The Chronicles of Aunt Minervy Ann/Chapter 7
MAJOR PERDUE'S BARGAIN
"When next I had an opportunity to talk with Aunt Minervy Ann, she indulged in a hearty laugh before saying a word, and it was some time before she found her voice.
"What is so funny to-day?" I inquired.
"Me, suh—nothin' tall 'bout me, an' 'tain't only ter-day, nudder. Hit's eve'y day sence I been big 'nuff fer to see myse'f in de spring branch. I laughed den, an' I laugh now eve'y time I see myse'f in my min'—ef I' got any min'. I wuz talkin' ter Hamp las' night an' tellin' 'im how I start in ter tell you sump'n 'bout Marse Paul Conant' shoulder, an' den eend up by tellin' you eve'ything else I know but dat.
"Hamp 'low, he did, 'Dat ain't nothin', bekaze when I ax you ter marry me, you start in an' tell me 'bout a nigger gal' cross dar in Jasper County, which she make promise fer ter marry a man an' she crossed her heart; an' den when de time come she stood up an' marry 'im an' fin' out 'tain't de same man, but somebody what she ain't never see' befo'.'
"I 'speck dat's so, suh, bekaze dey wuz sump'n like dat happen in Jasper County. You know de Waters fambly—dey kep' race-hosses. Well, suh, 'twuz right on der plantation. Warren Waters tol' me 'bout dat hisse'f. He wuz de hoss-trainer, an' he 'uz right dar on de groun'. When de gal done married, she look up an' holler, 'You ain't my husban', bekaze I ain't make no promise fer ter marry you.' De man he laugh, an' say, 'Don't need no promise atter you done married.'
"Well, suh, dey say dat gal wuz skeer'd—skeer'd fer true. She sot an' look in de fire. De man sot an' look at 'er. She try ter slip out de do', an' he slipped wid 'er. She walked to'rds de big house, an' he walkt wid 'er. She come back, an' he come wid 'er. She run an' he run wid 'er. She cry an' he laugh at 'er. She dunner what to do. Bimeby she tuck a notion dat de man mought be de Ol' Boy hisse'f, an' she drapped down on her knees an' 'gun ter pray. Dis make de man restless; look like he frettin'. Den he 'gun ter shake like he havin' chill. Den he slip down out'n de cheer. Den he got on his all-fours. Den his cloze drapped off, an' bless gracious! dar he wuz, a great big black shaggy dog wid a short chain roun' his neck. Some un um flung a chunk of fire at 'im, an' he run out howlin'.
"Dat wuz de last dey seed un 'im, suh. Dey flung his cloze in de fire, an' dey make a blaze dat come plum out'n de top er de chimbley stack. Dat what make me tell Hamp 'bout it, suh. He ax me fer ter marry 'im, an' I wan't so mighty sho' dat he wan't de Ol' Boy."
"Well, that is queer, if true," said I, "but how about Mr. Conant's crippled shoulder?"
"Oh, it's de trufe, suh. Warren Waters tol' me dat out'n his own mouf, an' he wuz right dar. I dunno but what de gal wuz some er his kinnery. I don't min' tellin' you dat 'bout Marse Paul, suh, but you mustn't let on 'bout it, bekaze Marse Tumlin an' Miss Vallie des' ez tetchous 'bout dat ez dey kin be. I'd never git der fergivunce ef dey know'd I was settin' down here tellin' 'bout dat.
