A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It

By Mark Twain
A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It (1874).

It was summer time, & twilight. We were sitting on the porch of the farm-house, "Aunt Rachel" was sit- ting respectfully below our level -- for she was our servant, & colored. She was of mighty frame & stature; she was sixty years old, but her eye was undimmed her strength unabated. She was a cheerful, hearty soul, & it was no more trouble for her to laugh than it is for a bird to sing. She was under fire, now, as usual when the day was done. That is to say, she was being chaffed without mercy, and was enjoying it. She would let off peal after peal of laughter, & then sit with her face in her hands & shake with throes of enjoyment which she no longer get breath enough to express. At such a moment as this a thought occur to me, I said:

"Aunt Rachel, how is it that you've lived sixty years & never had any trouble?"

She stopped quaking. She paused, & there was a moment of silence. She turned her face over her shoulder toward me, & said, with- out even a smile in her voice:

"Misto C., is you in arnest?"

It surprised me quite a good deal -- & it sobered my manner & my speech, too. I said:

"Why, I thought -- that is, I meant -- why, you can't have had any trouble. I've never heard you sigh, and never seen your eye when there wasn't a laugh in it."

She faced fairly around, now, & was full of earnestness.

Has I had any trouble? Misto C., I's gwyne to tell you, den I leave it to you. I was bawn down mongst de slaves -- I knows all 'bout slavery, I ben one of 'em my own sef. Well, sah, my ole man -- dat's my husban' -- he was lovin' an' kind to me -- jist as kind as you is to yo' own wife. An' we had chil'en -- seven chil'en -- & we dem chil'en jist de same as you loves yo' chil'en. Dey was black, but de Lord can't make no chil'en so black but what dey mother loves 'em an' wouldn't give 'em up, no, not for anything dat's in dis whole world.

Well, sah, I was raised in ole Fo'ginny, but my mother she was raised in Maryland; an' my souls! she was turrible when she'd git started! My lan'! but she'd make de fur fly! When she'd git into dem tantrums, she always had one word dat she said. She'd straighten herse'f up & put her fists in her hips & say, "I want you to understan dat I's one o' de ole Blue Hen's Chickens, I is!" -- 'case you see, dat's what folks dat's bawn in Maryland calls dey- selves, an' dey's proud of it. Well dat was her word. I don't ever for- git it, she said it so much, an' becase she said it one day when my little Henry tore his wris', awful, [a] n' most busted his head, right up at top of his forehead, an' de niggers didn't fly aroun fas' enough to 'tend to him. An' when dey talk back at her, she up an' she says, "Look-a-heah!" trash! -- I's one o' de ole Blue Hen's Chickens, I is!" an' den she clar' dat kitchen an' bandage' up de chile hers e'f. So I

"Well, bymeby my ole mistis say she's broke, an' she got to sell all de nig- gers on de place. An' when I heah dat dey gwyne to sell us all off at oction in Richmon', O de good I know what dat mean!

[Aunt Rachel had gradually risen, while she warmed to her sub- ject, & now she towered above us, black against the stars.]

Dey put chains on us an' put us on a stan' as high as dis poach -- twenty foot high -- an all de people stood a- roun' -- crowds an crowds. An' dey'd come up dah an' us all roun, an' squeeze our arm, an' make us git up an' walk, an' den say, "Dis one too ole," or "Dis one lame," or "Dis one don't 'mount to much." An' dey sole my ole man, an' took him away, an' dey begin to sell my chil'en an' take dem away, an' I begin to cry; an' de man say "Shet up yo' darn blubberins," an hit me on de mouf wid his han'. An' when de las' one was gone but my little Henry, I grab him clos up to my breas', so, an' I ris up an' says, "You shan't take him a- way I says; "I'll kill de man dat tetches him!" But my little Henry whis- per an' say, "I gwyne to run away, an' den I work an' buy yo' freedom." O, bless de chile, good. dey got him -- dey got him, de men did -- but I took & tear mos' off of 'em an' beat 'em over de head wid my chain; an' dey give it to me, too, but I didn't min dat.

Well, dah was my ole man gone, an' all my chil'en all my seven chil'en -- an' six of 'em I hain't set eyes on agin to dis day an' dats twenty- two year ago las' Easter. De man dat bought me b'long in Newbern, an' he took me dah. Well, bymeby de years roll on an' de waw come. My marster he was a Confedrit Colonel, an' I was his family's cook. So when de Unions took dat town, dey all run away an' lef' me all by mysef wid de other niggers in dat mon'sus big house. So de big Union officers move in dah an' dey ask me would I cook for dem "Lord bless you," says

Dey wa' no small- fry officers, mine you, dey was de biggest dey is; an' way dey made dem so ers mosey roun'! De Gen'l he tole me to boss dat kitchen; an' he say if anybody come meddlin' wid you, you jist don't you be afeard, he say, you's 'mong frens, now.'

