Open main menu


 

VI
HOW SHE AND MAJOR PERDUE FRAILED OUT THE GOSSETT BOYS

During the progress of the fair, there was some discussion of financial matters in Major Perdue's family. As I remember, someone had given Paul Conant a check which was thrown out by the Atlanta bank on which it was drawn. The sum was not a considerable one, but it was sufficiently large to attract Aunt Minervy Ann's attention.

"I 'speck dey got mo' banks in Atlanty dan what we-all got down here," she remarked, the next time I had an opportunity to talk with her. She laughed so heartily as she made the remark that I regarded her with some astonishment. "You may look, suh, but I ain't crazy. When I hear anybody say 'bank' it allers puts me in min' er de time when me an' Marse Tumlin frailed out de Gossett boys."

"Frailed out the Gossett boys?" I exclaimed.

"Yasser, frailed is de word."

"But what has that to do with a bank?" I inquired.

"Hit got all ter do wid it, suh," she replied. We were in the sitting-room, and Aunt Minervy Ann sank down on a footstool and rested one arm on the lounge. "Right atter freedom dey wa'n't nothin' like no bank down whar we live at; you know dat yo'se'f, suh. Folks say dat banks kin run widout money, but 'fo' you start um, dey got ter have money, er sump'n dat look like money. An' atter freedom dey wa'n't no money 'roun' here 'cep' dat kin' what nobody ain't hankerin' atter.

"But bimeby it 'gun ter dribble in fum some'rs; fus' dem ar little shinplasters, an' den de bigger money come 'long. It kep' on dribblin' in an' dribblin' in twel atter while you could git a dollar here an' dar by workin' yo' han's off, er spraining' yo' gizzard to git it. Bimeby de news got norated 'roun' dat ol' Joshaway Gossett gwine ter start a bank. Yasser! ol' Joshaway Gossett. Dat make folks open der eyes an' shake der head. I 'member de time, suh, when ol' Joshaway wuz runnin' a blacksmith shop out in de country. Den he sot in ter make waggins. Atter dat, he come ter be overseer fer Marse Bolivar Blasengame, but all de time he wuz overseein' he wiiz runnin' de blacksmith shop an' de waggin fact'ry.

"When de war come on, suh, dey say dat ol' Joshaway tuck all de money what he been savin' an' change it inter gol'; de natchul stuff. An' he had a pile un it. He kep' dat up all endurin' er de turmoil, and by de time freedom come out he had mo' er de natchul stuff dan what Cyarter had oats. Dat what folks say, suh, an' when eve'ybody talk one way you may know dey ain't fur fum de trufe. Anyhow, de word went 'roun' dat ol' Joshaway gwine ter start a bank. Folks wa'n't 'stonished 'kaze he had money, but bekaze he gwine ter start a bank, an' he not much mo' dan knowin' B fum bullfoot. Some snicker, some laugh, an' some make fun er ol' Joshaway, but Marse Tumlin say dat ef he know how ter shave a note, he bleeze ter know how ter run a bank. I ain't never see nobody shave a note, suh, but dat 'zackly what Marse Tumlin say.

"But ol' Joshaway, he ain't a-keerin' what folks say. He start de bank, an' he kep' it up twel de time I'm gwine tell you 'bout. He bought 'im a big strong safe, an' he had it walled up in de back er de bank, an' dar 'twuz. Don't make no diffunce what folks say 'bout ol' Joshaway, dey can't say he ain't honest. He gwine ter have what's his'n, an' he want yuther folks fer ter have what's der'n. When dat de case, 'tain't no trouble ter git folks ter trus' you. Dey put der money in ol' Joshaway's bank, whar he kin take keer un it, bekaze dey know'd he wa'n't gwine ter run off wid it.

