Nell Speed.

A House Party with the Tucker Twins

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The three emissaries made all haste with the joyful news and in an incredibly short time the cabin was full to overflowing. We went out in Aunt Milly's little yard and Harvie mounted an old beehive so he could make a speech. Aunt Milly drove her black guests out, and they, feeling they had been cheated of their natural rights since she wasn't having a fit, stood sullenly at attention while the young master told them the truth about the ghost and gave them the ultimatum about returning to Maxton.

They were not so easy to convince as Aunt Milly. Mary's thumb might have been snagged in some other way. Had they not seen the ghost with their own eyes, the ghost they had been hearing of ever since they were children? When news came of Aunt Milly's being in a fit they were sure that the prophetic calamity was upon them presaged by the appearance of the ghost. Mr. Harvie could talk all he wanted to, but they were from Missouri. They had seen and were convinced by what they saw. They were respectful but firm in their attitude of unbelief. Jasper spoke:

"I ain't a-gibin' you de lie, Mr. Harbie, but I've done seed de ghoses an' you ain't. I's plum skeered ter go up ter de gret house. My gran'mammy done tell me yars an' yars gone by dat whin dat ghoses comes fer me to clar out. She say she after some nigger, my gran'mammy did. De tale runs dat it war a nigger what tole de bridegroom dat her beau lover was a-fixin' ter tote her off, an' whin dat ere ghoses comes she ain't come fer no good."

"What would make you believe that it was not a ghost, Uncle Jasper?" asked Mary, who seemed to feel it was up to her to prove the falsity of the ghost story.

"Nothin' but seein' it warn't. I b'lieve it war a ghoses 'cause I seen it war a ghoses, an' whin I see it ain't a ghoses I gonter b'lieve it warn't, an' not befo'."

Mary drew Tweedles and me off in whispered conference and then mounted the beehive by the side of Harvie and made her maiden stump speech. The darkies clapped with delight. They had never seen a female prepare to make a speech except under the stress and excitement of getting religion.

"Ladies and gentlemen – " she began.

"Do she mean us?" came in a hoarse whisper from Willie, the yard boy, who was trying to get religion but who experienced great difficulties because of certain regulations in the way of not eating and not laughing.

"Yes, I mean you," cried the orator. "Since I am the person who was climbing out of the window last night when you were coming from church, and since you will not believe it was not a ghost unless you see me do it, I will take the liberty to invite all of you up to the big house to see the show. It will be a free show, a circus in fact, and there may be a few other attractions, too. Will you come?"

"Sho' we'll come!" came in a chorus.

"How 'bout big meetin'?" asked one of the housemaids doubtfully.

"Pshaw! This kin' er circus ain't no harm," declared one of the field hands.

"Didn't de young miss say it war a free circus?"

"Sho' it's free an' ain't we free, an' who gonter gainsay us?" and the other housemaid tossed her bushy head saucily.

"Yes, an' free and free make six an' six days shall we labor an' do all the wuck, also the play, fur the sebenth is the sabbath of the Lawd my Gawd!" cried a voice from behind the cabin, and then there came into view the strangest figure I have ever beheld. It was a tall gaunt old colored man with a straggly grey beard. He was dressed in wide corduroy trousers and top boots; instead of a coat he wore a green cloth basque with a coarse lace fichu and tied around his waist was a long gingham apron. His hat was a wide brimmed black straw trimmed in purple ribbons with a red, red rose hanging coyly down over one ear. He was smoking a corn-cob pipe. In his hand he carried a covered basket.

"Lady John!" exclaimed Harvie. "I am very glad to see you."

"Well, now ain't you growed!" said the crazy old man in a voice as soft and feminine as one could hear in the whole south; but at that moment one of the little pickaninnies tried to peep in his basket, and with a masculine roar, he laid about him vigorously with his stick, and with a deep bass voice gave the little fellow a tongue lashing that drove him back into Aunt Milly's cabin.

