In Old Plantation Days
Any man who has ever wooed in earnest, or thought so, knows how hard it is to have his suit repulsed time and time again. However the capricious one may smile at times, one “no” upsets the memory of many days of smiles.
The structure of Gabe Harris’ hopes had fallen so often that he had begun to build it over again listlessly and mechanically enough, until one momentous day, when it seemed fallen for good.
He had come by, as usual, upon his cart that evening after work, and paused, as was his wont, for a chat with his desired one, Anna Maria Moore. He had been hard at work all day hauling from the clay-pits, and so was not a thing of beauty as to clothes. But if Anna Maria loved him—and he believed she did—love was blind, which left him all right in his own eyes and hers.
Perhaps he was right even thus far, and all would have gone well had not the plump, brown beauty of the girl overcome him as he stood chatting with her.
The realization of her charms, of her desirableness, swept over him with a rush of emotion. Instinctively he held out his arms to her. They were in the front yard, too. “Wen—w’en you gwine ma’y me, honey? Tell me.”
Anna Maria froze at once. She grew as rigid as the seams in her newly starched calico.
“W’y—w’yi what’s de mattah, Anna Maria?” stammered the discomfited Gabe.
“‘Scuse me, Mistah Ha’is,” said the lady, with dignity, “but I’s not in de habit ob bein’ spoke to in dat mannah.”
“W’y, what’s I done, Anna Maria?”
“What’s you done, sah? What’s you done? W’y you’s scandalized me ‘fo’ de eyes ob de whole neighbo’hood,” and the calico swished itself as well as its stiffness would allow into the house.
Gabe scratched his head. “Well, I’ll be dad-burned I” he ejaculated.
Just then Uncle Ike, Anna Maria’s father, came up. He was Gabe’s friend and ally, and the young fellow’s bewilderment was not lost upon him.
“What’s de mattah, Brothah Gabe?” he questioned.
“W’y, Unc’ Ike, I done axed Anna Maria to ma’y, an’ she say I’s insulted an’ scandalized de neighbo’hood. Huccome dat?”
“Tsch, tsch, tsch, Brothah Gabe; you sholy doesn’t knew de pherlosophy ob oomankin’.”
“I reckon I ain’t up on dat, Unc’ Ike; seems I ain’ had de spe’ence dat hab fell to yo’ lot.”
The present was Uncle Ike’s fourth matrimonial venture, and he was supposed to know many things. He went on: “Now, Brothah Gabe, in co’tin’ a ooman, less’n she’s a widdah ooman, dey’s th’ee t’ings you got to do; you got to satisfy huh soul, you got to chawm huh yeah, an’ you got to please huh eye. ‘Tain’t no use doin’ one ner tothah less’n you does all—dat is, I say, per-vided it ain’t a widdah lady; dey bein’ easiah to please an’ mo’ unnerstannin’ laik. Well, you come hyeah, aftah yo’ day’s wo’k, an’ you talk to Anna Maria. She know you been a’wo’kin’, an’ll mak’ a good pervider; dat satisfy huh soul.”
“Yes, suh; she smile w’en I was a-talkin’ to huh, an’ dat what mak me fu’git myse’f.”
“Uh-huh,” said the old man, wagging his head sagely and stroking the straggling beard upon his chin, “uh-huh, dat mean dat you chawm huh yeah; but hoi’ on, hoi’ on dey’s one mo’ t’ing. How in de name ob common sense you spec’ to please huh eye a-comin’ hyeah in sich togs ez deze? Ki yi, now you see.”
Again Gabe had recourse to his signal of perplexity, and woolly head and grimy nails came together in a half-hearted scratch.
“Unc’ Ike, you sholy hab opened my eyes,” he said, as he went slowly out to his cart.
On the morrow he arrayed himself in his best, and hitching his mare to a buggy not yet too rickety to awe some of his less prosperous neighbors, started toward the home of his inamorata. Old Suke, accustomed to nothing lighter than her cart on workdays, first set her ears doubtfully at the unaccustomed vacation, and then, seeming to realize that it was really a vacation, a gala-day, she tossed her head and stepped out bravely.
In the heart of Gabe Harris a similar exultation was present. What now would check him in his quest of the fair one? He had fulfilled all the requirements laicf down by Uncle Ike, and Uncle Ike knew. He had already satisfied her soul; he had done his duty as to “chawmin’ her yeah,” now he went forth a potential conqueror for the last great feat—the pleasing of her eyes. Gone were the marks and the memory of the clay-pits, gone was the ashiness of dust from his hardened hands. His self-abashing cap was replaced by an agressive “stiff hat,” while his black coat and waistcoat, with drab trousers, completed an invincible make-up.
It was an autumn day, the year was sighing toward its close, but there was a golden touch in the haze that overhung the mean streets where he passed, and somewhere up in a balsam poplar a bird would persist in singing, and something in Gabe’s heart kept answering, answering, as he alighted and hitched Suke before Anna Maria’s gate.
