Betsy in a Storm
I want to tell you'uns about that time when we all was a-comin' gome from Roberson's circus up thar at Talladega town an' got lost an' tuck the wrong road an' got caught in a storm an' had to spend the night at Mis' Raincrow's.
Ther was sich a house full o' chil'en all a-talkin' at once, an' she a-yellin' at the top o' her voice to make 'em hush, that we thought we'd run out o' one storm into another.
It was mos' dark when the show was over an' we'uns live fifteen mile er better from town, an' Pap he 'lowed we must git home that night ef hit tuck us till midnight.
It's mighty easy to git lost over in them piney woods hills, the ground is all kivered with pine straw an' the roads all look alike.
Night overtuck us, an' a black cloud riz, an' it sot in to thunderin' an' lightnin', an' we thought it was one o' these here cyclome harry-canes a-comin' up an' we was skeered pretty nigh into fits.
Pap he laid hick'ry to ole Buck an' ole Brindle—them's our steers—to try and retch a shelter 'fore the rain sot in. Ikey Roberson an' Cap Dewberry galloped ahead on ther little bobtail mules, ole Buck an' ole Brindle tore up hill an' down hill, an' kep' a-gittin' darker an' darker, an' the thunder louder an' louder,
an' we'uns got skeerder an' skeerder. Ther wasn't a house to be seed, an' we made sho' we'd have to stay all night in them woods. It was so pitch dark yo' couldn't see yo' hand 'fore you 'cept when it lightened.
All on a sudden ole Buck an' ole Brindle stopped stark still an' wouldn't budge nairy nuther inch. Buddy he rid up an' lit off'n ole Luce—that's Pap's ole blind nag—an' jes' then the lightin' flashed an' we seed what was the matter. Ole Buck done slipt the yoke an' was a-tearin' thu the woods an' lef' ole Brindle by his se'f, an' little more'n he'd er upsot the wagin.
The tall pine trees was a-fallin' ahead of us an' all aroun' us, an' hit 'peared like the jedgment day had sholy come. Ole Scrouge he crouched down under the wagin—he's our rabbit dog.
The wind howled, ole Scrouge howled, an' we'uns howled; me an' Maw an' Aunt Nancy an' Cousin Pink an' Caledony an' Sister Flurridy Tennessy, Cousin Saleny an' the Roberson gals—all a-cryin' at once. An' Pap he 'lowed: "You may take my affidavy on hit an' rest asshored this is the las' time ever I starts out with a passle o' women folk."
Jes' then we hearn a dog over the hill a-barkin' an' a child a-cryin', an' seed a light thu the trees; a bright light in a broad fireplace showed a whole reege-ment o' chil'en a-scamperin' about over the floor an' makin' so much fuss we couldn't hardly hear ourselves holler hello. A big yaller dog sot in the door ready to tear us all to pieces. The ole 'oman come to the door holdin' a pine light'ood torch high over her head, hollerin' back at the chil'en:
"You young'uns all shet up yo' mouths thar so I kin hear what these here strangers wants."
"Hello!" says Pap. "Is thar any chance to git shelter here t'night?"
"Didn't I tell you young'uns to hush? I lay I pick up some'n an' floor yo' terrectly. Wal, strangers, I tell you now, we'uns hain't fixt here to take in no travelers, an' hit's monstrous po' sleepin' you'd do, but I hain't the heart to turn nobody out o' doors sich a dark blustry night as this; I mought git benighted myse'f some time; none of us don't know what we air a-comin' to. Light an' come in. Come here to me, Jeff, an' hol' Bulger. Begone, Bulger! Yo', Jeffers'n Davis Raincrow, didn't I tell yo' to come here to me, an' hol' this here dog?"
"Will yo' dog bite?" says Maw.
"I don't know whether he'd bite you'uns er no; he is bit a right smart chance o' folks. You'uns all come in ef you kin git in fer the trash an' the chil'en. Take cheers an' set down an' be seated. Don't take that cheer over thar, fer hit's ricketty; here's a bench yo' kin set on. I kin feed you, but I don't see fer the life o' me how I'm a-gwine to bed yo' all."
Caledony was so glad to git in out o' the storm she said:
"Oh! we kin do mos' any way. I'm willin' to sleep on the floor with the chil'en."
