In about a minute somebody spoke
out of a window without putting his head out, and
“Be done, boys! Who’s there?”
“George Jackson, sir.”
“What do you want?”
“I don’t want nothing,
sir. I only want to go along by, but the dogs
won’t let me.”
“What are you prowling around here this time
of night for hey?”
“I warn’t prowling around, sir, I fell
overboard off of the steamboat.”
“Oh, you did, did you?
Strike a light there, somebody. What did you
say your name was?”
“George Jackson, sir. I’m only a
“Look here, if you’re
telling the truth you needn’t be afraid nobody’ll
hurt you. But don’t try to budge; stand
right where you are. Rouse out Bob and Tom,
some of you, and fetch the guns. George Jackson,
is there anybody with you?”
“No, sir, nobody.”
I heard the people stirring around
in the house now, and see a light. The man sung
“Snatch that light away, Betsy,
you old fool ain’t you got any sense?
Put it on the floor behind the front door. Bob,
if you and Tom are ready, take your places.”
“Now, George Jackson, do you know the Shepherdsons?”
“No, sir; I never heard of them.”
“Well, that may be so, and it
mayn’t. Now, all ready. Step forward,
George Jackson. And mind, don’t you hurry come
mighty slow. If there’s anybody with you,
let him keep back if he shows himself he’ll
be shot. Come along now. Come slow; push
the door open yourself just enough to squeeze
in, d’ you hear?”
I didn’t hurry; I couldn’t
if I’d a wanted to. I took one slow step
at a time and there warn’t a sound, only I thought
I could hear my heart. The dogs were as still
as the humans, but they followed a little behind me.
When I got to the three log doorsteps I heard them
unlocking and unbarring and unbolting. I put
my hand on the door and pushed it a little and a little
more till somebody said, “There, that’s
enough put your head in.” I
done it, but I judged they would take it off.
The candle was on the floor, and there
they all was, looking at me, and me at them, for about
a quarter of a minute: Three big men with guns
pointed at me, which made me wince, I tell you; the
oldest, gray and about sixty, the other two thirty
or more all of them fine and handsome and
the sweetest old gray-headed lady, and back of her
two young women which I couldn’t see right well.
The old gentleman says:
“There; I reckon it’s all right.
As soon as I was in the old gentleman
he locked the door and barred it and bolted it, and
told the young men to come in with their guns, and
they all went in a big parlor that had a new rag carpet
on the floor, and got together in a corner that was
out of the range of the front windows there
warn’t none on the side. They held the
candle, and took a good look at me, and all said,
“Why, he ain’t a Shepherdson no,
there ain’t any Shepherdson about him.”
Then the old man said he hoped I wouldn’t mind
being searched for arms, because he didn’t mean
no harm by it it was only to make sure.
So he didn’t pry into my pockets, but only felt
outside with his hands, and said it was all right.
He told me to make myself easy and at home, and tell
all about myself; but the old lady says:
“Why, bless you, Saul, the poor
thing’s as wet as he can be; and don’t
you reckon it may be he’s hungry?”
“True for you, Rachel I forgot.”
So the old lady says:
“Betsy” (this was a nigger
woman), “you fly around and get him something
to eat as quick as you can, poor thing; and one of
you girls go and wake up Buck and tell him oh,
here he is himself. Buck, take this little stranger
and get the wet clothes off from him and dress him
up in some of yours that’s dry.”
Buck looked about as old as me thirteen
or fourteen or along there, though he was a little
bigger than me. He hadn’t on anything but
a shirt, and he was very frowzy-headed. He came
in gaping and digging one fist into his eyes, and
he was dragging a gun along with the other one.
“Ain’t they no Shepherdsons around?”
They said, no, ’twas a false alarm.
“Well,” he says, “if they’d
a ben some, I reckon I’d a got one.”
They all laughed, and Bob says:
“Why, Buck, they might have
scalped us all, you’ve been so slow in coming.”
“Well, nobody come after me,
and it ain’t right I’m always kept down;
I don’t get no show.”
“Never mind, Buck, my boy,”
says the old man, “you’ll have show enough,
all in good time, don’t you fret about that.
Go ’long with you now, and do as your mother
When we got up-stairs to his room
he got me a coarse shirt and a roundabout and pants
of his, and I put them on. While I was at it
he asked me what my name was, but before I could tell
him he started to tell me about a bluejay and a young
rabbit he had catched in the woods day before yesterday,
and he asked me where Moses was when the candle went
out. I said I didn’t know; I hadn’t
heard about it before, no way.
“Well, guess,” he says.
“How’m I going to guess,” says I,
“when I never heard tell of it before?”
“But you can guess, can’t you? It’s
just as easy.”
“Which candle?” I says.
“Why, any candle,” he says.
“I don’t know where he was,” says
I; “where was he?”
“Why, he was in the dark! That’s
where he was!”
“Well, if you knowed where he was, what did
you ask me for?”
“Why, blame it, it’s a
riddle, don’t you see? Say, how long are
you going to stay here? You got to stay always.