"You know how 'twuz in dem days. De folks what wuz de richest wuz de wussest off when de army come home from battlin'. I done tol' you 'bout Marse Tumlin. He ain't had nothin' in de roun' worl' but a whole passel er lan', an' me an' Miss Vallie. I don't count Hamp, bekaze Hamp 'fuse ter b'lieve he's free twel he ramble 'roun' an' fin' out de patterollers ain't gwine ter take 'im up. Dat how come I had ter sell ginger-cakes an' chicken-pies dat time. De money I made at dat ain't last long, bekaze Marse Tumlin he been use' ter rich vittles, an' he went right down-town an' got a bottle er chow-chow, an' some olives, an' some sardines, an' some cheese, an' you know yo'se'f, suh, dat money ain't gwine ter las' when you buy dat kin' er doin's."Well, suh, we done mighty well whiles de money belt out, but 'tain't court-week all de time, an' when dat de case, money got ter come fum some'rs else 'sides sellin' cakes an' pies. Bimeby, Hamp he got work at de liberty stable, whar dey hire out hosses an' board um. I call it a hoss tavern, suh, but Hamp, he 'low its a liberty stable. Anyhow, he got work dar, an' dat sorter he'p out. Sometimes he'd growl bekaze I tuck his money fer ter he'p out my white folks, but when he got right mad I'd gi' Miss Vallie de wink, an' she'd say: 'Hampton, how'd you like ter have a little dram ter-night? You look like youer tired.' I could a-hugged 'er fer de way she done it, she 'uz dat cute. An' den Hamp, he'd grin an' 'low, 'I ain't honin' fer it, Miss Vallie, but 'twon't do me no harm, an' it may do me good.'
"An' den, suh, he'd set down, an' atter he got sorter warmed up wid de dram, he'd kinder roll his eye and 'low, 'Miss Vallie, she is a fine white 'oman!' Well, suh, 'tain't long 'fo' we had dat nigger man trained—done trained, bless yo' soul! One day Miss Vallie had ter go 'cross town, an' she went by de liberty stable whar Hamp wuz at, leastways, he seed 'er some'rs; an' he come home dat night lookin' like he wuz feelin' bad. He 'fuse ter talk. Bimeby, atter he had his supper, he say, 'I seed Miss Vallie downtown ter-day. She wuz wid Miss Irene, an' dat 'ar frock she had on look mighty shabby.' I 'low, 'Well, it de bes' she got. She ain't got money like de Chippendales, an' Miss Irene don't keer how folks' cloze look. She too much quality fer dat.' Hamp say, 'Whyn't you take some er yo' money an' make Miss Vallie git er nice frock?' I 'low, 'Whar I got any money?' Hamp he hit his pocket an' say, 'You got it right here.'
"An' sho' 'nuff, suh, dat nigger man had a roll er money—mos' twenty dollars. Some hoss drovers had come 'long an' Hamp made dat money by trimmin' up de ol' mules dey had an' makin' um look young. He's got de art er dat, suh, an' dey paid 'im well. Dar wuz de money, but how wuz I gwine ter git it in Miss Vallie's han'? I kin buy vittles an' she not know whar dey come fum, but when it come ter buyin' frocks—well, suh, hit stumped me. Dey wan't but one way ter do it, an' I done it. I make like I wuz mad. I tuck de money an' went in de house dar whar Miss Vallie wuz sewin' an' mendin'. I went stompin' in, I did, an' when I got in I started my tune.
"I 'low, 'Ef de Perdues gwine ter go scandalizin' deyse'f by trottin' down town in broad daylight wid all kinder frocks on der back, I'm gwine 'way fum here; an' I dun'ner but what I'll go anyhow. 'Tain't bekaze dey's any lack er money, fer here de money right here.' Wid dat I slammed it down on de table. 'Dar! take dat an' git you a frock dat'll make you look like sump'n when you git outside er dis house. An' whiles you er gittin', git sump'n for ter put on yo' head!'"Whether it was by reason of a certain dramatic faculty inherent in her race that she was able to summon emotions at will, or whether it was mere unconscious reproduction, I am not prepared to say. But certain it is that, in voice and gesture, in tone and attitude, and in a certain passionate earnestness of expression, Aunt Minervy Ann built up the whole scene before my eyes with such power that I seemed to have been present when it occurred, I felt as if she had conveyed me bodily into the room to become a witness of the episode. She went on, still with a frown on her face and a certain violence of tone and manner:
"I whipped 'roun' de room a time er two, pickin' up de cheers an' slammin' um down ag'in, an' knockin' things 'roun' like I wuz mad. Miss Vallie put her sewin' down an' lay her han' on de money. She 'low, 'What's dis, Aunt Minervy Ann?' I say, 'Hit's money, dat what 'tis—nothin' but nasty, stinkin' money! I wish dey wan't none in de worl' less'n I had a bairlful.' She sorter fumble at de money wid 'er fingers. You dunno, suh, how white an' purty an' weak her han' look ter me dat night. She 'low, 'Aunt Minervy Ann, I can't take dis.' I blaze' out at 'er, 'You don't haf 'ter take it; you done got it! An' ef you don't keep it, I'll rake up eve'y rag an' scrap I got an' leave dis place. Now, you des' try me!'"