But I be bound she never agrees to sleep on no floor 'long with no mo' chil'en ag'in. Yo' see she got more'n she bargained fer that night. She thought she mought stand one er two o' 'em by keepin' 'em on ther own side o' the bed, but she didn't calculate they'd put her on the chil'en's pallet 'long with the whole gang, baby an' all.
"I kin put you men folks thar in the shed room," said Mis' Raincrow, "an' the women folks kin all pile up in
here together; that's the best I kin do fer you, but sich as hit is yo' air welcome to hit—set down thar, Maliza, an' quit a-standin' twix me an' the stranger! Go out thar, Robert E. lee, an' stop that dog's mouth from barkin', an' tell Jabez L. M. Curry an' William Henry Forney to fetch in a turn o' wood. Didn't I tell yo' to set down, Maliza? Yo' hain't made out'n glass; nobody can't see thu you."
The boys went in the shed room, an' whispered an' giggled, an' got to bed some sort o' fashion; the planks between the rooms was so thin we could hear ever' word they said.
Caledony was so tired an' sleepy she drapt down quick as the pallet was spread on the floor.
Then the ole 'oman got little John T. Morgan, two years ole, to sleep, an' laid im nex' to Cal to keep him from rollin' off'n the pallet.
"Come here to me, Alabamy-Tetch-Me-Not, an' lay down thar side o' yo' little buddy, an' yo' shake him an' pat him ef he goes to wake up, an' don't aggervate him nuther. I've had too hard a time a-gittin' o' him to sleep fer the likes o' you to wake him up. You chil'n is been a-stuffin' o' him on them ole hard green peaches all day long, an' I don't look fer nothin' else but fer him to have a spasm this night.
"Fetch yo'se'f here to me, William Henry Forney, yo' an' Robert E. Lee, an' wash them muddy feet o' yourn, an' lay down thar side o' your big sis 'fore I knock yo' down, an' don't let me hear nary nuther whimper from yo' t'night nuther. I owe yo' a beatin' anyhow fer snatchin' that chicken gizzard out'n yo' little buddy's han's. Now, yo' needn't spread yo'se'f
all over that ar pallet, an' take up all the room, fer yo' Sis Maliza is got to pile in thar somers."
Caledony gin a groan an' rolled over to the aidge o' the pallet. The ole 'oman run her pipe in the ashes an' tuck a smoke, then blowed out the tallow candle an' lef' it smokin' an' smellin' worse'n that pipe, an' went to bed.
The little Grover Cleveland, six months ole, who'd slept thu all the racket, as quick as things got quiet waked up an' begun to cry, an' Caledony gin another groan.
When things got still Caledony tuck a notion she'd git on t'other side o' the pallet away from the child that was likely to have a spasm. She gin Robert E. Lee a shove an' he worked his way off'n the pallet up into the smutty fireplace an' sot up a yell.
"Oh, somebody, whar me? I loss! I skeered! Hit's dark! Murther, murther, come git me! Whar-um at? Boo-oo-hoo-oo. I done loss de pal-al-let! Boo-oo-oo—!"
"Git up from thar, Robert E. lee, an' git to'se'f back on that ar pallet 'fore I git a hick'ry stick to yo'."
But he cried on.
"I lay I kin put yo' back!" An' his mother riz in the dark an' piled him over amongst 'em, an' come down on Caledony with a rousin' slap. "I mought er knowed yo' Sis Maliza wouldn't res' till she done kicked yo' off'n this here pallet."
"It's me you're a-hittin'," says Caledony. "Ouch! Ouch! It's me you're a-hitten'!"
"Yes, I know hit's me, an' hit's me I'm atter; yo' been a-tormentin' o' yo' little buddy all day long an' a-itchin' fer a whippin', an' not a-gwine to res' till yo' git hit. Now shet up yo' mouth an' hush!"
I tell yo', Cal hushed quick; an' I heard the boys in the shed room giggle.
It was pitch dark. We could hear crickets a-chripin' an' the dyin' coals a-cracklin' on the haith. A cat come whinin' across the pallet, an' Caledony reached over an' grabbed the it an' slung it to the back o' the room; it crawled under the crack o' the door, an' Bulger snarled outside. She heard the chickens crow fer midnight, then drapped off to sleep, when all at once little John T. Morgan rolled over t'other chil'en an' turned his heels loose kickin' her in the face. She yelled out:
"This child's got a spasm! Come an' git him quick!"