"Well, suh, de bank wuz runnin' 'long des like 'twuz on skids, an' de skids greased. Ol' Joshaway ain't move ter town, but he hired 'im a clerk, an' de clerk stayed in de bank night an' day, an' I hear folks say de town wuz better'n bigger on 'count er ol' Joshaway's bank. I dunner how dey make dat out, 'kaze de bank wa'n't much bigger dan de kitchen back dar. Anyhow, dar she wuz, and dar she stayed fer a time an' a time.

"But one day Marse Tumlin Perdue tuck de notion dat he got ter borry some money. He seed yuther folks gwine in dar an' borryin' fum ol' Joshaway, an' he know he got des ez much bizness fer ter borry ez what dey is. Mo' dan dat, when he had plenty er money an' niggers, he done ol' Joshaway many a good turn. I know'd dat myse'f, suh, an' 'tain't no hearsay; I done seed it wid my own eyes. On de day I'm talkin' 'bout, Miss Vallie sont me up town fer ter ax Marse Tumlin kin he spar' two dollars—dat wuz befo' Miss Vallie wuz married; 'bout a mont' befo', an' she wuz makin' up her weddin' fixin's.

"'Twa'n't no trouble ter fin' Marse Tumlin. He wuz settin' in de shade wid a passel er men. He seed me, he did, an' he come ter meet me. When I tell 'im what Miss Vallie want, he kinder scratch his head an' look sollum. He studied a minit, an' den he tell me ter come go 'long wid 'im. He cut 'cross de squar' an' went right ter ol' Joshaway's bank, me a-follerin' right at his heels. He went in, he did, an' 'low, 'Hello, Joshaway!' Ol' Joshaway, he say, 'Howdy, Maje?' He wuz settin' in dar behime a counter what had wire palin's on top un it, an' he look fer all de worl' like some ongodly creetur what dey put in a cage for ter keep 'im fum doin' devilment.

"Marse Tumlin 'low, 'Joshaway, I want ter borry a hunderd dollars for a mont' er so.' Ol' Joshaway kinder change his cud er terbacker fum one side ter de yuther, an' cle'r up his th'oat. He say, 'Maje, right dis minit, I ain't got fifty dollars in de bank.' Nigger ez I is, I know'd dat wuz a lie, an' I couldn't help fum gruntin' ef I wuz gwine to be kilt fer it. At dat ol' Joshaway look up. Marse Tumlin stood dar drummin' on de counter. Bimeby ol' Joshaway say, 'Spoze'n I had it, Maje, who you gwine git fer yo' skyority?' des so. Marse Tumlin 'low, 'Fer my what?' 'Fer yo' skyority,' sez ol' Joshaway. I up an' say, 'Des lissen at dat!' Marse Tumlin 'low, 'Who went yo' skyority when I use ter loan you money?' 'Times is done change, Maje,' sez ol' Joshaway. Marse Tumlin flirted de little gate open, an' went 'roun' in dar so quick it made my head swim. He say, 'I ain't change!' an' wid dat, he took ol' Joshaway by de coat-collar an' cuff'd 'im 'roun' considerbul. He ain't hurt ol' Joshaway much, but he call 'im some names dat white folks don't fling at one an'er widout dey's gwine ter be blood-lettin' in de neighborhoods.

"Den Marse Tumlin come out fum behime de counter, an' stood in de do' an' look up town. By dat time I wuz done out on de sidewalk, 'kaze I don't want no pistol-hole in my hide. When it come ter fa'r fis' an' skull, er a knock-down an' drag-out scuffle, I'm wid you; I'm right dar; but deze yer guns an' pistols what flash an' bang an' put out yo' lights—an' maybe yo' liver—when it come ter dem, I lots druther be on t'er side de fence. Well, suh, I fully 'spected ol' Joshaway to walk out atter Marse Tumlin wid de double-bairl gun what I seed behime de counter; an' Marse Tumlin 'spected it, too, 'kaze he walk up an' down befo' de bank, an' eve'y once in a while he'd jerk his wescut down in front like he tryin' ter t'ar de bindin' off. Bimeby I see Marse Bolivar Blasengame git up fum whar he settin' at, an' here he come, swingin' his gol'-head cane, an' sa'nt'in' 'long like he gwine on a promenade.

