Jul 052011

In 1878 Charles D. Deshler published a reminiscence of a trip through the American South in Harper’s Magazine. Deshler, a Northerner, traveled through the South  sometime after the close of the Civil War. The full text is set out below. Deshler’s account, with it’s casual racism, it’s sentimental recollection of the relationships between slaves and their owners, serves as a baseline of contemporary views, contrasting with Twain’s Huck Finn.


Ab’m: A Glimpse of Modern Dixie

by Charles D. Deshler

Travelling through the Southern States a few years after the close of the late war, as I was passing through Atlanta, Georgia, my attention was arrested at the depot by a gentleman who was hobbling painfully over the platform on a pair of crutches – an empty leg of his pantaloons showing that his right leg had been amputated at the thigh. He was attended by several negroes, who waited on him with careful assiduity – carrying his valise and parcels, and assisting him with such an excess of caution as to impede rather than aid his progress.

I was particularly interested by the demeanor of one of the attendant negroes, to whom the others seemed to defer, and whose solicitude for the comfort of the lame gentleman manifested itself by numerous minute and affectionate attentions. He was a tall, spare, powerful fellow, long-limbed and straight as an arrow; and his good-looking face was surmounted by a well-worn and seriously dilapidated hat of soft felt, which had once been black, and whose broad brim was flattened up in front against the crown in an exceedingly knowing and wide-awake manner. Negligently thrown on the back of the man’s head, the old felt seemed full of character, and at the same time revealed the whole of a dusky and hard-featured frontispiece which was remarkable for its mobility, and in which I read as in an open book the lines of sagacity, resolution, gentleness, and fidelity. I could have trusted him on sight with my life – such an air of downright honesty and transparent trustworthiness played over his expressive countenance. He helped the gentleman into the car, found a convenient seat in which to dispose of his traps, looked out for his comfort with genuine if somewhat superfluous zeal, and after carefully wrapping a rug around his “game-leg” – for the morning air was keen – passed into a forward car, but not until some parting words of mutual kindness had been exchanged in a low tone between them.

After the cars got in motion a conversation sprung up between the gentleman and myself, in the course of which, in response to an inquiry asking from what part of Georgia I came, I informed him that I was a Jerseyman.

“Why,” he exclaimed, “you don’t talk like a Yankee. I thought you were a Georgian; no one would know you from one by your speech.” This, indeed, was true enough, for I had already observed that the vernacular of such Georgians as I had met was remarkably free from the idioms peculiar to Virginia and Tennessee, and so nearly resembled that of New York and New Jersey as to make it difficult to distinguish between them.

..relations of the white and colored races..
The time that Deshler writes about would have been a period of great unrest. The Klu Klux Klan had recently been established; the ambitious laws of the Reconstruction Era would have been rammed through Congress over the President’s objections; restrictive laws aimed at recently freed black men and women were being enacted in former-slave states in response. SeeTimeline of the Reconstruction Era.
As we thawed into acquaintanceship, I ventured to say that although I was not a professional politician, and was visiting the South on a business errand, I was yet travelling with my eyes and ears open, especially as to the relations of the white and colored races.

To this my companion rejoined: “I had better not undertake to enlighten you on that subject, for in the present state of opinion at the North, and in view of the prevalent ideas there as to the social and political relations of the two races, however candid I might be, or however careful to be accurate, you would instinctively credit me with being either partial or prejudiced. Nor, under the circumstances, could I blame you if you did. I will therefore only say that I am a hearty friend to the negro, and have good reason to be so, for I was born and brought up among them, and was nursed by them; they were my playmates when I was a child, and I have necessarily been a good deal thrown among them since I became a man. No one ever had truer or more disinterested friends than they have been to me. Let me relate an incident that will show you what grounds I have for saying this. When General Sherman’s army marched across Georgia I was in the Confederate army, and in one of the engagements near Atlanta my leg was shattered by a cannon-ball. The surgeon had just finished operating on me when our army was forced to beat a hasty retreat; and as it was impossible to carry me along in my exhausted condition, I was left lying on the field under the shelter of the tree beneath which the operation had been performed. I was in a deplorable condition, physically and mentally, and fully expected to die from exposure and want of care, or from the brutality of some of Sherman’s bummers.

