In Old Plantation Days

Silent Sam’el

Miss Angelina Brown was a young woman of many charms. Every one in Little Africa conceded that. No one who had seen her dash gracefully up the aisle of Mount Moriah Church to the collection-table with tossing head and rustling skirts; no one who had seen her move dreamily through the mazy dance at the hod-carriers’ picnics could fail to admit this much. She was a tall, fine-looking girl, with a carriage that indicated that she knew her own worth, as she did.

What added to the glamour that hung about the name of the brown damsel was that she was the only daughter of a very solid citizen—a man who was known to have both “propity” and money. There was no disputing the solidity of the paternal Brown, as there was no question of his utter simplicity and unaffectedness. He had imparted to Angelina a deal of his own good sense, and though she did not flaunt it, she did not, like many others born hitherside the war, disdain the fact that her father had learned on his master’s plantation the trade that supported them.

Under these circumstances it is easy to believe that the young woman had many suitors. There were many proper and stylish young men in the community who were willing to take the entrancing girl for herself in spite of the incubus of her riches. Indeed, there were frequent offers of such noble sacrifices; but Angelina was a shrewd high priestess, and she found it better to keep her victims in her train than to immolate them on the altar of matrimony. So it happened that there were few evenings when a light was not visible in the parlor of old Isaac Brown’s house, and one or another of the young men of Little Africa did not sit there with Angelina.

It was of a piece with the usual good sense that governed this house that slow-going, unpretentious Samuel Spencer—”Silent Sam’el,” they called him—made one of these evening sitters. Samuel was a steady-going, good-humored fellow, and a workman under the elder Brown. This may have accounted for Angelina’s graciousness to him. For even when he was in her company he had never a word to say for himself, but sat, looked at the lamp, twirled his hat, and smiled. This was certainly not very entertaining for the girl, but then, her father had a high opinion of Samuel’s ability. So she would make conversation, and endure his smiles, until old Isaac would call gruffly to him from the kitchen, and he would rise silently and go. Then Angelina was free to entertain whom she pleased for the rest of the evening, for the two men did not part until near midnight.

Once with his employer, Samuel would venture a remark now and then over the something like oily looking tea which they stirred round and round in their glasses. But usually he listened while the old man expounded his new plans and ideas, and every once in a while would shake his head in appreciation, or pat his knee in pure enjoyment. This happened every Wednesday, for that was Samuel’s particular evening. Isaac Brown looked forward to it with more pleasure than Angelina. For as he said, when Samuel’s silence was referred to, “You needn’t say nothin’ to me ’bout Sam’el Spencer. I reckon he talks enough fu’ me; and ‘sides dat, I’s alius noticed dat hit took a might’ sma’t man to know how to keep his mouth shet. Hit’s a heap easier to talk.”

But there were others who were not so favorably disposed toward old man Brown’s “pet,” as they called him. Jim White, who was head waiter at the big hotel, and consequently widely conversant with men and things, said: “Huh, ol’ Sam go down to ol’ man Brown’s, an’ set up there fur an hour an’ a half ‘side Miss Angelina, her talkin’ an’ laughin’ an’ him lookin’ like a bump on a log.” And this same joke, though often repeated, never failed to elicit a shout of laughter from the waiters assembled about their leader, and anxious to laugh at anything the autocrat of the dining-room might condescend to say. Others went so far as to twit Samuel himself, but he bore all of this good-naturedly, and without attempting to change his manner, until one memorable night.

It was on the occasion of a great rallying festival at Mount Moriah Church, and a large part of Little Africa was gathered within the church walls, partaking of ice cream, oyster stews and coffee. As Angelina was one of those who had volunteered to help serve the company she had denied herself the pleasure of a “gentleman escort” and had gone early with her father and mother.

Jim White and Samuel Spencer were not the only ones who followed her about that evening with amorous glances. Young men bought oyster stews if she could serve them when they had eaten far beyond their normal capacities. Old men with just teeth enough left to ache gave themselves neuralgia with undesired ice cream.

Jim White had about him a crowd that he treated lavishly every time he could get Angelina’s eye; and Samuel himself had already accomplished six oyster stews and was looking helplessly at his seventh.

There is no telling what might have happened had not the refreshments given out and the festival been forced to close. The young men and young women came together in twos and took their way home. But while Angelina stood counting her takings there were no less than six anxious beaus who stood waiting her pleasure.

Of these Sam was the nearest, and those who looked on were about to conclude that even slow as he was he would reach her this time first and gain permission to take her home, when just as a slight sinking of her head showed that her counting was done, Jim White stepped up and, with a bow, asked for “the pleasure.” She looked around for a moment and her eye fell on her silent admirer. She hesitated, and then, turning, bowed to White.

The smile died on Sam’s face, and he stood watching them blankly. Not until her escort had found her wraps and had put her in them and she had said a light good-night to those who waited did Sam awake from his stupor.

There were some titters as he passed out, and a few remarks such as, “Uh huh, Sam, you too slow fu’ Jim. You got to move an’ talk faster,” or “You sholy was cut out dat time.”

But he went on his way, though in spite of the smile that came back to his lips there was a determined look in his eyes. On the church steps he paused and looked after the retreating forms of Angelina and his rival, then with a short but not angry “Huh!” he went his way home.

