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- Miss Minerva and William Green Hill - 3/25 -
Billy's idea of a bath was taken from the severe weekly scrubbing which Aunt Cindy gave him with a hard washrag, and he felt that he'd rather die at once than have to bathe every day.
He followed his aunt dolefully to the bath-room at the end of the long back-porch of the old-fashioned, one-story house; but once in the big white tub he was delighted.
In fact he stayed in it so long Miss Minerva had to knock on the door and tell him to hurry up and get ready for breakfast.
"Say," he yelled out to her, "I likes this here; it's mos' as fine as Johnny's Wash Hole where me and' Wilkes Booth Lincoln goes in swimmin' ever sence we's born."
When he came into the dining-room he was a sight to gladden even a prim old maid's heart. The water had curled his hair into riotous yellow ringlets, his bright eyes gleamed, his beautiful, expressive little face shone happily, and every movement of his agile, lithe figure was grace itself.
"I sho' is hongry," he remarked, as he took his seat at the breakfast table.
Miss Minerva realized that now was the time to begin her small nephew's training; if she was ever to teach him to speak correctly she must begin at once.
"William," she said sternly, "you must not talk so much like a negro. Instead of saying `I sho' is hongry,' you should say, `I am very hungry.' Listen to me and try to speak more correctly."
"Don't! don't!" she screamed as he helped himself to the meat and gravy, leaving a little brown river on her fresh white tablecloth. "Wait until I ask a blessing; then I will help you to what you want."
Billy enjoyed his breakfast very much. "These muffins sho' is--" he began; catching his aunt's eye he corrected himself--"
"These muffins am very good."
"These muffins are very good," said Miss Minerva patiently.
"Did you ever eat any bobbycued rabbit?" he asked. "Me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln been eatin' chit'lins, an' sweet 'taters, an' 'possum, an' squirrel, an' hoecake, an' Brunswick stew ever sence we's born," was his proud announcement.
"Use your napkin," commanded she, "and don't fill your mouth so full."
The little boy flooded his plate with syrup.
"These-here 'lasses sho' is--" he began, but instantly remembering that he must be more particular in his speech, he stammered out:
"These-here sho' is--am--are a nice messer 'lasses. I ain't never eat sech a good bait. They sho' is--I aimed to say--these 'lasses sho' are a bird; they's 'nother sight tastier 'n sorghum, an' Aunt Cindy 'lows that sorghum is the very penurity of a nigger."
She did not again correct him.
"I must be very patient," she thought, "and go very slowly. I must not expect too much of him at first."
After breakfast Miss Minerva, who would not keep a servant, preferring to do her own work, tied a big cook-apron around the little boy's neck, and told him to churn while she washed the dishes. This arrangement did not suit Billy.
"Boys don't churn," he said sullenly, "me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln don' never have to churn sence we's born; 'omans has to churn an' I ain't agoing to. Major Minerva--he ain't never churn," he began belligerently but his relative turned an uncompromising and rather perturbed back upon him. Realizing that he was beaten, he submitted to his fate, clutched the dasher angrily, and began his weary work.
He was glad his little black friend did not witness his disgrace.
As he thought of Wilkes Booth Lincoln the big tears came into his eyes and rolled down his cheeks; he leaned way over the churn and the great glistening tears splashed right into the hole made for the dasher, and rolled into the milk.
Billy grew interested at once and laughed aloud; he puckered up his face and tried to weep again, for he wanted more tears to fall into the churn; but the tears refused to come and he couldn't squeeze another one out of his eyes.
"Aunt Minerva," he said mischievously, "I done ruint yo' buttermilk."
"What have you done?" she inquired.
"It's done ruint," he replied, "you'll hafter th'ow it away; 't ain't fitten fer nothin.' I done cried 'bout a bucketful in it."
"Why did you cry?" asked Miss Minerva calmly. "Don't you like to work?"
"Yes 'm, I jes' loves to work; I wish I had time to work all the time. But it makes my belly ache to churn,--I got a awful pain right now."
"Churn on!" she commanded unsympathetically.
He grabbed the dasher and churned vigorously for one minute.
"I reckon the butter's done come," he announced, resting from his labors.
"It hasn't begun to come yet," replied the exasperated woman. "Don't waste so much time, William."
The child churned in silence for the space of two minutes, and suggested: "It's time to put hot water in it; Aunt Cindy always puts hot water in it. Lemme git some fer you."
"I never put hot water in my milk," said she, "it makes the butter puffy. Work more and talk less, William."
Again there was a brief silence, broken only by the sound of the dasher thumping against the bottom of the churn, and the rattle of the dishes.
"I sho' is tired," he presently remarked, heaving a deep sigh. "My arms is 'bout give out, Aunt Minerva. Ole Aunt Blue-Gum Tempy's Peruny Pearline see a man churn with his toes; lemme git a chair an' see if I can't churn with my toes."
"Indeed you shall not," responded his annoyed relative positively.
"Sanctified Sophy knowed a colored 'oman what had a little dog went roun' an' roun' an' churn fer her," remarked Billy after a short pause. "If you had a billy goat or a little nanny I could hitch him to the churn fer you ev'ry day."
"William," commanded his aunt, "don't say another word until you have finished your work."
"Can't I sing?" he asked.
She nodded permission as she went through the open door into the dining-room.
Returning a few minutes later she found him sitting astride the churn, using the dasher so vigorously that buttermilk was splashing in every direction, and singing in a clear, sweet voice:
"He'll feed you when you's naked, The orphan stear he'll dry, He'll clothe you when you's hongry An' take you when you die."
Miss Minerva jerked him off with no gentle hand.
"What I done now?" asked the boy innocently. "'tain't no harm as I can see jes' to straddle a churn."
"Go out in the front yard," commanded his aunt, "and sit in the swing till I call you. I'll finish the work without your assistance. And, William," she called after him, "there is a very bad little boy who lives next door; I want you to have as little to do with him as possible."
SWEETHEART AND PARTNER
Billy was sitting quietly in the big lawn-swing when his aunt, dressed for the street, finally came through the front door.
"I am going up-town, William," she said, "I want to buy you some things that you may go with me to church Sunday. Have you ever been to Sunday-School?"
"Naw 'm; but I been to pertracted meetin'," came the ready response, "I see Sanctified Sophy shout tell she tore ev'y rag offer her back 'ceptin' a shimmy. She's one 'oman what sho' is got 'ligion; she ain't never backslid 't all, an' she ain't never fell f'om grace but one time--"
"Stay right in the yard till I come back. Sit in the swing and don't go outside the front yard. I shan't be gone long," said Miss Minerva.
His aunt had hardly left the gate before Billy caught sight of a round, fat little face peering at him through the palings which separated Miss Minerva's yard from that of her next-door
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