Sherman’s bummers
General William Sherman’s foragers, who rode in advance of Sherman’s main troops, were called ‘bummers’, according to Civil War Potpouri. The origin of the military slang is not known, although it was a well-worn term.
Already I could hear the rumble of the approaching army, when a party of negro lads, led by Abraham – the boy you saw assist me into the car – came to where I lay, and carried me six miles off of the route of the advancing troops, to a place of safety, where they nursed me tenderly until my family were apprised of my whereabouts. Though these lads undoubtedly sympathized with the Union army, we never had a moment’s apprehension that Abe and his companions, who were old slaves of ours or of neighboring planters, would betray me; and it is to their care, but especially to the untiring devotion of Abe that I owe my life. You see, therefore, that I have good cause to profess myself a grateful and hearty friend of the negro. Nevertheless it is not desirable that you should derive the information you seek concerning the relations of the races from me. Better far go to the negroes themselves. They are simple-minded, but very shrewd; and though sadly given to lying, as their best friends must admit, they are not more so than any other children – and negroes are only grown-up children. You can easily discriminate between what is true in what they may tell you and what should be taken with some grains of allowance. By the way, Abe is in the smoking-car, which you will probably find full of darkies. Get into conversations with him; he is intelligent, perfectly truthful, though somewhat of a diplomate; and what he don’t know about negroes, and all that is going on among them, isn’t worth knowing.”

After a time, acting on the suggestion of Colonel Johnston – for such I afterward discovered was my companion’s name – I took my leave of him and went forward to the smoking-car. Stopping to light a cigar and look around as I entered it, I descried Abe sitting in the hinder part of the car, and, taking possession of an unoccupied seat immediately behind him, I proceeded to take a survey of my surroundings. The car was two-thirds full of negroes of nearly every age and of both sexes. Soon after my entrance the train boy passed through with a basket of apples, for which the negroes were eager customers. He then “worked the car” successively for ground-nuts (Georgian for pea-nuts), chestnuts, and oranges, of each of which all of them, with the exception of Abe, bought lavishly and ate unremittingly. Finally he came through with packages of prize candy, and again met with numerous customers among the sable travellers, Abe being in the number this time. Just as he was opening the package he had bought I leaned over the back of his seat, and tapping his shoulder, said, “Abraham?”

Starting up in undisguised surprise at being thus addressed by an entire stranger, Abe exclaimed, “Gosh-a’mighty, massa, who tole you my name’s Ab’m?”

Smiling at his discomposure, and fancying I could almost detect a flush of color stealing over his dark visage, I replied: “A gentleman in the next car, whom you know very well, Abraham, gave me your name.”

On my saying this the honest fellow’s face relaxed into a smile, and he said, “Dat must ha’ bin de kurnel: guess he tole you I’s a pretty good sort o’ nigger – eh, massa?”

“Yes, Abraham, the colonel spoke highly of you as one of his best and most valued friends.”

..most valued friends.
Contrast Mark Twain’s description of the friendships between slaves and their owners in this excerpt from Twain’s autobiography with Deshler’s account here. The descriptions are similar, but Twain adds an interesting qualifier.

“I know’d it, massa,” he replied. “De kurnel allers did stan’ up for me, de kurnel did.”

“But, Abraham,” I said, “the colonel has also been telling me how nobly you stood up for him when he lost his leg.”

“Well, now, massa, what de debbil else could I do but stan’ up for de kurnel? Kurnel Bob an’ I’s know’d each udder ever sence we know’d any thin’. We’ve fit fur one anudder, an’ we’ve fit agin one anudder; we’ve got one anudder into all kinds o’ scrapes, an’ we’ve got one annuder out of ‘em again; we’ve bin boys togedder, an’ we’ve bin men togedder; we’ve hunted togedder, an’ fished togedder, an’ we went arter de gals togedder all our lives – an’ so jis lemme ax you, massa, how de debbil I could help it. Don’t you see ‘twa’n’t possible, nowhow?”