It seems that the old man had lost his reason many years before and was now obsessed with the desire to be considered a woman. He lived alone in a cabin some miles from Price's Landing, growing a little tobacco, enough corn for his own meal, a little garden truck and a few fruit trees. He had some chickens and when he could save enough eggs he would bring them over for Miss Maria Price to buy. The news of the ghost seen at Maxton had traveled to his cabin in that wonderful way that news in the country does travel, and he had come over to add his quota of superstition to the general store.

Harvie introduced the old man to the members of the house-party. He caught hold of his apron as though it had been a silken gown and made a curtsey to each one.

"Lady John, we are just asking all of these friends of ours to come up to the great house to a kind of circus. They won't believe that it was not a ghost they saw last night clinging to the ivy on the east wall and we are going to prove it to them. We shall be very glad to see you, too, if you want to come."

"Thank you kindly, young marster, thank you kindly! I was on my way up there whin the crowd concoursing here distracted my intention. I'll be pleased to come, pleased indeed." He spoke in a peculiarly mincing way in a high voice.

"I thought you was too pious like to go to the circus, Lady John," giggled the frivolous housemaid.

"Well, you thought like young niggers think – buckeyes is biscuit!" he declared in his natural bass. "The Bible 'stinctly states that there was circuses in them days, an' I ain't never heard er no calamities a-befallin' them what was minded to intend 'em."

"Is that so?" asked Dee. "I can't remember where it said so, but then I do not know the Bible as I should."

"Child! Look in the hunnerd chapter er Zekelums an' there you'll fin' at the forty-'leventh verse that Gawd said to Noah: 'Go ye to the circus tents of the Fillystimes an' get all the wile animiles that there ye fin' an' have a p'rade 'til ye gits to the ark of the government.' Now if'n the Lord Gawd warn't a-tellin' Noah to git them animiles together for a show, what was it for? What was it for, I say?"

There was no answer to this pointed remark, so he continued:

"An' Brother Dan-i-el! Brother Dan-i-el, I say! What was he a-doin' in a cage of man-eatin' lions for if he warn't in a circus? Answer me that! And Brother 'Lige! Who ever hearn tell of a gold chariot out of a circus p'rade? A chariot of fire! I tell you they was monstous shows in them days. If them Bible charack'-ters warn't too good to ack in a circus, I reckon this po' ole nigger ain't a-goin' to set up himanher self as bein' above lookin' on."

"Maybe you will act in our circus then," suggested one of the boys.

"No, sir! No, sir! I an' Brother 'Lish will be contentment jes' to look on. Brother 'Lish, he didn't make no move to jine the p'rade whin Brother 'Lige wint by in his gran' chariot. He was glad to stan' aside and let Brother 'Lige git all the glory. He caught the velvet cloak with all the gran' 'broidry and was glad to get it. I bet nobody shouted louder than him whin Brother 'Lige stood up 'thout no cloak in his pink tights. I b'lieve that Brother 'Lish was glad to get that cloak an' it come in mighty handy, 'cause they do say that whin he was a-sittin' in Brother 'Lige's cabin that very night, the mantel fell on him. No, sir, it never hurt him at all, but I reckon they couldn't have much fire 'til they got it put back. But he had the cloak to wrop up in."

This delightfully original interpretation of the scriptures fascinated all of us. I could see Mary was listening very attentively to Lady John. He would be another stunt for the clever girl. Mary was a great impersonator and could mimic anything or anybody.

"Are you going to have the circus after dinner or before?" asked one of the party.

"Before!" cried Mary. "I'd be afraid to trust the ivy with my weight plus the gumbo I intend to eat."


When we got back to Maxton, whom should we find sitting on the bench by Miss Maria but Mr. Jeffry Tucker? He looked as though he had known her all her life and no one would have dreamed that this was his second meeting with her. His first had been the summer before when that enterprising gentleman had made a trip to Price's Landing to persuade Mr. Pore to wake up to the fact that Annie was invited to go to Willoughby on a beach party and that all he had to do was let her go.

