There was a big fireplace that wasbricked on the bottom, and the bricks was kept clean and red by pouringwater on them and scrubbing them with another brick; sometimes they washthem over with red water-paint that they call Spanish-brown, same as theydo in town. They had big brass dog-irons that could hold up a saw-log.There was a clock on the middle of the mantelpiece, with a picture of atown painted on the bottom half of the glass front, and a round place inthe middle of it for the sun, and you could see the pendulum swingingbehind it. It was beautiful to hear that clock tick; and sometimes whenone of these peddlers had been along and scoured her up and got her ingood shape, she would start in and strike a hundred and fifty before shegot tuckered out. They wouldn't took any money for her.
IN about a minute somebody spoke out of a window without putting his headout, and says:
"Be done, boys! Who's there?"
"George Jackson, sir."
"What do you want?"
"I don't want nothing, sir. I only want to go along by, but the dogswon't let me."
"What are you prowling around here this time of night for--hey?"
"I warn't prowling around, sir, I fell overboard off of the steamboat."
"Oh, you did, did you? Strike a light there, somebody. What did you sayyour name was?"
"George Jackson, sir. I'm only a boy."
"Look here, if you're telling the truth you needn't be afraid--nobody'llhurt you. But don't try to budge; stand right where you are. Rouse outBob and Tom, some of you, and fetch the guns. George Jackson, is thereanybody with you?"
"No, sir, nobody."
I heard the people stirring around in the house now, and see a light.The man sung out:
"Snatch that light away, Betsy, you old fool--ain't you got any sense?Put it on the floor behind the front door. Bob, if you and Tom areready, take your places."
"Now, George Jackson, do you know the Shepherdsons?"
"No, sir; I never heard of them."
"Well, that may be so, and it mayn't. Now, all ready. Step forward,George Jackson. And mind, don't you hurry--come mighty slow. If there'sanybody with you, let him keep back--if he shows himself he'll be shot.Come along now. Come slow; push the door open yourself--just enough tosqueeze in, d' you hear?"
I didn't hurry; I couldn't if I'd a wanted to. I took one slow step at atime and there warn't a sound, only I thought I could hear my heart. Thedogs were as still as the humans, but they followed a little behind me.When I got to the three log doorsteps I heard them unlocking andunbarring and unbolting. I put my hand on the door and pushed it alittle and a little more till somebody said, "There, that's enough--putyour head in." I done it, but I judged they would take it off.
The candle was on the floor, and there they all was, looking at me, andme at them, for about a quarter of a minute: Three big men with gunspointed at me, which made me wince, I tell you; the oldest, gray andabout sixty, the other two thirty or more--all of them fine and handsome--and the sweetest old gray-headed lady, and back of her two young womenwhich I couldn't see right well. The old gentleman says:
"There; I reckon it's all right. Come in."
As soon as I was in the old gentleman he locked the door and barred itand bolted it, and told the young men to come in with their guns, andthey all went in a big parlor that had a new rag carpet on the floor, andgot together in a corner that was out of the range of the front windows--there warn't none on the side. They held the candle, and took a goodlook at me, and all said, "Why, HE ain't a Shepherdson--no, there ain'tany Shepherdson about him." Then the old man said he hoped I wouldn'tmind being searched for arms, because he didn't mean no harm by it--itwas only to make sure. So he didn't pry into my pockets, but only feltoutside with his hands, and said it was all right. He told me to makemyself easy and at home, and tell all about myself; but the old ladysays:
"Why, bless you, Saul, the poor thing's as wet as he can be; and don'tyou reckon it may be he's hungry?"
"True for you, Rachel--I forgot."
So the old lady says:
"Betsy" (this was a nigger woman), "you fly around and get him somethingto eat as quick as you can, poor thing; and one of you girls go and wakeup Buck and tell him--oh, here he is himself. Buck, take this littlestranger and get the wet clothes off from him and dress him up in some ofyours that's dry."
Buck looked about as old as me--thirteen or fourteen or along there,though he was a little bigger than me. He hadn't on anything but ashirt, and he was very frowzy-headed. He came in gaping and digging onefist into his eyes, and he was dragging a gun along with the other one.He says:
"Ain't they no Shepherdsons around?"
They said, no, 'twas a false alarm.
"Well," he says, "if they'd a ben some, I reckon I'd a got one."
They all laughed, and Bob says:
"Why, Buck, they might have scalped us all, you've been so slow incoming."
"Well, nobody come after me, and it ain't right I'm always kept down; Idon't get no show."
"Never mind, Buck, my boy," says the old man, "you'll have show enough,all in good time, don't you fret about that. Go 'long with you now, anddo as your mother told you."
When we got up-stairs to his room he got me a coarse shirt and aroundabout and pants of his, and I put them on. While I was at it heasked me what my name was, but before I could tell him he started to tellme about a bluejay and a young rabbit he had catched in the woods daybefore yesterday, and he asked me where Moses was when the candle wentout. I said I didn't know; I hadn't heard about it before, no way.
