Ruth McEnery Stuart.

Solomon Crow's Christmas pockets : and other tales online

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Transcriber's note


Inconsistencies in language and dialect found in the original book have
been retained. Minor punctuation errors have been changed without
notice. Printer errors have been changed and are listed at the end.




[Illustration: SOLOMON CROW'S CHRISTMAS POCKETS

RUTH McENERY STUART]




[Illustration: [_See page 34_

"'DIS HEAH'S A FUS-CLASS THING TER WORK OFF BAD TEMPERS WID'"]




SOLOMON CROW'S

CHRISTMAS POCKETS

AND OTHER TALES

BY

RUTH McENERY STUART

AUTHOR OF

"A GOLDEN WEDDING" "THE STORY OF BABETTE"
"CARLOTTA'S INTENDED" ETC.

ILLUSTRATED



NEW YORK
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
1897




BY THE SAME AUTHOR.

CARLOTTA'S INTENDED, and Other Tales. Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth,
$1 50.

THE GOLDEN WEDDING, and Other Tales. Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth,
$1 50.

THE STORY OF BABETTE. Illustrated. Post 8vo, Cloth, $1 50.

PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK.

Copyright, 1896, by HARPER & BROTHERS.

_All rights reserved._




TO

MY DEAR NIECE

LITTLE MISS LEA CALLAWAY




CONTENTS


PAGE

SOLOMON CROW'S CHRISTMAS POCKETS 3

THE TWO TIMS 23

THE FREYS' CHRISTMAS PARTY 39

LITTLE MOTHER QUACKALINA 67

OLD EASTER 91

SAINT IDYL'S LIGHT 111

"BLINK" 131

DUKE'S CHRISTMAS 165

UNCLE EPHE'S ADVICE TO BRER RABBIT 193

MAY BE SO 199




ILLUSTRATIONS


"'DIS HEAH'S A FUS-CLASS THING TER WORK OFF BAD
TEMPERS WID'" _Frontispiece_

"'SHE OUGHT TO EAT CANARY-SEED AND FISH-BONE'" _Facing p._ 46

THE ITALIAN ORGAN-GRINDER " 62

"THE PROFESSOR NOT ONLY SANG, BUT DANCED" " 64

"THE FARMER'S BOY WAS A HUNTER" " 68

"SIR SOOTY HIMSELF ACTUALLY WADDLED INTO THE FARM-YARD" " 74

"'I'M GOIN' TO SWAP 'EM'" " 76

"MADE HER PUT OUT HER TONGUE" " 78

"HER OWN TEN BEAUTIFUL DUCKS WERE CLOSE ABOUT HER" " 86

OLD EASTER " 92

"'YAS, MISSY, I WAS TWENTY-FO' HOND'ED YEARS OLE,
LAS' EASTER SUNDAY'" " 94

"'DE CATS? WHY, HONEY, DEY WELCOME TO COME AN' GO'" " 106

"'KEEP STEP, RABBIT, MAN!'" " 192

"'WELL, ONE MO' RABBIT FUR DE POT'" " 194




SOLOMON CROW'S CHRISTMAS POCKETS




SOLOMON CROW'S CHRISTMAS POCKETS


His mother named him Solomon because, when he was a baby, he looked so
wise; and then she called him Crow because he was so black. True, she
got angry when the boys caught it up, but then it was too late. They
knew more about crows than they did about Solomon, and the name suited.

His twin-brother, who died when he was a day old, his mother had called
Grundy - just because, as she said, "Solomon an' Grundy b'longs together
in de books."

When the wee black boy began to talk, he knew himself equally as Solomon
or Crow, and so, when asked his name, he would answer: "Sol'mon Crow,"
and Solomon Crow he thenceforth became.

Crow was ten years old now, and he was so very black and polished and
thin, and had so peaked and bright a face, that no one who had any
sense of humor could hear him called Crow without smiling.

Crow's mother, Tempest, had been a worker in her better days, but she
had grown fatter and fatter until now she was so lazy and broad that her
chief pleasure seemed to be sitting in her front door and gossiping with
her neighbors over the fence, or in abusing or praising little Solomon,
according to her mood.

Tempest had never been very honest. When, in the old days, she had hired
out as cook and carried "her dinner" home at night, the basket on her
arm had usually held enough for herself and Crow and a pig and the
chickens - with some to give away. She had not meant Crow to understand,
but the little fellow was wide awake, and his mother was his pattern.