A little later she came out arrayed in all her glory. She passed through the gate which the smiling Gabe held open for her, and stepped lightly into the buggy. Suke turned one inquisitive glance over her shoulder, and then, winking slowly to herself, consented to be unhitched and to jog leisurely toward the country roads. What Gabe said to Anna Maria and what Anna Maria said to Gabe on that drive is not recorded. But it is evident that the lover had been preparing his lady for something momentous, for upon returning late that afternoon he paused as he helped her alight, and whispered softly: “I got sompin’ mo’ to say to you.”
As they entered the house, the smell of baking biscuits and of frying pork assailed their nostrils. Aunt Hannah Moore also had recognized this as a gala-day, and was putting herself out to lay such a feast for her daughter’s suitor as he should remember for many a day to come. Gabe sat down in the spick-and-span front room.
“Ma’s biscuits cert’n’y does smell scan’lous,” Anna Maria commented, agreeably.
Gabe’s mind was too full of his mission to heed the remark. The momentous second had arrived —the second that held the fruition of all his ambitions, all his dreams. He plumped down on his knees at her feet. “Oh, Anna Maria,” he cried, “Anna Maria, ain’t you gwine hab me now?”
Anna Maria turned on him a look full of startled surprise, which soon turned to anger and disdain. “Look hyeah, Gabe,” she said, wrath-fully, “what’s de mattah wid you? Is you done tuk leab ob yo’ senses? Ain’t you got no ‘spect fo’ a lady’s feelin’s? Heah I’s tiahed and hon-gry, an’ you come ‘roun talkin’ sich foolishness ez dat. No, I ain’t gwine hab you. Git up f’om daih, an’ ac’ sensible. I’s hongry, I is.”
Gabe got up sheepishly, dusting his knees. Anna Maria turned to the window. He took his hat, and let himself out of the door.
“Heyo, Brothah Gabe, wha you gwine? You ain’t gwine ‘way fo’ suppah, am you? We got som monstous fine middlin’ daih fryin’ speshly fo’ you,” was the greeting from Anna Maria’s father.
“D’you want to buy Suke? Fs gwine ‘way f’om hyeah.”
“What’s de mattah’d you?” was the old man’s quick question.
“I’s done filled all de ‘quirements you tol’ me, an’ axed Anna Maria ‘gain, an’ she won’t hab me, an’ I’s gwine ‘way.”
“No, y’ain’t. Set down.”
Gabe seated himself beside his adviser.
“W’en you ax Anna Maria?”
“Oomph, oomph, oomph,” said the old man, reflectively; and he went on: “Gabe, fo’ a ha’d-wo’kin, money-savin’, long-haided man you sholy has got less sense dan anybody I know.”
“What’s I done now?” said Gabe, disconsolately. “Ain’t I filled all de ‘quirements? Ain’t I satisfied huh soul? Aain’t I chawmed huh yeah? Ain’t I pleased huh eye? Now wha’ mo’ —oh, ’tain’t no use!”
“Hol’ on, hol’ on, I say; you done all dese t’ings. You’s satisfied huh soul, you’s chawmed huh yeah, you’s pleased huh eye, an’ she’s jes ready fo’ you, but Lawd a’ massy ‘pon me, ain’t you got mo’ sense dan to pop de question to a lady w’en she hungry? Gabe, you got lots to l’arn.”
“‘Tain’t no use, Unc’ Ike; ef she eat suppah an’ git satisfied, den she ain’t gwine need me.”
“You set down an’ wait till aftah suppah, I say.”
Just then the call for supper came, and Gabe went in with the black Solomon. During the blessing Anna Maria was cold and distant, but when the first biscuit was passed to her her face brightened. She half smiled as she broke it open and filled its hot interior with rich yellow butter. The smile was on full force when she had tasted the brown crisp “middlin’,” and by the time she had the “jackets” off two steaming potatoes her face was beaming.
With wonder and joy Gabe watched the metamorphosis take place, and Uncle Ike had constantly to keep nudging or kicking him under the table to keep him from betraying himself.
When the supper was done, and it went on to a merry ending, Aunt Hannah refused Anna Maria’s help with mock fierceness, and Uncle Ike went out on the porch to smoke. Only the front room was left for Anna Maria and Gabe, and thither they went.
Gabe lingered for awhile on the brink, and then plunged in: “Anna Maria, Fs failed, an’ failed, an’ Fs waited an’ waited. Is you—is you —will you have me now?”
“La, Gabe Ha’is, you is de beatenes’!” But her hand slipped into his.
“Is you gwine have me, Anna Maria?” he repeated.
“I reckon I’ll have to,” she said.
Out on the porch Uncle Ike waited long in the silence; then he said: “Well, dat’s a moughty good sign, but it sholy time fu’ it. Oomph, oomph, oomph, ‘oomen an’ colts, an’ which is de wus, I don’ know.”