"I know'd by dat, suh, dat Marse Bolivar been watchin' Marse Tumlin's motions, an' he seed dat trouble er some kind wuz on han'. He walk up, he did, an' atter he cut his eye at Marse Tumlin, he turn ter me an' laugh ter hisse'f—he had de purtiest front teef you mos' ever is see, suh—an' he 'low, 'Well, dang my buttons, ef here ain't ol' Minervy Ann, de warhoss fum Wauhoo! Wharsomever dey's trouble, dar's de ol' warhoss fum Wauhoo.' Wid dat, he lock arms wid Marse Tumlin, an' dey march off down de street, me a-follerin'. You ain't kin fin' two men like dem anywhar an' eve'ywhar. Dey wa'n't no blood-kin—dey married sisters—but dey wuz lots closer dan br'ers. Hit one an' you'd hurt de yuther, an' den ef you wa'n't ready ter git in a scuffle wid two wil'-cats, you better leave town twel dey cool off.

"Well, suh, dey ain't took many steps 'fo' dey wuz laughin' an' jokin' des like two boys. Ez we went up de street Marse Tumlin drapt in a sto' er two an' tol' um dat ol' Joshaway Gossett vow'd dat he ain't got fifty cash dollars in de bank. Dish yer money news is de kin' what spreads, an' don't you fergit it. It spread dat day des like powder ketchin' fire an' 'twa'n't no time 'fo' you could see folks runnin' 'cross de squar' des like dey er rabbit-huntin', an' by dinner-time dey wa'n't no bank dar no mo' dan a rabbit. Folks say dat ol' Joshaway try mighty hard ter 'splain matters, but dem what had der money in dar say dey'd take de spondulix fus' an' listen ter de 'splainin' atterwards. 'Long to'rds de noon-hour ol' Joshaway hatter fling up his han's. All de ready money done gone, an' folks at de do' hollin' fer dat what dey put in dar. I dunner how he ever got 'way fum dar, 'kaze dey wuz men in dat crowd ripe ter kill 'im; but he sneaked out an' went home, an' lef ' some un else fer ter win' up de shebang.

"De bank wuz des ez good ez any bank, an' folks got back all dey put in dar des ez soon ez dey'd let ol' Joshaway show his head in town; but he drapt dat kinder bizness an' went back ter farmin' an' note-shavin'. An' all bekaze he want skyority fer Marse Tumlin, which his word des ez good ez his bon'. He mought not er had de money when de clock struck de minit, but what diffunce do dat make when you know a man's des ez good ez gol'? Huh! no wonder dey broke ol' Joshaway down!"

Aunt Minervy Ann's indignation was a fine thing to behold. Her scorn of the man who wanted Major Perdue to put up security for his note was as keen and as bitter as it had been the day the episode occurred. She paused at this point as if her narrative had come to an end. Therefore, I put in a suggestion.

"Was this what you call frailing out the Gossett boys?"

"No, suh," she protested, with a laugh; "all deze yer gwines-on 'bout dat ar bank wuz des de 'casion un it. You bleeze ter know dem Gossett boys, suh. Dey had sorter cool down by de time you come here, but dey wuz still ripe fer any devilment dat come 'long. Dar wuz Rube an' Sam an' John Henry, an' a'er one un um wuz big ez a hoss. Dey use ter come ter town eve'y Chuseday an' Sat'day, an' by dinner-time dey'd be a-whoopin' an' hollin' in de streets, an' a-struttin' 'roun' mashin' folks' hats down on der eyes. Not all de folks, but some un um. An' all fer fun; dat what dey say.