But this is the boy's story. It seemed best to tell a little about his
mother, so that, if he should some time do wrong things, we might all,
writer and readers, be patient with him. He had been poorly taught. If
we could not trace our honesty back to our mothers, how many of us would
love the truth?

Crow's mother loved him very much - she thought. She would knock down any
one who even blamed him for anything. Indeed, when things went well, she
would sometimes go sound asleep in the door with her fat arm around
him - very much as the mother-cat beside her lay half dozing while she
licked her baby kitten.

But if Crow was awkward or forgot anything - or didn't bring home money
enough - her abuse was worse than any mother-cat's claws.

One of her worst taunts on such occasions was about like this: "Well,
you is a low-down nigger, I must say. Nobody, to look at you, would
b'lieve you was twin to a angel!"

Or, "How you reckon yo' angel-twin feels ef he's a-lookin' at you now?"

Crow had great reverence for his little lost mate. Indeed, he feared the
displeasure of this other self, who, he believed, watched him from the
skies, quite as much as the anger of God. Sad to say, the good Lord,
whom most children love as a kind, heavenly Father, was to poor little
Solomon Crow only a terrible, terrible punisher of wrong, and the little
boy trembled at His very name. He seemed to hear God's anger in the
thunder or the wind; but in the blue sky, the faithful stars, the
opening flowers and singing birds - in all loving-kindness and
friendship - he never saw a heavenly Father's love.

He knew that some things were right and others wrong. He knew that it
was right to go out and earn dimes to buy the things needed in the
cabin, but he equally knew it was wrong to get this money dishonestly.
Crow was a very shrewd little boy, and he made money honestly in a
number of ways that only a wide-awake boy would think about.

When fig season came, in hot summer-time, he happened to notice that
beautiful ripe figs were drying up on the tip-tops of some great trees
in a neighboring yard, where a stout old gentleman and his old wife
lived alone, and he began to reflect.

"If I could des git a-holt o' some o' dem fine sugar figs dat's
a-swivelin' up every day on top o' dem trees, I'd meck a heap o' money
peddlin' 'em on de street." And even while he thought this thought he
licked his lips. There were, no doubt, other attractions about the figs
for a very small boy with a very sweet tooth.

On the next morning after this, Crow rang the front gate-bell of the
yard where the figs were growing.

"Want a boy to pick figs on sheers?" That was all he said to the fat old
gentleman who had stepped around the house in answer to his ring.

Crow's offer was timely.

Old Mr. Cary was red in the face and panting even yet from reaching up
into the mouldy, damp lower limbs of his fig-trees, trying to gather a
dishful for breakfast.

"Come in," he said, mopping his forehead as he spoke.

"Pick on shares, will you?"

"Yassir."

"Even?"

"Yassir."

"Promise never to pick any but the very ripe figs?"

"Yassir."

"Honest boy?"

"Yassir."

"Turn in, then; but wait a minute."

He stepped aside into the house, returning presently with two baskets.

"Here," he said, presenting them both. "These are pretty nearly of a
size. Go ahead, now, and let's see what you can do."

Needless to say, Crow proved a great success as fig-picker. The very
sugary figs that old Mr. Cary had panted for and reached for in vain lay
bursting with sweetness on top of both baskets.

The old gentleman and his wife were delighted, and the boy was quickly
engaged to come every morning.

And this was how Crow went into the fig business.

Crow was a likable boy - "so bright and handy and nimble" - and the old
people soon became fond of him.

They noticed that he always handed in the larger of the two baskets,
keeping the smaller for himself. This seemed not only honest, but
generous.

And generosity is a winning virtue in the very needy - as winning as it
is common. The very poor are often great of heart.

But this is not a safe fact upon which to found axioms.

All God's poor are not educated up to the point of even small, fine
honesties, and the so-called "generous" are not always "just" or honest.

And -

Poor little Solomon Crow! It is a pity to have to write it, but his weak
point was exactly that he was not quite honest. He wanted to be, just
because his angel-twin might be watching him, and he was afraid of
thunder. But Crow was so anxious to be "smart" that he had long ago
begun doing "tricky" things. Even the men working the roads had
discovered this. In eating Crow's "fresh-boiled crawfish" or "shrimps,"
they would often come across one of the left-overs of yesterday's
supply, mixed in with the others; and a yesterday's shrimp is full of
stomach-ache and indigestion. So that business suffered.

