The Conjure Woman
Charles W. Chesnutt
Part 3 out of 3
'im, 'Is yer stole any mo' hams lately?' er 'W'at yer take fer yo'
neckliss, Dave?' er some joke er 'nuther 'bout dat ham.
"Fus' Dave did n' mine it so much, caze he knowed he had n' done nuffin.
But bimeby he got so he could n' stan' it no longer, en he 'd hide
hisse'f in de bushes w'eneber he seed anybody comin', en alluz kep'
hisse'f shet up in his cabin atter he come in fum wuk.
"It wuz monst'us hard on Dave, en bimeby, w'at wid dat ham eberlastin'
en etarnally draggin' roun' his neck, he 'mence' fer ter do en say quare
things, en make de niggers wonder ef he wa'n't gittin' out'n his mine.
He got ter gwine roun' talkin' ter hisse'f, en singin' corn-shuckin'
songs, en laffin' fit ter kill 'bout nuffin. En one day he tole one er
de niggers he had 'skivered a noo way fer ter raise hams,--gwine ter
pick 'em off'n trees, en save de expense er smoke-'ouses by kyoin' 'em
in de sun. En one day he up'n tole Mars Walker he got sump'n pertickler
fer ter say ter 'im; en he tuk Mars Walker off ter one side, en tole 'im
he wuz gwine ter show 'im a place in de swamp whar dey wuz a whole trac'
er Ian' covered wid ham-trees.
"Wen Mars Walker hearn Dave talkin' dis kine er fool-talk, en w'en he
seed how Dave wuz 'mencin' ter git behine in his wuk, en w'en he ax' de
niggers en dey tole 'im how Dave be'n gwine on, he 'lowed he reckon' he
'd punish' Dave ernuff, en it mou't do mo' harm dan good fer ter keep de
ham on his neck any longer. So he sont Dave down ter de blacksmif-shop
en had de ham tuk off. Dey wa'n't much er de ham lef' by dat time, fer
de sun had melt all de fat, en de lean had all swivel' up, so dey wa'n't
but th'ee er fo' poun's lef'.
"W'en de ham had be'n tuk off'n Dave, folks kinder stopped talkin' 'bout
'im so much. But de ham had be'n on his neck so long dat Dave had sorter
got use' ter it. He look des lack he 'd los' sump'n fer a day er so
atter de ham wuz tuk off, en didn' 'pear ter know w'at ter do wid
hisse'f; en fine'ly he up'n tuk'n tied a lighterd-knot ter a string, en
hid it under de flo' er his cabin, en w'en nobody wuz n' lookin' he 'd
take it out en hang it roun' his neck, en go off in de woods en holler
en sing; en he allus tied it roun' his neck w'en he went ter sleep.
Fac', it 'peared lack Dave done gone clean out'n his mine. En atter a
w'ile he got one er de quarest notions you eber hearn tell un. It wuz
'bout dat time dat I come back ter de plantation fer ter wuk,--I had
be'n out ter Mars Dugal's yuther place on Beaver Crick for a mont' er
so. I had hearn 'bout Dave en de bacon, en 'bout w'at wuz gwine on on de
plantation; but I did n' b'lieve w'at dey all say 'bout Dave, fer I
knowed Dave wa'n't dat kine er man. One day atter I come back, me'n Dave
wuz choppin' cotton tergedder, w'en Dave lean' on his hoe, en motion'
fer me ter come ober close ter 'im; en den he retch' ober en w'ispered
"'Julius', sezee, 'did yer knowed yer wuz wukkin' long yer wid a ham?'
"I could n' 'magine w'at he meant. 'G'way fum yer, Dave,' says I. 'Yer
ain' wearin' no ham no mo'; try en fergit 'bout dat; 't ain' gwine ter
do yer no good fer ter 'member it.'
"'Look a-yer, Julius,' sezee, 'kin yer keep a secret?'
"'Co'se I kin, Dave,' says I. 'I doan go roun' tellin' people w'at
yuther folks says ter me.'
"'Kin I trus' yer, Julius? Will yer cross yo' heart?'
"I cross' my heart. 'Wush I may die ef I tells a soul,' says I.
"Dave look' at me des lack he wuz lookin' thoo me en 'way on de yuther
side er me, en sezee:--
"'Did yer knowed I wuz turnin' ter a ham, Julius?'
"I tried ter 'suade Dave dat dat wuz all foolishness, en dat he oughtn't
ter be talkin' dat-a-way,--hit wa'n't right. En I tole 'im ef he 'd des
be patien', de time would sho'ly come w'en eve'ything would be
straighten' out, en folks would fine out who de rale rogue wuz w'at
stole de bacon. Dave 'peared ter listen ter w'at I say, en promise' ter
do better, en stop gwine on dat-a-way; en it seem lack he pick' up a bit
w'en he seed dey wuz one pusson did n' b'lieve dem tales 'bout 'im.
"Hit wa'n't long atter dat befo' Mars Archie McIntyre, ober on de
Wimbleton road, 'mence' ter complain 'bout somebody stealin' chickens
fum his hen-'ouse. De chickens kep' on gwine, en at las' Mars Archie
tole de ban's on his plantation dat he gwine ter shoot de fus' man he
ketch in his hen-'ouse. In less'n a week atter he gin dis warnin', he
cotch a nigger in de hen-'ouse, en fill' 'im full er squir'l-shot. W'en
he got a light, he 'skivered it wuz a strange nigger; en w'en he call'
one er his own sarven's, de nigger tole 'im it wuz our Wiley. W'en Mars
Archie foun' dat out, he sont ober ter our plantation fer ter tell Mars
Dugal' he had shot one er his niggers, en dat he could sen' ober dere en
git w'at wuz lef un 'im.
"Mars Dugal' wuz mad at fus'; but w'en he got ober dere en hearn how it
all happen', he did n' hab much ter say. Wiley wuz shot so bad he wuz
sho' he wuz gwine ter die, so he up'n says ter ole marster:--
"'Mars Dugal',' sezee, 'I knows I's be'n a monst'us bad nigger, but
befo' I go I wanter git sump'n off'n my mine. Dave didn' steal dat bacon
w'at wuz tuk out'n de smoke-'ouse. I stole it all, en I hid de ham under
Dave's cabin fer ter th'ow de blame on him--en may de good Lawd fergib
me fer it.'
"Mars Dugal' had Wiley tuk back ter de plantation, en sont fer a doctor
fer ter pick de shot out'n 'im. En de ve'y nex' mawnin' Mars Dugal' sont
fer Dave ter come up ter de big house; he felt kinder sorry fer de way
Dave had be'n treated. Co'se it wa'n't no fault er Mars Dugal's, but he
wuz gwine ter do w'at he could fer ter make up fer it. So he sont word
down ter de quarters fer Dave en all de yuther han's ter 'semble up in
de yard befo' de big house at sun-up nex' mawnin'.
"Yearly in de mawnin' de niggers all swarm' up in de yard. Mars Dugal'
wuz feelin' so kine dat he had brung up a bairl er cider, en tole de
niggers all fer ter he'p deyselves.
"All de han's on de plantation come but Dave; en bimeby, w'en it seem
lack he wa'n't comin', Mars Dugal' sont a nigger down ter de quarters
ter look fer 'im. De sun wuz gittin' up, en dey wuz a heap er wuk ter be
done, en Mars Dugal' sorter got ti'ed waitin'; so he up'n says:--
"'Well, boys en gals, I sont fer yer all up yer fer ter tell yer dat all
dat 'bout Dave's stealin' er de bacon wuz a mistake, ez I s'pose yer all
done hearn befo' now, en I 's mighty sorry it happen'. I wants ter treat
all my niggers right, en I wants yer all ter know dat I sets a heap by
all er my han's w'at is hones' en smart. En I want yer all ter treat
Dave des lack yer did befo' dis thing happen', en mine w'at he preach
ter yer; fer Dave is a good nigger, en has had a hard row ter hoe. En de
fus' one I ketch sayin' anythin' 'g'in' Dave, I'll tell Mister Walker
ter gin 'im forty. Now take ernudder drink er cider all roun', en den
git at dat cotton, fer I wanter git dat Persimmon Hill trac' all pick'
"W'en de niggers wuz gwine 'way, Mars Dugal' tole me fer ter go en hunt
up Dave, en bring 'im up ter de house. I went down ter Dave's cabin, but
could n' fine 'im dere. Den I look' roun' de plantation, en in de aidge
er de woods, en 'long de road; but I could n' fine no sign er Dave. I
wuz 'bout ter gin up de sarch, w'en I happen' fer ter run 'cross a
foot-track w'at look' lack Dave's. I had wukked 'long wid Dave so much
dat I knowed his tracks: he had a monst'us long foot, wid a holler
instep, w'ich wuz sump'n skase 'mongs' black folks. So I follered dat
track 'cross de fiel' fum de quarters 'tel I got ter de smoke-'ouse. De
fus' thing I notice' wuz smoke comin' out'n de cracks; it wuz cu'ous,
caze dey had n' be'n no hogs kill' on de plantation fer six mont' er so,
en all de bacon in de smoke-'ouse wuz done kyoed. I could n' 'magine fer
ter sabe my life w'at Dave wuz doin' in dat smoke-'ouse. I went up ter
de do' en hollered:--
"Dey didn' nobody answer. I didn' wanter open de do', fer w'ite folks is
monst'us pertickler 'bout dey smoke-'ouses; en ef de oberseah had a-come
up en cotch me in dere, he mou't not wanter b'lieve I wuz des lookin'
fer Dave. So I sorter knock at de do' en call' out ag'in:--
"'O Dave, hit's me--Julius! Doan be skeered. Mars Dugal' wants yer ter
come up ter de big house,--he done 'skivered who stole de ham.'