Again Aunt Minervy Ann summoned to her aid the passion of a moment that had passed away, and again I had the queer experience of seeming to witness the whole scene. She continued:
"Wid dat, I whipt out er de room an' out er de house an' went an' sot down out dar in my house whar Hamp was at. Hamp, he 'low, 'What she say?' I say, 'She ain't had time ter say nothin'—I come 'way fum dar.' He 'low, 'You ain't brung dat money back, is you?' I say: 'Does you think I'm a start naked fool?' He 'low: 'Kaze ef you is, I'll put it right spang in de fire here.'
"Well, suh, I sot dar some little time, but eve'ything wuz so still in de house, bein's Marse Tumlin done gone down town, dat I crope back an' crope in fer ter see what Miss Vallie doin'. Well, suh, she wuz cryin'—settin' dar cryin'. I 'low, 'Honey, is I say anything fer ter hurt yo' feelin's?' She blubber' out, 'You know you ain't!' an' den she cry good-fashion.
"Des 'bout dat time, who should come in but Marse Tumlin. He look at Miss Vallie an' den he look at me. He say, 'Valentine, what de matter?' I say, 'It's me! I'm de one! I made 'er cry. I done sump'n ter hurt 'er feelin's.' She 'low, '’Tain't so, an' you know it. I'm des cryin' bekaze you too good ter me.'"Well, suh, I had ter git out er dar fer ter keep fum chokin'. Marse Tumlin foller me out, an' right here on de porch, he 'low, 'Minervy Ann, nex' time don't be so dam good to 'er.' I wuz doin' some snifflin' myse'f 'bout dat time, an' I ain't keerin' what I say, so I stop an' flung back at 'im, 'I'll he des ez dam good ter 'er ez I please—I'm free!' "Well, suh, stidder hittin' me, Marse Tumlin bust out laughin', an' long atter dat he'd laugh eve'y time he look at me, des like sump'n wuz ticklin' 'im mighty nigh ter death.
"I 'speck he must er tol' 'bout dat cussin' part, bekaze folks 'roun' here done got de idee dat I'm a sassy an' bad-tempered 'oman. Ef I had ter work fer my livin', suh, I boun' you I'd be a long time findin' a place. Atter dat, Hamp, he got in de Legislatur', an' it sho wuz a money-makin' place. Den we had eve'ything we wanted, an' mo' too, but bimeby de Legislatur' gun out, an' den dar we wuz, flat ez flounders, an' de white folks don't want ter hire Hamp des kaze he been ter de Legislatur'; but he got back in de liberty stable atter so long a time. Yit 'twan't what you may call livin'.
