[We have given several negro dialect sketches, but the following “story of a dreadfully naughty little black boy” is amusing enough to add to them. Waking elephants is not an altogether safe performance, as Jube found to his cost. The authoress is the wife of Prof. William T. Peters, of the University of Virginia.]
JUBE’S life, ever since he could remember, had been spent in “Ole Isrul’s” cabin, underneath a spur of the Alleghanies; and a very happy-go-lucky life it was.
After “freedom come,” Israel and Hanna, Jube’s nearest of kin, had drifted from the cotton-fields of the Mississippi back to “ole Virginny” and to their old life of tobacco-raising on the Alleghany slopes. They had brought Jube with them, the motherless boy having from babyhood, as Hannah expressed it, “been fotch up by her hand in the way he or’ter go.” If ever “fotch up” in the way he should go, the boy, at twelve years of age, had widely departed therefrom, for no more mischievous spirit than 150 naughty little Jube infested the turnpike leading from the cabin to the village beyond.
The day came, however, when Jube was made to pay off at least a part of the score being continually added up against him. Yet the boy himself did not imagine that such a day of reckoning had arrived on that sunshiny morning, when he arose early to deck himself for a holiday which was to be given entirely to the enjoyment of Forepaugh’s Great Circus and Menagerie. Twice before, during that week, he had made a pilgrimage to the village, and had spent hours, each time, inspecting the wonderful display of show-papers glaring everywhere. Such riders, such vaulters, such gymnasts, surely never had been known before, even to Jube’s vivid imagination. Such animals, too! the sacred bull, the ibex, the llama, the rhinoceros, fiercer than the lion, and the royal Bengal tiger, fiercer than the fiercest of all besides.
“Ki yi, Juba!” saluted Aunt Hanna, as the boy rushed in to her cabin that morning, his white eyeballs rolling his red lips parted in grins of delight. “Isrul, what you s’pose is up wid this nigger, now?”
“Humph!” grunted the cabin’s patriarch, puffing, in the breaks of his sentences, volumes of smoke from his short corn-cob pipe. “I ’specs dat boy, Hannah” — puff — “have jes’ done — puff, puff, puff — “gone crazy ober” — puff — “Foreper’s surcuss.”
“What dat you say? Foreper’s surcuss? Juba, whar dat money you fetch me fur de garden-sass an’ dem eggs? Ef yo jes’ done broke one ob dem dozen eggs wid yer capers, I’ll Foreper’s surcuss you: see ef I don’t.”
Jube dodged a blow from the hand that had “fotch him up,” and proceeded without delay to give up every farthing of his evening’s sales.
Aunt Hannah deigned to give a grunt of satisfaction as 151 the last penny was counted into her hand. Then Jube sidled into the corner of the hearth where “old Isrul” sat enjoying his pipe. He stood for a moment digging his toes into the cracks of the hearth.
“Daddy!” he drawled, by and by. “Daddy!”
No answer. “Ole Isrul” never so much as winked an eyelash, but sat smoking his pipe as unresponsive s a Camanche Indian.
“Daddy, say! mayn’t I go to Foreper’s ’nagerie? My! it’s a show what is a show! There’s beasts an’ beasts, — but it’s the elerphant what beats all holler! Whew! daddy, dat elephant’s a whale, I tell yer!”
“Juba,” said Aunt Hannah, severely, “what you sayin’, eh? De elerphant am not a whale. How kin it be? It’s ag’in’ natur’.”
“Daddy,” he whispered, after a few more desperate digs into the seams of the hearth, and under cover of the clatter of Hannah’s supper dishes, — “Daddy, mayn’t I go?”
“Whar to? — whar to, Jube?”
“To Foreper’s ’nagerie. You is gwine fur ter le’ me go? Ain’t yer, daddy?”
“Sartain, boy; sartain, — ef you kin find a silver-mine ’twixt now and show-day.”
Jube looked disheartened for a moment. Then his face brightened. He was not lacking in expedients, and it was a great matter to have “Daddy’s” consent. He began to do a double shuffle, but brought up in short order as he caught Aunt Hannah’s eyes turned upon him.