“Yes, I see, Abraham,” I answered, “and what you say raises both you and the colonel in my regards. But now let me tell you why I have come in here. I am from the North, and I want to learn for myself about some things down South, the real truth of which we find it hard to get at where I’ve come from. Your friend Colonel Bob tells me you can enlighten me, and at his suggestion I have come to you.”

“All right, Sir; I’m at your sarvice,” was the reply.

“First let me ask you a question, Abraham. Since I came into this car I’ve noticed that when the train boy went through with apples nearly all the colored people bought some; then when he went through with ground-nuts and chestnuts and oranges, they invested in them; and last of all, when he went through with packages of prize candy, they invested in them also. I have noticed the same thing wherever I have been in the South. The train boy always reaps a harvest among the colored folks, but he don’t seem to get much out of the white people. Now how do you account for this?”

While I was setting forth this rather formidable indictment, Abraham’s first impulse seemed to be to get the prize package he had bought slyly out of sight; and as I went on, his face gradually grew soberer and more thoughtful, as if he were pondering some difficult problem. When I had concluded, he sat silent for a moment, scratching his head in a brown-study, and then looking up, with a gleam of humor illuminating his face, he responded: “I dunno jis how to splain dat, massa, but I spect it’s because de niggers is all dam fools! De fac’ is, niggers is jis like chillen – deir eyes is allers bigger’n deir bellies, an’ dey’ve got to have whatever dey sets deir eyes on; an’ ef dey gits any money in deir pockets, it won’t stay in nohow, but burns a hole in ‘em quicker’n lightnin’. Now dem niggers over yender,” he continued, pointing to some rather showily dressed darkies of both sexes seated in the forward part of the car, who were industriously munching their purchases from the train boy, and in whose attire there was a profuse display of gaudy ribbons and neckerchiefs – “dem niggers ain’t o’ no ‘count; dey’re only house niggers, an’ all dey’ve got’s on deir backs. Laws-a-massy! dey dunno what work means; an’ ef dey gits a few dollars, dey moves roun’ a mighty sight spryer to spend it dan dey did to airn it. No, Sir!” – with a very positive shake of the head – “dey ain’t o’ much ‘count.”

“Why, Abraham,” I said, “you seem to have a poor opinion of the people of your own color.”

“By George, massa,” he exclaimed, “it makes me bilin’ mad to see sich deb’lish fools. I dessay you’ve heern tell of white trash? Well, Sir, dar’s black trash jis same as dar’s white trash, but dat don’t make de hull on ‘em trash. Now you see dem udder fellers – dem I mean dat has de big bags wid’ em? Dey ain’t got on no stiff white collars, nor no black coats, nor no red hankerchers, an’ all sich like nonsense; but dem niggers kin work, an’ dey’re willn’ to work. Dey don’t put all dey’ve got in de world onto deir backs an’ into deir bellies – not by a long shot dey don’t; but when dey airn deir money dey hang on to it fur a rainy day. I tell you, massa, dar’s somethin’ in dem niggers – dey’re farmers.” And then he added, with a touch of pride, “I’s a farmer myse’f.”

“What do you mean by farmers?” I inquired.

“Oh, dey work in de cotton  fields, an’ sich like,” he replied. “Some on ‘em works fur demselves an’ some works on sheers, an’ some has contracks wid de Freedmen’s Burer. Dey’ll git along, you bet, massa.”

Freedmen’s Burer
Operating from within the War Department, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedman, and Abandoned Property (referred to as the Freedmen’s Bureau) attempted to address the issues arising from the sudden emancipation of four million Americans – men and women with no homes, no work, who had intentionally been denied access to education, trades and skills. The Freedmen’s Bureau, along with providing rations and medical assistance to freed slaves and destitute whites, presided over labor arrangements and contracts between freedmen and planters, often their former owners.
“You say you are a farmer, Abraham,” I interposed; “but I don’t see that you carry a bag like those others whom you say are farmers.”

