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Little Lizay by Sarah Winter Kellogg

Alston was a Virginia slave—a tall, well-built half-breed, in whom the white blood dominated the black. When about thirty-seven years of age he was sold to a Mississippi plantation, in the north-western part of the State and on the river. The farm was managed by an overseer, the master—Horton by name—being a practising physician in Memphis, Tenn. Alston had been on the plantation a few weeks when, toward the last of September, the cotton-picking season opened. The year had been, for the river-plantations, exceptionally favorable for cotton-growing. On the Horton place especially "the stand" had been pronounced perfect, there being scarcely a gap, scarcely a stalk missing from the mile-long rows of the broad fields. Then, the rainfall had not been so profuse as to develop foliage at the bolls' expense, as was too frequently the case on the river. Yet it had been plenteous enough to keep off the "rust," from which the dryer upland plantations were now suffering. Neither the "boll-worm" nor the dreaded "army-worm" had molested the river-fields; so the tall pyramidal plants were thickly set with "squares" and green egg-shaped bolls, smooth and shining as with varnish. On a single stalk might be seen all stages of development—from the ripe, brown boll, parted starlike, with the long white fleece depending, to the bean-sized embryo from which the crimson flower had but just fallen. Indeed, among the wide-open bolls there was an occasional flower, cream-hued or crimson according to its age, for the cotton-bloom at opening resembles in color the magnolia-blossom, but this changes quickly to a deep crimson.

There was, then, the promise, almost the certainty, of a heavy crop on the Horton place. It was in view of this that the owner completed an arrangement, for months under consideration, in which he increased his working plantation-force by thirteen hands, of whom one was Alston. It was, too, in view of this promised heavy crop that the overseer, Mr. Buck, harangued the slaves at the opening of the picking-season. The burden of his harangue was, that no flagging would be tolerated in cotton-gathering during the season. The figures of the past year were on record, showing what each hand did each day. There was to be no falling behind these figures: indeed, they must be beaten, for the heavier bolling made the picking easier. Any one falling behind was to be cowhided. As for the new hands, they ought to lead the field, for they were all young, stout fellows.

As has been said, Alston was tall, strong, well-made. Working in tobacco, to whose culture he had been used, he could hold his hand with the best: how would it be in this new business of cotton-picking? He had a strong element of cheerful fidelity in his nature. The first day he worked steadily and as rapidly as he was able at the unfamiliar employment. When night came he reckoned he had done well. With a complacent feeling he stood waiting his turn as the great baskets, one after another, were swung on the steelyard and the weights announced. He found himself pitying some of the pickers as light weights were called, wondering if they had fallen behind last year's figures. When his basket was brought forward, it was by Big Sam, who with one hand swung it lightly to the scales; yet Alston's thought was, "How strong Big Sam is!" and never, "How light the basket!"

The weight was announced: Alston was almost stunned. He had strained every nerve, yet here he was behind the children-pickers, behind the gray old women stiff with rheumatism and broken with childbearing and with doing men's work.

"Sixty-three pounds!" the overseer said with a threatening tone. "Min' yer git a heap higher'n that ter-morrer, yer yaller raskel! Ef yer can't pick cotton, yer'll be sol' down in Louzany to a sugar-plantation, whar' niggers don't git nothin' ter eat 'cept cotton-seeds an' a few dreggy lasses."

Next to being sent to "the bad place" itself, the most terrible fate, to the negro's imagination, was to be sold to a sugar-planter.

"Here's Big Sam," the overseer continued, "nigh unto three hunderd; an' Little Lizay two hunderd an' fawty-seven.—That's the bigges' figger yer's ever struck yit, Lizay: shows what yer kin do. Min' yer come up ter it ter-morrer an' ev'ry other day."

"Days gits shawter 'bout Chrismus-time," Little Lizay ventured to suggest, "an' it gits col', an' my fingers ain't limber."

"Don't give me none yer jaw. Reckon I knows 'nuff ter make 'lowances fer col' an' shawt days an' scatterin' bolls an' sich like."

The next day, Alston, humiliated by his failure and by the brutal reprimand he had received, went to the cotton-field before any of the other hands—indeed, before it was fairly light. There he worked if ever a man did work. When the other negroes came on the field there were laughing, talking, singing, nodding and occasional napping in the shade of the cotton-stalks. But Alston took no part in any of these. He had no interest for anything apart from his work. At this all his faculties were engaged. His lithe body was seen swaying from side to side about the widespreading branches; he stood on tiptoe to reach the topmost bolls; he got on his knees to work the base-limbs, pressing down and away the long grass with his broad feet, tearing and holding back even with his teeth hindering tendrils of the passion-flower and morning-glory and other creepers which had escaped the devastating hoe when the crop was "laid by," and had made good their hold on occasional stalks. Persistently he worked in this intent way all through the hot day, every muscle in action. He lingered at the work till after the last of the other pickers had with great baskets poised on head joined the long, weird procession, showing white in the dusk, that went winding through field and lane to the ginhouse. On he worked till the crescent moon came up and he could hardly discern fleece from leaf. At last, fearing that the basket-weighing might be ended before he could reach the ginhouse, a half mile distant, he emptied his pick-sack, belted at his waist, into the tall barrel-like basket, tramped the cotton with a few movements of his bare feet, and then kneeling got the basket to his shoulder: he was not used to the balancing on head which seemed natural as breathing to the old hands. With long strides he hurried to the ginhouse. He was not a minute too early. Almost the last basket had been weighed, emptied and stacked when he climbed the ladder-like steps to the scaffold where the cotton was sunned preparatory to its ginning. When he had pushed his way through the crowd of negroes hanging about the door of the ginhouse-loft he heard the overseer call, "Whar's that yaller whelp, Als'on?"

"Here, sah," Alston answered, hurrying forward to put his basket on the steelyard.

