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قراءة كتاب Lippincott's Magazine, December, 1885

تنويه: تعرض هنا نبذة من اول ١٠ صفحات فقط من الكتاب الالكتروني، لقراءة الكتاب كاملا اضغط على الزر “اشتر الآن"

‏اللغة: English
Lippincott's Magazine, December, 1885

Lippincott's Magazine, December, 1885

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 3

the inevitable hour when their bones will be laid beside those of their fathers. There are few more picturesque figures than are many of these old negroes, who passed the heyday of their strength before they were freed, and who, born in slavery, survived to a new era only to find themselves in the last stages of old age. They are regarded by their race with as much veneration as if they were invested with the authority of prophets and seers. Some of them, in spite of their years, act occasionally as preachers, and are listened to with awe and trepidation as they lift up their trembling voices in exhortation or denunciation. As travellers from a distant past, it is interesting to observe them sitting with bent backs and hands resting on their sticks in the door-ways of their cabins on bright days in summer, or by the warm firesides in winter, while members of younger generations talk around them or play about their knees.

The negro laborers marry in early life, and the size of their families is often remarkable, the ratio of increase being, perhaps, greater with them than with the families of the white laborers on the same plantation, and the mortality among their children as small, for the latter have an abundance of wholesome food, are well sheltered from cold and dampness, and have good medical attendance. As soon as they are able to walk so far, they are sent to the public school, which is situated on the borders of the plantation, where they have a teacher of their own race to instruct them, and they continue to attend until they are old enough to work in the fields and stables. They are then employed there at fair wages, which, until they come of age or marry, are appropriated by their parents; and in consequence of this many of the young men seek positions on the railroads or in the towns before they reach their majority, in order that they may secure and enjoy the compensation of their own labor. In a few years, however, the greater number wander back and offer themselves as hands, are engaged, and establish homes of their own.

Tobacco being a staple that requires work of some kind throughout the whole of the year, a large force of laborers are hired for that length of time. It is not like wheat, in the cultivation and manipulation of which more energy is put forth at one season than at another, as, for instance, when it is harvested or threshed. A certain number of laborers are engaged on the plantation on the 1st of January, who contract to remain at definite wages during the following twelve months. Whoever leaves without consent violates a distinct agreement, under which he is liable in the courts, if it were worth the time and expense to subject him to the law. He is paid every month by an order on a firm of merchants who rent a store that belongs to the owner of the plantation and is situated on one of its divisions; and this order he can convert into money, merchandise, or groceries, as he chooses, or he gives it up in settlement of debts which he has previously made there in anticipation of his wages. The credit of each man is accurately gauged, and he is allowed to deal freely to a certain amount, but not beyond; and this restriction puts a very wholesome check upon the natural extravagance of his disposition.

On each division of the plantation there is a settlement where the negroes live with their families. The houses of the "quarters," as the settlement is called, are large weather-boarded cabins. In each there is a spacious room below and a cramped garret above, which is used both as a bedroom and a lumber-room, while the apartment on the first floor is chamber, kitchen, and parlor in one, and there most of the inmates, children as well as adults, sleep at night. The furniture is of a very durable but rude character, consisting of a bed, several cots, tables and cupboards, and half a dozen or more rough chairs of domestic manufacture, while a few pictures, cut from illuminated Sunday books or from illustrated papers, adorn the whitewashed walls. The brick fire-place is so wide and open that the fire not only warms the room, but lights it up so well that no candle or lamp is needed. The negroes are always kept supplied with wood, and they use it with extravagance on cold nights, when they often stretch themselves at full length on the hearth-stone and sleep as calmly in the fierce glare as in the summer shade, or nap and nod in their chairs until day, only rising from time to time to throw on another log to revive the declining flames. They like to gossip and relate tales under its comfortable influence, and it is associated in their minds with the most pleasing side of their lives. Those who can read con over the texts of their well-worn Bibles in its light, while those who have a mechanical turn, as, for instance, for weaving willow or white-oak baskets or making fish-traps or chairs, take advantage of its illumination to carry on their work.

Each householder has his garden, either in front or behind his dwelling, according to the greater fertility of the soil, and here he raises every variety of vegetable in profusion: sweet and Irish potatoes, tomatoes, beets, peas, onions, cabbages, and melons grow there in sufficient abundance to supply many tables. Of these, cabbage is most valued, for it can be stored away for consumption in winter, and is as fresh at that season as when it is first cut. Around the houses peach-trees of a very common variety have been planted, and these bear fruit even when the buds of rarer varieties elsewhere have been nipped, both because they are more hardy and because they are near enough to be protected by the cloud of smoke that is always issuing from the chimneys. Every householder is allowed to fatten two hogs of his own, the sty, for fear of thieves, being erected in such close proximity to his dwelling that the odor is most offensive with the wind in a certain quarter, and, one would think, most unwholesome; but his family do not seem to suffer either in health or in comfort. Every cabin has its hen-house, from which an abundant supply of eggs is drawn, which find a ready sale at the plantation store; and in spring the chickens are a source of considerable income to the negroes. Their fare is occasionally varied by an opossum caught in the woods, or a hare trapped in the fields; but they much prefer corn bread and bacon as regular fare to anything else. They dislike wheat bread, as too light and unsatisfying, and they always grumble when flour is measured out to them instead of meal. Coffee is a luxury used only on Sunday. The table is set off by a few china plates and cups, but there are no dishes, the meat being served in the utensil in which it is cooked. On working-days breakfast and dinner are carried to the hands in the fields by a boy who has collected at the different houses the tin buckets containing these meals.

The hands are as busy in winter as during any other part of the year. Much of their time is then taken up in manipulating the tobacco, which has been stored away in one large barn, and preparing it for market, the first step toward which is to strip the leaves from the stalk and then carefully separate those of an inferior from those of a superior quality. Although there are many grades, the negroes are able to distinguish them at a glance and assort them accordingly. They are not engaged in this work of selection continuously from day to day, but at intervals, for they can handle the tobacco only when the weather is damp enough to moisten the leaf, otherwise it is so brittle that it would crack and fall to pieces under their touch. They like this work, for the barn is kept very comfortable by large stoves, they do not have to move from their seats, and they can all sit very sociably together, talking, laughing, and singing. It contrasts very agreeably with other work which they are called upon to do at this season,—namely, the grubbing of new grounds,