"But Dave didn' answer. En w'en I look' roun' ag'in en didn' seed none
er his tracks gwine way fum de smoke-'ouse, I knowed he wuz in dere yit,
en I wuz 'termine' fer ter fetch 'im out; so I push de do' open en look
"Dey wuz a pile er bark burnin' in de middle er de flo', en right ober
de fier, hangin' fum one er de rafters, wuz Dave; dey wuz a rope roun'
his neck, en I didn' haf ter look at his face mo' d'n once fer ter see
he wuz dead.
"Den I knowed how it all happen'. Dave had kep' on gittin' wusser en
wusser in his mine, 'tel he des got ter b'lievin' he wuz all done turnt
ter a ham; en den he had gone en built a fier, en tied a rope roun' his
neck, des lack de hams wuz tied, en had hung hisse'f up in de
smoke-'ouse fer ter kyo.
"Dave wuz buried down by de swamp, in de plantation buryin' groun'.
Wiley didn' died fum de woun' he got in Mars McIntyre's hen 'ouse; he
got well atter a w'ile, but Dilsey wouldn' hab nuffin mo' ter do wid
'im, en 't wa'n't long 'fo' Mars Dugal' sol' 'im ter a spekilater on his
way souf,--he say he didn' want no sich a nigger on de plantation, ner
in de county, ef he could he'p it. En w'en de een' er de year come, Mars
Dugal'' turnt Mars Walker off, en run de plantation hisse'f atter dat.
"Eber sence den," said Julius in conclusion, "w'eneber I eats ham, it
min's me er Dave. I lacks ham, but I nebber kin eat mo' d'n two er th'ee
poun's befo' I gits ter studyin' 'bout Dave, en den I has ter stop en
leab de res' fer ernudder time."
There was a short silence after the old man had finished his story, and
then my wife began to talk to him about the weather, on which subject he
was an authority. I went into the house. When I came out, half an hour
later, I saw Julius disappearing down the lane, with a basket on his
At breakfast, next morning, it occurred to me that I should like a slice
of ham. I said as much to my wife.
"Oh, no, John," she responded, "you shouldn't eat anything so heavy for
"The fact is," she said, pensively, "I couldn't have eaten any more of
that ham, and so I gave it to Julius."
A Deep Sleeper
It was four o'clock on Sunday afternoon, in the month of July. The air
had been hot and sultry, but a light, cool breeze had sprung up, and
occasional cirrus clouds overspread the sun, and for a while subdued his
fierceness. We were all out on the piazza--as the coolest place we could
find--my wife, my sister-in-law and I. The only sounds that broke the
Sabbath stillness were the hum of an occasional vagrant bumble-bee, or
the fragmentary song of a mocking-bird in a neighboring elm, who lazily
trolled a stave of melody, now and then, as a sample of what he could do
in the cool of the morning, or after a light shower, when the conditions
would be favorable to exertion.
"Annie," said I, "suppose, to relieve the deadly dulness of the
afternoon, that we go out and pull the big watermelon, and send for
Colonel Pemberton's folks to come over and help us eat it."
"Is it ripe, yet?" she inquired sleepily, brushing away a troublesome
fly that had impudently settled on her hair.
"Yes, I think so. I was out yesterday with Julius, and we thumped it,
and concluded it would be fully ripe by tomorrow or next day. But I
think it is perfectly safe to pull it to-day."
"Well, if you are sure, dear, we'll go. But how can we get it up to the
house? It's too big to tote."
"I'll step round to Julius's cabin and ask him to go down with the
wheelbarrow and bring it up," I replied.
Julius was an elderly colored man who worked on the plantation and lived
in a small house on the place, a few rods from my own residence. His
daughter was our cook, and other members of his family served us in
As I turned the corner of the house I saw Julius coming up the lane. He
had on his Sunday clothes, and was probably returning from the afternoon
meeting at the Sandy Run Baptist Church, of which he was a leading
member and deacon.
"Julius," I said, "we are going out to pull the big watermelon, and we
want you to take the wheelbarrow and go with us, and bring it up to the
"Does yer reckon dat watermillun's ripe yit, sah?" said Julius. "Didn'
'pear ter me it went quite plunk enuff yistiddy fer ter be pull' befo'
"I think it is ripe enough, Julius."
"Mawnin' 'ud be a better time fer ter pull it, sah, w'en de night air
an' de jew's done cool' it off nice."
"Probably that's true enough, but we'll put it on ice, and that will
cool it; and I'm afraid if we leave it too long, some one will steal
"I 'spec's dat so," said the old man, with a confirmatory shake of the
head. "Yer takes chances w'en yer pulls it, en' yer takes chances w'en
yer don't. Dey's a lot er po' w'ite trash roun' heah w'at ain' none too
good fer ter steal it. I seed some un' 'em loafin' long de big road on
mer way home fum chu'ch jes' now. I has ter watch mer own chicken-coop
ter keep chick'ns 'nuff fer Sunday eatin'. I'll go en' git de
Julius had a profound contempt for poor whites, and never let slip an
opportunity for expressing it. He assumed that we shared this sentiment,
while in fact our feeling toward this listless race was something
entirely different. They were, like Julius himself, the product of a
system which they had not created and which they did not know enough to
As the old man turned to go away he began to limp, and put his hand to
his knee with an exclamation of pain.
"What's the matter, Julius?" asked my wife.
"Yes, Uncle Julius, what ails you?" echoed her sweet young sister. "Did
you stump your toe?"
"No, miss, it's dat mis'able rheumatiz. It ketches me now an' den in de
lef' knee, so I can't hardly draw my bref. O Lawdy!" he added between
his clenched teeth, "but dat do hurt. Ouch! It's a little better now,"
he said, after a moment, "but I doan' b'lieve I kin roll dat w'eelborrow
out ter de watermillun-patch en' back. Ef it's all de same ter yo', sah,
I'll go roun' ter my house en' sen' Tom ter take my place, w'iles I rubs
some linimum on my laig."
"That'll be all right, Julius," I said, and the old man, hobbling,
disappeared round the corner of the house. Tom was a lubberly,
sleepy-looking negro boy of about fifteen, related to Julius's wife in
some degree, and living with them.
The old man came back in about five minutes. He walked slowly, and
seemed very careful about bearing his weight on the afflicted member.
"I sont 'Liza Jane fer ter wake Tom up," he said. "He's down in de
orchard asleep under a tree somewhar. 'Liza Jane knows whar he is. It
takes a minute er so fer ter wake 'im up. 'Liza Jane knows how ter do
it. She tickles 'im in de nose er de yeah wid a broomstraw; hollerin'
doan' do no good. Dat boy is one er de Seben Sleepers. He's wuss'n his
gran'daddy used ter be."
"Was his grandfather a deep sleeper, Uncle Julius?" asked my wife's
"Oh, yas, Miss Mabel," said Julius, gravely. "He wuz a monst'us pow'ful
sleeper. He slep' fer a mont' once."
"Dear me, Uncle Julius, you must be joking," said my sister-in-law
incredulously. I thought she put it mildly.
"Oh, no, ma'm, I ain't jokin'. I never jokes on ser'ous subjec's. I wuz
dere w'en it all happen'. Hit wuz a monst'us quare thing."
"Sit down, Uncle Julius, and tell us about it," said Mabel; for she
dearly loved a story, and spent much of her time "drawing out" the
colored people in the neighborhood.
The old man took off his hat and seated himself on the top step of the
piazza. His movements were somewhat stiff and he was very careful to get
his left leg in a comfortable position.
"Tom's gran'daddy wuz name' Skundus," he began. "He had a brudder name'
Tushus en' ernudder name' Cottus en' ernudder name' Squinchus." The old
man paused a moment and gave his leg another hitch.
My sister-in-law was shaking with laughter. "What remarkable names!" she
exclaimed. "Where in the world did they get them?"
"Dem names wuz gun ter 'em by ole Marse Dugal' McAdoo, wat I use' ter
b'long ter, en' dey use' ter b'long ter. Marse Dugal' named all de
babies w'at wuz bawn on de plantation. Dese young un's mammy wanted ter
call 'em sump'n plain en' simple, like 'Rastus' er 'Cæsar' er 'George
Wash'n'ton;' but ole Marse say no, he want all de niggers on his place
ter hab diffe'nt names, so he kin tell 'em apart. He'd done use' up all
de common names, so he had ter take sump'n else. Dem names he gun
Skundus en' his brudders is Hebrew names en' wuz tuk out'n de Bible."
"Can you give me chapter and verse?" asked Mabel.
"No, Miss Mabel, I doan know 'em. Hit ain' my fault dat I ain't able ter
read de Bible. But ez I wuz a-sayin', dis yer Skundus growed up ter be a
peart, lively kind er boy, en' wuz very well liked on de plantation. He
never quo'lled wid de res' er de ban's en' alluz behaved 'isse'f en'
tended ter his wuk. De only fault he had wuz his sleep'ness. He'd haf
ter be woke up ev'y mawnin' ter go ter his wuk, en' w'enever he got a
chance he'd fall ersleep. He wuz might'ly nigh gittin' inter trouble
mod'n once fer gwine ter sleep in de fiel'. I never seed his beat fer
sleepin'. He could sleep in de sun er sleep in de shade. He could lean
upon his hoe en' sleep. He went ter sleep walk'n' 'long de road oncet,
en' mighty nigh bus't his head open 'gin' a tree he run inter. I did
heah he oncet went ter sleep while he wuz in swimmin'. He wuz floatin'
at de time, en' come mighty nigh gittin' drownded befo' he woke up. Ole
Marse heared 'bout it en' ferbid his gwine in swimmin' enny mo', fer he
said he couldn't 'ford ter lose 'im.
