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- Bricks Without Straw - 10/87 -


and work-bench. It had the leathern seat of a shoemaker's bench, except that it was larger and wider. As the occupant sat with his back to the window, on his left were the shallow boxes of a shoemaker's bench, and along its edge the awls and other tools of that craft were stuck in leather loops secured by tacks, as is the custom of the crispin the world over. On the right was a table whose edge was several inches above the seat, and on which were some books, writing materials, a slate, a bundle of letters tied together with a piece of shoe-thread, and some newspapers and pamphlets scattered about in a manner which showed at a glance that the owner was unaccustomed to their care, but which is yet quite indescribable. On the wall above this table, but within easy reach of the sitter's hand, hung a couple of narrow hanging shelves, on which a few books were neatly arranged. One lay open on the table, with a shoemaker's last placed across it to prevent its closing.

Eliab was already busily engaged in reading the certificate which Nimbus had given him. The sun, now near its setting, shone in at the open door and fell upon him as he read. He was a man apparently about the age of Nimbus--younger rather than older--having a fine countenance, almost white, but with just enough of brown in its sallow paleness to suggest the idea of colored blood, in a region where all degrees of admixture were by no means rare. A splendid head of black hair waved above his broad, full forehead, and an intensely black silky beard and mustache framed the lower portion of his face most fittingly. His eyes were soft and womanly, though there was a patient boldness about their great brown pupils and a directness of gaze which suited well the bearded face beneath. The lines of suffering were deeply cut upon the thoughtful brow and around the liquid eyes, and showed in the mobile workings of the broad mouth, half shaded by the dark mustache. The face was not a handsome one, but there was a serious and earnest calmness about it which gave it an unmistakable nobility of expression and prompted one to look more closely at the man and his surroundings.

The shoulders were broad and square, the chest was full, the figure erect, and the head finely poised. He was dressed with unusual neatness for one of his race and surroundings, at the time of which we write. One comprehended at a glance that this worker and learner was also deformed. There was that in his surroundings which showed that he was not as other men. The individuality of weakness and suffering had left its indelible stamp upon the habitation which he occupied. Yet so erect and self-helping in appearance was the figure on the cobbler's bench that one for a moment failed to note in what the affliction consisted. Upon closer observation he saw that the lower limbs were sharply flexed and drawn to the leftward, so that the right foot rested on its side under the left thigh. This inclined the body somewhat to the right, so that the right arm rested naturally upon the table for support when not employed. These limbs, especially below the knees, were shrunken and distorted. The shoe of the right foot whose upturned sole rested on the left leg just above the ankle, was many sizes too small for a development harmonious with the trunk.

Nimbus sat down in the splint-bottomed chair by the door and fanned himself with his dingy hat while the other read.

"How is dis, Nimbus? What does dis mean? _Nimbus Ware?_ Where did you get dat name?" he asked at length, raising his eyes and looking in pained surprise toward the new voter.

"Now, Bre'er 'Liab, don't talk dat 'ere way ter Nimbus, ef yo please. Don't do it now. Yer knows I can't help it. Ebberybody want ter call me by ole Mahs'r's name, an' dat I can't abide nohow; an' when I kicks 'bout it, dey jes gib me some odder one, Dey all seems ter tink I'se boun' ter hev two names, though I hain't got no manner o' right ter but one."

"But how did you come to have dis one--Ware?" persisted Eliab.

"Wal, you see, Bre'er 'Liab, de boss man at der registerin' he ax me fer my las' name, an' I tell him I hadn't got none, jes so. Den Sheriff Gleason, he put in his oar, jes ez he allus does, an' he say my name wuz _Desmit,_ atter ole Mahs'r. Dat made me mad, an' I 'spute him, an' sez I, 'I won't hev no sech name'. Den de boss man, he shet up Marse Gleason purty smart like, and _he_ sed I'd a right ter enny name I chose ter carry, kase nobody hadn't enny sort o' right ter fasten enny name at all on ter me 'cept myself. But he sed I'd better hev two, kase most other folks hed 'em. So I axed Marse Si War' ef he'd lend me his name jes fer de 'casion, yer know, an' he sed he hadn't no 'jection ter it. So I tole der boss man ter put it down, an' I reckon dar 'tis."

"Yes, here it is, sure 'nough, Nimbus; but didn't you promise me you wouldn't have so many names?"

"Co'se I did; an' I did try, but they all 'llowed I got ter have two names whe'er er no."

"Then why didn't you take your old mahs'r's name, like de rest, and not have all dis trouble?"

"Now, 'Liab, yer knows thet I won't nebber do dat."

"But why not, Nimbus?"