In the fig business the ripe ones sold well; but when one of Crow's
customers offered to buy all he would bring of green ones for
preserving, Crow began filling his basket with them and distributing a
top layer of ripe ones carefully over them. His lawful share of the very
ripe he also carried away - in his little bread-basket.

This was all very dishonest, and Crow knew it. Still he did it many
times.

And then - and this shows how one sin leads to another - and then, one
day - oh, Solomon Crow, I'm ashamed to tell it on you! - one day he
noticed that there were fresh eggs in the hen-house nests, quite near
the fig-trees. Now, if there was anything Crow liked, it was a fried
egg - two fried eggs. He always said he wanted two on his plate at once,
looking at him like a pair of round eyes, "an' when dey reco'nizes me,"
he would say, "den I eats 'em up."

Why not slip a few of these tempting eggs into the bottom of the basket
and cover them up with ripe figs?

And so - ,

One day, he did it.

He had stopped at the dining-room door that day and was handing in the
larger basket, as usual, when old Mr. Cary, who stood there, said,
smiling:

"No, give us the smaller basket to-day, my boy. It's our turn to be
generous."

He extended his hand as he spoke.

Crow tried to answer, but he could not. His mouth felt as dry and stiff
and hard as a chip, and he suddenly began to open it wide and shut it
slowly, like a chicken with the gapes.

Mr. Cary kept his hand out waiting, but still Crow stood as if
paralyzed, gaping and swallowing.

Finally, he began to blink. And then he stammered:

"I ain't p-p-p-ertic'lar b-b-bout de big basket. D-d-d-de best figs is
in y'all's pickin' - in dis, de big basket."

Crow's appearance was conviction itself. Without more ado, Mr. Cary
grasped his arm firmly and fairly lifted him into the room.

"Now, set those baskets down." He spoke sharply.

The boy obeyed.

"Here! empty the larger one on this tray. That's it. All fine, ripe
figs. You've picked well for us. Now turn the other one out."

At this poor Crow had a sudden relapse of the dry gapes. His arm fell
limp and he looked as if he might tumble over.

"Turn 'em out!" The old gentleman shrieked in so thunderous a tone that
Crow jumped off his feet, and, seizing the other basket with his little
shaking paws, he emptied it upon the heap of figs.

Old Mrs. Cary had come in just in time to see the eggs roll out of the
basket, and for a moment she and her husband looked at each other. And
then they turned to the boy.

When she spoke her voice was so gentle that Crow, not understanding,
looked quickly into her face:

"Let me take him into the library, William. Come, my boy."

Her tone was so soft, so sorrowful and sympathetic, that Crow felt as he
followed her as if, in the hour of his deepest disgrace, he had found a
friend; and when presently he stood in a great square room before a high
arm-chair, in which a white-haired old lady sat looking at him over her
gold-rimmed spectacles and talking to him as he had never been spoken to
in all his life before, he felt as if he were in a great court before a
judge who didn't understand half how very bad little boys were.

She asked him a good many questions - some very searching ones, too - all
of which Crow answered as best he could, with his very short breath.

His first feeling had been of pure fright. But when he found he was not
to be abused, not beaten or sent to jail, he began to wonder.

Little Solomon Crow, ten years old, in a Christian land, was hearing for
the first time in his life that God loved him - loved him even now in his
sin and disgrace, and wanted him to be good.

He listened with wandering eyes at first, half expecting the old
gentleman, Mr. Cary, to appear suddenly at the door with a whip or a
policeman with a club. But after a while he kept his eyes steadily upon
the lady's face.

"Has no one ever told you, Solomon" - she had always called him Solomon,
declaring that Crow was not a fit name for a boy who looked as he
did - it was altogether "too personal" - "has no one ever told you,
Solomon," she said, "that God loves all His little children, and that
you are one of these children?"

"No, ma'am," he answered, with difficulty. And then, as if catching at
something that might give him a little standing, he added, quickly - so
quickly that he stammered again:

"B-b-b-but I knowed I was twin to a angel. I know dat. An' I knows ef my
angel twin seen me steal dem aigs he'll be mightly ap' to tell Gord to
strike me down daid."

Of course he had to explain then about the "angel twin," and the old
lady talked to him for a long time. And then together they knelt down.
When at last they came out of the library she held the boy's hand and
led him to her husband.

"Are you willing to try him again, William?" she asked. "He has promised
to do better."

Old Mr. Cary cleared his throat and laid down his paper.