At this observation the worthy fellow’s countenance suddenly fell, and for a moment the light that had sparkled in his eye was extinguished, and his vivacity quenched. Recovering himself, however, he replied, with prefatory rueful scratching of his head:

..went his bail.
I’m uncertain what type of bail is being described. Shortly after the war ended, local authorities often charged petty crimes against freedmen with high-dollar bail requirements. The Freedmen’s Bureau did, for a time, oversee criminal matters, including posting of bond or bail, instead of the local civil authorities.
“Well, no, massa, I ain’t got no bag, an’ I’ll jis tell you how dat come. You see, two year ago I worked for myse’f, an’ I tell you I laid myse’f out on it late an’ airly; an’ when de crop was sold I had more’n five hundred dollars – f-i-v-e  h-u-n-d-r-ed dollars!” he repeated, with his eyes and hands thrown wide open. “Well, Sir, dar was anudder nigger I know’d what had made a contrack wid de Freedmen’s Burer to do somethin’, an’ he comes to me an’ axes me to go his bail. An’ I went his bail. Well, dat nigger cheat de Burer – he s-t-o-l-e, massa! an’ den he runs away ‘s if de debbil was arter him, an’ de Burer comes down on me fur de bail, an’ dey got my five hundred dollars; an’ dat’s what I got fur goin’ dat nigger’s bail. Ki! massa, you don’t ketch dis nigger goin’ bail fur anudder nigger agin, not ef he knows it. Arter dat I was dead broke, an’ had to give up farmin’ fur a bit, an’ now I’m a-railroadin’ till I kiu airn enough fur anudder start. So dat’s why I don’t carry no bag, massa; but I’s a farmer fur all dat.”

When Abraham had concluded the relation of his dear-bought experience, he averted his face and brooded moodily for a moment over the recollection of his misfortunes; but he soon cast the gloom aside, and, turning round as bright and cheery as ever, resumed the conversation.

“Massa,” he said, “a while ago I tole you dat mebbe niggers is all blame fools; but dey ain’t. Dessay you’ve heerd tell ‘bout Willum Shakspeare?”

Wondering what turn the conversation would now take, I replied affirmatively to Abraham’s apparently irrelevant question.

“I spect Willum Shakespeare’s a pretty good kind o’ poick – eh, massa?”

“Yes,” I said, “Shakespeare was a great poet.”

“Jis so, massa; dat’s what I say. Guess you ‘member de story he tells of dat ar Lady Macbef, what sot her husban’ on to kill de ole king, an’ den swore like all possest because she couldn’t clean de blood off of her han’? An’ de one ‘bout de king what tore roun’ like a mad bull when he got licked, an’ promised to give his kingdom for a hoss when he had no kingdom to give? An’ de one ‘bout dat pretty little queen what got bewitched an’ fell in love wid a jackass? An’ dem udder ones ‘bout de fat ole feller what bragged like J’hosaphat, but took mighty good keer to keep his skin hull, but wasn’t smart enough to keep hisse’f from bein’ pitched out of a dirty buck-basket into de river when he got caught foolin’ roun’ wid udder folks’s wives? Sakes alive! massa, I knows all dem. Dessay you’ve heern tell o’ Bobby Barns, too, eh?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I’ve heard a good deal of him also.”

“Well, I guess Bobby Barns is anudder pretty good poick – eh, massa?”

“Yes, he was a charming poet, Abraham. Do you know where William Shakespeare and Robert Burns belonged?”

“N-n-no, I dunno zactly whar dey b’longed, massa, but spect dey b’long up Norf somewhere.”

Here Abraham apparently thought it expedient to change the subject, and to divert my attention brought out from its concealment the prize package he had bought, and began searching its contents with great assiduity. Presently he found among them a pair of showy gilt ear-rings, and holding them up, exclaimed, with great glee:

“Dat ar prize package wasn’t sich a bad investment arter all, massa. See yere what I’ve got fur my quarter: dar’s a hull lot o’ candy fur de chillen, an’ dar’s dis pair o’ ear-rings fur de ole woman. Guy! but won’t dey set her up! Shoh!” And he dangled the glittering gewgaws, his face bright with pleasure, as he pictured to himself the delight they would afford his wife and children.