"Kase I ain't a-gwine ter brand my chillen wid no sech slave-mark! Nebber! You hear dat, 'Liab? I hain't got no ill-will gin Marse Desmit, not a mite--only 'bout dat ar lickin, an' dat ain't nuffin now; but I ain't gwine ter war his name ner giv it ter my chillen ter mind 'em dat der daddy wuz jes anudder man's critter one time. I tell you I can't do hit, nohow; an' I _won't,_ Bre'er 'Liab. I don't hate Marse Desmit, but I does hate slavery--dat what made me his--worse'n a pilot hates a rattlesnake; an' I hate everyting dat 'minds me on't, I do!"

The black Samson had risen in his excitement and now sat down upon the bench by the other.

"I don't blame you for dat, Nimbus, but--"

"I don't want to heah no 'buts' 'bout it, an' I won't."

"But the chillen, Nimbus. You don't want dem to be different from others and have no surname?"

"Dat's a fac', 'Liab," said Nimbus, springing to his feet. "I nebber t'ought o' dat. Dey must hev a name, an' I mus' hev one ter gib 'em, but how's I gwine ter git one? Dar's nobody's got enny right ter gib me one, an' ef I choose one dis week what's ter hender my takin' ob anudder nex week?"

"Perhaps nothing," answered 'Liab, "but yourself. You must not do it."

"Pshaw, now," said Nimbus, "' what sort o' way is dat ter hev things? I tell ye what orter been done, 'Liab; when de law married us all, jes out of han' like, it orter hev named us too. Hit mout hev been done, jes ez well's not. Dar's old Mahs'r now, he'd hev named all de niggas in de county in a week, easy. An' dey'd been good names, too."

"But you'd have bucked at it ef he had," said 'Liab, good-naturedly.

"No I wouldn't, 'Liab. I hain't got nuffin 'gin ole Mahrs'r. He war good enough ter me--good 'nuff. I only hate what _made_ him 'Old Mahs'r,' an' dat I does hate. Oh, my God, how I does hate it, Liab! I hates de berry groun' dat a slave's wukked on! I do, I swar! When I wuz a-comin' home to-day an' seed de gullies 'long der way, hit jes made me cuss, kase dey wuz dar a-testifyin' ob de ole time when a man war a critter--a dog--a nuffin!"

"Now you oughtn't to say dat, Nimbus. Just think of me. Warn't you better off as a slave than I am free?"

"No, I warn't. I'd ruther be a hundred times wuss off ner you, an' free, than ez strong as I am an' a slave."

"But think how much more freedom is worth to you. Here you are a voter, and I--"

"Bre'er 'Liab," exclaimed Nimbus, starting suddenly up, "what for you no speak 'bout dat afore. Swar to God I nebber tink on't--not a word, till dis bressed minit. Why didn't yer say nuffin' 'bout bein' registered yo'self, eh? Yer knowed I'd a tuk yer ef I hed ter tote ye on my back, which I wouldn't. I wouldn't gone a step widout yer ef I'd only a t'ought. Yer knows I wouldn't."

"Course I does, Nimbus, but I didn't want ter make ye no trouble, nor take the mule out of the crap," answered 'Liab apologetically.

"Damn de crap!" said Nimbus impetuously.

"Don't; don't swear, Nimbus, if you please."

"Can't help it, 'Liab, when you turn fool an' treat me dat 'ere way. I'd swar at ye ef yer wuz in de pulpit an' dat come ober me, jes at de fust. Yer knows Nimbus better ner dat. Now see heah, 'Liab Hill, yer's gwine ter go an' be registered termorrer, jes ez sure ez termorrer comes. Here we thick-headed dunces hez been up dar to-day a-takin' de oath an' makin' bleve we's full grown men, an' here's you, dat knows more nor a ten-acre lot full on us, a lyin' here an' habin' no chance at all."

"But you want to get de barn full, and can't afford to spend any more time," protested 'Liab.

"Nebber you min' 'bout de barn. Dat's Nimbus' business, an" he'll take keer on't. Let him alone fer dat. Yis, honey, I'se comin' d'reckly!" he shouted, as his wife called him from his own cabin.

"Now Bre'er 'Liab, yer comes ter supper wid us. Lugena's jes' a callin' on't."

"Oh, don't, Nimbus," said the other, shrinking away. "I can't! You jes send one of the chillen in with it, as usual."

"No yer don't," said Nimbus; "yer's been a scoldin' an' abusin' me all dis yer time, an' now I'se gwine ter hab my way fer a little while."

He went to the door and called:

"Gena! _Oh,_ Gena!" and as his wife did not answer, he said to one of his children, "_Oh,_ Axylone, jes run inter de kitchen, son, an' tell yer ma ter put on anudder plate, fer Bre'er 'Liab's comin' ober ter take a bite wid us."

Eliab kept on protesting, but it was in vain. Nimbus bent over him as tenderly as a mother over the cradle of her first-born, clasped


Bricks Without Straw - 10/87

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