"Give me any mo' yer jaw an' I'll lay yer out with the butt-en' er this whip," said Mr. Buck. Alston was wondering what he had said that was disrespectful, when the man added, "Won't have none yer sahrin' uv me. I's yer moster, an' that's what yer's got ter call me, I let yer know."

Alston's blood was up, but the slaves were used to self-repression. All that was endurable in their lives depended on patience and submission.

"Beg poddon, moster," Alston said with well-assumed meekness. "In Ol' Virginny we use ter say moster to jist our sho'-'nuff owners; but," he added quickly, by way of mollifying the overseer, who could not fail to be stung by the covert jeer, "it's a heap better ter say moster ter all the white folks, white trash an' all: then yer's sho' ter be right."

At this speech there was in Mr. Buck's rear much grinning and eye-rolling.

But Mr. Buck was engaged with Alston's basket, which was now on the scales. "Sixty-seven poun's," the overseer called.

The slave's heart sank: only four pounds' gain after all his toil early and late! He was bitterly disappointed. He believed the overseer lied. Then his heart burned. Couldn't he leave his basket unemptied, and weigh it himself when the others were gone? No: the order of routine was peremptory. The baskets must be emptied and stacked on the scaffold outside the cotton-loft, so that there would be no chance the next morning for the negroes to take away cotton in their baskets to the fields. And what if he could reweigh his cotton, and prove Mr. Buck a liar? He would not dare breathe the discovery.

So Alston emptied out the cotton he had worked so hard to gather, listening moodily to the overseer's harsh threats: "Yer reckon I's goin' to stan' sich figgers? Sixty-seven poun's! fou' poun's 'head uv yistiddy. Yer ought ter be fawty ahead. I won't look at nothin' under a hunderd. Ef yer don't get it ter-morrer I'll tie yer up, sho's yer bawn, yer great merlatto dog! Yer's 'hin' the poo'es' gal in the fiel'."

"I never pick no cotton 'fo' yistiddy, an' its tolerbul unhandy. Rickon I kin do better when I gits my han' in. I use ter could wuck fus'-rate in tobaccy."

"Tobaccy won't save yer. We hain't got no use for niggers ef they can't come up ter the scratch on cotton. I's made a big crop, an' I ain't goin' ter let it rot in the fiel'. Yer ought ter pick three hunderd ev'ry day. I know'd a nigger onct, a heap littler than Little Lizay, that picked five hunderd ev'ry lick; an' I hearn tell uv a feller that went up ter seven hunderd. I ain't goin' ter take no mo' sixties from yer: a good hunderd or the cowhide. That's the talk!"

"I'll pick all I kin," said Alston: "I wuckt haud's I could ter-day."

"Ef yer don't hush yer lyin' mouth I'll cut yer heart out."

Alston went from the gin-loft, his blood tingling. On the sunning-scaffold he encountered Little Lizay. She had been listening—had heard all that had passed between the two men. She went down the scaffold-steps, and Alston came soon after. She waited for him, and they walked to the "quarter" together. "It's mighty haud, ain't it?" she said.

"I believe he tol' a lie 'bout my baskit. Anyhow, I wuckt haud's I could ter-day. I can't pick no hunderd poun's uv the flimpsy stuff. He'll have ter cowhide me: I don't kere."

But Alston did care keenly—not so much for the pain; he could bear worse misery than the brutal arm could inflict, though the rawhide cut like a dull knife; but it was the shame, the disgrace, of the thing. He was a stranger on the place—only a few weeks there—and to be tied up and flogged in the midst of strange, unsympathizing negroes! it was such degradation to his manhood. Since he was a child he had not been struck. He had been rather a favorite with his master in Virginia, but this master had died in debt, leaving numerous heirs, and in the changes incident to a partition of the estate Alston was sold.

Perceiving that he had Little Lizay's sympathy, Alston went on talking, telling her that he could stand a lashing coming from his own master, but that an overseer was only white trash, who never did "own a nigger," and never would be able to. If he had to be flogged, he wanted it to be by a gentleman.

"Never min'," said Little Lizay. "Maybe yer'll git mo' ter-morrer. When yer's pickin' yer mus' quit stoppin' ter pick out the leaves an' trash. I lets ev'rything go in that happens, green bolls an' all: they weighs heavy."

The following day, Alston, as before, went to the cotton-field early, but he found that Little Lizay had the start of him. She had already emptied her sack into her pick-basket. "The cotton we get now'll weigh heavy," she said: "it's got dew on it."

"That's so," Alston assented, "but yer mus'n't talk ter me, Lizay. I's got ter put all my min' ter my wuck: I can't foad ter talk."

"I can't nuther," said Lizay. "Wish I didn't pick so much cotton the fus' day: I's got ter keep on trottin' ter two hunderd an' fawty-seven."

She selected two rows beside Alston's. She wore a coarse dress of uncolored homespun cotton, of the plainest and scantiest make, low in the neck, short in the sleeves and skirt. Her feet and head were bare. A sack of like material with her dress was tied about the waist, apron-like. This was to receive immediately the pickings from the hand. When filled it was emptied in a pick-basket, holding with a little packing fifty or sixty pounds. This small basket was kept in the picker's vicinity, being moved forward whenever the sack was taken back for emptying. Besides this go-between pick-basket, there was at that end of the row nearest the ginhouse an immense basket, nearly as tall as a barrel, and of greater circumference, with a capacity for three hundred pounds.

Alston's pick-basket stood beside Little Lizay's, and between his row and hers. She was carrying two rows to his one, and he perceived, without looking and with a vague envy, that Lizay emptied three sacks at least to his one. Yet she did not seem to be working half as hard as he was. With light, graceful movements, now right, now left, she plucked the white tufts and the candelabra-like pendants stretched by the wind and the expanding lint till the dark seed could be discerned in clusters.

