“Well, Uncle Will, tell me something about the slave days. Was your
master good to you?”

“Nawsuh, he warn’t good to none of us niggers. All de niggers ’roun’
hated to be bought by him kaze he was so mean. When he was too tired to
whup us he had de oberseer do it; and de overseer was meaner dan de
massa. But, Mister, de peoples was de same as dey is now. Dere was good
uns and bad uns. I jus’ happened to belong to a bad un. One day I
remembers my brother, January was cotched ober seein’ a gal on de next
plantation. He had a pass but de time on it done gib out. Well suh, when
de massa found out dat he was a hour late, he got as mad as a hive of
bees. So when brother January he come home, de massa took down his long
mule skinner and tied him wid a rope to a pine tree. He strip’ his shirt
off and said:

“’Now, nigger, I’m goin’ to teach you some sense.’

“Wid dat he started layin’ on de lashes. January was a big, fine lookin’
nigger; de finest I ever seed. He was jus’ four years older dan me, an’
when de massa begin a beatin’ him, January neber said a word. De massa
got madder and madder kaze he couldn’t make January holla.

“’What’s de matter wid you, nigger’ he say. ’Don’t it hurt?’

“January, he neber said nothin’, and de massa keep a beatin’ till little
streams of blood started flowin’ down January’s chest, but he neber
holler. His lips was a quiverin’ and his body was a shakin’, but his
mouf it neber open; and all de while I sat on my mammy’s and pappy’s
steps a cryin’. De niggers was all gathered about and some uv ’em
couldn’t stand it; dey hadda go inside dere cabins. Atter while,
January, he couldn’t stand it no longer hisself, and he say in a hoarse,
loud whisper:

“’Massa! Massa! have mercy on dis poor nigger.’

Will’s eyes narrowed down to fine creases as his thick lips came
together in smacking noises, and the loose skin beneath his chin, and
jaws seemed to shake with the impact of dread memories.

“Den,” he continued, after a brief pause in which time there was no
sound except the constant drop of a bead of water in a lard bucket, “de
war came. De Yankees come in and dey pulled de fruit off de trees and et
it. Dey et de hams and cawn, but dey neber burned de houses. Seem to me
lak dey jes’ stay aroun’ long enough to git plenty somp’n t’eat, kaze
dey lef’ in two or three days, an’ we neber seed ’em since. De massa had
three boys to go to war, but dere wasn’t one to come home. All the
chillun he had was killed. Massa, he los’ all his money and de house
soon begin droppin’ away to nothin’. Us niggers one by one lef’ de ole
place and de las’ time I seed de home plantation I was a standin’ on a
hill. I looked back on it for de las’ time through a patch of scrub
pines and it look’ so lonely. Dere warn’t but one person in sight, de
massa. He was a-settin’ in a wicker chair in de yard lookin’ out ober a
small field of cotton and cawn. Dere was fo’ crosses in de graveyard in
de side lawn where he was a-settin’. De fo’th one was his wife. I lost
my ole woman too 37 years ago, and all dis time, I’s been a carrin’ on
like de massa—all alone.”


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