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Text - "Mass' George. A Boy's Adventures in the Old Savannah" George Manville Fenn


Recollections of sunny days in the cotton-fields, with the men and women cramming the white bursting pods into baskets as they laughed and chattered together, and every now and then burst into some song or chorus, their natural light-heartedness making them, if well treated, forget the bonds from which they suffered. Of those many days in the hot glow, where the men were busy with great chopping-knives cutting down the tall, towering canes ready to be piled high in the mule-carts and borne off to the crushing-mills. For as time went on the visit of the slave schooner was repeated again and again, and the settlers brought more land under cultivation, and the place grew more busy week by week. But at home all remained the same, only that by the help of Hannibal our garden increased in beauty and productiveness to a wonderful extent, and Pomp and I revelled in the abundance of the fruit. I used to look at the boy and his father, and wonder how it was possible for them to have settled down so contentedly. But they had, and it did not seem to me that they had a single thought of the past, so light and easy-going they were. But I misjudged them, as time proved. I was merry and lively enough in those days, never happier than when playing Morgan some trick to arouse his wrath; but I was the perfection of quietness compared to Pomp, who was more like a monkey in his antics than a boy; and his father, the morose-looking, gloomy slave that he had been, seemed to have grown as full of life and fun as his son. I don't think that there was anything I could have asked that pair that they would not have done. If I expressed a wish to have a pair of young squirrels for pets, they were sure to be obtained, just as the raccoon was, and the woodchuck. If I wished to fish, the baits were ready and the boat cleaned out; while if I told Hannibal I wanted him to come and row for me, his black face shone with pleasure, and he would toil on in the hot sun, hour after hour, with the oars, evidently sharing my delight whenever I caught a fish. I remember one day when my father had gone across to the settlement on some business, taking Morgan with him-I think it was to see and select from some fruit-trees and seeds which had been brought over from the old country-that I sat in our room, busy over the study which I had promised to have done by the time of my father's return. As I sat there I glanced out of the window from time to time to see Hannibal toiling away with his hoe, in a great perspiration which glistened in the sun, but evidently supremely happy, as he chattered away to Pomp, who was also supposed to be working hard, but only at preserving his position as he squatted on the top of a post with his arms about his knees, and his hoe laid across his head, perfectly balanced. I laughed to myself, and then went on with my work, a piece of Latin translation, for my father used to say, "There is nothing to prevent you being a gentleman, my boy, even if we do live out in the wilds." All at once I heard Sarah's quick step, as she went out of the place, and directly after she was busy over something. Carelessly enough I looked up, and saw that she was beating and brushing my father's uniform, previous to hanging it over a rail, so as to guard it from decay by exposure to the sun. I sat looking at the bright scarlet and gold lace, and saw that she had brought out the cap too. Then I went on with my work again, finished it, and with a sigh of satisfaction put all away, thinking that I would go down to the pool and have a bathe. The idea seemed good, and I stepped out, thinking what a patient, industrious, careful woman Sarah was, and seeing that she must have fetched is the uniform again, and put it away. I went through the fence into the garden, meaning to make Pomp go with me, but he was no longer perched on the stump, one of the many left when the garden was made; and on looking round for Hannibal to ask where the boy had gone, I found he too had left his work. "Hasn't finished," I said to myself, for the man's hoe was leaning against the tree. Carelessly enough, I strolled on down to the bottom of the garden, looking at the alligator's great grinning jaws as I went by, and out at the end, to see if the pair were in the little hut that had been built for their use, and a laugh which I heard as I drew nearer told me that I was right as far as Hannibal was concerned, while a few excited words which I could not make out proved that Pomp was there as well. "What are they doing?" I thought to myself; and with the idea of giving them a surprise, I did not go up to the door, but turned off, walked round to the back, and parting the trees by whose leaves the place was shadowed, I reached the little square window at the rear of the house, and stood looking in, hardly knowing which to do-be furiously angry, or burst out laughing. For the moment I did neither, but stood gazing in unseen. There to my left was Pomp, both his eyes twinkling with delight, squatting on the floor, and holding his knees, his favourite attitude, while his thick lips were drawn back from his milky-white teeth, from between which came a low, half-hissing, half-humming noise evidently indicative of his satisfaction, and in its way resembling the purring of a cat. To my right, slowly walking up and down, with a grave display of dignity that was most ludicrous, was Hannibal, his head erect, eyes very wide open, and arms held firmly to his sides, a position that he must have imitated from seeing some of the drilling preparations going on at the settlement, and kept up ever since the scare produced by the coming of the Indians and the Spaniards. The reason for this attitudinising and parading was plain the moment I appeared at the window and grasped the situation; for it was clear enough-Pomp had seen the gay uniform airing upon the rail, had annexed it, and carried it off to the hut, probably with his father as an abettor, in what could only have been meant for a loan; and he had followed the boy in, and possibly with his assistance put on the clothes, which fitted him fairly well; but his appearance was not perfect. For there over the white-faced scarlet coat was the shiny black face, surmounted by the military cap worn wrong way foremost, while the breeches were unbuttoned at the knee, and the leggings were not there, only Hannibal's black legs, and below them his dusty toes, which spread out far from each other, and worked about in a way most absurd. But the most absurd thing of all was the aspect of satisfied dignity in the man's countenance. It was as if he were supremely happy and contented with himself, the clothes having evidently raised him enormously in his own estimation. "Now what shall I do?" I thought; "go in and scold them both, or wait and see if they put the things back?" I was still hesitating and thinking how angry my father would be, when I found suddenly that there would be no need for me to speak and upset the equanimity of the happy pair, for all at once I heard a loud exclamation from the direction of the house, where Sarah had just come out to fetch in the uniform; and directly after, she jumped at the right conclusion, and made the place echo with the cry of "Pompey!" The effect was wondrous. The boy seemed for the moment turned to stone; his jaw fell, and he stared at his father, whose face seemed to grow ashy, and from whose aspect all the dignity had vanished in an instant. Then, quick as some wild animal, Pomp sprang at his father, the shock with which he struck him in the chest causing the hat to fall off back on to the floor as he tore at the buttons to get the coat off.

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