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A-a-a-in't they Thick? by Jonathan F. Kelley

 

During the “great excitement” in Boston, relative to the fugitive slave “fizzle,” a good-natured country gentleman, by the name of Abner Phipps; an humble artisan in the fashioning of buckets, wash-tubs and wooden-ware generally, from one of the remote towns of the good old Bay State, paid his annual visit to the metropolis of Yankee land. In the multifarious operations of his shop and business, Abner had but little time, and as little inclination, to keep the run of latest news, as set forth glaringly, every day, under the caption of Telegraphic Dispatches, in the papers; hence, it requires but a slight extension of the imagination to apprise you, “dear reader,” that our friend Phipps was but meagerly “posted up” in what was going on in this great country, half of his time. I must do friend Phipps the favor to say, that he was not ignorant of the fact that “Old Hickory” fout well down to New Orleans, and that “Old Zack” flaxed the Mexicans clean out of their boots in Mexico; likewise that Millerism was a humbug, and money was pretty generally considered a cash article all over the universal world.

But what did Phipps know or care about the Fugitive Slave bill? Not a red cent's worth, no more than he did of the equitation of the earth, the Wilmot proviso, or Barnum's woolly horse—not a red. He came to Boston annually to see how things were a workin'; pleasure, not business. The very first morning of his arrival in town, the hue and cry of “slave hunters,” was raised—Shadrack, the fugitive, was arrested at his vocation—table servant at Taft's eating establishment, Corn Hill, where Abner Phipps accidentally had stuck his boots under the mahogany, for the purpose of recuperating his somewhat exhausted inner-man. Abner saw the arrest, he was quietly discussing his tapioca, and if thinking at all, was merely calculating what the profits were, upon a two-and-sixpence dinner, at a Boston restaurateur. He saw there was a muss between the black waiter and two red-nosed white men, but as he did not know what it was all about, he didn't care; it was none of his business; and being a part of his religion, not to meddle with that that did not concern him, he continued his tapioca to the bottom of his plate, then forked over the equivalent and stepped out.

As Phipps turned into Court square, it occurred, slightly, that the niggers had got to be rather thick in Boston, to what they used to be; and bending his footsteps down Brattle street, once or twice it occurred to him that the niggers had got to be thick—darn'd thick, for they passed and repassed him—walked before him and behind him, and in fact all around him.

“Yes,” says Phipps, “the niggers are thick, thundering thick—never saw 'em so thick in my life. Ain't they thick?” he soliloquized, and as he continued his stroll in the purlieus of “slightly soiled” garments, vulgarly known as second-hand shops, mostly proprietorized by very dignified and respectable col'ud pussons, it again struck Phipps quite forcibly that the niggers were a getting thick.

“Godfree! but ain't they thick! I hope to be stabbed with a gridiron,” said Phipps, “if there ain't more niggers—look at 'em—more niggers than would patch and grade the infernal regions eleven miles! Guess I've enough niggers for a spell,” continued Phipps, “so I'll just pop in here, and see how this feller sells his notions.” And so Abner, having reached Dock square, saunters into a gun, pistol, bowie, jack-knife, dog-collar, shot-bag, and notion-shop in general. Unlucky step.

The stiff-dickied, frizzle-headed, polished and perfumed shop-keeper was on hand, and particularly predisposed to sell the stranger something. Just then a nigger passed the door, and looked in very sharply at Phipps, and presently two more passed, then a fourth and fifth, all looking more or less pointedly at the manufacturer of wooden doin's, and white-pine fixin's.

“That's a neat collar,” says the shop-keeper, as Phipps, sort of miscellaneously, placed his hand upon a brass-band, red-lined dog-collar.

“Collar! don't call that a collar, do you?”

“I do, sir, a beautiful collar, sir.”

“What for, solgers?” asks Phipps.

“Soldiers, no, dogs,” says the shop-keeper, puckering his mouth as though he had sampled a lemon.