There was in his mind the consciousness of something wrong, and that something was wrong, his far from dull wits told him, neither with Jim nor Angelina, but himself. He had a perfect right to speak to her first if he could, and she had a right to accept his company. He was bleakly just to every one concerned, and yet he knew by rights he should have taken Angelina home, and then the thought came to him that he could have said nothing to her even had he taken her home. Jim could talk; he couldn’t. The knowledge of his own deficiencies overwhelmed him, and he went to bed that night in no happy frame of mind.

For a long while he did not sleep, but lay thinking about Angelina. It was nearly morning when he got suddenly out of bed and began dancing a breakdown in his bare feet, whispering to himself, “By gum, that’s it!”

The landlady knocked on the wall to know what was the matter. He replied that he had been attacked with cramp in his feet, but was better now, and so subsided.

From now on a change took place in Samuel’s manner of proceeding. The first thing that marked this change was his unexpected appearance in the Brown parlor on the next Monday. Angelina was entertaining another caller, but she received him pleasantly and, so far as an occasional reference to him would suffice, drew him into the conversation. However, he did not stay long, and so his hostess concluded that he had just been passing and had casually dropped in. What was her surprise when promptly at the same hour on the next night Samuel again came smiling in and settled himself to listen to the talk of that night’s caller. Angelina was astounded. What did he mean? Had he begun to spy upon her and her company. Wednesday was his acknowledged night, and of course he had a right to come, but when he turned up on Thursday she openly tossed her head and treated him with marked coldness. The young man who had the pleasure of sitting out the hours on Thursday brought her a bunch of flowers. Samuel was evidently taking lessons, for on Friday night he appeared with a wondrous bouquet.

For one whole week, including Sunday, he was by the side of his divinity some part of every evening. The other young men were provoked. Angelina was annoyed, but less seriously than she might have been when she found that Samuel had the consideration never to stay long. The most joyful one of all concerned was old Isaac Brown himself.

“When Sam’el sets out a cou’tin’ he does it jes’ like he does evahthing else. Huh, de way he sot his cap fu’ Angie is a caution.”

But the truth of it was, Samuel Spencer was deeper than those who knew him could fathom. His week’s visit to Angelina had not been without reason or result, and its object might have been discovered as he mumbled to himself on the last night of his constant attendance: “Well, I’ve heard ’em all talk, but I reckon that little Scott fellow that comes on Friday night’s about the slickest of the lot. He’ll have to do my talkin’ fur me.” He chuckled a little, and shook his head solemnly, “Ef somebody else got to speak fur me,” he added, “I do’ want nothin’ but the best talent.”

The next week it appeared that Samuel’s sudden passion must have burned itself out as suddenly as it had appeared, for not even Wednesday night saw his face in the Brown parlor. Then was Angelina uneasy, for she thought she had offended him; and she didn’t want to do that, for he was her father’s friend, anyway, even if he was nothing to her, and her father’s— oh, well, her father’s friend deserved respect. So she instructed the elder Brown to inquire the reason for the young man’s sudden defection, and she was greatly soothed, even though she did not care for him, when her parent brought back the message that “Sam’el was all right, an’ ‘ud be ‘roun’.”

It was not until Friday night that he came and, contrary to his usual custom, he went directly back into the kitchen, where he spent the hours with the old man. Angelina was piqued, and she tossed her head as he came in just as Mr. Scott was leaving. He sat down and smiled at her for a little while, and then he said abruptly:

“I mean all he said.”

She gazed at him in astonishment.

“I mean all he said,” he repeated, and soon after bade her good-night.

Friday night after Friday night he came at one hour or another, and after Scott had poured out his heart to Angelina Samuel merely whispered in her ear that he meant all that. Now this was very shrewd of Samuel, for Mr. Scott was a very eloquent and fluent talker, and Angelina thought that if Samuel meant all the other said he must mean a good deal.

One night, with burning words, Scott asked the momentous question. Samuel was in the kitchen with Isaac Brown at the time his rival was making his impassioned plea. Angelina bade her wooer to wait until she had time to and when he had gone she awaited the coming of Samuel.

He came in smiling, as usual.

“I mean all he said,” he asserted.

“How do you know, you do? You do’ know what he said,” retorted Angelina.

“I mean all he said,” repeated Sam.

“La, Mr. Spencer, you are the beatenes’ man! If you mean all he said, why don’t you say it yo’se’f?”

“I can’t,” said Sam simply.

“Well, Mr. Scott surely has said enough tonight.”

“I mean all he said.”

“I’m mighty ‘fraid you’ll want to back out when you hear it.”

“I mean all he said,” and Sam laid an emphasis on the “all.” He was slowly working his way toward Angelina. His wits began to tell him what Scott had said.

“You ain’t never ast me what he said.”


“Oh, I can’t tell you; don’t you know?”

By this time he had reached her and put his arm around her trim waist.

“I mean all he said.”

In Old Plantation Days

“Well, then, I says yes to you fur what you means, even if you won’t say it,” and Angelina ducked her head on his breast.

Sam’s eyes shone, and it was a good deal later before he left that night. As he stood at the gate he suddenly broke his silence and said, “I thought Scott was nevah goin’ to git to the question.”


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