"When Skundus wuz growed up he got ter lookin' roun' at de gals, en' one
er de likeliest un 'em tuk his eye. It was a gal name' Cindy, w'at
libbed wid 'er mammy in a cabin by deyse'ves. Cindy tuk ter Skundus ez
much ez Skundus tuk ter Cindy, en' bimeby Skundus axed his marster ef he
could marry Cindy. Marse Dugal' b'long' ter de P'isbytay'n Chu'ch en'
never 'lowed his niggers ter jump de broomstick, but alluz had a
preacher fer ter marry 'em. So he tole Skundus ef him en' Cindy would
'ten' ter dey wuk good dat summer till de crap was laid by, he'd let 'em
git married en' hab a weddin' down ter de quarters.
"So Skundus en' Cindy wukked hahd as dey could till 'bout a mont' er so
befo' layin' by, w'en Marse Dugal's brudder, Kunnel Wash'n'ton McAdoo,
w'at libbed down in Sampson County, 'bout a hunderd mile erway, come fer
ter visit Marse Dugal'. Dey wuz five er six folks in de visitin' party,
en' our w'ite folks needed a new gal fer ter he'p wait on 'em. Dey
picked out de likeliest gal dey could fine 'mongs' de fiel-han's, en'
'cose dat wuz Cindy. Cindy wuz might'ly tickled fer ter be tuk in de
house-sarvice, fer it meant better vittles en' better clo's en' easy
wuk. She didn' seed Skundus quite as much, but she seed 'im w'eneber she
could. Prospe'ity didn' spile Cindy; she didn' git stuck up en' 'bove
'sociatin' wid fiel'han's, lack some gals in her place 'ud a done.
"Cindy wuz sech a handy gal 'roun' de house, en' her marster's relations
lacked her so much, dat w'en dey visit wuz ober, dey wanted ter take
Cindy 'way wid 'em. Cindy didn' want ter go en' said so. Her marster wuz
a good-natured kind er man, en' would 'a' kep' her on de plantation. But
his wife say no, it 'ud nebber do ter be lett'n' de sarvants hab dey own
way, er dey soon wouldn' be no doin' nuthin' wid 'em. Ole marster tole
'er he done promus ter let Cindy marry Skundus.
"'O, well,' sez ole Miss, 'dat doan' cut no figger. Dey's too much er
dis foolishness 'bout husban's en' wibes 'mongs' de niggers now-a-days.
One nigger man is de same as ernudder, en' dey'll be plenty un 'em down
ter Wash'n'ton's plantation.' Ole Miss wuz a mighty smart woman, but she
didn' know ev'ything.
"'Well,' says ole Marse, 'de craps'll be laid by in a mont' now, 'en
den dey won't be much ter do fer ernudder mont' er six weeks. So we'll
let her go down dere an' stay till cotton-pickin' time; I'll jes' len'
'er ter 'em till den. Ef dey wants ter keep 'er en' we finds we doan
need 'er, den we'll talk furder 'bout sellin' 'er. We'll tell her dat we
jes' gwine let her go down dere wid de chil'en a week er so en' den come
back, en' den we won't hab no fuss 'bout it.'
"So dey fixed it dat erway, en' Cindy went off wid 'em, she 'spectin'
ter be back in a week er so, en' de w'ite folks not hahdly 'lowin' she'd
come back at all. Skundus didn' lack ter hab Cindy go, but he couldn' do
nuthin'. He wuz wukkin' off in ernudder part er de plantation w'en she
went erway, en' had ter tell her good-by de night befo'.
"Bimeby, w'en Cindy didn' come back in two or th'ee weeks, Skundus
'mence ter git res'less. En' Skundus wuz diff'ent f'um udder folks. Mos'
folks w'en dey gits res'less can't sleep good, but de mo' res'lesser
Skundus got, de mo! sleepier he 'peared ter git. W'eneber he wuz'n
wukkin' ef eatin', he'd be sleepin'. Wen de yuther niggers 'ud be
sky-larkin' 'roun' nights en' Sundays, Skundus 'ud be soun' asleep in
his cabin. Things kep' on dis way fer 'bout a mont' atter Cindy went
away, w'en one mawnin' Skundus didn't come ter wuk. Dey look' fer 'im
'roun' de plantation, but dey couldn' fin' 'im, en' befo' de day wuz
gone, ev'ybody wuz sho' dat Skundus had runned erway.
"Cose dey wuz a great howdydo 'bout it. Nobody hadn' nebber runned erway
fum Marse Dugal' befo', an' dey hadn' b'en a runaway nigger in de
neighbo'hood fer th'ee er fo' years. De w'ite folks wuz all wukked up,
en' dey wuz mo' ridin' er hosses en' mo' hitchin up er buggies d'n a
little. Ole Marse Dugal' had a lot er papers printed en' stuck up on
trees 'long de roads, en' dey wuz sump'n put in de noospapers--a free
nigger fum down on de Wim'l'ton Road read de paper ter some er our
ban's--tellin' all 'bout how high Skundus wuz, en' w'at kine er teef he
had, en' 'bout a skyah he had on his lef cheek, en' how sleepy he wuz,
en' off'rin' a reward er one hunder' dollars fer whoeber 'ud ketch 'im.
But none of 'em eber cotch 'im.
"W'en Cindy fus' went away she wuz kinder down in de mouf fer a day er
so. But she went to a fine new house, de folks treated her well en' dere
wuz sich good comp'ny 'mongs' her own people, dat she made up 'er min'
she might's well hab a good time fer de week er two she wuz gwine ter
stay down dere. But w'en de time roll' on en' she didn' heared nothin'
'bout gwine back, she 'mence' ter git kinder skeered she wuz'n nebber
gwine ter see her mammy ner Skundus no mo'. She wuz monst'us cut up
'bout it, an' los' 'er appetite en' got so po' en' skinny, her mist'ess
sont 'er down ter de swamp fer ter git some roots fer ter make some tea
fer 'er health. Her mist'ess sont her 'way 'bout th'ee o'clock en' Cindy
didn' come back till atter sundown; en' she say she b'en lookin' fer de
roots, dat dey didn' 'pear ter be none er dem kin' er roots fer a mile
er so 'long de aidge er de swamp.
"Cindy 'mence' ter git better jes' ez soon as she begun ter drink de
root-tea. It wuz a monst'us good med'cine, leas'ways in her case. It
done Cindy so much good dat her mist'ess 'eluded she'd take it herse'f
en' gib it ter de chil'en. De fus' day Cindy went atter de roots dey
wuz some lef' ober, en' her mist'ess tol' 'er fer ter use dat fer de
nex' day. Cindy done so, but she tol' 'er mist'ess hit didn' hab no
strenk en' didn' do 'er no good. So ev'y day atter dat Marse
Wash'n'ton's wife 'ud sen' Cindy down by de aidge er de swamp fer ter
git fresh roots.
"'Cindy,' said one er de fiel'-han's one day, 'yer better keep 'way fum
dat swamp. Dey's a ha'nt walkin' down dere.'
"'Go way fum yere wid yo' foolishness,' said Cindy. 'Dey ain' no ha'nts.
W'ite folks doan' b'lieve in sich things, fer I heared 'em say so; but
yer can't 'spec' nothin' better fum fiel'-han's.'
"Dey wuz one man on de plantation, one er dese yer dandy niggers w'at
'uz alluz runnin' atter de wimmen folks, dat got ter pest'rin' Cindy.
Cindy didn' paid no 'tention ter 'im, but he kep' on tryin' fer ter co't
her w'en he could git a chance. Fin'ly Cindy tole 'im fer ter let her
'lone, er e'se sump'n' might happen ter 'im. But he didn' min' Cindy,
en' one ebenin' he followed her down ter de swamp. He los' track un er,
en' ez he wuz a-startin' back out'n de swamp, a great big black ha'nt
'bout ten feet high, en' wid a fence-rail in its ban's jump out'n de
bushes en' chase 'im cl'ar up in de co'n fiel'. Leas'ways he said it
did; en' atter dat none er de niggers wouldn't go nigh de swamp, 'cep'n
Cindy, who said it wuz all foolishness--it wuz dis nigger's guilty
conscience dat skeered 'im--she hadn' seed no ha'nt en' wuz'n skeered er
nuffin' she didn't see.
"Bimeby, w'en Cindy had be'n gone fum home 'bout two mont's,
harves'-time come on, en' Marse Dugal' foun' hisse'f short er ban's. One
er de men wuz down wid de rheumatiz, Skundus wuz gone, en' Cindy wuz
gone, en' Marse Dugal tole ole Miss dey wuz no use talkin', he couldn'
'ford ter buy no new ban's, en' he'd ha' ter sen' fer Cindy, 'en put her
in de fiel'; fer de cotton-crap wuz a monst'us big 'un dat year, en'
Cindy wuz one er de bes' cotton-pickers on de plantation. So dey wrote a
letter to Marse Wash'n'ton dat day fer Cindy, en' wanted Cindy by de
'een er de mont', en' Marse Wash'n'ton sont her home. Cindy didn't 'pear
ter wanter come much. She said she'd got kinder use' ter her noo home;
but she didn' hab no mo' ter say 'bout comin' dan she did 'bout goin'.
Howsomedever, she went down ter de swamp fer ter git roots fer her
mist'ess up ter de las' day she wuz dere.
"Wen Cindy got back home, she wuz might'ly put out 'ca'se Skundus wuz
gone, en' hit didn' 'pear ez ef anythin' anybody said ter 'er 'ud
comfort 'er. But one mawnin' she said she'd dreamp' dat night dat
Skundus wuz gwine ter come back; en' sho' 'nuff, de ve'y nex' mawnin'
who sh'd come walkin' out in de fiel' wid his hoe on his shoulder but
Skundus, rubbin' his eyes ez ef he hadn' got waked up good yit.