O!” says Phipps, suddenly realizing the fact. “I ain't got no dogs; bad stock; don't pay; tax 'em up where I live; wouldn't pay tax for forty dogs.” More niggers passed, repassed, and looked in at Phipps and the storekeeper.

“I say, ain't the niggers got to be thick—infernal thick, in your town lately?”

“Well, I don't know that they are,” replied the shop-keeper; “getting rather scarce, I think, since the Fugitive bill has been put in force over the country, sir, but it does appear to me,” said the shop-keeper, twiging sundry and suspicious-looking col'ud gem'en passing by his store, gaping in rather wistfully at the door, and peeping through the sash of the windows—“it does appear to me, that a good many colored persons are about this morning; yes, there is, why there goes more, more yet; bless me, there's another, two, three, four, why a dozen has just passed; they seem to look in here rather curiously, I wonder—only look; what has stirred them up, I want to know!” the fluctuation of the Congo market completely attracted the handsome man's attention; his surprise finally assumed the most tangible shape and complexion of fear, for the niggers, one and all, looked savage as meat-axes, and began to get too numerous to mention.

[Illustration: “What dat! got pistils in your pocket, eh?” says one of two big buck Niggers, shying up alongside of the new velocipeding up-country artisan. “What dat! got de hand-cuffs in he pocket!”— Page 99.]

“Well, guess I'll be goin',” says Phipps, after fumbling over some of the shooting-irons, jack-knives, etc.; reaching the street, he was more fully impressed with the fixed fact, that the niggers were all sorts of thick. They fairly crowded him; one buck darkey rubbed slap up against Phipps, as he moved out of the store. “Look here, Mister,” says Phipps, “ain't all this street big enough for you without a crowdin' me?”

The nigger stopped, looked arsenic and chain lightning at Phipps, and then moved off, saying in a sort of undertone—

“Gorra, I guess you'll be crowded a wus'n dat afore dis day is ober.”

“Will, eh?” responded Abner Phipps, slightly mystified as to the why and wherefore, that he should, in particular, be “crowded,” especially by an Ethiopic gentleman.

“I guess I won't then,” resumed Phipps; “if any body ventures to crowd me, just a purpose, I guess I'll be darn'd apt, and mighty quick to squash in their heads, or whoop'm on the spot.”

“What dat? got pistils in your pocket, eh?” says one of the two big buck niggers, shying up alongside of the now velocipeding up-country artisan. Phipps looked back, the negroes were following him. “Pistils? who's talkin' about pistils, mister?” he ventured to ask.

“Dat's him, watch'm.”

“Why, we see'd you goin' in dar, dat pistol shop; want to lay in a stock of dirks and pistils, eh?” says the negro.

“You—you got any hand-cuffs in you' pocket?” inquired another.

“What dat? got de hand-cuffs in he pocket?”

“Pistils and bowie knibes!” says a third.

“Dat's him! watch'm!”

“Knock'm down, put dat white hat ober his eyes! Hoo-r-r!”

The negroes now fairly beset our victimized friend Phipps; he stopped, buttoned his coat, the negroes augmented; glared at him like demons; he fixed his hat firmly upon his head; the negroes began to grin and move upon him; he spat upon his hands; the negroes began to yell, and to close in upon him; with one grand effort, one mighty gathering of all the human faculties called into action by fear and desperation, Phipps bounded like a Louisiana bull at a gate post; he knocked down two, square; kicked over four, and rushing through the now very considerable and formidable array of ebony, he broke equal to a wild turkey through a corn bottom, or a sharp knife through a pound of milky butter; and it is very questionable whether Phipps ever stopped running until his boots busted, or he reached his bucket factory on Taunton river. His negro deputation waited on him with a rush clear outside of town, where the speed and bottom of Abner distanced the entire committee. The key to this joke is: Phipps was dogged from Tafts'—by the “vigilant committee,” as an informer, or slave-hunter at least, and hence the delicate attentions of the col'ud pop'lation paid him. I have no doubt, that if Abner Phipps be asked, how things look around Boston, he would observe with some energy,

“Niggers—niggers are thick—Godfree! a-a-a-in't they thick!

 
 
 

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