Well, I thinks to myself, if my little Henry ever a chance to run away, he'd mae to de Norf, o'course. So one day I comes in dah whah de big officers was, in de parlor, an' I drops a kurtchy, so, an' I tole 'em 'bout my Henry, dey a listenin' jist de same as if I was white; an' I says, "What I come for is if he got away & got up Norf whah you gemmen comes from, you might a seen him, maybe, could tell me so as I could fine him agin; he had a sk-yar on his lef' wris', an' at de top of his forehead." Den dey look mournful, & de Gen'l say, "How long sence you los' him?" an' I say "Thirteen year." Den de Gen'l say, "He wouldn't be little no mo', now -- he's a man!"

I never thought o' dat befo'! He was only dat little feller to me, yit. I never thought 'bout him growin' up an' bein' big. None o' de gemmen had run acrost him, so dey couldn't do nothin' for me. But all dat time, do' I didn't know it, my Henry was run off to de Norf, years & years, an' he was a barber, too, an' worked for hisse'f. An bymeby when de waw come, he ups an' he says, "I's done barberin," he says; "I's gwyne to fine my ole mammy, less'n she's dead." So he sole out an' went to whah dey was re- cruitin', an' hired hisse'f out to de Colonel for his servant; an' den he went all froo de battles everywhah, huntin' for his ole mammy; yes in- deedy, he'd hire to fust one officer an' den an- other, tell he'd ransacked de whole Souf -- but you see I didn't know nuffin' 'bout dis. How

Well, one night, we had a big sojer ball -- de sojers dah at New- bern was always havin' balls an' carryin' on. Dey had 'em in my kitch- en, heaps o' times, 'case it was so big. Mine you, I was down on sich doins; becase my place was wid de officers, an' it rasp' me to have common sojers cavortin' roun' my kitchen like dat. But I always stood aroun' an' kep' things straight, I did; an' some- times dey'd git my dander up, an' den I'd make 'em clar dat kitchen, mine I tell you!

Well, one night -- it was a Friday night -- dey comes a whole plattoon f'm a nigger ridgment dat was on guard at de house -- de house was headquarters, you know -- an' den I was jist a bilin'! I swelled aroun', an' swelled aroun', -- I jist was itchin' for 'em to do somefin' for to start me. An' dey was a waltzin' an' a dan- cin'! -- my! but dey was havin' a time! -- an' I jist a swellin' an' a swellin' up! Pooty soon, 'long comes spruce young nigger a-sailin' down de room wid a yaller wench roun' de wais'; an' roun' an' roun' an' roun' dey went, to make a body drunk to look at 'em; an' when dey got abreas' o' me, dey went to kin' o' balan- cin' aroun', fust on one leg an' den on tother, an' smilin' at my big red turban, an' I says, "Git along wid you! -- rub- bage!" De young man's face kin' o' changed, all of a sudden, for 'bout a second, but den he went to smilin' agin same as he was befo'. Well, 'bout dis time, in comes some niggers dat played mu- sic an' b'long' to de ban', an dey never could git along widout puttin' on airs. An' de very fust air dey put on dat night, I lit into 'em! Dey laughed, an' dat made me wuss. De res' o' de niggers got to laughin, an' den my soul alive but I was hot! My eye was jist a blazin! I jist straight- ened myself up, so -- jist as I now -- plum to de ceilin', mos' an' I says, " Look-a- heah!" I says, "I want you niggers to understan' I's one o' de ole Blue Hen's Chickens, I is!" an' den I see dat young man stan' a-starin' an' stiff, lookin' kin' o' up at de ceilin' like he fogot somefin', an' couldn't 'member it no mo'. Well I jist march' on dem niggers -- so, lookin like a Gen'l an' dey jist cave' away befo' me an' out at de do'. An' as dis young man out, I heah him say to another nig- ger, "Jim," he says, "you go 'long an' tell de Cap'n I be on han' 'bout eight o'clock in de mawnin'; dey's somefin on my mine," he says; "I don't sleep no mo' dis night. You go 'long," he says, "an' leave me by my own se'f."

Dis was 'bout one o'clock in de mawnin'. Well, 'bout seven I was up an' on han', gittin' de officers' breakfast. I was a stoopin' down by de stove -- jist so same as if yo' foot was de stove -- an' I'd opened de stove do' wid my right han', -- so, pushin' it back, jist as I pushes yo' foot -- an' I'd jist got de pan o' hot biscuits in my han' an' was 'bout to raise up, when I see a black face come aroun' under mine, an' de eyes a lookin' up into mine, jist as I' a lookin' up clost under yo' face now an' I jist stopped right dah, an' never budged! jist gazed, an' gazed, so an' de pan begin to tremble, an' all of a sudden I knowed! De pan drop' on de flo' an' I grab his lef' han' an' shove back his sleeve -- jist so, as I' doin' to you -- an' den I for his forehead an' push de hair back so an' "Boy!" I says, "if you ain't my Henry, what is you doin' wid dis welt on yo' wris' an' dat sk-yar on yo' forehead! de Lord God ob Heaven be praise', I got my own agin!"

"O, no, I ain't had no trouble. An' no joy!"

Mark Twain.

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