"Tooby sho', dey had a spite ag'in Marse Tumlin and Marse Bolivar atter de bank busted. Dey show'd it by gwine des so fur; dey'd fling out der hints; but dey kep' on de safe side, 'kaze Marse Tumlin wa'n't de man fer ter go 'roun' huntin' a fuss, ner needer wuz Marse Bolivar; but fetch a fuss an' lay it in der laps, ez you may say, an' dey'd play wid it an' dandle it, an' keep it fum ketchin' col.' Dey sho' would, suh. When dem Gossett boys'd come ter town, Marse Tumlin an' Marse Bolivar would des set' 'roun' watchin' um, des waitin' twel dey cross de dead-line. But it seem like dey know des how fur ter go, an' right whar ter stop.

"Well, suh, it went on dis away fer I dunner how long, but bimeby, one day, our ol' cow got out, an' 'stidder hangin' 'roun' an' eatin' de grass in de streets like any yuther cow would 'a' done, she made a straight shoot fer de plantation whar she come fum.

Miss Vallie tol' Marse Tumlin 'bout it, an' he say he gwine atter her. Den some er de niggers in de nex' lot tol' me dat de cow wuz out an' gone, an' I put out atter her, too, not knowin' dat Marse Tumlin wuz gwine. He went de front street an' I went de back way. Ef de town wuz big ez de streets is long, we'd have a mighty city down here; you know dat yo'se'f, suh. De place whar de back street jines in wid de big road is mighty nigh a mile fum de tempunce hall, an' when I got dar, dar wuz Marse Tumlin polin' 'long. I holler an' ax 'im whar he gwine. He say he gwine atter a glass er milk. Den he ax me whar I gwine. I say I'm gwine atter dat ol' frame dat nigh-sighted folks call a cow. He 'low dat he'd be mighty thankful ef de nex' time I tuck a notion fer ter turn de cow out I'd tell 'im befo'han' so he kin run 'roun' an' head 'er off an' drive 'er back. He wuz constant a-runnin' on dat away. He'd crack his joke, suh, ef he dyin'.

"We went trudgin' 'long twel we come 'pon de big hill dat leads down ter de town branch. You know de place, suh. De hill mighty steep, an' on bofe sides er de road der's a hedge er Cherrykee roses; some folks calls um Chickasaw; but Chicky er Cherry, dar dey wuz, growin' so thick a rabbit can't hardly squeeze thoo um. On one side dey wuz growin' right on de aidge uv a big gully, an' at one place de groun' wuz kinder caved in, an' de briar vines wuz swayin' over it.

"Well, suh, des ez we got on de hill-top, I hear a buggy rattlin' an' den I hear laughin' an' cussin'. I lookt 'roun', I did, an' dar wuz de Gossett boys, two in de buggy an' one ridin' hossback; an' all un um full er dram. I could tell dat by de way dey wuz gwine on. You could hear um a mile, cussin' one an'er fer eve'ything dey kin tbink un an' den laughin' 'bout it. Sump'n tol' me dey wuz gwine ter be a rumpus, bekaze three ter one wuz too good a chance for de Gossett boys ter let go by. I dunner what make me do it, but when we got down de hill a little piece, I stoop down, I did, an' got me a good size rock.

"Terreckly here dey come. Dey kinder quiet down when dey see me an' Marse Tumlin. Dey driv up, dey did, an' driv on by, an' dis make me b'lieve dat dey wuz gwine on 'bout der bizness an' let we-all go on 'bout our'n, but dat idee wa'n't in der head. Dey driv by, dey did, an' den dey pulled up. We walkt on, an' Marse Tumlin lookt at um mighty hard. Rube, he was drivin', an' ez we come up even wid um, he 'low, 'Major Perdue, I hear tell dat you slap my pa's face not so mighty long ago.' Marse Tumlin say, 'I did, an' my han' ain't clean yit.' He belt it out so dey kin see fer deyse'f. 'I b'lieve,' sez Rube, 'I'll take a closer look at it.' Wid dat he lipt out er de buggy, an' by de time he hit de groun', Marse Tumlin had knockt 'im a-windin' wid his curly-hick'ry walkin'-cane. By dat time, John Henry had jumpt out'n de buggy, an' he went at Marse Tumlin wid a dirk-knife. He kep' de cane off'n his head by dodgin', but Marse Tumlin hit a back lick an' knock de knife out'n his han' an' den dey clincht. Den Rube got up, an' start to'rds um on de run.