It was near nine o'clock when Alston emptied his first sack, some fifteen pounds, in the pick-basket, which Little Lizay had brought forward with her own. Soon after she went back to empty her sack. The baskets stood hazardously near Alston for Lizay's game, but with her back turned to him and the luxuriant cotton-stalks between she reckoned she might venture. One-third of her sack she threw into Alston's basket—about five pounds. And thus the poor soul did during the day, giving a third of her gatherings to Alston. She would have given him more—the half, the whole, everything she owned—for she regarded him with a feeling that would have been called love in a fairer woman.

Alston had been in Virginia something of a house-servant, doing occasional duty as coachman when the regular official was ill or was wanted elsewhere. He was also a good table-waiter, and had served in the dining-room when there were guests. So it came that though properly a field-hand, yet in manner and speech he showed to advantage beside the slaves who were exclusively field-hands. Little Lizay too occupied a halfway place between these and the better-spoken, gentler-mannered house-servants. In the winters, after Christmas, which usually terminated the picking-season, Lizay was called to the place of head assistant of the plantation seamstress. Indeed, she did little field-service except in times of special pressure and during the quarter of cotton-picking. She was so nimble-fingered and swift that she could not be spared from the field in picking-season, especially if, as was the case this year, there was a heavy crop. And occasionally in the winter, when there was unusual company at the Hortons' in the city, Little Lizay was sent for and had the advantage of a season in town. She felt her superiority to the average plantation-negro, and had not married, though not unsolicited. When, therefore, Alston came she at once recognized in him a companion, and she was not long in making over her favor to the distinguished-looking stranger. He was, as she, a half-breed, and Lizay liked her own color. Had Alston courted her favor, she might have yielded it less readily, but he did not take easily to his new companions. Some called him proud: others reckoned he had left a sweetheart, a wife perhaps, in Virginia. Little Lizay's evident preference laid her open to the rude jokes and sneers of the other negroes—in particular Big Sam, who was her suitor, and Edny Ann, who was fond of Alston. But Edny Ann did not care for Alston as Little Lizay did—could not, indeed. She was incapable of the devotion that Lizay felt. She would not have left her sleep and gone to the dew-wet field before daybreak for the sake of helping Alston: she would not have taken the risk of falling behind in her picking, and thus incurring a flogging, by dividing her gatherings with him. And if she had helped him at all, it would not have been delicately, as Lizay's help had been given. Edny Ann would have wanted Alston to know that she had helped him: Little Lizay wished to hide it from him, both because she feared he would decline her help, and because she wanted to spare him the humiliation.

When night came not only Alston lingered, picking by moonlight, but Little Lizay; and this gave rise to much laughing among the other pickers, and to many coarse jokes. But to one who knew her secret it would have seemed piteous—the girl's anxious face as the weighing proceeded, drawing on and on to Alston's basket and hers at the very end of the line. Would he have a hundred? would she fall behind? Would he be saved the flogging? would she have to suffer in his stead? She dreaded a flogging at the hands of that brutal overseer, and all her womanliness shrunk from the degradation of being stripped and flogged in Alston's presence, or even of having him know that she was to be cowhided. She bethought her of making an appeal to the overseer. She knew she had some power with him, for he had been enamored, in his brutish way, of her physical charms—her neat figure, her glossy, waving hair, and the small, shapely hand and foot.

Just before the weighing had reached Alston's basket and hers she stepped beside the overseer. "Please, Mos' Buck," she said in a low tone, "ef I falls 'hin' myse'f, an' don't git up to them fus' figgers, an' has to git cowhided—please, sah, don't let the black folks an' Als'on know 'bout it."

Mr. Buck took a hint from this request. He perceived that Lizay was interested in Alston, as he had already guessed from the jokes of the negroes, and that she was specially desirous to conceal her shame from the man to whom she had given her favor. Mr. Buck resented it that Lizay should rebuff him and encourage Alston; so he hoped that for this once, at any rate, she would fall behind: he had thought of a capital plan of revenging himself on her.

The next moment after her whispered appeal Lizay saw with intense interest Alston's basket brought forward for weighing. She glanced at him. His eyes were wide open, staring with eagerness, his head advanced, his whole attitude one of absorbed anxiety. By the position of the weight or pea on the steelyard she knew that it was put somewhere near the sixty notch. Up flew the end of the yard, and up flew Lizay's heart with it: out went the pea some ten teeth, yet up again went the impatient steel. Click! click! click! rattled the weight. Out and out another ten notches, then another and another—one hundred, one hundred and one, one hundred and two, one hundred and three—yet the yard still protested, still called for more. Out one tooth farther, and the steel lay along the horizon. Everybody listened.

"One hunderd an' fou'," Mr. Buck announced. "Thar' now, yer lazy dog! I know'd yer wasn't half wuckin'. Now see ter it yer come ter taw arter this: hunderd an' fou's yer notch."

It was a moment of supreme relief to Alston. He drew a long breath, and returned some smiles of congratulation from the negroes. Then he sighed: he felt hopeless of repeating the weight day after day. He had hardly stopped to breathe from day-dawn till moon-rise: he would not always have the friendly moonlight to help him. But now Little Lizay's basket was swinging. He listened to hear its weight with interest, but how unlike this was to the absorbed anxiety which she had felt for him!

"Two hunderd an' 'leven—thutty-six poun's behin'!" said Mr. Buck, smacking his lips as over some good thing. Now he should have vent for his spite against the girl. "Thutty-six lashes on yer bar' back by yer sweet'art." Mr. Buck said this with a dreadful snicker in Little Lizay's face.

The word ran like wildfire from mouth to mouth that Little Lizay, the famous picker, had fallen behind, and was to be flogged—by the overseer, some said—by Big Sam, others declared. But Edny Ann reckoned the cowhiding was to be done by Alston.