"All dat time, I hear Marse Tumlin talkin' ter Miss Vallie 'bout what he call his wil' lan'. He say he got two thousan' acres down dar in de wire-grass, an' ef he kin sell it, he be mighty glad ter do so. Well, suh, one day, long to'rds night, a two-hoss waggin driv' in at de side gate an' come in de back-yard. Ol' Ben Sadler wuz drivin', an' he 'low, 'Heyo, Minervy Ann, whar you want deze goods drapped at?' I say, 'Hello yo'se'f, ef you wanter hello. What you got dar, an' who do it 'blong ter?' He 'low, 'Hit's goods fer Major Tumlin Perdue, an' whar does you want um drapped at?' Well, suh, I ain't know what ter say, but I run'd an' ax'd Miss Vallie, an' she say put um out anywheres 'roun' dar, kaze she dunner nothin' 'bout um. So ol' Ben Sadler, he put um out, an' when I come ter look at um, dey wuz a bairl er sump'n, an' a kaig er sump'n, an' a box er sump'n. De bairl shuck like it mought be 'lasses, an' de kaig shuck like it mought be dram, an' de box hefted like it mought be terbarker. An', sho' 'nuff, dat what dey wuz—a bairl er sorghum syr'p, an' a kaig er peach brandy, an' a box er plug terbarker."I say right den, an' Miss Vallie'll tell you de same, dat Marse Tumlin done gone an' swap off all his wil' lan', but Miss Vallie, she say no; he won't never think er sech a thing; but, bless yo' soul, suh, she wan't nothin' but a school-gal, you may say, an' she ain't know no mo' 'bout men folks dan what a weasel do. An den, right 'pon top er dat, here come a nigger boy leadin' a bob-tail hoss. When I see dat, I dez good ez know'd dat de wil' lan' done been swap off, bekaze Marse Tumlin ain't got nothin' fer ter buy all dem things wid, an' I tell you right now, suh, I wuz rank mad, kaze what we want wid any ol' bob-tail hoss? De sorghum mought do, an' de dram kin be put up wid, an' de terbarker got some comfort in it, but what de name er goodness we gwine ter do wid dat ol' hoss, when we ain't got hardly 'nuff vittles fer ter feed ourse'f wid? Dat what I ax Miss Vallie, an' she say right pine-blank she dunno.
"Well, suh, it's de Lord's trufe, I wuz dat mad I dunner what I say, an' I want keerin' nudder, bekaze I know how we had ter pinch an' squeeze fer ter git 'long in dis house. But I went 'bout gittin' supper, an' bimeby, Hamp, he come, an' I tol' 'im 'bout de ol' bob-tail hoss, an' he went out an' look at 'im. Atter while, here he come back laughin'. I say, 'You well ter laugh at dat ol' hoss.' He 'low, 'I ain't laughin' at de hoss. I'm laughin' at you. Gal, dat de finest hoss what ever put foot on de groun' in dis town. Dat's Marse Paul Conant's trottin' hoss. He'll fetch fi' hunder'd dollars any day. What he doin' here?' I up an' tol' 'im all I know'd, an' he shuck his head; he 'low, 'Gal, you lay low. Dey's sump'n n'er behime all dat.'
"What Hamp say sorter make me put on my studyin'-cap; but when you come ter look at it, suh, dey wan't nothin' 'tall fer me ter study 'bout. All I had ter do wuz ter try ter fin' out what wuz behime it, an' let it go at dat. When Marse Tumlin come home ter supper, I know'd sump'n wuz de matter wid 'im. I know'd it by his looks, suh. It's sorter wid folks like 'tis wid chillun. Ef you keer sump'n 'bout um you'll watch der motions, and ef you watch der motions dey don't hatter tell you when sump'n de matter. He come in so easy, suh, dat Miss Vallie ain't hear 'im, but I hear de do' screak, an' I know'd 'twuz him. We wuz talkin' an' gwine on at a mighty rate, an' I know'd he done stop ter lisn'.
"Miss Vallie, she 'low she 'speck somebody made 'im a present er dem ar things. I say, 'Uh-uh, honey! don't you fool yo'se'f. Nobody ain't gwine ter do dat. Our folks ain't no mo' like dey useter wuz, dan crabapples is like plums. Dey done come ter dat pass dat whatsomever dey gits der ban's on dey 'fuse ter turn it loose. All un um, 'cep' Marse Tumlin Perdue. Dey ain't no tellin' what he gun fer all dat trash. Trash! Hit's wuss'n trash! I wish you'd go out dar an' look at dat ol' bob-tail hoss. Why dat ol' hoss wuz stove up long 'fo' de war. By rights he ought ter be in de bone-yard dis ve'y minnit. He won't be here two whole days 'fo' you'll see de buzzards lined up out dar on de back fence waitin', an' dey won't hatter wait long nudder. Ef dey sen' any corn here fer ter feed dat bag er bones wid, I'll parch it an' eat it myse'f 'fo' he shill have it. Ef anybody 'speck I'm gwine ter 'ten' ter dat ol' frame, deyer 'speckin' wid de wrong specks. I tell you dat right now.'
