had it in me. Miss Fanny seed sump'n wuz wrong, de minnit de light fell on de gal's face. She say, 'Why, Sadie, darlin', what de matter wid you?'—des so—an' made ez ef ter put 'er arms 'roun 'er; but Miss Sadie swunk back. Miss Fanny sorter swell up. She say, 'Oh, ef I've hurt yo' feelin's ter-day—ter-day uv all de days—please, please fergi' me!' Well, suh, I dunner whar all dis gwine ter lead ter, an' I put in, 'She des wanter have a talk wid you an' Marse Gabe, Miss Fanny; an' ef ter-day is one er de days her feelin's oughtn'ter be hurted, take keer dat you don't do it. Kyar 'er in de parler dar, Miss Fanny.' I 'speck you'll think I wuz takin' a mighty heap on myse'f, fer a nigger 'oman," remarked Aunt Minervy Ann, smoothing the wrinkles out of her lap, "but I wuz des ez much at home in dat house ez I wuz in my own, an' des ez free wid um ez I wuz wid my own folks. Miss Fanny look skeer'd, an' Marse Gabe foller'd atter, rubbin' a little mole he had on de top er his head. When he wus worried er aggervated, he allers rub dat mole.
"Well, suh, dey went in, dey did, an' I shot de do' an' tuck up my stan' close by, ready fer to go in when Miss Sadie call me. I had myse'f keyed up ter de p'int whar I'd 'a' tol' Marse Gabe sump'n 'bout his own fambly connection; you know dey ain't nobody but what got i'on rust on some er der cloze. But dey stayed in dar an' stayed, twel I 'gun ter git oneasy. All kinder quare idees run th'oo my head. Atter while some un pull de do' open, an' hol' it dat away, an' I hear Marse Gabe say, wid a trimble an' ketch in his th'oat, 'Don't talk so, chil'. Ef you done wrong, you ain't hurt nobody but yo'se'f, an' it oughtn'ter hurt you. You been a mighty big blessin' ter me, an' ter Fanny here, an' I wouldn't 'a' missed knowin' you, not fer nothin'. Wid dat, he come out cle'rin up his th'oat an' blowin' his nose twel it soun' like a dinner-horn. His eye fell on me, an' he 'low, 'Look like you er allers on han' when dey's trouble.' I made answer, 'Well, Marse Gabe, dey might be wusser ones 'roun' dan me.' He look at me right hard an' say, 'Dey ain't no better, Minervy Ann.' Well, suh, little mo' an' I'd 'a' broke down, it come so sudden. I had ter gulp hard an' quick, I tell you. He say, 'Minervy Ann, go back dar an' tell de house-gal ter wake up de carriage-driver ef he's 'sleep, an' tell 'im to go meet Jesse at de train. An' he mus' tell Jesse dat we'd 'a' all come, but his ma ain't feelin' so well.' I say, 'I'll go wake 'im up myse'f, suh.' I look in de parler an' say, 'Miss Sadie, does you need me right now?' She 'low, 'No, not right now; I'll stay twel—twel Mr. Towers come.' Miss Fanny wuz settin' dar holdin' Miss Sadie's han'.
"I'll never tell you how dey patcht it up in dar, but I made a long guess. Fus' an' fo'mus', dey wuz right down fon' er Miss Sadie, an' den ef she run off time Marse Jesse put his foot in de town dey'd be a big scandal; an' so dey fix it up dat ef she wuz bleeze ter go, 'twuz better to go a mont' er two atter Marse Jesse come back. Folks may like you mighty well, but dey allers got one eye on der own consarns. Dat de way I put it down.
"Well, suh, de wuss job wuz lef fer de las', 'kaze dar wuz Marse Jesse. Sump'n tol' me dat he oughter know what been gwine on 'fo' he got in de house, 'kaze den he won't be aggervated inter sayin' an' doin' sump'n he oughtn'ter. So when de carriage wuz ready, I got in an' went down ter de depot; an' when Marse Jesse got off de train, I wuz de fus' one he laid eyes on. I'd 'a' never know'd 'im in de worl', but he know'd me. He holler out, 'Ef dar ain't Aunt Minervy Ann! Bless yo' ol' soul! how you come on anyhow?' He come mighty nigh huggin' me, he wuz so glad ter see me. He wuz big ez a skinned hoss an' strong ez a mule. He say, 'Ef I had you in my min' once, Aunt Minervy Ann, I had you in dar ten thousan' times.'