"An' her dersarves it, kase her's a big fool," said Edny Ann, "hangin' roun' him, an' patchin' his cloze like her wus morred ter 'im—an' washin' his shut an' britches ev'ry Saddy night."

All the hands were required to stop after the weighing and witness the floggings, as a warning to themselves and an enhancement of punishment to the convicts. There was but little shrinking from the sight. Human nature is everywhere much the same: cruel spectacles brutalize, whether in Spain or on a negro-plantation. But to-night there was a new sensation: the slaves were on the qui vive to see Little Lizay flogged, and to find out whose hand was to wield the whip.

"Now hurry up yere, yer lazy raskels! an' git yer floggin'," Mr. Buck said when the weighing was over.

From right and left and front and rear negroes came forward and stood, a motley group, before the one white man. It was a weird spectacle that did not seem to belong to our earth. Black faces, heads above heads, crowded at the doorway—some solemn and sympathetic, others grinning in anticipation of the show. Negroes were perched on the gin and in the corners of the loft where the cotton was heaped. Others lay at full length close to the field of action. In every direction the dusky figures dotted the cotton lying on every hand about the little cleared space where the flogging and weighing were done. In a close bunch stood the shrinking, cowering convicts, some with heads white as the cotton all about them. Mr. Buck, the most picturesque figure of the whole, was laying off his coat and baring his arm, standing under the solitary lamp depending from the rafters, whose faint light served to give to all the scene an indefinite supernatural aspect.

"Now, come out yere," said Mr. Buck, moving from under the grease-lamp and calling for volunteers.

One by one the negroes came forward and bared themselves to the waist—children, strong men and old women. And then there was shrieking and wailing, begging and praying: it was like a leaf out of hell.

Little Lizay was among the first of the condemned to present herself, for she felt an intolerable suspense as to what awaited her. The vague terror in her face was discerned by the dim light.

As she stepped forward Mr. Buck called out, "Als'on!"

"Yes, moster," Alston answered.

"What yer sneakin' in that thar' corner fer? Come up yere, you—" but his vile sentence shall not be finished here.

Alston came forward with a statuesque face.

"Take this rawhide," was the order he received.

He put out his hand, and then, suddenly realizing the requisition that was to be made on him, realizing that he was to flog Little Lizay, his confidante and sympathizing friend, his hand dropped cold and limp.

"Yerdar' ter dis'bey me?" Mr. Buck bellowed. "I'll brain yer: I'll—"

"I didn't go ter do it, moster," Alston said, reaching for the whip. "I'll whip her tell yer tells me ter stop."

"He didn't go ter do it, Mos' Buck," pleaded Little Lizay, frightened for Alston. "He'll whip me ef yer'll give 'im the whip.—I's ready, Als'on."

She crossed her arms over her bare bosom and shook her long hair forward: then dropped her face low and stood with her back partly turned to Alston, who now had the whip.

"Fire away!" said the overseer.

Alston was not a refined gentleman, whose youth had been hedged from the coarse and degrading, whose good instincts had been cherished, whose faculties had been harmoniously trained. He was not a hero: he was not prepared to espouse to the death Little Lizay's cause—to risk everything for the shrinking, helpless woman and for his own manhood—to die rather than strike her. He was only a slave, used from his cradle to the low and cruel and brutalizing. But he had the making of a man in him: his nature was one that could never become utterly base. But there was no help, no hope, for either of them in anything he could do. He might knock Mr. Buck senseless, sure of the sympathy of every slave on the plantation. There would be a brief triumph, but he and Little Lizay would have to pay for it: bloodhounds, scourgings, chains, cruelty that never slept and could never be placated, were sure as fate. Resistance was inevitable disaster.

Alston did not need to stand there undetermined while he went over this: it was familiar ground. Over and over again he had settled it: it was madness for the slave to oppose himself to the dominant white man.

So, after his first unreasoning recoil, his mind was decided to adminster the flogging. Would it not be a mercy to Little Lizay for him to do this rather than that other hand, energized by hate, revenge and cruelty?

He raised his arm, with his heart beating hot and his manhood shrinking: he struck Little Lizay's bare shoulders. She had nerved herself, but the blow, after all, surprised her and made her start; and she had not quite recovered herself when the second blow fell, so that she winced again; but after that she stood like a statue.

"Harder!" cried Mr. Buck after the first few lashes. "None yer tomfool'ry 'bout me. She ain't no baby. Harder! I tell yer. Yer ain't draw'd no blood nary time. Ef yer don't min' me I'll knock yer down. Yer whips like yer wus 'feard yer'd hurt 'er. Yer ac' like yer never whipped no nigger sence yer wus bawn. Yer's got ter tiptoe ter it, an' fling yer arm back at a better lick 'an that. Look yere: ef yer don't lick her harder I'll make Big Sam lick yer till yer see sights."

At length the wretched work was ended, and the negroes made their way along the moonlighted lanes to their cabins. These were single rooms, built of unhewn logs, chinked and daubed with yellow mud. They had puncheon floors and chimneys built of sticks and clay. Of clay also were the all-important jambs, which served as depositories of perhaps every household article pertaining to the cabin except the bedding and the stools. There might have been found the household knife and spoon, the two or three family tin cups, the skillet, the pothooks, sundry gourd vessels, the wooden tray in which the "cawn" bread was mixed—pipe, tobacco and banjo.

On the Horton place the negroes cooked their own suppers after the day's work was over. So for an hour every evening "the quarter" had an animated aspect, for the cabins, standing five yards apart, faced each other in two long lines. In each was a glowing fire, on which logs and pine-knots and cypress-splints were laid with unsparing hand, for there was no limit to the fuel. These fires furnished the lights: candles and lamps were unknown at "the quarter."