“You Jube! you jis’ shuffle out er dis, an’ hang dat las’ load ob tobaccy-cuttin’s on de scaffold, down by de tree.”
[Jube obeyed. The tobacco was duly spread on the scaffold, which was supported on one side by posts and on the other by grape-vines which hung from eh limbs of an aged oak-tree. This done, he sat 152 swinging on the scaffold, while he set his wits to work to solve the mystery of that silver-mine. He finally concluded that a silver dollar would serve for the exigencies of the occasion.]
Next morning two of Aunt Hannah’s biggest melons were missing from the patch, and a brace of her fattest capons from the roost; but suspicion was diverted from the real culprit by the tracks of huge shoes freely displayed throughout the path.
“’Pears to me, Isrul,” said the woe-begone Hannah, “dat thief mus’ have wore shoes made upon his own las’: I nebber saw sich a foot on any ob my acquaintance.”
“Dat’s so, Hanner; dat’s gospel trufe. Der ain’t no sich build of foot sca’cely sence de days of Goli-er.”
Yet, as Hannah turned off in perplexed thought, the old sinner slyly thrust forwards his own huge shoes, giving a significant poke with the bowl of his pipe at the sand and clay filling the coarse seams.
“Ki,” he inwardly chuckled, “dat boy Jube better not let de old ’ooman know how close under her nose he done ’skiver his silver-mine. She’ll have her sheer of interes’ off o’ him, shore as yer born.”
But Jube was as sly as he was naughty. Aunt Hannah was unsuspecting.
“Juba,” said she, tenderly, “ef I had the money you should to ter Foreper’s ’nagerie to-morrow.”
Jube was prompt to seize his golden opportunity.
“Ef I arned the money, mammy, mought I go?”
“Ye-es,” drawled “mammy,” cooling a little: “ef Isrul s’poses he kin spar’ yer from the ’baccy-gathering, yer mought.”
“Ef yer fines the silver-mine, Jube, ef yer fines the silver-mine, yer kin go,” said Israel, pressing in the feathery ashes of his pipe with the horny tip of his finger.153
[Jube having found his mine in the manner just indicated, he brought home a ticket of admission, which he claimed had been given him for watering some of the circus-horses. But that same afternoon the daring youngster got himself into trouble. In his anxiety to see the elephant during its progress through the town, he sought a narrow street-corner, where he would have been squeezed to death by the huge monster had not the elephant picked him up with his trunk and landed him n the roof of a neighboring shed. This well-meant kindness excited Jube’s wrath, and he vowed to get even with the “ole stump-footed critter.” That evening he saw the wonderful performance, but failed to revenge himself upon the elephant. Reaching home, he crept into bed with visions of circus splendor swimming in his brain.]
From the over-eating or over-excitement of he day, his sleep was not of long duration. He was aroused, an hour or two before dawn, by the sound of wheels passing along the turnpike. In an instant, he was wide awake and on the alert.
“Goodness!” he exclaimed, in a quiver of excitement. “Ef ’tain’t Foreper’s surcuss and ’nagerie on its travels! Wish-er-may-die if I don’t git one more blink at the elerphant!”
[He slipped form his bed, and through the window to the ground. From the gate he watched the passing wagon, and finally saw a ponderous mass loom up in the distance.]
It was Foreper’s elephant, moving slowly along. His keeper, riding alongside, seemed half asleep too, as also did the pony he rode. It was evidently a somnambulistic trio, jogging leisurely along in the wake of Foreper’s show. But Jube was wide awake, and there was a spirit of mischief awake within him, besides.
“I sed I’d be even wi’ the tough-hided, stump-footed ole thing,” he chuckled, squaring himself for action. “He skeered me to-day, but I’ll gin him sich a skeer, now, as never was.”154
On came the somnolent three. Directly they were abreast of the gate behind which crouched the waiting Jube. Suddenly the gate was flung wide on its hinges, and the boy leaped into the road with a screech and a yell, flinging his arms about, and flapping his very scanty drapery almost in the face of the beast. You may believe his Indian majesty napped no longer! In an instant his proboscis was waved frantically in the air, sounding his trump of alarm, the prolonged, screaming whistle fairly deafening its hearers.