"Dey wuz a great 'miration mongs' de niggers, en' somebody run off ter
de big house fer ter tell Marse Dugal'. Bimeby here come Marse Dugal'
hisse'f, mad as a hawnit, acussin' en' gwine on like he gwine ter hurt
somebody; but anybody w'at look close could' 'a' seed he wuz 'mos'
tickled ter def fer ter git Skundus back ergin.
"'Whar yer be'n run erway ter, yer good-fer-nuthin', lazy, black
nigger?' sez 'e. 'I'm gwine ter gib yer fo' hunderd lashes. I'm gwine
ter hang yer up by yer thumbs en' take ev'y bit er yer black hide off'n
yer, en' den I'm gwine ter sell yer ter de fus' specilater w'at comes'
long buyin' niggers fer ter take down ter Alabam'. W'at yer mean by
runnin' er way fum yer good, kin' marster, yer good-fer-nuthin',
wool-headed, black scound'el?'
"Skundus looked at 'im ez ef he didn' understan'. 'Lawd, Marse Dugal','
sez 'e, 'I doan' know w'at youer talkin' 'bout. I ain' runned erway; I
ain' be'n nowhar.'
"'Whar yer be'n fer de las' mon'?' said Marse Dugal'. 'Tell me de truf,
er I'll hab yer tongue pulled out by de roots. I'll tar yer all ober yer
en' set yer on fiah. I'll--I'll'--Marse Dugal' went on at a tarrable
rate, but eve'ybody knowed Marse Dugal' bark uz wuss'n his bite.
"Skundus look lack 'e wuz skeered mos' ter def fer ter heah Marse Dugal'
gwine on dat erway, en' he couldn' 'pear to un'erstan' w'at Marse Dugal'
was talkin' erbout.
"'I didn' mean no harm by sleep'n in de barn las' night, Marse Dugal','
sez 'e, 'en' ef yer'll let me off dis time, I won' nebber do so no mo'.'
"Well, ter make a long story sho't, Skundus said he had gone ter de barn
dat Sunday atternoon befo' de Monday w'en he could't be foun', fer ter
hunt aigs, en' wiles he wuz up dere de hay had 'peared so sof en' nice
dat he had laid down fer take a little nap; dat it wuz mawnin' w'en he
woke en' foun' hisse'f all covered up whar de hay had fell over on 'im.
A hen had built a nes' right on top un 'im, en' it had half-a-dozen aigs
in it. He said he hadn't stop fer ter git no brekfus', but had jes'
suck' one or two er de aigs en' hurried right straight out in de fiel',
fer he seed it wuz late en' all de res' er de ban's wuz gone ter wuk.
"'Youer a liar,' said Marse Dugal', 'en' de truf ain't in yer. Yer b'en
run erway en' hid in de swamp somewhar ernudder.' But Skundus swo' up
en' down dat he hadn' b'en out'n dat barn, en' fin'lly Marse Dugal' went
up ter de house en' Skundus went on wid his wuk.
"Well, yer mought know dey wuz a great 'miration in de neighbo'hood.
Marse Dugal' sont fer Skundus ter cum up ter de big house nex' day, en'
Skundus went up 'spect'n' fer ter ketch forty. But w'en he got dere,
Marse Dugal' had fetched up ole Doctor Leach fum down on Rockfish, 'en
another young doctor fum town, en' dey looked at Skundus's eyes en' felt
of his wris' en' pulled out his tongue, en' hit 'im in de chis', en' put
dey yeahs ter his side fer ter heah 'is heart beat; en' den dey up'n
made Skundus tell how he felt w'en 'e went ter sleep en' how he felt
w'en 'e woke up. Dey stayed ter dinner, en' w'en dey got thoo' talkin'
en' eatin' en' drinkin', dey tole Marse Dugal' Skundus had had a
catacornered fit, en' had be'n in a trance fer fo' weeks. En' w'en dey
l'arned about Cindy, en' how dis yer fit had come on gradg'ly atter
Cindy went away, dey 'lowed Marse Dugal' 'd better let Skundus en' Cindy
git married, er he'd be liable ter hab some mo' er dem fits. Fer Marse
Dugal' didn' want no fittified niggers ef 'e could he'p it.
"Atter dat, Marse Dugal' had Skundus up ter de house lots er times fer
ter show 'im off ter folks w'at come ter visit. En' bein' as Cindy wuz
back home, en' she en' Skundus wukked hahd, en' he couldn' 'ford fer ter
take no chances on dem long trances, he 'lowed em ter got married soon
ez cotton-pickin' wuz ober, en' gib 'em a cabin er dey own ter lib in
down in de quarters. En' sho' 'nuff, dey didn' had no trouble keep'n'
Skundus wak f'm dat time fo'th, fer Cindy turned out ter hab a temper
of her own, en' made Skundus walk a chalk-line.
"Dis yer boy, Tom," said the old man, straightening out his leg
carefully, preparatory to getting up, "is jes' like his gran'daddy. I
b'lieve ef somebody didn' wake 'im up he'd sleep till jedgmen' day. Heah
'e comes now. Come on heah wid dat w'eelborrow, yer lazy,
Tom came slowly round the house with the wheelbarrow, and stood blinking
and rolling his eyes as if he had just emerged from a sound sleep and
was not yet half awake.
We took our way around the house, the ladies and I in front, Julius next
and Tom bringing up the rear with the wheelbarrow. We went by the
well-kept grape-vines, heavy with the promise of an abundant harvest,
through a narrow field of yellowing corn, and then picked our way
through the watermelon-vines to the spot where the monarch of the patch
had lain the day before, in all the glory of its coat of variegated
green. There was a shallow concavity in the sand where it had rested,
but the melon itself was gone.
There had been some talk among local capitalists about building a cotton
mill on Beaver Creek, a few miles from my place on the sand hills in
North Carolina, and I had been approached as likely to take an interest
in such an enterprise. While I had the matter under advisement it was
suggested, as an inducement to my co-operation, that I might have the
brick for the mill made on my place--there being clay there suitable for
the purpose--and thus reduce the amount of my actual cash investment.
Most of my land was sandy, though I had observed several outcroppings of
clay along the little creek or branch forming one of my boundaries.
One afternoon in summer, when the sun was low and the heat less
oppressive than it had been earlier in the day, I ordered Julius, our
old colored coachman, to harness the mare to the rockaway and drive me
to look at the clay-banks. When we were ready, my wife, who wished to go
with me for the sake of the drive, came out and took her seat by my
We reached our first point of destination by a road running across the
plantation, between a field of dark-green maize on the one hand and a
broad expanse of scuppernong vines on the other. The road led us past a
cabin occupied by one of my farm-hands. As the carriage went by at a
walk, the woman of the house came to the door and curtsied. My wife made
some inquiry about her health, and she replied that it was poor. I
noticed that her complexion, which naturally was of a ruddy brown, was
of a rather sickly hue. Indeed, I had observed a greater sallowness
among both the colored people and the poor whites thereabouts than the
hygienic conditions of the neighborhood seemed to justify.
After leaving this house our road lay through a cotton field for a short
distance, and then we entered a strip of woods, through which ran the
little stream beside which I had observed the clay. We stopped at the
creek, the road by which we had come crossing it and continuing over the
land of my neighbor, Colonel Pemberton. By the roadside, on my own land,
a bank of clay rose in almost a sheer perpendicular for about ten feet,
evidently extending back some distance into the low, pine-clad hill
behind it, and having also frontage upon the creek. There were marks of
bare feet on the ground along the base of the bank, and the face of it
seemed freshly disturbed and scored with finger marks, as though
children had been playing there.
"Do you think that clay would make good brick, Julius?" I asked the old
man, who had been unusually quiet during the drive. He generally played
with the whip, making little feints at the mare, or slapping her lightly
with the reins, or admonishing her in a familiar way; but on this
occasion the heat or some other cause had rendered him less
demonstrative than usual.
"Yas, suh, I knows it would," he answered.
"How do you know? Has it ever been used for that purpose?"
"No, suh; but I got my reasons fer sayin' so. Ole Mars Dugal useter hab
a brickya'd fu'ther up de branch--I dunno as yer noticed it, fer it's
all growed ober wid weeds an' grass. Mars Dugal said dis yer clay
wouldn' make good brick, but I knowed better."
I judged from the appearance of the clay that it was probably deficient
in iron. It was of a yellowish-white tint and had a sort of greasy look.
"Well," I said, "we'll drive up to the other place and get a sample of
that clay, and then we'll come back this way."
"Hold on a minute, dear," said my wife, looking at her watch, "Mabel has
been over to Colonel Pemberton's all the afternoon. She said she'd be
back at five. If we wait here a little while she'll be along and we can
take her with us."
"All right," I said, "we'll wait for her. Drive up a little farther,
Julius, by that jessamine vine."
While we were waiting, a white woman wearing a homespun dress and
slat-bonnet, came down the road from the other side of the creek, and
lifting her skirts slightly, waded with bare feet across the shallow
stream. Reaching the clay-bank she stooped and gathered from it, with
the aid of a convenient stick, a quantity of the clay which she pressed
together in the form of a ball. She had not seen us at first, the bushes
partially screening us; but when, having secured the clay, she turned
her face in our direction and caught sight of us watching her, she hid
the lump of clay in her pocket with a shamefaced look, and hurried away
by the road she had come.
"What is she going to do with that, Uncle Julius?" asked my wife. We
were Northern settlers, and still new to some of the customs of the
locality, concerning which we often looked to Julius for information. He
had lived on the place many years and knew the neighborhood thoroughly.
"She's gwineter eat it, Miss Annie," he replied, "w'en she gits outer
"Ugh!" said my wife with a grimace, "you don't mean she's going to eat
that great lump of clay?"
