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- Bricks Without Straw - 4/87 -
"I'm very well, thank ye, Lorency, an' glad to see you looking so peart," he responded pleasantly. "How's Mr. Ware and the people? All well, I hope."
"All tol'able, Mahs'r, thank ye."
"Well, tie the horse, and get me some dinner, gal. I haven't eaten since I left home."
"La sakes!" said the woman in a tone of commiseration, though she had no idea whether it was twenty or forty miles he had driven since his breakfast.
The man who sat upon the porch and waited for the coming of Mr. Silas Ware, his overseer, was in the prime of life, of florid complexion, rugged habit, short stubbly hair--thick and bristling, that stood close and even on his round, heavy head from a little way above the beetling brows well down upon the bull-like neck which joined but hardly separated the massive head and herculean trunk. This hair, now almost white, had been a yellowish red, a hue which still showed in the eyebrows and in the stiff beard which was allowed to grow beneath the angle of his massive jaw, the rest of his face being clean shaven. The eyes were deep-sunk and of a clear, cold blue. His mouth broad, with firm, solid lips. Dogged resolution, unconquerable will, cold-blooded selfishness, and a keen hog-cunning showed in his face, while his short, stout form--massive but not fleshy--betrayed a capacity to endure fatigue which few men could rival.
"How d'ye, Mr. Ware?" he said as that worthy came striding in from the new-ground nervously chewing a mouthful of home-made twist, which he had replenished several times since leaving the field, without taking the precaution to provide stowage for the quantity he was taking aboard.
"How d'ye, Colonel?" said Ware uneasily.
"Reckon you hardly expected me to day?" continued Desmit, watching him closely. "No, I dare say not. They hardly ever do. Fact is, I rarely ever know myself long enough before to send word."
He laughed heartily, for his propensity for dropping in unawares upon his agents was so well known that he enjoyed their confusion almost as much as he valued the surprise as a means of ascertaining their attention to his interests. Ware was one of his most trusted lieutenants, however, and everything that he had ever seen or heard satisfied him of the man's faithfulness. So he made haste to relieve him from embarrassment, for the tall, awkward, shambling fellow was perfectly overwhelmed.
"It's a long time since I've been to see you, Mr. Ware--almost a year. There's mighty few men I'd let run a plantation that long without looking after them. Your reports have been very correct, and the returns of your work very satisfactory. I hope the stock and hands are in good condition?"
"I must say, Colonel Desmit," responded Ware, gathering confidence, "though perhaps I oughtn't ter say it myself, that I've never seen 'em lookin' better. 'Pears like everything hez been jest about ez favorable fer hands an' stock ez one could wish. The spring's work didn't seem ter worry the stock a mite, an' when the new feed come on there was plenty on't, an' the very best quality. So they shed off ez fine ez ever you see ennything in yer life, an' hev jest been a doin' the work in the crop without turnin' a hair."
"Glad to hear it, Mr. Ware," said Desmit encouragingly.
"And the hands," continued Ware, "have jest been in prime condition. We lost Horion, as I reported to you in--lemme see, February, I reckon--along o' rheumatism which he done cotch a runnin' away from that Navigation Company that you told me to send him to work for."
"Yes, I know. You told him to come home if they took him into Virginia, as I directed, I suppose."
"Certainly, sir," said Ware; "an' ez near ez I can learn they took him off way down below Weldon somewheres, an' he lit out to come home jest at the time of the February 'fresh.' He had to steal his way afoot, and was might'ly used up when he got here, and died some little time afterward."
"Yes. The company will have to pay a good price for him. Wasn't a better nor sounder nigger on the river," said Desmit.
"That ther warn't," replied Ware. "The rest has all been well. Lorency had a bad time over her baby, but she's 'round again as peart as ever." "So I see. And the crops?"
"The best I've ever seed sence I've been here, Colonel. Never had such a stand of terbacker, and the corn looks prime. Knapp-of-Reeds has been doin' better 'n' better ever sence I've knowed it; but she's jest outdoin' herself this year."
"Haven't you got anything to drink, Ware?"