We can just have booming times they don’t
have no school now. Do you own a dog? I’ve
got a dog and he’ll go in the river
and bring out chips that you throw in. Do you
like to comb up Sundays, and all that kind of foolishness?
You bet I don’t, but ma she makes me.
Confound these olé britches! I reckon
I’d better put ’em on, but I’d ruther
not, it’s so warm. Are you all ready?
All right. Come along, old hoss.”
Cold corn-pone, cold corn-beef, butter
and buttermilk that is what they had for
me down there, and there ain’t nothing better
that ever I’ve come across yet. Buck and
his ma and all of them smoked cob pipes, except the
nigger woman, which was gone, and the two young women.
They all smoked and talked, and I eat and talked.
The young women had quilts around them, and their
hair down their backs. They all asked me questions,
and I told them how pap and me and all the family
was living on a little farm down at the bottom of
Arkansaw, and my sister Mary Ann run off and got married
and never was heard of no more, and Bill went to hunt
them and he warn’t heard of no more, and Tom
and Mort died, and then there warn’t nobody
but just me and pap left, and he was just trimmed down
to nothing, on account of his troubles; so when he
died I took what there was left, because the farm
didn’t belong to us, and started up the river,
deck passage, and fell overboard; and that was how
I come to be here. So they said I could have
a home there as long as I wanted it. Then it
was most daylight and everybody went to bed, and I
went to bed with Buck, and when I waked up in the
morning, drat it all, I had forgot what my name was.
So I laid there about an hour trying to think, and
when Buck waked up I says:
“Can you spell, Buck?”
“Yes,” he says.
“I bet you can’t spell my name,”
“I bet you what you dare I can,” says
“All right,” says I, “go ahead.”
“G-e-o-r-g-e J-a-x-o-n there now,”
“Well,” says I, “you
done it, but I didn’t think you could.
It ain’t no slouch of a name to spell right
off without studying.”
I set it down, private, because somebody
might want me to spell it next, and so I wanted
to be handy with it and rattle it off like I was used
It was a mighty nice family, and a
mighty nice house, too. I hadn’t seen
no house out in the country before that was so nice
and had so much style. It didn’t have
an iron latch on the front door, nor a wooden one
with a buckskin string, but a brass knob to turn, the
same as houses in town. There warn’t no
bed in the parlor, nor a sign of a bed; but heaps
of parlors in towns has beds in them. There was
a big fireplace that was bricked on the bottom, and
the bricks was kept clean and red by pouring water
on them and scrubbing them with another brick; sometimes
they wash them over with red water-paint that they
call Spanish-brown, same as they do in town.
They had big brass dog-irons that could hold up a
saw-log. There was a clock on the middle of the
mantelpiece, with a picture of a town painted on the
bottom half of the glass front, and a round place in
the middle of it for the sun, and you could see the
pendulum swinging behind it. It was beautiful
to hear that clock tick; and sometimes when one of
these peddlers had been along and scoured her up and
got her in good shape, she would start in and strike
a hundred and fifty before she got tuckered out.
They wouldn’t took any money for her.
Well, there was a big outlandish parrot
on each side of the clock, made out of something like
chalk, and painted up gaudy. By one of the parrots
was a cat made of crockery, and a crockery dog by the
other; and when you pressed down on them they squeaked,
but didn’t open their mouths nor look different
nor interested. They squeaked through underneath.
There was a couple of big wild-turkey-wing fans spread
out behind those things. On the table in the
middle of the room was a kind of a lovely crockery
basket that had apples and oranges and peaches and
grapes piled up in it, which was much redder and yellower
and prettier than real ones is, but they warn’t
real because you could see where pieces had got chipped
off and showed the white chalk, or whatever it was,
This table had a cover made out of
beautiful oilcloth, with a red and blue spread-eagle
painted on it, and a painted border all around.
It come all the way from Philadelphia, they said.
There was some books, too, piled up perfectly exact,
on each corner of the table. One was a big family
Bible full of pictures. One was Pilgrim’s
Progress, about a man that left his family, it didn’t
say why. I read considerable in it now and then.
The statements was interesting, but tough. Another
was Friendship’s Offering, full of beautiful
stuff and poetry; but I didn’t read the poetry.
Another was Henry Clay’s Speeches, and another
was Dr. Gunn’s Family Medicine, which told you
all about what to do if a body was sick or dead.
There was a hymn book, and a lot of other books.
And there was nice split-bottom chairs, and perfectly
sound, too not bagged down in the middle
and busted, like an old basket.
They had pictures hung on the walls mainly
Washingtons and Lafayettes, and battles, and Highland
Marys, and one called “Signing the Declaration.”
There was some that they called crayons, which one
of the daughters which was dead made her own self
when she was only fifteen years old. They was
different from any pictures I ever see before blacker,
mostly, than is common. One was a woman in a
slim black dress, belted small under the armpits,
with bulges like a cabbage in the middle of the sleeves,
and a large black scoop-shovel bonnet with a black
veil, and white slim ankles crossed about with black
tape, and very wee black slippers, like a chisel,
and she was leaning pensive on a tombstone on her
right elbow, under a weeping willow, and her other
hand hanging down her side holding a white handkerchief
and a reticule, and underneath the picture it said
“Shall I Never See Thee More Alas.”