Of course the windowless cabins, with these roaring fires, were stifling in September; so the negroes sat in the doorways chatting and singing while the bacon was frying and the corn dough roasting in the ashes or the hoecake baking on the griddle. An occasional woman patched or washed some garment by the firelight, while others brought water in piggins from the spring at the foot of the hill on whose brow "the quarter" was located.

As Alston sat outside his door on a block, eating his supper by the light of the high-mounting flames of his cabin-fire, Little Lizay came out and sat on her doorsill. Her cabin stood opposite his. He recognized her, and when he had finished his supper he went over to her.

"I didn't want ter strike yer, Lizay," he said. "Do you feel haud agin me fer it?"

"No," Lizay answered: "he made yer do it. Yer couldn't he'p it. I reckon yer'll have ter whip me agin ter-morrer night. I mos' knows my baskit won't weigh no two hunderd an' fawty-seven poun's. 'Tain't fa'r ter 'spec' that much from me: it's a heap more'n tother gals gits, an' mos' all uv um is heap bigger'n me. I's small pertatoes." She laughed a little at her jest.

"Yer's some punkins," said Alston, returning the joke. "I'd give a heap ef I could pick cotton like yer."

"Yer's improved a heap," said Little Lizay. "Ef yer keeps on improvin', mayby yer'll git so yer kin he'p me arter 'while."

"Mayby so," Alston answered.

"But yer wouldn't he'p me, I reckon. Reckon yer'd he'p Edny Ann: yer likes her better'n me."

"No, I don't."

"Reckon yer likes somebody in Virginny more'n yer likes anybody on this plantation."

"I's better 'quainted back thar'," said Alston apologetically.

"But thar' ain't no use hankerin' arter them yer's lef 'hin' yer: reckon yer won't never see um no mo'. Heap better git sati'fied yere. It's a long way back thar', ain't it?"

"A mighty long way," said Alston; and then he was silent, his thoughts going back and back over the long way.

Lizay recalled him: "Was yer sorry yer had ter whip me?"

"I was mighty sorry, Little Lizay," he replied with a strong tone of tenderness that made her heart beat faster. "I would er knocked that white nigger down, but it wouldn't er he'ped nothin'. Things would er jus' been wusser."

"Yes," Lizay assented, "nothin' won't he'p us: ain't no use in nothin'."

"Reckon I'll go in an' go ter sleep," said Alston: "got ter git up early in the mawnin'."

He was up early the next morning, he and Little Lizay being again in the cotton-field before dawn. All through the day there was, as before, persistent devotion to the picking; then the holding on after dusk for one more pound; the same result at night—the man up to the required figure, the woman behind, this time forty-one pounds behind. Again she received a cowhiding at Alston's hands.

"What yer mean by this yere foolin'?" Mr. Buck demanded in a rage of Little Lizay. "Yer reckon I's gwine ter stan' this yere? Two hunderd an' fawty-seven 'gin two hunderd an' six! It's all laziness an' mulishness. I'll git yer outen that thar' notch, else I'll kill yer. Look yere: ter-morrer, ef yer don't come ter taw, I'll give yer twict es many licks es the poun's yer falls behin'."

Did this threat frighten Little Lizay out of her devotion?

"Two hunderd is 'nuff fer a little gal like yer," Alston said the next morning. "Save my life, I can't pick no more'n a hunderd an' a few poun's mo'. I wouldn't stan' ter be flogged ef I'd done my shar'."

"Got ter stan' it—can't he'p myse'f."

"I'd go ter town an' tell Mos' Hawton. I's tolerbul sho' he wouldn't 'low yer ter git twict es many licks, nohow. Mos' Hawton's tolerbul good ter his black folks, ain't he?"

"Yes, tolerbul—to the house-sarvants he's got in town; but he jist goes 'long mindin' his business thar', an' don't pay no 'tention sca'cely ter his plantation. He don't want us ter come 'plainin' ter him. He's mighty busy—gits a heap er practice, makes a heap er money. He went down the river onct, more'n a hunderd miles, ter cut somethin' off a man—I fawgits what 'twas—an' the man paid him hunderds an' hunderds an' hunderds—I fawgits how much 'twas."

Here Little Lizay found that Alston was no longer listening, but was absorbed with the cotton-picking.

That day, to save the pickers' time, their bacon and corn pones were brought out to the field by wagon in wooden trays and buckets. There were three cotton-baskets filled with corn dodgers. Alston and Little Lizay sat not far apart while eating their dinners.

"I reckon I's gittin' 'long tolerbul well ter-day," he said. "Dun know for sar-tin, but looks like the pickin' wus heap handier than at fus'. Look yere, Lizay: ef I know'd I'd git more'n a hunderd I'd he'p yer 'long: I'd give yer the balance. Couldn't stave off all the floggin', but I might save yer some licks."

"Take kere yer ownse'f, Als'on. I don't min' the las' few licks: they don't never hut bad es the fus' ones." This was Little Lizay's answer, given with glowing cheek and eyes looking down. To her own heart she said, "I likes him better'n he likes me. Reckon he can't git over mou'nin' fer somebody in Virginny." She wondered if he had left a wife back there: she would test him. "Reckon yer'll hear from yer wife any mo', Als'on?" she said.

"Yes, reckon I will. She said she'd write me a letter. She didn't b'long ter my ol' moster: she b'longed ter Squire Minor. I tuck a wife off'en our plantation. She's goin' ter ax her moster ter sell her an' the childun to Mos' Hawton, and I's waitin' ter fin' out ef he'll sell 'um. I ain't goin' ter cou't no other gal tell I fin's out."

"Yer hopes he'll sell her, don't yer?" Little Lizay asked with an anxious heart.

"She wus a mighty good wife," said Alston, without committing himself by a categorical answer. "Would seem like Ol' Virginny ter have her an' the childun, but they's better off thar'. They couldn't pick cotton, I reckon. Her moster an' mistiss thinks a heap uv her: she's one the cooks. I don't reckon they kin spaw her."

