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- Miss Minerva and William Green Hill - 6/25 -
I have a present for you," said his aunt, handing Billy a long, rectangular package.
"Thank you, ma'am," said her beaming nephew as he sat down on the floor, all eager anticipation, and began to untie the string. His charming, changeful face was bright and happy again, but his expression became one of indignant amaze as he saw the contents of the box.
"What I want with a doll?" he asked angrily, "I ain't no girl."
"I think every little boy should have a doll and learn to make clothes for it," said Miss Minerva. "I don't want you to be a great, rough boy; I want you to be sweet and gentle like a little girl; I am going to teach you how to sew and cook and sweep, so you may grow up a comfort to me."
This was a gloomy forecast for the little boy accustomed, as he had been, to the freedom of a big plantation, and he scowled darkly.
"Me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln ain't never hafter play with no dolls sence we's born," he replied sullenly, "we goes in swimmin' an' plays baseball. I can knock a home-run an' pitch a curve an' ketch a fly. Why don't you gimme a baseball bat? I already got a ball what Admiral Farragut gimme. An' I ain't agoin' to be no sissy neither. Lina an' Frances plays dolls, me an' Jimmy--" he stopped in sudden confusion.
"Lina and Frances and James!" exclaimed his aunt. "What do you know about them, William?"
The child's face flushed. "I seen 'em this mornin'," he acknowledged.
Miss Minerva put a hand on either shoulder der and looked straight into his eyes.
"William, who started that sprinkling this morning?" she questioned, sharply.
Billy flushed guiltily and lowered his eyelids; but only for an instant. Quickly recovering his composure he returned her gaze steadily and ignored her question.
"I see yo' beau too, Aunt Minerva," he remarked tranquilly.
It was Miss Minerva this time who lost her composure, for her thin, sallow face became perfectly crimson.
"My beau?" she asked confusedly. "Who put that nonsense into your head?"
"Jimmy show him to me," he replied jauntily, once more master of the situation and in full realization of the fact. "Why don't you marry him, Aunt Minerva, so's he could live right here with us? An' I could learn him how to churn. I s'pec' he 'd make a beautiful churner. He sho' is a pretty little fat man," he continued flatteringly. "An' dress? That beau was jest dressed plumb up to the top notch. I sho' would marry him if I's you an' not turn up my nose at him 'cause he wears pants, an' you can learn him how to talk properer'n what he do an' I betcher he'd jest nachelly take to a broom, an' I s'pec' he ain't got nobody 'tall to show him how to sew. An' y' all could get the doctor to fetch you a little baby so he wouldn't hafter play with no doll. I sho' wisht we had him here," ended a selfish Billy, "he could save me a lot of steps. An' I sho' would like to hear 'bout all them Injuns an' Yankees what he's killed."
Billy's aunt was visibly embarrassed.
The persistent admiration of this, her one lover, had been pleasing to her, yet she had never been willing to sacrifice her independence for the cares and trials of matrimony. The existing state of affairs between the two was known to every one in the small town, but such was Miss Minerva's dignified aloofness that Billy was the first person who had ever dared to broach the subject to her.
"Sit down here, William," she commanded, "and I will read to you."
"Tell me a tale," he said, looking up at her with his bright, sweet smile. The doll lay neglected on a chair near by and Billy wanted her to forget it.
"Tell me 'bout Piljerk Peter."
"Piljerk Peter?" there was an interrogation in her voice.
"Yas 'm. Ain't you never hear tell 'bout Piljerk Peter? He had fifteen chillens an' one time the las' one of 'em an' his ole 'oman was down with the fever an' he ain't got but one pill an' they so sick they mos' 'bout to die an' ain't nobody in the fiel' fer to pick the cotton an' he can't git no doctor an' he ain't got but jest that one pill; so he tie that pill to a string an' let the bigges' chile swaller it an' draw it back up an' let the nex' chile swaller it an' jerk it back up an' let the nex, Chile swaller it an' jerk it back up an' let the nex' Chile swaller it an' jerk it back up an' let the nex'--."
"I don't believe in telling tales to children," interrupted his aunt, "I will tell you biographical and historical stories and stories from the Bible. Now listen, while I read to you."
"An' the nex' Chile swaller it an' he jerk it back up," continued Billy serenely, "an' the nex' Chile swaller it an' he jerk it back up tell finely ev'y single one of 'em, plumb down to the baby, swaller that pill an' the las' one of 'em got well an' that one pill it done the work. Then he tuck the pill and give it to his ole 'oman an' she swaller it an' he jerk it back up but didn't nothin' 'tall come up but jest the string an' his ole 'oman she died 'cause all the strenk done gone outer that pill."
Miss Minerva opened a book called "Gems for the Household," which she had purchased from a silvertongued book-agent. She selected an article the subject of which was "The Pure in Heart."
Billy listened with a seemingly attentive ear to the choice flow of words, but in reality his little brain was busy with its own thoughts. The article closed with the suggestion that if one were innocent and pure he would have a dreamless sleep
"If you have a conscience clear, And God's commands you keep; If your heart is good and pure, You will have a perfect sleep."
Billy's aunt concluded. Wishing to know if he had understood what she had just read she asked:
"What people sleep the soundest?"
"Niggers," was his prompt reply, as he thought of the long summer days and the colored folk on the plantation.
She was disappointed, but not discouraged.
"Now, William," she admonished, "I'm going to read you another piece, and I want you to tell me about it, when I get through. Pay strict attention."
"Yas 'm," he readily agreed.
She chose an article describing the keen sense of smell in animals. Miss Minerva was not an entertaining reader and the words were long and fairly incomprehensible to the little boy sitting patiently at her side.
Again his thoughts wandered, though every now and then he caught a word or two.
"What animals have the keenest sense of smell, William?" was her query at the conclusion of her reading.
"Billy goats," was Billy's answer without the slightest hesitation.
"You have goats on the brain," she said in anger. "I did not read one word about billy goats."
"Well, if 'taint a billy goat," he replied, "I do' know what 'tis 'thout it's a skunk."
"I bought you a little primer this morning," she remarked after a short silence, "and I want you to say a lesson every day."
"I already knows a lot," he boasted. "Tabernicle, he 'an' Mercantile both been to school an' they learnt me an' Wilkes Booth Lincoln. I knows crooked S, an' broken back K, an' curly tail Q, an' roun' O, an' I can spell c-a-t cat, an' d-o-g dog an' A stands fer apple."
That night he concluded his ever lengthy prayer at his kinswoman's knee with:
"O Lord, please make for Aunt Minerva a little baby, make her two of 'em. O Lord, if you got 'em to spare please make her three little babies an' let 'em all be girls so's she can learn 'em how to churn an' sew. An' bless Aunt Minerva and Major Minerva, f'r ever 'nd ever. Amen."
As he rose from his knees he asked: "Aunt Minerva, do God work on Sunday?"
"No-o," answered his relative, hesitatingly.
"Well, it look like He'd jest hafter work on Sunday, He's so busy jest a-makin' babies. He makes all the niggers an' heathens an' Injuns an' white chillens; I reckon He gits somebody to help him. Don't you, Aunt Minerva?"
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