"Zebedee, darling! Where did you come from?" cried Dee, breaking away from the crowd as she spied her youthful father and racing like a wild Indian to get the first hug.

"Richmond via Henry Ford!" he managed to get out as Dum scrouged in for her share of hugging.

"And, Page! Little friend!" he said, freeing one of his hands and clasping mine.

How I did love to be called his little friend! He never called me that in a way that made me feel young and silly, either, but somehow he gave me the impression that he was depending on me, I don't know just for what but for something. I was as glad to see him as his own Tweedles were, I am sure.

"Did you come down alone?" I asked.

"No, indeed, I had the pleasure of the learned discourse of Mr. Arthur Ponsonby Pore on my journey hither."

"Oh, good! He is back, then, and maybe we can have Annie," said Dee.

"She is upstairs now," announced that wonderful man.

"Oh, Zebedee! I just knew you could work it!" and Dee gave him another bear hug for luck.

Dee had sent a telegram to her father asking him to get hold of Mr. Pore and persuade him to hurry back and release Annie.

Miss Maria was anxious to hear of our success with the servants and was delighted to know of their contemplated return. When we told her that the only way to get them back was to have a circus, she was greatly amused. Zebedee, of course, entered into the scheme with his usual enthusiasm.

"When is it to be?"

"Now!" I answered. "The darkies are on their way, ten thousand strong."

"But, my dear, there are only five house servants," said Miss Maria.

"Yes, but all the field hands had laid off, too, because of the ghost. I fancy all of the colored people from the quarters are coming up to be convinced against their will that the ghost was not a ghost."

"But suppose Mary can't climb down again. She might kill herself this time," wailed the poor hostess.

"Not at all!" I reassured her. "It will be much easier to do it in daylight than in darkness."

"Of course it will!" declared the intrepid movie star. "And, besides, last night was only the dress rehearsal, and all actors say that the dress rehearsal is much more nervous work than the real performance. Now I must go dress my part," and so we raced up to our room where we found dear Annie unpacking her suitcase with such a happy smile on her face that she looked like an angel.

How we did chatter! We had to tell her all about our plan for the society circus. Looking out of the window where Mary was to make her fearsome descent, Annie shuddered.

"I don't see how you can do it."

"If you only could, what a bride you would make!" exclaimed Mary.

Mary had determined to dress as a bride and now began the work of finding suitable duds. Miss Maria came in to assist just when we were beginning to despair. None of us was blessed with enough clothes to be willing to spare any of them for such a hazardous undertaking, none save Jessie Wilcox and she had them to spare, but we would not have asked her for any to save her. That superior young lady had been quite scornful of us while we were working and then afterwards on the walk to the quarters. Now she had gone off for a row on the river with Wink, who seemed to think that when I was so enthusiastic over the arrival of the father of my best friends he had a personal grievance. He liked Zebedee a great deal himself but seemed to think I did not have the same right. I am sure Jessie was a brave girl to go rowing with a man who had such a one-sided way of looking at things. Anyone with such a biased judgment could not be trusted to trim a boat, I felt.

When Miss Maria found out our trouble, she had Harvie bring from the attic a little old haircloth trunk, and throwing it open, told us to help ourselves. It was filled with all kinds of old-fashioned gowns, some of them of rich brocade and some of flowered chintz. At the very bottom we unearthed a wedding dress which had belonged to some dead and gone Price, Miss Maria did not even know to whom. It was yellow with age but had not a break in it. It was some squeeze to get the bunchy Mary in it, but with much pulling in and holding of the breath we finally got it hooked.

"And here's a veil!" cried Dum, who had been standing on her head in the trunk hunting for treasures.

It was nothing but a piece of white mosquito netting that had been put in this trunk by mistake evidently, but it was quite a find to us, and with a few dexterous twists we had Mary standing before us a blushing bride.

"How about your shoes, Mary?" I asked. "Last night you said you had to have bare toes to dig in the wall."