By this time my cigar being nearly consumed and a fresh one in order, I drew a couple from my pocket, and offered one to Abraham. The joy he manifested at the trivial gift was unbounded, and his manner of exhibiting it full of comic drollery. Holding the cigar first to one nostril and then to the other, he inhaled its fragrant aroma by repeated demonstrative sniffs that drew all eyes upon him, and after a prolonged inhalation exclaimed:

“Guy! dat does my heart good; it goes ‘way down to my boots. Ah, dat’s de ginewine article, au’ no mistake, dat is!” After repeated dandlings of the luxury, and sundry anticipatory testings of its quality by nose and eye, Abraham at last almost reluctantly lighted his cigar. Then gingerly placing its tip in his capacious muzzle, he began talking at the other colored folk in a tone that was intended to attract their notice, and which very evidently excited their intense admiration. “Yah! yah!” he exclaimed, “dis yere ain’t none o’ your common tobies like dem udder niggers is a-pullin’ at – yah! yah! Dis yere’s a reg’lar bandanner sich as de big bugs smokes, dis is – yah! yah! Jis smell dat somke, you niggers over dar; dar ain’t no charge for smellin’ it, an’ dem what can’t smoke kin have a smell at half price – yah! yah!”

When I thought he had sufficiently enjoyed himself at the expense of his fellow-darkies, I renewed the interrupted conversation by asking him: “What church do you belong to, Abraham?”

“Well, now, massa,” he replied, “ef you means what church I was fetched up in by my ole mammy, den I’s a Baptister, but I don’t zactly b’long to no church jis at present. Gin (dat’s my wife, Sir) an’ de chillens does, though, kase, you see, Kurnel Bob’s sister looks arter ‘em pretty sharp, an’ takes ‘em ‘long wid her to church an’ to Sunday-school.”

“Is Colonel Bob’s sister a Baptister too?” I inquired.

“Kurnel Bob’s sister a Baptister!” he exclaimed. “No, Sir, not ef I knows it, she ain’t! Lord, Sir, she an ole massa’s fam’ly don’t none of ‘em take no stock in de Baptisters; dey’re all reg’lar ‘Piscopals, jis like de rest o’ de big folks.”

“How is it with the rest of you colored people, Abraham – what church do they belong to?”

“Oh, dey’re mos’ly Baptisters and Mefodis, an’ a good many are Prisbteraians,” he replied; “but I dunno much about deir religion, massa. De fac’ is, ‘t ‘pears to me it’s mos’ly shoutin’, like a ingin’ blowin’ off de steam to keep de biler from bustin’. I ‘low, on de hull, deir religion ain’t much ‘count, fur de mos’ of ‘em seems to set more store on de yarbs an’ roots dey gits from de ole Guinea wenches dan dey do on deir prayers, an’ dey’re a mighty sight ‘fraider of a rooty Oby [Obeah] man dan dey are of de Ten Comman’ments. De way I looks at it, niggers ginrally are more anxious to buy off de debbil dan dey are to sarve de Lord, an’ so de debbil runs in deir heads a good deal more’n de Lord does. Anudder thing ‘bout ‘em, massa, is dat de debbil dey’re ‘fraid of is one dat’s here on de yerth in de shape o’ some udder nigger; dey don’t give demselves much consarn about de debbil what’ll git hold of ‘em in anudder world.”

“Abraham, how do the white and the colored people get along together at the South?”

“Why, dey gits along well enough; to be sure dey do. Why shouldn’t dey git along togedder? Dey all b’longs yere, an’ dey was all born an’ brung up yere. Of course dey gits along. But, massa, WE WOTES!”

As he uttered the words “we wotes,” Abraham’s face was a study. The index finger of his right hand was pressed against his lips, and his countenance assumed an expression at once full of meaning and yet as blank as a stone wall. Finding that he was disposed to take refuge behind this pantomime from further revelations, I replied: “Yes, I know you vote, Abraham, but the thing that I want to know is whether there are not serious troubles and differences here between the colored people and the white people. How is it?”

“Why, to be sure dar’s troubles an’ differences down here; in course dar is. Don’t ye see niggers is niggers, an’ white folks is white folks down Souf, jis like dey is all overs? I spect dar’s troubles ‘tween folks up Norf, an’ dat’s de way ‘tis down Souf. Sometimes de white folks has a row, an’ den agin sometimes de n iggers has a row; sometimes de white folks pitch into de niggers, an’ sometimes de niggers pitch into de white folks – an’ den agin dey don’t. But, I say, massa, WE WOTES!”

