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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: 4

from which they shrink with unconcealed repugnance, for outside of a mine there is no kind of labor more arduous or exacting. The land cleared is that from which the original forest has been cut, leaving stumps thickly scattered over the surface, from which a heavy scrub-growth springs up. Active, quick, and industrious as the negroes may be in the tobacco-, corn-, or wheat fields, they show here great indolence, and move forward very slowly with their hoes, axes, and picks, piling up, as they advance, masses of roots, saplings, stumps, and brush, which, when dry, are set on fire and consumed. The soil exposed is a rich but thin loam of decayed leaves, in which tobacco grows with luxuriance.

In February or March the laborers prepare the plant-patch, the initial step in the production of a crop that remains on their hands at least twelve months before it is ready for market. They select a spot in the depths of the woods where the soil is very fertile from the accumulated mould, and they then cut away the trees and underbrush until a clean open surface, square in shape and about forty yards from angle to angle, is left, surrounded on all sides by the forest. Having piled up great masses of logs over the whole of this surface, they set them on fire at one end of the patch, and these are allowed to burn until all have been consumed, the object being to get the ash which is deposited, and which is very rich in certain constituents of the tobacco-plant and is especially conducive to its growth. The ploughmen then come and break up the ground, hoers carefully pulverize every clod, and the seed is sown, a mere handful being sufficient for a great extent of soil. The laborers afterward cover the surface of the patch with bushes, and it is left without further protection. In a short time the tobacco-plant springs up in indescribable profusion, and in a few weeks it is in a condition to be transferred to the fields.

Before this is done, however, the seed-corn has begun to sprout in the ground. The first cry of the whippoorwill is the signal for planting this cereal. The grains are dropped from the hand at regular intervals, both men and women joining in this work; and they all move slowly along together, the men bearing the corn in small bags, the women holding it in their aprons. The wide low-grounds at this season expand to the horizon without anything to obstruct the vision, a clear, unbroken sweep of purple ploughed land. The laborers are visible far off, those who drop the grains walking in a line ahead, the hoers following close behind to cover up the seed. Still farther in the rear come the harrows, that level all inequalities in the surface and crush the clods. Flocks of crows wheel in the air above the scene, or stalk at a safe distance on the ploughed ground. Blackbirds, which have now returned from the South, sing in chorus on the adjacent ditch-banks, mingling their harsh notes with the lively songs of myriads of bobolinks, while high overhead whistles the plover. The newly-sprung grass paints the road-side a lush green, the leaves are budding on weed and spray, and over all there hang the exhilarating influences of spring.

As soon as the hands have planted the corn, they begin transplanting the tobacco, which they find a more tedious task, for they can only transfer the slips to the fields when the air is surcharged with moisture and the ground is wet; otherwise the slips will wither on the way or perish in the hill without taking root. But if the weather is favorable they flourish from the hour they are thrust into the ground. It takes the laborers but a short time to plant many acres; and when their work is done the fields look as bare as before. The original leaves soon die, but from the healthy stalk new ones shoot out and expand very rapidly. The soil has been very highly fertilized with guano and very carefully ploughed, so that every condition is favorable to the growth of the plant if there is an abundance of rain. At a later period it passes through a drought very well, being a hardy plant that recovers even after it has wilted; but very frequently in its early stages the laborers are compelled to haul water in casks from the streams to save it from destruction.

The most jovial operation of the year to the hands is the wheat-harvest in June; but the introduction of the mechanical reaper has taken away something of its peculiar character. Much of the grain, however, is still cut down with the cradle. The strongest negro always leads the dozen or more mowers, and thus incites his fellows to keep closely in his wake. As they move along, they sing, and the sound, sonorous and not unmelodious, is echoed far and wide among the hills. Behind them follows a band of men and women, who gather the grain into shocks or tie it in bundles.

After the harvest is over, the time of the laborers is given up entirely to the tobacco, which has now grown to a fair size. Their first task is to "sucker" it,—that is, cut away the shoots that spring up at the intersection of each leaf and the stalk, and which if left to grow would absorb half the strength of the plant. They also examine the leaves very carefully, to destroy the eggs and young of the tobacco-fly. Day after day they go over the same fields, finding newly-laid eggs and newly-hatched young where only twelve hours before they brushed their counterparts off to be trampled under foot. As the tobacco ripens, it becomes brittle to the touch and is covered with dark yellow spots, and when this appearance is still further developed the time for cutting has arrived, which generally is in the first month of autumn, and always before frost, which is as fatal to this as to every other weed. The plant is now about three feet in height, with eight or nine large leaves, the stalk having been broken off at the top in the second stage of its growth. On the appointed day a dozen or more men with coarse knives split the stalk of each plant straight down its middle to within half a foot of the ground. They then strike the plant from the hill and lay it on one side. The leaves soon shrink under the rays of the sun and fall. One of the laborers who follow the cutters then takes it up and places it with nine or ten other plants on a stick, which is thrust through the angle formed by the two halves of the plant separated from each other except at one end. It is deposited with the rest in an open ox-cart and transported to the barn. In the barn poles have been arranged in tiers from bottom to top to support the sticks; and when the building is full of tobacco the laborer in charge ignites the logs that fill parallel trenches in the dirt floor, and a high rate of temperature is soon produced, and is maintained for several days, during which a watch is kept to replenish the flames and prevent a conflagration. As soon as the tobacco has changed from a deep green to a light brown, it is removed on a wet day to the general barn. The same process of curing is going on in many barns on the same plantation, and occasionally one is burned down; for the tobacco is very inflammable, a stray spark from below being sufficient to set the whole on fire.

The principal work of the autumn is the gathering of the ripe corn. A band of men go ahead and pull the ears from the stalks and throw them at intervals of thirty yards into loose piles and another band following behind them at a distance pick the ears up and pitch them into the ox-carts, which, when fully loaded, return to the granary, around which the corn is soon massed in long and high rows. When the whole crop has been got in, a moonlight night is selected for stripping off the shucks; and this is a gay occasion with the negroes, for they are allowed as much whiskey as they can carry under their belts. The leading clown among them is deputed to mount the pile and sing, while the rest sit below and work. As he ends each verse, they reply in a chorus that can