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- Miss Minerva and William Green Hill - 2/25 -
Lincoln been undressin' usself ever sence we's born."
"I'll come in here after a while and turn off the light. Good-night, William."
"Good-night, Aunt Minerva," responded the little boy.
THE RABBIT'S LEFT HIND FOOT
A few minutes later, as Miss Minerva sat rocking and thinking, the door opened and a lean, graceful, little figure, clad in a skinny, grey union suit, came into the room.
"Ain't I a-goin' to say no prayers?" demanded a sweet, childish voice. "Aunt Cindy hear me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln say us prayers ev'y night sence we's born."
"Why, of course you must say your prayers," said his aunt, blushing at having to be reminded of her duty by this young heathen; "kneel down here by me."
Billy looked at his aunt's bony frame and thought of Aunt Cindy's soft, fat, ample lap. A wistful look crossed his childish face as he dropped down in front of her and laid his head against her knee, then the bright, beautiful little face took on an angelic expression as he closed his eyes and softly chanted: "`Now I lays me down to sleep, I prays the Lord my soul to keep, If I should die befo' I wake, I prays the Lord my soul to take.
"`Keep way f'om me hoodoo an' witch, Lead my paf f'om the po'-house gate, I pines fey the golden harps an' sich, Oh, Lord, I'll set an' pray an' wait.' "Oh, Lord, bless ev'ybody; bless me an' Aunt Cindy, an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln, an' Aunt Blue-Gum Tempy's Peruny Pearline, an' Uncle Jimmy-Jawed Jup'ter, an' ev'ybody, an' Sam Lamb, an' Aunt Minerva, an' alley Aunt Blue-Gum Tempy's Peruny Pearline's chillens, an' give Aunt Minerva a billy goat or a little nanny if she'd ruther, an' bless Major Minerva, an' make me a good boy like Sanctified Sophy, fey Jesus' sake. Amen."
"What is that you have tied around your neck, William?" she asked, as the little boy rose to his feet.
"That's my rabbit foot; you won't never have no 'sease 't all an' nobody can't never conjure you if you wears a rabbit foot. This here one is the lef' hin' foot; it was ketched by a red-headed nigger with crosseyes in a graveyard at twelve er'clock on a Friday night, when they's a full moon. He give it to Aunt Cindy to tie 'roun' my nake when I's a baby. Ain't you got no abbit foot?" he anxiously inquired.
"No," she answered. "I have never had one and I have never been conjured either. Give it to me, William; I can not allow you to be so superstitious," and she held out her hand.
"Please, Aunt Minerva, jest lemme wear it to-night," he pleaded. "Me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln's been wearin' us rabbit foots ever sence we's born."
"No," she said firmly; "I'll put a stop to such nonsense at once. Give it to me, William."
Billy looked at his aunt's austere countenance and lovingly fingered his charm; he opened his mouth to say something, but hesitated; slowly he untied the string around his neck and laid his treasure on her lap; then without looking up, he ran into his own little room, closing the door behind him.
Soon afterward Miss Minerva, hearing a sound like a stifled sob coming from the adjoining room, opened the door softly and looked into a sad, little face with big, wide, open eyes shining with tears.
"What is the matter, William?" she coldly asked.
"I ain't never slep' by myself," he sobbed. "Wilkes Booth Lincoln always sleep on a pallet by my bed ever sence we's born an'--'I wants Aunt Cindy to tell me 'bout Uncle Piljerk Peter."
His aunt sat down on the bed by his side. She was not versed in the ways of childhood and could not know that the little boy wanted to pillow his head on Aunt Cindy's soft and ample bosom, that he was homesick for his black friends, the only companions he had ever known.
"I'll you a Bible story," she temporized. "You must not be a baby. You are not afraid, are you, William? God is always with you."
"I don' want no God," he sullenly made reply, "I wants somebody with sho' 'nough skin an' bones, an'--n' I wants to hear 'bout Uncle Piljerk Peter."
"I will tell you a Bible story," again suggested his aunt, "I will tell you about--"
"I don' want to hear no Bible story, neither," he objected, "I wants to hear Uncle Jimmy-Jawed Jup'ter play his 'corjun an' sing:
"'Rabbit up the gum tree, Coon is in the holler Wake, snake; Juney-Bug stole a half a dollar."'
"I'll sing you a hymn," said Miss Minerva patiently.
"I don' want to hear you sing no hymn," said Billy impolitely. "I wants to see Sanctified Sophy shout."
As his aunt could think of no substitute with which to tempt him in lieu of Sanctified Sophy's shouting, she remained silent.
"An' I wants Wilkes Booth Lincoln to dance a clog," persisted her nephew.
Miss Minerva still remained silent. She felt unable to cope with the situation till she had adjusted her thoughts and made her plans.
Presently Billy, looking at her shrewdly, said:
"Gimme my rabbit foot, Aunt Minerva, an' I'll go right off to sleep."
When she again looked in on him he was fast asleep, a rosy flush on his babyish, tearstained cheek, his red lips half parted, his curly head pillowed on his arm, and close against his soft, young throat there nestled the left hind foot of a rabbit.
Miss Minerva's bed time was half after nine o'clock, summer or winter. She had hardly varied a second in the years that had elapsed since the runaway marriage of her only relative, the young sister whose child had now come to live with her. But on the night of Billy's arrival the stern, narrow woman sat for hours in her rocking chair, her mind busy with thoughts of that pretty young sister, dead since the boy's birth.
And now the wild, reckless, dissipated brother-in-law was dead, too, and the child had been sent to her; to the aunt who did not want him, who did not care for children, who had never forgiven her sister her unfortunate marriage. "If he had only been a girl," she sighed. What she believed to be a happy thought entered her brain.
"I shall rear him," she promised herself, "just as if he were a little girl; then he will be both a pleasure and a comfort to me, and a companion for my loneliness."
Miss Minerva was strictly methodical; she worked ever by the clock, so many hours for this, so many minutes for that. William, she now resolved, for the first time becoming really interested in him, should grow up to be a model young man, a splendid and wonderful piece of mechanism, a fine, practical, machine-like individual, moral, upright, religious. She was glad that he was young; she would begin his training on the morrow. She would teach him to sew, to sweep, to churn, to cook, and when he was older he should be educated for the ministry.
"Yes," said Miss Minerva; "I shall be very strict with him just at first, and punish him for the slightest disobedience or misdemeanor, and he will soon learn that my authority is not to be questioned."
And the little boy who had never had a restraining hand laid upon him in his short life? He slept sweetly and innocently in the next room dreaming of the care-free existence on the plantation and of his idle, happy, negro companions.
THE WILLING WORKER
"Get up, William," said Miss Minerva, "and come with me to the bath-room; I have fixed your bath."
The child's sleepy eyes popped wide open at this astounding command.
"Ain't this-here Wednesday?" he asked sharply.
"Yes; to-day is Wednesday. Hurry up or your water will get cold."
"Well, me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln jest washed las' Sat'day. We ain't got to wash no mo' till nex' Sat'day," he argued.
"Oh, yes," said his relative; "you must bathe every day."
"Me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln ain't never wash on a Wednesday sence we's born," he protested indignantly.
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