"Yas'm I does; dat's jes' w'at I means--gwineter eat eve'y bit un it,
an' den come back bimeby fer mo'."
"I should think it would make them sick," she said.
"Dey gits use' ter it," said Julius. "Howsomeber, ef dey eats too much
it does make 'em sick; an' I knows w'at I'm ertalkin' erbout. I doan
min' w'at dem kinder folks does," he added, looking contemptuously after
the retreating figure of the poor-white woman, "but w'eneber I sees
black folks eat'n' clay of'n dat partic'lar clay-bank, it alluz sets me
ter studyin' 'bout po' lonesome Ben."
"What was the matter with Ben?" asked my wife. "You can tell us while
we're waiting for Mabel."
Old Julius often beguiled our leisure with stories of plantation life,
some of them folk-lore stories, which we found to be in general
circulation among the colored people; some of them tales of real life as
Julius had seen it in the old slave days; but the most striking were, we
suspected, purely imaginary, or so colored by old Julius's fancy as to
make us speculate at times upon how many original minds, which might
have added to the world's wealth of literature and art, had been buried
in the ocean of slavery.
"W'en ole Mars Marrabo McSwayne owned dat place ober de branch dere,
w'at Kunnel Pembe'ton owns now," the old man began, "he useter hab a
nigger man name' Ben. Ben wuz one er dese yer big black niggers--he was
mo'd'n six foot high an' black ez coal. He wuz a fiel'-han' an' a good
wukker, but he had one little failin'--he would take a drap er so oncet
in a w'ile. Co'se eve'ybody laks a drap now an' den, but it 'peared ter
'fec' Ben mo'd'n it did yuther folks. He didn' hab much chance
dat-a-way, but eve'y now an' den he'd git holt er sump'n' somewahr, an'
sho's he did, he'd git out'n de narrer road. Mars Marrabo kep' on
wa'nin' 'm 'bout it, an' fin'lly he tol' 'im ef he eber ketch 'im in dat
shape ag'in he 'uz gwineter gib 'im fo'ty. Ben knowed ole Mars Marrabo
had a good 'memb'ance an' alluz done w'at he said, so he wuz monst'us
keerful not ter gib 'm no 'casion fer ter use his 'memb'ance on him. An'
so fer mos' a whole yeah Ben 'nied hisse'f an' nebber teched a drap er
"But it's h'ad wuk ter larn a ole dog new tricks, er ter make him fergit
de ole uns, an' po' Ben's time come bimeby, jes' lak ev'ybody e'se's
does. Mars Marrabo sent 'im ober ter dis yer plantation one day wid a
bundle er cotton-sacks fer Mars Dugal,' an' wiles he wuz ober yere, de
ole Debbil sent a' 'oman w'at had cas' her eyes on 'im an' knowed his
weakness, fer ter temp' po' Ben wid some licker. Mars Whiskey wuz right
dere an' Mars Marrabo wuz a mile erway, an' so Ben minded Mars Whiskey
an' fergot 'bout Mars Marrabo. W'en he got back home he couldn' skasely
tell Mars Marrabo de message w'at Mars Dugal' had sent back ter 'im.
"Mars Marrabo listen' at 'im 'temp' ter tell it; and den he says, kinder
col' and cuttin'-like--he didn' 'pear ter get mad ner nuffin':
"'Youer drunk, Ben.'
"De way his marster spoke sorter sobered Ben, an' he 'nied it of co'se.
"'Who? Me, Mars Marrabo? Iain' drunk; no, marster, Iain' drunk. I ain'
teched a drap er nuffin' sence las' Chris'mas, suh'.
"'Youer drunk, Ben, an' don't you dare ter 'spute my wo'd, er I'll kill
you in yo' tracks! I'll talk ter you Sad'day night, suh, w'en you'll be
sober, an' w'en you'll hab Sunday ter 'fleet over ou' conve'sation, an'
'nuss yo' woun's.'
"W'en Mars Marrabo got th'oo talkin' Ben wuz mo' sober dan he wuz befo'
he got drunk. It wuz Wednesday w'en Ben's marster tol 'im dis, an'
'twix' den and Friday night Ben done a heap er studyin'. An' de mo' he
studied de mo' he didn' lak de way Mars Marrabo talked. He hadn' much
trouble wid Mars Marrabo befo,' but he knowed his ways, an' he knowed
dat de longer Mars Marrabo waited to do a thing de; wusser he got 'stid
er gittin' better lak mos' folks.' An' Ben fin'lly made up his min' he
wa'n't gwineter take dat cow-hidin.' He 'lowed dat ef he wuz little,
like some er de dahkies on de plantation, he wouldn' min' it so much;
but he wuz so big dey'd be mo' groun' fer Mars Marrabo ter cover, an' it
would hurt dat much mo.' So Ben 'cided ter run erway.
"He had a wife an' two chil'en, an' dey had a little cabin ter deyse'ves
down in de quahters. His wife Dasdy wuz a good-lookin,' good-natu'd
'oman, an' 'peared ter set a heap er sto' by Ben. De little boy wuz
name' Pete; he wuz 'bout eight er nine years ole, an' had already
'menced ter go out in de fiel' an' he'p his mammy pick cotton, fer Mars
Marrabo wuz one er dese yer folks w'at wants ter make eve'y aidge cut.
Dis yer little Pete wuz a mighty soople dancer, an' w'en his daddy would
set out in de yahd an' pick de banjo fer 'im, Pete could teach de ole
folks noo steps--dancin' jes seemed to come nachul ter 'im. Dey wuz a
little gal too; Ben didn' pay much 'tention ter de gal, but he wuz
monst'us fond er Dasdy an' de boy. He wuz sorry ter leab 'em, an' he
didn' tell 'em nuffin' 'bout it fer fear dey'd make a fuss. But on
Friday night Ben tuk all de bread an' meat dey wuz in de cabin an' made
fer de woods.
"W'en Sad'day come an' Ben didn' 'pear, an' nobody didn' know nuffin'
'bout 'im, Mars Marrabo 'lowed of co'se dat Ben had runned erway. He got
up a pahty an' tuk de dawgs out an' follered de scen' down ter de crick
an' los' it. Fer Ben had tuk a go'd-full er tar 'long wid' 'im, an' w'en
he got ter de crick he had 'n'inted his feet wid tar, an' dat th'owed de
houns' off'n de scent. Dey sarched de woods an' follered de roads an'
kep' watchin' fer a week, but dey couldn' fin' no sign er Ben. An' den
Mars Marrabo got mo' stric', an' wuked his niggers hahder'n eber, ez ef
he wanted ter try ter make up fer his loss.
"W'en Ben stahted out he wanted ter go ter de No'th. He didn' know how
fur it wuz, bet he 'lowed he retch dar in fo' er five days. He knowed de
No'th Stah, an' de fus night he kep' gwine right straight to'ds it. But
de nex' night it was rainin,' an' fer two er th'ee nights it stayed
cloudy, an' Ben couldn' see de No'th Stah. Howsomeber, he knowed he had
got stahted right' an' he kep' gwine right straight on de same way fer
a week er mo' 'spectin' ter git ter de No'th eve'y day, w'en one mawin'
early, atter he had b'en walkin' all night, he come right smack out on
de crick jes whar he had stahted f'om.
"Co'se Ben wuz monst'us disapp'inted. He had been wond'rin' w'y he hadn'
got ter de No'th befo,' an' behol,' heah he wuz back on de ole
plantation. He couldn' un'erstan' it at fus,' but he wuz so hongry he
didn' hab time ter study 'bout nuffin' fer a little w'ile but jes' ter
git sump'n' ter eat; fer he had done eat up de bread an' meat he tuk
away wid 'im, an' had been libbin' on roas'n-ears an' sweet'n taters
he'd slip out'n de woods an' fin' in co'n fiel's 'an 'tater-patches. He
look 'cross de crick, an' seed dis yer clay-bank, an' he waded ober an'
got all he could eat, an' den tuk a lump wid 'im, an' hid in de woods
ag'in 'til he could study de matter ober some.
"Fus' he 'lowed dat he better gib hiss'ef up an' take his lammin.' But
jes' den he 'membered de way Mars Marrabo looked at 'im an' w'at he said
'bout Sad'day night; an' den he 'lowed dat ef Mars Marrabo ketch 'im
now, he'd wear 'im ter a frazzle an' chaw up de frazzle, so de wouldn'
be nuffin' lef' un 'im at all, an' dat Mars Marrabo would make a'
example an' a warnin' of 'im fer all de niggers in de naberhood. Fac' is
Mars Marrabo prob'ly wouldn' a' done much ter 'im fer it 'ud be monst'us
po' 'couragement fer runaway niggers ter come back, ef dey gwineter git
killed w'en dey come. An' so Ben waited 'til night, an' den he went back
an' got some mo' clay an' eat it an' hid hisse'f in de woods ag'in.
"Well, hit wuz quare 'bout Ben, but he stayed roun' heah fer a mont,'
hidin' in de woods in de daytime, an' slippin' out nights an' gittin'
clay ter eat an' water f'om de crick yanker ter drink. De water in dat
crick wuz cl'ar in dem days, stidder bein' yallar lak it is now."
We had observed that the water, like that of most streams that take
their rise in swamps, had an amber tint to which the sand and clay
background of the bed of the stream imparted an even yellower hue.
"What did he do then, Julius?" asked my wife, who liked to hear the end
of a story.