"So I have! Gee, what are we to do about it? It would never do to have a barefoot bride; but I simply could not climb down in shoes."

"I have it!" cried Dum. "Let's have a cavalier down on the ground, your 'beau lover,' you know, like the Elizabeth of long ago, and you take off your slippers and throw them down to him."

"Good! Page, please go tell Shorty I need him."

Shorty was game and in a twinkling of an eye we had him rigged out as a very presentable if rather youthful "beau lover."

The darkies had come and were seated on the ground about twenty feet from the house. News of a free show had spread like wildfire and I am sure at least fifteen were gathered there. It seemed hard that we must amuse fifteen to get five.

The show opened with a boxing match between the young men from Kentucky, Jack Bennett and Billy Somers. This was most exciting and nothing but the presence of General Price kept the darkies from putting up bets on the fight.

Next on the program was the Tuckers' stunt: Dum and Dee, back to back, were buttoned up in two sweaters which they put on hind part before and then fastened on the side, Dum's to Dee's and Dee's to Dum's.

"This, Ladies and Gentlemen," said Zebedee, who was doing the part of showmaster, "is Milly Christine, the two-headed woman. She is the most remarkable freak of nature in the world to-day. She has two heads, four legs, four arms, but only one body. She is very well educated and can speak several languages at the same time. She also can sing a duet with herself (at least she thinks she can). Fortunately she is in love with herself, otherwise she would get very bored with herself. There is only one difficulty about being this kind of a twin: if you don't like what your twin likes you have to lump it. Now Milly, here, sometimes eats onions and poor Christine has to go around with the odor on her breath; and Christine got her feet wet and poor Milly has caught a bad cold from it." With this Dee sneezed violently, a regular Tucker sneeze which was as good as a show any time. "Milly is always getting sleepy and wanting to go to bed when Christine feels like dancing." Dee put her head on her breast and gave forth stertorous snores while Dum gaily waltzed around dragging the sleeping twin. There were roars of applause.

Next Harvie came around the house walking on his hands and Jim Hart doing cartwheels. Rags had the stunt known as "Come on, Eph!" It is a strange thing, where the performer wiggles and shakes himself until his clothes seem to be slipping off. All the time he emits sounds from which one gathers that he wants Eph to come on. This brought down the house and Rags had an encore.

I had to dance "going to church" while the twins patted for me. I never did have any little parlor tricks but they would not let me off. The darkies treated it quite seriously and when I went around shaking hands, which is part of the dance, they arose and joined the dance. This broke the ice and warmed them up for the ghost scene soon to follow.

The circus was proving a great success. The rows of happy black faces gave evidence of that. We had decided to have some music next, but made the great mistake of putting Annie on the program ahead of Jessie. It was taken as an insult and that spoiled piece refused to sing at all. Annie sang charmingly, however. She accompanied herself on a banjo, and if my dance had started the darkies, her song got them all going. She sang, "Clar de Kitchen." I wonder if my readers know that old song. It was famous once on every plantation but in this day of rag time and imitation darky songs one hardly ever hears it.

