There was joy in the bosom of Ben Raymond. He sang as he hoed in the field. He cheerfully worked overtime and his labors did not make him tired. When the quitting horn blew he executed a double shuffle as he shouldered his hoe and started for his cabin. While the other men dragged wearily over the ground he sprang along as if all day long he had not been bending over the hoe in the hot sun, with the sweat streaming from his face in rivulets.
And this had been going on for two months now–two happy months–ever since Viney had laid her hand in his, had answered with a coquettish “Yes,” and the master had given his consent, his blessing and a five-dollar bill.
It had been a long and trying courtship–that is, it had been trying for Ben, because Viney loved pleasure and hungered for attention and the field was full of rivals. She was a merry girl and a pretty one. No one could dance better; no girl on the place was better able to dress her dark charms to advantage or to show them off more temptingly. The toss of her head was an invitation and a challenge in one, and the way she smiled back at them over her shoulder, set the young men’s heads dancing and their hearts throbbing. So her suitors were many. But through it all Ben was patient, unflinching and faithful, and finally, after leading him a life full of doubt and suspense, the coquette surrendered and gave herself into his keeping.
She was maid to her mistress, but she had time, nevertheless, to take care of the newly whitewashed cabin in the quarters to which Ben took her. And it was very pleasant to lean over and watch him at work making things for the little house–a chair from a barrel and a wonderful box of shelves to stand in the corner. And she knew how to say merry things, and later outside his door Ben would pick his banjo and sing low and sweetly in the musical voice of his race. Altogether such another honeymoon there had never been.
For once the old women hushed up their prophecies of evil, although in the beginning they had shaken their wise old turbaned heads and predicted that marriage with such a flighty creature as Viney could come to no good. They had said among themselves that Ben would better marry some good, solid-minded, strong-armed girl who would think more about work than about pleasures and coquetting.
“I ‘low, honey,” an old woman had said, “she’ll mek his heart ache many a time. She’ll comb his haid wid a three-legged stool an’ bresh it wid de broom. Uh, huh–putty, is she? You ma’y huh ’cause she putty. Ki-yi! She fix you! Putty women fu’ putty tricks.”
And the old hag smacked her lips over the spice of malevolence in her words. Some women–and they are not all black and ugly–never forgive the world for letting them grow old.
But, in spite of all prophecies to the contrary, two months of unalloyed joy had passed for Ben and Viney, and to-night the climax seemed to have been reached. Ben hurried along, talking to himself as his hoe swung over his shoulder.
“Kin I do it?” he was saying. “Kin I do it?” Then he would stop his walk and his cogitations would bloom into a mirthful chuckle. Something very pleasant was passing through his mind.
As he approached, Viney was standing in the door of the little cabin, whose white sides with green Madeira clambering over them made a pretty frame for the dark girl in her print dress. The husband bent double at sight of her, stopped, took off his hat, slapped his knee, and relieved his feelings by a sounding “Who-ee!”
“What’s de mattah wid you, Ben? You ac’ lak you mighty happy. Bettah come on in hyeah an’ git yo’ suppah fo’ hit gits col’.”