"Well, guess," he says.
"How'm I going to guess," says I, "when I never heard tell of it before?"
"But you can guess, can't you? It's just as easy."
"WHICH candle?" I says.
"Why, any candle," he says.
"I don't know where he was," says I; "where was he?"
"Why, he was in the DARK! That's where he was!"
"Well, if you knowed where he was, what did you ask me for?"
"Why, blame it, it's a riddle, don't you see? Say, how long are yougoing to stay here? You got to stay always. We can just have boomingtimes--they don't have no school now. Do you own a dog? I've got adog--and he'll go in the river and bring out chips that you throw in. Doyou like to comb up Sundays, and all that kind of foolishness? You bet Idon't, but ma she makes me. Confound these ole britches! I reckon I'dbetter put 'em on, but I'd ruther not, it's so warm. Are you all ready?All right. Come along, old hoss."
Cold corn-pone, cold corn-beef, butter and buttermilk--that is what theyhad for me down there, and there ain't nothing better that ever I've comeacross yet. Buck and his ma and all of them smoked cob pipes, except thenigger woman, which was gone, and the two young women. They all smokedand talked, and I eat and talked. The young women had quilts aroundthem, and their hair down their backs. They all asked me questions, andI told them how pap and me and all the family was living on a little farmdown at the bottom of Arkansaw, and my sister Mary Ann run off and gotmarried and never was heard of no more, and Bill went to hunt them and hewarn't heard of no more, and Tom and Mort died, and then there warn'tnobody but just me and pap left, and he was just trimmed down to nothing,on account of his troubles; so when he died I took what there was left,because the farm didn't belong to us, and started up the river, deckpassage, and fell overboard; and that was how I come to be here. So theysaid I could have a home there as long as I wanted it. Then it was mostdaylight and everybody went to bed, and I went to bed with Buck, and whenI waked up in the morning, drat it all, I had forgot what my name was.So I laid there about an hour trying to think, and when Buck waked up Isays:
"Can you spell, Buck?"
"Yes," he says.
"I bet you can't spell my name," says I.
"I bet you what you dare I can," says he.
"All right," says I, "go ahead."
"G-e-o-r-g-e J-a-x-o-n--there now," he says.
"Well," says I, "you done it, but I didn't think you could. It ain't noslouch of a name to spell--right off without studying."
I set it down, private, because somebody might want ME to spell it next,and so I wanted to be handy with it and rattle it off like I was used toit.
It was a mighty nice family, and a mighty nice house, too. I hadn't seenno house out in the country before that was so nice and had so muchstyle. It didn't have an iron latch on the front door, nor a wooden onewith a buckskin string, but a brass knob to turn, the same as houses intown. There warn't no bed in the parlor, nor a sign of a bed; but heapsof parlors in towns has beds in them.
Well, there was a big outlandish parrot on each side of the clock, madeout of something like chalk, and painted up gaudy. By one of the parrotswas a cat made of crockery, and a crockery dog by the other; and when youpressed down on them they squeaked, but didn't open their mouths nor lookdifferent nor interested. They squeaked through underneath. There was acouple of big wild-turkey-wing fans spread out behind those things. Onthe table in the middle of the room was a kind of a lovely crockerybasket that had apples and oranges and peaches and grapes piled up in it,which was much redder and yellower and prettier than real ones is, butthey warn't real because you could see where pieces had got chipped offand showed the white chalk, or whatever it was, underneath.
This table had a cover made out of beautiful oilcloth, with a red andblue spread-eagle painted on it, and a painted border all around. Itcome all the way from Philadelphia, they said. There was some books,too, piled up perfectly exact, on each corner of the table. One was abig family Bible full of pictures. One was Pilgrim's Progress, about aman that left his family, it didn't say why. I read considerable in itnow and then. The statements was interesting, but tough. Another wasFriendship's Offering, full of beautiful stuff and poetry; but I didn'tread the poetry. Another was Henry Clay's Speeches, and another was Dr.Gunn's Family Medicine, which told you all about what to do if a body wassick or dead. There was a hymn book, and a lot of other books. Andthere was nice split-bottom chairs, and perfectly sound, too--not baggeddown in the middle and busted, like an old basket.