"Well, Miss, he made up his min' den dat he wuz gwineter staht fer de
No'th ag'in. But wiles he b'en layin' roun' in de woods he had 'mence
ter feel monst'us lonesome, an' it 'peared ter him dat he jes' couldn'
go widout seein' Dasdy an' little Pete. Fus' he 'lowed he'd go up ter de
cabin, but he thought 'bout de dogs 'roun' de yahd, an' dat de yuther
dahkies mought see 'im, and so he 'cided he'd better watch fer 'em 'til
dey come long de road--it wuz dis yer same road--w'en he could come
out'n de woods an' talk ter 'em. An' he eben 'lowed he mought 'suade 'em
ter run erway wid 'im an' dey could all get ter de No'th, fer de nights
wuz cl'ar now, an' he couldn' lose de No'th Stah.
"So he waited two er th'ee days, an' sho' nuff long come Dasdy one
mornin,' comin' over to Mars Dugal's fer ter fetch some things fer her
missis. She wuz lookin' kinder down in de mouf, fer she thought a heap
er Ben, an' wuz monst'us sorry ter lose 'im, w'iles at de same time she
wuz glad he wuz free, fer she 'lowed he'd done got ter de Norf long
befo.' An' she wuz studyin' 'bout Ben, w'at a fine-lookin' man he wuz,
an' wond'rin' ef she'd eber see 'im any mo.'
"W'en Ben seed her comin' he waited 'til she got close by, an' den he
stepped out 'n de woods an' come face ter face wid her. She didn' 'pear
to know who he wuz, an' seem kinder skeered.
"'Hoddy, Dasdy honey,' he said.
"'Huh!' she said, ''pears ter me you'er mighty fermilyer on sho't
"'Sho't acquaintance.' Why, doan' yer know me, Dasdy?'
"'No. I doan know yer f'om a skeercrow. I never seed yer befo' in my
life, an' nebber wants ter see yer ag'in. Whar did yer com f'om anyhow?
Whose nigger is yer? Er is yer some low-down free nigger dat doan b'long
ter nobody an' doan own nobody?'
"'W'at fer you talk ter me like dat, honey? I's Ben, yo' Ben. Why doan
you know yo' own man?'
"He put out his ahms fer ter draw her ter 'im, but she jes' gib one
yell, an' stahted ter run. Ben wuz so 'stonish' he didn' know w'at ter
do, an' he stood dere in de road 'til he heared somebody e'se comin',
w'en he dahted in de woods ag'in.
"Po' Ben wuz so 'sturbed in his min' dat he couldn' hahdly eat any clay
dat day. He couldn' make out w'at wuz de matter wid Dasdy but he 'lowed
maybe she'd heared he wuz dead er sump'n,' an' thought he wuz a ha'nt,
an' dat wuz w'y she had run away. So he watch' by de side er de road,
an' nex' mornin' who should come erlong but little Pete, wid a reed over
his shoulder, an' a go'd-full er bait, gwine fishin' in de crick.
"Ben called 'im; 'Pete, O Pete! _Little_ Pete.'
"Little Pete cocked up his ears an' listened. 'Peared lak he'd heared
dat voice befo.' He stahted fer de woods fer ter see who it wuz callin'
'im, but befo' he got dere Ben stepped out an' retched fer im.
"'Come heah, honey, an' see yo' daddy, who ain' seenyer fer so long.'
"But little Pete tuk one look at 'im, an' den 'menceter holler an squeal
an' kick an' bite an' scratch. Ben wuz so 'stonish' dat he couldn' hoi'
de boy, who slipped out'n his ban's an run to'ds de house ez fas' ez his
legs would tote 'im.
"Po' Ben kep' gittin' wus an' wus mixed up. He couldn' make out fer de
life er 'im w'at could be de matter. Nobody didn' 'pear ter wanter own
'im. He felt so cas' down dat he didn' notice a nigger man comin' long
de road 'til he got right close up on 'im, an' didn' heah dis man w'en
he said 'Hoddy' ter 'im.
"'Wat's de matter wid yer?' said de yuther man w'en Ben didn' 'spon'.
'Wat jedge er member er de legislater er hotel-keeper does you b'long
ter dat you can't speak ter a man w'en he says hoddy ter yer?'
"Ben kinder come ter hisse'f an' seed it wuz Primus, who b'long ter his
marster an' knowed 'im as well as anybody. But befo' he could git de
words out'n his mouf Primus went on talkin.'
"'Youer de mos' mis'able lookin' merlatter I eber seed. Dem rags look
lak dey be'n run th'oo a sawmill. My marster doan 'low no strange
niggers roun' dis yer plantation, an' yo' better take yo' yaller hide
'way f'um yer as fas' as yo' kin.'
"Jes den somebody hollered on de yuther side er de crick, an' Primus
stahted off on a run, so Ben didn' hab no chance ter say no mo' ter 'im.
"Ben almos' 'lowed he wuz gwine out'n' his min', he wuz so 'stonished
an' mazed at none er dese yer folks reco'nizin' 'im. He went back in de
woods ag'in an' stayed dere all day, wond'rin' w'at he wuz gwineter do.
Oncet er twicet he seed folks comin' 'long de road, an' stahted out ter
speak ter 'em, but changed his min' an' slip' back ag'in.
"Co'se ef Mars Marrabo had been huntin' Ben he would 'a' foun' 'im. But
he had long sence los' all hope er seein' im ag'in, an' so nobody didn'
'sturb Ben in de woods. He stayed hid a day er two mo' an' den he got so
lonesome an' homesick fer Dasdy an' little Pete an' de yuther
dahkies,--somebody ter talk ter--dat he jes' made up his min' ter go
right up ter de house an' gib hisse'f up an' take his med'cine. Mars
Marrabo couldn' do nuffin' mo' d'n kill 'im an' he mought's well be dead
as hidin' in de woods wid nobody ter talk ter er look at ner nuffin'. He
had jes' come out 'n de woods an' stahted up dis ve'y road, w'en who
sh'd come 'long in a hoss 'n buggy but ole Mars Marrabo, drivin' ober
ter dat yuther brickyahd youer gwinter see now. Ben run out 'n de woods,
and fell down on his knees in de road right in front er Mars Marrabo.
Mars Marrabo had to pull on de lines an' hoi' de hoss up ter keep 'im
f'um runnin' ober Ben.
"'Git out'n de road, you fool nigger,' says Mars Marrabo, 'does yer
wanter git run ober? Whose nigger is you, anyhow?'
"I's yo' nigger, Mars Marrabo; doan yer know Ben, w'at runned erway?'
"'Yas, I knows my Ben w'at runned erway. Does you know whar he is?'
"'Why, I's yo' Ben, Mars Marrabo. Doan yer know me, marster?'
"'No, I doan know yer, yer yaller rascal! W'at de debbil yer mean by
tellin' me sich a lie? Ben wuz black ez a coal an' straight ez an'
arrer. Youer yaller ez dat clay-bank, an' crooked ez a bair'l-hoop. I
reckon youer some 'stracted nigger, tun't out by some marster w'at doan
wanter take keer er yer. You git off'n my plantation, an' doan show yo'
clay-cullud hide aroun' yer no more, er I'll hab yer sent ter jail an'
"Mars Marrabo drove erway an' lef' po' Ben mo' dead 'n alive. He crep'
back in de bushes an' laid down an' wep' lak a baby. He didn' hab no
wife, no chile, no frien's, no marster--he'd be'n willin' ernuff to git
'long widout a marster, w'en he had one, but it 'peared lak a sin fer
his own marster ter 'ny 'im an' cas' 'im off dat-a-way. It 'peared ter
'im he mought jes' ez well be dead ez livin', fer he wuz all alone in de
worl', wid nowhar ter go, an' nobody didn' hab nuffin' ter say ter 'im
but ter 'buse 'im an' drive 'im erway.
"Atter he got ober his grievin' spell he 'mence ter wonder w'at Mars
Marrabo meant by callin' 'im yaller, an' ez long ez nobody didn' seem
ter keer whuther dey seed 'im er not, he went down by de crick in broad
daylight, an' kneel down by de water an' looked at his face. Fus' he
didn' reco'nize hisse'f an' glanshed back ter see ef dey wa'n't somebody
lookin' ober his shoulder--but dey wa'n't. An' w'en he looked back in de
water he seed de same thing--he wa'n't black no mo', but had turnt ter a
"Ben didn' knowed w'at ter make er it fer a minute er so. Fus' he 'lowed
he must hab de yaller fever, er de yaller janders, er sump'n lak dat'!
But he had knowed rale dark folks ter hab janders befo', and it hadn't
nebber 'fected 'em dat-a-way. But bimeby he got up o'ff'n 'is han's an'
knees an' wuz stan'in' lookin' ober de crick at de clay-bank, an'
wond'rin ef de clay he'd b'en eat'n' hadn' turnt 'im yaller w'en he
heared sump'n say jes' ez plain ez wo'ds.
"'Turnt ter clay! turnt ter clay! turnt ter clay!'
"He looked all roun', but he couldn' see nobody but a big bullfrog
settin' on a log on de yuther side er de crick. An' w'en he turnt roun'
an' sta'ted back in de woods, he heared de same thing behin' 'im.
"'Turnt ter clay! turnt ter clay! turnt ter clay!'
"Dem wo'ds kep' ringin' in 'is yeahs 'til he fin'lly 'lowed dey wuz
boun' ter be so, er e'se dey wouldn' a b'en tol ter 'im, an' dat he had
libbed on clay so long an' had eat so much, dat he must 'a' jes nach'ly
turnt ter clay!"
"Imperious Caesar, turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away,"
I murmured parenthentically.
"Yas, suh," said the old man, "turnt ter clay. But you's mistook in de
name, suh; hit wuz Ben, you 'member, not Caesar. Ole Mars Marrabo did
hab a nigger name' Caesar, but dat wuz anudder one."