"All dis time Marse Tumlin wuz stan'in' out in de hall lis'nin'. Miss Vallie talk mighty sweet 'bout it. She say, 'Ef dey ain't nobody else ter 'ten' de hoss, reckin I kin do it.' I 'low, 'My life er me, honey! de nex' news you know you'll be hirin' out ter de liberty stable.'
"Well, suh, my talk 'gun ter git so hot dat Marse Tumlin des had ter make a fuss. He fumbled wid de do' knob, an' den come walkin' down de hall, an' by dat time I wuz in de dinin'-room. I walk mighty light, bekaze ef he say anything I want ter hear it. You can't call it eave-drappin', suh; hit look ter me dat 'twuz ez much my business ez 'twuz dern, an' I ain't never got dat idee out'n my head down ter dis day.
"But Marse Tumlin ain't say nothin', 'cep' fer ter ax Miss Vallie ef she feelin' well, an' how eve'ything wuz, but de minnit I hear 'im open his mouf I know'd he had trouble on his min'. I can't tell you how I know'd it, suh, but dar 'twuz. Look like he tried to hide it, bekaze he tol' a whole lot of funny tales 'bout folks, an' 'twan't long befo' he had Miss Vallie laughin' fit ter kill. But he ain't fool me, suh.
"Bimeby, Miss Vallie, she come in de dinin'-room fer ter look atter settin' de table, bekaze fum a little gal she allers like ter have de dishes fix des so. She wuz sorter hummin' a chune, like she ain't want' ter talk, but I ain't let dat stan' in my way.
"I 'low, 'I wish eve'ybody wuz like dat Mr. Paul Conant. I bet you right now he been down town dar all day makin' money han' over fist, des ez fast ez he can rake it in. I know it, kaze I does his washin' and cleans up his room fer 'im.'
"Miss Vallie say, 'Well, what uv it? Money don't make 'im no better'n anybody else.' I 'low, 'Hit don't make 'im no wuss; an' den, 'sides dat, he ain't gwine ter let nobody swindle 'im.'
"By dat time, I hatter go out an' fetch supper in, an' 'tain't take me no time, bekaze I wuz des' achin' fer ter hear how Marse Tumlin come by dem ar contraptions an' contrivances. An' I stayed in dar ter wait on de table, which it ain't need no waitin' on.
"Atter while, I 'low, 'Marse Tumlin, I like ter forgot ter tell you—yo' things done come.' He say, 'What things, Minervy Ann?' I 'low, 'Dem ar contraptions, an' dat ar bob-tail hoss. He look mighty lean an' hongry, de hoss do, but Hamp he say dat's bekaze he's a high-bred hoss. He say dem ar high-bred hosses won't take on no fat, no matter how much you feed um.'
"Marse Tumlin sorter drum on de table. Atter while he 'low, 'Dey done come, is dey, Minervy Ann?' I say, 'Yasser, dey er here right now. Hamp puts it down dat dat ar hoss one er de gayliest creatur's what ever make a track in dis town.'
"Well, suh, 'tain't no use ter tell you what else wuz said, kaze 'twan't much. I seed dat Marse Tumlin want gwine ter talk 'bout it, on account er bein' 'fear'd he'd hurt Miss Vallie's feelin's ef he tol' 'er dat he done swap off all dat wil' lan' fer dem ar things an' dat ar bob-tail hoss. Dat what he done. Yasser! I hear 'im sesso atterwards. He swap it off ter Marse Paul Conant.
"I thank my Lord it come out all right, but it come mighty nigh bein' de ruination er de fambly."
"How was that?" I inquired.
"Dat what I'm gwine ter tell you, suh. Right atter supper dat night, Marse Tumlin say he got ter go down town fer ter see a man on some business, an' he ax me ef I won't stay in de house dar wid Miss Vallie. 'Twa'n't no trouble ter me, bekaze I'd 'a' been on de place anyhow, an' so when I got de kitchen cleaned up an' de things put away, I went back in de house whar Miss Vallie wuz at. Marse Tumlin wuz done gone.