Another one was a young lady with her hair all combed
up straight to the top of her head, and knotted there
in front of a comb like a chair-back, and she was
crying into a handkerchief and had a dead bird laying
on its back in her other hand with its heels up, and
underneath the picture it said “I Shall Never
Hear Thy Sweet Chirrup More Alas.” There
was one where a young lady was at a window looking
up at the moon, and tears running down her cheeks;
and she had an open letter in one hand with black sealing
wax showing on one edge of it, and she was mashing
a locket with a chain to it against her mouth, and
underneath the picture it said “And Art Thou
Gone Yes Thou Art Gone Alas.” These was
all nice pictures, I reckon, but I didn’t somehow
seem to take to them, because if ever I was down a
little they always give me the fan-tods. Everybody
was sorry she died, because she had laid out a lot
more of these pictures to do, and a body could see
by what she had done what they had lost. But
I reckoned that with her disposition she was having
a better time in the graveyard. She was at work
on what they said was her greatest picture when she
took sick, and every day and every night it was her
prayer to be allowed to live till she got it done,
but she never got the chance. It was a picture
of a young woman in a long white gown, standing on
the rail of a bridge all ready to jump off, with her
hair all down her back, and looking up to the moon,
with the tears running down her face, and she had
two arms folded across her breast, and two arms stretched
out in front, and two more reaching up towards the
moon and the idea was to see which pair
would look best, and then scratch out all the other
arms; but, as I was saying, she died before she got
her mind made up, and now they kept this picture over
the head of the bed in her room, and every time her
birthday come they hung flowers on it. Other
times it was hid with a little curtain. The
young woman in the picture had a kind of a nice sweet
face, but there was so many arms it made her look too
spidery, seemed to me.
This young girl kept a scrap-book
when she was alive, and used to paste obituaries and
accidents and cases of patient suffering in it out
of the Presbyterian Observer, and write poetry after
them out of her own head. It was very good poetry.
This is what she wrote about a boy by the name of
Stephen Dowling Bots that fell down a well and was
ODE TO STEPHEN DOWLING BOTS’ DEC’D
And did young Stephen sicken, And did young Stephen die? And did the sad hearts thicken, And did the mourners cry?
No; such was not the fate of Young Stephen Dowling Bots; Though sad hearts round him thickened, ‘Twas not from sickness’ shots.
No whooping-cough did rack his frame, Nor measles drear with spots; Not these impaired the sacred name Of Stephen Dowling Bots.
Despised love struck not with woe That head of curly knots, Nor stomach troubles laid him low, Young Stephen Dowling Bots.
O no. Then list with tearful eye, Whilst I his fate do tell. His soul did from this cold world fly By falling down a well.
They got him out and emptied him; Alas it was too late; His spirit was gone for to sport aloft In the realms of the good and great.
If Emmeline Grangerford could make poetry like that before she was fourteen, there ain’t no telling what she could a done by and by. Buck said she could rattle off poetry like nothing. She didn’t ever have to stop to think. He said she would slap down a line, and if she couldn’t find anything to rhyme with it would just scratch it out and slap down another one, and go ahead. She warn’t particular; she could write about anything you choose to give her to write about just so it was sadful. Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand with her “tribute” before he was cold. She called them tributes. The neighbors said it was the doctor first, then Emmeline, then the undertaker the undertaker never got in ahead of Emmeline but once, and then she hung fire on a rhyme for the dead person’s name, which was Whistler. She warn’t ever the same after that; she never complained, but she kinder pined away and did not live long. Poor thing, many’s the time I made myself go up to the little room that used to be hers and get out her poor old scrap-book and read in it when her pictures had been aggravating me and I had soured on her a little. I liked all that family, dead ones and all, and warn’t going to let anything come between us. Poor Emmeline made poetry about all the dead people when she was alive, and it didn’t seem right that there warn’t nobody to make some about her now she was gone; so I tried to sweat out a verse or two myself, but I couldn’t seem to make it go somehow. They kept Emmeline’s room trim and nice, and all the things fixed in it just the way she liked to have them when she was alive, and nobody ever slept there. The old lady took care of the room herself, though there was plenty of niggers, and she sewed there a good deal and read her Bible there mostly.
Well, as I was saying about the parlor, there was beautiful curtains on the windows: white, with pictures painted on them of castles with vines all down the walls, and cattle coming down to drink. There was a little old piano, too, that had tin pans in it, I reckon, and nothing was ever so lovely as to hear the young ladies sing “The Last Link is Broken” and play “The Battle of Prague” on it. The walls of all the rooms was plastered, and most had carpets on the floors, and the whole house was whitewashed on the outside.
It was a double house, and the big open place betwixt them was roofed and floored, and sometimes the table was set there in the middle of the day, and it was a cool, comfortable place. Nothing couldn’t be better. And warn’t the cooking good, and just bushels of it too!