"Don't yer, sho' 'nuff?"

"No, I don't reckon they kin, 'cause one Mis' Minor's cooks is gittin' ol' an' can't see good—Aunt Juno. She wucks up flies an' sich into the cawn bread. They wants ter put my wife into her place, but they can't git shet with Aunt Juno: she's jis' boun' she'll do the white folks' cookin'. She says thar' ain't no use in bein' free ef she can't do what she pleases: they set her free Chrismus 'fo' las'. But law, Lizay! we mus' hurry up an' get ter pickin'."

That night Lizay had gained on her basket of the preceding day by five and a half pounds, and Alston had fallen behind his by four. But as he was still over a hundred he escaped a flogging. Mr. Buck, being unable to reckon exactly the number of lashes to which Little Lizay was entitled, gave the rawhide the benefit of any doubt and ordered Alston to administer seventy-five lashes.

The next day nothing noticeable occurred in the lives of these two slaves, except that Alston's basket fell yet behind: Mr. Buck acknowledged it was a "hunderd, but a mighty tight squeeze," while Little Lizay's had gained three pounds on the last weight.

"Yer saved six lashes ter-day, Little Lizay," Alston said. He was evidently glad for her, and her hungry heart was glad that he cared.

"An' yer didn't haudly git clear," she replied, adding to herself that to-morrow she must be more generous with her help to Alston.

But on the morrow something occurred which dismayed the girl. She had shaken her sack over Alston's basket, designing to empty a third of its contents there, and then the remainder in her "pick." But the cotton was closely packed in the sack, and almost the whole of it tumbled in a compact mass into Alston's basket. He would not need so much help as this to ensure him, so she proceeded to transfer a portion of the heap to her basket. Suddenly she started as though shot. Some one was calling to her and making a terrible accusation. The some one was Edny Ann: "Yer's stealin' thar': I see'd yer do it—see'd yer takin' cotton outen Als'on's baskit. Ain't yer shame, yer yaller good-fer-nuffin'? I's gwine ter tell." This was the terrible accusation.

"Yer dun know nothin' 'tall 'bout it," said Little Lizay. "It's my cotton. I emptied it in Als'on's baskit when I didn't go ter do it. I ain't tuck a sol'tary lock er Als'on's cotton; an' I wouldn't, nuther, ter save my life."

"Reckon yer kin fool me?" demanded the triumphant Edny Ann. Then she called Alston with the O which Southerners inevitably prefix: "O Als'on! O Als'on! come yere! quick!"

"Don't, please don't, tell him," Little Lizay pleaded. "I'll give yer my new cal'ker dress ef yer won't tell nobody."

But Edny Ann went on calling: "O Als'on! O Als'on! come yere!"

Little Lizay pleaded in a frantic way for silence as she saw Alston coming with long strides up between the cotton-rows toward them.

"I wants yer ter ten' ter Lizay," said Edny Ann. "Her's been stealin' yer cotton: see'd 'er do it—see'd 'er take a heap er cotton outen yer baskit an' ram it into hern. Did so!"

Then you should have seen the man's face. Had it been white you could not have discerned any plainer the surprise, the disappointment, the grief. Lizay saw with an indefinable thrill the sadness in his eyes, heard the grief in his voice.

"I didn't reckon yer'd do sich a thing, Lizay," he said. "I know it's mighty haud on yer, gittin' cowhided ev'ry night, but stealin' ain't goin' ter he'p it, Lizay."

"I never stole yer cotton, Als'on," Little Lizay said with a certain dignity, but with an unsteady voice.

"I see'd yer do it," Edny Ann interrupted.

"I emptied my sack in yer baskit when I didn't go ter do it," Little Lizay continued. "It wus my own cotton I wus takin' out yer baskit."

"Ef yer deny it, Lizay, yer'll make it wusser." Then Alston went up close to her, so that Edny Ann might not hear, and said something in a low tone.

Lizay gave him a swift look of surprise: then her lip began to quiver; the quick tears came to her eyes; she put both hands to her face and cried hard, so that she could not have found voice if she had wished to tell Alston her story. He went back to his row, and left her there crying beside the pick-baskets. He returned almost immediately, shouldered his basket, and went away from her to another part of the field, leaving his row unfinished. He wondered how much cotton Lizay had taken from his basket—if its weight would be brought down below a hundred; and meditated what he should do in case he was called up to be flogged by the brutal overseer. Should he stand and take the lashing, trusting to Heaven to make it up to him some day? or should he knock the overseer senseless and make a strike for freedom? Where was freedom? Which was the way to the free North? In Virginia he would have known in what direction to set his face for Ohio, but here everything was new and strange.

However, he had no occasion for a desperate movement that night. His basket weighed one hundred and seven, while Little Lizay's had fallen lower than ever before. Alston thought it was because she had missed her chance of transferring the usual quantity of cotton from his basket.

The striking of Lizay had never seemed so abhorrent to him as on this night, now that there was estrangement between them. She was already humiliated in his sight, and to raise his hand against her was like striking a fallen foe. She would think that he was no longer sorry—that he was glad to repay the wrong she had done him.

In the mean time, Edny Ann had told the story of the theft to one and another, and Lizay found at night the "quarter" humming with it. Taunts and jeers met her on every hand. Stealing from white folks the negroes regarded as a very trifling matter, since they, the slaves, had earned everything there was: but to steal from "a po' nigger" was the meanest thing in their decalogue.

"Stealin' from her beau!" sneered one negro, commenting on Little Lizay's offence.

"An' her sweet'art!" said another.

"An' her 'tendin' like her lubbed 'im!"

"An' Als'on can't pick cotton fas', nohow, kase he ain't use ter cotton—neber see'd none till he come yere—an' her know'd he'd git a cowhidin'. It's meaner'n boneset tea," said Edny Ann.