Again Abraham resorted to the same expressive pantomime, but I pretended not to comprehend his meaning, though I began to have a glimmering of it. So I resumed: “You have told me that twice, Abraham, but it is no answer to my question. Now no dodging, but come straight to the point – are the white people and the colored floks friends or enemies? Do you understand that?”

“Oh yes, massa, dat talk’s plain enough. I guess I kin understan’ it widout kickin’. Now jis lemme tell you how ‘tis. S’pose a nigger gits sick: well, dar ain’t no nigger doctors, an’ we’ve got to go to de white doctors. Understan’? Well, jis so, dar ain’t no nigger lawyers, nor bankers, nor butchers, nor bakers, nor noffin’, an’ we’ve got to ‘pend on de white lawyers an’ butchers an’ bakers. Understan’, massa? Very well, den, ef I wants to buy any thin’, or ef I’ve got any thin’ to sell, dar ain’t no niggers to go to, an’ I’ve got to go to de white folks. S’pose my chile was to die, d’ye spect I’d want anudder common nigger jis like myse’f to bury him? No, Sir. He should have de best white minister dar is a-goin’. An’ den agin, s’pose dar’s sickness or trouble in my fam’ly, an’ I want good keer an’ words o’ comfort, do you spect I’d run to udder nigger to git ‘em? All I’ve got to say is, ef I did, I’d be disapp’inted, sure. But I don’t do it, an’ no niggers does it what kin help it. Ef my wife or chile gits taken bad, I goes to Kurnel Bob’s sister, an’ den I knows it’s boun’ to come right ef any thin’ kin make it come right; an’ ef I gits into trouble, like dat dam bail, why, I jis goes to Kurnel Bob hisse’f, an’ he helps me to pull through. Dat’s what we niggers has got to do, massa. But den, you see, WE WOTES!”

No ingenuity of which I was the master could extract a more direct reply from Abraham, who seemed to be an adept in the art of saying nothing with his tongue while his face and eyes and hands spoke volumes. I had no doubt, however, that the impression he sought to convey was that while there were many strong ties of interest, affection, and sympathy between the two races, and that while the negroes instinctively resorted to the whites in great emergencies, deferring to their superior intelligence in matters of domestic or business concernment, they still held themselves distinct politically, because they perceived that somewhere in this field there was an antagonism of interests, which they held in restraint by massing their votes as an undivided unit.

We were now drawing near to Columbus, where we were to dine; and the conductor having informed me that, owing to a failure in our connections, we would remain there for several hours, Abraham proposed that after I had dined I should accompany him in some visits to a few of his negro acquaintances. My experience at one of these visits was so amusing that I will relate it. I will premise that Abraham had informed me that one of his friends on whom we were to call was a merchant, an office-bearer in the Baptist church, and deservedly respected by men of his own race and the ladies and gentlemen of the town.