"Don't interrupt him, John," said my wife impatiently. "What happened
"Well, po' Ben didn' know w'at ter do. He had be'n lonesome ernuff
befo', but now he didn' eben hab his own se'f ter 'so'ciate wid, fer he
felt mo' lak a stranger 'n he did lak Ben. In a day er so mo' he 'mence
ter wonder whuther he wuz libbin' er not. He had hearn 'bout folks
turnin' ter clay w'en dey wuz dead, an' he 'lowed maybe he wuz dead an'
didn' knowed it, an' dat wuz de reason w'y eve'body run erway f'm 'im
an' wouldn' hab nuffin' ter do wid 'im. An' ennyhow, he 'lowed ef he
wa'n't dead, he mought's well be. He wande'ed roun' a day er so mo', an'
fin'lly de lonesomeness, an' de sleepin' out in de woods, 'mongs' de
snakes an' sco'pions, an' not habbin' nuffin' fit ter eat, 'mence ter
tell on him, mo' an' mo', an' he kep' gittin' weakah an' weakah 'til one
day, w'en he went down by de crick fer ter git a drink er water, he
foun' his limbs gittin' so stiff hit 'uz all he could do ter crawl up on
de bank an' lay down in de sun. He laid dere 'til he died, an' de sun
beat down on 'im, an' beat down on 'im, an' beat down on 'im, fer th'ee
er fo' days, 'til it baked 'im as ha'd as a brick. An' den a big win'
come erlong an' blowed a tree down, an' it fell on 'im an' smashed 'im
all ter pieces, an' groun' 'im ter powder. An' den a big rain come
erlong, an' washed 'im in de crick, 'an eber sence den de water in dat
crick's b'en jes' as yer sees it now. An dat wuz de een' er po' lonesome
Ben, an' dat's de reason w'y I knows dat clay'll make brick an' w'y I
doan nebber lak ter see no black folks eat'n it."
My wife came of a family of reformers, who could never contemplate an
evil without seeking an immediate remedy. When I decided that the bank
of edible clay was not fit for brickmaking, she asked me if I would not
have it carted away, suggesting at the same time that it could be used
to fill a low place in another part of the plantation.
"It would be too expensive," I said.
"Oh, no," she replied, "I don't think so. I have been talking with Uncle
Julius about it, and he says he has a nephew who is out of employment,
and who will take the contract for ten dollars, if you will furnish the
mule and cart, and board him while the job lasts."
As I had no desire to add another permanent member to my household, I
told her it would be useless; that if the people did not get clay there
they would find it elsewhere, and perhaps an inferior quality which
might do greater harm, and that the best way to stop them from eating it
was to teach them self-respect, when she had opportunity, and those
habits of industry and thrift whereby they could get their living from
the soil in a manner less direct but more commendable.
Superstitions and Folk-Lore of the South
During a recent visit to North Carolina, after a long absence, I took
occasion to inquire into the latter-day prevalence of the old-time
belief in what was known as "conjuration" or "goopher," my childish
recollection of which I have elsewhere embodied into a number of
stories. The derivation of the word "goopher" I do not know, nor whether
any other writer than myself has recognized its existence, though it is
in frequent use in certain parts of the South. The origin of this
curious superstition itself is perhaps more easily traceable. It
probably grew, in the first place, out of African fetichism which was
brought over from the dark continent along with the dark people. Certain
features, too, suggest a distant affinity with Voodooism, or snake
worship, a cult which seems to have been indigenous to tropical America.
These beliefs, which in the place of their origin had all the sanctions
of religion and social custom, became, in the shadow of the white man's
civilization, a pale reflection of their former selves. In time, too,
they were mingled and confused with the witchcraft and ghost lore of the
white man, and the tricks and delusions of the Indian conjurer. In the
old plantation days they flourished vigorously, though discouraged by
the "great house," and their potency was well established among the
blacks and the poorer whites. Education, however, has thrown the ban of
disrepute upon witchcraft and conjuration. The stern frown of the
preacher, who looks upon superstition as the ally of the Evil One; the
scornful sneer of the teacher, who sees in it a part of the livery of
bondage, have driven this quaint combination of ancestral traditions to
the remote chimney corners of old black aunties, from which it is
difficult for the stranger to unearth them. Mr. Harris, in his Uncle
Remus stories, has, with fine literary discrimination, collected and put
into pleasing and enduring form, the plantation stories which dealt with
animal lore, but so little attention has been paid to those dealing with
so-called conjuration, that they seem in a fair way to disappear,
without leaving a trace behind. The loss may not be very great, but
these vanishing traditions might furnish valuable data for the
sociologist, in the future study of racial development. In writing, a
few years ago, the volume entitled _The Conjure Woman_, I suspect that
I was more influenced by the literary value of the material than by its
sociological bearing, and therefore took, or thought I did, considerable
liberty with my subject. Imagination, however, can only act upon
data--one must have somewhere in his consciousness the ideas which he
puts together to form a connected whole. Creative talent, of whatever
grade, is, in the last analysis, only the power of rearrangement--there
is nothing new under the sun. I was the more firmly impressed with this
thought after I had interviewed half a dozen old women, and a genuine
"conjure doctor;" for I discovered that the brilliant touches, due, I
had thought, to my own imagination, were after all but dormant ideas,
lodged in my childish mind by old Aunt This and old Uncle That, and
awaiting only the spur of imagination to bring them again to the
surface. For instance, in the story, "Hot-foot Hannibal," there figures
a conjure doll with pepper feet. Those pepper feet I regarded as
peculiarly my own, a purely original creation. I heard, only the other
day, in North Carolina, of the consternation struck to the heart of a
certain dark individual, upon finding upon his doorstep a rabbit's
foot--a good omen in itself perhaps--to which a malign influence had
been imparted by tying to one end of it, in the form of a cross, two
small pods of red pepper!
Most of the delusions connected with this belief in conjuration grow out
of mere lack of enlightenment. As primeval men saw a personality behind
every natural phenomenon, and found a god or a devil in wind, rain, and
hail, in lightning, and in storm, so the untaught man or woman who is
assailed by an unusual ache or pain, some strenuous symptom of serious
physical disorder, is prompt to accept the suggestion, which tradition
approves, that some evil influence is behind his discomfort; and what
more natural than to conclude that some rival in business or in love has
set this force in motion?
Relics of ancestral barbarism are found among all peoples, but advanced
civilization has at least shaken off the more obvious absurdities of
superstition. We no longer attribute insanity to demoniac possession,
nor suppose that a king's touch can cure scrofula. To many old people
in the South, however, any unusual ache or pain is quite as likely to
have been caused by some external evil influence as by natural causes.
Tumors, sudden swellings due to inflammatory rheumatism or the bites of
insects, are especially open to suspicion. Paralysis is proof positive
of conjuration. If there is any doubt, the "conjure doctor" invariably
removes it. The credulity of ignorance is his chief stock in
trade--there is no question, when he is summoned, but that the patient
has been tricked.
The means of conjuration are as simple as the indications. It is a
condition of all witch stories that there must in some way be contact,
either with the person, or with some object or image intended to
represent the person to be affected; or, if not actual contact, at least
close proximity. The charm is placed under the door-sill, or buried
under the hearth, or hidden in the mattress of the person to be
conjured. It may be a crude attempt to imitate the body of the victim,
or it may consist merely of a bottle, or a gourd, or a little bag,
containing a few rusty nails, crooked pins, or horsehairs. It may be a
mysterious mixture thrown surreptitiously upon the person to be injured,
or merely a line drawn across a road or path, which line it is fatal for
a certain man or woman to cross. I heard of a case of a laboring man who
went two miles out of his way, every morning and evening, while going to
and from his work, to avoid such a line drawn for him by a certain
Some of the more gruesome phases of the belief in conjuration suggest
possible poisoning, a knowledge of which baleful art was once supposed
to be widespread among the imported Negroes of the olden time. The blood
or venom of snakes, spiders, and lizards is supposed to be employed for
this purpose. The results of its administration are so peculiar,
however, and so entirely improbable, that one is supposed to doubt even
the initial use of poison, and figure it in as part of the same general
delusion. For instance, a certain man "swelled up all over" and became
"pieded," that is, pied or spotted. A white physician who was summoned
thought that the man thus singularly afflicted was poisoned, but did not
recognize the poison nor know the antidote. A conjure doctor,
subsequently called in, was more prompt in his diagnosis. The man, he
said, was poisoned with a lizard, which at that very moment was lodged
somewhere in the patient's anatomy. The lizards and snakes in these
stories, by the way, are not confined to the usual ducts and cavities of
the human body, but seem to have freedom of movement throughout the
whole structure. This lizard, according to the "doctor," would start
from the man's shoulder, descend to his hand, return to the shoulder,
and pass down the side of the body to the leg. When it reached the calf
of the leg the lizard's head would appear right under the skin. After it
had been perceptible for three days the lizard was to be cut out with a
razor, or the man would die. Sure enough, the lizard manifested its
presence in the appointed place at the appointed time; but the patient
would not permit the surgery, and at the end of three days paid with
death the penalty of his obstinacy. Old Aunt Harriet told me, with
solemn earnestness, that she herself had taken a snake from her own arm,
in sections, after a similar experience. Old Harriet may have been
lying, but was, I imagine, merely self-deluded. Witches, prior to being
burned, have often confessed their commerce with the Evil One. Why
should Harriet hesitate to relate a simple personal experience which
involved her in no blame whatever?
