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Aunt Sukey's First Sleigh Ride - from Harper's

 

"Oh, Nan, look how the snow comes down! I thought it would never snow at all this winter. Just look at it! Now that's what I call tip-top," said Tom Chandler, gazing at the fast-whitening landscape, and drumming a cheerful tattoo on the window-panes with his fingers.

For some time the children stood in silence, watching the snow-flakes as they whirled and danced and floated like so many feathers, only to fall and pile up and cover the brown earth and the bare branches as with a lovely mantle of swan's-down.

Suddenly a thought seemed to have entered Tom's curly head, and he broke the silence with an air of profound mystery, saying: "I say, Nan, can you keep a secret? Well, look square in my face and say, 'Upon my word and sacred honor, I'll never, never, never tell anybody what Tom's going to tell me!' There! do you think you could keep it? It's the awfulest jolliest thing you ever heard of."

"Why, Tom," returned Nan, with dignity, "did I ever tell anybody anything that is a secret when you told me not to? Now do tell me this one."

"Let me see, now; haven't you told lots of my secrets, madam? Who went and told pa about my painting the white gobbler's feathers black, hey? Who told about my putting the mouse into Aunt Sukey's soup? Who told about my tying the clothes-line across the grass last summer? Who told about my—"

"That's real mean; you know I couldn't help it, ma was so vexed. You can keep your old secret; I won't listen to it—there!"

Seeing there was danger of one of Nan's showers, as Tom called her sudden tears, that young gentleman lowering his voice said, soothingly, "Never mind, old girl; just say, ''Pon honor' once more, and that you will never tell if you are shot for it, and I'll tell you what it is."

"That's what I call a solemn promise," exclaimed Tom, as Nanny concluded the prescribed speech. "Well, here goes!"

Just what was said in Nan's ear we may never know, but that it was pleasing to both parties may be judged by what followed. The moment the grand secret became the property of two, there was such a clapping of hands, and whooping and laughing, and such a dancing up and down the room as made the boards tremble, and brought old Aunt Susan from her realms in the kitchen to the dining-room door.

"Bress de Lor', chillun, what dose yer mean cuttin' up like dat! yous'll bring de roof down, an' no mistake! Stop dat noise! I guess yese disremember dere's comp'ny in de spare room yonder, gettin' ready fo' tea."

"Now you never mind the company, Aunt Sukey. Nan and I are only practicing a war jig we've got to dance for Miss Almira to-night."

"Drat your war jigs, an' 'have like 'spectable chillun! Ring de tea-bell, and make you'selves useful; you's got younger bones dan dis ole Susan, tank de Lor'!"

"Remember!" said Tom, with a warning gesture to Nan, for he heard footsteps coming.

The next morning after breakfast Tom walked into the kitchen, where Aunt Sukey was putting the finishing touches to a dozen or more pies, for it was baking-day.

"Look here, Aunt Susan," exclaimed the youngster, "I've heard you say how much you would like to see 'Marse Linkum,' haven't I? Well, you've never had a sleigh-ride since you come North, have you? And I was just thinking last night that I'd take you for one when Nan and I go to school this morning. There! it won't take more'n a few minutes. Get your hood and shawl, and come along; it's only beyond Deacon Johnson's. Marse Lincoln would like to see you first-rate."

"Oh, bress de Lor', honey, who tole you dat? Has ole aunty libbed to lay her eyes on de savior ob her people? Yous two dun wait for ole Aunt Susan, and she'll be wid you in a jiffy."

"Hurry up! Jocko's waiting," screamed Tom, as the old lady bustled off to get her "fixin's."

"But, Tom, what'll ma say? and she's got company, too," asked Nan, uneasily.

"Why, it's all the better for our fun. She'll have some one to help her. Miss Almira can turn to and do up the pies and things, and make herself useful as well as ornamental."

The war of the great rebellion was nearly over, and the old woman, like many of her people, had made her way North, and this was her first winter; so Tom and Nan expected great sport over her new experience—a sleigh-ride. With considerable trouble, for aunty was stout and unwieldy, and the little cutter was narrow and high, she was at last bundled in, Nan and Tom following, to the infinite satisfaction of Jocko, the pony, which was pawing the snow and jingling his bells impatiently.

"AWAY THEY RUSHED DOWN THE LANE." "AWAY THEY RUSHED DOWN THE LANE."