"Don't deserve it," he began; "dirty little thief." And then he turned
to the boy: "What have you got on, sir?"

His voice was really quite terrible.

"N-n-n-nothin'; only but des my b-b-b-briches an' jacket, an' - an' - an'
skin," Crow replied, between gasps.

"How many pockets?"

"Two," said Crow.

"Turn 'em out!"

Crow drew out his little rust-stained pockets, dropping a few old nails
and bits of twine upon the floor as he did so.

"Um - h'm! Well, now, I'll tell you. _You're a dirty little thief_, as I
said before. And I'm going to treat you as one. If you wear those
pockets hanging out, or rip 'em out, and come in here before you leave
every day dressed just as you are - pants and jacket and skin - and empty
out your basket for us before you go, until I'm satisfied you'll do
better, you can come."

The old lady looked at her husband as if she thought him pretty hard on
a very small boy. But she said nothing.

Crow glanced appealingly at her before answering. And then he said,
seizing his pocket:

"Is you got air pair o' scissors, lady?"

Mrs. Cary wished her husband would relent even while she brought the
scissors, but he only cried:

"Out with 'em!"

"Suppose you cut them out yourself, Solomon," she interposed, kindly,
handing him the scissors. "You'll have all this work to do yourself. We
can't make you good."

When, after several awkward efforts, Crow finally put the coarse little
pockets in her hands, there were tears in her eyes, and she tried to
hide them as she leaned over and gathered up his treasures - three nails,
a string, a broken top, and a half-eaten chunk of cold corn-bread. As
she handed them to him she said: "And I'll lay the pockets away for you,
Solomon, and when we see that you are an honest boy I'll sew them back
for you myself."

As she spoke she rose, divided the figs evenly between the two baskets,
and handed one to Crow.

If there ever was a serious little black boy on God's beautiful earth it
was little Solomon Crow as he balanced his basket of figs on his head
that day and went slowly down the garden walk and out the great front
gate.

The next few weeks were not without trial to the boy. Old Mr. Cary
continued very stern, even following him daily to the _banquette_, as if
he dare not trust him to go out alone. And when he closed the iron gate
after him he would say in a tone that was awfully solemn:

"Good-mornin', sir!"

That was all.

Little Crow dreaded that walk to the gate more than all the rest of the
ordeal. And yet, in a way, it gave him courage. He was at least worth
while, and with time and patience he would win back the lost faith of
the friends who were kind to him even while they could not trust him.
They were, indeed, kind and generous in many ways, both to him and his
unworthy mother.

Fig-time was soon nearly over, and, of course, Crow expected a
dismissal; but it was Mr. Cary himself who set these fears at rest by
proposing to him to come daily to blacken his boots and to keep the
garden-walk in order for regular wages.

"But," he warned him, in closing, "don't you show your face here with a
pocket on you. If your heavy pants have any in 'em, rip 'em out." And
then he added, severely: "You've been a very bad boy."

"Yassir," answered Crow, "I know I is. I been a heap wusser boy'n you
knowed I was, too."

"What's that you say, sir?"

Crow repeated it. And then he added, for full confession:

"I picked green figs heap o' days, and kivered 'em up wid ripe ones, an'
sol' 'em to a white 'oman fur perserves." There was something desperate
in the way he blurted it all out.

"The dickens you did! And what are you telling me for?"

He eyed the boy keenly as he put the question.

At this Crow fairly wailed aloud: "'Caze I ain't gwine do it no mo'."
And throwing his arms against the door-frame he buried his face in them,
and he sobbed as if his little heart would break.

For a moment old Mr. Cary seemed to have lost his voice, and then he
said, in a voice quite new to Crow:

"I don't believe you will, sir - I don't believe you will." And in a
minute he said, still speaking gently: "Come here, boy."

Still weeping aloud, Crow obeyed.

"Tut, tut! No crying!" he began. "Be a man - be a man. And if you stick
to it, before Christmas comes, we'll see about those pockets, and you
can walk into the new year with your head up. But look sharp! Good-bye,
now!"

For the first time since the boy's fall Mr. Cary did not follow him to
the gate. Maybe this was the beginning of trust. Slight a thing as it
was, the boy took comfort in it.

At last it was Christmas eve. Crow was on the back "gallery" putting a
final polish on a pair of boots. He was nearly done, and his heart was
beginning to sink, when the old lady came and stood near him. There was
a very hopeful twinkle in her eye as she said, presently: "I wonder what
our little shoeblack, who has been trying so hard to be good, would like
to have for his Christmas gift?"