Old Uncle Jim, a shrewd, hard old sinner, and a palpable fraud, who did
not, I imagine, believe in himself to any great extent, gave me some
private points as to the manner in which these reptiles were thus
transferred to the human system. If a snake or a lizard be killed, and a
few drops of its blood be dried upon a plate or in a gourd, the person
next eating or drinking from the contaminated vessel will soon become
the unwilling landlord of a reptilian tenant. There are other avenues,
too, by which the reptile may gain admittance; but when expelled by the
conjure doctor's arts or medicines, it always leaves at the point where
it entered. This belief may have originally derived its existence from
the fact that certain tropical insects sometimes lay their eggs beneath
the skins of animals, or even of men, from which it is difficult to
expel them until the larvae are hatched. The chico or "jigger" of the
West Indies and the Spanish Main is the most obvious example.
Old Aunt Harriet--last name uncertain, since she had borne those of her
master, her mother, her putative father, and half a dozen
husbands in succession, no one of which seemed to take undisputed
precedence--related some very remarkable experiences. She at first
manifested some reluctance to speak of conjuration, in the lore of which
she was said to be well versed; but by listening patiently to her
religious experiences--she was a dreamer of dreams and a seer of
visions--I was able now and then to draw a little upon her reserves of
superstition, if indeed her religion itself was much more than
"Wen I wuz a gal 'bout eighteen or nineteen," she confided, "de w'ite
folks use' ter sen' me ter town ter fetch vegetables. One day I met a'
ole conjuh man name' Jerry Macdonal, an' he said some rough, ugly things
ter me. I says, says I, 'You mus' be a fool.' He didn' say nothin', but
jes' looked at me wid 'is evil eye. Wen I come 'long back, dat ole man
wuz stan'in' in de road in front er his house, an' w'en he seed me he
stoop' down an' tech' de groun', jes' lack he wuz pickin' up somethin',
an' den went 'long back in 'is ya'd. De ve'y minute I step' on de spot
he tech', I felt a sha'p pain shoot thoo my right foot, it tu'n't under
me, an' I fell down in de road. I pick' myself up an' by de time I got
home, my foot wuz swoll' up twice its nachul size. I cried an' cried an'
went on, fer I knowed I'd be'n trick' by dat ole man. Dat night in my
sleep a voice spoke ter me an' says: 'Go an' git a plug er terbacker.
Steep it in a skillet er wa'm water. Strip it lengthways, an' bin' it
ter de bottom er yo' foot'.' I never didn' use terbacker, an' I laid
dere, an' says ter myse'f, 'My Lawd, wa't is dat, wa't is dat!' Soon ez
my foot got kind er easy, dat voice up an' speaks ag'in: 'Go an' git a
plug er terbacker. Steep it in a skillet er wa'm water, an' bin' it ter
de bottom er yo' foot.' I scramble' ter my feet, got de money out er my
pocket, woke up de two little boys sleepin' on de flo', an' tol' 'em ter
go ter de sto' an' git me a plug er terbacker. Dey didn' want ter go,
said de sto' wuz shet, an' de sto' keeper gone ter bed. But I chased 'em
fo'th, an' dey found' de sto' keeper an' fetch' de terbacker--dey sho'
did. I soaked it in de skillet, an' stripped it 'long by degrees, till I
got ter de en', w'en I boun' it under my foot an' roun' my ankle. Den I
kneel' down an' prayed, an' next mawnin de swellin' wuz all gone! Dat
voice wus de Spirit er de Lawd talkin' ter me, it sho' wuz! De Lawd have
mussy upon us, praise his Holy Name!"
Very obviously Harriet had sprained her ankle while looking at the old
man instead of watching the path, and the hot fomentation had reduced
the swelling. She is not the first person to hear spirit voices in his
or her own vagrant imaginings.
On another occasion, Aunt Harriet's finger swelled up "as big as a corn
cob." She at first supposed the swelling to be due to a felon. She went
to old Uncle Julius Lutterloh, who told her that some one had tricked
her. "My Lawd!" she exclaimed, "how did they fix my finger?" He
explained that it was done while in the act of shaking hands. "Doctor"
Julius opened the finger with a sharp knife and showed Harriet two seeds
at the bottom of the incision. He instructed her to put a poultice of
red onions on the wound over night, and in the morning the seeds would
come out. She was then to put the two seeds in a skillet, on the right
hand side of the fire-place, in a pint of water, and let them simmer
nine mornings, and on the ninth morning she was to let all the water
simmer out, and when the last drop should have gone, the one that put
the seeds in her hand was to go out of this world! Harriet, however, did
not pursue the treatment to the bitter end. The seeds, once extracted,
she put into a small phial, which she corked up tightly and put
carefully away in her bureau drawer. One morning she went to look at
them, and one of them was gone. Shortly afterwards the other
disappeared. Aunt Harriet has a theory that she had been tricked by a
woman of whom her husband of that time was unduly fond, and that the
faithless husband had returned the seeds to their original owner. A part
of the scheme of conjuration is that the conjure doctor can remove the
spell and put it back upon the one who laid it. I was unable to learn,
however, of any instance where this extreme penalty had been insisted
It is seldom that any of these old Negroes will admit that he or she
possesses the power to conjure, though those who can remove spells are
very willing to make their accomplishment known, and to exercise it for
a consideration. The only professional conjure doctor whom I met was old
Uncle Jim Davis, with whom I arranged a personal interview. He came to
see me one evening, but almost immediately upon his arrival a minister
called. The powers of light prevailed over those of darkness, and Jim
was dismissed until a later time, with a commission to prepare for me a
conjure "hand" or good luck charm, of which, he informed some of the
children about the house, who were much interested in the proceedings. I
was very much in need. I subsequently secured the charm, for which,
considering its potency, the small sum of silver it cost me was no
extravagant outlay. It is a very small bag of roots and herbs, and, if
used according to directions, is guaranteed to insure me good luck and
"keep me from losing my job." The directions require it to be wet with
spirits nine mornings in succession, to be carried on the person, in a
pocket on the right hand side, care being taken that it does not come in
contact with any tobacco. When I add that I procured, from an equally
trustworthy source, a genuine graveyard rabbit's foot, I would seem to
be reasonably well protected against casual misfortune. I shall not,
however, presume upon this immunity, and shall omit no reasonable
precaution which the condition of my health or my affairs may render
An interesting conjure story, which I heard, involves the fate of a lost
voice. A certain woman's lover was enticed away by another woman, who
sang very sweetly, and who, the jilted one suspected, had told lies
about her. Having decided upon the method of punishment for this
wickedness, the injured woman watched the other closely, in order to
find a suitable opportunity for carrying out her purpose; but in vain,
for the fortunate one, knowing of her enmity, would never speak to her
or remain near her. One day the jilted woman plucked a red rose from her
garden, and hid herself in the bushes near her rival's cabin. Very soon
an old woman came by, who was accosted by the woman in hiding, and
requested to hand the red rose to the woman of the house. The old woman,
suspecting no evil, took the rose and approached the house, the other
woman following her closely, but keeping herself always out of sight.
When the old woman, having reached the door and called out the mistress
of the house, delivered the rose as requested, the recipient thanked the
giver in a loud voice, knowing the old woman to be somewhat deaf. At
the moment she spoke, the woman in hiding reached up and caught her
rival's voice, and clasping it tightly in her right hand, escaped
unseen, to her own cabin. At the same instant the afflicted woman missed
her voice, and felt a sharp pain shoot through her left arm, just below
the elbow. She at first suspected the old woman of having tricked her
through the medium of the red rose, but was subsequently informed by a
conjure doctor that her voice had been stolen, and that the old woman
was innocent. For the pain he gave her a bottle of medicine, of which
nine drops were to be applied three times a day, and rubbed in with the
first two fingers of the right hand, care being taken not to let any
other part of the hand touch the arm, as this would render the medicine
useless. By the aid of a mirror, in which he called up her image, the
conjure doctor ascertained who was the guilty person. He sought her out
and charged her with the crime which she promptly denied. Being pressed,
however, she admitted her guilt. The doctor insisted upon immediate
restitution. She expressed her willingness, and at the same time her
inability to comply--she had taken the voice, but did not possess the
power to restore it. The conjure doctor was obdurate and at once placed
a spell upon her which is to remain until the lost voice is restored.
The case is still pending, I understand; I shall sometime take steps to
find out how it terminates.
How far a story like this is original, and how far a mere reflection of
familiar wonder stories, is purely a matter of speculation. When the old
mammies would tell the tales of Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Fox to the
master's children, these in turn would no doubt repeat the fairy tales
which they had read in books or heard from their parents' lips. The
magic mirror is as old as literature. The inability to restore the
stolen voice is foreshadowed in the _Arabian Nights_, when the "Open
Sesame" is forgotten. The act of catching the voice has a simplicity
which stamps it as original, the only analogy of which I can at present
think being the story of later date, of the words which were frozen
silent during the extreme cold of an Arctic winter, and became audible
again the following summer when they had thawed out.
_Modern Culture_, May 1901
CHARLES W. CHESNUTT
STORIES, NOVELS, & ESSAYS
_The Conjure Woman
The Wife of His Youth and
Other Stories of the Color Line
The House Behind the Cedars
The Marrow of Tradition
* * * * *
THE LIBRARY OF AMERICA
THE CONJURE WOMAN
The Goophered Grapevine
Mars Jeems's Nightmare
The Conjurer's Revenge
Sis' Becky's Pickaninny
The Gray Wolf's Ha'nt
THE WIFE OF HIS YOUTH AND OTHER STORIES OF THE COLOR LINE
The Wife of His Youth
Her Virginia Mammy
The Sheriff's Children
A Matter of Principle
The Passing of Grandison
Uncle Wellington's Wives
The Web of Circumstance
The House Behind the Cedars
The Marrow of Tradition
A Deep Sleeper
The Dumb Witness
The March of Progress
What Is a White Man?
The Future American
Superstitions and Folk-Lore of the South
Charles W. Chesnutt's Own View of His New Story, _The Marrow of Tradition_
The Disfranchisement of the Negro
The Courts and the Negro
_Note on the Texts_
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