"Whiles de carriage rollin' 'long an' grindin' de san' I try ter gi' 'im a kinder inkling er what been gwine on, but 'twuz all a joke wid 'im. I wuz fear'd I mought go at 'im de wrong way, but I can't do no better. I say, 'Marse Jesse, yo' wife been waitin' here fer you a long time.' He laugh an' 'low, 'Oh, yes! did she bring de childun?' I say, 'Shucks, Marse Jesse! Dey's a lady in deep trouble at Marse Gabe's house, an' I don't want you ter go dar jokin'. She's a monst'us fine lady, too.' Dis kinder steady 'im, an' he say, 'All right, Aunt Minervy Ann; I'll behave myse'f des like a Sunday-school scholar. I won't say bad words an' I won't talk loud.' He had his fiddle-case in his lap, an' he drummed on it like he keepin' time ter some chune in his min'.
"Well, suh, we got dar in de due time, an' 'twuz a great meetin' 'twixt Marse Jesse an' his folks. Dey des swarmed on 'im, ez you may say, an' while dis gwine on, I went in de parler whar Miss Sadie wuz. She wuz pale, tooby sha', but she had done firm'd 'erse'f. She wuz standin' by de fier-place, lookin' down, but she lookt up when she hear de do' open, an' den she say, 'I'm mighty glad it's you, Aunt Minervy Ann; I want you ter stay in here.' I 'low, 'I'll stay, honey, ef you say stay.' Den she tuck 'er stand by me an' cotch holt er my arm wid bofe 'er han's an' kinder leant ag'in me.
"Bimeby, here come Marse Jesse. Trouble wuz in his eye when he open de do', but when he saw de gal, his face lit up des like when you strike a match in a closet. He say, 'Why, Miss Sadie! You dunner how glad I is ter see you. I been huntin' all over de country fer you.' He make ez ef ter shake han's, but she draw'd back. Dis cut 'im. He say: 'What de matter? Who you in mournin' fer?' She 'low, 'Fer myse'f.' Wid dat she wuz gwine on ter tel 'im 'bout what she had done, but he wouldn't have it dat way. He say, 'When I come back ter life, atter I wuz drownded, I 'gun ter hunt fer you des ez soon's I got out'n de hospittle. I wuz huntin' fer you ter tell you dat I love you. I'd 'a' tol' you dat den, an' I tell you dat now.' She grip my arm mighty hard at dat. Marse Jesse went on mightly. He tell 'er dat she ain't done nobody no harm, dat she wuz welcome ter his name ef he'd 'a' been dead, an' mo' welcome now dat he wuz livin'. She try ter put in a word here an' dar, but he won't have it. Stan'in' up dar he wuz ol' Gabe Towers over ag'in; 'twuz de fus' time I know'd he faver'd 'im.
"He tol' 'er 'bout how he wrenched a do' off'n one er de rooms in de boat, an' how he floated on dat twel he got so col' an' num' dat he can't hol' on no longer, an' how he turn loose an' don't know nothin' twel he wake up in some yuther town; an' how, atter he git well, he had de plooisy an' lay dar a mont' er two, an' den he 'gun ter hunt fer her. He went 'way up dar ter Hampsher whar she come fum, but she ain't dar, an' den he come home; an' won't she be good 'nuff ter set down an' listen at 'im?
"Well, suh, dey wuz mo' in Marse Jesse dan I had any idee. He wuz a rank talker, sho'. I see 'er face warmin' up, an' I say, 'Miss Sadie, I 'speck I better be gwine.' Marse Jesse say, 'You ain't in my way, Aunt Minervy Ann; I done foun' my sweetheart, an' I ain't gwine ter lose 'er no mo', you kin des bet on dat.' She ain't say nothin' an' I know'd purty well dat eve'ything wuz all skew vee."
"I hope they married," remarked the lady of the house, after waiting a moment for Aunt Minervy Ann to resume. There was just a shade of suspicion in her tone.
"Oh, dey married, all right 'nuff," said Aunt Minervy Ann, laughing.
"Didn't it create a good deal of talk?" the lady asked, suspicion still in her voice.
"Talk? No, ma'm! De man what dey git de license fum wuz Miss Fanny's br'er, Gus Featherstone, an' de man what married um wuz Marse Gabe's bro'er, John Towers. Dey wa'n't nobody ter do no talkin'. De nex' mornin' me an Miss Sadie an' Marse Jesse got in de carriage an' drove out ter John Towers's place whar he runnin' a church, an' 'twuz all done an' over wid mos' quick ez a nigger kin swaller a dram."
"What do you think of it?" I asked the lady of the house.
"Why, it is almost like a story in a book."
"Does dey put dat kinder doin's in books?" asked Aunt Minervy Ann, with some solicitude.
"Certainly," replied the lady.
"Wid all de turmile, an' trouble, an' tribulation—an' all de worry an' aggervation? Well, Hamp wanted me ter l'arn how ter read, but I thank my stars dat I can't read no books. Dey's 'nuff er all dat right whar we live at widout huntin' it up in books."
After this just observation, it was time to put out the lights.