Poor Jube had by no means calculated upon this dire result of his attempt at revenge. His eyeballs rolled, wild and big with terror, as he watched for a second the cloud of dust veiling the wrestling of the fettered beast and his angry guardian. But the struggle was a brief one, as might have been expected from the odds in favor of the elephant. Freed from his keeper, he rushed in pursuit of Jube, pressing him so hotly that he had no time to mount his ladder to the cabin loft. At almost every step, too, the infuriated beast sounded his trump. A roaring blast he gave, as, in his mad haste, he struck against a corner of the cabin, jostling Hannah and Israel from their deep sleep. Terrified out of their wits, the old couple tumbled out upon the floor, and fell upon their knees, thinking it was the horn of Gabriel summoning them from death to judgment. What but destruction and judgment could mean those yells and shouts and bellowings, turning the calm, moonlit night into pandemonium? Clinging together, and quaking, they managed to reach the door, and to open a crack wide enough to peep through.
“Laws, Isrul!” cried Hannah, falling upon her knees again, all in a tremble. “Isrul, it am the judgment-day, as I is a sinner! An’ there goes de debbil now arter Jube! Didn’t I allus say he’d git dat boy, shore! He wouldn’t 155 say his pra’rs, ner so much ez min’ me, what fotch him up by han’. Come in, Isrul, an’ latch the do’, fer he’ll be arter you nex’. Oh, laws, if he’ll only be satisfied wi’ you an’ Juba, Isrul! You is wickeder ’an me, — wickeder sinners; you know yer is, ole man, — you know yer is.”
Her “ole man” attempted no self-defence. With a dexterity quite unusual with him, he had managed to latch and chain the door, but now he was leaning up against the lintel, speechless and knock-kneed with terror.
All at once there was a quick, heavy rap upon the door.
Hannah howled, and sunk lower on her knees. “It’s de debbil!” she whispered, in a sepulchral tone. “He’s done come fer yer, Isrul! Speak up, ole man, &8212; speak perlite, sorter, an’ maybe he’ll be easy on yer. Answer him, Isrul.”
“Who-o — who dar?” chattered Israel, with a dismal whine.
“Open the door!’ shouted an angry voice without. “I thought everybody was dead inside there. It’s nobody but me, — the keeper of Forepaugh’s elephant, that’s broke loose and will tramp down all your things here, to say nothing of your rascally boy, who ought to be well whipped. The beast will kill him if I can’t get a pitchfork or something. Haven’t you got a pitchfork somewhere? Hurry! — your boy’s in a lot of danger! Stir about, will you? Let’s have a pitchfork!”
“Ki yi, Hannah,” exulted Israel, beginning to straighten his bent knees, “yer debbil’s nothin’ but Foreper’s elerphant, arter all. Hi! jes’ yer run an’ fetch de pitchfork fer de gemman.”
“Yer go an’ git it yerself, Isrul: I is engaged,” was his wife’s prompt response.
“Hurry up, there!” shouted the voice outside. “Fetch me the fork, or the beast will kill your boy, for certain.”156
“I say<“ answered “ole Isrul,” with his mouth at the latch-hole, — “I say, massa, I’s clean crippled, an’ bedrid with the rheumatiz, an’ the ole ’ooman here, she’s skeered clar inter spasims. You’ll find the fork in the shed, so jes’ help yerself, as we’re onable ter, massa.”