The ole 'oman jumped up, struck a light, an' tuck the young'n in bed with her; then Caledony was sorry she hadn't thought about that spasm a little sooner.
It wasn't long till day. Ole Mis' Raincrow got up an' kindled a fire an' set in to gittin' breaskfast. She filled the haith plum full o' sweet 'taters, briled some fat meat on the coals, baked some corn dodgers in the skillet, an' made coffee out'n parched meal. The chil'en fretted an' whined aroun' all the time.
"It's monstrous hard on a body to feed an' clothe an' take care o' so many chil'en," said Aunt Nancy to Mis' Raincrow.
"Not so mighty; I hain't got nary one to spar'; I'd work the ends o' my fingers off fer airy one of 'em, bad as they is—keep out'n the fire, Sal—you'd git right in hit ef I didn't jerk yo' out. Come here an' let me fasten yo' frock. She's outgrowed ever'thin' she's got pretty nigh.
"Put down that dog, Jeffers'n Davis, an' fetch the baby here to me. Bless his little heart! Murther
wouldn't take a dollar fer hit. Hit's worth the whole gang all put together. He named him atter the president. I named all the gals, an' he named the boys atter big extinguised men. Dar, den, honey, don't cry!" An' she sot little Grover Cleveland on the floor an' shoved the yaller pup at him to play with.
"You'uns all come in an' git a big o' breakfast; we hain't got much, but sich as hit is you air welcome to hit. You'uns have to drink yo' coffee 'thout sweetenin' les'n you'll have a little 'lasses stirred in—we air smack an' smooth out'n sugar. Some folks likes the long sweetenin' an' some likes the short, but fer as I'm consarned I drink my coffee fer the pure good o' the truck.
"Fan the flies, Sal, an' han' them ingons to Mis' Hamilton. Pass the bread, an' have a bit o' the fry. Mis' Hamilton, will yo' have some o' these here 'lasses? They air the home-made sorghum, but some folks likes 'em better'n the bought'ns."
"I wouldn't choose any," says Maw.
"Wal, thar's ingons, an' thar's punkins—he'p yo'se'f, you sets handy. Will yo' be holp to a cup o' buttermilk, Squire Hamilton?" said she to Pap, an' he 'lowed he would. Then she turned to Jeff. "Git up off'n that churn, Jeffers'n Davis, an' pour the stranger out a cup o' butermilk. Eat ef yo' kin, strangers, hit's all clean—fan the flies, Sal; yo' standin' thar gazin' like yo' never had nobody afore in yo' life, an' which yo' know yo' is. You've seed a heap o' folks a-gwine by here to the Springs—an' town folks at that. Stan' back, Maliza, an' quit a-leanin' agin' this ole ricketty table; fus' thing yo' know yo'll have hit upsot, an' break the las' blue aidged dish in this here house. Jabe, you an' William Henry better not start up that fuss out thar
no mo'. Fus' thing yo' know I'll give yo' some'n to fight about."
"Well, murther, William Henry's got my fee-shin line, an' he's got my taw marble, too, an' my knife blade, an' my leather string. Murther, make him gimme all my things!"
"'Tain't none o' his'n, no sich thing! Murther, make Jabe gimme my 'tater—he got my sweet 'tater what look like a duck."
"Come here to me, William Henry, an' git this here 'tater an' skin hit, an' give a piece o' hit to yo' little buddy, John T. Morgan, an' ef yo' do cram it in his mouth hot an' burn him, I lay I wear yo' into a frazzle till yo' won't know who yo' was named atter."
Soon after breakfast we tole the Raincrows goodby, an' Pap he hustled us all into the wagin, an' laid hick'ry to ole Buck an' ole Brindle, an' pitched out fer home in a hurry to git thar 'fore hit rained ag'in.
As we driv' in sight o' the house, Pap he 'lowed he sho' was glad to git home. He was sick o' gwine anywhere with a gang o' women folks. He'd had enough o' circuses, an' gittin' ketched in storms, an' kep' awake all night by a passle o' squalin' young'uns. He'd had enough o' town to do him fer awhile.
But yo' may take notice, the nex' circus that comes to town, Pap'll be the fus' man thar.
Source: Hamilton, Betsy Ward. Southern Character Sketches. Richmond: Dietz, 1937. 1-8.
Colin Tate prepared and Nicola Hart proofread this typescript.
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