"Miss Vallie, she sot at de table doin' some kind er rufflin', an' I sot back ag'in de wall in one er dem ar high-back cheers. What we said I'll never tell you, suh, bekaze I'm one er deze kinder folks what ain't no sooner set down an' git still dan dey goes ter noddin'. Dat's me. Set me down in a cheer, high-back er low-back, an' I'm done gone! I kin set here on de step an' keep des ez wide-'wake ez a skeer'd rabbit, but set me down in a cheer—well, suh, I'd like ter see anybody keep me 'wake when dat's de case."Dar I sot in dat ar high-back cheer, Miss Vallie rufflin' an' flutin' sump'n, an' tryin' ter make me talk, an' my head rollin' 'roun' like my neck done broke. Bimeby, blam! blam! come on de do'. We got one er dem ar jinglin' bells now, suh, but in dem times we had a knocker, an' it soun' like de roof fallin' in. I like ter jumped out'n my skin. Miss Vallie drapped her conflutements an' 'low, 'What in de worl'! Aunt Minervy Ann, go ter de do'.'
"Well, suh, I went, but I ain't had no heart in it, bekaze I ain't know who it mought be, an' whar dey come fum, an' what dey want. But I went. 'Twuz me er Miss Vallie, an' I want gwine ter let dat chile go, not dat time er night, dough 'twa'n't so mighty late.
"I open de do' on de crack, I did, an' 'low, 'Who dat?' Somebody make answer, 'Is de Major in, Aunt Minervy Ann?' an' I know'd right den it wuz Marse Paul Conant. An' it come over me dat he had sump'n ter do wid sendin' er dem contraptions, mo' 'speshually dat ar bob-tail hoss. An' den, too, suh, lots quicker'n I kin tell it, hit come over me dat he been axin' me lots 'bout Miss Vallie. All come 'cross my min', suh, whiles I pullin' de do' open.
"I 'low, I did, 'No, suh; Marse Tumlin gone down town fer ter look atter some business, but he sho ter come back terreckly. Won't you come in, suh, an' wait fer 'im?' He sorter flung his head back an' laugh, saft like, an' say, 'I don't keer ef I do. Aunt Minervy Ann.'
"I 'low, 'Walk right in de parlor, suh, an' I'll make a light mos' 'fo' you kin turn 'roun'. He come in, he did, an' I lit de lamp, an' time I lit 'er she 'gun ter smoke. Well, suh, he tuck dat lamp, run de wick up an' down a time er two, an' dar she wuz, bright ez day.
"When I went back in de room whar Miss Vallie wuz at, she wuz stan'in' dar lookin' skeer'd. She say, 'Who dat?' I 'low, 'Hit's Marse Paul Conant, dat's who 'tis. She say, 'What he want?' I 'low, 'Nothin' much; he does come a-courtin'. Better jump up an' not keep 'im waitin'.'
"Well, suh, you could 'a' knock'd 'er down wid a fedder. She stood dar wid 'er han' on 'er th'oat takin' short breffs, des like a little bird does when it flies in de winder an' dunner how ter fly out ag'in.
"Bimeby, she say, 'Aunt Minervy Ann, you ought ter be 'shame or yo'se'f! I know dat man when I see 'im, an' dat's all.' I 'low, 'Honey, you know mighty well he ain't come callin'. But he wanter see Marse Tumlin, an' dey ain't nothin' fer ter hender you fum gwine in dar an' makin' 'im feel at home while's he waitin'.' She sorter study awhile, an' den she blush up. She say, 'I dunno whedder I ought ter.'
"Well, suh, dat settled it. I know'd by de way she look an' talk dat ske don't need no mo' 'swadin'. I say, 'All right, honey, do ez you please; but it's yo' house; you er de mist'iss; an' it'll look mighty funny ef dat young man got ter set in dar by hisse'f an' look at de wall whiles he waitin' fer Marse Tumlin. I dunner what he'll say, kaze I ain't never hear 'im talk 'bout nobody; but I know mighty well he'll do a heap er thinkin'.'