With loud mutterings of anger, the keeper departed in search of the pitchfork. While he was gone, the elephant had regularly treed Jube. Too closely pressed to secure the shelter of his room in the cabin loft, Jube instinctively had made for the only other accessible place of refuge. Into the big oak-tree he had scrambled, by the aid of the drying-scaffold suspended from its boughs. Nor, thoroughly scared as he was, did he stop in the lower branches. Not knowing what might be the stretching capacity of that awful proboscis which had once enfolded him, he clambered, hand over hand, until at a considerable elevation he reached the second forking of the tree. Perched therein, he took time to draw his breath and look down at the enemy. Evidently this enemy was determined not to consider himself baffled. He was charging Jube’s stronghold with the intrepidity of Napoleon’s “Old Guard” and the concentrated strength of a battering-ram. But the oak, although its days of kingly glory were past, was stronger than Forepaugh’s elephant. Its bare limbs trembled under the shock, yet the mighty roots held firm. The blow, however, dislodged the drying-scaffold, so that, broken from its fatal clinging, it fell with a great crash to the ground. In default of other prey, the elephant at once charged upon this framework of poles, with its burden of half-dried tobacco-cuttings. He stamped and tore at and pulled to pieces the structure, tossing the cuttings until his eyes and mouth and proboscis were well filled with the dust of the dried tobacco. Frenzied by the fumes and the taste of the weed he hated with a deadly 157 hatred, as well as maddened by he agony of its smarting and burning, the animal’s rage seemed to know no bounds. Overjoyed at his reprieve from destruction, Jube began a faint, hysterical laugh as the infuriated beast plunged and charged, snorting and sneezing, about the tree. At last the elephant sounded his trump again frantically, setting off at the top of his speed for the river flowing at the base of the hill.
So, for a time, the coast was left clear; but Jube was too thoroughly scared to think of deserting his present place of security; and, in a little while, his majesty, relieved of the tobacco, again advanced to the attack. this time he was better armed, having filled his trunk at the river with a copious supply of water. Taking fair aim at poor Jube, he let him have the benefit of the whole stream, blowing it into his face with a directness and force for which the boy was utterly unprepared. Of course his balance was destroyed, and, tumbled from his perch, he doubtless would have fallen headlong to the ground, but that he had the good fortune to land in the fork below, where he was just beyond the reach of the dreaded proboscis. Encouraged by this success, the beast charged again, but the ground was now well strewn with the tobacco, and, as he rushed forward, he was again blinded and strangled by the pungent powder. Once more he made a frenzied rush for the river. This time, however, his hind legs became entangled among the grape-vines linking the poles together, so that after some vigorous but vain kicking and shaking, he was compelled to proceed on his way, dragging the scaffold, and much of the tobacco, with him.
At this juncture, the keeper, armed with Israel’s long fork, appeared on the scene of action. Taking advantage of the elephant’s blinded condition, he attacked him vehemently, 158 goading him right and left. Yet the beast, infuriated, would not cry for mercy. But finally, in one of his blinded plunges, he rushed upon Hannah’s empty root-pit, and, the slight covering giving way under the enormous weight, his majesty was pitched headlong in shame and terror to the bottom of the pit. Then his proud spirit was conquered by a vigorous assault, and he trumpeted for mercy.
It was not until he was thus subdued that Jube, notified by Aunt Hannah, deemed it safe to descend once more to the ground; even then he did not think it necessary to show himself to the twinkling eye of his late adversary. Nor, perhaps, did he feel safe at all until, with the assistance of returned showmen and some of the neighbors, the elephant had been helped from the pit, and had quietly continued its journey towards the neighboring town.
“Now, you Juba, jes’ you mark my words,” was Israel’s closing piece of advice when the tumult had finally subsided, and Jube, clothed and in his right mind, was sitting on the stool of repentance in the cabin, “If I ever does hear of you a-findin’ ob a silver-mine anywheres when Foreper’s surcuss am around, shore’s I is a livin’ man, I’ll w’ar out on yer back some ob dat extry shoe-leather what made tracks through the ole ’ooman’s water-millium-patch. You hear dat, Juba? Now, you jes’ clar outa dis, an’ gather up every spear ob dat tobaccy what you an’ Foreper’s elerphant hab done scattered from Dan to Beershebeh. an’ min’ what I say, dat dis ain’t Hanner what’s foolin’ long wid her, now.”
And since that time Jube has never pined for the circus on his holidays.