In Old Plantation Days

Aunt Tempe’s Triumph

It was in the glow of an April evening when Aunt Tempe came out on the veranda to hold a conference with her master, Stuart Mordaunt. She had evidently been turning some things over in her mind.

For months there had been talk on the plantation, but nobody knew the inside of what was going on quite so well as she, for was she not Miss Eliza’s mammy? Had she not cared for her every day of her life, from her birth until now, and was she not still her own child, her “Lammy?”

Indeed, at first she had entirely opposed the marriage of her young mistress to anybody, and had discouraged the attentions of young Stone Daniels when she thought he was “spa’kin’ roun'”; but when Miss Eliza laid her head on her breast and blushingly told her all about she surrendered. And the young mistress seemed as happy over mammy’s consent as she had been over her father’s blessing. Mammy knew all the traditions of the section, and the histories of all the families thereabouts, and for her to set the seal of approval upon young Daniels was the final glory.

The preparations for the great wedding had gone on merrily. There was only a little time now before the auspicious day. Aunt Tempe, chief authority and owner-in-general, had been as busily engaged as any one. As the time had come nearer and nearer, though, her trouble had visibly increased, and it was the culmination of it which brought her hobbling out to chat with her master on that April evening. It must have been Maid Doshy that told her about the beautiful ceremony of giving away the bride, and described to her what a figure “Ol’ Mas’ ” would make on the occasion, but it rankled in her mind, and she had thoughts of her own on the subject.

“Look hyeah, Mas’ Stua’t,” she said, as she settled down on the veranda step at his feet; “I done come out hyeah to ‘spute wid you.”

“Well, Aunt Tempe,” said Mordaunt placidly, “it won’t be the first time; you’ve been doing that for many years. The fact is, half the time I don’t know who’s running this plantation, you or I. You boss the whole household round, and “the quarters” mind you better than they do the preacher. Plague take my buttons if I don’t think they’re afraid you’ll conjure them!”

“Conju’! Who conju’? Me conju’? Wha’s de mattah wid you, Mas’ Stua’t? You know I ain’t long haided. Ef I had ‘a’ been, you know I’d ‘a’ wo’ked my roots long ‘fo’ now on ol’ Lishy, we’en he tuk up wid dat No’ton ooman.” This had happened twenty-five years before, but Stuart Mordaunt knew that it was still a sore subject with the old woman this desertion by
her husband so he did not pursue the unpleasant matter any further.

“Well, what are you going to l ‘spute’ with me about, Tempe? Ain’t I running the plantation right? Or ain’t your mistress behaving herself as she ought to?”

“I do wish you’d let me talk; you des’ keep a-jokin’ an’ a runnin’ on so dat a body cain’t git in a wo’d aigeways.”

“Well, go on.”

“Now you know dat Miss ‘Liza gwine ma’y?”

“Yes, she has told me about it, though I suppose she asked your consent first.”

“Nemmine dat, nemmine dat, you hyeah me. Miss ‘Liza gwine ma’y.”

“Yes, unless young Daniels runs off, or sees a girl he likes better.”

“Sees a gal he lak’ bettah! Run off! Wha’s de mattah wid you?”

The master laughed cheerily, and the old woman went on.

“Now, we all’s gwineter gin huh a big wed-din’, des’ lak my baby oughter have.”

“Of course, what else do you expect? You don’t suppose I’m going to have her jump over the broom’ with him, do you?”

“Now, you listen to me: we’s gwineter have all de doin’s dat go ‘long wid a weddin’, ain’t we?”

Stuart Mordaunt struck his fist on the arm of his chair and said:

“We’re going to have all that the greatness of the occasion demands when a Mordaunt marries.”

“Da’s right, da’s right. She gwineter have de o’ange wreaf an’ de ring?”

“That’s part of it.”

“An’ she gwineter be gin’ erway in right style?” asked Aunt Tempe anxiously.

“To be sure.”

Aunt Tempe turned her sharp black eyes on her master and shot forth her next question with sudden force and abruptness.

“Now, whut I wanter know, who gwineter gin huh erway?”

Stuart Mordaunt straightened himself up in his chair with a motion of sudden surprise and exclaimed:

“Why, Tempe, what the—what do you mean?”

“I mean des’ whut I say, da’s whut I mean. I wanter know who gwineter gin my Miss ‘Liza erway?”

“Who should give her away?”

The old woman folded her hands calmly across her neckerchief and made answer: “Da’s des’ de questun.”

“Why, I’m going to give my daughter away, of course.”

“You gwineter gin yo’ darter erway, huh, is you?” Aunt Tempe questioned slowly.

The tone was so full of contempt that her master turned a surprised look upon her face. She got up, put her hands behind her in an attitude of defiance, and stood there looking at him, as he sat viciously biting the end of his cigar.

“You ‘lows to gin huh erway, does you?”

“Why, Tempe, what the—who should give her away?”

“You ‘lows to gin huh erway, I say?”

“Most assuredly I do,” he answered angrily.

The old woman moved up a step higher on the porch and asked in an intense voice:

“Whut business you got givin’ my chile erway? Huccome you got de right to gin Miss f’Liza to anybody?”