"Des like I tell you, suh—she skipped 'roun' dar, an' flung on 'er Sunday frock, shuck out 'er curls, an' sorter fumble' 'roun' wid some ribbons, an' dar she wuz, lookin' des ez fine ez a fiddle, ef not finer. Den she swep' inter de parlor, an', you mayn't b'lieve it, suh, but she mighty nigh tuck de man's breff 'way. Mon, she wuz purty, an' she ain't do no mo' like deze eve'y-day gals dan nothin'. When she start 'way fum me, she wuz a gal. By de time she walk up de hall an' sweep in dat parlor, she wuz a grown 'oman. De blush what she had on at fust stayed wid 'er an' look like 't wuz er natchual color, an' her eyes shine, suh, like she had fire in um. I peeped at 'er, suh, fum behime de curtains in de settin'-room, an' I know what I'm talkin' 'bout. It's de Lord's trufe, suh, ef de men folks could tote derse'f like de wimmen, an' do one way whiles dey feelin' annuder way, dey wouldn't be no livin' in de worl'. You take a school gal, suh, an' she kin fool de smartest man what ever trod shoe leather. He may talk wid 'er all day an' half de night, an' he never is ter fin' out what she thinkin' 'bout. Sometimes de gals fools deyse'f, suh, but dat's mighty seldom.
"I dunner what all dey say, kaze I ain't been in dar so mighty long 'fo' I wuz noddin', but I did hear Marse Paul say he des drapt in fer 'pollygize 'bout a little joke he played on Marse Tumlin. Miss Vallie ax what wuz de joke, an' he 'low dat Marse Tumlin wuz banterin' folks fer ter buy his wil' lan'; an' Marse Paul ax 'im what he take fer it, an' Marse Tumlin 'low he'll take anything what he can chaw, sop, er drink. Dem wuz de words—chaw, sop, or drink. Wid dat, Marse Paul say he'd gi' 'im a box er terbarker, a bairl er syr'p, an' a kaig er peach brandy an' th'ow in his buggy-hoss fer good medjer. Marse Tumlin say 'done' an' dey shuck han's on it. Dat what Marse Paul tol' Miss Vallie, an he 'low he des done it fer fun, kaze he done looked inter dat wil' lan', an' he 'low she's wuff a pile er money."Well, suh, 'bout dat time, I 'gun ter nod, an' de fus news I know'd Miss Vallie wuz whackin' 'way on de peanner, an' it look like ter me she wuz des tryin' 'erse'f. By dat time, dey vuz gettin' right chummy, an' so I des curl up on de flo', an' dream dat de peanner chunes wuz comin' out'n a bairl des like 'lasses.
"When I waked up, Marse Paul Conant done gone, an' Marse Tumlin ain't come, an' Miss Vallie wuz settin' dar in de parlor lookin' up at de ceilin' like she got some mighty long thoughts. Her color wuz still up. I look at 'er an' laugh, an' she made a mouf at me, an' I say ter myse'f, 'Hey! sump'n de matter here, sho,' but I say out loud, 'Marse Paul Conant sho gwine ter ax me ef you ain't had a dram.' She laugh an' say, 'What answer you gwine ter make?' I 'low, 'I'll bow an' say, "No, suh; I'm de one dat drinks all de dram fer de fambly."
"Well, suh, dat chile sot in ter laughin', an' she laugh an' laugh twel she went inter highsterics. She wuz keyed up too high, ez you mought say, an' dat's de way she come down ag'in. Bimeby, Marse Tumlin come, an' Miss Vallie, she tol' 'm 'bout how Marse Paul done been dar; an' he sot dar, he did, an' hummed an' haw'd, an' done so funny dat, bimeby, I 'low, 'Well, folks, I'll hatter tell you good-night,' an' wid dat I went out."
At this point Aunt Minervy leaned forward, clasped her hands over her knees, and shook her head. "When she took up the thread of her narrative, if it can be called such, the tone of her voice was more subdued, almost confidential, in fact.
"Nex' mornin' wuz my wash-day, suh, an' 'bout ten o'clock, when I got ready, dey want no bluin' in de house an' mighty little soap. I hunted high an' I hunted low, but no bluin' kin I fin'. An' dat make me mad, bekaze ef I hatter go down town atter de bluin', my wash-day'll be broke inter. But 'tain't no good fer ter git mad, bekaze I wuz bleeze ter go atter de bluin'. So I tighten up my head-hankcher, an' flung a cape on my shoulders an' put out.