"A heap meaner," assented Cat. "Sich puffawmance's wusser'n stealin' acawns frum a blin' hog."

Over and over Little Lizay said, "I never stole Als'on's cotton;" and then she would make her explanation, as she had made it to Edny Ann and Alston. Often she was tempted to tell the whole story of how she had been all along helping Alston at her own cost, but many motives restrained her. She dreaded the jeers and jests to which the story would subject her, and everything was to be feared from Mr. Buck's retaliation should he learn that he had been tricked. Besides, she wished, if possible, to go on helping Alston. She doubted, too, if he would receive it well that she had been helping him. Might he not gravely resent it that through her action such a pitiable part in the drama had been forced on him? Then there was something sweet to Little Lizay in suffering all alone for Alston—in having this secret unshared: she respected herself more that she did not risk everything to vindicate herself, for this she could do: the steelyard to-morrow would demonstrate the truth of her story.

But the morrow came, and she went out to the field, her story untold, a marked woman. Yet she was not comfortless. The something that Alston had told her the previous day was making her heart sing. This is what he told her: "While yer wus stealin' from me, Lizay, I wus he'pin' yer. I put a ha'f er sack in yer baskit ter-day, an' a ha'f er sack yistiddy—kase I liked yer, Lizay."

She took her rows beside Alston's as usual, determined to watch for a chance to help him. But when he moved away from her and took another row, Lizay knew that the time had come. She couldn't stand it to have him strain and tug and bend to his work as no other hand in the field did, only to be disappointed at night. She could never bear it that he should be flogged after all she had done to save him from the shame. She could never live through it—the cowhiding of her hero by the detested overseer. Yes, the time had come: she must tell Alston.

She went over to where he had begun a new row. "Yer don't b'lieve the tale I tole yistiddy, Als'on: yer's feared I'll steal yer cotton ter-day," she said.

"I don't wish no talk 'bout it, Lizay," Alston said. His tone was half sad, half peremptory.

"Yer mustn't feel haud agin me ef I tells you somethin', Als'on. Yer's been puttin' cotton in my baskit unbeknownst ter save me some lashes, an' yer throw'd it up ter me yistiddy. Now, look yere, Als'on: I's been he'pin' yer all this week, ever since Mr. Buck said yer got ter git a hunderd. Ev'ry day I's he'ped yer git up ter a hunderd."

Alston had stopped picking, both his hands full of cotton, and stood staring in a bewildered way at the girl. "Lizay, is this a fac'?" he said at length.

"'Tis so, Als'on; an' ef yer don't lemme he'p yer now yer'll fall 'hin' an' have ter git flogged."

"An' ef yer he'p me, yer'll fall shawt an' have ter git flogged. Oh, Lizay, thar' never was nobody afo' would er done this yer fer me," Alston said, feeling that he would like to kiss the poor shoulders that had been scourged for him. Great tears gathered in his eyes, and he thought without speaking the thought, "My wife in Virginny wouldn't er done it."

"So yer mus' lemme he'p yer ter-day," said Little Lizay.

"I'll die fus'," he said in a savage tone.

"Oh, yer'll git a whippin', Als'on, sho's yer bawn."

"No: I won't take a floggin' from that brute."

"Oh, Als'on, yer jis' got ter: yer can't he'p the miserbulness. No use runnin' 'way: they'd ketch yer an' bring yer back. Thar's nigger-hunters an' blood-houn's all roun' this yer naberhood. Yer couldn't git 'way ter save yer life."

"Look yere, Lizay," Alston said with sudden inspiration: "le's go tell Mos' Hawton all 'bout it. Ef he's a genulman he'll 'ten' ter us. They won't miss us till night, an' 'fo' that time we'll be in Memphis. Yer knows the way, don't yer?"

"Yes," Lizay said; "an' I reckon that's the bes' thing we kin do—go tell moster an' mistis. But, law! I ought er go pull off this yere ole homespun dress an' put on my new cal'ker."

"I reckon we ain't got no time ter dress up," said Alston. "We mus' start quick: come 'long. Le's hide our baskits fus' whar' the cotton-stalks is thick."

This they did, and then started off at a brisk pace, their flight concealed by the tall cotton-plants. They reached Memphis about eleven o'clock, and found Dr. Horton at home, having just finished his lunch. They were admitted at once to the dining-room, where the doctor sat picking his teeth. He had never seen Alston, as the new negroes had been bought by an agent.

"Sarvant, moster!" Alston said humbly, but with dignity.

"Howdy, moster?" was Little Lizay's more familiar salutation.

"I's Als'on, one yer new boys from Ol' Virginny."

"You're a likely-lookin' fellow," said the doctor, who was given to dropping final consonants in his speech. "I reckon I'll hear a good report of you from Mr. Buck. You look like you could stan' up to work like a soldier. But what's brought you and Little Lizay to the city? Anything gone wrong?"

"Yes, moster," said Alston—"mighty wrong. Look yere, Mos' Hawton: when I come on yer plantation I made up my min' ter sarve yer faithful—ter wuck fer yer haud's I could—ter strike ev'ry lick I could fer yer. When I hoed cawn an' pulled fodder I went 'head er all the han's on yer plantation. But when I went ter pick cotton I wusn't use ter it. I wuckt haud's I could, 'fo' day an' arter dark. Mos' Hawton, I couldn't pick a poun' more'n I pick ter save my life. But I wus 'hin' all t'other han's. Then Mos' Buck wus goin' ter flog me ef I didn't git a hunderd: then Little Lizay, her he'ped me unbeknownst: ev'ry day she puts cotton in my baskit ter fetch it ter a hunderd, an' that made her fall 'hin' las' year's pickin'; then ev'ry night she was stripped an' cowhided; but she kep' on he'pin' me, an' kep' on gettin' whipped. I dun know what she dun it fer: 'min's me uv the Laud on the cross."

