by Sarah Winter
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
"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
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
"Days gits shawter 'bout Chrismus-time,"
Little Lizay ventured to suggest,
"an' it gits col', an' my fingers ain't
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"Take this rawhide," was the order he
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
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
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
"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
"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
"I's better 'quainted back thar'," said
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"No: I won't take a floggin' from that
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
"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
"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
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.