Clar de Kitchen
In ol' Kentuck, in de arternoon,
We sweep de flo' wid a bran new broom,
And arter dat we form a ring,
And dis de song dat we do sing:
O, clar de kitchen, ol' folks, young folks,
Clar de kitchen, ol' folks, young folks,
Ol' Virginy never, never tire.
I went to de creek, I couldn't get across,
I'd nobody wid me but a ol' blin' horse;
But ol' Jim Crow come a-ridin' by,
Says he, "Ol' fellow, yo' horse will die."
It's clar de kitchen, etc.
My horse fell down upon de spot.
Says he, "Don't you see his eyes is sot?"
So I took out my knife, and off wid his skin,
When he comes to life I'll ride him agin.
So clar de kitchen, etc.
A jay-bird sat on a hickory limb —
He winked at me and I winked at him;
I picked up a stone and I hit his shin,
Says he, "You'd better not do dat agin."
So clar de kitchen, etc.
A bull-frog, dressed in soger's clothes,
Went in de field to shoot some crows;
De crows smell powder and fly away —
De bull-frog mighty mad dat day.
So clar de kitchen, etc.
I hab a sweetheart in dis town,
She wears a yaller striped gown;
And when she walks de streets around,
De hollow of her foot makes a hole in de ground.
Now clar de kitchen, etc.
Dis love is a ticklish ting, you know,
It makes a body feel all over so;
I put de question to Coal-Black Rose,
She's as black as ten of spades, and got a lubly flat nose.
Now clar de kitchen, etc.
"Go away," says she, "wid your cowcumber shin,
If you come here agin I stick you wid a pin."
So I turn on my heel, and I bid her good-bye,
And arter I was gone she began for to cry.
So clar de kitchen, etc.
So now I'se up and off you see,
To take a julep sangaree;
I'll sit upon a tater hill
And eat a little whip-poor-will.
So clar de kitchen, etc.
I wish I was back in ol' Kentuck,
For since I lef' it I had no luck —
De gals so proud dey won't eat mush;
And when you go to court 'em dey say, "O, hush!"
Now clar de kitchen, etc.

Of course before Annie got through, everybody was joining in the chorus, and the darkies were patting and some of them dancing. There wasn't the ghost of a ghost in their minds now and really we might have dispensed with the grand finale as far as they were concerned. Maxton was no longer a place to be shunned; but Mary was to go through with her act before lunch and I for one knew that that gumbo was stewing down mighty thick. I stole off once and stirred it and put it back a little.


The last patter occasioned by Annie's spirited tune had died away and a sudden hush fell upon the seated throng. It was time for the great act. We thought the impressiveness of the scene would be heightened if someone would tell the story. General Price suggested Lady John as the best raconteur of the neighborhood. Of course Lady John was more than pleased to comply. He loved to be in the lime light and to show off. This was his opportunity.

"Ladies, gemmen an' niggers, what ain't neither, some er you," he declaimed, standing up on an ivy-covered stump and making his inimitable curtsey, "I is a-makin' this speechifying at the inquest of the white folks an' if respec' is not handed to me it is also infused to them." That rather silenced the tittering that Lady John's elevation had caused.

"Gen'l Price is inquested me to lay befo' de meetin' de gospel of de ghoses what is thought by some to hant these here abode of plenty. Without more pilaverin' I'll lay holt the shank of the tale. – Mos' about a thousan' years ago whin my gran'mammy warn't mo'n a baby an' Gen'l Price here, savin' his presence, warn't even so much as thought about although his amcestroms were abidin' here, the tale runs they war a young miss of the family by name Lizzy Betty. Miss Lizzy Betty war that sweet an' that putty that all the young gemmen war mos' ready to eat her up. Ev'y steamboat that come a-sailin' up de ribber brought beaux for Miss Lizzy Betty. One young man come all dressed in gold an' wid a long feather in his hat an' a sword as long as a hoe han'le. He had no land an' he had no boat but he come on his hoss a-ridin' ober de hills, an' Miss Lizzy Betty she done tol' him she would be his'n through sickness an' through healthfulness. – But, ladies an' gemmen an' you niggers what is 'havin' better'n I ever seed you 'have befo', ol' Marse Price he got yuther notions in his haid. He see no reason why Miss Lizzy Betty shouldn't marry to suit him stid er herse'f. They was a rich ol' man what didn't carry all his b'longin's on his back, an' ol' Marse Price he go to de sto' an' come back with a dress an' veil for Miss Lizzy Betty an' he say fer her to go put it on an' he'd fotch the preacher. An' 'twas all the po' young thing could do to git word to her beau lover. All the comp'ny was dissembled an' de bride had comb out her har an' put on de dress an' veil, whin she say to her frien's an' de nigger maid fer them to lef her alone fer a moment so she could wrastle in prayer. So so soon as they got out her room, she locked de do' an' thin she peeped out'n de winder, an' thar, kind an' true, was de beau lover."

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