Dr. Horton knew what she did it for. His knightliness was touched to the quick. The story made him wish as never before to be a better master than he had ever been to his poor people. He asked many questions, and drew forth all the facts, Lizay telling how Alston was helping her while she was helping him. Dr. Horton saw that here was a romance in slave-life—that the man and woman were in love with each other.

"Well, if you can't pick cotton," he said to Alston, "what can you do?"

"Mos' anything else, moster. I kin do ev'rything 'bout cawn; I kin split rails; I kin plough; I kin drive carriage."

"Could you run a cotton-gin?"

"Reckon so, moster: the black folks says it's tolerbul easy."

"Well, now, look here: you and Lizay get some dinner, an' then do you take a back-trot for the plantation. I'll sen' Buck a note: no, he can't more'n half read writin'. Well, do you tell him, Alston, to put you to ginnin' cotton: Little Sam mus' work with you a few days till you get the hang of the thing; an' then I want you to show that plantation what 'tis to serve master faithfully. You see, I believe in you, my man."

"Thanky, moster. I'll wuck fer yer haud's I kin. Please God, I'll sarve yer faithful."

"Of cou'se, Lizay, you'll go back to pickin' cotton, an' don't let me hear any mo' of you' nonsense—helpin' a strappin' fellow twice you' size. An' tell Buck I won't have him whippin' any my negroes ev'ry night in the week. Confound it! a mule couldn't stan' it. If I've got a negro that needs floggin' ev'ry night, I'll sell him or give 'im away, or turn 'im out to grass to shif' for himself. I'll be out there soon, an' 'ten' to things. If anybody needs a floggin', tell Buck to send 'im to me. Tell the folks to work like clever Christians, an' they shall have a fus'-rate Christmas—a heap of Christmas-gifts."

"Yes, moster."

"Do you an' Lizay want to get married right away, or wait till Christmas?"

Alston and Little Lizay looked at each other, smiling in an embarrassed way.

"But, moster," said Alston, "I's got a wife an' fou' childun in Ol' Virginny, an' I promused I'd wait an' wouldn't git morred ag'in tell she'd write ter me ef her moster'd sell her; an' I was goin' ter ax yer ter buy 'er."

"You needn't pester yourself about that. I got a letter for you the other day from her," the doctor said, fumbling in his pockets.

"Yer did, sah?" Alston said with interest.

"Yes: here it is. Can you read? or shall I read it to you?"

"Ef yer please, moster."

Then Dr. Horton read:

"My Dear B'loved Husbun': Miss Marthy Jane takes my pen in han' ter let yer know I's well, an' our childun's well, an' all the black folks is tolerbul well 'cept Juno: her's got the polsy tolerbul bad. All the white folks 'bout yere is will 'cept mistis: her's got the dumps. All the childun say, Howdy? the black folks all says, Howdy? an' Pete says, Howdy? an' Andy says, Howdy? an' Viny says, Howdy? an' Cinthy says, Howdy? an' Tony Tucker says, Howdy? and Brudder Thomas Jeff'son Hollan' says, Howdy? Last time I see'd Benj'man Franklins Bedfud, he says, ''Member, an' don't fawgit, the fus' time yer writes, ter tell Als'on, Howdy?'

"Yer 'fectionate wife, Chloe."

"P.S. Mistis says her can't spaw me, so 'tain't no use waitin' no longer fer me. 'Sides, I got 'gaged ter git morred: I wus morred Sundy 'fo' las' at quat'ly meetin'. Brudder Mad'son Mason puffawmed the solemn cer'mony, an' preached a beautiful discou'se. Me an' my secon' husbun' gits 'long fus'-rate. I fawgot ter tell yer who I got morred to. I got morred to Thomas Jeff'son Hollan'."

"So you're a free man," said Dr. Horton, folding the letter and handing it to Alston. "You an' Little Lizay can get married to-day, right now, if you wish to. Uncle Moses can marry you: he's a member of the Church in good an' regular standin': I don't know but he's an exhorter, or class-leader, or somethin'. What do you say? Shall I call him in an' have him tie you together?"

"Thanky, moster, ef Little Lizay's willin'.—Is yer, Lizay?"

"I reckon so," said Lizay, her heart beating in gladness. But she nevertheless glanced down at her coarse field-dress and thought with longing of the new calico in her cabin.

So Uncle Moses was called in, and Mrs. Horton and all the children and servants.

"Uncle Moses," said Dr. Horton, "did you ever marry anybody?"

"To be sho', Mos' Hawton. I's morred—Lemme see how many wives has I morred sence I fus' commenced?"

"Oh, I don't mean that;" and Dr. Horton proceeded to explain what he did mean.

"No," said Moses. "I never done any that business, but reckon I could: I's done things a heap hauder."

"Well, let me see you try your han' on this couple."

"Well," said Uncle Moses, "git me a book: got ter have a Bible, or hymn-book, or cat'chism, or somethin'."

The doctor gravely handed over a pocket edition of Don Quixote, which happened to lie in his reach.

Uncle Moses took it for a copy of the Methodist Discipline, and made pretence of seeking for the marriage ceremony. At length he appeared satisfied that he had the right page, and stood up facing the couple.

"Jine boff yer right han's," he solemnly commanded. Then, with his eyes on the book, he repeated the marriage service, with some remarkable emendations. "An' ef yer solemnly promus," he said in conclusion, "ter lub an' 'bey one 'nuther tell death pawts yer, please de Laud yer lib so long, I pernounces boff yer all man an' wife."

Then the mistress looked about and got together a basket of household articles for the new couple. Bearing this between them, Alston and Little Lizay went back to the plantation and to their unfinished rows of cotton, happy, poor souls! pathetic as it seems.