"Well, suh, I wuz skeer'd an' mad bofe. I seed sump'n had ter be done, an' dat mighty quick; so I tuck atter Rube, cotch 'm by de ellybows, shoved 'im ahead faster dan he wuz gwine, an' steer'd 'im right to'rds de caved-in place in de brier-bushes. He tried mighty hard ter stop, but he wuz gwine down hill, an' I had de Ol' Boy in me. I got 'im close ter de place, suh, an' den I gi' 'm a shove, an' inter de briers he went, head over heels. All dis time I had de rock in my han'. By de time I turn 'roun' I see Sam a-comin'. When de rumpus start up, his hoss shied an' made a break down de hill wid 'im, but he slew'd 'im 'roun', an' jumped off, an' here he come back, his face red, his hat off, an' ol' Nick hisse'f lookin' out'n his eyes. I know'd mighty well I can't steer him inter no brier-bush, an' so when he run by me I let 'im have de rock in de burr er de year. 'Twa'n't no light lick, suh; I wuz plum venomous by den; an' he went down des like a beef does when you knock 'im in de head wid a ax."

Aunt Minervy Ann, all unconscious of her attitudes and gestures, had risen from the floor, and now stood in the middle of the room, tall, towering, and defiant.

"Den I run ter whar Marse Tumlin an' John Henry Gossett had been scufflin'; but by de time I got dar John Henry squalled out dat he had 'nuff; an' he wa'n't tellin' no lie, suh, fer Marse Tumlin had ketched his cane up short, an' he used it on dat man's face des like you see folks do wid ice-picks. He like to 'a' ruint 'im. But when he holla dat he got 'nuff, Marse Tumlin let 'im up. He let 'im up, he did, an' sorter step back. By dat time Rube wuz a-climbin' out'n de briers, an' Sam wuz makin' motions like he comin'-to. Marse Tumlin say, 'Lemme tell you cowardly rascals one thing. De nex' time a'er one un you bat his eye at me, I'm gwine ter put a hole right spang th'oo you. Ef you don't b'lieve it, you kin start ter battin' um right now.' Wid dat, he draw'd out his ervolver an' kinder played wid it. Rube say, 'We'll drap it. Major; we des had a little too much licker. But I'll not drap it wid dat nigger dar. I'll pay her fer dis day's work, an' I'll pay 'er well.'

"Well, suh, de way he say it set me on fire. I stept out in de middle er de road, an' 'low, 'Blast yo' rotten heart, ef you'll des walk out here I'll whip you in a fa'r fight. Fight me wid yo' naked han's an' I'll eat you up, ef I hatter pizen myself ter do it.'"

Once more Annt Minervy Ann brought the whole scene mysteriously before me. Her eyes gleamed ferociously, her body swayed, and her outstretched arm trembled with the emotion she had resummoned from the past. We were on the spot. The red hill-side, the hedges of Cherokee roses, Major Perdue grim and erect, Sam Gossett struggling to his feet, John Henry wiping his beaten face. Rube astounded at the unwonted violence of a negro woman, the buggy swerved to one side by the horse searching for grass—all these things came into view and slowly faded away. Aunt Minervy Ann, suddenly recollecting herself, laughed sheepishly.

"I ain't tellin' you no lie, suh, dat ar Rube Gossett stood dar like de little boy dat de calf run over. He mought er had sump'n ugly ter say, but Marse Tumlin put in. He 'low, 'Don't you fool yo'se'f 'bout dis nigger 'oman. When you hit her you hits me. Befo' you put yo' han' on 'er you come an' spit in my face. You'll fin' dat lots de cheapes' way er gittin' de dose what I got fer dem what hurts Minervy Ann.'