But Crow only blinked while he polished the faster.

"Tell me, Solomon," she insisted. "If you had one wish to-day, what
would it be?"

The boy wriggled nervously. And then he said:

"You knows, lady. Needle - an' thrade - an' - an' - you knows, lady.
Pockets."

"Well, pockets it shall be. Come into my room when you get through."

Old Mrs. Cary sat beside the fire reading as he went in. Seeing him, she
nodded, smiling, towards the bed, upon which Crow saw a brand-new suit
of clothes - coat, vest, and breeches - all spread out in a row.

"There, my boy," she said; "there are your pockets."

Crow had never in all his life owned a full new suit of clothes. All his
"new" things had been second-hand, and for a moment he could not quite
believe his eyes; but he went quickly to the bed and began passing his
hands over the clothes. Then he ventured to take up the vest - and to
turn it over. And now he began to find pockets.

"Three pockets in de ves' - two in de pants - an' - an' fo', no five, no
six - six pockets in de coat!"

He giggled nervously as he thrust his little black fingers into one and
then another. And then, suddenly overcome with a sense of the situation,
he turned to Mrs. Cary, and, in a voice that trembled a little, said:

"Is you sho' you ain't 'feerd to trus' me wid all deze pockets, lady?"

It doesn't take a small boy long to slip into a new suit of clothes. And
when a ragged urchin disappeared behind the head of the great old
"four-poster" to-day, it seemed scarcely a minute before a trig,
"tailor-made boy" strutted out from the opposite side, hands deep in
pockets - breathing hard.

As Solomon Crow strode up and down the room, radiant with joy, he seemed
for the moment quite unconscious of any one's presence. But presently he
stopped, looked involuntarily upward a minute, as if he felt himself
observed from above. Then, turning to the old people, who stood together
before the mantel, delightedly watching him, he said:

"Bet you my angel twin ain't ashamed, ef he's a-lookin' down on me
to-day."




THE TWO TIMS




THE TWO TIMS


As the moon sent a white beam through the little square window of old
Uncle Tim's cabin, it formed a long panel of light upon its
smoke-stained wall, bringing into clear view an old banjo hanging upon a
rusty nail. Nothing else in the small room was clearly visible. Although
it was Christmas eve, there was no fire upon the broad hearth, and from
the open door came the odor of honeysuckles and of violets. Winter is
often in Louisiana only a name given by courtesy to the months coming
between autumn and spring, out of respect to the calendar; and so it was
this year.

Sitting in the open doorway, his outline lost in the deep shadows of the
vine, was old Uncle Tim, while, upon the floor at his side lay little
Tim, his grandson. The boy lay so still that in the dim half-light he
seemed a part of the floor furnishings, which were, in fact, an old cot,
two crippled stools, a saddle, and odds and ends of broken harness, and
bits of rope.

Neither the old man nor the boy had spoken for a long time, and while
they gazed intently at the old banjo hanging in the panel of light, the
thoughts of both were tinged with sadness. The grandfather was nearly
seventy years old, and little Tim was but ten; but they were great
chums. The little boy's father had died while he was too young to
remember, leaving little Tim to a step-mother, who brought him to his
grandfather's home, where he had been ever since, and the attachment
quickly formed between the two had grown and strengthened with the
years.

Old Uncle Tim was very poor, and his little cabin was small and shabby;
and yet neither hunger nor cold had ever come in an unfriendly way to
visit it. The tall plantation smoke-house threw a friendly shadow over
the tiny hut every evening just before the sun went down - a shadow that
seemed a promise at close of each day that the poor home should not be
forgotten. Nor was it. Some days the old man was able to limp into the
field and cut a load of cabbages for the hands, or to prepare seed
potatoes for planting, so that, as he expressed it, "each piece 'll have
one eye ter grow wid an' another ter look on an' see dat everything goes
right."

And then Uncle Tim was brimful of a good many valuable things with which
he was very generous - _advice_, for instance.

He could advise with wisdom upon any number of subjects, such as just at
what time of the moon to make soap so that it would "set" well, how to
find a missing shoat, or the right spot to dig for water.

These were all valuable services; yet cabbages were not always ready to
be cut, potato-planting was not always in season. Often for weeks not a
hog would stray off. Only once in a decade a new well was wanted; and as


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