“Who is you?” exclaimed Tempe. “Who raise up dat chile? Who nuss huh th’oo de colic w’en she cried all night, an’ she was so peakid you didn’t know w’en you gwine lay huh erway? Huh? Who do dat? Who raise you up, an’ tek keer o’ you, w’en yo’ ol’ mammy die, an’ you wa’n’t able even to keep erway f’om de bee-trees? Huh? Who do dat? You gin huh erway! You gin huh erway! Da’s my chile, Mas’ Stua’t Mo’de’nt, an’ ef anybody gin huh erway at de weddin’, d’ ain’t nobody gwine do it but ol’ Tempe huhself. You hyeah me?”

“But, Tempe, Tempe!” said the master, “that wouldn’t be proper. You can’t give your young mistress away.”

“P’opah er whut not, I de only one whut got de right, an’ I see ’bout dat!”

Mordaunt forgot that he was talking to a servant, and sprang to his feet.

“Seaebout it! See about it!” he cried, “I’ll let you know that I can give my own daughter away when she marries. You must think you own this whole plantation, and all the white folks and niggers on it.”

Aunt Tempe came up on the porch and curtsied to her master.

“Nemmine, Mas’ Stua’t,” she said; “nemmine.” Her eyes were full of tears, and her voice was trembling. “Hit all right, hit all right. I ‘longs to you, but Miss ‘Liza, she my chile.” Her voice rose again in a defiant ring, and lost its pathos as she exclaimed, “I show you who got de right to gin my chile erway!” And shaking her turbaned head, she went back into the house mumbling to herself.

“Well!” said Stuart Mordaunt. “I’ll be blessed!” He might have used a stronger term, but just then the black-coated figure of the rector came round the corner of the veranda.

“How are you, how are you, sir!” said the Rev. Mr. Davis jocosely. “Are you the man who owns this plantation?”

Mordaunt hurled his cigar down the path, and replied grimly:

“I don’t know; I used to think so.”

Meanwhile Aunt Tempe had gone into the house to tell her troubles to her young mistress. She and her Miss Eliza were mutually the bearers of each other’s burdens on all occasions. She told her story, and laid her case before the bride-to-be.

“Now you know, baby,” she said, “ef anybody got de right to gin you erway, ’tain’t nobody but me.

“Yes, yes, mammy,” said the young woman consolingly; “they sha’n’t slight you, that they sha’n’t.”

“No, indeed; I don’t ‘tend to be slighted.”

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do, mammy,” said Miss Eliza; “even if you can’t give me away, you’ll be where Doshy and Dinah and none of the rest can be.”

“Whah dat, chile?”

“Why, before the ceremony I’ll hide you under the portieres right back of where we’re going to stand in the drawing-room.”

“An’ I cain’t gin you erway, baby?” said the old woman sadly.

“We’ll see about that, mammy; you know nobody ever knows what’s going to happen.”

The girl was comforting the old woman’s distresses as mammy in the years gone by had quieted her childish fears. It was a putting off until to-morrow of the evils that seemed present to-day.

Aunt Tempe went away seemingly satisfied, but she thought deeply, and later she visited old Brother Parker, who used to know a servant in a preacher’s family, and they talked long and earnestly together one whole evening.

Doshy saw them as they separated, and cried in derision:

“Look hyeah, Aunt Tempe, whut you an’ oP Brothah Pahkah codgin’ erbout so long? ‘Spec’ fus’ thing we knows we be gittin’ slippahs an’ wreafs fu you, an’ you’ll be follerin’ Miss ‘Liza’s ‘zample!”

“Huh-uh, chile,” Aunt Tempe answered, “I ain’t thinkin’ nothin’ ’bout may’in’, case I’s oP, but la, chile, I oP in de haid, too!”

The preparations for the wedding were completed, and the time arrived. All the elite of the surrounding country were present. Mammy was allowed to put the last touches, insignificant though they were, to the bride’s costume. She wept copiously over her child, but with not so much absorption as not to be alert when Miss Eliza took her down and slipped her behind the heavy portieres.

The organ pealed its march; the ceremony began and proceeded. The responses of the groom were strong, and those of the bride timid, but decisive and clear. Above all rose the resonant voice of the rector. Stuart Mordaunt had gathered himself together and straightened his shoulders and stepped forward at the words, “Who giveth this woman,” when suddenly the portieres behind the bridal party were thrown asunder, and the ample form of Aunt Tempe appeared. The whole assemblage was thunderstruck. The minister paused, Mordaunt stood transfixed; a hush fell upon all of them, which was broken by the old woman’s stentorian voice crying:

“I does! Dat’s who! I gins my baby erway!”

For an instant no one spoke; some of the older ladies wiped tears from their eyes, and Stuart Mordaunt bowed and resumed his place beside his daughter. The clergyman took up the ceremony where he had left off, and the marriage was finished without any further interruption.

When it was all over, neither the father, the mother, the proud groom, nor the blushing bride had one word of reproach for mammy, for no one doubted that her giving away and her blessing were as effectual and fervent as those of the nearest relative could have been.

And Aunt Tempe chuckled as she went her way. “I showed ’em. I showed ’em.”


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This work (In Old Plantation Days by Paul Laurence Dunbar) is free of known copyright restrictions.