"Well, suh, dis make me feel so funny dat a little mo' an' I'd a got ter whimperin', but I happen ter look 'roun', an' dar wuz our ol' cow lookin' at me over a low place in de briers. She done got in de fiel' by a gap back up de road, an' dar she wuz a-lookin' at us like she sorry. Wid me, suh, de diffunce 'twixt laughin' an' cryin' ain't thicker dan a fly's wing, an' when I see dat ol' cow lookin' like she ready ter cry, I wuz bleeze to laugh. Marse Tumlin look at me right hard, but I say, 'Marse Tumlin, ol' June lis'nin' at us,' an' den he laughed.

"Dem Gossett boys brush deyse'f off good ez dey kin an' den dey put out fer home. Soon ez dey git out er sight, Marse Tumlin started in ter projickin'. He walk all 'roun' me a time er two, an' den he blow out his breff like folks does when dey er kinder tired. He look at me, an' say, 'Well, I be dam!' 'Dat would 'a' been de word,' sez I, 'ef ol' Minervy Ann hadn't 'a' been here dis day an' hour.' He shuck his head slow. 'You hit de mark dat time,' sez he; 'ef you hadn't 'a' been here, Minervy Ann, dem boys would sholy 'a' smasht me; but ef I hadn't 'a' been here, I reely b'lieve you'd 'a' frailed out de whole gang. You had two whipt, Minervy Ann, an' you wuz hankerin' fer de yuther one. I'll hatter sw'ar ter de facts 'fo' anybody'll b'lieve um.' I 'low '’Tain't no use ter tell nobody, Marse Tumlin. Folks think I'm bad 'nuff now.'

"But, shoo! Marse Tumlin would 'a' mighty nigh died ef he couldn't tell 'bout dat day's work. I ain't min' dat so much, but it got so dat when de Gossetts come ter town an' start ter prankin', de town boys 'ud call um by name, an' holla an' say, 'You better watch out dar! Minervy Ann Perdue comin' 'roun' de cornder!' Dat wuz so errytatin', suh, dat it kyo'd um. Dey drapt der dram-drinkin' an' spreein', an' now dey er high in Horeb Church. Dey don't like me, suh, an' no wonder; but ef dey kin git ter hev'm widout likin' me, I'd be glad ter see um go.

"Well, suh, I call de ol' cow, an' she foller long on 'er side er de briers, an' when she got whar de gap wuz, she curl 'er tail over 'er back an' put out fer home, des for all de worl' like she glad 'kaze me an' Marse Tumlin frailed out de Gossett boys.

"I say, 'Marse Tumlin, I'm a member er de church an' I don't b'lieve in fightin', but ef we hadn't er fit wid dem Gossetts we'd 'a' never foun' dat ol' cow in de roun' worl'.' He 'low, 'An' ef we hadn't er fit wid um, Minervy Ann, I'd 'a' never know'd who ter take wid me fer ter keep de boogerman fum gittin' me.'

"Dat night, suh, Marse Bolivar Blasengame come rappin' at my do'. Hamp wuz done gone ter bed, an' I wuz fixin' ter go. Marse Bolivar come in, he did, an' shuck han's wid me like he ain't seed me sence de big war. Den he sot down over ag'in' me an' look at me, an' make me tell 'im all 'bout de rumpus. Well, suh, he got ter laughin', an' he laughed twel he can't hardly set in de cheer. He say, 'Minervy Ann, ef dem folks say a word ter hurt yo' feelin's, don't tell Tumlin. Des come a-runnin' ter me. He done had his han's on um, an' now I want ter git mine on um.'

"Dat 'uz de way wid Marse Bolivar. He wa'n't no great han' ter git in a row, but he wuz mighty hard ter git out'n one when he got in. When he start out he stop on de step an' say, 'Minervy Ann, I didn't know you wuz sech a rank fighter.' 'I'm a Perdue,' sez I. Wid dat he got ter laughin', an' fur ez I kin hear 'im he wuz still a-laughin'. He b'longed ter a mighty fine fambly, suh; you know dat yo'se'f."