"I 'speck you know how 'tis, suh. You can't go down town but what you'll see nigger wimmen stan'in' out in de front yards lookin' over de palin's. Dey all know'd me an' I know'd dem, an' de las' blessed one un um hatter hail me ez I go by, an' I hatter stop an' pass de time er day, kaze ef I'd 'a' whipt on by, dey'd 'a' said I wuz gwine back bofe on my church an' on my color. I dunner how long dey kep' me, but time I got ter Proctor's sto', I know'd I'd been on de way too long."I notice a crowd er men out dar, some settin' an' some stan'in', but I run'd in, I did, an' de young man what do de clerkin', he foller me in an' ax what I want. I say I want a dime's wuff er bluin', an' fer ter please, suh, wrop it up des ez quick ez he kin. I tuck notice dat while he wuz gittin' it out'n de box, he sorter stop like he lis'nin' an' den ag'in, whiles he had it in de scoop des ready fer ter drap it in de scales, he helt his han' an' wait. Den I know'd he wuz lis'nin'.
"Dat makes me lis'n, an' den I hear Marse Tumlin talkin', an' time I hear 'im I know'd he wuz errytated. Twa'n't bekaze he wuz talkin' loud, suh, but 'twuz bekaze he wuz talkin' level. When he talk loud, he feelin' good. When he talk low, an' one word soun' same ez anudder, den somebody better git out'n his way. I lef de counter an' step ter de do' fer ter see what de matter wuz betwix' um.
"Well, suh, dar wuz Marse Tumlin stan'in' dar close ter Tom Ferryman. Marse Tumlin, 'low, 'Maybe de law done 'pinted you my gyardeen. How you know I been swindled?' Tom Perryman say, 'Bekaze I hear you say he bought yo' wil' lan' fer a little er nothin'. He'll swindle you ef you trade wid 'im, an' you done trade wid 'im.' Marse Tumlin, 'low, 'Is Paul Conant ever swindle you?' Tom Perryman say, 'No, he ain't, an' ef he wuz ter I'd give 'im a kickin'.' Marse Tumlin 'low, 'Well, you know you is a swindler, an' nobody ain't kick you. How come dat?' Tom Perryman say, 'Ef you say I'm a swindler, you're a liar.'
"Well, suh, de man ain't no sooner say dat dan bang! went Marse Tumlin's pistol, an' des ez it banged Marse Paul Conant run 'twix' um, an' de ball went right spang th'oo de collar-bone an' sorter sideways th'oo de p'int er de shoulder-blade. Marse Tumlin drapt bis pistol an' cotch 'im ez he fell an' knelt down dar by 'im, an' all de time dat ar Tom Perryman wuz stan'in' right over um wid his pistol in his han'. I squall out, I did, 'Whyn't some er you white men take dat man pistol 'way fum 'im? Don't you see what he fixin' ter do?'"I run'd at 'im, an' he sorter flung back wid his arm, an' when he done dat somebody grab 'im fum behime. All dat time Marse Tumlin wuz axin' Marse Paul Conant ef he hurt much. I hear 'im say, 'I wouldn't 'a' done it fer de worl', Conant—not fer de worl'.' Den de doctor, he come up, an' Marse Tumlin, he pester de man twel he hear 'im say, 'Don't worry. Major; dis boy'll live ter be a older man dan you ever will.' Den Marse Tumlin got his pistol an' hunt up an' down fer dat ar Tom Perryman, but he done gone. I seed 'im when he got on his hoss.
"I say to Marse Tumlin, 'Ain't you des ez well ter fetch Marse Paul Conant home whar we all kin take keer uv 'im?' He 'low, 'Dat's a fack. Go home an' tell yo' Miss Vallie fer ter have de big room fixed up time we git dar wid 'im.' I say, 'Humph! I'll fix it myse'f; I know'd I ain't gwine ter let Miss Vallie do it.'
"Well, suh, 'tain't no use fer ter tell yer de rest. Dar's dat ar baby in dar, an' what mo' sign does you want ter show you dat it all turned out des like one er dem ol'-time tales?"