When the robes were all tucked in, Tom gave the word, and away they rushed down the lane into the road. Speeding on, they turned a curve so sharply that Aunt Sukey was wild with alarm; her eyes rolled, and her teeth glistened from ear to ear, as, with mouth distended, she screamed, "Oh, Marse Tommy, fo' de Lor's sake, hole in dat beast! I's done gone an' bin a fool to trust my mutton to a hoss like dat! Oh, Marse Tommy, Massa Tommy, yous'll be de deff of ole Aunt Susan! Oh, fo' de Lor's sake, stop 'im!"

"Hooray, Jocko! go it, old boy!" was Tommy's laughing response.

"Oh, bress us an' save us! Missy Nanny, be a good chile, an' make Marse Tom stop dat yere beast, or we'll be upsot, an' break ebbery bone in our bodies!"

"Don't mind, aunty. Jocko knows every step of the way, and we won't let you get hurt," cried Nan, with a patronizing air.

"O Lor' hab mussy on a poor ole niggur, an' bring her safely to her journey's end, for mussy dese chillun hab none!" ejaculated Aunt Susan, as another sharp curve was so rapidly turned that the very trees and fences seemed rushing madly away in an opposite direction.

In less than twenty minutes, and the minutes seemed ages to affrighted Susan, Jocko, with a snort and an extra jingle of his bells, stood stock-still in front of the school-house.

A score of eyes peeped from the windows as Tom, alighting, with mock ceremony handed out Nan and Aunt Susan, exclaiming, "Ladies, we shall soon be in the presence of 'Marse Linkum.'"

"Oh, tank de Lor', dar's no bones broken! and we's really gwine to see de blessed Marse Linkum, arter all!"

"There, now, Nan, take Aunt Susan up on the stoop, till I blanket Jocko and put him in the shed."

"Now, Missy Nan," whispered Aunt Susan, when they found themselves alone on the piazza, "does I look 'spectable nuff to see de President?"

"You look awful nice, aunty," replied Nanny, turning away her head to conceal her laughter. "Ah! here comes Tom."

"Now, Aunt Susan," exclaimed that youngster, "when I introduce you, say this: 'I hope I find your Excellency well, and all the people of color in the South send you greeting.'"

"Wa'al, now, what a genius dat chile is, to be shuah!" muttered Susan, walking behind Tom and Nanny.

"Mr. Lincoln," exclaimed Tom, advancing toward that gentleman, with a merry twinkle in his roguish eyes, "allow me to present to you a new pupil, Aunt Susan Whittingham; she has come all the way from Louisiana to see you."

"Oh, bress de Lor' dat hab given dis ole woman de privilege ob laying her eyes on de gloriousness ob de man who hab saved all her people, an' has strucken off de chains what held dem fast, an' made dem free forebber and forebber! Hallelujah! hallelujah! amen! Oh, bress me, I's done gone an' make a mistake arter all. Oh, your Presidency—no, your Elegancy, I hopes I find you well. All de people ob color in de Souf send you—send you—greetin'!"

"Aunt Susan, I am very sorry; but that little rascal, Tom, has been deceiving you all the time. I'm not the 'Marse Linkum' you take me for, I'm sorry to tell you, for I am only plain James Lincoln, school-master of the district. Tom, I say, how did you dare to treat Aunt Susan and myself in this way? I have a mind to punish you."

"Oh, de Lor' forgib Marse Tommy dat he fool a 'spectable ole body like me; an' de Lor' save me! all my pies an' tings goin' to construction, an' de missus all alone to hum wid comp'ny! It's too much—it's too much fo' shuah!"

"Come, aunty," cried Tom, soothingly, for he was beginning to be afraid himself, "we'll drive home ever so slow. Come, now, forgive us, and don't get us a whipping."

"I's mos' ready to forgib yous now; but jes you disremember how de chillun in de Bible war eaten up along o' de bars for sayin', 'Go up, ole bal'-head!' an' don't you nebber, nebber agin fool ole Aunt Susan."

Almira had "turned to," as Tom predicted, and was helping his mother with the dinner, when that lady exclaimed: "This is another of that boy's tricks; but boys are boys, and there's no help for it. I hope Aunt Susan's enjoying the ride."

Everything was in "apple-pie order" when the party returned, apparently in fine spirits. Tom thought it mighty queer that nothing was said about his escapade, and dying to tell it, he felt his way cautiously for an opportunity, and it came. In the evening, when the family were discussing nuts and cider around the glowing fire, he related the morning's adventure with such gay good humor that Pa and Ma Chandler and Augustus and Almira made the walls ring again with their laughter, bringing old Aunt Susan to the sitting-room door, where, poking her head in, she had courage to say, "'Pears to me yous folks is havin' great sport over Aunt Susan's fust sleigh-ride."