They had pictures hung on the walls--mainly Washingtons and Lafayettes,and battles, and Highland Marys, and one called "Signing theDeclaration." There was some that they called crayons, which one of thedaughters which was dead made her own self when she was only fifteenyears old. They was different from any pictures I ever see before--blacker, mostly, than is common. One was a woman in a slim black dress,belted small under the armpits, with bulges like a cabbage in the middleof the sleeves, and a large black scoop-shovel bonnet with a black veil,and white slim ankles crossed about with black tape, and very wee blackslippers, like a chisel, and she was leaning pensive on a tombstone onher right elbow, under a weeping willow, and her other hand hanging downher side holding a white handkerchief and a reticule, and underneath thepicture it said "Shall I Never See Thee More Alas." Another one was ayoung lady with her hair all combed up straight to the top of her head,and knotted there in front of a comb like a chair-back, and she wascrying into a handkerchief and had a dead bird laying on its back in herother hand with its heels up, and underneath the picture it said "I ShallNever Hear Thy Sweet Chirrup More Alas." There was one where a younglady was at a window looking up at the moon, and tears running down hercheeks; and she had an open letter in one hand with black sealing waxshowing on one edge of it, and she was mashing a locket with a chain toit against her mouth, and underneath the picture it said "And Art ThouGone Yes Thou Art Gone Alas." These was all nice pictures, I reckon, butI didn't somehow seem to take to them, because if ever I was down alittle they always give me the fan-tods. Everybody was sorry she died,because she had laid out a lot more of these pictures to do, and a bodycould see by what she had done what they had lost. But I reckoned thatwith her disposition she was having a better time in the graveyard. Shewas at work on what they said was her greatest picture when she tooksick, and every day and every night it was her prayer to be allowed tolive till she got it done, but she never got the chance. It was apicture of a young woman in a long white gown, standing on the rail of abridge all ready to jump off, with her hair all down her back, andlooking up to the moon, with the tears running down her face, and she hadtwo arms folded across her breast, and two arms stretched out in front,and two more reaching up towards the moon--and the idea was to see whichpair would look best, and then scratch out all the other arms; but, as Iwas saying, she died before she got her mind made up, and now they keptthis picture over the head of the bed in her room, and every time herbirthday come they hung flowers on it. Other times it was hid with alittle curtain. The young woman in the picture had a kind of a nicesweet face, but there was so many arms it made her look too spidery,seemed to me.
This young girl kept a scrap-book when she was alive, and used to pasteobituaries and accidents and cases of patient suffering in it out of thePresbyterian Observer, and write poetry after them out of her own head.It was very good poetry. This is what she wrote about a boy by the nameof Stephen Dowling Bots that fell down a well and was drownded:
ODE TO STEPHEN DOWLING BOTS, DEC'D
And did young Stephen sicken, And did young Stephen die? And did the sadhearts thicken, And did the mourners cry?
No; such was not the fate of Young Stephen Dowling Bots; Though sadhearts round him thickened, 'Twas not from sickness' shots.
No whooping-cough did rack his frame, Nor measles drear with spots; Notthese impaired the sacred name Of Stephen Dowling Bots.
Despised love struck not with woe That head of curly knots, Nor stomachtroubles laid him low, Young Stephen Dowling Bots.
O no. Then list with tearful eye, Whilst I his fate do tell. His souldid from this cold world fly By falling down a well.
They got him out and emptied him; Alas it was too late; His spirit wasgone for to sport aloft In the realms of the good and great.
If Emmeline Grangerford could make poetry like that before she wasfourteen, there ain't no telling what she could a done by and by. Bucksaid she could rattle off poetry like nothing. She didn't ever have tostop to think. He said she would slap down a line, and if she couldn'tfind anything to rhyme with it would just scratch it out and slap downanother one, and go ahead. She warn't particular; she could write aboutanything you choose to give her to write about just so it was sadful.Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be onhand with her "tribute" before he was cold. She called them tributes.The neighbors said it was the doctor first, then Emmeline, then theundertaker--the undertaker never got in ahead of Emmeline but once, andthen she hung fire on a rhyme for the dead person's name, which wasWhistler. She warn't ever the same after that; she never complained, butshe kinder pined away and did not live long. Poor thing, many's the timeI made myself go up to the little room that used to be hers and get outher poor old scrap-book and read in it when her pictures had beenaggravating me and I had soured on her a little. I liked all thatfamily, dead ones and all, and warn't going to let anything come betweenus. Poor Emmeline made poetry about all the dead people when she wasalive, and it didn't seem right that there warn't nobody to make someabout her now she was gone; so I tried to sweat out a verse or twomyself, but I couldn't seem to make it go somehow. They kept Emmeline'sroom trim and nice, and all the things fixed in it just the way she likedto have them when she was alive, and nobody ever slept there. The oldlady took care of the room herself, though there was plenty of niggers,and she sewed there a good deal and read her Bible there mostly.
Well, as I was saying about the parlor, there was beautiful curtains onthe windows: white, with pictures painted on them of castles with vinesall down the walls, and cattle coming down to drink. There was a littleold piano, too, that had tin pans in it, I reckon, and nothing was everso lovely as to hear the young ladies sing "The Last Link is Broken" andplay "The Battle of Prag
ue" on it. The walls of all the rooms wasplastered, and most had carpets on the floors, and the whole house waswhitewashed on the outside.
It was a double house, and the big open place betwixt them was roofed andfloored, and sometimes the table was set there in the middle of the day,and it was a cool, comfortable place. Nothing couldn't be better. Andwarn't the cooking good, and just bushels of it too!