"I beg your _parding_, Colonel; I was that flustered I done forgot my manners altogether," said Ware apologetically. "I hev got a drap of apple that they say is right good for this region, and a trifle of corn that ain't nothing to brag on, though it does for the country right well."
Ware set out the liquor with a bowl of sugar from his sideboard as he spoke, and called to the kitchen for a glass and water.
"That makes me think," said Desmit. "Here, you Lorency, bring me that portmanty from the gig."
When it was brought he unlocked it and took out a bottle, which he first held up to the light and gazed tenderly through, then drew the cork and smelled of its contents, shook his head knowingly, and then handed it to Ware, who went through the same performance very solemnly.
"Here, gal," said Desmit sharply, "bring us another tumbler. Now, Mr. Ware," said he unctuously when it had been brought, "allow me, sir, to offer you some brandy which is thirty-five years old--pure French brandy, sir. Put it in my portmanty specially for you, and like to have forgot it at the last. Just try it, man."
Ware poured himself a dram, and swallowed it with a gravity which would have done honor to a more solemn occasion, after bowing low to his principal and saying earnestly, "Colonel, your very good health."
"And now," said Desmit, "have the hands and stock brought up while I eat my dinner, if you please. I have a smart bit of travel before me yet to-day."
The overseer's horn was at Ware's lips in a moment, and before the master had finished his dinner every man, woman, and child on the plantation was in the yard, and every mule and horse was in the barn-lot ready to be brought out for his inspection.
The great man sat on the back porch, and, calling up the slaves one by one, addressed some remark to each, gave every elder a quarter and every youngster a dime, until he came to the women. The first of these was Lorency, the strapping cook, who had improved the time since her master's coming to make herself gay with her newest gown and a flaming new turban. She came forward pertly, with a young babe upon her arm.
"Well, Lorency, Mr. Ware says you have made me a present since I was here?"
"Yah! yah! Marse Desmit, dat I hab! Jes' de finest little nigger boy yer ebber sot eyes on. Jes' you look at him now," she continued, holding up her brighteyed pickaninny. "Ebber you see de beat ub dat? Reg'lar ten pound, an' wuff two hundred dollars dis bressed minnit."
"Is that it, Lorency?" said Desmit, pointing to the child. "Who ever saw such a thunder-cloud?"
There was a boisterous laugh at the master's joke from the assembled crowd. Nothing abashed, the good-natured mother replied, with ready wit,
"Dat so, Marse Kunnel. He's _brack_, he is. None ob yer bleached out yaller sort of coffee-cullud nigger 'bout _him_. De rale ole giniwine kind, dat a coal make a white mark on. Yah I yah! what yer gwine ter name him, Mahs'r? Gib him a good name, now, none o' yer common mean ones, but jes' der bes' one yer got in yer book;" for Colonel Desmit was writing in a heavy clasped book which rested on a light stand beside him.
"What is it, Mahs'r?"
"Nimbus," replied the master.
"Wh--what?" asked the mother. "Say dat agin', won't yer, Mahs'r?"
"Nimbus--_Nimbus_," repeated Desmit.
"Wal, I swan ter gracious!" exclaimed the mother. "Ef dat don't beat! H'yer! little--what's yer name? Jes' ax yer Mahs'r fer a silver dollar ter pay yer fer hevin' ter tote dat er name 'roun' ez long ez yer lives."
She held the child toward its godfather and owner as she spoke, amid a roar of laughter from her fellow-servants. Desmit good-naturedly threw a dollar into the child's lap, for which Lorency courtesied, and then held out her hand.
"What do you want now, gal?" asked Desmit.
"Yer a'n't a gwine ter take sech a present ez dis from a pore cullud gal an' not so much ez giv' her someting ter remember hit by, is yer?" she asked with arch persistency.
"There, there," said he laughing, as he gave her another dollar. "Go on, or I shan't have a cent left."
"All right, Marse Kunnel. Thank ye, Mahs'r," she said, as she walked off in triumph.
"Oh, hold on," said Desmit; "how old is it, Lorency?"
"Jes' sebben weeks ole dis bressed day, Mahs'r," said the proud mother as she vanished into the kitchen to boast of her good-fortune in getting two silver dollars out of Marse Desmit instead of the one
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