Dispatching my dinner quickly, I found Abraham waiting for me on the hotel porch, and after several other visits we ended on his merchant friend, William Blackshear. I found that Blackshear’s store was quite a large one, and it seemed to  be liberally stocked with general supplies of the coarser kind, intended both for the outer and the inner man, as well as for  his ox and his ass and all that is his. When I entered the store, Blackshear, a stirring, wiry fellow, and his wife, a buxom, shrewd-looking woman – both as black as the ace of spades – were intently busy waiting on numerous customers, assisted by several likely-looking younger negro clerks. Bidding Abraham not to disturb Blackshear till he had served his customers, I sat down on a friendly sugar barrel, and took a quiet observation of the scene. One of the customers of this worthy pair was a country negro, a huge but innocent-looking lout, who had been selling his share of some cotton that day, and was now spending his money with a liberal hand. Blackshear and his wife evidently realized that now was their golden opportunity, and they industriously plied the bewildered darky with all sorts of attractive articles of merchandise, chiefly bright-colored calicoes, gay handkerchiefs, brilliant ribbons, and resplendent finery generally, though the more substantial materials, coffee, sugar, bacon, etc., were by no means lost sight of. Of all these things the simple fellow was a ready purchaser; but at length he bethought himself that he must have a new pair of shoes, when a large assortment was laid before him, all of which, even to my unpracticed eye, were far too small for his prodigious feet. Still Blackshear and his wife determined that he should be suited, and handing him a pair, bade him sit down and try them on. Then came the tug of war. The unfortunate negro toiled and twisted in the vain effort to insert his foot into a pair of shoes many sizes too small for him. Blackshear repeatedly exclaiming, “Dar, I tole you dey’d fit you; don’t you see dey’re jis your size?” and urging his victim to renewed exertions in the fruitless – or perhaps I should say bootless – effort, till the perspiration rolled in great white beads down his oily skin. At the critical time, when the much-perspiring negro was nearly exhausted, Mrs. Blackshear, who had come from behind the counter and was standing beside him, burst into a roar of derisive laughter, and exclaimed: “Yah! yah! Look at dat nigger wraslin to git his foot into de shoe when de tongue’s turned down inside of it! Gi’ me de shoe!” And seizing it out of the hands of the passive negro, she dexterously thrust her hand inside and pretended to whip out of it the tongue which had prevented the admission of the foot. “Yah! yah!” she again shouted, holding the shoe up to her husband, “didn’t I tell ye so? See yere, dis nigger was a-tryin’ to git his foot into de shoe wid de tongue down on de inside! Yah! yah!” And without permitting any further trial, she wrapped the shoes up in paper, and tying them securely with a strong cord, handed them to her docile patron, assuring him that they would fit him exactly. For his part, the darky laughed as loudly as Mrs. Blackshear at his own blundering mistake, apparently completely convinced that it was just as that astute negress alleged; and soon after he left the store, wearing a thoroughly beaming and well-satisfied look.

After the departure of the country darky, Abraham introduced me to Blackshear; and after some introductory talk, in which I found that the merchant was really very intelligent, and that he plumed himself upon his standing and reputation in the community, I said: “William, I observed that when that country fellow who has just gone out was trying to get on a pair of shoes that were much too small for him, you pretended that he couldn’t get them on because the tongue had slipped inside; and without giving him a chance to try them, after he knew the tongue was all right, you declared that the shoes would fit him, and he has carried them away in that belief, only to find out the contrary when he gets home. Now I ask you as a friend how you can reconcile such a course with your character as a man and member of the church?”

William looked like any other culprit when faced by an indictment so overwhelming. At first he was staggered by my question, but soon recovering, replied: “’Twa’n’t me, Sir; I didn’t swade him one way nor de udder.”

“No,” I replied, “I know you did not; but you looked on approvingly when your wife did, and as I think you are too much of a man to hide  yourself under your wife’s petticoats, I think you will acknowledge that her act was the same as your own.”

“Well, Sir,” he frankly replied, “dar ain’t no use in my beatin’ de bush no longer. But we ain’t done dat nigger no harm, fur he won’t want to wear de shoes till arter frost sets in. You see, Sir, ef we hadn’t made him take dem shoes along wid him, he’d ‘a gone right away to some udder store, an’ got a pair what fitted him, an’ we’d ‘a lost de sale on ‘em. Now when he gits to hum and tackles dem shoes agin, he’ll soon find out he mout as well try an’ git a horse and buggy into ‘em as to try an’ git his foot into ‘em; an’ den de nex’ time he comes to town he’ll fetch ‘em along, and decla’ he can’t git ‘em on nohow. By dat time we’ll have a pair what’ll fit him, an’ so he won’t lose noffin, an’ we don’t lose de sale. Dat’s all dar is ‘bout it, I spect.”

My time was now nearly up, and Abraham and I retraced our steps to the depot, where I found my train in readiness to leave. Shaking hands good-by with him, I left in his hand several crisp slips of paper, which I told him were for his wife and children, and without waiting for his thanks hastened into the car. I could see, however, from the car window that his eyes were suffused with tears and dilated with pleasure at the vision of household joy which his mind was picturing as he looked at the bills in his open palm; and as the train moved off I could easily fancy that I heard him exclaim: “Guy! how dis yere will set up Gin and de chillen!”


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